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Levites not to be part of the "numbered men"
As the large group of about two million people prepared to march from Sinai to Canaan, their periods of movement and rest were to be regulated by the command of God through the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Led by God, they would enter and reclaim the land He had promised to Abraham and to his seed and so their hopes are high and their confidence is great as God leads them they march towards the promised land. Throughout their journeying they carried the completed tabernacle which was the symbol of God's presence among them. Its innermost object, the Ark of the Covenant, symbolically represented the throne of God and therefore His very presence as He led the children of Israel, and demonstrated that they were, in reality, a theocracy. He was Israel's true king, making the nation a Theocracy, governed only by God, for He never intended Israel to be a plutocracy, where the rich ruled, nor an autocracy governed by one human dictator, nor a democracy where the crowd ruled. Of course, history has shown us that mankind has gone down all of these other roads - and Israel quickly fell into the obvious traps herself a short while later. God commanded Moses face to face and Moses carried out His commands. Later, after Moses died, Joshua was instructed to seek counsel of God through Eleazer the priest. God spoke through the ephod and the breastplate of righteousness, giving the priest the instructions which Joshua was to follow in the conquest of the land.
Numbers, chapter 1, tells us that an additional month had gone by since the completion of the tabernacle, and the people were getting ready to move on from Sinai. In Exodus we saw a band of slaves become the people of God and now we see them further transformed into an organised military force. Prior to their departure, a census was taken of all the adult males (age twenty and over) for one clear purpose which is repeated verse after verse - "whoever was able to go out to war" (Numbers 1:3-44). These became known as the numbered men, from which the book gets its name (from the Septuagint which calls it, in Greek, arithmoi: "Numbers") because it contains many statistics such as the tribal population figures, the totals of the priests and Levites, and other numerical data. It is important to notice that the tribe of Levi was not included in this numbering (vs. 47) and that they did not become part of the 'numbered men of war' because they were to be appointed to their specific responsibilities (Chapter 3) attending to the religious affairs of the community. Eleazer, the son of Aaron, became high priest and chief over the tribe of Levi with full control over the activities of the sanctuary (3:32), such was the importance of the spiritual life of the nation. The fighting force was broken down by tribes and assigned a camping area around the feature of their new found strength - the tabernacle of God (Numbers 2).
Chapter 4 contains important instructions concerning the Ark of the Covenant. Since no one, except the High Priest (and then just once a year), could look upon it and live, an intricate system was given by God for transporting it without its being observed by any human eye. The priests were to put a covering of skins over it and to insert poles through the rings that had been constructed at its corners (Exodus 25:14-15) and the poles were never to be removed. Since they were designed to protrude from the skins, moving it was a matter of collapsing the skins onto the Ark, lifting it by the poles, and bearing it along without it ever being seen. We see later that God's very specific regulations for handling the Ark, tabernacle, and its contents, were eventually disregarded. Even David, on one occasion, ignored these instructions and chose to move the Ark on a cart, resulting in death and tragedy (2 Samuel 6:2-9):
2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim. 3 And they placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. 4 So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. 5 Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. 6 But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. 7 And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. 8 And David became angry because of the LORD'S outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. 9 So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?"
It is amazing how often we read God's specific details about a matter in the Old Testament yet, as time passes, the people forget, abandon, or negate His precise regulations and substitute traditions and man-made rules.
No sooner had the people begun to move toward the promised land than we read (chapter 11) that they began to complain once again. In verse 6, they complained that they had no more appetite because there was nothing to look at or eat except manna, the "angels' food" that God had given to preserve them in the wilderness. At that time they had no idea they were going to need it for forty years. They had been out of Egypt just a little over one year and were heading toward Canaan. But already they were tired of the manna, God's divine provision. Moses, in distress and depression, (vs. 11), began complaining to God because he had to bear the heavy burden of shepherding such an ungrateful and recalcitrant people. "Kill me," he prayed (vs. 15). The Lord did ease his burden but He also told the people that, since they wanted meat so badly, He would give it to them in such abundance that it would come out of their nostrils. He sent them fresh meat for a full month, but while they were still chewing on it (vs. 33) He judged them by sending a severe plague.
The very next chapter describes how Miriam and Aaron joined with the people in complaining against the authority of Moses. On that occasion, the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and appeared at the doorway of the tabernacle. His words validated the fact that Moses was His chosen spokesman (vss. 6-8). He demonstrated His anger by covering Miriam with leprosy so that she had to be exiled outside the camp for seven days (vs. 14).
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