CAMP, ENCAMPMENT (Heb. mahaneh). A group of tents intended for traveling or for temporary residence as in case of war—contrasted with villages, towns, or cities that are composed of houses and other more or less permanent buildings. The word mahaneh occurs over two hundred times and is properly translated “camp,” but it is often translated “host” and occasionally “army,” indicating the military purpose of the encampment. In Gen.32.1-Gen.32.2, when the angels of God met Jacob, Jacob exclaimed, “This is the camp of God!” and he named the place “Mahanaim,” or “Two Camps,” referring to God’s host and his own.
In the wilderness the Israelites were given precise instructions as to the order and arrangements of their camp, both at rest and in traveling (Num.2.1-Num.2.34). The tabernacle in the center indicated the centrality of God in their life and worship. It was surrounded rather closely by the three families of the priests and Levites, and then further back were the twelve tribes. In Deut.23.9-Deut.23.14 the sanitary and ceremonial observances, which were used to keep the camp clean and wholesome, are given. Three tribes were grouped on each side of the tabernacle under the banners of the leading tribes: Judah eastward, with Issachar and Zebulun; Reuben southward, with Simeon and Gad; Ephraim westward, with Manasseh and Benjamin; and Dan northward, with Asher and Naphtali. When they marched, the Levites, carrying the tabernacle, occupied the center of the line. The high command was located there.——ABF
, encampment, barracks, a company of troops
). The camp or encampment of the Israelites during the Exodus is described in detail in the Book of Numbers
. From the time of the first pause after crossing the Red Sea until the crossing of the Jordan River
the twelve tribes arranged themselves according to a plan which called for “facing the tent of meeting on every side” (Num 2:2
). The four fronts faced the cardinal points N, S, E, and W. The Tabernacle was surrounded by the twelve tribes forming the outer sides of the rectangle. Those on the E side were Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. On the S side were Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. On the W side were Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin. Dan, Asher, and Naphtali were on the N side. Within the larger square the Tabernacle was surrounded by the tribe of Levi and the baggage carriers, the baggage and the stalls of the domestic animals. No reference is made in Numbers to a line of defense being thrown up for the protection of the camp.
Later in the history of Israel when single armies fought against each other, the encampment was not necessarily quadrangular in shape. Sometimes the crest of steep hills provided the line of the camp. The space occupied was that in keeping with the nature of the terrain, and defense lines were sometimes thrown up (1 Sam 17:20; 26:5). The camp was constantly guarded (Judg 7:19). While the battle was taking place, a remnant stayed behind watching the camp (1 Sam 30:24).
While the terminology bearing upon the camp is applicable to either nomads or troops, it is generally related to the business of war.