TODAY’S READING: THE PLACE OF ORGANIZATION; TEAM MINISTRY; JESUS- AUTHORIZED BY GOD OR MAN?
OLD TESTAMENT READING: Numbers 2- 3:51
For those of you who love organizing, this is your kind of chapter. The children of Israel had already been camping in the wilderness for two years. Little did they know at the time they would be camping for another 38!
TAKE TIME TO ORGANIZE
The time and attention given to spelling out the order and detail for operations in Numbers 2 remind us that God values organization and the maintenance of discipline as critical to the mission of His people. He desires that His people operate in “the beauty of holy array” and not as a mob (1 Chronicles 16:29; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 29:2; 96:9-ASV, RSV). They were to function as one body. They were not to operate in chaos and confusion.
Some degree of order is important for worship.
Organization and clear communication are important for battle:
1 Corinthians 14:8-9 (NASB) 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
THE PURPOSE MUST BE WELL DEFINED, PRESERVED, AND KEPT AT THE CENTER
Now that the Law had been given, and the Tabernacle built according to the Word of the Lord given to Moses, the people had A WELL-DEFINED PURPOSE AT THE CENTER OF THEIR COMMUNITY. They would live their lives together as WORSHIPERS under the AUTHORITY of the WORD OF GOD.
Every member of the community was given an assignment that would contribute to the Divinely Established Purpose. That purpose would always be at the center. All their national life was centered in the One who had called them to Himself and tabernacled among them.
It must be remembered that their assignment was not the most important thing. The focus must remain at the center of the individual life and the community life.
1 Corinthians 3:5-8 (NASB) 5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
Each tribe was to work as a team. They camped together in their assigned position at an appointed side and distance from the tent of meeting. Each tribal team was easily identifiable as they gathered under the leadership of their tribal heads and the banners of their fathers. They took pride in their tribal (team) identity and team function. And yet they knew that their team would be nothing without the other teams contributing their distinct services.
TEAM IDENTITY AND LEADERSHIP
Placed on the East Side of the tabernacle, the side where the gate of the tabernacle is positioned, facing the direction of the rising sun, is the banner of the LION OF JUDAH.
The banner for the tribe of Judah had a gold lion on a field of scarlet red. The appointed leader for Judah was: Nashon, son of Amminadab.
The tribe of Issachar (under the leadership of Nethanel, son of Zuar) was positioned on the East Side next to Judah. The tribe of Zebulun (with their leader Eliab son of Helon) were positioned next to them.
THE TRIBES OF THE SOUTHERN SIDE (THE CAMP OF REUBEN)
The banner for the Tribe of Reuben was A MAN on a field of gold. Their leader was Elizur, son of Shedeur). Camped next to them were the tribes of Simeon (Shelumiel was their leader) and Gad (Eliasaph was their leader). The camp of Reuben would set out second when they made their advance.
Numbers 2:17 (NASB)
17 “Then the tent of meeting shall set out with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; just as they camp, so they shall set out, every man in his place by their standards.
Placed on the West Side of the tabernacle was the tribe of Ephraim with their banner of AN OX (black) on a field of gold. Elishama was their appointed leader. Next to them was the tribe of Manasseh with Gamaliel as their leader. Then comes the tribe of Benjamin. Abidan was their leader.
The camp of Ephraim would set out third.
On the north was the Camp of Dan with their standard of AN EAGLE on a field of blue. Their appointed leader was Ahiezer. Next to the tribe of Dan were camped the tribe of Asher (Pagiel, their leader) and the tribe of Naphtali (Ahira, their leader). They shall set out last.
DID YOU NOTICE THE FOUR DIFFERENT EMBLEMS ON THE BANNERS?
They were the four living creatures that we will see throughout the Bible: The Lion, The Ox, The Man, and The Eagle.
The description of the faces of the four living creatures within the glory of the Lord in Ezekiel 1:4 and Revelation 4:7 are those of lion, ox, man and eagle.
Ezekiel 1:10 (NASB) 10 As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.
In the New Testament, we have four gospel writers, each giving testimony to the One who tabernacled in their midst, Jesus Christ. There is the Gospel of Matthew who portrays Jesus as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah fulfilling the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. There is the Gospel of Mark who portrays Jesus as the Servant (Ox), focusing on His works and the burden that He bore on our behalf. The Gospel of Luke portrays Jesus to the Greeks as the Son of Man. He includes more teachings and references to a certain man or Jesus as the Son of man. And then the Gospel of John presents the transcendent view of Jesus, as the soaring eagle in the heavens, the Son of God. Together they give us a composite view of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. The people of God are to be a Gospel-Centered Community!
Every member of the nation was to be a worshiper. Not all were to be warriors. The Levites were exempt from military duty in that they were to give priority to defending the core of the community– their worship.
The principle of prioritization is echoed in the New Testament Book of Acts: The elders of the church in Jerusalem said,
Acts 6:4 (NASB) 4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
As members of the different tribes wanted to meet together, they would each have to go to the center of the camp. As they did this, they would pass through the camp of the Levites who were camped in the immediate vicinity of the Tabernacle, reminding them that the first obligation of the people was their obligation to God in worship and service.
DEFINE AND ASSIGN RESPONSIBILITIES
The task assignments of the tribe of Levi remind us of ministry work in the church today. In fact, in the New Testament, Stephen in the Book of Acts uses the Greek word for “church”, “ekklesia”, (literally ‘called out ones’) to describe the congregation camping in the Sinai wilderness (Acts 7:38).
Many of the congregations that I have worked within Europe, Central and South America, and here in the United States have been what we call “Porta-churches”. Furnishings and equipment are transported, assembled before the meeting, and to be taken down after the meeting. In addition to meeting in the homes, Sunday celebrations for edification in the Word and corporate worship are held in rented buildings or in the outdoors. Buildings need to be cleaned, chairs set up and nursery equipment installed. Tables and food for hospitality, ministry booths, and the auditorium space need to be arranged. Sound equipment and musical instruments need to be unpacked. After the ministries take place, it all needs to be packed up, stored away and everything cleaned again!
In all of this, we are to meet in the center- mindful of the One who tabernacles among us. And so, we serve the Lord with gladness and come before Him with praise as we do our respective duties. It is not a matter of working and THEN worship. No, we work as part of our worship.
In Numbers 3 we are reminded that two of Aaron’s sons are no longer with them. Nadab and Abihu died in the presence of the Lord in the first month of service. They did not obey instructions. They did not understand why they were not to bring their own fire to the altar.
We cannot invent our worship. We cannot worship on our own terms. As Jesus said, worship is to be in spirit and in truth. Our worship is a response to the revelation of God’s Word in the fire of the Spirit that He has provided. He brought the fire to the altar. It came from above. The fire on the altar speaks of the Holy Spirit, our witness to Christ, who reveals the truth and the life of our Perfect Substitute, releasing the fragrance of His perfections and destroying all that will ever be condemnable in us through the contamination of sin.
Nadab and Abihu initiated their own fire. We must let God initiate. He never asks for our own fire. The priests were only to feed the fire with the offering of wood, which speaks of the consecration of our lives (Romans 12:1). We give our lives- that all that is condemnable of our life ‘in Adam’ might be consumed and all that is ‘of Christ’ might be refined and released.
A second census is taken in the Book of Numbers. This one will involve the counting of the Levites (Numbers 3:15). The tribe of Levi is divided into three working teams: the tribes of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (v.18). It is good to see families serving together!
Eleazar, the son of Aaron would oversee these teams. (3:32)
THE FAMILY OF GERSHON- IN CHARGE OF THE FABRICS
The Kohathites had the special duty of caring for and transporting the tabernacle furnishings: carrying the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the screen, and the utensils of the sanctuary. (Later in the history of Israel we will see what happens when the children of Israel forget divine protocol and have other people and other means for the setup and service of these pieces. The result is disastrous.)
The family of Merari took care of the frames of the tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the sockets pegs, cords, and all the equipment associated with the framework.
THE REDEMPTION OF THE FIRSTBORN
There is a wonderful prophetic picture in the “redemption of the firstborn” in Numbers 3:40-51.
The third census in the Book of Numbers is the numbering of the First Born (3:40).
Every first-born male was numbered. The Levites, as priests, were appointed to be substitutes acting on behalf of the firstborn men of Israel. But there were 22,273 firstborn males in the tribe of Israel and only 22,000 Levites.
So, who would stand in place of the extra 273 firstborns that needed a Substitute?
Redemption money was taken for the ransom of the 273 extra men (Numbers 3:46-48) of 5 shekels per male. The ransom money was given to Aaron and His sons, just as the Lord commanded Moses (3:51).
In the original arrangement (Exodus 19) the firstborn male of every household was to be consecrated to God as a priest. You will remember that after the incident of disobedience with the idolatrous worship of the golden calf, only the tribe of Levi were permitted to be priests. They would have to stand in as representatives of the firstborn of Israel.
Our Lord Jesus is and was The Firstborn, a title signifying His importance (Romans 8:29; Col 1:15; Heb 1:6, 12:23; Rev 1:5). He was also a Priest, and perfect Substitute unto God according to the original arrangement. He was not of the order of the Levites, but another order, an eternal one, reflected in the priesthood of Melchizedek, who had no beginning or end of days (Hebrews 7:3). All those who are redeemed by Him, belong to Him and share His birthright to bring forth our spiritual sacrifices to God as members of a Royal Priesthood without any need for ‘stand in’ priests. And so, in Christ, the Levitical priesthood is done away.
On the day after Jesus cleansed the court of the Gentiles by expelling the moneychangers, the religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus asked Him a question as He was trying to enter the temple once again. “By what authority are you doing these things?”
Jesus, in typical fashion, answers them with a question to test their motives. “Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men?”
The teachers deliberate knowing that they could not say yes, because it would prove that they were not obedient or submissive to God’s authority themselves. It would implicate their guilt, as they were plotting to kill the Messiah. The message of John the Baptist was that the Lord, the Lamb of God, the Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.
But because they knew that “everyone considered John to be a real prophet” (Mark 11:32) they could not say that John’s authority was from men. In the end, they answer Jesus saying, “We don’t know.”
Jesus again underscores His authority by saying, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:33)
And then He tells them a parable in which it is clear that Jesus is the Vineyard Owner’s son and heir (Mark 12:6-8) and that the evil vine growers were the religious authorities of the Jews. The parable shows that the authority of the religious leaders was human authority (from men; not from heaven) and in opposition to the authority of God (the Owner of the Vineyard). (See the relationship of this parable to the one found in Isaiah 5.)
TODAY’S READING FROM THE PSALMS
PSALM 47:1-9- Psalm 47 is a fulfillment of Psalm 46:10 – “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” In Psalm 47 FOR GOD IS KING OVER ALL THE EARTH.
We can rest in the fact that He chooses our inheritance for us.
Five times we are told to “Sing praises”. He adds, “with a skillful psalm”. This is a call for songwriting as well as singing! For Jesus, the way up was down. The second person of the Trinity stepped away from His royal throne in heaven and became a fellow two-legged human being. God became man. He humbled Himself to become our substitute. He lived our life the way it should be lived, without sin. Then He willingly died the death the law of God said a sinner should die (2 Cor 5:21). He was obedient to the death of the cross, shed His blood for the atonement of OUR SINS. Therefore, God highly exalted Him and gave Him a Name that is above every other Name (Philippians 2:9-11).
This is what Psalm 47 is all about. “God has ascended with a shout, The LORD, with the sound of a trumpet…. He is highly exalted. (Psalm 47:5,9)
Proverbs 10:24-25 (NASB) 24 What the wicked fears will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. 25 When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.
If we fear the Lord, we need not fear anything or anyone else. The finished work of Christ is more secure than a storm cellar, it is an everlasting foundation. Those who build their lives upon it remain secure.
PRAYER FOR THE NATIONS:
Today we are praying for the island of Barbados in the Caribbean (p. 137-138 of Operation World). Barbados is one of the most successful and prosperous of the Caribbean island states. It has been independent from Britain since 1966 and has had stable democratic rule since then.
The legacy of slavery is one that must be completely routed. Pray that through deeds indicative of repentance and extensions of forgiveness any remaining scars might be forever removed.
Although there are many professing Christians, real commitment to the Lordship of Christ is the exception rather than the rule. Materialism and theological liberalism have eclipsed and muddied the gospel. Pray for spiritual renewal in Barbados and that the Church would reawaken to the gospel.
The church needs greater unity and cooperation among denominations and the youth need discipleship. The culture of immorality is pervasive.
And let us continue to pray for the nations of Northern Africa in their time of crisis.
PRAYER: Lord, You are King of all the earth! You reign over all, and yet we long to see Your reign established with the full consent of Your subjects. May Your kingdom come, and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for showing us that each member of the body of Christ has a portion, a vital function in the body of Christ, Your chosen means of expression to this dark world. Help us to use our spiritual gifts, our time, talents, and opportunities in a way that will glorify You. Thank you for the teamwork in the body of Christ. Help us to sing Your praises, write skillful psalms, and make disciples of all kinds of people together with our brothers and sisters in Christ!
Help us all to MARCH FORTH on this day, MARCH FOURTH. May we, like the tribe of Judah, be ready “to set out first on the march!” (Numbers 2:9, ESV). In Jesus Name! Amen.