There’s a good reason the book of Numbers is called that: it lists a bunch of numbers. It’s a census of the people of Israel. And there were a lot of people! If you’ve ever seen Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic film “The Ten Commandments” (shown on network television every year since 1973 during Easter/Passover season), you’ve seen the famous film director’s portrayal of the life of Moses.
Filmed on one of the largest film sets ever used, 14,000 actors were used for the movie. The crowd scenes show a lot of people, but the portrayal is a far cry from the number of people who the Bible tells us were delivered from their Egyptian slavery: about 2.4 million!. To put this into perspective, if you were to count every man, woman, and child in Tarrant, Parker, Palo Pinto, and Wise Counties in Texas, you would have about the same number of people who followed Moses out of their bondage. That’s a lot of people!
Today’s Bible reading* discusses the duties of one clan of the Levites called the Kohathites. The Kohathites who were qualified to work in the Tabernacle’s moving crew only numbered 2,750. (Numbers 3:34) Their only job was to pack up the Tabernacle and all of its components and carry them when God was on the move, and to set everything back up again when God chose to stop moving. (Numbers 4:4-15)
Now, I said that their job was to carry everything from one location to another. But the Kohathites didn’t just load everything onto a handful of oxcarts. God specified exactly how He wanted things like the Ark of the Covenant to be carried. The holy objects were fashioned with rings through which the Kohathites were to insert poles so the holy items could be transported securely. The Kohathites were not to touch the holy items. In fact, they were not to look at the uncovered holy items. (Numbers 4:20)
God didn’t leave anything to chance. The Kohathites knew their job. It wasn’t difficult, but it was very specific.
In a few months, we’ll read about the tragic death of a Kohathite named Uzzah who forgot God’s very important instructions.
Five years ago my wife and I moved into a new (for us) home. We hired a moving company to do the heavy-lifting of the big items as well as boxes and boxes and boxes of our belongings. As the crow flies, we only moved about a mile and a half and not much more than that as the truck drives.
We thought we had used the same company fifteen years earlier to move from one side of town to the other. We had been extremely pleased the last time we moved and felt pretty good about this one. To save a few dollars, I opted to not purchase the extra insurance to cover broken items. That was a mistake. Looking back, I’m not sure this was the same company. It certainly wasn’t the same moving crew! We lost a couple of lamps and some glass items in the move. We didn’t experience any big losses, but I was upset with the casual way the movers stacked and carried our stuff which resulted in the broken items. All we got was a, “Sorry.”
The movers didn’t have a vested interest in carefully handling our things. They were there to collect a paycheck for a day’s work. They didn’t see a problem with putting a heavy box on top of a lighter box. But we saw a problem when we unpacked the lighter box and found broken glass inside.
God cared a great deal about His belongings when He enlisted the Kohath and Sons Moving Company. His choice of movers worked out really well. They made it to their destination and nothing was misplaced or damaged in forty years of meanderings around the Sinai desert.
But God never stopped caring about His belongings. He was still deeply invested in making sure that His Presence was presented correctly. After all, He lived on the top of the Mercy Seat between the golden angels on the golden Ark.
But now, God doesn’t live in a dwelling made with hands. (Acts 7:48) He lives in the hearts of His people. (1 Corinthians 6:19) That means He’s really close to us. So we need to be careful how we present His Presence to the world around us.
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: