We learned yesterday that when it comes time for the Israelites to journey, three Levite clans (Kohathite, Gershonite, and Merarite) are responsible for transporting the tabernacle. Aaron and Moses take down the most holy things in the tabernacle and cover the items with badger skins and cloth. “And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy things, lest they die.” God is so holy that he tells Aaron and Moses, regarding covering the holy items, “but do this in regard to them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy things… But they shall not go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, lest they die.” Remember, we are separated from the Lord because of our sin. The fact that the Kohathites will die if they touch or watch the covering of the holy items of the sanctuary highlights God’s holiness and our need for a mediator. The Lord is making a way for the Israelites to have a relationship with Him, and He is sending His Son, the ultimate Mediator. But for now the priests will serve as mediators between the Lord and the people.
So the Lord instructs Moses to count the Levites from thirty years old to fifty years old who will be eligible for the work of the tabernacle. The job of caring for and transporting the tabernacle requires mature men who are physically eligible for the strenuous work. We read in Numbers 8:24-26 that Levites “twenty-five years old and above one may enter to perform service in the work of the tabernacle of meeting; and at the age of fifty years they must cease performing this work, and shall work no more. They may minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of meeting, to attend to needs, but they themselves shall do no work.” Per most commentaries, the five year difference between twenty-five years old in Numbers chapter 8 and thirty years old in Numbers chapter 4 is likely because there was a five year apprenticeship before actually doing the work of the tabernacle described in chapter 4. Later in the story, when preparations are being made to build the temple for the Lord, there will no longer be a need to transport the tabernacle, and King David will reduce the age to be eligible to do the work for the service of the house of the Lord to twenty years old in order to provide for all the needs that the new temple will require (1 Chronicles 23:24-26).
Lastly we read about protecting marital faithfulness. The Lord says regarding a husband “if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he becomes jealous of his wife, who has defiled herself; or if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he becomes jealous of his wife, although she has not defiled herself – then the man shall bring his wife to the priest.” The priest will give the wife a drink of bitter water that will bring a curse upon her if she is guilty of adultery that will make her thigh rot and her belly swell. This ritual is the Lord’s protection of faithful wives. The Lord loves women and is providing protection from a man falsely accusing his wife of cheating on him, shaming her, and kicking her out of the home. But in case a woman is considering being unfaithful, this bitter curse drink would be a good incentive not to go down that road because we know that no woman wants a fat belly and a rotten thigh.
The Lord knows that infidelity breaks marriages, harms children, and destroys relationships with others. It hurts both those committing adultery and those surrounding them. Therefore, the Lord desires to protect us from that deep pain. Also, God values marriage! He is the One who created it back in the garden with Adam and Eve, and the marriage union is to be a demonstration to this lost and dying world of Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-24). Therefore, the Lord is protecting the marriage union by not allowing a spouse to divorce based on their own selfish desires and not based on what God has said through His word. This is why the Lord holds leaders of the church to a higher standard regarding marriage and divorce. Leaders are to set an example for the people by having marriages that are in alignment with God’s word which reflects His love for His church. When churches do not hold their leaders to a higher standard laid out by the Lord in His word, it causes confusion and disunity within the body of the church.
Keep reading because tomorrow the children of Israel pack up and move. (Numbers 4:1-5:31)