The Israelite Encampment
The Book of Numbers describes the layout of the encampment during Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wanderings (2:1–34). The tribes encamped around the tabernacle, both in order to stay close to the tent of meeting and to defend it during attack. The four sides were surrounded by four groups, led by Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan. The Levites—specially chosen to be close to God—camped around all sides of the tabernacle.
The tribe of Levi was chosen by God to serve as priests and they were placed together around the Tabernacle, with the clan of Gershon on the West behind the tent of meeting, the clan of Merari in the North, the clan of Kohath in the South and with Moses, Aaron and his two living sons in the East in front of the tent of meeting.