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It is impossible to look at this book ever so cursorily without feeling the difference of the atmosphere from that of Leviticus. And this is so much the more striking because it cannot be fairly doubted by a believer that they were both the production of the same inspired author. Nothing therefore illustrates more clearly the way and measure in which the object of God gives the tone to the book in which He is communicating His mind to His people; for although there is quite enough to show the same human hand that He employed, the fulness of divine wisdom is equally manifest, as also the special forms which it thought fit to adopt for the purpose of enforcing the truth on our careless minds.
Now the specific object of Numbers is to set out the journeyings of Israel through the wilderness, and this typically as usual in scripture. It is no longer access to God. This we have seen in Leviticus, where the tabernacle stood in the foreground, out of which Jehovah caused His communications to be given to Moses, as well as to Aaron, or even to the people through Moses. In the book of Numbers the Spirit of God has the desert before Him, rather than the sanctuary. We shall find of course the sanctuary, but the question here is not one of drawing near to God as far as this could be then, but of the walk of the people of God on the earth. I say the earth, because it does not always set before us the earth as it now is a wilderness, but the earth even as it shall be when the Lord Jesus takes the kingdom. We shall find the importance of this remark before we have done with the book of Numbers. Still it is everywhere the earth as the scene through which the redeemed of the Lord are passing.
Hence the first thing brought before us is that we are now to look on and learn the varied trials whereby Israel were about to be proved, where occasional foes met them, where there were always dangers and difficulties, where the people might and as we know did manifest their lack of dependence on God, even to the point of rebellious and flagrant and fatal sin against Him.
It was needful in God's wisdom that the census of the children of Israel should be taken. The primary object that is presented to us in the early chapters is a reckoning of the males that were fit for war; but we shall find that the numbering goes beyond this, and that there are other considerations and objects than for war and warlike purposes. In short, whatever might be the particular aim in various parts of the book, God impresses upon us this the care and the interest that He takes in everyone that belongs to Him. It is a very simple truth, but certainly full of comfort to the soul; and this, it will be observed, for the earth.
We can all understand the sweetness of being numbered for heaven, and to that the heart of most people generally turns; but even those who have the greatest comfort in looking at the counsels of God securing them for eternity are apt to forget the present interest which the Lord takes in all our movements, ways, conflicts, and trials. This is the first thing with which the book opens.
After this numbering of the people attention is drawn to the exception of the tribe of Levi. Thus it is said, "Thou shalt not number the tribe of Levi neither take the sum of them among the children of Israel: but thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle and all the vessels thereof; and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle." The two things are true; and the comfort of both (which at first sight might seem to be so opposed as to be incompatible with each other) the Lord would surely give us to taste. In the one case the census relates to those whom God has put in the place of trial and provocation (not yet, no doubt, the fullest form of conflict, which is reserved for the book of Joshua). Nevertheless conflicts there are, with trial of patience always, in the wilderness for the people of God. But then there is another truth which we need also to apprehend, which has no less consolation for our souls: we are not only God's own people, every one of us counted up by Himself as those on whom He reckons, whatever may be the march, with whomsoever we may have to fight in passing through the wilderness; but we have to do with serving Him, and, above all, in reference to the sanctuary. In this point of view numbering as of a host would be out of season. The object is to stamp on service an unearthly character; yet undoubtedly it is while we are going through the earth. At the same time the exclusion from this census in the case of Levi was just as important as His interest in reckoning Israel up one by one in the midst of trials. For the Levites taken quite apart are thus viewed as out of all this reckoning and simply exempted for the service of God, without need of any such method of impressing God's care on them.
Both truths were intended to be brought before us as having distinct and combined meaning in the Christian. Accordingly the very same persons who in one aspect are typified by the numbered tribes of Israel in another are Levites not numbered as yet because they belong to God simply and exclusively. This then is the double aspect. It would not be easy to adduce an instance which shows us more the importance of a right handling of the types, because the natural mind would be continually prone to set the two things in opposition, and to conclude that, as the Levites were contrasted with the other tribes of Israel, so what either represents must occupy each a wholly different position now. As this does not follow à priori, so the reverse is true in fact; and the types indicate different relations of the same antitypical persons. The truth is, when we think of a Christian, we have to remember the words of the Spirit of God in the New Testament: "All things are yours." It does not matter whether it be the numbering of Israel or the absence of numbering of the Levites, both are true of the Christian not, of course, in the same aspect, but in distinct relationships equally true.
In the second chapter is laid down the arrangement of the camp; and here we have another important principle brought before us. The tabernacle has a central place: the tribes are all ranged in reference to it. "Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house." And then we find, "On the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch their armies: and Nahshon the son of Aminadab shall be captain of the children of Judah." God insists always on His own order. "And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred. And those that do pitch next unto him shall be the tribe of Issachar: and Nethaneel the son of Zuar shall be captain of the children of Issachar. And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were fifty and four thousand and four hundred. Then the tribe of Zebulun: and Eliab, the son of Elon shall be captain of the children of Zebulun." Again we find that Judah comes before us. "On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben," and again of Simeon. After all this we are told, "The tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp: as they encamp, so shall they set forward, every man in his place by their standards" (verse 17). Then follow on the west Ephraim's standard, and on the north Dan's.
Thus the tabernacle is surrounded by the Levites for the purpose of asserting their special and exclusive absorption in the service of God, instead of being left for purposes of war, or any object on the earth other than God's own sanctuary. They hold the central place, with six on one side and six on the other. Such was the order of the march. Indeed the same arrangement appears when they encamp. We shall find however a subsequent modification of this; but I do not speak more of it until it comes in its own place. Then we are told as a summary that "These are those which were numbered of the children of Israel by the house of their fathers. All those that were numbered of the camps throughout their hosts were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty. But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel, as Jehovah commanded Moses. And the children of Israel did according to all that Jehovah commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward every one after their families according to the house of their fathers."
In the third chapter we come to more particulars of that which has a still nearer interest to us not now the general order of the host of Israel, but more especially what concerns the service of the Levites This specially connects itself with our walk here below. Priesthood is just as remarkable in the book of Leviticus as Levite service is in the book of Numbers. In that respect Leviticus is by no means a happy name for the book. The truth is that much the greater part of the detail as to the Levites is found in Numbers, and not in Leviticus. We must remember that the name "Leviticus" is not given by divine inspiration: it is merely a name taken from the Greek version; in short it is a human name. I do not hesitate therefore to make the remark. The Hebrew mode of reference to these books was the mere citation of the first word in each book. In the book of Numbers then, where we have the walk on earth set forth, service finds its capital seat. In the book which develops access to God priesthood is as prominent as here Leviteship. A remark applies as to priesthood exactly similar to what we found true of Leviteship; namely, that the Christian, who in one point of view is of Israel and in another a Levite, is no less a priest. Only priesthood sets forth the drawing near to God Himself in the heavenly sanctuary no longer the figure, but the true the antitype; whereas Levitical service has to do with the service of the sanctuary whilst the people of God are passing through the earth. It is clear from this that the priestly functions of the believer have a very much higher character than his Levitical service, if we would express ourselves in the language of types. In the one case we have to do with God Himself; we draw near in the sense of what Christ is to Him as well as to us. In the other we have that which is a holy duty; nevertheless it is a duty which has to do with man and the earth in our passage through this world. It is of this latter that we are about to hear more particulars.
The third chapter accordingly brings before us the names of the sons of Aaron, who had the highest place among the Levites "Nadab the first-born, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar." "These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest's office." Then the death of the two former, Nadab and Abihu, is mentioned, Eleazar and Ithamar remaining to minister in the sight of Aaron their father.
Next follows the object for which this is introduced. "Jehovah spake with Moses, saying, Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him." It is clear that gospel service is not the point; and the reason is manifest. Service in the gospel is not merely in but to the world. Here it is service in the world, but by no means the making known to the world the grace of God. The time was not come for this. It is characteristic of Christianity, and could not be set forth fully until the great work of redemption was done. Hence we do not find, except in a mere vague and general principle, anything that could properly set forth the service of the gospel; but there is a vast deal of other service which has and ought to be rendered while we are passing through the earth. This is represented by the different families of the tribe of Levi.
But the first and chief point to lay hold of in the type is the connection of the service with the High Priest with Christ Himself. Separate ministry in any form, divorce the service of the saints from Christ, Himself in the presence of God, and it is falsified and degraded. Even were this not complete, the precious spring of comfort is weakened. Thus the all-important point is what the Spirit of God first of all brings before us; that, although priesthood and ministry are in themselves essentially distinct, we must always bear in mind that ministry is a gift of God in the closest connection with Him who is the type of the great High Priest. It is for His honour, and for the accomplishment of what is connected with Him. What has to be done on the earth can only be rightly done in subjection to Him, and depends on His place as High Priest. The false principle which has ruined service here below is that men have naturally connected it with the church, instead of with Christ I do not hesitate to say that this is always fatal, though not in the sense that there may not be good done, as men say, by those that minister. Neither would one deny refreshment to souls. Also we must particularly bear in mind the remark already made, that proper gospel ministry is not contemplated here.
But when we think not merely of man, of souls getting help, etc., when we think of the glory of God, the severing it from Christ, the One to whom it really belongs and to whom it is given of God, and the putting it in subjection to the church, completely ruin all testimony to His will and glory here below. Consequently service becomes either a selfish thing, turned perhaps into a mere worldly profession, or a matter of corporate sectarian vainglory. It allows of the love of a great following, or the desire after power and influence all of them abominable forms of flesh or world to which it has been perverted by the wiles of the devil In any case, to say the least, ministry deprived of its relation to Christ is stripped of its own proper dignity, as it ceases to subserve His glory.
When cut off from Him and connected with an earthly stock, it is taken out of that which alone secures its true, holy and heavenly character. It becomes more or less dependent on the world by ceasing to be immediately linked with Christ Himself, the One to whom God has given it. Even if it be placed under the church, instead of kept in the hands of Christ, it invariably opens a door for pleasing self or pleasing others; and thus for worldly motives or selfishness in every possible form. Hence we see the all-importance of the truth as here typified: "And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given to him out of the children of Israel And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death."
But there is a further truth from the 12th verse: "And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine; because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am Jehovah." That is, we find them in a very special manner taken by Jehovah as the formal substitute for the firstborn of Israel who were spared when Egypt was visited by the destroying angel. They were redeemed by blood, and counted emphatically to belong to Jehovah. In lieu of Israel's firstborn He accepted the Levites "They shall be mine." They are thus made the standing witness of the firstborn due to Jehovah from man as well as beast. The grace of God had exempted those to whom they answered in the time of judgment. Consequently the Levites, being thus identified with mercy the great distinguishing mercy which rescued Israel from the doom of Egypt, were so much the better fitted to do the service of the sanctuary. Who can presume to undertake the service of God without knowing that God has accepted him on the ground of redemption? Salvation precedes ministry, if we listen to God and dread the solemn warning of the Lord and His apostle. (Matthew 7:22; 1 Corinthians 9:27)
But there is something far more precise than this. "Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. And Moses numbered them according to the word of Jehovah, as he was commanded." Now we have their special numbering for the place assigned to each family. Here they are numbered (apart from Israel, but still numbered) from infants of days, designated to service long before it could begin. (Compare Galatians 1:15) Strength is given before service is claimed; but from their earliest days they are reckoned apart according to the grace and intentions of God. There were three principal houses Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. They with their sons have each a line of service given into their hands in Numbers 4:1-49, where they are afresh numbered from thirty years old and upward. This also is of great moment. There is nothing practically more important than that each servant of God should know the work He has given him to do; and that when known he should stick to it. Be assured also that it is of no small importance never to interfere with another's service. The Lord is sovereign in this. He divides according to His own will. This on the one hand we are bound to respect; while on the other there is nothing more lovely than mutual subjection according to the grace and in the fear of God. This very principle ought to make us jealous of trenching on that which we ourselves could not properly enter into. I hold it to be a certain truth, that every saint of God has a work to do entrusted by the Lord, which nobody else can do so well. The great business is, that we should find what it is, and that we should cherish unqualified confidence in God in carrying it out as now redeemed to Him. After all, this must be a secret between Him and ourselves, however we may be helped perhaps by the wisdom of others to find it out; for there are many ways in which we arrive at the conviction of the work God has given us to do.
Real Christian service cannot be settled in the simple external fashion in which it was appointed to Israel. Like all else in Christianity, it depends on faith, not on family, or birth-connection, as was true of Israel, a people after the flesh. But what was true of them in a fleshly sort is no less true of us in a spiritual way. Now we have to bear this in mind; and I believe that you will find the great value therefore first of all of settling between your souls and the Lord what the work is in which you prove His power with you, and His blessing on you. Surely now is the appointed time, the time of labour and of service, while you are passing through the world. Thanks be to God, we have a still better place, even the sanctuary where all is founded on the mighty work of redemption, whereby we rest in peace with God and in the communion of His love, as we draw near in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In virtue of this we have our true worship while here below; but with this, as we have seen, Leviticus has more to do than Numbers.
But besides the privilege of worshippers, we have our work, and it is of the utmost possible moment for the glory of God that we should be found simple-hearted, devoted, respecting each other, not hindering but helping on in brotherly love. Grace no doubt teaches us what is due one to another, while earnestly and sedulously seeking that we should each discharge that in which God is with us. This seems very plain in the expressed directions which the Spirit of God lays down as to the sons of Levi. And we shall see how careful He is in His own sovereign choice; for man's will has nothing to do with the matter. It was no question at all of picking out those who might seem best for carrying the boards and the curtains, or the vessels of the sanctuary. God arranged it all, taking it completely out of man's hands: He chose suited men Himself. Where is anything happy unless in the simple carrying out of the will of God? Nothing else is so sweet. Our Lord Jesus has shown us this. It was His meat to do the will of His Father, and it should be ours.
These Levites then show us the special service framed, and the instruments arranged, by the will of our God: we find also certain positive directions laid down for all. "These are the families of the Levites according to the house of their fathers. Of Gershon was the family of the Libnites, and the family of the Shimites: these are the families of the Gershonites. Those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, even those that were numbered of them were seven thousand and five hundred. The families of the Gershonites shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward. And the chief of the house of the father of the Gershonites shall be Eliasaph the-son of Lael. And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation shall be the tabernacle (the outward frame) and the tent, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords of it for all the service thereof."
Then we hear of Kohath. "And of Kohath was the family of the Amramites, and the family of the Izeharites, and the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites: these are the families of the Kohathites." Their number is given; and these were to be on the side of the tabernacle southward. All was laid down with the greatest possible care. God would avoid confusion in the service of the tabernacle, and also room for human will. He would make it to be the humblest thing on earth a matter of simple obedience. Their charge we gather was to be a most honourable service, even "the ark, and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister, and the hanging, and all the service thereof. And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be chief over the chief of the Levites, and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary."
Then come the Merarites, under whose guardianship were to be the boards of the tabernacle (ver. 36). "And under the custody and charge of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and the sockets thereof, and all the vessels thereof, and all that serveth thereto." Thus it is plain all was fairly portioned according to God's mind.
What has been here pointed out it is of all possible consequence to apply practically. You will find that in the service of the children of God in those, for instance, that minister in the word, without confining it to them these distinctions turn up constantly. There are those whose blessed place it is to dwell on Christ Himself, who delight in dwelling on His grace, who have the deepest admiration for His person, His divine glory, His perfect devotedness to the Father. I need not say there is no ministry possessed of a higher character than this: what indeed has one so high? On the other hand there are those who are more particularly occupied with that which displays the Lord to men. It is clear that the curtains, the tabernacle, all the outward part, do not so much set forth Christ before God as before man. The former sort of ministry contributes largely to a spirit of worship. The latter is adapted more to the wants of man. The difference may be better understood by this, that in the former it is a question more of the value of Christ, in the latter of His ways; in the one more what He is and does for God than what He appears before the eyes of man below, the means of a meeting between God and man, and consequently of a gracious supply for man's necessities.
It is evident that those who drove in their wagons the tabernacle, with its tent and coverings, had the Gershonite service, as compared with those who carried the precious vessels of the sanctuary. And again there was somewhat between the two namely, what maintained the curtain. This therefore did not seem to represent so external a work as the Gershonite service; on the other hand, it does not suppose such intimate communion with Christ and His offices as belonged to the Kohathites. All this may serve to show that what is set forth in the service of these different families of Levites has an obvious bearing on different forms and shades and characters of ministry in the word here below.
But the same thing is also more widely true; for we must not limit ministry to the word, although this comparatively has the highest character. But there is also ministry in prayer, in watchful love and care for others, in lowly interest in all that pertains to the Lord and those that are His. These things must not be forgotten. There is many a soul that never appears as a workman in man's eye, but who, I am persuaded, carries on a most important function for the good of those that do appear, bearing up and strengthening before God those who have to do more with the din and brunt and fag of the war that must be carried on as long as the enemy is in force here below.
All these things then we may well seek to understand. Above all, when we do understand, let us not content ourselves with this; for what is the value of truth, if we are not walking in it to the glory of the Lord? Is it not rather for such the deepest condemnation? Therefore there are none for whom one may justly dread so much as for ourselves for you and me, if careless. The more simply God has led us outside the mere reign of dreary tradition, with all its darkening and blinding effects, the more He has brought us in presence of His own word, and given us to bow to the free action of the Holy Ghost, that we may enjoy the grace and truth of Christ the greater the danger, shame, and pain, when we either act unworthily in our own persons, or take lightly in others that which dishonours the Lord Jesus. Such indifference, if it exist along with a better knowledge of the word of God, makes all the more sad the contrast with that precious expression of His own grace. Nevertheless be sure that there is not only the same danger of slipping as for others, but when those who have the better knowledge do trip, they are apt to fall lower with less shame than such as know less with more conscience. When such unseemliness appears, many not understanding this are scandalised. They wonder how it can be that those possessed of better knowledge of God's word can so grievously turn aside. The truth is that the cause is painfully simple. Not a few go on decently in the religious world through love of reputation, and a desire to stand well one with another. With little power of godliness, they have the highest value for position and their interests. Can any one doubt who knows the general state of things that this exercises immense power of a low kind? But it is not so where the Lord has distinctly led them out into a platform practically Christian. There nothing is allowed of God to pass in the long run but the power of the Spirit; and the danger is like Peter's, when he was no longer in the ship (where he was safe enough comparatively), but went out to Jesus walking on the waters. Then it is Christ who sustains, one way or another, or sinking is inevitable. Undoubtedly it was the place of true honour, but faith alone could avail itself of the divine power; for that reason the lack of it exposed him the more because of his ardour, though the Saviour was immediately in sight to extricate from peril and sorrow. Nothing but dependence on Christ can rightly keep the Christian I do not mean from drowning so much as from dishonouring the Lord.
In order to this the sovereignty of God in service must be felt, learned, applied, and walked in. And the same feeling which maintains it as a matter of faithfulness to God will also respect it in others. Be assured that these things always go together. This must suffice for the distinctive service of the Levites in contrast, so to speak, with the common character of the priest's work and position. In drawing near to God all differences disappear. Who and what are we in His presence? The one person that fills the scene is the Lord. And this is more manifestly true and known to us now, because the veil is rent. Hence therefore the immediateness of the presence of God is incomparably more felt in Christianity shall even the types of Judaism could possibly express.
The chapter closes with fresh calls from Jehovah to Moses: first, to number the firstborn males of Israel from a month old and upward, and to take the Levites for them; secondly, as the number of the firstborn exceeded that of the Levites by two hundred and seventy-three, to take redemption-money for this residue (five shekels apiece) to be given to Aaron and to his sons.*
*It is grievous to think how the ignorant or careless statements of good men furnish weapons to the ill-minded against the word of God. Bp. Patrick, if I mistake not, inferred from the ratio of the first-born to all the males that each Jewish family must have consisted of forty-two boys on the average, though he afterwards reduced it more than half. Such a mistake has been greedily re-echoed by rationalists abroad and at home, especially by Bishop Colenso in Pt. i. chap. xiv. But these reckoners, so ready to impugn Scripture, have overlooked several elements which the record itself furnishes, so as to reduce the number to an average of at most eight children, boys and girls, in each family, which no man can pretend to be excessive. For, first, the heads of families first-born fathers, grandfathers, or great grandfathers are clearly not included here any more than in the death of the first-born throughout Egypt, but only those who were unmarried members of the house. Secondly, those numbered were not merely eldest sons, but strictly first-born males. Supposing the daughter to be the first-born in equal ratio, this would reduce the number one half, as the former would to one-third. Next, there is a further reduction necessary when we take the mean number of children who survive to the twentieth year; for ordinarily not a few of the firstborn die before then. Lastly, the first-born under a month must be excluded. Hence, instead of forty-two sons, the first reduces (say in round numbers) to fourteen; the second to seven; the third and fourth to less than four, if we rate the first-born surviving at two-thirds for the whole period, and take the first-born under a month into account. The reader will find the minute proof of this drawn out in "The Exodus of Israel," chap. 6.
In Numbers 4:1-49 we come to another important point the carrying of the vessels of the sanctuary through the wilderness; for now what the Kohathites had to do is taken up particularly. It was the highest form; it was what brought the service closest to Christ. Outwardly it did not look so well, as we shall find afterwards. It does not at all follow that the service which makes the greatest show or noise among men has the most honourable character in the eyes of God. This is important. We often mistake as to what really has the weightiest place. This is the one sure test of value; it is always Christ. Whatever brings one nearest to Christ, and brings out Christ most, is always the best. This seems to be the case typically with the sons of Kohath in their service. But if we look closer, you will find special ways in which their service is brought before us.
Thus they were told first of all, "When the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering veil, and cover the ark of testimony with it: and shall put thereon the covering of badgers' skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof." This was, of all the vessels of the sanctuary, the fullest and the highest representation of God Himself, as displayed in Christ. The ark, as we know, was for the holiest of all. It was that which set forth Christ, and Christ not as He met the need of man in the world, but as He is seen in the presence of God Christ in the highest display of His glory and of divine righteousness on high. In this case the veil was that which covered it. It is not merely therefore the type of the Son of God as such, but as having taken humanity into union with His own person. I trust that my reader believes and knows that the Son of God 'was from all eternity; but what the ark covered with the veil represented is the Son after He took manhood into union with Himself.
Besides this, there is the covering of badgers' (or tachash)* skins the figure, it would seem, of that which absolutely shut out all that was offensive. Such repellent power could only be represented thus, not in the intrinsic way in which it belongs to Christ. The form in which the figure expresses this power of moral guard is by a skin capable of warding off what was disagreeable. Badger's skin therefore was fitly chosen in every case when it was a question of representing power that sets aside evil and forbids its smallest contact with the object so covered. Then over this type of His separation from sinners was a cloth wholly of blue, because, whatever might have been in our Lord Jesus Christ as just said, whatever might be the power that rejected evil, there was another aspect of Him pre-eminently presented to the believer: He was "the heavenly" One. (1 Corinthians 15:1-58) And it is remarkable, too, that several expressions which are used in John 3:1-36 combine these very thoughts. "The Son of man," it is said there rather than the Christ. Thus we find Him shown fully as man the title in which He speaks of Himself here and habitually; but we find also that He is "the Son of Man which is in heaven" This never could be severed from Him when He was here below; it seems to be the allusion meant by the covering of blue. Even John the Baptist was earthly, and spoke of the earth, as did all others; Jesus alone came from above, and was above all He was divine, the Word and Son, whatever He became, and coming from heaven He was above all.
*It matters little comparatively for the typical truth conveyed whether tachash means a seal or a badger. It was certainly an external protective skin, sufficiently strong (as inEzekiel 16:30; Ezekiel 16:30) for women's shoes to be made of it. The Septuagint translate it by ὑακίνθινα , as Aquila by ἰάνθινα , and understood a peculiar colour to be meant. But Gesenius rightly, I think, decides against this, as do most, though it be not clear what animal is meant.
Further, the table of showbread had a cloth of blue, and all the various appurtenances were so covered. Besides this it is said, "And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet,* and cover the same with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put in the staves thereof." Whereas, on the contrary, with the candlestick there was simply a cloth of blue which covered all, and then the covering of badgers' skins, but no scarlet cloth. What are we taught by this? Wherein lies the difference? Why is it that the Spirit of God directed that in the case of the table of showbread a covering of scarlet should be between the blue and the badgers' skins? And why not in the candlestick? The reason, I conceive, is that scarlet is the well-known sign of His glory, not so much as Son of Man, but as the true Messiah as the one who takes the kingdom of His father David after the flesh. I conceive therefore that this is probably corroborated by the fact of its connection with the table of showbread. At that table were the loaves, which clearly bring before us the twelve tribes of Israel. When the Lord Jesus restores the kingdom to Israel, it is not the covering even of purple I shall show this by and by, but rather the covering of scarlet. The mistake of the Jews when our Lord came here below was that they only looked for His glory as the Christ. Our Lord Jesus was refused as such; but when it was manifest that unbelief rejected Him, then, as we all know, He brings in this further glory as the result of suffering unto death. His death and unbounded glory throughout all the creation go together. (Comp. Psalms 8:1-9 with Psalms 2:1-12)
*The word seems properly to mean crimson. (Cf. Matthew 27:28 John 19:5)
Hence therefore the evidence is plain, and God showed all along, that there never would be the limitation of His glory in connection with the twelve tribes of Israel represented by these twelve loaves, as the Son; He comes of man in all the fulness of power and glory. It would not be merely as of the Son of David, but the infinitely larger glory of the Son of man. But He will not therefore lose His royal rights over Israel as His special people. With this, it appears to me, the scarlet or crimson covering is connected. I shall show presently how the purple comes in; but for this we must wait till it occurs in its place.
In the case of the candlestick of light there is altogether a different thing. Nothing else but blue appears. There is neither scarlet nor purple; nor was there, you will observe, the covering veil. Why is this? Because here we have brought into close juxtaposition the light of divine testimony, which does not refer to the tribes of Israel, but is specially connected with the heavenly calling. Now it is precisely when Israel disappears that the power of the Spirit of God is given, which is the real means of manifesting this heavenly light. Consequently all reduces itself to two ideas: one is the heavenly link, and the other is the power that rejects all impurity. The church of God, as we know, or Christian body, is especially connected with that testimony. In the case of the twelve tribes there will be, when the due time comes for them, a connection through Christ with heaven, the power of holiness; but their hope is Christ in the glory of the kingdom, which He will take as the risen Son of David. This we have already seen in the foregoing type.
Further, it is directed that the golden altar should be covered with blue and badgers' skins; that is to say, in near connection with the light comes the altar of intercession, the altar of priestly grace. How beautifully this applies to a time when not only there is the power of the Spirit of God in giving a testimony for God a heavenly testimony and a holy one, but besides also the power of grace that goes forth in Christ's intercession! We know how both ought to characterize the Christian. These two objects are similar in kind, were found perfectly in Christ, and should be in us. Now is the time to shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life; now to pray always with prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching "hereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. Our God would give us fellowship with Christ in both. As is the heavenly, such are they also who are heavenly. The earthly people will have light arising for them by and by; but it will be for earthly government, and the nation and people that will not serve Zion must perish.
But when we come down to the brazen altar in verse 13, which is the next instrument, it is said, "They shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon." It is plain that the purple must have a close affinity for the crimson or scarlet: nevertheless there is distinction as well as resemblance. The distinction seems this that while both colours agree in bringing in dignity, what seems to belong to the purple is glory in general; and I need not tell you that Christ's royal dignity is connected not so much with His being the Son of man as with the lineage of David. I take it therefore that here we find what belongs to the Lord as suffering on the earth. Here He suffered, and here He is to reign. No doubt He is and could not be other than the means of meeting man where he is, in all his wants, and weakness, and sin, and distance: the blessed Lord never can abdicate that. This is glory pertaining to Him for the earth. At the same time He is and could not be other than the Son of David as viewed here below; as it was said, He was "born King of the Jews." Looking at Him as connected with the earth, this is in part what belonged to Him to reign where He suffered. The proper colour to express this dignity is the covering of the brazen altar. He is more than king, but still He is King, and thus connected with all the earth.
The difference between the brass and the gold in various vessels seems to be this, that, while both show divine righteousness, the one rather looks at man responsible on the earth, the other at God in all His grace who is approached in heaven. Such is the difference. They are both true, both alone found in Christ: nevertheless the one means God's righteousness to whom we draw near; the other means God's righteousness that displays what He is in dealing with man as a responsible creature here below. God can afford to forgive him, but it is simply forgiveness. This takes account, we see, of his responsibility, which concludes by his failure, though divine mercy steps in with plenary pardon on faith. But it is another thing to draw near to God as He is revealed by Christ. This is found in the ark or in the other vessels of the sanctuary, if we did not even look at the highest form.
This was then what the Kohathites had to carry. Accordingly we find the completing of the numbering of the Levites not merely of the children of Israel. But we have now the same sons of Gershon brought distinctly before us, not mixed up with the warlike houses of Israel; but when their service has been distinctly defined, they too are connected with the work, and summed up together.
It will be observed that here again as in Exodus I scout the notion as erroneous, that the most holy place with its furniture sets forth Christ in contra-distinction to the holy place as directly referring only to the works and services of His people, the things to be believed concerning God, and the things to be done by His believing people, which leaves the court as a place where they might personally appear before God, and hold communion with Him as locally present among them. How poor this is, how it leaves out the true antitypical place into which the believer is now brought through the rent veil to hold communion with Him in the holiest (Hebrews 10:1-39), does not call for more words. The Cocceian school was wild and vague; but their prime idea is incomparably better than this exclusion of Christ from His rightful pre-eminence and all-comprehensive functions in the mind of the Spirit. Besides, it does not seem consistent to admit, as these same typologists do, that the tabernacle as a whole sets forth the manifestation of God in Him, and then to allot it in this strange way, giving the innermost shrine no doubt to the blessed Lord, then the middle or holy place to His people, and lastly the outer court to the place of meeting or fellowship for the Lord and them. Having already however explained, in speaking of Exodus, what I believe to be the true bearing of the sanctuary vessels, there is no need of repeating it here. I would only point out the different order in this place, as well as the omission of some: both due to the fact that we are here in presence of God's display of His life in Christ (and consequently in the Christian) on the earth, whether in the days of His flesh or as anticipating His appearing in the kingdom. The golden altar follows the golden table and chandelier, as it again is followed by the altar of burnt-offering. The laver is not mentioned anywhere. It is the difference of design which governs and accounts for all a striking testimony to inspiration.
In Numbers 5:1-31 we enter on another view, on which I must be brief. Defilement, or suspected defilement, is here dealt with; but the principle is always according to the character of the book. It is not now priests, but the camp of Jehovah. He deigns to be with the people, and is there in the very midst of their encampment. They must carefully avoid what was unsuitable for the presence of God. He was dwelling there: it was not merely man's drawing near to Him. This, no doubt, did concern the Israelites, and we find it in the preceding book; but He was dwelling with them, and accordingly this becomes the standard of judgment. So we find the various forms of uncleanness which would unfit for a camp where God dwells. This is the first thought.
In the next place, supposing persons committed any sin, trespassing against Jehovah, and were guilty, the great point insisted on is confession (but more than this, reparation, if possible, by the guilty party); in every case, however, to God Himself. Undoubtedly Christianity in no way weakens this, but rather strengthens it. The grace of God, which has brought in unlimited forgiveness, would be rather a calamity if it did not enforce confession. Can one conceive a thing more dreadful morally, than a real weakening of the sense of sin in those brought nigh to God? It may seem so where there is only a superficial acquaintance with God Where the truth has been hastily gathered and learned on the surface, it is quite possible to pervert the gospel to an enfeebling of the immutable principles of God, ignoring His detestation of sin, and our own necessary abhorrence of it as born of God. Whatever produces such an effect is the deepest wrong to Him, and the greatest loss to us. This is guarded against here.
But there is another case where there was not a trespass, but a suspicion of evil, and this too in the nearest relationship the husband about his wife Now Jehovah had his eye on this. He would not have one hardened. What is more dreadful than to be carrying suspicions? We ought to watch against it. Still there may be circumstances that bring a sense of evil, and yet we can hardly give an account of it. We may struggle, fearing that we are wrong as to the person; still, somehow or another, there is the sense of something wrong against Jehovah. What, then, is to be done? In this we see Jehovah making a special provision for it. He ordered that there should be the administration of what is called here "the waters of jealousy:" The wife was to be brought to the priest; everything was to be done in a holy way. It was not human feeling, but connection with God Himself, and a judgment of that which was unsuitable for His presence. "then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance. And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before Jehovah. And the priest shall take holy water in au earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water: and the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse." Then the charge is given to the woman, after which he says, "Jehovah make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when Jehovah doth make thy thigh to rot," and so on. The priest was to write the curses in a book, and blot them out with the bitter water, and cause the woman to drink the water. The effect of this would be that, supposing the woman was innocent, all would go on so much the better in the family. She would have the manifestation of God's blessing on her.
This I do not doubt to be a type, whether of Israel or of Christendom; but for moral profit individually it is all-important. It may be very painful for us to be suspected, but when we are, let us never resent it in the pride of our hearts. Alas! evil is possible, and it is a good thing to evince by the very patience of whatever may be that which is laid to our charge that we are above it. It is always a sign of weakness at the least, very often of guilt, when there is a restless desire to extenuate and deny; and the fiercer the denial the more certain the guilt as a rule. But there may be weakness which sometimes gives an appearance of wrong where it does not really exist. Where flesh is not thoroughly judged, there will be a tendency to resent the smallest imputation. Now here it is where we have this bringing in of the water of death. What is there which so admirably meets everything as the taking the place of death to all that is here below? It is very evident a dead man does not resent an injury. It is the bringing in the practical power of death into the soul which enables one then to bear it. Whatever it may be, let it take its course let us humble ourselves to have, as it were, bitter water administered to us; and most assuredly where the heart, instead of refusing or in a fleshly way merely repelling an insinuation out of the pride of our nature, is willing that all should be thoroughly tested in the presence of God, the result is that the Lord espouses the cause of the one causelessly suspected, and makes all to flourish as never before. Whereas, on the other hand, if there is a trifling with God, with His name, with His nature, then indeed bitter is the curse which falls on such a one. Thus we see it was an invaluable thing, and it is as true now in principle as ever it was in outward type. I do not hesitate to say it is true in a deeper and better sense now than it was then; only it needs faith. It needs self-judgment however; nothing less will carry us through. For although there may be the most genuine faith, still if there is not the willingness to be nothing the willingness to take the bitter draught, the waters of separation or waters of jealousy, it is because there is a power of flesh hindering us a want of faith to take the place of death. Where we are upright, yet submit to it, who can measure the fruitful blessing which results through the grace of God?
In Numbers 6:1-27 comes a type of positive blessing. It is not defilement, but special severance to the Lord. This is what Israel ought to have been, but alas! was not; for Israel defiled themselves for the dead; and this is precisely the place which the godly remnant in Israel was willing to take, as we find inActs 2:1-47; Acts 2:1-47. They owned themselves defiled to death; and for what? As it is said here, "When either a man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto Jehovah: he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husks." It is separation not only from what was defiling, but from what was the best in nature. Not that nature is condemned; which is never right in a Christian. We are bound to maintain the honour of God in the creature to the last. It is always deplorable where man weakens what is due to God in anything that He has made; yet there is no reason why we should deny the power that lifts us above it.
But this last is what the Nazarite shadowed. It is not an assault on God, or anything He has made. Creation as God made it was worthy of His hand; and natural affection is ever sweet. The Lord looked on a man that enquired of Him, though without an atom of faith in Himself; but his character was lovely, and as such the Lord loved him. This is all right; and we ought to do the same. Depend on it that there is a wrong measure if in this we venture to differ from Christ. Just so the Lord took a child in His arms, put His hands on it, and blessed it. Do you think He had not a special interest in a little child? The disciples were far from His thoughts and feelings. Do you suppose He did not look at what God made, were it but the lilies of the field? Never did the Lord give the least sanction to the pseudo-spirituality some of us have talked as to this. No; from His lips never fell a word of slighting thought and feeling for a single creature. Who admired as He every blade of grass that came from His Father's hand? Who so delighted in His care of a sparrow? Who so marked and told out to others the interest that tells itself out in numbering the hairs of the head of those who belong to Him? Christ never denies the claims of nature, never weakens the sense of its beauty, fallen as man may be, and the world ruined by him yes, ruined not by God, but by him who yielded to Satan's wiles.
Yet that same blessed Saviour in gracious separateness foregoes all enjoyment of what was found here below severing Himself in special vindication of God from it all. The creature was good. How could it be otherwise, coming from the hands of such a God? He knew better than any the state into which it had fallen, but He did not forget whose wisdom and goodness made it all. At the same time He is separate to Jehovah; He preserved His Nazariteship. Israel understood not, but the godly remnant followed His steps. By the grace of God they took the place of confessing the defilement for the dead. This seems to be the very thing illustrated at Pentecost Those who received the word took the place of repentance. Christ abode separate to God always. The repentant Jews in living faith acknowledged what their hands had done what they themselves had been what their fathers as well as themselves and their children. They bowed to God, and owned the ruin and death that had come into the world through sin. This is the only way of deliverance from it. They were set on a new ground of Nazariteship unto God from that very moment. They had begun as the outward people of God, separate from the nations, but their standing had been all spoilt and lost by defilement. The death of the Messiah brought out their defilement to the uttermost; but that very death which was their greatest sin became in grace the sole means by which they could renew their Nazariteship on a ground that could not give way. And there we follow. More than that, the door is left open for the remnant in the latter day. They will be Nazarites too. They will not refuse to own their sinfulness, and look from every other hope to the dead and risen Saviour; and they will close their proper place of separation to God in the joy and liberty of the millennial kingdom, when the Nazarite may drink wine.
But a few words more as to the Nazarite may be acceptable here. It was not merely that there was the refusal of the best of what God gives (for natural joy here below was represented, I suppose, by the wine); but further, "all the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head." It is plain that this was not the ordinary condition of a man. Long hair did not become him, though it is in character with the woman. Long hair is the sign of subjection to another; subjection is not God's order for the man, who is meant to be the image and glory of God. But in the Nazarite the rule was altogether special. There was a giving up of man's natural rights, of the place of dignity which God gave him in nature. Further, there was the refusal to make himself unclean for his father, or mother, or brother, or sister, when they died, "because the consecration of his God was upon his head :" nothing was more imperative than to beware of defilement by death. It has been already referred to. This is only found in the new creation, we having been sinful men, who turned back to God in repentance and faith; and always excepting the Lord Jesus who stood, but stood alone, in His own intrinsic purity.
Nazariteship is only for a time. This is stamped upon it. "All the days of his separation," it is said, "he is holy unto Jehovah." And then we find, either, if the Nazarite law were broken, how he had to begin afresh, or, if the days were complete, how it terminated. For this too was carefully noted in offerings of joy, and gladness, and communion. This is what is found here. "And he shall offer his offering unto Jehovah, one he-lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt-offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin-offering, and one ram without blemish for peace-offerings, and a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat-offering, and their drink-offerings." All these were to be brought; "and the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace-offerings. And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of a ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven; and the priest shall wave them for a wave-offering before Jehovah;" and so on.
Again, Nazariteship is never supposed to be permanent, but an institution for the wilderness. It comes in by the way on earth, and is peculiar to Numbers.
Thus I apprehend that whatever might be the special separateness either of Israel in responsibility, of the church now, of the Christian by grace, or of Christ Himself, the only One absolutely and perfectly so, whatever might be even these various applications, they all terminate in joy and glory. To watch in self-renunciation will not always be called for. There is a day coming when the Nazarite drinks wine a time of gladness and ease; and thanks be to God for the hope of it! Then all will be changed; no longer must we go forward with girt loins because of passing through a world where not only evil is, but the best may be a defiling snare. The day comes when all things in heaven and earth shall be only for Gods glory, all regulated and used according to the mind and heart of Christ. In that day Nazariteship shall be no more; even he drinks wine then. We shall dwell at ease; we shall rest from sorrow and Satan; we shall all be glad in the joy of the Lord. Then too it will not be merely heavenly worship and praise, but the earthly ones shall rejoice for ever and ever.
Am I wrong in taking it that this is the reason why the blessing of the high priest is brought in immediately after? It is in strict connection with the conclusion of the Nazarite's vow. "Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee: Jehovah make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them." Such will be really and literally the fact when the Nazarite's term shall have come in every sense; and it will end in the joy and gladness without bound of the millennial reign.
On Numbers 7:1-89 a very few words will suffice. We have here the gifts of love and free-will, of hearty devotedness, which the chiefs of the people offer for the service of the sanctuary. The one point to which attention need now be drawn is an offering, particularly for the service of the Levites; but remarkably enough these offerings did not affect the Kohathites. The Kohathites, whatever others might receive, carry the vessels entrusted to them upon their own shoulders. The sons of Merari and the sons of Gershon are presented with oxen and chariots; the Kohathites receive none. There is no such principle as that of God balancing matters, and keeping men in good temper by giving all the same portion. If it were, there would be an end of practical grace. On the contrary, what puts faith and love to the test is, that God arranges every one of us in a different place according to His wise and sovereign will. There is no such thing as two alike. The consequence is that this, which becomes an awful danger for flesh, is the sweetest exercise of grace where we are looking to the Lord. What gracious man would feel sore with another because he was unlike himself? On the contrary, he would take an honest and hearty joy in that which he saw of Christ in another, which he did not himself possess. Now this is what seems to me is called into exercise by the provision for the carrying out of the service of the Levites. The least of them had the most oxen and the most chariots. At the same time, those who had the highest and the most precious charge of all had to bear the vessels on their shoulders. They had much less noise and appearance among men, but the best place giving rise to the highest exercises of faith. The Lord make us rejoice, not only in what He has given to us, but in what He has withheld from us and entrusted to others!
In Numbers 8:1-26 (where again I must be very brief) we have some final words, after the order about lights is announced, in a very particular way, namely, that the priesthood alone keeps up the lights. It is not Levite service, but the link with Christ in the sanctuary in the presence of God on which they depend. This really, though in secret, keeps up the true light of testimony.
In the next place we find another fact. Although the Levites were separate to the priesthood, and were particularly excepted from the numbering of the people as belonging to the services of the sanctuary, none the less were they connected in the most interesting way with every Israelite. In short, at the consecration of the Levites, the Israelites laid their hands on the heads of the Levites. Jehovah had clearly shown before that He was the One to whom the Levites belonged; but it would have been a sad loss indeed, if the people had not felt so much the deeper interest because they were Jehovah's servants. Thus, we see, Jehovah maintained His own place and appointment and sovereign disposal of the Levites. If we are His people, let us not forget that the people of Israel signified their acquiescence and joy; took their part in it too by thus identifying themselves with the Levites that were then set apart for Jehovah. How happy, when on the one hand we thoroughly recognise the rights of the Lord, and on the other find our own portion so much the better. We find ourselves not impoverished because it is the Lord's, but so much the richer, because His things are ours.
Then comes in Numbers 9:1-23 a special provision in case of any impurity by passing through the wilderness which might hinder the passover to be taken at the right season. It is the resource of grace, and is only found here. It might be acted on, as in fact it was at a later day. The principle of it may be seen in the historical books, but it was a province growing out of the condition by the way. We see Jehovah would not lower His end or His ways. On the one hand the passover must be kept the remembrance of the death of Christ is necessary everywhere. There is no pathway out of the world without the death of Christ which was kept in Egypt. Nor could they have left Egypt without the passover. They could not have been delivered across the Red Sea without the blood of the Lamb first. The death of Christ is the necessary and only possible foundation for any blessing from God; but besides, when they are in the wilderness, the death of Christ is just as necessary. Where indeed is it not necessary? When we enter Canaan, there we find the passover meets us in the foreground. (Joshua 5:1-15) Everywhere the death of Christ is essential as for God's glory, so for man's blessing. On the other hand, supposing they were not in a fit condition through defilement, Jehovah here makes a special provision for it. He would not lower the passover by dispensing with its absolute obligation; but at the same time He would pitifully consider the circumstances of the way which might hinder its practicability.
The end of the chapter brings before us another provision of goodness the people's call to unlimited dependence on the Lord's guidance. This was represented first of all by the cloud, their guide by day, as the pillar of fire was by night. And mark this: no circumstances, no times, no difficulties, lessen the necessity for Jehovah's guidance. Supposing night comes with its darkness: what then? The guidance of God is only so much the more conspicuous. Can we doubt that the light was rather brighter by night than by day? I speak not of it intrinsically, but in the eyes of man. Whatever may be the trial, the Lord will be with us, if we really look to Him; and the greater the need, so much the more manifest will be His guidance. All we want is that the heart be really simple in dependence on Him. At His command therefore they rest; at His command they journey. If it stopped but for a little while, so did they; if it abode longer, so they rested; but they were ever to be at Jehovah's commandment. They were privileged to expect His bidding continually. Blessed dependence! May it be ours!
There is but one other topic we may fittingly refer to before coming to a proper halt in this book of journeys. Following the directing cloud, we find the prescribed use of the trumpets (Numbers 10:1-10). This clearly is a character of testimony of rather more marked features, more loudly dealing with the people than the simple indication of the cloud or the pillar of fire. There are different ways in which Jehovah signified His will. It might not always be with the same emphasis which the trumpets naturally imply. There were two trumpets of silver, and they were to be blown by the priests, as we are told here. The sons of Aaron had this as their task according to certain distinct principles explained to us.
In the first case of direction the people looked to the manifest sign of God's presence; in the latter, as just seen, the signal was given by those who had intimacy of communion with God, for this is clearly what was represented by the priests. Now the Lord does guide in various ways. There may be times, and there are things, in which we have no means which suppose such intimacy as could be represented by the priestly trumpets of silver. But Jehovah is always adequate to guide His people, no matter what the means or the circumstances may be. Even were one alone, Jehovah is superior to all difficulties. On the other hand, surely it is wise and well to avail ourselves of what spiritual help we can procure, of available testimony where the case admits of it; above all, of God's own word to deal with ourselves as well as our difficulties.
So accordingly we find here that on various occasions the trumpets had to sound. The most general use was to assemble Israel together. But the trumpet was not so much a question of the journey; this had to do more particularly with the cloud. But the blowing of the silver trumpets was to assemble the people at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. They were called thus to draw near to the presence of God. Again, supposing the enemy at hand, there was an alarm blown. "When ye blow an alarm, then the camps that lie on the east parts shall go forward. When ye blow an alarm the second time," then the rest were to move. All is carefully ordered of God. "But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm." Thus, it is seen, that there were in particular these two cases. The trumpets were blown for gathering to the joy of communion; and there was also the alarm trumpet sounded by God's own testimony in the presence of the enemy. The erect was to be this: the people would be comforted with the thought that, when the silver trumpets blew an alarm, it was God after all that dwelt in the camp. He who directed heard the sound. Not merely were they reminded that God was there, but that He would act for and in them against all adversaries. The trumpets of the sanctuary blown by the priest called them against the enemy. Might they not boldly say, The Lord is our helper: why fear? what can man do?
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Numbers 7". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany