NUMBERS 7: DON'T CONFUSE GOD AND GOLD
84 This was the dedication offering for the altar, at the time when it was anointed, from the leaders of Israel: twelve silver plates, twelve silver basins, twelve golden dishes, 85 each silver plate weighing one hundred thirty shekels and each basin seventy, all the silver of the vessels two thousand four hundred shekels according to the shekel of the sanctuary, 86 the twelve golden dishes, full of incense, weighing ten shekels apiece according to the shekel of the sanctuary, all the gold of the dishes being one hundred twenty shekels; 87 all the livestock for the burnt offering twelve bulls, twelve rams, twelve male lambs a year old, with their grain offering; and twelve male goats for a sin offering; 88 and all the livestock for the sacrifice of well-being twenty-four bulls, the rams sixty, the male goats sixty, the male lambs a year old sixty. This was the dedication offering for the altar, after it was anointed.
89 When Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he would hear the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the covenant from between the two cherubim; thus it spoke to him (Numbers 7:84-89 NRSV).
In contemporary worship as in ancient worship, we are in danger of missing God amidst all the stuff. Here in Numbers 7 we see Israel's twelve tribes bringing the stuff of worship, and we might get bored reading 88 verses but in the 89th verse there's an amazing truth embedded.
Let's first seek to understand why God asked for bowls and animals and the writers take 88 verses to describe it! The bowls were for blood to be captured from the sacrifice of animals and sprinkled on the sides of the altar and during the annual Day of Atonement on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. They might have had other uses such as removing ash from the altar of incense or containing water for ritual washings.
The sacrifices were for cleansing people of the guilt of unintentional or unwitting sins the community committed against God and one another. The animals, in Numbers 7 they are for a dedication of the new tabernacle and altar, and we suppose they were not all just burned up in fire but may have been used in fellowship meals in the homes of Israel. Sacrifices were sometimes burned up as a sweet aroma to the Lord but other times they were offered to God and shared by the community as food.
I quoted the text of Numbers 7:84-89 with the verse numbers to illustrate how long this chapter is and repetitive. I only quoted the summary but each tribe is listed with its individual contribution, then comes this summary.
For us reading Numbers, one of the important things is not to get lulled to sleep or succumb to exasperation when we read. I was exasperated reading the same thing twelve times, but the significance is for each of the twelve tribes to be represented, named, and to record their buy in to the worship tools of the new worship center where God was to dwell among them. This is huge and an occasion for recording the important contributions each tribe made to honor YHWH, the Lord.
If we don't get lulled to sleep reading this, we scan through and think about the importance of this occasion the text describes (that's different from thinking the actual reading of this for us is important -- when we read and think about the world in the text), we may then notice things we might have otherwise have missed.
Here after 88 verses, there is an amazing text about Moses entering into the Holy of Holies. This is significant but Leviticus and much of the Torah does not show Moses entering the Most Holy Place. This was the work of the high priest, and Aaron the brother of Moses was the first high priest and Moses was never the high priest. But Moses was the original hearer of God in the community and he gets a special first glimpse of the Ark. And most importantly, he hears the voice of God coming from between the angels wings, from the mercy seat.
What did the voice say to Moses? Many times we're told what God said but often with Moses we just know he listened and spoke and listened and spoke, like a conversation between friends. The only way to imagine this is to find God in places where He is leading you, between where angel messengers point you, in bleeding and suffering places, and listen and talk and listen and talk to the God who has been called friend of Moses and the Messiah who walks with and calls His followers his friends.
HELP US NEVER TO CONFUSE YOU GOD WITH GOLD. May we not miss you in all the stuff of worship, our melodic voices and instruments, our communion trays and offerings, our budgets, our programs, our sacrifices of service, our banners, our vestments, our signs and microphones. Through all our offerings, help us to ever and always see you, hear your voice coming from between the wings of angels, from the mercy seat, and to truly listen to what you have to say that directs our lives.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.