On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. Numbers 9:15-18, ESV.
What a sight this must have been! As the people of Israel went about their business in the days after being delivered from Egyptian bondage, they never lost sight of God’s presence over the tabernacle in the middle of camp as “the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night.” Can you imagine it? When Mrs. Israelite was having a dreadful day because the kids were acting up, her husband had a cold and spent the entire day bemoaning his fate in the tent, and the broom handle broke, she could look and be visibly reminded that God was with her. In the wilderness, God’s people always had the sign of His presence.
We don’t get special clouds or pillars of fire in our day. Then again, those who have placed their faith in Christ do not need external signs of God’s presence. Jesus promises His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). Paul writes to the church in Rome, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9). He reminds the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
We do not need to look for clouds by day or fire by night. The very Spirit of God dwells within us! And if symbols were a reasonable comfort for struggling Israelite men and women, what should the actual inner presence of God be to you?
My prayer for you today is that you will, in both good times and bad, know with an assurance greater than your eyes could ever provide that God is with you!
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.” Numbers 8:23-26, ESV.
As we read the book of Numbers, we quickly see that God was detailed in His instructions regarding the Levites. In our passage this morning we have what might be called the Levite retirement plan. If we were to simply transfer this passage from the days of Moses to our day, we might expect to see large Levite retirement communities in Florida or an annual Levite sale at the local RV dealer. While there is a sense in which the Levites are being retired from the work inside the tabernacle, it is important to consider their retirement plan in context.
The Levites were God’s special possession amongst Israel. “Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine . . . they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself. For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel. And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary” (Numbers 8:14-19). The Levites are dedicated to the service of God as a substitute for the firstborn sons of Israel who, having been spared from death in the final plague in Egypt, were to be devoted to God.
These men, devoted to the service of God, when they reach the age of 50, are moved from the more strenuous work inside the tabernacle to guard duty outside the tent. They still belong to God. And this matters to us because, in 1 Peter 2:9, we learn that we as believers in Christ are God’s new priesthood. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The body of Christ is the new priesthood. We are God’s new precious possession.
The Numbers lesson for us? Things may change in our lives as we age. We may no longer be able to serve the Lord the way we did in our youth. Even so, there remains a place for us in the service of our God. The work may be different, but it is not done! Maybe you are facing one of those transitions in your life today. The ministries of your past are no longer within your ability to accomplish. This is not the time to look for beachfront property and start your seashell collection. It is time to consider how you can continue to serve God in your new circumstance. For you remain a people for His possession, still tasked with proclaiming His excellency.
I pray that you all might be able to see, regardless of your stage in life, what God has for you to do in His service and for His glory!
On the twelfth day Ahira the son of Enan, the chief of the people of Naphtali: his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Ahira the son of Enan. Numbers 7:78-83, ESV.
When we talk about the difficulty that we have in reading the book of numbers, it is passages like this we generally have in mind. The chiefs of the twelve tribes of Israel brought their offerings to support the work of the newly constructed tabernacle and, even though the all bring the same gifts, Moses describes their gifts in some detail. By the time we get to our passage, we have already read eleven identical accounts.
What are we to take away from a passage like this one? At least three things. First, all of God’s people were involved in funding the work of God. The chiefs brought the offerings but, as they came as representatives of their tribes, it is likely that these offerings were collected from the people of their tribes. So, God funds His work through the stewardship of His people. Second, we can observe that every tribe gave the same amount even though the tribes were not all the same size. Surely some tribes were wealthier than others. Nonetheless, because each tribe gave the same amount, each tribe was equally invested in the house of worship, the place where God’s people met with their God. There are no second-class participants in Israel’s relationship with God. The third thing we see is that God thought it was worthwhile to inspire Moses to list the names of each chief. Ahira shows up five times in Numbers in his role as chief. Not everyone who obeys God and leads others to do the same ends up in the Bible. Even so, the names in this list remind us that individual obedience matters to God.
God funds His work through the stewardship of His people. There are no second-class participants in Israel’s relationship with God. Individual obedience matters to God. These are good lessons for us today! Paul is right when he says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).
My prayer for you is that your time in the Word each day would never seem a drudgery but would always be blessed by insights about our God, His grace to us, and our call to glorify Him!
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:22-27, ESV.
Instructions are passed from God through the mediator of the old covenant, Moses, to the first High Priest of Israel. Aaron is to instruct his sons, the priests to follow in his line, on how to bless the people. They are to pronounce a three-line benediction and, by doing so, identify Israel as the people of Yahweh (the LORD). I have no way of knowing, but I imagine this might have been a priest’s favorite duty.
The three lines of the blessing run in perfect parallel and build on one another. When we consider the first part of each line, we learn that the blessing comes from God and consists of God’s presence. His face and His countenance are the greatest gift man can know, for there is no greater blessing than fellowship with your Creator. From man’s very beginnings, this has been His best desire. Remember Adam walking with God in the Garden in the cool of the day? The results of this intimate fellowship with God are wonderful. The God who walks with you will keep you; you do not need to fear the loss of this fellowship. This is a gift of grace, given to undeserving sinful men. And it will, more so than any other blessing, bring peace to the hearts of men.
It is this kind of fellowship with God that identifies men and women as the people of God. It is this kind of fellowship that was purchased for sinners on the cross by Jesus Christ. Jesus came as Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23), and following His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the Father, sent another Helper to be with us forever, the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). By grace through faith, we can know and be kept in intimate fellowship with our God today. We are blessed.
My prayer for you?
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” And the people of Israel did so, and put them outside the camp; as the Lord said to Moses, so the people of Israel did. Numbers 5:1-4, ESV.
Israel’s camp has been organized. The priests and Levites have been set apart for their duties. The people of God have been made ritually clean, now they have to stay that way. This means that people who have an unclean condition, like those listed in Numbers 5:1-4, have to be moved outside the clean boundaries of the camp. Reading these verses today we might think that this is a health code. But it is something even more vital to Israel’s well-being: a purity or holiness code. In Leviticus and Numbers, the people of God remain symbolically pure and holy by remaining symbolically clean.
As New Testament Christians, we no longer follow Israel’s purity codes. Nonetheless, Peter appeals to these words of God from Leviticus, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16, referring to Leviticus 11:44). Just as the symbolic holy place, the symbolic priesthood, and the symbolic sacrifice were replaced when Christ entered the heavenly Holy of Holies and offered Himself for our sins, symbolic holiness through purity codes has been replaced by a call to genuine holiness. We who trust in Christ are reborn and indwelt by the Spirit of God. As transformed people, we are to live out the reality of our inward holiness in our outward conduct.
We can rejoice that we do not need to remove from fellowship the people of God who come down with sickness and disease or come into contact with something dead. However, we must remember that the call to holiness has not gone the way of the Old Testament purity codes. It has been replaced by a call to live out the reality of our conversion in Christ . . . to “be holy in all your conduct.”
I pray that you will know the joy that comes from living a life of holiness today and for many days to come.