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Willing Work3rs

#3 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”

The book of Numbers is the story of God’s Kingdom – his warriors, his workers, his worshipers – and their progression in the wilderness.

In part one of this series, God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the warriors, to prepare them for the journey that was ahead. That was in chapters one and two.

In part two, we examined the circumstances they were in – specifically, that God was living among them as they lived in Him. This was accomplished by trusting in His promises, faith that He was with them and would go with them. Hopefully, you can see the connection between them and us.

Like us, they would fail. Like us, they would follow other gods. But, like us, they experienced God’s patient forgiveness.

In chapters 3 and 4 the focus turns from the warriors to the workers.

Recognition of a Special Tribe

Numbers 1:46-49 The total number was 603,550. 47But this total did not include the Levites. 48For the LORD had said to Moses, 49“Exempt the tribe of Levi from the census; do not include them when you count the rest of the Israelites.

Ever feel special – and you don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing? “You’re special.” Yeah? How do you mean that? I imagine that’s how the Levites felt.

Christ is the fulfillment of all the foreshadowing we see in the Old Testament. What was symbolic in the Old Testament became reality in Christ. As we look at the Levites and why they were special, it applies to us as well, in our relationship to Christ. (Of course, not everything is symbolic, so don’t go overboard and try to apply everything. Some things just were what they were, with no symbolic references attached. Yes, that’s complicated, but true.)

The Reason They Were Chosen

Why were the Levites special? Let’s eliminate the false reasons, the things that did not make them special..

Not because of Natural Goodness

The Levites were special because they descended from a mild, meek, gentle, good guy. Genesis describes him as being far from that..

Genesis 49:5-7 Simeon and Levi are two of a kind—men of violence. 6 O my soul, stay away from them. May I never be a party to their wicked plans. For in their anger they murdered men, and they crippled oxen just for sport. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; cursed be their wrath, for it is cruel. Therefore, I will scatter their descendants throughout the nation of Israel.

Maybe this is punishment. Maybe this is the bad kind of “special.” Maybe my sin has finally caught up with me. Moses was from the tribe of Levi. He killed a man, just like Levi had done.

But they also did something of even greater significance…

They Chose God

Exodus 32:25-29 When Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control—and much to the amusement of their enemies— 26he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the LORD’S side, come over here and join me.” And all the Levites came. 27He told them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Strap on your swords! Go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other, killing even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” 28The Levites obeyed Moses, and about three thousand people died that day. 29Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Because of this, he will now give you a great blessing.”

There were two parts to this story, the first part more important than the second part, though we often skip the first part. The first part was this…choosing sides. Am I on the Lord’s side?

Ever been asked to do something, and you don’t know if you should or shouldn’t? We want to see the task. We want to know who else is going. Who’s going to be there? Will it be fun? Will I have time? Will it conflict with my priorities?

On many Friday nights we have volleyball and basketball at the church. Before any game begins, the teams have to be decided. Who is going to be on which side?

The success and failure of many games are decided in that first selection. You know if you have the really good players, chances are better that you will win. If you’re stuck with the kid who is afraid of the ball…well, you’ll have to be satisfied with the camaraderie of the night, and not worry so much about winning and losing.

After you surrender your will, obedience is automatic. If you are a servant, if the master wants you to stand silently by until he calls for you, you don’t say, “This is boring. What if I just see what’s on T.V.? I’ve got some things to do, I’ll be right back.” Once you say, “Not my will,” going to the cross is assumed.

1st John 3:9-10 Those who have been born into God’s family do not sin, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.

So…the promise was…you will receive a great blessing.

The Rights They Obtained

Exempt from War

Number 1:45 They were counted by families—all the men of Israel who were twenty years old or older and able to go to war.

Were they really exempt from war? For now, let’s just say that they were going to fight a very different war.

Eligible for Service

Numbers 3:5-10 Then the LORD said to Moses, 6“Call forward the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest as his assistants. They will serve Aaron and the whole community, performing their sacred duties in and around the Tabernacle. 8They will also maintain all the furnishings of the sacred tent, serving in the Tabernacle on behalf of all the Israelites. 9Assign the Levites to Aaron and his sons as their assistants. 10Appoint Aaron and his sons to carry out the duties of the priesthood. Anyone else who comes too near the sanctuary must be executed!”

They obtained the privilege of ministry in and around the Tabernacle. Other than the priests, they came closer to the Holy of Holies than any other group. They would even handle the Holy things.

When you put aside your will for the will of God, He is able to put you aside for His special purposes.

He wants each of us to come closer, to not only accept His grace, but also to accept the opportunity to live in service to Him.

One of those facts of life we learn early – with privilege comes responsibility.

The Responsibilities They Gained

Substitution

Numbers 3:11-13 And the LORD said to Moses, 12“I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites are mine 13because all the firstborn sons are mine. From the day I killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel of both men and animals. They are mine; I am the LORD.”

Service

Numbers 3:14-38 The LORD spoke again to Moses, there in the wilderness of Sinai. He said, 15“Take a census of the tribe of Levi by its families and clans. Count every male who is one month old or older.” 16So Moses counted them, just as the LORD had commanded.
17Levi had three sons, who were named Gershon, Kohath, and (and the Italian brother) Merari.
18The clans descended from Gershon were named for two of his descendants, Libni and Shimei.
19The clans descended from Kohath were named for four of his descendants, Amram, Izhar (Yits-hawr), Hebron (keb-rone), and Uzziel (ooz-zee-el).
20The clans descended from Merari were named for two of his descendants, Mahli (makh-lee) and Mushi. These were the Levite clans, listed according to their family groups.
21The descendants of Gershon were composed of the clans descended from Libni and Shimei. 22There were 7,500 males one month old or older among these Gershonite clans. 23They were assigned the area to the west of the Tabernacle for their camp. 24The leader of the Gershonite clans was Eliasaph son of Lael. 25These two clans were responsible to care for the tent of the Tabernacle with its layers of coverings, its entry curtains, 26the curtains of the courtyard that surrounded the Tabernacle and altar, the curtain at the courtyard entrance, the cords, and all the equipment related to their use.
27The descendants of Kohath were composed of the clans descended from Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 28There were 8,600 males one month old or older among these Kohathite clans. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. 29They were assigned the area south of the Tabernacle for their camp. 30The leader of the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. 31These four clans were responsible for the care of the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the various utensils used in the sanctuary, the inner curtain, and all the equipment related to their use. 32Eleazar the priest, Aaron’s son, was the chief administrator over all the Levites, with special responsibility for the oversight of the sanctuary.
33The descendants of Merari were composed of the clans descended from Mahli and Mushi. 34There were 6,200 males one month old or older among these Merarite clans. 35They were assigned the area north of the Tabernacle for their camp. The leader of the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail. 36These two clans were responsible for the care of the frames supporting the Tabernacle, the crossbars, the pillars, the bases, and all the equipment related to their use. 37They were also responsible for the posts of the courtyard and all their bases, pegs, and cords.
38The area in front of the Tabernacle in the east toward the sunrise was reserved for the tents of Moses and of Aaron and his sons, who had the final responsibility for the sanctuary on behalf of the people of Israel. Anyone other than a priest or Levite who came too near the sanctuary was to be executed.

Here is a short list of how the responsibilities were broken out:

Levi — |
|Gerson – Outer Coverings (Curtains, Coverings, Cords)
|Kohath – Inner Curtain, Holy Items and Utensils
|Merari – Structure (Posts, Pillars, Pegs, Frames, Bases)

As you look at their instructions for service – and think about God’s purposes and plans for your life – notice these elements:

Clear

The only question that ever had to be answered was, “Whose side are you on?” We make our lives very complicated by trying to follow our own will – it’s always changing! Where do I live? What do I do? How can I get more money? How can I get more time? How can I get more relaxation? How can I…listen to God?

Just keep the primary question and answer in mind. Whose side are you on?

Critical

This was a mobile community. It was critical that the camp be movable.

But this was all about more than a camping expedition. The point of all this was the Promised Land. If they were going to successfully navigate what was ahead, it was going to take more than what they could all do together. The presence of God among them would be essential. Nothing would be more important. Nothing – not the enemies ahead, not the dangers ahead, not the hardship or toil – nothing would be more critical to insuring their safe arrival in the Promised Land than to have the presence of Jehovah among them at all times.

Coordinated

Pegs were important. It’s easy to lose sight of that in year 19 of holding the pegs.

We go back and forth between being responsible and being a busy-body. If we’re responsible for the curtains, then we need to leave the posts alone. God doesn’t need us to keep tabs for Him. However, we need each other, so we can’t say, “that’s not my job.”

1st Corinthians 12:27 Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.

Christ-Centered

Everything pointed to the Messiah. As we said, the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant and everything that was there looked ahead to a time when God would live in human hearts because of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

Everything about the Levitical service was about the presence of God. Everything about our service is about the presence of God, which all points to Christ. If it’s not about Christ – then it has no meaning.

“Church stuff?” No. God-stuff. It’s all about Him.

1st Corinthians 10:31 Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:23-24 Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.

Constant

They were Levites. From birth until 30, they were preparing for service. From 30-50 they were serving directly. And after 50 they served those that were serving directly.

Who are you serving? What is the quality of your service? Do you sense its importance? Do you feel connected? Are you committed for the long haul?

(For a full explanation of this series, see the Series Intro post. All Scripture references in this post are taken from the New Living Translation.)

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Bloodlin3s, Bann3rs, and Battl3s

#1 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”

(Note: This is the beginning of a series on the Book of Numbers. For the reasons why I’m tackling this particular book, see my previous post (Numb3rs: The Intro).)

The book of Numbers is the fourth book of the testimony of Moses, and therefore the fourth book of our Bibles. Even though the English titles given to the books are not considered to be inspired and part of the actual revelation of God, in these first few books of the Bible they do give us a great picture of what we find in each book.

Genesis – Beginning of Life, birth of God’s people, beginning of relationship.

Exodus – Redemption and exit from slavery, renewal and rebirth.

Leviticus – Establishment of worship and deeper relationship. (Hebrew – title is “Vayikra”, from the first three words – “and he called”)

Numbers.

Major Themes in the Book of Numbers

Numbers = Quantity

When I think of numbers, I think of quantity, of large numbers. If there were six or twelve people making a journey through the wilderness, I think the book could have been called caravan or company. It’s easier to defeat a few or even one, much harder to destroy a vast army.

And the enemy would have you believe that you are alone. Worse, the enemy of your soul would have you be alone, to decide that relationship with the body of Christ is not worth having – all the better to defeat you.

Numbers = Description

Numbers are a way of describing our world. Our height, our weight, how many hairs on our head – these describe and define us. That is also true of the world of mathematics. Math is the process of using numbers to describe the world and its relationships. And in the Book of Numbers we have a description of God’s world, of God’s kingdom, and what it looks like.

Numbers = Process

The word numbers also makes me think of how things can be both simple and complex. I have a first grader in my house1 that is working with numbers, and things are pretty simple – addition, subtraction, skip counting by three. I have a tenth grader in my house that is working with numbers, and things aren’t quite as simple – exponential notation, logarithms. The church is a complex and ever-changing collection of personalities in the process of becoming one.

Numbers is the story of walking and warfare in the wilderness.2

Hopefully you can see that this story, taking place in rural Asia over 3400 years ago, has direct application to us in 21st century America.

The walking that we do is everyday life. The King James way to say “live” is “walk”, as when Paul says in Romans 8, “Let us walk honestly, as in the day.” So first, we can relate to the book of Numbers because it tells us about life.

Then there’s warfare. I know many people are probably tired of hearing about warfare, the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and all that.

But, again, we know that for the Christian, there is an enemy who is trying to steal, kill, and destroy us. And so we relate to the book of Numbers because it tells us about the struggle of living on the battleground of the enemy.

The Hebrew title for this book is actually ba-midbar, or, “in the wilderness”. This is the story of what happens in the wilderness, and therefore, applies directly to us. We are in the middle, between bondage and beauty, following the promise, but not quite yet to its full realization. This book has quite a lot to say to us.

So let’s begin…

Numbers 1:1-3 (ESV) 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, 2Take 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. 3From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company.

To Succeed in the Journey…

I must declare my bloodline.

Before anything else could be done, the Lord spoke to Moses, Take a census. Why? Do you think God was confused? Did he lose track? Was he wondering where all these people came from?

The declaration is for my benefit. I must be positive of my standing in Christ. It is essential that I am able to trace my bloodline.

It’s amazing that many Christians can’t positively declare who they are in Christ. Can you imagine someone in the camp of Israel struggling with their identity?

I’m not quite sure. I hope I’m an Israelite, but sometimes I just don’t know. I’m afraid I’m not really part of Israel.

No, they had to be like Paul, who could say, “circumcised on the eighth day of my life, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew.”

I must be able to declare – God is my father! I have been adopted, born-again of water and the Spirit of God.

1st John 3:1 See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children, and we really are! But the people who belong to this world don’t know God, so they don’t understand that we are his children.

Galatians 3:26 So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and now all the promises God gave to him belong to you.

Silence & Confusion Live Together.

My wife will tell you that. When I’m silent, she’s confused. Sometimes we’re silent because we’re confused. Sometimes we’re confused because we’re silent.

If you’re confused about your place in God’s kingdom, you won’t make much of a declaration, and if you do, it won’t be worth much.

And if you’re not able to declare who you are in Christ, you’re probably creating quite a bit of confusion to those around you.

When we are unable to declare our bloodline, when we are unable to persuasively declare – not only verbally, but by our actions! – who we are in Christ, then we will be confused about…

Confused about Place and Purpose

No progress was going to be made from Sinai until this ordering took place. How in the world were two million people going to make any progress as a mob?

How are you going to make progress in your life without first settling the question of who you belong to, whose you are, what you are in Christ?

Some people are embarrassed about their bloodline, because they’re embarrassed about who their parents, grandparents, or some distant relative was. Maybe their parents weren’t married. Maybe their grandfather was a criminal.

I should probably relate to that, since my mother was conceived outside of a marriage relationship. She never knew her birth father – didn’t even know she was adopted until she was 55. But that’s not where my bloodline began.

Other people are pretty proud of their bloodline. There were famous people in the bloodline. Perhaps their grandmother was a great artist, or their great-great-grandfather was a war hero. It doesn’t matter, because that’s not where their bloodline began.

If you trace it all back, quite naturally, we are of the bloodline of Adam, and that’s a pretty sad fact, because that means our inheritance is failure, bad character, and death.

Romans 5:12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.

There’s the confusion – I think I’m a Christian, but by blood, I’m a child of Adam. NO! Because only through Jesus Christ can we go back one step further. Our family tree doesn’t stop at Adam.

Romans 5:18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brought condemnation upon everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness makes all people right in God’s sight and gives them life.

Can you imagine Israelites not knowing their bloodline, not being sure who their father or father’s father was? God could. That’s why he told them not to intermarry with the pagan nations. He knew that once there was confusion in the bloodline, there would be compromise and complacency.

That’s what happens with us, when we forget who we are, when we forget who our Father is and we begin to act like the world around us. When we forget that we are children of the Kingdom and instead take our primary identity from our job or relationships or desires, suddenly, our life is about our job, or our friends, or our money, or our security, or our desires.

1st Peter 2:9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

Confused about Peace and Power

Then there’s the question of war. Not being able to answer the question of your bloodline doesn’t change your bloodline. But it leaves you unable to not only progress, but conquer.

There are too many Christians, still unsettled about their bloodline, unable to go forth to war, disabled from victorious living. The biggest reason is that they don’t even know what real war is. They’re still fighting themselves, and they take that for war. Your doubts and fears are not the war. The confusion you have created for yourself is not spiritual warfare.

Can you imagine someone in the camp of Israel…

oh, this is so hard! The Hittites and Jebusites don’t have to do this! My tent is drafty, the food is terrible, and you’ll never believe where I had to go to the restroom this morning! War is really hard!

Ephesians 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

What is my bloodline?

Am I simply child of Adam , or am I a child of God?

If you don’t know the answer to that question – if you aren’t convinced of the answer to that question – you will have an exceedingly difficult time in determining your place or purpose, you will struggle to attain peace or power.

Let’s move on…

Numbers 2:1-2 (NLT) Then the LORD gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron: 2“Each tribe will be assigned its own area in the camp, and the various groups will camp beneath their family banners. The Tabernacle will be located at the center of these tribal compounds.

I must display my banner.

My banner must reflect my captain.

Our banner is Christ. Nothing else is true if this is not true. The other things that come after are irrelevant and insignificant without this fact.

My banner must reflect my calling.

We’re each given gifts, talents, abilities, personalities, experiences, backgrounds which put us in a unique place in the Kingdom. Because of that, God has a unique calling on your life.

My banner must reflect my commitment.

Yet, while we each have a particular, specific calling, we also must not forget our relation to each other. We will have duties and tasks that won’t mean much directly to our calling, but are necessary for the overall good of the camp.

That’s not my ministry. That’s not my calling. That’s not my job.

A higher calling doesn’t exempt us from lower responsibilities.

What’s on my banner?

Is my life aligned under the leadership of Christ?

Am I following the leading of my own lusts, desires, hopes, dreams, or am I following the call he has placed on my life?

Am I committed to convenience or am I truly committed to the Kingdom of God?

Romans 8:14-16 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family – calling him “Father, dear Father.” 16For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.

The identification of banners and bloodlines set us up for the battles that are ahead.

What is your bloodline? What’s on your banner? Are you ready for battle?

———-

End notes

1 That just shows how long ago this series began. My “first grader” is now a sixth grader and her math is much harder.

2 This definition – and many of the thoughts in this entire series – come from a commentary by an author I only know as C.H.M. His commentary is the only one that discusses the themes and ideas of numbers at any length. (Yes, I’ve read Matthew Henry, but that’s completely different.)