Chapter two describes the camping and traveling situation for the nation while they were in the wilderness. In addition to having the tribes camp together, God had three tribes join under one larger “tribe,” each on one side of the tabernacle, which stood in the middle of the camp. On the east side of the tabernacle, under Judah’s banner was Issachar and Zebulun. On the south side, under Reuben, was Simeon and Gad. On the west side, under Ephraim, was Manasseh and Benjamin. On the north side, under Dan, was Asher and Naphtali. When the camp moved, the groups would also move in this order. The Levites stayed with the tabernacle in the center of the camp and between the first and last two groups when traveling.
Because no explanation of the camping arrangements is given, commentators have wondered about the reason, looking for certain patterns. For instance, the third group (Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin) were the only tribes from Jacob’s wife, Rachel. The fourth group (Dan, Asher, and Naphtali) came through Leah’s and Rachel’s maids. Whether this contributed to God’s design is purely speculative.