The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 4:1-49 (Numbers 4:1-49)

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Numbers 4:6 (Numbers 4:6)

The covering of badgers' skins. Probably of sea-cow skins ( tachash ) , but see Exodus 25:5 . The Targum of Palestine, and the Septuagint, both render it "a covering of hyacinthine skin." The later Jews would have no knowledge of the marine animals common on the shores of the Red Sea. A cloth wholly of blue. This was the distinctive outer, and therefore Visible, covering of the most sacred thing, the ark.

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Numbers 4:1-49 (Numbers 4:1-49)

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Numbers 4:1-49 (Numbers 4:1-49)

I. THAT THE DIVINE RULE IN THE CARE OF THE SANCTUARY WAS ONE OF DISTRIBUTION . Each family within the tribe, each group within the family, perhaps each individual in the group, had his own allotted "burden." Kohath did not interfere with Merari, nor did Merari come into collision with Gershon. Even so, in all religious and ecclesiastical labours, distribution is the rule of the gospel, the Holy Spirit dividing to each severally as he will ( 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 , passim; Ephesians 4:11-13 ). And note that this distribution was not made according to any superiority that we know of, but rather the reverse. Levi himself was by far the smallest of the twelve tribes, and Merari was by far the largest (for the purpose in hand) of the three families. Even so under the gospel no rules of human pre-eminence restrict the Divine distribution of gifts and offices; rather, the first shall be last, and the last first.

II. THAT THE WHOLE FABRIC OF THE TABERNACLE HAD TO BE CONTINUALLY TAKEN TO PIECES AND RECONSTRUCTED , as the host moved on in its appointed path. Even so, in the onward progress of the Church of Christ, the outward form and frame of religion has to be constantly built up afresh with ceaseless labour. For each succeeding century, for each new generation that comes up, for each new nation added to the Church, the fabric of its faith and worship has to be built up from the beginning. If not, religion, like the tabernacle, would be left far behind, the empty monument of a forsaken faith.

III. THAT , ON THE OTHER HAND , THE FURNITURE OF THE TABERNACLE AND ITS CONSTITUENT PARTS , THOUGH PERPETUALLY BEING RECONSTRUCTED , YET REMAINED IDENTICALLY THE SAME . Nothing lost, nothing added. Even so the elements of our faith and worship must remain unchangeably the same from age to age; nothing really old cast away, nothing really new introduced. "The faith once (for all) delivered to the saints." Worship primitive and apostolic. However fresh the putting together, the substance eternally the same.

IV. THAT WHILE THE WHOLE FABRIC WAS TO BE CARRIED WITH GREAT CARE AND REVERENCE , YET THE MOST SOLICITOUS CARE AND THE MOST PROFOUND REVERENCE WERE RESERVED FOR THOSE HOLY THINGS WHICH THE FABRIC ENSHRINED . Even so all that is any part of our religion, claiming any Divine authority, is to be handed down and carried on with care and with respect; but it is the few central facts and truths of revelation upon which the loving veneration and extreme solicitude of Christian teachers and people must be concentrated.

V. THAT AMONGST THESE THE ARK WAS FIRST AND FOREMOST , having three cover. tugs, and being distinguished outwardly also by its blue cloth. Even so it is the incarnation of God in Christ—the doctrine of Emmanuel, God with us—which is before all other things precious and holy, to be guarded with the most reverent and jealous care, to be distinguished openly with the most evident honour. And note

VI. THAT THE SHEW - BREAD WAS NOT ALLOWED TO FAIL FROM ITS TABLE EVEN DURING THE JOURNEY , but was carefully placed upon it and so carried, and thus answered to its name of "continual bread." Even so it is certain that the "living Bread which came down from heaven" must be with the Church as her "continual Broad" in all her marches. But it is more commonly considered that the shewbread in its twelve loaves represents the whole people of God, in all its sections, as always present to the eye of God. and always remembered before him for good; in which case this would emphasize the truth that we must without any intermission be had in merciful remembrance before God, lest we die. And note

VII. THAT THE SONS OF KOHATH WERE TO CARRY THOSE HOLY THINGS , BUT NEITHER TO TOUCH THEM NOR TO GO IN TO SEE THEM FOR AN INSTANT , LEST THEY SHOULD DIE . Even so the holy mysteries of the gospel are ever to be borne onwards, but neither to be handled with irreverent carelessness nor pried into with irreverent curiosity, else they become the savour of death rather than of life. It is indeed true that in Christ "the veil is taken away," and that now the gospel is openly declared to all nations; but it is also true, as to its central doctrines, that willful irreverence and idle curiosity are visited with severer punishments, because purely spiritual, now than then. It is not possible that any one be saved by faith if he handle the faith with rude familiarity, as having nothing sacred for him, or with cold curiosity, as a matter of mere intellectual interest (cf. Matthew 21:44 ; Luke 2:34 ; 2 Corinthians 2:16 . Cf. also 1 Corinthians 11:29 , 1 Corinthians 11:30 ).

VIII. THAT THE PRIESTS WERE CHARGED NOT TO " CUT OFF " THE KOHATHITES , i.e; NOT TO CAUSE THEIR DEATH BY GIVING THEM EXAMPLE OR OPPORTUNITY OF IRREVERENCE IN THEIR NECESSARY WORK ABOUT THE SACRED THINGS WHICH WOULD BE FATAL TO THEM . Even so an enormous responsibility is laid upon all who are set over others in the Lord, especially with respect to those who are necessarily brought into outward contact with religion. Those who, being custodes of sacred treasures, set an example of irreverence to those associated with them, or give them the impression of secret unbelief in what they preach or minister (an impression how quickly caught!), will be held responsible for any souls that may perish thereby. How miserably true that, "the nearer the Church, the further from God;" that none are so hardened as those whose outward duties are concerned with the maintenance of public worship; that no families are so notoriously irreligious as those of Church dignitaries and other ministers of God! And this due not more to the subtle danger arising from familiarity with the forms of religion, than to the subtler danger arising from the irreverent and careless conduct and temper of the ministers of religion. How often do such, by their behaviour at home, or when off duty, leave an impression of unbelief or of indifference, which they do not really feel, upon their families, dependants, subordinates! How awful the responsibility of such an one! He has "cut off" souls which were most nearly in his charge from amongst the people of God. The poison-breath of his irreverence has blighted their eternal future. And this holds true, in its measure, of fathers, masters, all who lead the religion of others. And note that as Aaron and his sons could only escape responsibility for any catastrophe among the Kohathites by doing exactly as the Lord commanded in the matter (see Numbers 4:19 ), even so we can only escape responsibility for the loss of other souls by following exactly the Divine precepts; if we allow ourselves to deviate from them at all, others through our example will deviate from them more: we are our brothers' keepers to the uttermost reach of our example.

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Numbers 4:1-49 (Numbers 4:1-49)

1 . Some enter on it too young. No hard and fast line can be drawn for all men and every service. One kind of service demands greater maturity than another, and one man ripens earlier than another. But the rule here prescribed to the Levites is a good one for the average of cases. To speak only of the Christian ministry: few men under twenty-five are ripe for it, and places of special trust would require a man of thirty. Undue baste is neither reverent nor safe. The first sermon of our blessed Lord was not preached till "he began to be about thirty years of age" ( Luke 3:23 ); a touching and most suggestive example.

2 . Some delay entering fill they are too old. This is most frequently seen in unofficial service. Many men, not destitute of piety, think it incumbent on them to give their prime so entirely to "business" that they have no time for anything else. Church work, home mission work, charity services, participation in these they look forward to as the employment of their leisure, after they shall have retired from business. That, at the best, is giving to the Lord not the first-fruits, but the gleanings. It will be found that, as a rule, it is not these tardy labourers whom God honours to be most useful. He honours those rather (thank God, they are many, and increasing in number) who consecrate to him a fair proportion of their strength when they are at their prime.

3 . Some do not know when if is time for them to resign. The Levites' period of active service, whether it began at thirty, or twenty-five, or twenty, always ended at fifty. Not that the law thrust them out of the sanctuary when their term expired; that would have been cruelty to men who loved the service. They might still frequent the sanctuary, and perform occasional offices (see Numbers 8:26 ). But after fifty they ceased to be on the regular staff. Here too the rule has to be applied to the Christian Church with discrimination. For services which are characteristically mental and spiritual, a man's prime certainly does not cease at fifty. Nevertheless, the principle at the root of the rule is of undying validity and importance. The Levites' maintenance did not cease at fifty; and any Church system which does not make such provision as enables its ministers to retire when their strength fails is unscriptural and defective. On the other part, it is the duty and will be the wisdom of the Church's servants to seek retirement when they are no longer able to minister to the Lord with fresh vigour.—B.

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Numbers 4:1-49 (Numbers 4:1-49)

I. THIS FEATURE OF THE LAW WILL HELP YOU TO UNDERSTAND THE DEPRECIATORY TERMS IN WHICH IT IS SO OFTEN MENTIONED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT , especially by the Apostle Paul. The law was "the ministration of death and of condemnation" ( 2 Corinthians 3:7 , 2 Corinthians 3:9 ); it "worketh wrath" ( Romans 4:15 ); it breathed a "spirit of bondage" and fear ( Romans 8:15 ); it "gendered to bondage" ( Galatians 4:24 ); it was "an intolerable yoke" ( Acts 15:10 ). Not that the whole contents of the Pentateuch fell under this description. Much of promise was spoken in presence of the mountain of the law. But let the law be taken by itself, and let the gospel verities foreshadowed by its ritual be shut out from view, and does it not answer to the disparaging descriptions? It was full of wrath, condemnation, fear. No doubt there was an element of grace even in the covenant of Sinai. It was a benefit done to Israel when the Lord delivered to them the commandments, pitched his tabernacle among them, and suffered them to draw near under the conditions of the ritual. Nevertheless, the conditions were hard and terrible; we may well thank God for abolishing them. They are utterly abolished. The veil is rent from top to bottom; the yoke is broken; we have received the spirit of adoption, not the spirit of bondage again to fear; we have boldness to enter into the holiest.

II. NOTHING THAT HAS BEEN SAID IMPLIES THAT THE LEVITICAL LAW WAS REALLY UNWORTHY OF THE WISDOM OR THE GRACE OF GOD . For the time then present it was the best thing that could be. Certain truths of primary importance men were everywhere forgetting: among others, the holy majesty of God; that communion with God is to the soul of man the very breath of life; that man is a sinner for whom there is no remission, no access, without atonement. These lessons the law was meant and fitted to teach. These lessons it did teach, burning them into the conscience of the nation. The law was not the gospel, but it led forward to the gospel. A service beyond all price.

III. NOR HAS THE BENEFICENT OFFICE OF THE LAW CEASED WITH THE ADVENT OF THE BETTER TIME . Men are ready to abuse the grace of God, to give harbour to licentiousness on pretext of Christian liberty. If you doubt it, search well your own heart. What is the remedy? It is found sometimes in the rod of God's afflicting providence, sometimes in the searching discipline of the law. For the law, although in its letter abrogated, abides for ever in its substance. We are not bound—we are not at liberty—to slay sin offerings or burn incense. But we are bound to ruminate on the law of sacrifice and intercession. The Levitical ritual belongs in this sense to us as much as it ever belonged to the Jews. It admonishes us of the reverence due to God. A certain filial boldness he will welcome, but presumptuous trifling with his majesty and holiness he will not suffer. If we would be accepted, we must worship God with reverence and godly fear, for our God is still a consuming fire ( Hebrews 12:29 ).—B.

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Numbers 4:1-49 (Numbers 4:1-49)

I. CURIOSITY . Illustrate from the sin of the men of Bethshemesh ( 1 Samuel 6:1-21 ). Men brought by their duties into close contact with Divine mysteries may yield to the curiosity of unauthorized speculations to which ignorant and groveling minds are not exposed (cf. Colossians 2:18 ). Illustrate from speculations on the Trinity, the incarnation, or the profitless inquiries of some of the schoolmen as to angels, etc. Caution applicable to theological speculations of today ( Deuteronomy 29:29 ).

II. THOUGHTLESSNESS . A thoughtless disregard of God's strict injunctions, by either a priest ( Numbers 4:18 , Numbers 4:19 ) or a Kohathite, might have been fatal. So now those who have perpetually to deal with Divine things are in danger of irreverence from thoughtlessness. E.g; Christian ministers, who have to be constantly praying and preaching, as part of their service for God. Christians who have a reputation for saintliness above their brethren need special reverence, lest they should handle Divine things in a familiar, unauthorized manner. Apply to some habits of modern public worship tending to sad irreverence.

III. DISTRUST . Illustrate from the sin of Uzzah ( 2 Samuel 6:6 , 2 Samuel 6:7 ). We are thus warned against using illegitimate means in support of the cause of God which we think to be in danger. Carnal methods must not be resorted to for the defense of spiritual truths. Some of the most devoted servants of Christ have profaned the ark of God, when they thought it in danger, by touching and propping it by supports God has never sanctioned. E.g; persecutions on behalf of the truth of God. Caution to those who now rely on worldly alliances and statesmanship on behalf of God's Church. Front such perils we may be preserved by the spirit of

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Numbers 4:1-49 (Numbers 4:1-49)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 4:1-49 (Numbers 4:1-49)

I. THE REGARD FOR THE PRINCIPLE OF INHERITANCE . As the tribes had their appointed place around the tabernacle, so the three great natural divisions of the tribe of Levi had their appointed place in it. So in the service of the Church of Christ there must ever be something corresponding to this natural division in Levi. The great Head has given some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. There are always some Christians rather than others who may be taken as spiritual children of certain in the spiritual generation before them, those on whom the prophet's mantle may fall, as did that of Elijah on Elisha.

II. THE LIMITATIONS OF SERVICE . No Levite could do the work of an anointed priest. The Kohathites were to bear the things of the holy place, but they were not to see them or prepare them for removal. There was a gulf of difference between Aaron and the noblest of the Kohathites, though they belonged to the same tribe. So between Christ and even the best of his people. There is so much to link us to our Lord, so much to reveal him as walking about on the same level, that we cannot be too careful to remember the differences between our services, humble even the most honourable of them, and that glorious peculiar service where Christ is Priest and Atonement in one. The limitations of age. None under thirty, none over fifty. At twenty a man may have strength and courage for fighting ( Numbers 1:3 ), but ten years more must pass over his head before he is judged to have the sobriety and sedateness needed for tabernacle service. Then at fifty he retires. God has consideration for failing strength. The burdens of the tabernacle must be carried, therefore God provides that the bearers shall be strong. There were constantly fresh and, we may suppose, often eager accessions at the younger limit of the service. Jesus was about thirty when he entered on his public life ( Luke 3:23 ), and the Baptist would be about the same. Let these limitations of God be considered by all whom they concern. There are duties of manhood which youth has not the experience, nor age the strength, to perform.

III. THE SECURING OF PERSONAL SERVICE ( Numbers 4:19 , Numbers 4:49 ). Only certain persons were fit to do the work, but all who were fit had some work to do. In the Church of Christ fitness for anything, clearly seen, distinctly felt, has in it the nature of a command. We need not fear that there will ever be too many persons engaged in the service of the true tabernacle. There were between eight and nine thousand at this first appointment, but the Lord's promise runs ( Jeremiah 33:22 ), "As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured, so I will multiply the Levites that minister unto me." We are all Levites now.

IV. THE WORK WAS ALL NECESSARY WORK . No doubt a certain honour attached to the Kohathites, but great risk went with it; and after all, the honour was more in the eyes of men than of God. All that is needful to be done for him is honourable. The least peg or cord was not to be left behind, any more than the ark itself. There should be a spirit of humble joy and gratitude in us that we are counted worthy to do anything for God. All are needed to make up the perfection of service. To the complete body the little finger is as needful as the complex and powerful brain. For the circulation of the blood the capillaries are as needful as the great arteries and veins. God calls for no superfluous work from us. He has no mere ornaments in the Church. If a thing is not of use, it is no ornament, however it be decorated.

Application :—Find your work and burden. Every one has his own burden ( φορτίον ) to bear. No one else then can carry your burden than you. Seek your place. Take the lowest one, then assuredly you will come in time to the right one. The lowest place in the tabernacle service is better than the highest among the ungodly ( Psalms 84:10 ).—Y.

INTERIOR SANCTITIES OF ISRAEL ( Numbers 5:1-31 , Numbers 6:1-27 ).

Numbers 5:1-4 : REMOVAL OF THE UNCLEAN .

Numbers 5:5-10 : RESTITUTION OF TRESPASS ,

Numbers 5:11-31 : JEALOUSY PURGED .

Numbers 6:1-21 : NAZARITES DEDICATED .

Numbers 22-27: BLESSING OF THE PEOPLE .

Whether these portions of the Divine legislation are connected with the surrounding narrative

Against

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