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. Numbers 1:47-50, ESV.
After laying out the results of the census of Israel’s fighting men, there is still one tribe not counted: the Levites. The Levites have the responsibility of caring for the tabernacle. They are to pack it up when it is time to move, carry it on the journey, and put it together when it is time to settle. They are to camp immediately around it and guard it against outsiders. According to verse 53, their presence “around the tabernacle of the testimony” will keep the wrath of God from falling “on the congregation of the people of Israel.” They were a buffer between the unclean and the holy; they were mediators.
As we continue in Numbers, we will learn more about the role of the Levites, especially concerning the tabernacle and the priesthood. For now, it does us good to be reminded that outsiders will find no safe entrance into the presence of God. In fact, we need someone who will come between us and that holy presence to keep us safe until we can, somehow, be made clean. We need a mediator.
The New Testament is clear. Jesus is our mediator. Actually, by His righteous life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection, Jesus has redrawn the picture altogether. He has entered into the real presence of God, the tent not made with human hands (2 Corinthians 5:1; Hebrews 9:11). He has accomplished the work necessary to not just protect His people from a holy God but to reconcile us to Him. He has made His people clean.
I pray that you have come to Jesus in faith and been made clean and that you know today the joy of a life lived as one welcome in the presence of God.
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.” Numbers 1:1-3, ESV.
The Book of Numbers begins well. Shortly after Israel leaves Egypt, God commands a count of their fighting men. He will lead them as an army to victory in the Promised Land. He will go with them—His tabernacle in the center of the twelve tribes. They have His covenant, His law, and His presence. They have left the land of their oppression and have all they need for victory, long life, and the joy of the Lord in their new home.
Sadly, Numbers documents the faithless failure of these same people and the tragic end of this chapter 1 generation. The book serves as a good reminder to us all. Just as Israel had been rescued and was headed to the Promised Land, we who are in Christ have been rescued from our sin and are on a life-long journey to an even better Promised Land. The blessings of salvation are ours from the moment we come to faith in Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the enjoyment of those blessings depends on enduring faith.
Over the next few weeks, we will look at some of the key passages from the book of Numbers, we will consider some of its lessons for those of us who have begun our journey to the Promised Land, but often struggle when it comes to faithful endurance.
I pray that God will bless you this day with extra faith and courage as you journey toward the land of promise.
The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:20-23, ESV.
In Haggai 2:6-9, God speaks of a unique day. He addresses it again in today’s passage. On that day, God will shake the earth and the nations and see kingdoms brought down in violent warfare. The prophetic picture is of the day when the enemies of God’s people, who are also His enemies, will face judgment. Also on that day, God will bring great glory and peace to the temple and make Zerubbabel like a signet ring. God’s people will be abundantly blessed as He establishes His presence with them and sets His King on the throne of peace and righteousness.
God is confirming the devotion of His people as they return to the work of restoring the temple. The work they are doing in the place where He will dwell with them is labor in the right direction. Just as the temple itself is symbolic (God is not bound by temple walls), their work is symbolic of the change that has been wrought in their hearts. It will not be their work that actually brings about God’s kingdom and peace, but by giving themselves to Him they are testifying to their faith that He will bring it about. On the last day, God will bless them for it.
We cannot do anything to bring about the day of consummation when God will establish His Messianic King, Jesus, on the throne of His eternal Kingdom. In fact, what we deserve is a place with the enemies of God in death and defeat. Our good works do not change that. What we can do is have faith in our God to save us, a rescue mission He has accomplished in His Son. We can serve Him in ways that show we trust Him. Then one day there will be a shaking, a King’s coronation, and the blessing of God on His people, and we too will be among them.
I am praying that we will all walk by faith in the promises of God until that day!
Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” Haggai 2:15-19, ESV.
The people heard God’s Word from the prophet Haggai. After long neglecting the work on the temple, they had finally returned to the work. In our passage today God speaks again. This time it is to remind them of His grace. His basic message is this: Before they returned to work, nothing was going right because God was against them. Even so, they did not get the hint and kept on in their sin for 16 years. Now they are back to work and things still look pretty bad (no grapes, figs, pomegranates, or olives). Nonetheless, God is about to bless them.
Sin brought them dire consequences. Even when they stopped sinning, the consequences did not change. It was only when God declared, “from this day on I will bless you,” that things would change. The people of Israel were not able to relieve the consequences of their past sin with their current obedience. Neither are we. We are utterly dependent on the grace of God to bring about good in our lives. We should obey Him because He is worthy of obedience, as Creator and Savior. But obedience never balances out disobedience. Only the grace of God can remove the consequences of sin.
This Old Testament passage reminds us that we need a Savior. We need one who will, by an act of pure grace, deal with the consequences of our sin. We need one who is righteous and can reckon us as righteous while we are yet sinners. We need Jesus. We need Him as our hope of heaven, and we need Him as our hope for abundant life here on earth and blessings today.
Today I pray that you will obey the Lord, simply because He is worthy. I also pray that you will lean hard on Christ, trusting in His grace and knowing that true blessings are found only in Him.
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’ ” The priests answered and said, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. Haggai 2:10-14, ESV.
Priests were not only tasked with offering sacrifices to God, but they were also the teachers of Israel (Deuteronomy 33:10). So, with the temple construction finally underway, God sends Haggai to ask these teachers a question. If a holy thing touches an unholy thing, does the holy thing make the unholy thing holy or does the unholy thing make the holy thing unholy? It was a question any priest worth his salt could answer with ease: the unholy thing contaminates the holy thing. God uses this premise to remind them that a new temple will not fix Israel’s real problem: unholy people. These unholy people will pollute the holy temple with their unclean sacrifices.
This Old Testament problem does not disappear in the New Testament. Paul writes, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).
Would it not be foolish to think ourselves immune to this temptation? Some feel clean only after a great Christian experience at a concert or a conference. Others depend on certain holy rituals for that same feeling. Others find relief only at a church with the right programs and events. In each case, they seek to feel holy by encountering something they consider to be holy. Too few seek relief for the weight of sin in humble repentance and faith, turning to Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This can be done anytime and in any place—even right now! (1 John 1:9).
I pray that today will find you among the few.