Sacred Architecture in Numbers 2
What is the significance of the placement of the tribes of Israel around the Tabernacle in the book of Numbers?
The arrangement of the history in the book of Numbers seems odd to modern readers, but there is method in the apparent madness. The purpose of the ordering is theological, or more specifically, Covenantal, thus it is structured as a sevenfold pattern of sevenfold cycles which follow the Bible Matrix. In the first cycle (Creation), Israel is arranged as a Social Creation around the Ethical Creation of the Levitical priesthood and the Tabernacle.
But what is the significance of the order of the arrangement of the tribes? Like so many lists in the Bible, the instructions are so specific that they are begging for an explanation.1See Jacob’s Tabernacle for an explanation of the “theological ordering” of Jacob’s sons. The most common assertion is that the twelve tribes in the wilderness pictured the twelve constellations in the heavens.
Since the stars which honoured Joseph in his second dream represented his brothers, and the tribes descended from these brothers, some believe that these stars were actually constellations. However, not only does the Hebrew, “one and ten stars,” clearly mean individual stars, stars represent rulers, and the brothers eventually bowed down to him not as tribes but as individuals — legal representatives — in his court.
Nevertheless, the four tribal “points” of the compass do correlate to the four constellational points in the heavens. James Jordan writes:
…the four faces of the cherubim in Ezekiel and Revelation correspond to the four central constellations in the zodiac, and to the four tribes of Israel that were positioned north, south, east, and west of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Numbers 2:1-34). The Lion is Leo, Judah (Genesis 49:9). The Bull is Taurus, Ephraim (Deuteronomy 33:17). The Man is Aquarius, Reuben, “unstable as water” (Genesis 49:4). The Eagle is Scorpio, Dan. (This last identification is more difficult until we understand two things. First, Scorpio was also drawn as an Eagle in the ancient world, according to R. H. Allen.R. H. Allen, Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, 57, 362. Second, the scorpion is linked with the serpent, and Dan is the serpent [Genesis 49:17; Luke 10:17 -19].) With this paradigm in mind, it is possible to draw a diagram of the twelve tribes in the wilderness, and link the other tribes with the other zodiacal signs by going to the right and left of each of the four major (cherubic) signs. A correlation of these signs with the prophecies of Jacob and Moses in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33 would prove most interesting, but we have no time for it here.2James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, 61.
Unfortunately, the suggested correspondences between the signs of the zodiac and most of the remaining tribes seem strained at best and forced at worst. As mentioned, the instructions are so specific that they are begging for an explanation. Perhaps Jordan is correct, however, about the key being found in the blessings given by Jacob and Moses, but the key is not to any further correspondence with the zodiac but with something else. It seems to me that the compass points are “four horns” which indeed point to the heavens, but that the other tribal signs describe an earthly history, a chronicle measured out from the corners of the Altar in blood and water.
Four Horns, Four Winds
To understand the arrangement of the tribes we must first observe the “compass points” of the Tabernacle itself. They are revealed in the faces of the cherubim which comprise God’s “chariot” in Ezekiel 1.
- The Bronze Altar is the face of the Ox and the Ark of the Covenant is the face of the Lion. Together, these are heaven-and-earth, Master and servant (vertical). The order in which these faces are seen varies depending on which liturgical action is taking place.3See Peter Leithart, Cherubic Order.
- The Golden Table of “Facebread” is the face of the Man and the Golden Lampstand is the face of the Eagle.Besides the scorpion and eagle, this sign was sometimes represented as a phoenix, which unites the images of the eagle and the lampstand. Again, these are “heaven and earth,” but their Social representatives, priestood and kingdom, the divide which became expressed in Jew and Gentile.
- The four horns of the Bronze Altar picture the death of the works of the flesh. The four horns of the Incense Altar surround the testimony of fragrant smoke, a witness carried by the four winds, to sow the faithful like grain and scatter the wicked like chaff.
- The Golden Altar of Incense at the centre, standing before the Ark-throne, has four horns, which likely symbolises all four faces (Revelation 4:6-7). At the meeting place of the Physical heavens and earth and the Social “heavens and earth” is the cross, where Christ was cut off, “circumcised,” that Jew and Gentile might be reunited. This heavenly Altar is the representation, protection and purification of the Bride, a “corporate” Eve who contains Jew and Gentile (Abel and Cain, horizontal, sacrifice) and becomes a city between heaven and earth (vertical, Flood). It makes sense that the four horsemen (the Gospel decrees from the throne) lead to the four heraldic “voices” which gather and avenge the Bride. Once constructed in heaven, the Church herself is to be God’s chariot on earth, an army of “clouds,” a Woman rising from the bloodied Body of the Man that He who was cut off without generations might be given a Succession, in inheritance, in history. It is also worth noting that in Solomon’s Temple, the Table and Lampstand were multiplied by ten (as “Cains” and “Abels”) but the Incense Altar was not. Adam has only one Bride but many sons.
- As James Jordan has observed, the four external faces are on the opposite sides from their internal furnitures because of the directions in which they must face. External law (the stoicheia) focussed on the shedding of blood and access to the Sanctuary. This was our childhood. Internal law (the moral compass of the Spirit) faces outwards, focussing on mission to the nations. Here are the two covenants, but we do observe this dual process throughout the Old Testament in greater and greater ways until we come to the Day of Pentecost.4For a discussion of “internal law,” see Michael Bull, Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes.
- I have followed the traditional placement of the altars, with their horns pointing north-east, north-west, south-east and south-west, but it would make more sense if they were positioned diagonally, with their horns pointing north, south, east and west.
- In Old Testament sacred architecture, heaven and earth was West-East, and King and Priest was South-North, so you will have to see the horizontal as the vertical and vice versa. I believe the reason for this is that this cruciform construct was laid out on the ground, not actually vertical, not “lifted up” between heaven and earth, until after the Son of God was nailed to it. Only then did it become truly “upright,” superseding the first Man raised from the dust and given breath.
Twelve Gates or Four Rivers?
With these four key faces in place, cruciform markers of σάρξ and πνεύμα, flesh-death (horns: access) and Spirit-breath (winds: mission), we can add the other tribes, which can either form twelve gates or four rivers.
Many, including James Jordan, arrange the tribes around the centre as a square or circle, to correspond with the zodiac.5See James B. Jordan, Behind the Scenes: Orientation in the Book of Revelation, 37. The standards of Ox, Lion, Eagle and Man certainly each begin a new Zodiacal Season, but what if this Social architecture is not square (with three gates on each side) but cruciform, measuring out the significance of the bloody horns in four rivers of cleansing? If that is the case, then the Hebrew for “next to,” which means “upon, above, over” is not working along the sides but out from the centre.
- Joseph has been split into the tribes of his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and Levi takes the centre as Firstfruits, the “human shield,” the “sacrificial representatives” lifted up above the Land like the fruit bearers in Genesis 1:11-12.
The result is not an uncommon interpretation, but is there any internal logic apparent not only in the external grouping of these tribes into four “beams”, but also in the progression of the tribes from the centre outward in each “beam”? I believe there is.
Throughout the Bible, architecture is promise. The structures described by God and constructed by man always prefigure future history. The Tabernacle and Temple were built completely of earthly materials, but Ezekiel’s Temple was a construct consisting of the Temple in Jerusalem and the peoples of the oikoumene.6See Esther in Ezekiel’s Temple. This hybrid of stone and flesh led to the New Covenant Temple which is entirely composed of humanity.
With this in mind, I believe the key to this structure in Numbers 2 is indeed found in Jacob’s blessings in Genesis 49.7Moses’ blessings in Deuteronomy 33 had not yet taken place, so the images he employs there concern promises for that later generation. I have not contemplated those so they will have to wait for another time.
Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.” (Genesis 49:1)
The following diagram replaces each of the names of the tribes with its flag, its “standard,” and this Bridal Body is truly “awesome as an army with banners” (Solomon 6:4; 6:10). There is a place for flags in Christian worship, but perhaps not in the worship service itself. Flags are not a testimony to God (access) but to the nations (mission).
Once arranged, the cruciform construct becomes a prophecy of Israel’s future: not a zodiac but a ziggurat. Israel is the kingly stars of heaven “made flesh.” Just as Jacob’s vision of the “stairway” or ziggurat to heaven (the “Babel” of God) prefigured the foundation of his household, so his inspired blessings prefigured its entire history.
- Each of the four cherubic “male faces” is singular (the One) but begins a flow down the mountain and ends in a “bridal (and Gentile) body” (the Many).
- Ox: The Priestly arm begins with Israel’s circumcision (submission), works through the construction of the horned “holy mountain” of the Tabernacle, and fulfils the ministry of Moses in David, a human Tabernacle8See David the Tabernacle. who slew and plundered, a man of blood.
- Lion: The Kingly arm begins with David’s coronation, and moves to Solomon’s peaceful kingdom (the donkey usually pictures Gentiles who are sympathetic to Israel’s cause, as opposed to war horses in which Solomon eventually traded, in disobedience to God). This era of peace culminates in the ships of Tyre, symbolising the influence of Israel among the Canaanite nations. But then they came to influence her.
- Eagle: The Prophetic arm begins with the deceit of Israel’s false prophets (as serpents and scorpions, Luke 10:19) who declared the continuance of the kingdom peace despite the failure in priestly submission to God. Instead of calling Canaanite nations to discipline His people as He did in the book of Judges, God now calls empires, most importantly the Babylonian eagle, Nebuchadnezzar, who finally devours them9See Nebuchaednezzar’s Gospel. (Ezekiel 17:3; Daniel 4:33). Daniel the prophet (as the Bridegroom) submits to God by refusing kingly food and is given dominion as a gift (delicacies). Esther the prophetess (as the Bride), submits to God and not only dines at the royal table but dares to enter the king’s court, walking on the crystal sea (Esther 1:6), a “clean” gazelle, a hind in high places, and eventually becomes co-regent.
- Man: The final arm combines Priest, King and Prophet in the Triune Man, Jesus Christ. He fulfills and brings an end to the history of Israel through the Apostolic witness (swords) and the Jewish War (troops). Thus, the four faces also correspond to the four great “testaments” of Scripture: Moses, the Kings, the Prophets, and the New Testament.
- Even the four houses of Levi are arranged in as four separate quadrants around the tent, corresponding to their peculiar Levitical duties, found in Numbers 4.
Finally, since there are four beams, and each beam has four steps, the four-fold process inherent in Priesthood, Kingdom, Prophecy and Sonship (a Son of heaven who will now be given sons on the earth) is found woven through this construct both vertically and horizontally. Every step is a relationship between two offices, and is thus Trinitarian.
If that is too difficult to understand, it might be easier if you see this patten laid out on the ground “lifted up” as a holy city upon a holy mountain, mediating between heaven and earth. Each beam represents one of the four offices, but each era also contains all four offices.
The tribal arrangement was “geo-architecture,” moving from Moses’ Tent to Solomon’s Temple, then the Jew-Gentile construct of Ezekiel’s Temple to the heavenly city of Christ. Of course, each stage prefigures the whole. Jerusalem was prefigured in Numbers, founded by David, renewed under the Persians and transfigured by Christ. Viewed in this way, the house of Israel is a ziggurat. Israel herself is Jacob’s ladder, the true Babel.
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References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See Jacob’s Tabernacle for an explanation of the “theological ordering” of Jacob’s sons.|
|2.||↑||James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, 61.|
|3.||↑||See Peter Leithart, Cherubic Order.|
|4.||↑||For a discussion of “internal law,” see Michael Bull, Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes.|
|5.||↑||See James B. Jordan, Behind the Scenes: Orientation in the Book of Revelation, 37.|
|6.||↑||See Esther in Ezekiel’s Temple.|
|7.||↑||Moses’ blessings in Deuteronomy 33 had not yet taken place, so the images he employs there concern promises for that later generation. I have not contemplated those so they will have to wait for another time.|
|8.||↑||See David the Tabernacle.|
|9.||↑||See Nebuchaednezzar’s Gospel.|