Numbers 10:33—Was the Ark placed in the middle of the camp or in front of it?
Problem: In this text, we read that “the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them.” Yet, earlier the tabernacle (with its ark) are said to be “in the middle of the camps” (Num. 2:17).
Solutions: Some scholars claim there were two arks, one made by Moses which was carried in front of the camp and which the Philistines later captured. The other was made by Bezaleel, containing the tables of the law, which stayed in the middle of the camp.
Other scholars believe that the ark was generally in the middle of the camp but that on certain occasions, as the three day journey (Num. 10:33), it was taken out in front of the camp.
Still others believe that the phrase “went before them” (Num. 10:33) does not imply locality but leadership. Just as a general “went before” his army (that is, led them) and yet was surrounded by troops protecting them, even so the ark lead Israel, even though it was in the middle of them.
Finally, it is possible that the ark was only in the middle of the people while they were camped (Num. 2). But that as they broke camp, the ark then went out before them to lead them to their next destination. Any one of these suggestions would resolve the difficulty.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.