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According to the earlier narrative(Numbers 10:14-25) the order of setting out of the tribes of Israel was arranged this way:

1)Standard of Judah

2)Gershonites and Merarites-carried Tabernacle

3)Standard of Reuben

4)Kohathites-carried the Ark of the covenant

5)Standard of Ephraim

6)Standard of Dan

But in verse 33 it is said that the Ark was leading when they went in search of a place to rest instead of the standard of Judah which was the norm

Numbers 10:33 NIV

33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest.

Did they switch positions?

2 Answers 2

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The default position of the ark was with the tabernacle. Num 10:

14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.

Every now and then, the ark led the Israelites:

33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest.

Same thing happened in Joshua 3:3

giving orders to the people: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.

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I would not use "switch positions" to describe it. I suggest using "orderly sequence".

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Since Judah, Issachar and Zebulun camps were at the East and they were going East, they were first to move but it didn't mean they lead. They had to give way to the tabernacle and the ark.

Joshua 3:2-4 read

2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp,

3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.

4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

So, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun were move out from their positions, gave way to the ark to lead.

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