By the Numbers, 3

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When you read Numbers, sometimes your eyes glaze over. A lot of people don’t like history, and Numbers is full of history. A lot of people don’t like to figure out how to pronounce strange looking names, and there are lot of funny looking names in Numbers. Some Bible readers are of the opinion that there is so much material in Numbers that seems to be either not necessary or unimportant for the modern Christian to know and understand. The problem with that line of thinking is that it ignores the fact that the Holy Spirit, the One who inspired the Bible, thought the book of Numbers was so important He made sure it was included in the canon of Scripture. So there. Because it’s in the Bible, you should know what’s in it and how what’s in it applies to you and your walk as a believer.

Speaking about glazed eyeballs, we’re looking at chapter 4 in this study. It contains detailed instructions for the tribes that would be looking after the Tabernacle and the priests. In Numbers 3, the Lord spends a lot of time detailing the work of the Levites as it related to the sons of Aaron. They were the priests who ministered before the Lord and the Levites ministered to the priests. Aarons four sins – Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar – were consecrated to the Lord. It’s a serious thing to be consecrated to the Lord, by the way. The Lord takes consecration very seriously even if His people don’t. Two of Aaron’s sons didn’t take their service seriously enough:

But Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai when they used unholy fire. And since they had no children, this left only Eleazar and Ithamar to assist their father, Aaron. (Numbers 3:4 TLB)

The incident referred to here can be found in Leviticus 10. What these two priests did was so awful in God’s sight, we read this:

Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not mourn—do not let your hair hang loose as a sign of your mourning, and do not tear your clothes. If you do, God will strike you dead too, and his wrath will come upon all the people of Israel. But the rest of the people of Israel may lament the death of Nadab and Abihu, and mourn because of the terrible fire the Lord has sent. But you are not to leave the Tabernacle under penalty of death, for the anointing oil of Jehovah is upon you.” And they did as Moses commanded. (Leviticus 10:6, 7 TLB)

That seems pretty tough, not being allowed to mourn over the death of two family members. But remember, God was trying to teach something to His people – ALL of His people. How these priests acted in public was supposed to teach the lesson. What Nadab and Abihu was so bad they didn’t deserve to be mourned over by their families. Seem a bit extreme? Perhaps. But nothing is more important or vital than being obedient to God. This is problematic for the modern Christian. Modern Christians always want to approach God their own way. They want to establish their own rules for living, bypassing God’s. Nadab and Abihu tried to approach God in a way not sanctioned by the Lord:

But Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, placed unholy fire in their censers, laid incense on the fire, and offered the incense before the Lord—contrary to what the Lord had just commanded them! (Leviticus 10:1 TLB)

And they paid the ultimate price for doing it their way. God takes obedience just as seriously today as He did back then. And just because disobedient Christians don’t combust into flames in front of our eyes today doesn’t mean God hasn’t noticed their disobedience. In fact, the overriding lesson of these early chapters of Numbers is really a three-fold one:

No sins are left unjudged. For non-believers this is a big deal. They will be judged according to how they lived on earth. For we believers, even though we’ve been judged in Christ, there is a natural law that has been established by the Lord. When we willfully disobey the Lord, we will reap what we’ve sown in this world. Just think about what happened to David. His whole family suffered because of his sin with Bathsheba. Yes, no sins go unnoticed by God.

Even God’s servants are not exempt from judgment. Nadab and Abihu were ministers – they were consecrated to do the priestly work of God. When they disobeyed and died for that sin, the number of Aaron’s sons was cut in half.

Future generations are affected by service today. This is stunningly brought out by the fact that “they had no children.” There were no sons to pick up the slack.

Because of man’s predilection to disobedience, God had to be very precise in giving the Levites their duties. That’s why Numbers 4 seems to go on and on. Transporting the Tabernacle, God’s dwelling place among His people, and its furnishings was a big deal. Certain tribes had to look after certain parts of it. For example, it took over 2,000 Gershonites to look after the curtains of the Tabernacle. That’s a lot of curtains. But it teaches us an important thing: no work done for God is a small thing. Caring for the holy vessels was done by Aaron and his remaining sons, teaching us that consecrated hands need to handle holy things.

The care and transport of the Tabernacle and its furniture and furnishings was done by three tribes or families: the Levites, the sons of Kohath (Gershonites) and the sons of Merari. The work done by these servants of God was –

Varied

Each family had a different responsibility. For example, Merari was in charge of the “foundational things.”

And the appointed duty of the children of Merari included the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, its utensils, all the work relating to them, and the pillars of the court all around, with their sockets, their pegs, and their cords. (Numbers 4:36, 37 NKJV)

There’s a lesson here for Christians. Foundational truths are important and should always go first. Nobody becomes a theologian the moment after their conversion! Who does the work of the sons of Merari? In God’s plan, it’s evangelists and believers who witness to the lost, sharing their faith. They proclaims the simple, foundational truths of the Gospel: “you must be born again.”

Merari carried the foundational parts of the Tabernacle, and these things were heavy. The foundational truths of the Gospel may be simple, but they are heavy, and they need to handled accordingly. We who handle the Word of God need to keep this in mind. We can’t be careless or flippant when we are sharing our faith with one who is lost. Everything a person believes is hung on the foundational truths they are told.

The sons of Gershon, part of the Kohath clan, were in charge of all the things that united all the other things.

The duties of the children of Gershon in the tabernacle of meeting included the tabernacle, the tent with its covering, the screen for the door of the tabernacle of meeting, the screen for the door of the court, the hangings of the court which are around the tabernacle and the altar, and their cords, according to all the work relating to them. (Numbers 4:25, 27 NKJV)

All the stuff Merari carried – the sockets and pillars – may be heavy, foundational, and strong, but pretty much useless – naked – with no coverings! Gershon could well represent the pastor. He’s the guy in church who takes a lot of different doctrines and theological ideas, binds them together and, hopefully, makes sense of them for you. But Gershon couldn’t do his work until Merari did his. The pastor can’t do all the work; he needs the help of faithful members – people who go out and share the Gospel with the lost.

The what about those sons of Kohath?

Their duty included the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the utensils of the sanctuary with which they ministered, the screen, and all the work relating to them. (Numbers 4:31 NKJV)

All those articles represented the approach to God. They were placed in such a way as to indicate the way to God’s presence. No service could take place in the Tabernacle until all those things were in their assigned places. Nothing could happen without the sons of Kohath, representative of the teacher. Can you imagine trying to have a Bible study without a teacher? The teacher, who is often the pastor (though not always), is one who takes the complex doctrines of the Bible, and shows how they apply to your life and mine.

These three gifts – evangelist, pastor, and teacher – belong to the Church just as they belonged to the Tabernacle. God gave them to the Church as surely as He gave the children of Israel the Tabernacle and all it stood for.

Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. Why is it that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is that God’s people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity… (Ephesians 4:11, 12 TLB)

Appointed by God

bac6944bc144f9cfd3bbd65f7b42ead7The thing we need to notice is that all the work done by members of these three tribes was assigned by God Himself. This wasn’t Moses’ idea. It wasn’t the idea of the leaders of these tribes. It was God who decided which tribe would do what job. No human being takes upon himself the work of God unless he called by God to do so. Our God is an orderly God; and He wants things done in an orderly fashion. Can you imagine just anybody in Israel grabbing the various pieces of the Tabernacle and then trying to fit them together in an effort to set it up again? It would be a joke! It would be like watching Laurel and Hardy trying to move that heavy piano up those steep stairs. That’s why so many churches fail or are failing. They are being led by people who have no clue what they are doing because they aren’t called to be doing that job. And that’s why so many Christians themselves are failing: they’re doing it wrong. If they’re struggling in their walk with Christ, they’re trying to do it their way, not His. They’re living like Nadab and Abihu.

All Christians are called by God to serve Him. That’s a given. And there are some things we should be doing simply because we are part of His family. Things like loving each other, like sharing our faith with the lost, and like praying and giving. These things are the least we should be doing. But beyond those things, we are all given gifts by God. Not native talents, but spiritual gifts. And using these gifts in the church is our assigned duty. Just as the tribes of Israel each had an assigned duty, so each Christian – each church member – has his.

Reward

Those who were called by God and set apart by Him each received a special reward:

Remember that the priests and all the other members of the Levite tribe will not be given property like the other tribes. So the priests and Levites are to be supported by the sacrifices brought to the altar of the Lord and by the other offerings the people bring to him. They don’t need to own property, for the Lord is their property! That is what he promised them! (Deuteronomy 18:1, 2 TLB)

What does that mean to us? The New Testament tells us that we – Christians – are like a nation of priests.

…for you have been chosen by God himself—you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own—all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 TLB)

Our reward in serving God is God Himself. His presence in our lives is our reward for faithful service.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 TLB)

Laurel and Hardy Moving Piano

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