Have you ever read all of Numbers 7? Honestly? Read through every one of the 89 verses? This is one of the longest non-poetry chapters in the Bible. And it’s repetitive.
We are presented here with the records of 12 tribal leaders on successive days. Each of the offerings is identical, at least as far as I can tell, comprising the following materials:
one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old (several repetitions throughout Numbers 7, NASU)
Now, I will be honest. My view of the inspiration and practicality of Scripture keeps me from suggesting that there is a deeper symbolic or Christological meaning behind each of these items. Certainly, each offering reflects the one true sacrifice for sin, the substitution of Christ at the Cross for me. However, to try and fine anything else here is probably pushing too far.
Believing that the Exodus account is accurate and the people of Israel plundered the Egyptians on the way out of town, the material wealth is also no problem. Some people question the ability of the Israelites to offer this much as a gift, but there is no reason for that to be a problem given the prior aspects of the narrative.
The real challenge in this passage is finding anyway in which this one chapter applies to us. I think the application is simple, and that it is easy to lose in the repetition.
Here it is:
It takes sacrificial giving to be part of the people of God.
Whatever wealth had come from Egypt, at this point some of it is given from the people to the Tabernacle. At that point it is gone—usable only for holy purposes. I do think that it is wise to remember that, at this point in history, there were no persons more materially needy than any other. Instead, the ability to to eat was tied wholly to God’s provision in the wilderness, so the offerings were a form of worship and appreciation for the grace of God to keep the people alive.
Therefore, I do not think we can say that giving for the needs of others should always come second to a “giving for worship” idea. Instead, I think the two are linked. At this point in history, God uses the giving of his people to accomplish the task of feeding those who cannot feed themselves. He also uses the giving of his people to spread the Word and accomplish any of the other tasks of his kingdom in this age. It is a false dichotomy to suggest that one should give to the poor but not to the church—or the other way around.
Regardless, the point here is that the people gave, and their leaders represented them in the giving. We must be willing to sacrificially give to accomplish God’s commands in our lives.
The secondary point is this one:
Public leaders must give public accountability.
The people had entrusted this materiel to their tribal leaders. We do not know who gave the ram, who gave this shekel or that—for the individual giving was part of their worship and individual to them and God. However, the leader who presented it publicly declared how much was there. Had Gamaliel (7:54) tried to skim a ram, it would have been obvious. Those who take the leadership must give an account of themselves for their behavior.
Finally, there is this point:
Mercy is the final note in the song of worship.
When Moses goes into the tent of meeting in Numbers 7:89, he does not hear God speak from the deserved seat or from the offering-bought seat. He hears God speak from the mercy seat. Mercy is the final answer. It is the first note in the song, and the last fermata on the final chord. At no point do we deserve anything better than judgment.
We just get mercy anyway. And so we give, but more than silver and rams. We give all we are.
Today’s Nerd Note: I skipped the opening segment about the gift of carts.
Notice how the sons of Kohath do not get carts in Number 7:9? About the time you think, “Hey, look at me, I get the Ark!” reality sets in: you also have to walk everywhere you go.
Sometimes, the most amazing of responsibilities brings with it the greater work. If all you had was the tent, you got a cart. But having the grandeur that was the Ark meant that you walked. Sore feet were the price of the privilege.
Which do you want?
Easy moves? Or the Ark?