TODAY’S READING: NUMBERS 7
The daily reading plan that I’m working through this year typically requires three to four chapters to be read each day. Therefore, today’s reading assignment of one chapter tells you that the chapter is really long. Not only is the chapter really long, but the content of the chapter is really boring and dry – on the surface!
The chapter starts with the tribes of Israel giving oxen and carts to the Levites to help them with service of moving the tabernacle as Israel wandered through the wilderness. The rest of the chapter details the offering that each of the 12 tribes of Israel brought for the dedication of the altar (very important that it’s the altar) in the tabernacle. The offering of each tribe was exactly the same. And, we have to read 12 paragraphs of exactly the same offering with only the names of the tribes and the chiefs of the tribes that presented the offering changing. Finally, there is a summary paragraph of the total of the 12 offerings.
When I first started reading the Bible through every year, this chapter was quite a slog. I would speed read it, skim it. Sometimes I would just skip it altogether. But, I’ve come to learn that it is precisely these parts of the Bible, the long, boring, repetitive ones, that contain some of the deepest truths and insights about Jesus – if you are willing to dig!
So, let me share with you how I see Jesus in this chapter. I’m not making any claim that what I see is the definitive reading or the only way to see Jesus in this chapter. But, it’s one possible way to see Jesus in Numbers 7. And, I hope it stirs you to dig even deeper, by considering the names of the men that presented the offerings as well as the meaning of the plate, the basin, and the dish.
SIX WAGONS AND 12 OXEN
The 12 tribes gave to the Levites six wagons and 12 oxen to the Levites to help them move the tabernacle through the wilderness. I think that there were two oxen for each cart speaks to the unity in work and service required to move the tabernacle through the wilderness.
In Numbers 3 and 4, we read that the Levites were comprised of three families or clans – Gershon, Merari, and Kohath. In Numbers 7, the sons of Gershon were given two wagons and four oxen. The sons of Merari were given four wagons and eight oxen. “But, to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder.” (Numbers 7:9)
Why were the wagons and and oxen distributed this way with none going to the sons of Kohath?
Each of the three clans had a different service in moving the tabernacle through the wilderness. The sons of Gershon were tasked with carrying the fabrics of the tabernacle – the curtains, the coverings, the screens, and their cords. The sons of Merari were tasked with carrying the frames of the tabernacle – the frames, the pillars, the bars, the bases, the pegs, and their cords. The sons of Kohath were tasked with carrying the furniture, the most holy things, of the tabernacle – the cover of the ark of the testimony, the table of bread, the showbread, the lampstand, the golden altar, the altar, the basin, and all the dishes and utensils used in their service.
Did you notice the distinction between the three clans?
The sons of Gershon and Merari carried the fabrics and the frames of the tabernacle. They carried the external portion of the tabernacle. They carried what was seen externally, in a sense, the body. For this they were given help. The body is meant to display the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We cannot do that on our own. For us to display the righteousness of Jesus we need help. The Holy Spirit works through us to display the righteousness, or the fruit, of Jesus. John 15:4-5 says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Without a connection to Jesus through the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing, we cannot bear fruit. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to present the external righteousness of the tabernacle. Therefore, the sons of Gerhson and Merari were given wagons and oxen.
But, the sons of Kohath carried the furniture of the tabernacle. They carried what was internal, what was hidden. They carried the internal reality of the heart and mind. This they had to bear on their own shoulders. Five times (not necessarily five separate incidents) the gospels record Jesus saying that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our own cross to follow him. As an example, in Matthew 16:24, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The cross is born on the shoulders. So, the sons of Kohath bore the furniture of the tabernacle – the altar, the wash basin, the lampstand, etc. – on their shoulders. The internal furniture of the tabernacle needs to be an internal reality for us where we deny of our will, our passions, and our desires to carry the will, desire, and life of Jesus Christ.
OFFERINGS FOR DEDICATING THE ALTAR
I mentioned above that the offerings the 12 tribes presented were for the dedication of the altar specifically. The altar represents the cross of Christ. So, as we read through the offerings presented, we should see that what was presented relates to the cross.
ORDER OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE OFFERINGS
As I already mentioned, each of the 12 tribes presented exactly the same offering. But, the offerings were not presented all at once. Each day only one tribe presented an offering. Therefore, the time of offering lasted 12 days.
Interestingly the 12 tribes presented their offerings in the same order as they were camped around the tabernacle from east to south to west to north. I wrote about the meaning of this in The Tabernacle, the Priests, and the Men of War – Part 1.
ONE SILVER PLATE OF 130 SHEKELS
Silver in the Bible represents redemption. Throughout scripture, it is silver money that is used to buy back, or redeem, the slave. Matthew 26:14-15 says, “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.”
Why was the price 30 pieces of silver? According to Leviticus 27:3, the value of a male from 20 to 60 years old was 50 shekels of silver. However, Jesus didn’t come to redeem himself but his bride. Leviticus 27:4 says, “If the person is a female, the valuation shall be 30 shekels.” Jesus redeemed his bride for 30 shekels of silver.
But, Jesus didn’t buy us money. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The silver of the plate offered speaks to the blood Jesus Christ shed on the cross to redeem us from our sin.
But, why is the plate 130 shekels of silver? The number 130 is 10 times 13.
In the Bible, the number ten symbolizes God’s law, commandments, complete order and responsibility. We are all familiar with Moses receiving the ten commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. According to John 1:17, the law was given through Moses. Through the Mosaic covenant, Israel agreed to accept responsibility for keeping the law. Another example of the connection between the number ten and law or commandments is found in Genesis 1. God created the heavens and the earth with ten commands – “God said…” Thus, God brought complete order to the creation through his ten commandments.
Ten represents the law and commandments of God, but the number 13 is rebellion to the law and commandments of God. Abram had a son, Ishmael, when he 86 years old in his rebellion to God’s command and promise. Thirteen years later, when Abram was 99 years old, God made a covenant with Abram. God changed his name to Abraham and said that every male among his household must be circumcised. Abraham’s rebellion lasted 13 years until God changed his name, in effect breathing God’s spirit into him, and commanded him to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, or die to him self. Therefore, after 13 years, Abraham’s rebellion was over.
More evidence of 13 as rebellion is found in the genealogies of Genesis. Noah was the tenth man, the man of the law and commandments. Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generations.” Who was the 13th man?
- Adam begat Seth
- Seth begat Enosh
- Enosh begat Kenan
- Kenan begat Mahalalel
- Mahalalel begat Jared
- Jared begat Enoch
- Enoch begat Methuselah
- Methuselah begat Lamech
- Lamech begat Noah
- Noah begat Ham
- Ham begat Cush
- Cush begat Nimrod
Nimrod was the 13th man. Genesis 10:10-12 says, “The beginning of his [Nimrod’s] kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah, that is the great city.” Nimrod was the founder of man’s first kingdom, Bablyon, which is the city pictured throughout the Bible, not just in Genesis 11, in complete rebellion to God.
Additionally, Genesis 36 tells us that there were 13 chiefs of the sons of Esau. Esau is a type of the natural man, the man in rebellion to God. And the Greek word drakon, which means dragon, is found 13 times in the New Testament, all in the book of Revelation. Of course, the dragon is Satan, from whom all rebellion comes.
Therefore, the plate weighing 130 shekels of silver is a symbol of our redemption from our rebellion to God’s law through the cross of Christ.
ONE SILVER BASIN OF 70 SHEKELS
We already know what silver represents. So, why was the basin 70 shekels of silver?
The number 70 is 10 times 7. As we saw above, 10 is the number of God’s law. But, seven is the number of completion throughout the Bible. Genesis 2:2 says, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done.” God completed his work of creation on the seventh day. So, the number 70 represents Jesus’ perfect completion of the law on the cross. In John 19:30, Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished.”
Therefore, the silver basin of 70 shekels is a symbol of Christ’s perfect completion of the law to redeem us from our sins.
FULL OF FINE FLOUR MIXED WITH OIL
The silver plate and silver basin were filled with fine flour mixed with oil. This shows it was Jesus’ perfect human life lived through the power of the Holy Spirit that he yielded on the cross that is the basis of our redemption.
The fine flour speaks to the perfect humanity of Jesus. I wrote about this in Jesus: The True Bread from Heaven.
The first Hebrew word used to describe the manna means fine, thin, scarce, small, soft. It comes from a root word meaning to become fine through grinding. In the Septuagint, it is translated fine and small, but the word can also mean powdered. I think the idea here is that the manna was fine like grain or powder.
Jesus said he was the grain of wheat. When wheat is ground, it can be ground in different grades – from coarse to fine. The more the ground wheat is sifted, the finer the flour that results. Fine flour has no lumps in it. It is perfectly even. Therefore, we could say that Jesus possessed all the fruit of the spirit equally. He did not have one quality more than another. But, it is different with man. Moses was known as the meekest man on the face of the earth. Solomon was the wisest man to ever live. Abraham had faith like no other. But, Jesus did not have any one trait out of proportion to another.
The oil, of course, is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was able to live a perfect human life because of his reliance on the Holy Spirit to keep him in perfection connection with the Father.
ONE GOLDEN DISH OF 10 SHEKELS
Again, the number 10 reminds us of the law.
Gold symbolizes the divine nature of Jesus. Note how most of the furniture in the tabernacle was either overlaid with gold or made entirely of gold. But, gold was found only inside the tabernacle. And, the further you went into the tabernacle, the more gold you found.
Therefore, the golden dish of 10 shekels speaks to the law of God written on the heart of Jesus. Just as God’s law of love in two commandments was written on Jesus’ heart, so will it be written on ours as part of the new covenant. Echoing Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 10:16 says, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds.”
FULL OF INCENSE
The golden dish was full of incense. This is a symbol of Christ always interceding for us through prayer. He is able to do this because he offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross.
Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”
Luke 1:10 says, “And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.
Revelation 5:8 says that the “golden bowls full of incense…are the prayers of the saints.”
Revelation 8:3-4 says, “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.”
And, Hebrews 7:25 says, “Consequently, he [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” It’s the divine life of Jesus that continually prays for us, the golden dish full of incense, so that we can be saved.
ONE BULL, ONE RAM, ONE LAMB A YEAR OLD FOR A BURNT OFFERING
The burnt offering for the dedication of the altar was made of three animals. Of course, most Christians consider God to be three persons. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were all present at Christ’s crucifixion.
We can also think of these three animals as three different aspects of Christ on the cross. The bull, or the ox, symbolizes service. It was Christ’s perfect service to the Father that led him to the cross. The ram is a full grown lamb with horns. Horns are symbol of power in the Bible. God’s power is love. It was the perfect love of Jesus that kept him on the cross when people repeatedly told to him to come down from the cross and prove that he was God. A lamb one year old is an innocent and harmless animal. It has no way to defend itself and nothing to attack with. As he went to the cross, Jesus did not defend himself before Pilate and he never did any violence (Isaiah 53:9).
ONE MALE GOAT FOR A SIN OFFERING
We all know that the Passover a lamb is a picture of Jesus. Jesus is the lamb of God. Exodus 12:5 says the lamb should be without blemish. But, the verse also says, “You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.”
Wait…Jesus is the lamb, the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. Why did God give Israel a choice between a lamb and a goat?
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus gives a parable of sheep and goats. Jesus says the Son of Man will separate the sheep and goats. The sheep are those that fed him, gave him drink, clothed him, and visited him. But, the goats didn’t do any of those things. Sounds better to be a sheep than a goat.
So, when Jesus was selected as the lamb, did the Jews have a choice?
In Matthew 27, we are told that at the Passover it was a custom that the governor would release for the crowd one prisoner. In Matthew 27:17, Pilate says, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate hears about his wife’s dream and doesn’t want anything to do with this. So, he asks a second time, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you? And the crowd cried out ‘Barabbas.’”
Jesus was the perfect, sinless, innocent lamb. Isaiah 53:9 says, “he had done no violence.” Jesus was the son of Joseph.
Barabbas was “a notorious prisoner.” Indeed, he was a murderer (as was Satan from the beginning). Barabbas means “son of the father.”
The choice: an innocent man who had done no violence, the Christ, or a notorious criminal, a murderer, the son of his father, Satan, who was a murderer from the beginning.
Matthew 27:21-22 says, “And they said, ‘Barabbas.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” The Jews, and all of us would have done the same, chose to free a murderer over Christ. They chose to crucify the lamb instead of the goat. We made Jesus, the sinless perfect lamb of God, the scapegoat for our sins, our lies and murder.
TWO OXEN, FIVE RAMS, FIVE MALE GOATS, AND FIVE MALE LAMBS A YEAR OLD FOR A PEACE OFFERING
How many animals were offered for the sacrifice of peace offering?
What does the number 17 picture in the Bible?
The first mention of 17, actually the 17th, is in Genesis 7:11, 13, which says, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened…On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark.” The next mention of the 17th is at the end of the flood. Genesis 8:4 says, “And in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.”
So, the flood starts and Noah’s family enters the ark on the 17th. The flood ends and the ark lands on the mountains of Ararat on the 17th. The ark then represents victory over the flood. When we see the ark as a type of Jesus, seventeen speaks to the victory of Jesus.
Jesus, the Passover lamb, the Lamb of God, was selected according to the law on the 10th day of the month. He was crucified, in complete fulfillment of the law, on the 14th day of the month. But, Jesus rose from the grave, was resurrected, won the victory over Satan, sin, and death, three days later on the 17th day of the month.
Also, we can see the number 17 as ten and seven (10 + 7 = 17). We know that the number 10 represents the law and commandments of God. I have written about seven as the number of completion and rest. Therefore, we can see 17 as the perfect fulfillment of the law and the bringing of rest from our works by Jesus as well.
Ephesians 2:13-14 says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
And, Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It’s Christ death on the cross, on the altar of the tabernacle, that has made peace with God for us.
So, all 12 tribes presented exactly the same offering because the work of Christ on the cross is equally effective for every single person.