So Moses, Aaron, and the leaders of the congregation numbered the Kohathites by their clans and families,
Exodus 19:12). It was death if the high priest entered into the holiest on any day but one, or on that day if he omitted to shroud the mercy-seat in a cloud of fragrant incense (Leviticus 16:3-13). It was death if any son of Aaron transgressed the ritual, were it only by officiating in any other than the appointed garments (Exodus 28:43). In the same strain, this law in Numbers makes it death for any common Levite to touch, or gaze upon, the holy things till the priest has packed them up in their thick wrappings (verses 19, 20; cf. Numbers 1:51; Numbers 3:10). The example first of Nadab and Abihu, and afterwards of Korah and his company, showed that these threats were spoken in earnest. We cannot marvel that, after hearing and seeing all this, the people were smitten with terror, and cried out to Moses, "We perish, we perish, we all perish. Whosoever cometh anything near unto the tabernacle of the Lord shall die. Shall we be consumed with dying?" (Numbers 17:13).
I. THIS FEATURE OF THE LAW WILL HELP YOU TO UNDERSTAND THE DEPRECIATORY TERMS IN WHICH IT IS SO OFTEN MENTIONED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, especially by the Apostle Paul. The law was "the ministration of death and of condemnation" (2 Corinthians 3:7, 9); it "worketh wrath" (Romans 4:15); it breathed a "spirit of bondage" and fear (Romans 8:15); it "gendered to bondage" (Galatians 4:24); it was "an intolerable yoke" (Acts 15:10). Not that the whole contents of the Pentateuch fell under this description. Much of promise was spoken in presence of the mountain of the law. But let the law be taken by itself, and let the gospel verities foreshadowed by its ritual be shut out from view, and does it not answer to the disparaging descriptions? It was full of wrath, condemnation, fear. No doubt there was an element of grace even in the covenant of Sinai. It was a benefit done to Israel when the Lord delivered to them the commandments, pitched his tabernacle among them, and suffered them to draw near under the conditions of the ritual. Nevertheless, the conditions were hard and terrible; we may well thank God for abolishing them. They are utterly abolished. The veil is rent from top to bottom; the yoke is broken; we have received the spirit of adoption, not the spirit of bondage again to fear; we have boldness to enter into the holiest.
II. NOTHING THAT HAS BEEN SAID IMPLIES THAT THE LEVITICAL LAW WAS REALLY UNWORTHY OF THE WISDOM OR THE GRACE OF GOD. For the time then present it was the best thing that could be. Certain truths of primary importance men were everywhere forgetting: among others, the holy majesty of God; that communion with God is to the soul of man the very breath of life; that man is a sinner for whom there is no remission, no access, without atonement. These lessons the law was meant and fitted to teach. These lessons it did teach, burning them into the conscience of the nation. The law was not the gospel, but it led forward to the gospel. A service beyond all price.
III. NOR HAS THE BENEFICENT OFFICE OF THE LAW CEASED WITH THE ADVENT OF THE BETTER TIME. Men are ready to abuse the grace of God, to give harbour to licentiousness on pretext of Christian liberty. If you doubt it, search well your own heart. What is the remedy? It is found sometimes in the rod of God's afflicting providence, sometimes in the searching discipline of the law. For the law, although in its letter abrogated, abides for ever in its substance. We are not bound - we are not at liberty - to slay sin offerings or burn incense. But we are bound to ruminate on the law of sacrifice and intercession. The Levitical ritual belongs in this sense to us as much as it ever belonged to the Jews. It admonishes us of the reverence due to God. A certain filial boldness he will welcome, but presumptuous trifling with his majesty and holiness he will not suffer. If we would be accepted, we must worship God with reverence and godly fear, for our God is still a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). - B.
I. Here is AUTHORITY FOR THE MUSTER-ROLL — "According to the commandment of the Lord they were numbered." It was not left to Moses to number the people without Divine sanction, else the deed might have been as evil in the sight of the Lord as that of David when he made a census of the nation: neither may any man at this day summon the saints of the Lord at his own discretion to enterprises for which they were never set apart. The armies of Israel are none of ours to lead whither we will, nor even to reckon up that the number may be told to our own honour.
They were numbered... every one according to his service.
I. THE WISDOM OF GOD. "By this diversity of numbers among the Levite families," saith Trapp, "God showeth His wisdom in fitting men for the work whereunto He hath appointed them, whether it requireth multitude or gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:8-12). Every one hath his own share; all are not alike gifted."
II. THE REASONABLENESS OF THE DIVINE REQUIREMENTS. "Though the sum total of effective Levites," says Greenfield, "was very small compared with that of the other tribes: yet they would be far more than could be employed at once in this service. But they might carry by turns and ease one another, and thus do the whole expeditiously and cheerfully. They would also have their own tents to remove, and their own families to take care of." There was an ample number for the performance of the work; and its distribution amongst so many would render it comparatively easy to every one. God's claims upon us and our service are in the highest degree reasonable. He is a kind and gracious Master.
III. THE EXEMPLARY OBEDIENCE OF THE SERVANTS OF THE LORD.
1. That the Kohathites were in all eight thousand and six hundred, from a month old and upward: but of those there were but two thousand seven hundred and fifty serviceable men, not a third part. The Gershonites in all seven thousand and five hundred: and of them but two thousand six hundred and thirty serviceable men, little more than a third part. Note — Of the many that add to the numbers of the Church, there are comparatively but few that contribute to the service of it. So it has been, and so it is; many have a place in the tabernacle, that do but little of the work of the tabernacle (Philippians 2:20, 21).
2. That the Merarites were but six thousand and two hundred in all; and yet of these there were three thousand and two hundred serviceable men, which were a good deal above half. The greatest burden lay upon that family, the boards, and pillars, and sockets. And God so ordered it, that though they were the fewest in number, yet they should have the most able men among them; for whatever service God calls men to, He will furnish them for it, and give strength in proportion to the work, grace sufficient.
3. The whole number of the able men of the tribe of Levi, which entered into God's host to war His warfare, was but eight thousand five hundred and eighty; whereas the able men of the other tribes that entered into the host of Israel to war their warfare were many more. The least of the tribes had almost four times as many able men as the Levites, and some of them more than eight times as many. For those that are engaged in the service of this world, and war after the flesh, are many more than those that are devoted to the service of God, and fight the good fight of faith.
( Matthew Henry, D. D..)
1. Believers in Christ Jesus, you are now called forth to do suit and service, because like the tribe of Levi you are the Lord's. He views you as the church of the firstborn, as the redeemed from among men, and as His peculiar inheritance, and therefore above all other men you are under His special rule and governance.
2. You are further called because this is a charge laid upon you of the Lord, to whom you specially belong. The Levites were not numbered with the rest of the nation, for their vocation was altogether different, and their whole business was "about holy things." Ye see in this your calling, for hereunto are ye also ordained that ye may live unto the Lord alone.
3. The Lord may well call you to this service, seeing He has given you to His Son, even as He gave the Levites to Aaron, as it is written (Numbers 3:9), "They are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel." Because ye belong to Christ, therefore hide not yourselves from His service, but come forward with alacrity.
4. The Lord has constituted you the servants of all His people, even as He said of the Levites that they were to "do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation." We are debtors to all our brethren, and we are their servants to the full extent of our power.
II. Notice THE APPOINTMENT OF THE INDIVIDUALS — "Every one according to his service, and according to his burden." By our varied gifts, positions, offices, and opportunities, we are as much set apart to special services as were the sons of Kohath, &c. Great evils arise out of persons mistaking their calling, and undertaking things of which they are not capable; and, on the other hand, the success of Christian work in a large measure arises out of places of usefulness being filled by the right men.
III. Our text is the summary of the chapter in which we have an ACCOUNT OF THE ACTUAL FULFILMENT OF THE LORD'S COMMAND BY MOSES. He numbered each family, and cast up the total of the tribe, at the same time mentioning in detail the peculiar service of each. We would imitate him at this important moment, and take the census of those who are consecrated to the Lord's own service.
1. Where are you, then, who can bear the heavier service of the sanctuary, carrying its pillars, and the boards, and the sockets thereof? You are now needed to speak in the meetings, to lead the people in prayer, to order the assemblies, and to take the heavier work of this holy business. The Lord Jesus should have able men to speak for Him; He deserves the best of the best. Now is the hour, where is the man? Let no diffidence or love of ease keep one back who might make known the gospel and win a soul for Jesus.
2. But where are you who can only carry the pins and the cords? Your burden is lighter, but probably your strength is also less, and lighter though your load may be, the matters which you carry are quite as essential as the pillars and the boards. Where are you? You who can say a few words to lonely inquiring ones; you who can do no more than pray, where are you? At your posts, or idling? Answer quickly, for time and need are pressing. If the load which you can carry be so very small, be all the more ready to bear it.
3. Are you a lover of the Lord Jesus and do you wish to be omitted from the roll-call? If so, let it be known to yourself, and stated plainly to your conscience. Do not pretend to be a labourer and remain a loiterer, but openly avow to your own soul that you stand all the day idle, and feel fully justified in so doing.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Young Men's Review.An overworked minister, whilst lamenting the lack of workers in his church, dozed, and, as the story goes, dreamed. He thought he was between the shafts of a four-wheeled coach, and four of his helpers were each pushing a wheel, and up the hill they all toiled together. Soon he felt the coach drag heavily, and at last he could pull no further so came to a standstill. On looking behind he discovered that his four helpers had quietly got inside to ride. How much happier and easier Christian work would be if all would do their best.
(Young Men's Review.)
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