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.

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Devoted

And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, “List the sons of Levi, by fathers’ houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list.” So Moses listed them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded. And these were the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon and Kohath and Merari….

And the guard duty of the sons of Gershon in the tent of meeting involved the tabernacle, the tent with its covering, the screen for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the hangings of the court, the screen for the door of the court that is around the tabernacle and the altar, and its cords; all the service connected with these…

The clans of the sons of Kohath were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle…And their guard duty involved the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the vessels of the sanctuary with which the priests minister, and the screen; all the service connected with these.

And the appointed guard duty of the sons of Merari involved the frames of the tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the bases, and all their accessories; all the service connected with these….

Those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, guarding the sanctuary itself, to protect the people of Israel.  And any outsider who came near was to be put to death.  All those listed among the Levites, who Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the Lord, by clans, all the males from a month old and upward, were 22,000.

And the Lord said to Moses, “List all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, from a month old and upward, taking the number of their names.  And you shall take the Levites for me – I am the Lord – instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the people of Israel.”

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “I am the Lord.  And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekels per head; and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.”  So Moses took the redemption money from those we were over and above those redeemed by the Levites.  (Numbers 3:14-51, ESV)

Yahweh breaks down the responsibilities for care of the tabernacle between the three clans of Levi, each one taking a portion of the tent that they were responsible for setting up, taking down and transporting when God said it was time to move.  Aaron and his sons guarded the entrance.

Then God has Moses number all the Levites and their cattle so they can substitute for all the firstborn sons of Israel and the firstborn of their cattle.  But there are not enough Levites in all to cover the number of all the Israelite firstborns from the other tribes.  So the difference is paid to Aaron with the redemption price for the 273 extra firstborns in Israel.

As Israel’s firstborn belong specially to Yahweh, devoted to His service, so Jesus, the ultimate “Firstborn” is devoted to the Father’s service.  His service is to pay the redemption price for all of God’s people.  The overage has been covered.  What we could not cover to redeem ourselves He has covered with his eternal and inestimable sacrifice.

Daily Thoughts on Numbers: Service

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.”

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the LORD.” (Numbers 3:5-13 ESV)

Aaron and his sons cannot accomplish all that needs to be done in regard to approaching God with sacrifice, so Yahweh gives Aaron’s tribe, the Levites, to Aaron to serve him and all subsequent high priests after him.  The high priest in effect becomes the clan leader.

The responsibility of the Levites is to guard Aaron and the people as they minister at the tabernacle.  When they are making sacrifice the Levites maintain God’s proscribed decorum or order, killing any who wrongly approach Yahweh.  This is what the Jews were claiming to do when the apostle Paul brought, they thought, Gentiles into the Temple area (Acts 21:27-29).

The Levites also serve as Israel’s firstborn in place of each individual family’s firstborn.  When God killed the firstborn sons of Egypt to move Pharaoh to release Israel from bondage, he required every Israelite firstborn to be dedicated to Him.  Now He accepts this whole tribe as the dedicated ones, serving Him in the sanctuary.

God calls some as leaders and some as servants to the leaders.  Each is a high and necessary calling.

A chisel is a lifeless piece of steel, but controlled by the hand of the sculptor, it can aid in producing wondrous statuary. Who can estimate the blessing caused mankind because of yielded obedience to Christ’s call by Peter, James, John, Paul, Luther, Livingstone, Carey, Hudson Taylor, Moody and a host of others? Who can estimate the catastrophe to all concerned had they not obeyed? [Gospel Herald]

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 Numbers: There’s Only One You

But the Levites were not listed along with them by their ancestral tribe. For the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel. But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle. When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death. The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.” Thus did the people of Israel; they did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 1:47-54 ESV)

Of the 12 tribes of Israel God set Levi apart to be the priestly tribe.  They were not conscripted for war and they were not given land once they reached Canaan.  They were to be supported by the tithe God required of all the tribes.  Their responsibility was to set up and take down the tabernacle and to maintain the holy fire, the fire God sent down on the altar of burnt offering when the tabernacle was originally set up.

Access to the tabernacle was tightly controlled, emphasizing the holiness of God and the prescribed manner in which He was to be approached.  The Levites served as a kind of buffer between the people and God, preventing anyone from accidentally transgressing the boundaries of the tabernacle.  It is here called the tabernacle of the testimony because within the ark of the covenant were the tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments and it is here God “sat” as on His throne and where atonement was made.  God’s presence was the basis of Israel’s existence.

In our costly discipleship to the Lord we each have our different responsibilities.  To each is given gifts that determine our responsibilities within the Body of Christ.  Each is a sacred responsibility.  Paul says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6).  How would it have helped if the Levites had insisted on going to war?  If each member of the Body does not do its part the Body does not thrive.  God has always had a unique use for each of His unique creatures.  You are unique and so is your benefit to the Body.

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:17-20, ESV)

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Count the Cost

The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company. And there shall be with you a man from each tribe, each man being the head of the house of his fathers. And these are the names of the men who shall assist you… These were the ones chosen from the congregation, the chiefs of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the clans of Israel.

  Moses and Aaron took these men who had been named, and on the first day of the second month, they assembled the whole congregation together, who registered themselves by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, head by head, as the LORD commanded Moses. So he listed them in the wilderness of Sinai.

   The people of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: those listed of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500…those listed of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300… etc.

  These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his fathers’ house. So all those listed of the people of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war in Israel—all those listed were 603,550. (Numbers 1:1-46 ESV)

God has brought Israel from Egypt, where they were in bondage, to the wilderness and to Mt. Sinai, where He gave them the Law, and now is ready for them to move from Sinai to the promised land of Canaan.  But first God commands a census to be taken to assess Israel’s fighting capacity.  Men are chosen from each tribe to help Moses count the men capable of fighting and then after adding up the number from each tribe, the total is 603,550 for the army of Israel.  This is where the book of Numbers gets its name in our English Bibles.  Another census will be recounted at the end of this book.

Jesus teaches us to count the cost before we engage in any endeavor, but elsewhere in Scripture it is made clear that Israel is not to assess its fighting strength unless God commands such an assessment.  David does so without God’s permission (2 Sam 24) and is disciplined for it.  God does not want us to believe that our own strength is what wins battles for us.  He wants us to trust Him, no matter the odds.  He will demonstrate this to Israel over and over, and to us.

Jesus, when he mentioned counting the cost, was not talking about determining if I have the resources to be his disciple, but deciding whether I was willing to bear my own cross and renounce all that I have to be his disciple.  That is the cost of following him.  That was what God was asking Israel to do.  Determining how many fighting men there were was not to see if they had enough to go to battle against the Canaanites but to show that war under God’s direction was going to be the cost.  Will we follow Him no matter where He leads?

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.    (Proverbs 3:5-6)