The Transient Tabernacle (Part 2)
Num 7:1 And it came to pass on the day that Moses had fully set up the tabernacle, and had anointed it, and sanctified it, and all the instruments thereof, both the altar and all the vessels thereof, and had anointed them, and sanctified them;
Num 7:2 That the princes of Israel, heads of the house of their fathers, who were the princes of the tribes, and were over them that were numbered, offered:
Num 7:3 And they brought their offering before the LORD, six covered wagons, and twelve oxen; a wagon for two of the princes, and for each one an ox: and they brought them before the tabernacle.
Num 7:4 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Num 7:5 Take it of them, that they may be to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; and thou shalt give them unto the Levites, to every man according to his service.
Num 7:6 And Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them unto the Levites.
Num 7:7 Two wagons and four oxen he gave unto the sons of Gershon, according to their service:
Num 7:8 And four wagons and eight oxen he gave unto the sons of Merari, according unto their service, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
Num 7:9 But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders.
In our previous examination of this text, we had focused on the temporary and transient nature of the tabernacle in the wilderness. The nation to which it pertained, and the Law which regulated it were likewise not permanently fixed, meant to be displaced and replaced by a new order introduced by John the Baptist (LUK 16:16), and a new nation that would bring forth God-pleasing fruit would then be God’s kingdom in this world:
Mat 21:42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
Mat 21:43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
That nation, of course, is the N.T. gospel church, the spiritual house and holy nation of 1PE 2:1-9, of which Jesus said, “...the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (MAT 16:18-19). This order shall never be overcome nor set aside: God will be glorified in the church “...throughout all ages...” (EPH 3:21). This nation is permanently preserved through an unchanging priesthood in heaven (HEB 6:19-20), and, in contrast to the temporary and transient nature of the O.T. system, we therefore have “...a kingdom which cannot be moved...” NOTE: in God’s program, the O.T. form of His kingdom was always meant to be a temporary thing, its Law a schoolmaster to come as far as Christ (GAL 3:19-25), no further. How sad that many Christians today have accepted the relatively novel theory/error (conspicuously set forth in premillennial and dispensational eschatology) that the O.T. form of God’s kingdom is God’s real and permanent plan but it was interrupted by the church age which is deemed to be only a temporary institution. This is exactly the opposite of the truth!
Remembering, though, that all Scripture is profitable for N.T. believers (2TI 3:16-17) and written for our learning (ROM 15:4), there is something else beneficial for us in our text of NUM 7:1-9.
The tabernacle having been set up and anointed (NUM 7:1), the princes of the tribes of Israel brought an offering before the LORD (NUM 7:2-3). Its description evokes mental images of something out of a Western movie: six covered wagons pulled by pairs of oxen. I wonder how many of the pioneers with their Conestoga wagons pondered this passage as they migrated westward in a continent that to them was in many ways a promised land. These princes were men of high standing, yet they did not think it beneath them to honor God with their material blessings. This may remind us of Paul’s words:
1Ti 6:17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
1Ti 6:18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;
1Ti 6:19 Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
It is noteworthy that the wagons and oxen were not part of the specific pattern admonished of God to Moses for the tabernacle service (EXO 25:40 c/w HEB 8:5). God will be worshipped according to His own order (JOH 4:23-24) and He does not look lightly upon inventive additions, reductions or alterations to what He has commanded. This was painfully learned only a few chapters earlier where Aaron’s sons were slain because they “...offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not...” (LEV 10:1-3). We do well to heed all things which Jesus commanded (MAT 28:19-20), rejecting man-made traditions and alterations (MAR 7:6-13), keeping the ordinances as delivered (1CO 11:1-2). Corinth altered the Lord’s Supper to suit their fancies and God fought back (1CO 11:20-30).
But in our text God told Moses to receive the gifts and give them to the Levites (NUM 7:4-6). As ordered, those gifts did not alter the way which God had commanded His service, they only facilitated the service. This is the difference between a hymnal and an organ in a N.T. church. A hymnal only facilitates what God commanded for His praise by music in the church: singing (EPH 5:19; COL 3:16). An organ adds to what God said He wants to hear musically and is therefore in breach of the principle, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you...” (DEUT 4:2). Those wagons and oxen were distributed to only the sons of Gershon and Merari according to their service (NUM 7:7-8). The Gershonites had the lighter carriage of coverings and hangings (NUM 4:24-26), the Merarites were to carry the heavy, bulky items (NUM 4:29-32) and therefore were provided more wagons. God is very good and just in the way He distributes things to the church, “...dividing to every man severally as he will” (1CO 12:8-11). All do not receive the same gift, and the ministry is only given to some (1CO 12:28). The sons of Kohath, though, were not given wagons “...because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders” (NUM 7:9), i.e., bear the vessels of the sanctuary and particularly the ark of the covenant (NUM 4:15 c/w DEUT 10:8). Providing wagons to the Kohathites might well have been a snare for them to sin by shifting their burden to a handy tool, a lesson driven painfully home when David and his company did later try to transport the ark in a wagon (1CH 13:6-10 c/w 1CH 15:1-2). They had not followed “...the due order...” (1CH 15:12-13). Perhaps there is in this a warning for Christ’s ministers to think twice before copping out on the burden of the word of God (studying, preaching, etc.) by relying on someone else’s labors found on the internet. Ministers should study (2TI 2:15) and Paul said, “...woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1CO 9:16). Let not saints in general chafe because they have not what others have: God may be sparing them from something which would be contrary to their service or an occasion to sin.
The Kohathites alone bore upon their shoulders the ark in which was the Law (HEB 9:4) that governed Israel. They thus formed a good type of Christ Who alone upheld the Law and purged our sins (HEB 1:3) by His death, burial and resurrection under a New Testament that He might become Lord of all (1PE 3:22) on David’s throne in heaven (ACT 2:29-36), according as it was written, “...and the government shall be upon his shoulder...” (ISA 9:6). Kohath means assembly, the very place where Christ governs “...in the midst...” (MAT 18:20; REV 2:1).