- Num. 9:1-12; 1:1-2:34
The Israelites had been encamped at Mount Sinai for 9 months. GOD instructed Moses to have the people observe the LORD’s Passover, which marked one year since they left Egypt. During this same time period GOD began organizing the tribes of Israel for their specific functions.
First, He took the Levites and had Aaron offer them "as a wave offering" before GOD (Num. 8:5-26). Then GOD instructed that all Levites would be responsible for taking care of the tabernacle and its associated duties. From age 25 to age 50 the Levite would serve in the tabernacle.
Then GOD had Moses number the people according to their tribes. He told Moses to number every male that was twenty years and up who was able to go to war. But of the tribe of Levi, GOD said:
“Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor take a census of them among the children of Israel; but you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall attend to it and camp around the tabernacle.”
(Num. 1:49-50 NKJV)
GOD was very serious about how the Israelites treated the tabernacle.
“And when the tabernacle is to go forward, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall set it up. The outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”
(Num. 1:51 NKJV)
Then GOD instructed the people in what order they were to setup their tents when they traveled. The Levites were to setup the tabernacle in the center, and they were to camp surrounding it. The tribe of Judah was to pitch their tents to the east of the tabernacle. The other tribes were told one by one where to pitch their tents surrounding the Levites and the tabernacle.
GOD was very specific about how He wanted these things done. The Israelites were very careful to follow exactly what GOD said because they understood the severity of disobeying.