Numbers 5:1


The host has now been marshaled. The several tribes have taken the places allotted to them in relation to the tabernacle and to one another. They are about to set forth on the march from the wilderness of Sinai. Before the signal is given, certain final instructions for the regulation of the camp have yet to be delivered, and this about the removal of unclean persons is one of them. The general intention of it is intimated in the terms employed. The host is to be so ordered, both in the camp and on the march, as to make it a living picture of the Church, and the Church's relation to God. It is to be made manifest that he dwells and walks among the covenant people (Leviticus 26:11, 12), that he is of pure eyes, and cannot suffer evil to dwell with him. Accordingly, there must in no wise abide in the camp any man or woman that is unclean. Persons afflicted with uncleanness must be removed, and live outside of the sacred precinct. Such is the law here laid down.

I. IN ATTRIBUTING TO THIS LAW A RELIGIOUS INTENTION, I DO NOT FORGET THAT A LOWER AND MORE PROSAIC INTERPRETATION HAS SOMETIMES BEEN PUT ON IT. There are commentators who remind one of the man with the muck-rake in the "Pilgrim's Progress." They have no eye except for what is earthly. To them the removal of the unclean is simply a sanitary measure. I freely admit that there was a sanitary intention. The sequestering of lepers, the early and "extramural" burial of the dead - these are valuable sanitary provisions, and it is plain that this law would lead to them. But I need not wait to prove that the law looks higher, and that its paramount intention is moral and spiritual.

II. Passing on, therefore, to the RELIGIOUS INTENTION Of this law, observe who exactly are excluded by it from the camp. They are of three sorts, viz., lepers, persons affected with issues of various kinds, and persons who had come in contact with the dead. This does not by any means exhaust the catalogue of defilements noted in the Levitical law. But these were the gravest. Only these three disabled from residence in the camp. My reason for calling attention to this point you will understand when I mention that these three uncleannesses, so prominent in the law of Moses, received the same kind of prominence in the gracious ministry of Christ. Read the story of the leper (Mark 1:41); of the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:27-30); of the raising of Jairus' daughter and the widow's son at Nain (Mark 5:41 and Luke 7:14). In no one of these passages is the Levitical law named. Much the greater number of those who read or hear them fail to perceive that in Christ's mode of performing the miracles there was any reference to what the law had said about the defiling quality of the evils on which his gracious power was put forth. That there truly was a reference surely needs no proof. No Jew ever forgot what the penalty would be if he suffered himself to be in contact with a dead body, with a leper, with a person having an issue of blood. Certainly our Lord did not forget. Nor would it be doing justice to the truth to say that our Lord touched as he did, notwithstanding the defilement thereby contracted, and its troublesome consequences. He, of set purpose, sought occasion to put himself in contact with every one of the three causes of defilement noted in the law. Keeping this in mind, let us ask the meaning of the law.

1. The general intention. It was to be a memorial of the truth that our nature is deeply infected with sin, and that sin disables all in whom it is found for enjoying the fellowship of God here and hereafter. In this Levitical statute, I admit, the lesson is not taught explicitly. There was nothing morally wrong in any one of the three sources of defilement named. The teaching is by symbol - a kind of object lesson - and not the less impressive on that account.

2. The meaning of the several symbols.

(1) Defilement by the dead. Why is this? Because death is the wages of sin (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:19). Compare the representation of death which pervades Psalm 90 - "the prayer of Moses."

(2) Defilement by leprosy. A touching symbol. It admonishes us that sin, besides being blameworthy and deserving of death, is a vile thing, to be loathed and recoiled from, as men loathe and recoil from a leper; contagious also, and apt to spread.

(3) Of the third symbol I need say only this, that it reminds us that sin is an hereditary evil (Psalm 51:5).

3. The relation of this law to Christ and his work. That it has a relation has been already pointed out. The relation may be conceived of thus : - The law is the dark ground on which the redemptive work of Christ unfolds the brightness of its grace. Christ did not keep aloof from the evils which afflict our fallen nature, and which perpetually remind us how deep our fall has been. He took occasion to put himself in contact with them. He touched the leprous man. Not that leprosy was sweet to him; it was to him as loathsome as to any man in Palestine that day. Nevertheless, he touched the leprous man, and the leprosy fled before the power of that touch. Leprosy, wasting issues, death - these are the memorials and tokens of the sin that is the fatal heritage of our fallen race; and one who would know our need of redemption cannot do better than meditate on them as they are set forth in the Levitical law. Leprosy, wasting issues, death - these evils our blessed Lord went up to in his ministry; he touched them, and their flight the instant that they felt his touch gave, and continues still to give, assurance to men that he is indeed the Saviour. He can forgive sin; he can make us clean; he is the resurrection and the life. - B.







They were numbered... every one according to his service.
Looking at the relation of the numbers to the service required of them we discover illustrations of —

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.

(W. Jones.)

Observe —

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..)

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.

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.)

There is a work for all of us. And there is special work for each, work which I cannot do in a crowd, or as one of a mass, but as one man, acting singly, according to my own gifts, and under a sense of my personal responsibility. There is, no doubt, associated work for me to do; I must do my work as part of the world's great whole, or as a member of some body. But I have a special work to do, as one individual who, by God's plan and appointment, has a separate position, separate responsibilities, and a separate work; if I do not do it, it must be left undone. No one of my fellows can do that special work for me which I have come into the world to do; he may do a higher work, a greater work, but he cannot do my work. I cannot hand my work over to him, any more than I can hand over my responsibilities or my gifts. Nor can I delegate my work to an association of men, however well-ordered and powerful. They have their own work to do, and it may be a very noble one. But they cannot do my work for me. I must do it with these hands or with these lips which God has given me. I may do little or I may do much. That matters not. It must be my own work, and by doing my own work, poor as it may seem to some, I shall better fulfil God's end in making me what I am, and more truly glorify His name, than if I were either going out of my own sphere to do the work of another, or calling in another into my sphere to do my proper work for me.

(John Ruskin.)

The Rev. Andrew Fuller, the eminent Baptist minister, was depressed at one time by his people living in a low state of mind; they did nothing but sigh and groan. All his endeavours were fruitless to raise them to a higher spiritual life. Much perplexed, he made inquiry into their actions, and found that they were doing nothing for Christ. He at once set them to work, and a marked change took place; instead of sighs, groans, and gloomy faces, there were cheerfulness and faces glowing with happiness. If your state of heart and mind is low and depressed, carry the story of the life, death, and resurrection of the Saviour to some perishing soul; do something for the Master, and soon your heart will leap with joy and gratitude.

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.)

We are told sometimes of the vast power unutilised as the waters leap over the Falls of Niagara; in fact, statisticians have given us calculations of the marvellous saving of steam, which means coal, which means money, that might thus be saved. We are not sure but that it has been proved that there is power enough, if it could be communicated, to give electric light to the whole continent, and no one who has walked along the banks of the Niagara River for two or three miles above the Falls, and studied the tremendous force of the current, will hesitate to doubt such statements. Is there not in this a parable? There is a whole Niagara of Christian power running to waste in our land — power that if utilised would flash the light of salvation over the world, and bring in the perfect day of Christ's kingdom on earth. Take any of our churches, what are a large portion of the members doing? Absolutely nothing — they are in their places on the Sabbath, and just possibly at the weekly prayer-meeting; beyond that what? But, "I can do so little." Oh, my friend, pug your little and a thousand littles of your brethren together, and it would make a power that by the grace of God would be irresistible. Niagara is but the united power of a thousand streams far, far away.

(Canadian Independent.).

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