Daily Thoughts from Numbers: God’s Sustaining Presence

On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils, the chiefs of Israel, heads of their fathers’ houses, who were the chiefs of the tribes, who were over those who were listed, approached and brought their offerings before the LORD, six wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two of the chiefs, and for each one an ox. They brought them before the tabernacle. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Accept these from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.” So Moses took the wagons and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service. And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder. And the chiefs offered offerings for the dedication of the altar on the day it was anointed; and the chiefs offered their offering before the altar. And the LORD said to Moses, “They shall offer their offerings, one chief each day, for the dedication of the altar.”…

  This was the dedication offering for the altar on the day when it was anointed, from the chiefs of Israel: twelve silver plates, twelve silver basins, twelve golden dishes, each silver plate weighing 130 shekels and each basin 70, all the silver of the vessels 2,400 shekels according to the shekel of the sanctuary, the twelve golden dishes, full of incense, weighing 10 shekels apiece according to the shekel of the sanctuary, all the gold of the dishes being 120 shekels; all the cattle for the burnt offering twelve bulls, twelve rams, twelve male lambs a year old, with their grain offering; and twelve male goats for a sin offering; and all the cattle for the sacrifice of peace offerings twenty-four bulls, the rams sixty, the male goats sixty, the male lambs a year old sixty. This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed.

  And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.  (Numbers 7:1-89 ESV)

To dedicate the tabernacle the tribes of Israel brought carts and bulls for use by two sons of Aaron, Gershon and Merari, because they needed transportation for the components of the tent.  Aaron’s son Kohath could not use a cart because the holy furniture had to be carried on foot by poles resting on their shoulders.

The tribes also brought dishes of gold and silver to be used in the tabernacle and animals to offer in sacrifice to God to dedicate and anoint the altar of sacrifice at the tabernacle.  When Moses received all these things and went into the tent and the most holy place within the tent, Yahweh spoke to him from above the ark of the covenant between the cherubim.  This simulated what occurs in heaven, the tabernacle being a replica of the heavenly temple, and signified that Yahweh was pleased to “dwell” among Israel.

The offerings brought by the chiefs of the tribes were very practical and useful for the ministry of the Tabernacle.  But Moses did not immediately receive them, doing so only after Yahweh had instructed him to do so.  People will make offerings at times with pure motives and at times with impure.  The latter must be watched for.  Enrichment is often a play for influence.  God will have none of that.

We, the Body of Christ, are collectively God’s temple, and individually we are temples of the living God.  When our “temple” is pure and we come in the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice to God’s throne in heaven, like Moses He hears us and is pleased and He makes Himself known to us.  He dwells with us in the person of the Holy Spirit and makes His presence known to us and through us.  Perhaps some of us hear His actual voice, others sense His words in our hearts, still others may receive what He wants us to know in mental pictures.  As we move toward our own Canaans, toward the purposes for which God has redeemed us, we need to know His presence with us.  Nothing less will sustain us.

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Touching the Ark

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things. When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles. And over the table of the bread of the Presence…they shall take a cloth of blue and cover the lampstand for the light…over the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue and cover it with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles…all the vessels of the service that are used in the sanctuary and put them in a cloth of blue and cover them with a covering of goatskin and put them on the carrying frame.

  And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.

   “And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels.”

  The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.”

  …All those who were listed of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of Israel listed, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come to do the service of ministry and the service of bearing burdens in the tent of meeting, those listed were 8,580. According to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying. Thus they were listed by him, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 4:1-49 ESV)

God has Moses number the Levites by their three clans, those who are ages 30-50 and can serve to carry the tabernacle.  They can only carry the parts and furniture of the tabernacle when Aaron and his sons have first wrapped them and put in the poles through the rings in the sides of the furniture.  This is to prevent them from dying because Yahweh will not allow anyone but the priests to touch or see the holy articles.

The priests alone, also, can deal with the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil.  What goes on in the tent portion of the tabernacle, the holy place segment and the most holy place segment, is hidden from view except to the priests alone.  This guards the sanctity of the sanctuary and highlights once again the absolute holiness of God.

Israel is learning how essential it is to approach God as He commands.  Later, when David tries to move the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and one of the men touches the ark as it slides off the cart (it is not being carried by the poles through its rings), the man is killed (2 Sam 6).  Israel has forgotten.

We too might forget.  Like David we might be carried away with desire to serve God and choose ways to do so that are not in agreement with His teachings and principles.  It is worth examining all that we do as a church, a family, and an individual, that we deem service to God, to make sure that it is not being done according to the human-ingenuity way of doing things and God’s way.  David was sincere but sincerely wrong in the way he did things and unnecessarily delayed what God in fact wanted him to do.  He should have checked with the Lord.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Soli Dei Gloria

These are the generations of Aaron and Moses at the time when the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests. But Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD when they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of Aaron their father. (Numbers 3:1-4 ESV)

As part of the census or numbering of Israel, Moses recounts the lineage of Aaron and the Levites.  Aaron and his sons were chosen to be Yahweh’s high priests, the ones who supervised the sacrifices with the help of the Levites, and the ones who brought the blood on the day of atonement into the holy of holies to sprinkle it on the ark of the covenant for Israel’s forgiveness.

But two of Aaron’s sons tried to take this privilege to themselves, most likely in a bid to establish their superiority to their brothers.  Here is the account in Leviticus:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.  (Leviticus 10:1-3 ESV)

When the tabernacle was established, Yahweh lit the fire for the sacrifice and this fire was kept going even in all of Israel’s travels through the wilderness.  The strange or unauthorized fire of Nadab and Abihu was fire they kindled themselves.  Though Aaron undoubtedly was heartbroken over their rebellion and death, he recognized the justice of God’s punishment.  No one, not even a son of Aaron, can disobey God’s directives on worship and go unpunished.

If we think we can come to God, like Nadab and Abihu did, with purposes that do not agree with God’s purposes, and expect to have God’s favor, we are sadly mistaken.  As He said, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified.”  To treat Him as if He is supposed to cater to our desires in disregard for His glorious character and kingdom determination is as foolish as bringing unauthorized fire before Him expecting Him to respond favorably.  Soli Dei Gloria!  Only for the glory of God!

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Focus

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. Those to camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah by their companies, the chief of the people of Judah being Nahshon the son of Amminadab, his company as listed being 74,600. Those to camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar, the chief of the people of Issachar being Nethanel the son of Zuar, etc.

These are the people of Israel as listed by their fathers’ houses. All those listed in the camps by their companies were 603,550. But the Levites were not listed among the people of Israel, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Thus did the people of Israel. According to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, each one in his clan, according to his fathers’ house. (Numbers 2:1-34 ESV)

Yahweh, Israel’s God, commands how the tribes are to camp around the tabernacle (tent of meeting with God) and the order of their marching out when the time to move comes.  If one were to graph the tribes by their numbers and locations surrounding the tabernacle as viewed from the air above, the shape would roughly resemble a cross.  Perhaps this is God’s hint.

But what this does otherwise is show again the centrality of God’s presence among the people and reminds them that how things are done matters to God.  The biggest temptation of the human race is to think we can determine what is right and wrong (see Genesis 3:1-7).  God must help us see that we are not capable of doing that and so He instructs through object lessons like this one.

The tribes were to camp facing the Tabernacle.  The first thing they were to see when they came out of their tents was the pillar of fire or the cloud pillar over the Tabernacle.  What is the first thing you see when you start your day?  How can you acknowledge that God’s presence is your essential and necessary focus?  How will you fix your gaze on Jesus?

A church I worked in for many years had a stain glass picture of Jesus leading a flock of sheep and carrying one of them.  Every time I walked by it I decided to glance at it and use it as a call to dependence on Jesus to lead me or at times as a recognition that He was carrying me.  And without a doubt, beginning my day, when I was able, by spending time in God’s Word and talking to Him about Him and about my day was crucial for seeing Him as my necessary focus.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Loving Discipline

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:3-11, ESV)

Though the Hebrews had not experienced a level of persecution that included shedding of blood, it was enough persecution to make them think that perhaps it was God who was punishing them for putting their faith in the wrong thing.  You can imagine fellow Jews urging them to give up this Christianity and come back to the fold of Judaism so that they could get some relief.  But the author of Hebrews does not encourage this desertion at all.  Jesus suffered hostility from sinners and he did not grow weary or fainthearted.

Besides, God was not punishing them but disciplining them.  There is a huge difference.  Discipline only comes from a loving Father who seeks to shape the tender lives of His children.  If they weren’t being disciplined this way it would be evidence that the Father doesn’t love them, that indeed, they are not His children.

Now discipline is never pleasant but it always leads to pleasant ends when it is God’s discipline.  It leads to holiness and righteousness.  Let God’s discipline train and correct you.  Let it make you more than you ever would have been otherwise.  Respect it even if you can’t at the moment enjoy it.  It says, “God loves you.”

A father’s firmness should make it advisable for his children to obey; his wisdom should make it natural for his children to obey him; his love should make it a pleasure for his children to obey.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Get Me a Priest

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV)

What would it mean to you to have your own priest?  The author of Hebrews explains what a priest does in 5:1 as acting on behalf of men in relation to God and offering gifts and sacrifices for our sins.  But that is no longer necessary because of what Christ has done for us.  After making the supreme sacrifice that cleanses the sins of those who believe once and for all, Jesus passed through the heavens to the heavenly sanctuary to complete, so to speak, this offering to God.  Why would we go back to a system that is so inferior to this?  We should hold fast our confession.

But Jesus’ ministry as priest doesn’t end there.  He is still serving us as one who can sympathize with our weaknesses.  You have weaknesses don’t you?  I once had a couple in a Sunday school class who said they were leaving because everyone in the class had too many problems and they couldn’t identify with that.  But can you?  Jesus experienced temptation and testing of all kinds but did not sin.  So he experienced temptation to a degree we have never done since we gave in to temptation and never felt its full power.

We now have an open invitation to come to God’s throne for help.  And we don’t come hesitantly, or in a cowed posture feeling guilty for sin, or even in a reluctant way.  No, we come with confidence that mercy awaits us, and grace to help us deal with the sin in our lives awaits us.  Our time of need is God’s time of provision.  But we should come to Him.  Confessing sin or weakness in the face of temptation is the doorway to genuine growth and healing.  The more I open my life to God the more He comes in and rearranges the house.  Don’t you want God staging your home?

Too many people are missing the opportunity to spend time with their Creator and Savior and so to be transformed into His likeness.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Salvation Neglect

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4, ESV)

After each major argument this author makes to help this congregation see the folly of returning to a superseded Judaism, he gives a stern exhortation to stay with the Christian faith.  This passage is the first of those stern exhortations.

The appeal is that if angels had a role in giving God’s commands and must be obeyed or the consequences suffered, how much more must the readers pay attention to Jesus’ commands, to the salvation he declared.  The word of the Son speaks even louder than that of angels.  If you drift away from his word, neglect his salvation, there is no escape from God’s retribution.  You have failed to heed His Son.

The author describes how this gospel was received from those who were with Jesus, the apostles, and how the readers saw signs and wonders performed to confirm this gospel and saw the Spirit’s gifts distributed to them.  They knew then how real this salvation was.  They had no doubt then.  This is a call to remember what they experienced.

Can you do the same?  Do you recall how filled with joy you were when you experienced forgiveness and a restored relationship to God?  Do not treat that lightly.  You may rationalize this as a naïve interpretation of what was going on but in reality it is when you were most clearly seeing the truth and responding with the proper emotion and intensity.  It is only the days that followed that dulled this reality for you.  You didn’t become less naïve but more jaded.  You let the cares of the world creep back in, chose to move toward comfort away from the suffering the gospel brings.

How will you escape if you neglect this salvation, this so great salvation?  This warning is not meant to suggest that you can lose your salvation but to challenge you to consider whether you really did get saved.  Where is the evidence?  If you find yourself repentant for how you’ve let your faith get dulled, this is evidence that you were saved.  If this talk of a new life of joy and love for God seems odd to you, perhaps this is evidence that you have never experienced this great salvation.