When Ezekiel saw his vision of four living creatures (Ezekiel 1), each with the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle, it was not the first time those four faces had been seen together in Israel’s history. To find their first appearance, we have to travel back to the time when the nation of Israel was journeying through the wilderness. There the twelve tribes of Israel encamped around the tabernacle, each with their divinely assigned positions of encampment and with their unique, tribal banners flying.
The tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon were positioned on the eastern side of the tabernacle. Collectively they were associated with the primary tribe of Judah which was the closest encampment of the three to the tabernacle and whose banner depicted a lion.
The tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad were positioned on the southern side of the tabernacle. Collectively they were associated with the primary tribe of Reuben which was the closest encampment of the three to the tabernacle and whose standard depicted a man.
The tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin were positioned on the western side of the tabernacle. Collectively they were associated with the primary tribe of Ephraim which was the closest encampment of the three to the tabernacle and whose banner depicted an ox.
The tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali were positioned on the northern side of the tabernacle. Collectively they were associated with the primary tribe of Dan which was the closest encampment of the three to the tabernacle and whose standard depicted an eagle.
Furthermore, as the Israelites journeyed from place to place, each tribe would march out according to these four major divisions. Each three-tribe division would follow the standard of the primary tribe of their division.
Thus when the twelve tribes of Israel either camped or journeyed, they each were associated with one of the banners of the four primary tribes depicting either a lion, a man, an ox, or an eagle.
The fact that these four “faces” were not merely representative of four random tribes in Israel, but of the four primary tribes, and that all of the remaining tribes were associated by divine arrangement with one of them, speaks strongly of the primary significance of these four “faces” in relation to God’s people as a whole.
In the previous post, I suggested that these faces relate to the four primary callings of God’s people: priestly, prophetic, kingly, and, consummately, that of sonship. If we were to look through this lens at the entire encampment of the twelve tribes of Israel in their divisions around the tabernacle, a beautiful and hiddenly instructive picture begins to emerge.
In this and the following posts I will seek to unpack some aspects of that revelation as I’ve come to see it. In doing so, I will address the four faces and four callings in what I consider to be an ascending order of spiritual development and significance. Interestingly, this also corresponds to the ascending birth order of the four descendants of Jacob(Israel) related to those four faces, from youngest to oldest: Jacob’s second grandson, Ephraim (ox/priestly calling), Jacob’s seventh son, Dan (eagle/prophetic calling), Jacob’s fourth son, Judah (lion/kingly calling), and, finally, Jacob’s firstborn son, Reuben (man/sonship calling.)
All four of these callings find their highest expression and fulfillment in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Anointed One. They are also descriptive of the four primary callings of “His body, the fullness of Him” (Ephesians 1:23), the corporate Christ, “the body” of the Anointed One.
In the next post, then, we will consider the priestly calling as represented by the face of the ox and further illuminated by the three tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. I look forward to exploring that aspect of Christ’s and our collective calling with you next time. 🙂