XXIII. The Levites and Their Order of Encampment
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
CHART OF THE ORDER OF ENCAMPMENT
Ee have pointed out in Chapter XX that the priesthood among the sons of Israel was divided into three degrees or orders, represented by Aaron, the sons of Aaron, and the tribe of Levi. It was also noted that the first two orders represented the celestial and the spiritual heavens respectively, the duties of the priests being a correspondential representation of the uses performed by the angels of those heavens. It was also true that the third degree, or the Levites, represented the lowest or natural heaven. Their work was associated with the court of the tabernacle, which represented that heaven, and their duties depicted the spiritual services to man of the natural angels, a service which has to do with the memory and the imaginative faculty.
Levi had three sons, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The eldest son of Kohath was Amram, who was the father of Moses and Aaron. Thus through him descended the priesthood proper. The brothers of Amram with their descendants, and the sons of Kohath and Merari, constituted what is known as the Levites.1 Each of these branches of the tribe of Levi was assigned a special charge in connection with the service of the tabernacle.
To the Gershonites was intrusted the care of the curtains of the tabernacle, the hangings for the door of the tabernacle and for the gate of the court, the linen curtains that formed the walls of the court, and the cords and stakes used to hold it in position. They are said in the Word Explained to represent "All those things which are insinuated into the intellectual mind from the exteriors; for man is formed from the external things which are insinuated into the mind, and thus constitute its natural part, which things remain when man has been reformed."2
The reason for this signification may be illustrated by their name, the position of their encampment, and the charge intrusted to them. The name Gershon means "stranger." External things which come into the mind from the outer world, as mental pictures of material objects belong to the world of nature. Yet they are essential to the reception of spiritual life by man. They are of service to man's life on earth, but are left behind at death. Possessing the qualities of space and matter, they do not belong in the spiritual world. Thought from material ideas holds the mind in spiritual darkness and obscurity, which cannot be entirely dispelled until after the death of the body. When one enters the spiritual world he is released from his dependence upon the physical senses, and therefore can think apart from space and time. The angels have no material ideas. They do not know what material things are. All their thought is focussed upon things spiritual and celestial. Ideas that are derived from the senses of the body do indeed remain for a time after death, but they are gradually removed as the external memory becomes quiescent, and man is introduced into the life of his interiors. This takes place in the world of spirits; but when one enters into heaven all ideas of space, time, and matter are left behind. They are like strangers who have no place in the Lord's heavenly kingdom. Nevertheless, the objects that surround the angels are altogether similar in appearance to the things of earth. They are similar in form but entirely different in quality. For the most part, men on earth perceive in the objects in their environment, only the properties of matter, size, color, texture, etc. It is possible for them, of course, to think abstractly, but only as the result of conscious reflection. In the imagination they may picture an ideal, a goal, an end to be achieved. By this means they can discover how various things are related to one another, and how they may be used to serve some human purpose. This is the secret of all invention. But at best what they see are uses for the benefit of earthly society. Only from revelation can they attain to any concept of spiritual uses. The angels on the other hand, perceive these spiritual uses in all things of their world. They see them spontaneously and without effort. The external form of the objects about them serve merely as a medium through which spiritual things become visible and tangible to them.
All things in the material world have been created to be of service to the spirit of man as well as to his body. From Divine revelation man can derive some vague and general idea of these spiritual uses, but only in states of reflection. Such insight comes only by inspiration out of heaven, and opening the minds of men to spiritual ideas is the chief function of the angels in the natural heaven. This is specifically represented by the work assigned to the Gershonites. For this reason they were given charge of the tabernacle curtains which were represented by veilings, or accommodations of spiritual truth to human perception.
Natural angels are present with man in his imagination. Their delight is to order the material ideas in his memory in such a way as to reveal their use, and especially their spiritual use. If we reflect upon our mental processes, we may realize that imaginative pictures are continually passing through our minds, and they convey to us a meaning that transcends their external form altogether. Everything in the imagination is symbolic of something that we love, and for this reason is called an "ideal." Often objects in the imagination assume a significance out of all proportion to their intrinsic value. They may be revered and held as precious because they represent what is holy. They may be valued as a token of friendship without reference to their monetary worth. These are but illustrations of how material objects may take on new meaning and be regarded merely as the clothing of what is spiritual.
We are told that the natural angels take great delight in dramatic representations.3 They picture in this way heavenly truths that are perceived by the wiser angels in the higher heavens. Such pictures are formed by combining in various ways the ideas of the memory drawn from physical experience. Because this is what is represented by the use assigned to the Gershonites, it was commanded that they should be encamped on the west side of the tabernacle. Of the four quarters, the west represents the memory, or the storehouse of sensations.
The Kohathites were the most closely related to the priesthood itself because Aaron and his sons were descendants of Kohath. The name means "assembly" or gathering together. The camp of the Kohathites was situated on the south side of the tabernacle. They were given charge of the furniture: the ark, the table of shewbread, the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the sacred vessels that were used for priestly administration in the holy place. They also had charge of the altar of burnt offering, with its instruments and its censers, and of the laver. All of these are said to represent "those things in the mind which come from above, namely through the soul, and thus immediately from the Lord."4
There are, of necessity, two elements in the imaginative process, one active and the other passive. The passive element consists of the sensual images derived from the world; but if these are to be ordered and brought into such relation that they may assume a spiritual significance, there must be an active force by which this is done. All the power to organize, to build, and to form a spiritual body of thought from the things of earth is derived from above through the soul, and it is perceived by man as an affection or love. When things of earth are put into an order which accords with the Divine plan they cease to be a source of darkness or shade and become translucent, reflecting the light of heaven. This is illustrated in the field of art, where it is the arrangement and combination of lights and colors which alone reveal upon the canvas the soul of the artist, and produce a corresponding affection in the minds of those who see the picture. Because by means of such arrangement of visual images, light from heaven is enabled to penetrate even into the natural mind of man, the Kohathites were encamped toward the south, for the south in the spiritual world represents understanding and enlightenment. The furniture of the tabernacle represented the conscious presence of the Lord and the reception of heavenly truth and good from Him. These were the real things for the protection of which the tabernacle had been erected. Through them there was communication with the angels and conjunction with God.
The tabernacle furniture represented the spiritual itself that is active within natural forms. Those things from above which are active in the natural mind are especially delights and heavenly affections perceived in states of worship or of enlightenment, and stored up as "remains." They stand in opposition to the delights of the body and the world, and establish an equilibrium by which man is given the power to choose what is eternal in preference to that which is temporal. By this alone is man enabled to regenerate. Such delights are felt even in the natural mind. They are felt long before the spiritual mind can be opened. The deepest delights are felt indeed in earliest infancy, in a state of innocence when celestial angels can be present. Later, during childhood, spiritual delights are insinuated by the presence of spiritual angels, and finally in youth, natural delights, perceived as civil, moral, and ethical ideals, are insinuated by the presence of natural angels. These delights, which are insinuated into the minds of everyone during infancy and childhood, are called "remains" because they are reserved in the interiors, and can be recalled at adult age when the process of regeneration first begins. The natural angels are instrumental in bringing them to conscious perception, and by so doing they cooperate with the Lord in His Divine work of human salvation. This is what is meant by the ministry of the Kohathites. By means of this, man's religious conscience is formed. Conscience is nothing but a love of what one believes to be true and right. It is a fear that things which are precious may be lost. In essence it is the love of obeying the Lord's will. This is the love that first opens the mind to the reception of spiritual good and truth, and it is the love that is characteristic of those who are in the natural heaven, and who are represented by the Kohathites.
The third son of Levi was Merari. The name is derived from a root meaning "bitter," and it suggests at once the waters of Marah which became bitter, concerning which we are told in the Writings that the bitterness of temptation is meant.5 The Merarites were encamped toward the north, and they were given charge of the boards, bases, pillars, stakes and cords of the tabernacle, and the pillars and bases of the court. Their representation is said to be "those things in the intellectual mind which are called fallacies, and which come from the fallacies of the senses, as, for example, that a man thinks that he lives a proprial life, and that he can act from himself, etc., etc."6
Here again we find the significance illustrated graphically by the facts which are related concerning this branch of the Levites. The fallacies and mere appearances of the senses bring the mind into doubts and temptations during the process of man's regeneration. Thus these fallacies are the cause of all spiritual suffering and bitterness. Yet they are the necessary means without which man would be unable to acquire spiritual life as if by his own effort. If the truth of heaven were continually self-evident it could not be discovered. If doubts never arose there would be no sense of achievement in the development of spiritual understanding. The things of heaven would then appear obviously as Divine gifts received gratis. They would never seem to be man's own, and he could not feel in them the delight of possession. The greatest fallacy of all is the appearance that man lives from himself. Yet this is the very human, the image of God into which man is created. Without it he would be a lifeless automaton, a puppet. He would have no power of choice, no personal judgment, and no responsibility. He would be deprived of all the joy and happiness of life. Wherefore the Lord protects and preserves this appearance in man by all the power of His Divine Providence.
Nevertheless, the sense of self-life is only an appearance. It is not the truth, for God alone has, or can have, life in Himself. If therefore this appearance is confirmed to the denial of the truth, it becomes the source of all evil. It cuts man off from all communication with God, making him completely self-centered, confident in his own intelligence, and in his own power to direct his life. The Lord, therefore, without depriving man of the appearance that he lives from himself secretly insinuates the love of God and the spirit of charity through the influence of the angels. This subtle influence is represented by the service of the Merarites. They were given charge of the boards and pillars of the tabernacle. Because these were made of shittim wood they represented the Lord's merit and righteousness, or the acknowledgment by man that the Lord alone has life and power in Himself. Such an acknowledgment is turned in heaven into a complete trust in providence, and a sense of security under the protection of the Lord. This is first insinuated in infancy as a perfect reliance upon one's mother as upon one who is all-loving and all-wise. Later it develops into a sense of reverence for the Word, and willingness to be taught and led by the Lord through His Word. But there is nothing more difficult for man to do than to acknowledge that he has no life and no power of his own. The appearance is that, by this acknowledgment he would be deprived of everything that makes life worth living. It brings with it, therefore, severe suffering which is perceived as the bitterness of temptation. After victory in this temptation, however, the suffering is turned into the joy of reliance upon the merciful care and providence of the Lord from which arises the very peace and happiness of heaven. To inspire such an acknowledgment is the special function of the natural angels, represented by the Merarites who had charge of the boards and pillars of the tabernacle. These, being made of shittim wood, represented, as we have said, the Lord's merit and righteousness.
The fallacies of the body and the world remain with the natural angels far more than with those of the higher heavens. These fallacies are present with them because they are not deeply learned. Like children, they are satisfied to rest in the appearances of things. Yet they do not confirm these appearances, knowing from the higher angels that a deeper truth is contained within them. They are not impelled to investigate this deeper truth, but they accept it because they are taught that it is so. They receive the teaching gladly and believe it unquestioningly, though they do not see its truth in the light of their own minds. These natural angels operate with men into the appearances and fallacies in their minds, and influence them against the confirmation of these appearances, and in favor of acknowledging that higher truths lie concealed within them. Thus they temper the doubts and the temptations that arise, and keep man in a state of humility that he may be teachable from the Word, even though he himself cannot perceive interior truth. This state of ignorance in which there is innocence and willingness to be led, is represented by the north, the side on which the Merarites were encamped.
It remains further to describe the order of encampment about the tabernacle and its general signification. As we have previously pointed out, the predominant form of the tabernacle was rectilinear. This form extended itself to the whole camp, which was a square with the tabernacle at the center of it. As may be seen from the accompanying chart (on page ....), the camp of Israel began 2000 cubits, or 3000 feet from the walls of the court. This space was reserved for the Levites, who had special charge of the tabernacle, and who represented more interior things.
As was just pointed out, the Gershonites occupied the space to the west, the Kohathites to the south, and the Merarites to the north. The ground to the east, to the distance of 2000 cubits, was reserved for Moses, for Aaron, and for the sons of Aaron and their families. The reason for this position of the priests is obvious. Although it is not specifically stated, it is probable that Moses and Aaron were encamped nearest to the tabernacle, arid immediately in front of the gate of the court. Beyond the space reserved for the Levites the other tribes of Israel were encamped. These were twelve in number, because Ephraim and Manasseh were substituted for Joseph, and thus the number twelve was maintained although the Levites had been withdrawn and dedicated to the service of the Lord. The entire congregation was divided into four camps, each consisting of three tribes under the leadership of one of them. Thus on the east was the camp of Judah, consisting of the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The tribe of Judah was situated at the southeast corner. Issachar was next, with Zebulun to the north. The signification of this camp was derived from .the tribe of Judah, which represents love to the Lord -- Issachar and Zebulun being subordinate in the series. On the south side was the camp of Reuben, consisting of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. It is probable that Reuben was encamped toward the east, Simeon in the middle, and Gad toward the west, though this is nowhere specifically indicated. This is a reasonable conclusion because Reuben was the leader, and therefore would be toward the east. The representation of this camp is derived from the name Reuben which signifies faith or sight, and this also is the reason why it was situated toward the south. On the west side was the camp of Ephraim, which consisted of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. It is probable that Ephraim was toward the south, Manasseh in the middle, and Benjamin toward the north. Ephraim represents the "intellectual" or the intelligence of truth, which is derived on the one hand from spiritual enlightenment, and on the other from sense-experience. He was therefore naturally placed in the southwest corner, the south representing spiritual light or enlightenment, and the west or the sea, scientifics from sense-experience. On the north was the camp of Dan, consisting of the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. It is probable that Dan was on the west,
Asher in the middle, and Naphtali toward the east, for Dan represents acknowledgment in a state of ignorance. He is the last of the tribes, and for this reason his inheritance was at the boundaries of the land. It became a double inheritance, part of it being on the sea coast at Joppa, which was the port of entry, and the other part at the extreme north at a point called Dan Laish, near the foot of the Lebanon range. Dan represented the ultimates of truth by which there is introduction into heaven and the church. In the one case, the ultimates are represented as they exist with those who have grown up in the church, and have received her teachings in the form of scicntifics. The acknowledgment of this teaching is the means of entrance into the church at adult age, and it is represented by the port of entry. In the second case, there are represented the ultimates of truth with the Gentiles, who are in ignorance of the teachings of the church, yet who are in a state of humility and are willing to learn. Such a state is represented by the entrance into the land from the north.
Each camp was under the standard of its leading tribe, and when the congregation was on the march, was distinguished by that standard, which was carried at the head of the procession. Thus, those on the east went forward under the standard of Judah, those on the south under the standard of Reuben, etc.
We cannot attempt a detailed exposition of the order of encampment here given. Suffice it to say that the encampment represented the mind of a regenerate man, or of one who is in love to the Lord, and in spiritual charity. The twelve tribes of Israel represented the truth and good of the church in a complex. The order of encampment was symbolic of all the societies of heaven in their relation to one another. This arrangement was the basis for influx, because it presented a continual picture of heavenly order before the sight of the angels, who perceived it in the minds of the Israelites. This was the ground of that influx into the mind of Balaam the prophet, which made it impossible for him, when he was called by Balak to curse the sons of Israel, to do aught but bless them. Therefore, when he looked upon the tents of the Israelites in their order, he was inspired to say, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob. Thy tabernacles, O Israel. As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord has planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters."7
Numbers 24:5, 6. See the whole story in Numbers 22-24.