Numbers 7 is a fairly hard-to-read list of the offerings brought by the various tribes to the consecration of the shiny, new tabernacle. Each day a different man from a different tribe brought the same sacrifices (a silver plate, a silver basin, both full of flour and oil, a gold dish filled with incense and a miniature herd of animals for sacrifices). Such records are easy to pass by, perhaps skimming it so one can check it off the Bible reading plan. While we need to be careful not to look for magical meanings in the numbers or names, we do need to let God’s Word speak to us.
So as a practical example of how to handle difficult passages, here are a couple of lessons we could learn from Numbers 7:
- First, note the repetitions. The fact that the same pattern was repeated 11 times (all the tribes minus Levi) is an indication that God deeply cares about these proceedings, even if we don’t. In all of these proceedings, it’s important not to lose sight of the goal: God was working a plan so He could dwell in the tabernacle with His people. When it comes to redeeming and being with His people, God is serious about the details.
- Second, note anything that’s different. In this case, the first difference is the record of the provision of animals and supplies for the Levitical families charged with the transportation of the tabernacle and its furniture. That the Levites are handled differently than the rest of Israel is a common and important theme in the Old Testament. Every time we see the Levites singled out, we can learn something about what it means to be set apart for the Lord’s service, what it means for the church to be a nation of priests unto the Lord, and what it means for Jesus to be the constructor of the new covenant tabernacle. Through our high priest Jesus, God calls all of us to serve and equips us in that service.
- Another difference is the ending of the passage where we are told that Moses went into the tent of meeting and heard the very voice of God speaking to Him from above the cherubim. The repetitions of the passage drive toward this event: God meeting with His chosen servant as the mediator between Him and the people. One application might be very simple: Those who most understand the cost of the tabernacle will be most ready and joyful to hear the voice of God.
- Third, note any summary statements. In verse 88 we read, “This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed.” Part of God’s plan in calling these dedication sacrifices was to impress upon the people the importance of the altar. It was, in part, dedicating the altar in minds and hearts of God’s people, teaching them to value the altar and its God as the heart of their culture and religion. God desires not just to be with His people but to be known and loved by His people.
- Finally, note the general impression of the passage as a whole. What strikes us most from this passage? What we often interpret as boring is really anything but — the repetitious giving of gold, silver, flour, incense and animals is the joyful kickoff of the sacrificial system and the people’s joyful participation in it. The exact obedience of each tribe is a wonderful and beautiful picture of how God’s people ought always to be, of what it really means for God’s “will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s salvation leads to joyful and exact obedience by the redeemed.
Because it’s so foreign to us, parts of God’s Word will often strike us as odd or even boring. But the more we learn how to read it well, the more exciting we’ll find it to truly be as it teaches us everywhere about Jesus and our salvation.