Saturday, 21 February 2015 21:37

The Cross in Numbers

The Old Testament book of Numbers is an historical chronicle of the nation of Israel in its travels through the desert of the Sinai, after the Exodus from Egypt.  It is one of the five books of the Law, or the Torah.  Its authorship is attributed to Moses.

The Census

In Chapter 1 of the book of Numbers, the LORD instructed Moses to take a head count of the eligible males (20 years of age and up) that were able for military service.  These were numbered according to their families (or tribes) except for the tribe of Levi.  The Levites were designated by God to serve as priests and to protect, maintain and tend to the Tabernacle, also known as the Tent of Meeting.

The Encampment

After completing the census, Chapter 2 of the book of Numbers tells us that the LORD gave additional instructions to Moses and Aaron on how the tribal camps should be arranged.  The individual tribes were assigned to one of four camps led by the prominent tribes of Israel: Judah, Rueben, Ephraim or Dan.  The camps were to arrange themselves around the Tabernacle and the Levite camp at a distance along the cardinal points of the compass (North, South, East and West).  The table below shows the results of the “census”:

Tribes of Israel and their counts, arranged by their respective camps:






































Now, there is good reason to believe that the instructions given to Moses and Aaron by the LORD to setup these encampments were kept to the letter.  That being the case, the camps would then have to maintain equal widths; otherwise one camp could technically be offset from the opposing camp, for example, to the south and southeast of the Levites and the Tabernacle.  In other words, the four camps would have to match the breadth of the Levite camp on each side to remain within each cardinal direction of North, South, East or West.

The Map

So, “plotting” this out in a numerically proportional manner would result in something like the figure below (each dot represents 1000), as if it were viewed from above:

Graphical depiction of Israelite camp from Numbers 2.

The aerial view of the Israelite encampment is proportional in shape to that of a traditional cross.  Even if the encampments of each tribe and clan were not rigidly aligned as a military formation typically is, the shape would be maintained proportionally.


Could this be a coincidence?  Not likely, as the symbol of a cross had no relevance to the Israelites at that time.  Keep in mind that this occurred and was written down over 1400 years before Christ was born.  In addition, crucifixion as a method of capital punishment is generally believed to not have existed until after 600 B.C.  So why encamp in the formation of a cross?  For what possible reason(s) would God have arranged the tribes of Israel in this manner?  Let’s look at a couple of possibilities.

The Military Reason?

At the time, the Israelites were preparing to move towards Canaan and were about to be among other peoples and nations, some hostile.  So, let’s begin by first analyzing this particular camp arrangement from a military perspective.  A military encampment is arranged in order to provide proper protection, communication, and control.  It should also be arranged to provide for the safety and well being of the units making up the camp.  This means having a defensive perimeter that allows surveillance of the surrounding land and main avenues of approach while offering some level protection to prevent unobstructed entrance to the heart of the camp (where the leaders are located).  Militaries of the time utilized defensive lines, linear and circular encampments, as these met the requirements of protection, command and control.  As military technology has developed, so has the arrangement of military encampments and defenses. 

As Moses did not have firearms or cannon available (long-range projectile weapons) and as such no overlapping zones of protection, having a cross formation such as this would leave indefensible gaps in their perimeter.  In more modern times, such a formation could be defended with projectile weapons, allowing for overlapping fields of fire that would provide adequate coverage of the spaces between the axis’ of the cross.  However, this sort of formation could have problems with friendly fire.

It is also worth noting that having your troops in this formation might also hamper communication.  Command and control, without some method to relay messages quickly and accurately to the units at the outer positions, would be difficult if not impractical at best.  With this in mind, it is doubtful then that the purpose of having the encampment in a cross formation was to facilitate defense. 

As it was, the Israelites had the divine protection of God – what better defense is there?  With the Lord of Hosts on your side, the manner of your encampment (from a military perspective) does not matter.


Could it be that God did this in order to leave His signature?  By that I mean - might God have purposely arranged the Israelite encampment in the form of a cross in order to prove that He is the ultimate author of the book of Numbers, and therefore, the ultimate author of the Bible? 

When a person wants to communicate a meaningful message to someone else, there are some basic rules that have to be met.  Any message must have a sender, a medium in which to be transmitted, and it must be able to be understood by the receiver.  The receiver must also have the assurance that the message received is actually from the perceived sender, otherwise anyone could pose as the sender and spread wrong information.  To validate that the receiver has gotten the message and has proof of the sender, people throughout time have used various forms of authentication from uniquely imprinted wax seals to signatures to modern passwords and encryption keys.

In a similar manner, God has placed the record of this event in this book to authenticate His involvement and orchestration of events across time.  Had God not instructed Moses, why would he have chosen to encamp Israel in a cross formation?  The symbol had no meaning to them.  How could Moses have possibly known that the Savior would die on a cross and that the symbol would carry on through the millennia as the universal symbol of our salvation? 


The logical conclusion is that one of God’s purposes for Chapter 2 was to validate or authenticate His divine authorship.  As with the other books of the Bible, this book too had a purpose and can be trusted to be true and trustworthy.

God has tied together symbolic meaning across a span of time to serve as evidence to us of the divine origin of the Scriptures…that the Bible is a collection of 66 works, written through the hands of over 40 men by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, across a span of over 3000 years – all inspired, orchestrated and preserved by the one and only living God.

Published in Apologetics