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Critical and Explanatory Notes
Numbers 8:1-4. (Compare Exodus 25:31-40; Exodus 27:20-21; Exodus 37:17-24; Exodus 40:24-25). Here we have the command to actually light the lamps, and the statement of its fulfilment. “When Aaron is commanded to attend to the lighting of the candlestick, so that it may light up the dwelling, in these special instructions the entire fulfilment of the service in the dwelling is enforced upon him as a duty. In this respect the instructions themselves, coupled with the statement of the fact that Aaron had fulfilled them, stand quite appropriately between the account of what the tribe-princes had done for the consecration of the altar service as representatives of the congregation, and the account of the solemn inauguration of the Levites in their service in the sanctuary.”—Keil and Del.
Numbers 8:5-22. Before entering upon their duties the Levites were to be consecrated to the office, and then formerly handed over to the priests.
Numbers 8:6. Cleanse them, טַהֵר; not קַדֵּש, to hallow or sanctify, used of the consecration of the priests (Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 8:12).
Numbers 8:7. Water of purifying. Lit., “sin-water.” The water used for the cleansing of persons cured of leprosy (Leviticus 14:5), and the “water of separation” (Numbers 19:9), were both of them prepared with peculiar and significant ingredients. The “sin-water;” i.e., water designed to cleanse from sin, was doubtless taken from the water in the laver of the sanctuary, which was provided for the purification of the priests before they entered upon the performance of their duties (Exodus 30:17-21).
Let them shave all their flesh. Margin: “Let them cause a razor to pass over,” etc. Keil and Del.: “ ‘They shall cause the razor to pass over their whole body, הֶעֱביר תַּעַר is to be distinguished from נִּלַּה. The latter signified to make bald or shave the hair entirely off (Leviticus 14:8-9); the former signifies merely cutting the hair, which was part of the regular mode of adorning the body.”
Numbers 8:10. The children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites. The princes of the tribes would do this as the representatives of their respective tribes. By this act they represented the transfer to the Levites of the sacred duties which were previously obligatory upon the whole nation in the persons of its first-born sons.
Numbers 8:11. And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering. Lit., as in margin: “Shall wave the Levites before the Lord (as) a wave-offering.” “How this was to be done is not determined. Most likely, Aaron pointed to the Levites, and then waved his hands, as in ordinary cases of making this offering. The multitude of the Levites seems to preclude the other modes suggested, e.g., causing them to march backwards and forwards before the altar, or taking them round it. The ceremony of waving indicated (cf. Leviticus 7:30) that the offering was dedicated to God, and again, by grant from Him, withdrawn for the use of the priests. It was therefore aptly used at the inauguration of the Levites.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 8:12. The Levites shall lay their hands, etc. “By this imposition of hands, they made the sacrificial animals their representatives, in which they presented their own bodies to the Lord as a living sacrifice, well pleasing to Him.”—Keil and Del.
Numbers 8:16. The firstborn of all the children of Israel. Heb.: “The firstborn of every one of the,” etc.
Numbers 8:19. To make an atonement for the children of Israel. “i.e., by performing those services which were due from the children of Israel; the omission of which by the children of Israel would, but for the interposition of the Levites, have called down wrath from God.”—Speaker’s Comm.
That there be no plague among the children of Israel, etc., by reason of any irreverent, or otherwise improper performance of sacred duties, or any trifling with sacred things. (Compare Numbers 1:53.)
Numbers 8:21. And the Levites were purified. More correctly: “Purified them selves.”
Numbers 8:24. To wait upon the service of, etc. Heb., as in margin: “To war the warfare of,” etc. Keil and Del.: “To do service at the work of,” etc.
Numbers 8:25. Shall cease waiting upon the service. Heb., as in margin: “Return from the warfare of the service.” Keil and Del.: “Return from the service of the work, and not work any further.”
Numbers 8:26. To keep the charge, and shall do no service. “Charge, as distinguished from work, signified the oversight of all the furniture of the tabernacle (see chap, 3); work (service) applied to laborious service, e.g., the taking down and the setting up of the tabernacle, and cleaning it, carrying wood and water for the sacrificial worship, slaying the animals for the daily and festal sacrifices of the congregation,” etc.—Keil and Del.
Proceeding to view the chapter homiletically, in the first paragraph we have:
THE GOLDEN CANDLESTICK, AN EMBLEM OF THE CHURCH OF GOD
The Golden Candlestick was part of the furniture of the Holy place, and was placed on the South side of that apartment. The full description of the candlestick is given in Exodus 25:31-40; Exodus 37:17-24. According to the Rabbins, the height of it was five feet, and the breadth of it, or the distance between the outer branches, three and a half feet. During the night the whole of the seven lamps were kept burning, but in the day there were only three. The weight of the entire candlestick was a talent, or one hundred and twenty-five pounds. It has been calculated to have been worth £5,076. Regarding the candlestick as an emblem of the Church, the text suggests—
I. The Preciousness and Sacredness of the Church of God.
The candlestick was of pure beaten gold, so also were the snuffers and snuff dishes. Much of the furniture of the sanctuary was made of pure gold—the mercy-seat, the cherubim, the dishes, spoons, covers, bowls, the pot which contained the manna; and many of the larger things were overlaid with hold (Exodus 25:10-39). In so large a use of this, the costliest and most perfect of all metals, we have an intimation of the preciousness of the Church of God, and all its belongings. The people of God are highly esteemed by Him. “The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold.” “The Lord taketh pleasure in His people.”) See Isaiah 49:15-16; Malachi 3:16-17; Acts 20:28; 2 Timothy 2:19.) “But the mere costliness of gold,” says Archbishop Trench, “that it was of all metals the rarest, and therefore the dearest, this was not the only motive for the predominant employment of it. Throughout all the ancient East there was a sense of sacredness attached to this metal, which still to a great extent survives. Thus ‘golden’ in the Zend-Avesta is throughout synonymous with heavenly or divine. So also in many Eastern lands while silver might be degraded to profane and every-day uses of common life, might as money pass from hand to hand, ‘the pale and common drudge ’twixt man and man,’ it was not permitted to employ gold in any services except only royal and divine.” The Church of God is a sacred institution. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” etc. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?… The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
II. The Light of the Church of God.
The light in the holy place is an emblem of the Word of God in His Church. His Word, His truth, including in this all which He has declared of Himself in revealed religion, is the light of the Church. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” Like its Divine Author, the Word of God is light in itself. “God has ordained His Gospel,” says Milton, “to be the revelation of His power and wisdom in Christ Jesus. Let others, therefore, dread and shun the Scriptures for their darkness; I shall wish I may deserve to be reckoned amongst those who admire and dwell upon them for their clearness. There are no songs comparable to the songs of Zion, no orations equal to those of the prophets, and no politics like those which the Scriptures teach.” The Word of God gives light to others, as the lamps on the candlestick gave light to the priests in the holy place. “It is a book full of light and wisdom,” says Sir Matthew Hale, “will make you wise to eternal life, and furnish you with directions and principles to guide and order your life safely and prudently. There is no book like the Bible for excellent learning, wisdom, and use.” The perfection of this light is shadowed forth by the Golden Candlestick, with its seven lamps. Seven is the number of mystical completeness; and the seven lamps set forth the full perfection of the Sacred Scriptures. (a)
III. The Ministers of the Church of God, and their Function.
Aaron and his sons, the priests, were to light the lamps in the Holy Place. It is the duty of ministers to expound and apply the teachings of the Word of God: not to use that Word to illustrate and confirm their own theories or the systems of other men; but reverently and earnestly to strive to ascertain its meaning and message, and to make that meaning and message clear and convincing to others. It is their sacred function to bring the light of the Divine Scriptures to bear upon the duties and experiences, the problems and perplexities, the sins and struggles of human life. It has been suggested that “the lighting of one lamp from another showed the opening of one text by another.” This work of the Gospel ministry, if it is to be well done, demands careful and suitable education, diligent and devout study, and the gracious help of the Divine Spirit. (b)
It is also necessary that the Christian minister should live well. His life should be luminous as well as his ministry. It was well said by Thomas Adams: “He that preaches well in his pulpit, but lives disorderly out of it, is like a young scribbler; what he writes fair with his hand, his sleeve comes after and blots.”
IV. The Function of the Church of God.
Like the Golden Candlestick, the Church is to be a light-bearer. The Church is not the light, but it is the bearer of light, that which holds it forth and causes it widely to spread abroad its rays. It has no light of its own, but it diffuses that which it receives from its Saviour and Lord. Every Christian is “light in the Lord,” and should show forth this light in the darkness of this world. He is called to this: “Ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of Life.” “Ye are the light of the world,” etc. (Matthew 5:14-16.) “I would not give much for your religion,” says Mr. Spurgeon, “unless it can been seen. Lamps do not talk; but they do shine. A lighthouse sounds no drum, it beats no gong; and yet far over the waters its friendly spark is seen by the mariner. So let your actions shine out your religion. Let the main sermon of your life be illustrated by all your conduct, and it shall not fail to be illustrious.” (c).
1. To individuals: Are our lives luminous in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ?
2. To Churches: Are we making good our claim to a place in “the Church of the living God” by taking our part in performing the Divine function of that Church? Are we diffusing the light of God in Christ in this dark world?
(a). How large a space does a candle occupy? Just a little hole in the candlestick. But when it shines out to the poor traveller that has lost his way in the morass at midnight, how far it reaches! And to him how much it means, when it guides him to a highway, and to a hospitable place of residence! And how much it means on a rocky shore, when it gives light to a thousand ships with their imperilled mariners! It means safety. It does an important office-work, although it requires but a small space to stand in. And although the Word of God does not cover much ground, the ground that it does cover is so vital, and it stands so connected with man’s life here and hereafter, that it shines with a clear light. And he that takes heed to it will certainly find the harbour, the shore, the haven. It is transcendently important; in present and temporal, and human respects, not so important as men have supposed; but in future, and eternal, and spiritual respects, a great deal more important than men have supposed.—H. W. Beecher.
Whatever else may be said about the Bible, I am sure no man can deny that it is the best book to guide men toward practical virtue and true holiness that has ever appeared in the world. Whatever may be the disputes about its origin, whatever may be the controversies and the doubts upon the various theories of inspiration, as a practical book, as a light to a man’s feet, and a lamp to his path, it has proved itself to be, and can, by investigation, be shown to be the wisest book to follow that is known.—Ibid.
(b) Learning, as well as office, is requisite for a minister. An unlearned scribe, without his treasure of old and new, is unfit to interpret God’s oracles. The priest’s lips shall preserve knowledge, is no less a precept to the minister than a promise to the people; we are unfit to be seers if we cannot distinguish between Hagar and Sarah. A minister without learning is a more cypher, which fills up a place and increaseth the number, but signifies nothing There have been some niggardly affected to learning, calling it man’s wisdom. If the moral saying of a poet or a philosopher, or, perhaps, some golden sentence of a father, drop from us, it is straight called poisoned eloquence, as if all these were not the spoils of the Gentiles, and mere handmaids unto divinity. They wrong us: we make not the pulpit a philosophy, logic, poetry-school; but all these are so many stairs to the pulpit. Will you have it? The fox dispraiseth the grapes he cannot reach. If they could beat down learning, they might escape censure for their own ignorance. For shame! Let none that have born a book dispraise learning. She hath enemies enough abroad. She should be justified of her own children. Let Babary disgrace arts, not Athens.—Thomas Adams.
(c) This world, with all its darkened societies, is but God’s large house, in which so many of His children cry in the night, but never see or find their father and as housewives do not kindle the household lamp at evening only to turn over it the big wheat measure to hide it or to quench it, but set it uncovered on its lamp-stand, that it may shed a cheerful gleam through all the room, so has our Heavenly House-Father, in mercy to His still darkened children, placed His saints on their conspicuous elevation of church-membership, that their clear light of Gospel knowledge and their reflected radiance of holy affections and Christlike deeds might spread abroad by open professsion and unconcealed well-doing, a blessed illumination. It is not that the Christian need pant after notoriety, or vaingloriously flash his little spark where he has no business. The House-Master who kindles as must place us, one on a loftier and one on a lower lamp-stand as it pleaseth Him. For us it is enough that we be content with the height or conspicuousness of our place, and cheerfully let such light as we have be seen as it may be, neither ambitiously envious nor timorously unfaithful. We are not free to descend from the stand on which He has put us, nor to hide our Christianity because we are looked at, any more than we are free to cease from shining because there are few to see us, or to flare the higher when many applaud.… As I have seen the glow-worm at late evening, by the silent side of an empty English lane, mount some tall spike of grass, and turn up its tiny lamp, content to hang head downwards, itself unseen, so that the exquisite soft green light which God had given it might be visible in its loveliness, so may one find in this world’s lowly and unfrequented paths Christ’s light-bearers, who shed each his own sweet love-light round a narrow circle of the dark, that the wayfarer who sees may praise, not his unsightly, and, sooth to say, concealed self, but that great Father in heaven who lit this faint taper upon earth, even as He lit the nobler fires which burn far up in heaven. But just as I have shut the poor glow-worm in a box or under an inverted dish, yet found that it spent all its radiance there unseen, only for sake of love and because shine it must, so will the true soul, whom his Lord’s all chance to imprison from shedding light on any human eye, rejoice no less to let his devout affections and gracious deeds be seen of Him who looks through the densest cover, and knows how to bestow an open reward.
Since, then, Jeans hath taught us that to be visible is no accident in Christian life, but the very condition of its usefulness, let us each with patient tendance trim our inward lamp, that in our hearts there may be the light of a sevenfold blessed grace; then let us not be ashamed with modest faithfulness to let that silent efficacious light of Christian character tell of us, that we have been shone upon by the face of Jesus; and of your Lord, that He is Light, and that in Him there is no darkness at all.—J. O. Dykes, M.A., D.D.
THE CONSECRATION OF THE LEVITES; OR, ASPECTS OF ACCEPTABLE CONSECRATION TO GOD
Several of the homiletic suggestions arising out of these verses have already been noticed by us in our notes on the preceding chapters. Repetition of them is undesirable. They will be found on pp. 21–23; 48–53; 61–65. In this section of the history we have the account of the ordination of the Levites to the duties already assigned to them in chapters 3 and 4. They have been exchanged for the firstborn; and now they are consecrated to the work of their sacred calling. The order and ceremonies of their consecration were appointed by God; we shall regard that consecration as setting forth several aspects of acceptable consecration to God.
I. In acceptable consecration to God there is a practical recognition of the necessity of moral purity.
“Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them,” etc. (Numbers 8:6-7). Human nature is defiled by sin. Its springs of thought and feeling are corrupt. Heart and hands are both stained by evil in thought and deed. If we would approach unto God acceptably, we must seek spiritual cleansing. The offerings that are presented to God must be pure, and before man can offer himself to God, he must cleanse himself from sin (See Exodus 3:5; Isaiah 1:11-18; 1 Timothy 2:8). Ministers of the Gospel are specially required to cultivate and exhibit moral purity in their life. They must translate the doctrine of their sermons into the practice of their life; they must be sound in doctrine and sincere in life. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” “A bishop must be blameless,” etc. (1 Timothy 3:2-7). “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works,” etc. (Titus 2:7-8). “Being ensamples to the flock.” Let all Christians, and all ministers especially, cultivate this moral purity. But how may it be attained?
1. By personal effort. “Let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.” The cleansing elements provided by God in the Gospel are of no avail unless they are personally applied. “Wash you, make you clean,” etc. The innumerable white-robed multitude, before the throne and before the Lamb, “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” “Purifying their hearts by faith.”
2 By Divine influence. Moses was commanded to cleanse the Levites: “And thus thou shalt do unto them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them.” “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin,” &c. (1 John 1:7-9). God both provides the cleansing element and blesses man’s cleansing efforts. “It is our duty to cleanse ourselves, and God’s promise that He will cleanse us.”
II. In acceptable consecration to God there is a practical recognition of the necessity of atonement for sin.
A young bullock was, by the Divine direction, offered to God as a sin-offering for the Levites (Numbers 8:8; Numbers 8:12). In this, two truths of vital importance were symbolically expressed.
1. That man needs forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. Man cannot truly serve God or commune with Him until these are attained by him.
2. That forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God are to be attained through sacrifice. Christ Jesus came into the world “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.… Christ was offered to bear the sins of many.” “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” (See remarks on the sin-offering in our exposition of chaps. Numbers 6:13-21, and Numbers 7:10-88). (a)
III. Acceptable consecration to God must be unreserved and full.
“A young bullock with his meatoffering of fine flour mingled with oil” was to be offered to God for the Levites as a burnt offering; which symbolically expressed the entire surrender of the offerer unto God. As the offering was entirely consumed upon the altar to the honour of God, so the offerer gave himself wholly to God. (On this point see our exposition of chaps. Numbers 6:13-21, and Numbers 7:10-88). Notice two points:—
1. God demands this entire consecration. “The Levites are wholly given unto Me from among the children of Israel,” etc., Numbers 8:16-18. (See pp. 50–53.)
2. Gratitude urges to this entire consecration. We have an intimation of this in this ceremony of consecration. The young bullock that was offered for a burnt-offering was to be presented to the Lord “with his meat-offering.” This meat-offering of fine flour mingled with oil was an appendage to the devotion implied in the burnt-offering: it was eucharistic—a symbolical expression of man’s gratitude for God’s goodness. The Apostle besought the Roman Christians “by the mercies of God” to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, as their reasonable service. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving,” etc. Let us through Jesus Christ offer ourselves wholly and for ever unto God. (b)
IV. Acceptable consecration to God must be open.
The Levites were consecrated to the service of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation. “Thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation; and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together” etc. (Numbers 8:9-12). “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,” etc. (Romans 10:9-10.) “Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Avoiding parade and ostentation on the one hand, and secrecy and undue reserve on the other, the true Christian both by word and deed acknowledges Christ as his Saviour and Lord. See Psalms 66:15-16; Mark 5:19-20; Matthew 5:14-16. (c)
V. Acceptable consecration to God is followed by religious service.
“And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.… And after that went the Levites in to do,” etc. They were consecrated for this purpose, that they might “do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation.” The consecration to God which is only a thing of profession and sentiment is worse than worthless; it is offensive in the sight of God, and baneful in its influence upon men. The true consecration is for service according to the will of God. In a special sense Christian ministers are the servants of God in the work of His Church; but every true Christian is also a servant of God. “We can serve God anywhere and everywhere, as well as in the pulpit or in the congregation. You may glorify God behind a counter just as in a cathedral; you may serve God sweeping a street as well as being a bishop.” In respect to the service of the Levites two things are indicated:—
1. In religious services there are different grades, and even the lowest grade is sacred and honourable. “I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons.… The Levites went in to do their service in the tabernacle of the congregation before Aaron and before his sons.” See pp. 48–50.
2. The faithful performance of religious services is of the greatest importance to society. “I have given the Levites to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary.” (See explanatory notes on Numbers 8:19. and pp. 22, 23).
But the true and acceptable Christian consecration extends to all our life and work: he who is truly devoted to God will do all things as for Him. (d)
“If on our daily course our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
As for some dear familiar strain
Untir’d we ask, and ask again,
Ever, in its melodious store,
Finding a spell unheard before;
Such is the bliss of souls serene,
When they have sworn, and stedfast mean,
Counting the cost in all t’ espy
Their God, in all themselves deny.
O could we learn that sacrifice,
What lights would all around us rise!
How would our hearts with wisdom talk
Along Life’s dullest, dreariest walk!
We need not bid, for cloister’d cell,
Our neighbour and our work farewell,
Nor strive to wind ourselves too high
For sinful man beneath the sky:
The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask:
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us, daily, nearer God.”—Keble.
(a) The Lord did not study attractive æsthetics, He did not prepare a tabernacle that should delight men’s tastes; it was rich indeed, but so blood-stained as to be by no means beautiful. No staining of glass to charm the eye, but instead thereof the inwards of slaughtered bullocks. Such sights would disgust the delicate tastes of the fops of this present age. Blood, blood on every side; death, fire, smoke, and ashes, varied with the bellowings of dying beasts, and the active exertions of men whose white garments were all crimson with the blood of victims. How clearly did the worshippers see the sternness and severity of the Justice of God against human sin, and the intensity of the agony of the great Son of God who was in the fulness of time by His own death to put away all the sins and transgressions of His people! By faith come ye, my brethren, and walk round that blood-stained altar, and as you mark its four-square form and its horns of strength, and see the sacrifices smoking thereon acceptable to God, look down and mark the blood with which its foundations are so completely saturated, and understand how all salvation and all acceptance rests on the atonement of the dying Son of God.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) If you could know regrets in the realm of blessedness, would not these be the regrets, that you have not served Christ better, loved Him more, spoke of Him oftener, given more generously to His cause, and more uniformly proved yourselves to be consecrated to Him? I am afraid that such would be the form of the regrets of Paradise, if any could intrude within those gates of pearl. Come, let us live while we live! Let us live up to the utmost stretch of our manhood! Let us ask the Lord to brace our nerves, to string our sinews, and make us true crusaders, knights of the blood-red cross, consecrated men and women, who, for the love we bear Christ’s name, will count labour to be ease, and suffering to be joy, and reproach to be honour, and loss to be gain! If we have never yet given ourselves wholly up to Christ as His disciples, now hard by His cross, where we see His wounds still bleeding afresh, and Himself quivering in pain for us, let us pledge ourselves in His strength, that we give ourselves wholly to Him without reserve, and so may He help us by His Spirit, that the vow may be redeemed and the resolve may be carried out, that we may lire to Christ, and dying may find it gain.—Ibid.
(c) It is in all cases the instinct of a new heart, in its experience of God, to acknowledge Him. No one ever thinks it a matter of delicacy or genuine modesty entirely to suppress any reasonable joy, least of all any fit testimony of gratitude toward a deliverer and for a deliverance. In such a case no one ever asks, what is the use? where is the propriety? for it is the simple instinct of his nature to speak, and he speaks. Thus, if one of you had been rescued in a shipwreck on a foreign shore, by some common sailor who had risked his life to save you, and you should discover him across the street in some great city, you would rush to his side, seize his hand, and begin at once, with a choking utterance, to testify your gratitude to him for so great a deliverance. Or, if you should pass restrainedly on, making no sign, pretending to yourself that you might be wanting in delicacy or modesty to publish your private feelings by any such eager acknowledgment of your deliverer or that you ought first to be more sure of the genuineness of your gratitude, what opinion must we have in such a case of your heartlessness and falseness to nature! In the same simple way, all ambition apart, all conceit of self forgot, all artificial and mock modesty excluded, it will be the instinct of every one that loves God to acknowledge Him. He will say with our Psalmist, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.”—H. Bushnell, D.D.
(d) Holiness is the attribute of persons, places, times, or things, set apart by the will of God from common uses, and devoted to Himself. But by God’s own appointment, those who were thus consecrated to His service in Jewish times spent a great part of their life in work which in itself was of quite a secular character. The Levites, for instance, were not always praying, or preaching, or reading the scriptures, or offering sacrifices. When the nation was in the desert, the Levites had to take down the Tabernacle and set it up, and to carry the furniture from one camping-ground to another, just as the rest of the people had to take down their own tents and set them up again, and to carry their own goods from place to place. The work of the Levites was as hard as the work of the common people; but the work of the Levites was holy, because the Tabernacle was the Tent of God. They swept the courts of the Tabernacle, and when the Temple was built they swept the larger courts of the Temple; they kindled fires; they made incense; they stored wine and oil; they drew water; they killed animals; they learnt to play musical instruments; but there was nothing profane in their most menial occupations, for whatever they did, they did as God’s servants. They had charge of large revenues; but the revenues consisted of what the people offered to God. They acted as magistrates and administered the law; but the law which they administered was Divine. Even the priests had to change the show-bred, to burn incense, and to tend fires.
A great part of the work that was done by Priests and Levites was in itself mere secular work; but they and their work were “holy,” because they were set apart to God’s service, and because their work was done for God, and in obedience to God’s commandments. A great part of the work that must be done by Christian people in our times is in itself mere secular work. It has to be done at the carpenter’s bench, at the blacksmith’s anvil, in the kitchen, behind a draper’s counter, at the desk in a merchant’s office, on the box of an omnibus, on the platform of a locomotive, in the van of a railway guard, in cotton mills, in bank parlours, in the private rooms of newspaper editors, in political committees, at School Boards, in Government offices, in Parliament;—and if there is hearty, unreserved consecration to God, if God’s will is the law by which all the work is controlled, if God’s honour is the end to which all the work is devoted, the “secular” work, however earnestly it is done, is no more inconsistent with saintliness than were the menial duties of Priests with their “consecration” to the duties of their priesthood. The Priests would have been unfaithful to the solemnities with which they were set apart to their holy office if, in the conceit and fastidiousness of priestly pride, they had neglected their menial duties under the pretence of maintaining their sanctity. Christian men are equally unfaithful to their nobler calling if, under the influence of a similar conceit and fastidiousness, they regard what they call secular work as “common and unclean,” and refuse to discharge obvious duties under the pretence of keeping their holiness untainted.
But holiness is something more than a faultless morality. The difference between a holy man and a moral man is the difference between a Temple or a Church and a house. You may erect a very noble building; the design may be stately; the proportions magnificent; there may be plenty of space, and air and light; the walls may be of pure white marble like the walls of Italian palaces; the decorations may be perfectly beautiful; but if you build it for yourself it is a House, and not a Temple. It was not the splendour of the building on Mount Moriah that made it a Temple, but the Divine uses to which by Divine appointment it was consecrated Nor does Holiness consist in fidelity to certain occlesiastical traditions You may build a House in the style of a Church; there may be have and transepts and chancel; there may be clustered columns, and the windows may be glorious with crimson and purple and gold; but if the building is for yourself and for your private uses, it is no Church, but a mere House. And, on the other hand, no matter how poor and mean our life may look to common eyes, it is sacred—every part is sacred—if we have consecrated ourselves to God. The tent which was God’s Tabernacle in the wilderness was more awful and august than the palaces of kings. Everything depends on the law which we are trying to obey, and the Master whom we are trying to serve. Holiness is the result of the consecration of our whole life to God. It requires that we should make God’s will our supreme law, and that we should do God’s will for God’s glory.—R. W. Dale, M.A., D.D.
THE DIVINE MASTER AND HIS HUMAN SERVANTS
We have here the Divine directions as to the period of the Service of the Levites. The manner in which these directions are introduced—“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying;” the words which immediately follow these directions—“Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their charge;” and their position in the history, immediately after the ordination of the Levites to their sacred duties, show that they are intended to be the fixed law for the service of the Levites at the sanctuary. In chap. 4 Numbers 8:3, Moses was commanded to number the Levites “from thirty years old and upward oven until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,” while in the text the period of service is fixed from twenty-five years old and upward until fifty years old. That numbering had reference especially to the carriage of the tabernacle from place to place during the wanderings in the wilderness, a laborious service requiring the strength of mature manhood; whereas the directions of the text refer to the entire service of the tabernacle, which, when it was stationary, could be performed without difficulty by persons of twenty-five years of age. At a subsequent period the age at which the Levites began their service was fixed at twenty years, because the tabernacle being permanently placed upon Mount Zion, they were no longer required to “carry the tabernacle, nor any vessels of it for the service thereof” (1 Chronicles 23:24-32).
The text suggests the following Homiletic points:—
I. The necessity of fitness for the Divine service.
Though the Levites entered upon their service at the age of twenty-five years, they took no part in its heaviest duties until they had attained thirty years, and thorough physical fitness; and when at fifty years that fitness began to fail, they were released from the severe duties, and employed only in such as would not try their physical powers. God requires fit instruments for His work. He can use any instrumentality whatsoever, or He can accomplish His purpose without any instrumentality; but His rule is to use those instruments who are best adapted for the accomplishment of His purposes. The arrangement of the service of the Levites shows this. The calling and career of such men as Joseph, Moses, David, John the Baptist, Paul, show this. In learning any handicraft or trade, years are spent under instructors: for the practice of law or medicine men must have special and careful training: and is it not important that they who engage in religious services should be qualified for such services? Let all religious workers do their utmost to prepare themselves for their important and sacred duties: let them study, pray, &c. (a)
Let Christian ministers especially be conscientious and painstaking in this respect. (b)
II. The variety of employment in the Divine service.
In their life in the wilderness there was Levitical service suited to young men of twenty-five years of age, there was severe labour for men from thirty to fifty years of age, and there was honourable and easy service for those who were fifty years old and upward. (See explanatory notes on these verses). The aged Levites had the oversight of the furniture of the tabernacle, and were probably engaged in instructing the young men, and in guarding the tabernacle against the approach of any prohibited persons. In the service of God to-day there is room for workers of every kind and degree of faculty; there is ample scope for the enthusiasm of youth, the strength of manhood, and the ripe experience of age. The able reasoner, the eloquent orator, the skilful manager of affairs, the patient plodding worker, the sympathetic visitor of the sick and sorrowful, the gifted and loving teacher, the prevailing intercessor at the Throne of Grace, the unobtrusive and kindly tract distributor, even the worn and weary sufferer, calm, and sweetly submissive to the Divine will, each and all have their sphere and their mission in the service of God. In this we have—
1. An encouragement to persons of feeble powers and narrow opportunities to try to do good. (c)
2. A rebuke to those who plead inability as an excuse for their indolence in religious service. Use the ability you have, however small it may be; and by so doing you will increase it. God holds us responsible only for the ability we have or may have, not for that we have not and cannot obtain. (See pp. 40, 41).
III. The care of the Great Master for His servants.
He will not have His servants overburdened; His youthful servants He will not prematurely call to posts of severe labour or solemn responsibility, and for those who “have borne the burden and heat of the day” He arranges an eventide of honourable and restful service. He calls men to work for which they are adapted; and if in their work any severe strain be imposed upon them, He giveth unto them more grace. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He graciously sustains every worker in his toil, gives to every worker sweetest joy in his toil, and will gloriously reward even the smallest service of the feeblest worker. (d)
“How blessed from the bonds of sin,
And earthly fetters free,
In singleness of heart and aim,
Thy servant, Lord, to be!
The hardest toil to undertake
With joy at Thy command,
The meanest office to receive
With meekness at Thy hand!
How happily the working days
In this dear service fly,
How rapidly the closing hour,
The time of rest draws high!
When all the faithful gather home,
A joyful company,
And ever where the Master is,
Shall His blest servants be.”—Spitta.
This subject supplies—
1. Encouragement to enter into this service. “Come thou with us,” etc.
2. Encouragement to persevere in this service. A glorious reward awaits those who patiently continue in well doing.
(a) You have read in history of that hero who, when an overwhelming force was in full pursuit, and all his followers were urging him to more rapid flight, coolly dismounted to repair a flaw in his horse’s harness, While busied with the broken buckle, the distant crowd swept down in nearer thunder; but, just as the prancing hoofs and eager spears were ready to dash upon him, the flaw was mended, and, like a swooping falcon, he had vanished from their view. The broken buckle would have left him on the field a dismounted and inglorious prisoner; the timely delay sent him in safety back to his comrades. There is in daily life the same luckless precipitancy, and the same profitable delay. The man who, from his prayerless awakening, bounces into the business of the day, however good his talents and great his diligence, is only galloping upon a steed harnessed with a broken buckle, and must not marvel if, in his hottest haste or most hazardous leap, he be left ingloriously in the dust; and though it may occasion some little delay beforehand, his neighbour is wiser who sets out all in order before the march begins.—James Hamilton, D.D.
(b) I believe that at bottom most people think it an uncommonly easy thing to preach, and that they could do it amazingly well themselves. Every donkey thinks itself worthy to stand with the king’s horses; every girl thinks that she could keep house better than her mother; but thoughts are not facts, for the sprat thought itself a herring, but the fisherman knew better. I daresay those who can whistle fancy that they can plough; but there’s more than whistling in a good ploughman; and so let me tell you there’s more in good preaching than taking a text, and saying firstly, secondly, and thirdly, I try my hand at preaching myself, and in my poor way I find it no very easy thing to give the folks something worth hearing; and if the fine critics, who reckon us up on their thumbs, would but try their own hands at it, they might be a little more quiet. Dogs, however, always will bark, and what is worse, some of them will bite, too; but let decent people do all they can, if not to muzzle them, yet to prevent their doing any great mischief.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(c) In order to serve Christ acceptably, we have not to revolutionize our lot, nor to seek other conditions than those Providence supplies. The place is nothing; the heart is all. Chambers of patient invalids, beds of submissive sickness, obscurity, weakness, baffled plans,—a thousand nameless limitations of faculty, of opportunity, of property,—all these are witnesses of silent but victorious faith. In all of them God is glorified, for in all of them His will is done. Out of all of them gates open into heaven and the joy of the Lord. Mercifully the Father has appointed many ways in which we may walk toward His face, and run on His errands. Work is the way for strength; lying still is the way for infirmity. If only there are trust and prayer in both, there is some instruction in a picture I have read of, which represents the lives of twin brothers diverging from the ceadle. One, by study, becomes a learned and skilful physician, reaching great riches and honour by administering to the sick. The other has no talent for books, and no memory, and no science; he becomes a poor strolling musician, but spends his days in consoling, by his lute, sufferings that are beyond all medicine. The brothers are shown meeting at the close of their career. The vagrant is sick and worn out, and the brother prescribes for him out of his learning, and gathers ingenious compounds for his relief; but, meantime, he to whom God gave another gift touches his instrument for the solace of the great man’s shattered nerves, and heals his benefactor’s disordered spirit.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
Out of this whole structure of the human body, every little muscle, every single cell, has its own secretion and its own work; and though some physicians have said this and that organ might be spared, I believe there is not a single thread in the whole embroidery of human nature that could be well spared—the whole of the fabric is required. So in the mystical body, the Church, the least member is necessary; the most uncomely member of the Christian Church is needful for its growth. Find out, then, what your sphere is, and occupy it. Ask God to tell you what is your niche, and stand in it, occupying the place till Jesus Christ shall come and give you your reward. Use what ability you have, and use it at once.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(d) I know your gifts to His Church, and His poor, are necessarily but little, for yours is the poor widow’s portion perhaps, and you can give only your two mites; but I know that, as they fall into the treasury, Jesus sits over against the treasury and hears sweet sounds in the dropping of your gifts. I know your life is such that you mourn over it every day, but still you do serve God in it, and you long to serve Him more, and that love of yours is written in the books of the King’s record, and you shall be His in the day when He makes up His jewels; and your works shall be His too, for your works shall follow you to the skies when you rise in Jesus, and your reward even for a cup of cold water shall be as sure as it will be gracious, and your entrance into the joy of your Lord shall certainly be bestowed upon you according to the grace which is in Christ Jesus, by which he has accepted you.—Ibid.
The Levitical service in the wilderness was very severe; it required strong, able-bodied men. There were, in addition to the ministrations in the tabernacle, many heavy weights to carry. (It is computed by some that the metal of the tabernacle alone weighed 10 tons, 13 cwts., 24 lbs., 14 ozs., beside skins, hangings, cords, boards, and posts). In David’s time we read they began at twenty years of age; but in the wilderness they did not fully engage in the more laborious service until thirty, although the time for their assisting was fixed at twenty-five.
I. The service God demands of all Levites.
Every Christian should be a priest, ever ministering in His temple.
1. Burden-bearing. How often Christians murmur about their burdens, as though they were not honoured in being permitted to bear anything for God.
2. Singing. The Levites sang and played on instruments. Sing the song of gratitude and contentment.
3. Studying of the law. “Search the Scriptures.”
4. Attendance on the ordinances of the sanctuary. There is a special blessing for those who worship in God’s house.
II. God demands the service in our prime.
“From twenty and five.” We must give God the best we have. The lamb must be without blemish; the fruit the first and choicest, to show our love and gratitude.
III. God demands this service when it can be most easily rendered.
God did not ask of the Levites, nor does He of us, impossibilities. The very young and the old were exempt from the bearing of the heavier burdens. God suits the burden to the back. All he asks is that we shall do what we can.—R. A. Griffin.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14