The children of Israel camped in the wilderness in four groups around the sanctuary. “On the east side, toward the rising of the sun, those of the standard of the forces with Judah shall camp” (Numbers 2:3). The east is often a Godly direction: the entrance to the temple was on the east,[1] Moses and the priests camped on the east side (Numbers 3:38) and God’s glory came from the east (Ezekiel 43:2,4, Revelation 7:2).

Jacob’s son Judah distinguished himself as an intercessor for his brothers (Genesis 37:26, 44:18-34), and the tribe of Judah was considered the kingly tribe (“the scepter shall not depart from Judah” Genesis 49:10); from Judah came the Messiah.[2] Judah was first on the list of the tribes included in the 144,000 (Revelation 7:4-8). His standard was the lion (the Lion of the tribe of Judah,[3] Revelation 5:5, Genesis 49:9). The lion is fearless and bold, and conquers his enemies.[4] Considering this evidence, it appears that the first living creature who is “like a lion” is a mighty angel who presides over the judgment of those who are of the spiritual tribe of Judah. Chapter 6 will say more about the category of people symbolized by the tribe of Judah who are judged during the Day of Atonement.

“On the west side shall be the standard of the forces with Ephraim” (Numbers 2:18). The west was the direction of the Philistines (Isaiah 11:14), who attempted to mingle the worship of God and idols (1 Samuel 5:1,2). West was also the direction of Greece (Daniel 8:5:21), and in appendix 11 you can see that it was the influence of Greek philosophy that established false doctrine and idolatry in the church.

Ephraim was the tribe that was lavished with the richest of blessings,[5] but rather than using their blessings as a spiritual leader, he became the leader in the idolatry of Israel. Jeroboam, an Ephraimite and the first king of the separated kingdom of Israel made two golden calves to be their gods and set one up in Bethel (a city in Ephraim) and the other in Dan (I kings 11:26, 12:25-29).

In the book of Hosea and the Psalms Ephraim is condemned again and again for their idolatry—“Because Ephraim has made many altars for sin, they have become for him altars for sinning…Ephraim exalted himself in Israel, but when he offended through Baal worship, he died. Now they sin more and more, and have made for themselves molded images… they say of them, ‘let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves! Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone. Their drink is rebellion, they commit harlotry continually” (Hosea 8:11, 7:8-10, 13:1,2, 4:17,18). “Ephraim… did not keep the covenant of God. They refused to walk in His law, and forgot his works and His wonders that He had shown them…He [God] rejected the tent of Joseph and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah” (Psalms 78:9-11, 67,68).

Ephraim is not included on the list of the tribes that make up the 144,000.[6]

Ephraim’s standard is the calf.[7] The calf or ox should symbolize strength, submission and sacrifice, but as Ephraim departed from the Lord he was associated with calf worship in the history of Jeroboam and in the book of Hosea.[8] He symbolizes those who claim to be Christians, but because they mix the true with the false they are actually idolaters. The second living creature, the calf, is the great angel who presides over the judgment of the category of people who are symbolized by the tribe of Ephraim.

“On the south side shall be the standard of the forces with Reuben” (Numbers 2:10). The south was considered to be the land of Egypt, where God’s people went to find salvation from famine in the days of Jacob and Joseph but ended up as captive slaves (Genesis 46: 1-7, Exodus 1-13, Daniel 11.) Reuben was the firstborn, and as such should have had the birthright as the spiritual leader of God’s people, but he lost his preeminence through human weakness (he slept with his father’s concubine, Genesis 35:22, 49:3). Like Judah, he tried to intercede for his brother Joseph when the other brothers wanted to kill him, but his intervention was weak and ineffective (Genesis 37:22-29, 42:37). In his final blessing Reuben seems to represent those who “just barely” make it into the kingdom—“Let Reuben live, and not die” (Deuteronomy 33:6).

Reuben’s name is on the list of the tribes included in the 144,000 (Revelation 7:4-8), although not in the first place that his birth order would ordinarily place him.[9] His standard is the man.[10] The man should symbolize godliness (man was created in the image of God, Genesis 1:26), but under the influence of sin man became the symbol of spiritual weakness and failure—“through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The third living creature, the man, is the great angel who presides over the judgment of the category of people who are symbolized by the tribe of Reuben.

“The standard of the forces with Dan shall be on the north side” (Numbers 2:25). North was the direction of the great enemies of God’s people who conquered and scattered them—Syria, Assyria and especially Babylon.[11] In Zechariah 2 the people of God are told to “flee from the land of the north… escape [from] the daughter of Babylon” (Zechariah 2:6,7).

Dan, early in the time of the Judges, separated himself from the other tribes of Israel in the far north where he turned to idol worship (Judges 18). Dan was the second tribe that hosted the calf-idols of Jeroboam, and his territory was known as a center for idolatry (1 Kings 12:25-30, 2 Kings 10:29). Jacob’s “blessing” of the tribe of Dan showed that he was actually an enemy of God’s people, even though he was one of the 12 tribes: “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:16,17).

Dan’s name is not on the list of the tribes included in the 144,000 (Revelation 7:4-8). His standard is the Eagle.[12] The eagle should symbolize justice and protection, but under the influence of sin it came to represent the enemies of God’s people who attack and destroy them.[13] The fourth living creature, the eagle, is the great angel who presides over the judgment of the category of people who are symbolized by the tribe of Dan.

These four tribes represent the four types of “Christians” who are evaluated in the judgment: strong, faithful Christians (the lion), false “Christians” who are actually idolaters (the calf), weak Christians (the man) and so-called Christians who are actually enemies of Christ and His people (the eagle). Only two of the four “tribes” become members of God’s eternal kingdom. This view is supported by the fact that even though Ezekiel saw the creatures (cherubim) with four faces, (“I knew they were cherubim. Each had four faces” Ezekiel 10:20,21), when cherubim were carved “throughout the temple...each cherub had [only] two faces, so that the face of a man was toward a palm tree on one side, and the face of a young lion toward a palm tree on the other side” ( Ezekiel 41:18,19). The faces of the calf and the eagle were not included in the carvings that decorated the temple.[14]

The following table summarizes the living creatures and the tribes associated with them:


























Continue to next section: 4:9-11 PRAISE TO THE CREATOR

[1] Exodus 27:13-16, Ezekiel 46:1.

[2] Genesis 49:8-10, Matthew 1:2,3, 2:6, Hebrews 7:14.

[3] In Ezekiel’s vision of the 4 living creatures the lion was on the east side, the side where Judah camped—the vision was seen “coming out of the north” and the lion was on the right, or east side.

[4] Proverbs 28:1, Isaiah 31:4, Micah 5:8,9.

[5] Genesis 48:8-20, 49:22-26.

[6] Although 12 tribes are on the list, two tribes are missing, Ephraim and Dan. This is because Joseph is included as well as one of his sons (Manasseh). A full list with Joseph and both his sons would be 14.

[7] In Ezekiel’s vision the calf was on the west side, the side where Ephraim camped. Ephraim is repeatedly compared to a calf, bull or heifer (See Jeremiah 31:18, Hosea 10:11, 4:16,17)

[8] Hosea 13:1,2, 10:11, 4:16,17.

[9] In the Old Testament listings of the tribes Reuben was listed first (Genesis 49:3, Exodus 1:2, Numbers 1:5, 13:4, Deuteronomy 33:6-25, 1 Chronicles 2:1). But in 1 Chronicles 5:1 it is seen that Reuben lost his first-born privileges because of sexual sin—“Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright; yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph's.”

[10] In Ezekiel’s vision the man was on the south side, the side where Reuben camped.

[11] Jeremiah 1:13-16, 25:9, Ezekiel 26:7, 38:1-39:5, Daniel 11 (the King of the North), Zephaniah 2:13.

[12] In Ezekiel’s vision the Eagle was on the north side, the side where Dan camped.

[13] Leviticus 11:13, Deuteronomy 28:49, Hosea 8:1, Lamentations 4:19, Habakkuk 1:6-8. There is an association between serpents (Dan is “a serpent by the way”) and eagles: Satan, “that ancient serpent” is the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:12-15). The King of Babylon is portrayed as “a great eagle” in Ezekiel 17 (see vs. 3, 12).

[14] Another evidence is that when the Israelites were camped in the desert, the blowing of trumpets was to “sound the advance” and the tribes on the east and south (Judah and Reuben) were to “begin their journey,” which symbolized following God (Numbers 10:5,6). There is no mention an “advance” being sounded for the tribes of the west and north (Ephraim and Dan).