Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, A The Counting, 5 The Carriers, Text: 4:1-48

Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, A The Counting, 5 The Carriers, Text: 4:1-48

INTRODUCTION


Here we have a lengthy passage involving the numbering and duties of the Levites. It is also repetitious for good reason. The repetition enforces the importance of these instructions. The primary concern here is holiness. The spotlight is not as much on those who serve as on the Lord they serve. All the instructions given here are to protect the holiness of the Lord’s dwelling, the tabernacle. From this we should be learning two vital truths. First we learn about the holiness of worship. Some people confuse this with their church buildings. I remember that early in my first pastorate someone put unauthorized stuff on the communion table in the sanctuary. I agree completely that the furnishings should be treated with respect. However, some leaders had an apoplectic fit over what they considered to be irreverent, because, they insisted, this was the house of God. Sorry ladies and gentlemen your church is not the house of God, but in reality the congregation is the house of God. The church is a building where the house of God meets. These same people were relatively unconcerned if there was a worship service which contained elements unauthorized by Scripture, or if authorized elements were omitted. That is backwards. We learn here about the purity of worship, not the purity of the church building. We are now the tabernacle. We are “Christ’s house” according to Hebrews 3. In the second place we learn about the purity of life. Many people are more concerned about the cleaning of the church than they are about cleaning up their lives through repentance and obedience. Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:19 & 20. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body. In Numbers God is dwelling in the tabernacle, but today he is dwelling in the congregation and each of us individually as well. So where is the temple we must reverence? It is not the tabernacle in the wilderness, or the temple in Jerusalem, but us right here as a congregation and individuals. We must be holy and our worship must be holy. So I ask you to consider with me the following teachings in the light of this thought: the precise count, the prevalent caution, and the prescribed chores, all of which point to the extreme protection of God’s holiness.

I THE PRECISE COUNT

The counting is revealed in several verses, 1-3, 21-23, 29 & 30, and 34-48. They read as follows, The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “Take a census of the Kohathite branch of the Levites by their clans and families. Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work in the Tent of Meeting...The Lord said to Moses, “Take a census also of the Gershonites by their families and clans. Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the Tent of Meeting...”Count the Merarites by their clans and families. Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the Tent of Meeting”... Moses, Aaron and the leaders of the community counted the Kohathites by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work in the Tent of Meeting, counted by clans, were 2,750. This was the total of all those in the Kohathite clans who served in the Tent of Meeting. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command through Moses. The Gershonites were counted by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work at the Tent of Meeting, counted by their clans and families, were 2,630. This was the total of those in the Gershonite clans who served at the Tent of Meeting. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command. The Merarites were counted by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work at the Tent of Meeting, counted by their clans, were 3,200. This was the total of those in the Merarite clans. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command through Moses. So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the Tent of Meeting numbered 8,580. Now we should observe first of all that this counting was vital because it was necessary to have one Levite in place of each first born if Israel, and in fact when there were not sufficient, as we have seen, redemption money had to be given to the Lord for the number of first born over the number of Levites. In the second place taking a census was a task full of drudgery and careful record keeping. I have participated in  a U. S, Census and we had telephones and computers to help; they did not. Finally, we note that the age for service in the army was 20 to 50, but the age of the Levites in service was 30-50. This says a great deal about the importance of their responsibility in caring for the things of the Lord when you could go to war at 20 but you had to be 30 to minister for the Lord. I note from experience that sometimes young men can be wiser than  their elders, but not often. Experience is a great teacher for solemn responsibilities. There is  no age specified for service in  the New Testament era, but the New Testament itself has warnings about not ordaining men too quickly and Paul’s advice to a young Timothy is that he should not let anyone despise his youth.

II THE PREVALENT CAUTION

This passage reeks with caution to Israel and especially to those who serve. In verses 15 & 17-20 we read, After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the Tent of Meeting...The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “See that the Kohathite tribal clans are not cut off from the Levites. So that they may live and not die when they come near the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons are to go into the sanctuary and assign to each man his work and what he is to carry. But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die.” That would scare the living daylights out of me. Prior to their work the priests had covered and carefully wrapped all the holy furnishings of the tabernacle. Now they are told not to touch them, that is the articles themselves, or even to see them. And the penalty for doing so is death. In our country the death penalty where enforced is primarily for premeditated murder and occasionally for other extremely heinous crimes. There is a long delay in enforcing this sanction, and over half of all those so sentenced eventually escape the enforcement by one means or another. People in our society debate whether this is good or not, but there is no hesitation in this decree of God. Look or touch the sacred things and you die. His holiness is protected above all because His holiness represents God Himself.

III PRESCRIBED CHORES

There are prescribed responsibilities for each of the families of the Levites: Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites. Kohath, Gershon and Merari are the three sons of Levi. For purposes of clarity we shall look at each of these assignments individually. The first three headings summarize the duties, the holy place, the hangings, and the hardware, and the fourth and last heading sums up their responsibilities, the habitat.

A THE HOLY PLACE

There are two parts to the Kohathites. The priests who were Aaron’s family had charge of the actual sanctuary and the rest of the Kohathites were charged with he transportation of the sanctuary which was carried by them, and only them each time they moved. We read about this in verses 4-16, This is the work of the Kohathites in the Tent of Meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. Then they are to cover this with hides of sea cows, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place. “Over the table of the Presence they are to spread a blue cloth and put on it the plates, dishes and bowls, and the jars for drink offerings; the bread that is continually there is to remain on it. Over these they are to spread a scarlet cloth, cover that with hides of sea cows and put its poles in place. “They are to take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand that is for light, together with its lamps, its wick trimmers and trays, and all its jars for the oil used to supply it. Then they are to wrap it and all its accessories in a covering of hides of sea cows and put it on a carrying frame. “Over the gold altar they are to spread a blue cloth and cover that with hides of sea cows and put its poles in place. “They are to take all the articles used for ministering in the sanctuary, wrap them in a blue cloth, cover that with hides of sea cows and put them on a carrying frame. “They are to remove the ashes from the bronze altar and spread a purple cloth over it. Then they are to place on it all the utensils used for ministering at the altar, including the firepans, meat forks, shovels and sprinkling bowls. Over it they are to spread a covering of hides of sea cows and put its poles in place. “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying... Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, is to have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering and the anointing oil. He is to be in charge of the entire tabernacle and everything in it, including its holy furnishings and articles.

B THE HANGINGS


The Gershonites are charged with caring for all the hangings both within and outside the tabernacle as we read in verses 24-28, This is the service of the Gershonite clans as they work and carry burdens: They are to carry the curtains of the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, its covering and the outer covering of hides of sea cows, the curtains for the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the curtains of the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, the curtain for the entrance, the ropes and all the equipment used in its service. The Gershonites are to do all that needs to be done with these things. All their service, whether carrying or doing other work, is to be done under the direction of Aaron and his sons. You shall assign to them as their responsibility all they are to carry. This is the service of the Gershonite clans at the Tent of Meeting. Their duties are to be under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest.

C THE HARDWARE

The tabernacle was a tent and as such both the tent and the curtains required hardware to support them. Transporting the hardware was the task of the Merarites according to verses 31-33, This is their duty as they perform service at the Tent of Meeting: to carry the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts and bases, as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs, ropes, all their equipment and everything related to their use. Assign to each man the specific things he is to carry. This is the service of the Merarite clans as they work at the Tent of Meeting under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest.

D THE HABITAT

Now all of the foregoing was to protect the habitat of God. He was in their midst with all His holiness. Let us remember that God’s dwelling place is with His people. They are a holy priesthood and like the priests and Levite of this passage they exist to protect and promote His holiness. Also like the priests and Levites they have specific duties related to their gifts. In Romans 12:3-8, Paul writes, For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teaches, on teaching; Or he that exhorts, on exhortation: he that gives, let him do it with simplicity; he that rules, with diligence; he that shows mercy, with cheerfulness. As the priests and Levites worked together as assigned each contributing his own part, so we as the body of Christ, the true tabernacle and temple are to work together in our assigned tasks to build up the body and thus protect and promote the holiness of God. I Corinthians 14:18 says, But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. If we truly want to please God, we will work together to erect the tabernacle of his holiness and grace on earth.