This article describes the order in which the 12 tribes of Israel were organised, whenever the whole nation was to set up camp. In the centre of the camp was the Tent of Meeting [also called the Lord’s Tabernacle] with 3 of the tribes of Israel encamped on each side. The Levites were the only tribe that was allowed to camp any closer to the Tent of Meeting.
Here is the text in the Old Testament book of Numbers, which describes how the Lord arranged the Israelite camp…
Numbers 2:1-2 (ANIV)
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp round the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family.“
Clearly, from this text we see that each tribe, & probably each family had its own banner. There is no description in the Bible of what these tribal or family banners looked like. However, I thought it would be visually appealing to design 12 distinctive tribal banners (one for each son of Jacob), for my cartoons.
This is an edited version of the Bible passage that describes the arrangement of the 12 tribes around the Tent of Meeting, taken from Numbers 2:3-31 (ANIV), which describes the arrangement of the 12 tribes around the camp:
‘On the east… the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard… The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them… The tribe of Zebulun will be next.
On the south will be the divisions of the camp of Reuben under their standard… The tribe of Simeon will camp next to them…The tribe of Gad will be next.
Then the Tent of Meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps. They will set out in the same order as they encamp, each in his own place under his standard.
On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard… The tribe of Manasseh will be next to them… The tribe of Benjamin will be next.
On the north will be the divisions of the camp of Dan, under their standard…The tribe of Asher will camp next to them…The tribe of Naphtali will be next.’
Clearly, from the above text, the Lord organised the 12 tribes* of the Hebrew people. Above is a diagram showing this arrangement.
This was also the marching order of the 12 tribes: those who camped in the east set out first, followed by the tribes who camped on the south. The Levites who camped in the centre of the who arrangement, & who carried the Tent of meeting & all the holy items set out next. Then the tribes who camped on the west set out, finally the 3 tribes who camped on the north side, set out, as the rear guard.
*For the observant amongst you, there are 13 tribes in the diagram, when you count them all up! However, there wasn’t a tribe called “Joseph.” His tribe was represented by his 2 sons, called Ephraim & Manasseh.
Links to other articles:
Follow this link to read the BC Encyclopaedia article which describes how I designed the clothing of the 12 sons of Jacob:
Jacob’s sons – Who’s who?! – Clothing notes
Follow this link to read the BC Encyclopaedia article describing the tribal banners of the 12 sons of Jacob:
Jacob’s sons & their tribal banners
Follow this link to see how I draw Jacob & his 12 sons on the BC gallery page, with download and purchase options:
Bible Cartoon: Genesis 37 – Joseph’s Dreams – Scene 02 – The coat of many colours
Follow this link to read the BC Blog article describing the 12 sons of Jacob:
Jacob’s sons – who’s who?