The Princes of Israel and their Offerings, Numbers 7
E. L. H. Ogden, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lanes
The incidents recorded in this chapter must have seemed very unusual to any stranger outside the camp of Israel who may have witnessed them. He would have wondered at the tent erected in the centre of that great concourse of people, and noted the orderly assemblage of the tribes under their standards. As he watched, he would have seen a gathering of twelve men, one from each tribe, around six covered wagons in which would have been placed vessels of silver and gold. Probably behind or surrounding the wagons were thirty-six bullocks, seventy-two rams, seventy-two goats and seventy-two lambs. These, as we shall see later, were for the sacrifices of the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the peace offering. Thus assembled, the cavalcade made its way to the tabernacle: six covered wagons, and twelve oxen; a wagon for two of the princes and for each prince an ox. The occasion for this procession was the anointing and sanctifying of the tabernacle and the instruments of the altar and all the vessels.
The offering that these princes made was spontaneous and unprecedented, and there is no record that it was repeated at the dedication of the temple. It represented their token of love and service in wilderness conditions. Moses had received no word of revelation from God, so that when they reached the tabernacle God alone knew in what way their gifts could be honoured. His first commands concerned the use of the wagons and the oxen. These were to be given to the sons of Gershon and Merari of the tribe of Levi, in accordance with the nature of Poulton-le-Fylde service that they were required to render in relation to the tabernacle.
But as they together brought their offering, God caused that each prince should be identified with his own gifts on the day specifically appointed by Him. So on the first day came Nahshon of Judah in tribal order; each prince followed daily over a period of twelve consecutive days, making his own presentation to God. The importance of the personal aspects of this offering is emphasized by the apparent repetition of identical offerings, the record of which extends from verse 12 to verse 83. There is never more repetition with God, and the temptation on our part to pass over these verses should be met with the determination to seek the reason, and to profit thereby. Not only was God pleased to record each individual gift made during those days, but this was followed by an aggregate assessment of all that was offered (see vv. 84-88) to which we will refer later. It is no wonder that when all was done. Moses, representing the leadership of the princes, went into the tabernacle and held holy converse with God, who had expressed His satisfaction with all that had been offered from devoted hearts, v. 89.
There are lessons that we can learn from these acts of spontaneous love.
(i) Verse 3. The covered wagons would teach us that, while they were very unpretentious to the eye of the stranger observing them, there were many unseen treasures of silver and gold contained therein which gladdened the heart of God. Many of the Lord's people may gather for worship and testimony in places which leave much to be desired through no fault of their own. The buildings often do not compare favourably with the more prominent places where Christendom and sadly many true Christians congregate. To such, these places, with the little assemblies meeting in them, are like the covered wagons to the stranger in the wilderness. With nothing to attract the flesh, pressures sometimes from within may be so great to conform to modern trends, so that faithful believers are discouraged. Take heart, brethren, God does not look on the outside. He delights in the treasures of Christ that He sees within! A sister, although not desiring to displease her Lord, may nevertheless feel the scriptural limitations upon her in contrast to other believers she may know who exercise a licence in their so-called church activities, which are not only foreign to New Testament principles but are sometimes in direct disobedience to them. Take courage faithful sister; God does not look upon the outside veneer of empty profession, nor on that which does not show the quietness of an obedient spirit, but upon the faithful service of prayer and love performed in so many ways that makes the godly sister the salt of the local assembly.
(ii) Verse 3. Notice that the allocation of the wagons meant that two princes had to share one wagon. Does this not teach us that the greatest preparation for worship is fellowship? This is godly order. It is the principle of the teaching of the early church. "They continued stedfastly in fellowship, and in breaking of bread", Acts 2. 42. How much misinterpretation concerning assembly reception would have been avoided if this order, foreshadowed by the approach of the princes, had been adhered to in love and grace.
(iii) Verse 5. The wagon and the oxen were commanded by God to be given to the Levites. That which had been brought as a token of devotion would be used as instruments of service. This is the economy of God: worship first, followed by service. The two cannot be separated, neither is the order reversed in Scripture.
(iv) Verses 6-8. Here we are taught that God equips His servants, for their own specific service but by His own measure. Merari had double the equipment afforded to Gershon. Reference to Numbers 4. 25-26; 31-32 will show the difference in the duties that fell upon these two families, and God made exact provision for the needs of their labours. It is important in our service to remember the principle here expressed. To attempt to do more than God has equipped us for will weary and wear us beyond God's purpose, sometimes with sad repercussions upon physical and mental health. On the other hand, it is good to feel the strength of His might as we draw upon the resources that God has provided.
(v) Verse 9. The Kohathites were not given any of these physical supports. Theirs was the service of the sanctuary, in which all the vessels had to be borne upon their shoulders. Service in holy things must never depend upon natural supports. We would suggest that the preaching of the gospel and the ministry of the Word as two examples of such holy things today. Perhaps the failure to segregate these from fleshy tendencies, particularly in the gospel service, may be a reason for any lack of spiritual growth in an assembly. All spiritual growth and power manifested in the church is dependent upon a deepening appreciation of the knowledge of the Son of God, which can only be learned in independence of all that is foreign to His mind; see Eph. 4. 13-16.
(vi) Verse 11. When God separated one day on which each prince should bring his offering, He emphasized that worship was a very personal exercise.
(vii) Verse 13. Moreover, every offering was noted in God's inventory. Nothing was missed. So it is today. God delights in our personal giving whether monetary or material, when He sees that the motivation behind the gift is the love of a devoted heart; see Mark 12. 41-44.
(viii) Verses 84-88. After every prince had made his personal offering, God assessed the gifts in aggregate. This surely teaches us that personal worship, when offered corporately, becomes a part of the whole.
But what of the men who made these offerings? Their names are significant, and while space will not permit us to look into their individual meanings, it may be suggested that they will yield to the thoughtful reader a choice quality of character which should be recognizable in every local assembly. There is one exception, however: Ahira, v.78. His name means "brother of evil". Well might his presence among his brethren be challenged. In reply he would surely say, "I am here solely on the ground of grace". Indeed, whatever spiritual qualities we may bring into the assembly, we should never forget that by nature each one of us could be named "brother of evil". Yet with him, and on the same ground of grace, we are privileged to bring our offering of love into the presence of our Lord, knowing that it is accepted.
The offerings are described in detail, and all speak of our beloved Lord. In the silver chargers and bowls containing fine flour mingled with oil is redemptive character, particularly in His life as He prepared Himself for the cross, Heb. 5. 8. This is the basis of the offering. The golden spoon full of incense speaks of the fragrance of the character of His Godhood as He established His deity before men. This is the quality of the offering.
Then there are the animals for sacrifice, wherein we see the Lord in His vicarious Work. This is the value of the offering. The blood offerings were four out of the five Levitical offerings. Again space forbids reference to the beauties of Christ seen in them all. Let us nevertheless pause to consider why the trespass offering did not form a part of the worship of these men. Is it not to remind our wayward hearts that the trespass offering must be made before we assemble with God's people for worship?; see Matt. 5. 23-24; 1 Cor. 11. 27-32.
As we conclude our study of this remarkable chapter, we may ask ourselves: what sort of offering do we really bring to our Lord? Psalm 51. 17 teaches that "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit". This speaks of the sin offering in our repentance.
Hebrews 13.15 exhorts us to "offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually". This speaks of the peace offering in our testimony.
Romans 12. 1 beseeches us to present our bodies "a living sacrifice". This speaks of the meal offering in our service.
1 Chronicles 21. 24 illustrates David's determination, "I will not . . . offer burnt offerings without cost". This speaks of the burnt offering of our full surrender.
So may we emulate the princes of Israel as they brought their offerings before the Lord, and give Him our all.