THE CAMP."Each tribe will be assigned its own area in the camp, and the various groups will camp beneath their family banners. The Tabernacle will be located at the center of these tribal compounds." Numbers 2:2
When Balaam looks down upon the outstretched Camp of Israel, his very soul expands. It must break forth in praise. The beauty captivates. The order charms. The evidence is clear--no common people there reside. He rapturously exclaims, "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!" He paints a landscape of delights. "They spread before me like groves of palms, like fruitful gardens by the riverside. They are like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters." Numb. 24:5, 6. Images of choice fruits--elaborate arrangement--luxuriance--verdure--stateliness--fragrance--lend colors to depict the scene.
Reader, let us, too, mount the heights of godly meditation, and in spirit view this favored Camp. And as we gaze, may rays from heaven illumine every part!
The points rich in instruction are--the tents themselves--their order--position--standard.
1. THE TENTS. Abodes present themselves. They are not splendid palaces, and golden columns, and sparkling capitals, and giant pyramids. They are not constructed, as lasting monuments to future times.
The simple contrast meets the eye. They are poor tents. They stand today. Tomorrow sees the cords relaxed--the fastenings removed, and a vacant place. They are the pilgrim-dwellings of a pilgrim-troop--the short-lived homes of short-lived sojourners.
This first view instantly reminds of mortal state. What is our body? It is nothing but clay. These frames have one origin--the dust. The vilest reptile and the proudest prince are composites of one poor mire. Is it not folly, then, to pamper and admire this flesh? At best these bodies are a tent--than which creation knows no humbler thing.
How soon they crumble! No care--no thought--no art can lengthen out continuance. The countless families of foregone ages--where are they now? Dust they were. To dust they are gone back. The many families of this our day--where do they speed? Dust they are--to dust they hasten. The tents must fall. But when? Perchance this very hour. Is he not then the fool of fools, who boasts him of to-morrow's dawn!
My soul, from Israel's tents, you learn, how fleeting is life's day! Press then the question, 'When I go hence, is an abiding mansion mine? There is a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. Is it for me? Christ lives to prepare everlasting homes. Are they for me? Oh! turn not from this Camp, until faith clearly reads its title to the heavenly home.
Flesh is a lowly abode. This thought commends the grace of Jesus. He scorned not to assume it. Amazing fact! He took this clothing, as His own. Beneath these rags He hid the glories of His glorious Deity. No man was ever man more thoroughly than Jesus. He tabernacled in manhood's baseness, as truly as He shone in Godhead's brightness. He thus descended, that He might endure--suffer--bleed--die--might bear the curse--and hang upon the cross.
This none but man could do, therefore His tent was pitched, as man, among the sons of men. He was made man, that He might be made sin. He was made sin, that He might take it thoroughly away. He sought a lowly tent (body) to do a godlike work.
But soon the degradation passed. Humiliation's valley was left. The cross was triumph's chariot. And now in heaven--at God's right hand--on glory's throne--the God-man sits. Manhood now shines in Him arrayed in light of Deity. And all, whom faith makes one with Him, will soon behold and share this luster. Their vile bodies shall be changed. Weakness and frailty shall put on unfading freshness. The lowly bud shall bloom into a glorious flower. The glorious Head will leave no member in decay.
Blessed are they, whose faith discerns Him nailed as their Surety on the tree. He comes--He quickly comes to gild mortality with life. Happy the inhabitants of these crumbling frames, if only they are Christ's! They now are vilest dust. They soon will shine more brightly than ten thousand suns.
2. THE ORDER. Let Israel's Camp be now more closely scanned. What perfect regularity appears! Rule draws each line. Arrangement is complete. These streets of tents are uniformity's perfection.
One truth is here distinctly written. Our God delights in order. Where He presides, confusion vanishes.
Is it not so in every Christian heart? When Jesus takes the throne, wise rule prevails. Disturbing lusts lie down. Perplexing doubts flee far. Gusts of sinful desire are lulled. The soul is like the well-set garden, in which method plants each shrub and flower.
Is it not so in Christian life? Each duty occupies its stated post. There is no tangled labyrinth of plans--no misspent diligence--no toil without a purpose. God's worship has its sacred place--and no intruder interferes. The Scripture claims appointed study--and then the door is barred against disturbing entrance. The family demands due care--due care is given. The home--the closet--the public--the world, in turn have claims--in turn are served. Each morning dawns--each evening closes, on a well-ordered scheme of work.
How different is the worldling's day! It seems an upset hive. The notes all jar--movements all jostle. It is a jumbled chaos of desire--attempt--design. Motives conflict with motives--thoughts with thoughts--plans with plans. Why is it so? God rules not. Wisdom holds not the rudder. Therefore the ship is sport to every wind and wave. There is no order, but in the Camp of God.
But in Israel's Camp each tribe has its place. The family of Aaron guard the tabernacle's door. The sons of Levi encircle the holy tent. The other tribes occupy appointed ground. God fixes all the bounds, and all the bounds are gladly kept.
The same all-ruling mind disposes now each member of Christ's body. Each enters on the stage of life, as God is pleased to call. Each runs a pre-ordained course. Each disappears, when the allotted task is done. We see this clear arrangement throughout the Church's history. At the set time the sun of Moses sets--the star of Joshua dawns--the several Judges rule--the several kings ascend the throne. In the right season Paul labors--and apostles preach--and martyrs seal the truth with blood--and each devoted teacher toils--and each disciple aids the Gospel-cause. God plans each champion's station in the Gospel-Camp.
Reader, bow humbly before this ordering mind. Then discontent will not arise. No murmurings will mourn an obscure lot--a grievous burden--a lengthened pilgrimage--or an early grave. The time--the task--the place--will be regarded, as most wisely fixed. What if self-will could make a change? Would it not mar the work on earth, and tarnish the eternal crown? The foot should not desire the hand's employ--or the eye's higher seat. Ephraim is pleased, that Judah leads. Judah would not take Ephraim's rear place.
3. THE POSITION. But all these tents share one grand privilege. "Around the Tent of Meeting shall they camp." They all have common focus. As the planets circle the sun, so these surround the sanctuary. God is the center. They form the wide circumference. And from each door one sight--the holy tent--is visible.
Is there no meaning here? There is!--and it is precious. God in Christ Jesus is the center--the heart--the life--the strength--the shield--the joy of His believing flock. In their midst He dwells--their glory and delight. When they go forth, their eyes are fixed on Him. When they return, it is to nestle round His presence.
Is there no warning here? There is!--and it is wise. Let Christians ponder this Camp's plan, when called to fix their dwellings upon earth. When weighing the advantages of the right place to settle, the foremost thought should be, 'Is God known here? Are His pure truths here clearly taught?' There may be rites and forms. But an external rituals are not grace. A heaven-directed church spire leads not infallibly to heaven. 'Ichabod' is the name, if God in Christ be not proclaimed.
Soul-profit is real profit. And soul-profit cannot be apart from Christ. Soul-loss is saddest loss--and the soul loses, when not led to Christ. Our children, too, and all who form our household, claim, that their first good be first considered. Was Lot a gainer, when his eye only coveted the fertile plains? How David's pious spirit mourns, when exiled from the house of God! Can fairer fields, or sweeter temporal prospects, make amends for a cold blank within? Can healthful air repay for inward sickness and a spiritual decline? What, if any tribe should have receded to spots, from which the cloud could not be seen! The end would have been sure. It was cut off from Israel. So all, who willingly abide far from the Gospel's light, choose present darkness leading to far darker night.
4. THE BANNER. A banner floats above each tribe. Beneath the well-known sign they rest. And by its side they march.
Believers have a banner too. The banner over them is Jesus's love. Song 2:4. Enlightened eyes can ever catch these waving flag folds, and read therein the great Commander's heart.
The banner is a pledge of safety. True, mighty foes hate and assail. True, night and day they plot and rage, and draw the bow, and lay the snare. But they must fail. The fight may be both fierce and long, but in Christ's Camp no follower can finally expire.
Beneath it there is sweet repose. The weary spirit and the worn-out flesh can often watch no more. Unless the vigilance of heavenly love defend, surprise will overpower the fainting bands. But as is the vineyard of the Lord, so is His Camp. "I, the Lord, will watch over it and tend its fruitful vines. Each day I will water them; day and night I will watch to keep enemies away." Isaiah 27:3
Beside it there is victory. Many have fought beneath the Gospel-banner, and all have triumphed. They, who go boldly forward, looking unto Jesus, assuredly prevail. Paul lifts aloud the happy cry--"Thanks be to God, who always makes us to triumph in Christ." 2 Cor. 2:14. What is the one testimony of the saints in light? We strove and conquered "by the blood of the Lamb." We waved His banner and now we wave these palms. We clung to it, and now we wear these crowns. Happy Camp, where Jesus is Salvation's Captain--His cross salvation's banner--His heaven salvation's rest!
Believer, glory in your banner, and be steadfast. Alas! Sometimes shame, and timidities, and fears, have caused ignoble tremblings, and flights, and falls. Peter denied his noble flag. Deep was his wound, and bitter his repenting sighs. His warning cries, "Be courageous. Be strong." Demas was allured, and left the ranks. Was he recovered from the world's embrace? The all-revealing day alone can tell. But that dread time will show a cowardly troop bewailing the hour, when they deserted Christ. Cling, then, cling boldly, constantly, to Him. Let every company--moment--place--witness your firm resolves. Wave now and ever the glorious banner--"Christ is all."
Thus dwell within the Camp, and you will reign upon the throne.
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