I’d love to have a drone, a flying, remote-controlled craft equipped with a camera. Wouldn’t you?
Imagine if you can… First, we’ve acquired the drone. Second, we know how to fly the contraption. And third, and most far-fetched, we can take the flying surveillance system back in time… about thirty-five hundred years. Let’s fly our drone over the Israelite’s camp at Mount Sinai.
Our aerial view shows the dry and desolate sandscape with majestic Mount Sinai as a backdrop. Zooming in, the view from high above narrows, showing an enormously vast and highly-organized tent-city, arranged in the shape of a cross… a cross!
The top of the cross is far to the west where one of twelve distinct camps is arranged around a banner reading: “The Tribe of Ephraim.” Closer to the center of the Israelite’s compound, but still in the western branch, we see two more distinct camps. One banner is emblazoned, “The Tribe of Benjamin” and the other, “The Tribe of Manasseh” (Numbers 2:18-24). The expanse is impressive. The organization is obvious... and awesome.
I love this drone!
As the camera moves, we see the three tribes that are situated in the northern branch of the cross-shaped encampment. There we see, in flawless order, the tribes of Dan, Naphtali, and Asher (Numbers 2:25-31). On the southern side of the camp, the tribes of Rueben, Simeon, and Gad are bivouacked, each with their personalized banner (Numbers 2:10-16). And to the east, toward the rising sun, the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun are positioned in straight lines (Numbers 2:3-9).
How big is this place? In a census, directed by Moses, and recorded in the Book of Numbers, the Israelite men older than twenty years of age were counted. The total number, not counting the men in the tribe of Levi, was 603,550 (Numbers 1:45–46). If you add the tribe of Levi, plus women and children, the total population of Israel easily exceeds two million! That’s ten times the population of Amarillo! Wow!
After our camera has focused on the twelve ancestorial families and their individual encampments, we position our drone to view the center of the Israelite’s camp. Here, at the core of the Israelite civilization, we get our first glance at the Tabernacle, an area surrounded by a fence, or more precisely, a curtain. Directly outside the curtains are the tents of the Levites. They too, were counted by Moses: 22,000 males (Numbers 3:39). The Levite’s tents, including Moses’ and Aaron’s, encircle the Tabernacle, positioned to protect it from intruders. Any “unauthorized person who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death” (Numbers 3:10).
Inside the Tabernacle compound, behind the fence-like curtains, we can see the altar, the laver, and a drab-colored tent. Though the camera can’t reach it, we know that the “tent of meeting,” the Tabernacle-proper, houses the golden altar where incense burns continually, a golden table for bread, and a candelabra. Behind a veil, sits a golden chest, the Ark of the Covenant with its lid, the Mercy Seat, the throne of God where the glorious presence of God visits His people (Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 7:89).
Okay, I don’t have a time-travelling drone, but we do have the word-pictures recorded in the Bible. Let’s continue to explore God’s dwelling, the travelling temple, the Tabernacle.