Since it’s about to be revealed anyway, I might as well go ahead and share this confession: I tend to skim through certain passages of Scripture. Yes, shame upon me for such a thing. But, there are certain sections of the Bible that are made up of lists of names or abundant repetition and, well, I frequently don’t read word for word.
And sometimes I miss things.
I don’t even know how many times I have read through the Bible. Or how many times I’ve started reading through the Bible and not quite made it all the way. But, it’s safe to say I’ve read the book of Numbers quite a few times. Yet somehow each time I’ve missed something in Numbers 4.
Just for background: the Levites were divided into four groups. Aaron’s immediate family and direct descendants made up the priests themselves. Then there were four other family groups: the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites.
Each family group or clan had a different responsibility regarding the taking down, carrying, and setting up of the tabernacle each time the Israelites moved. The Kohathites were responsible for the “holy things” – the ark of the covenant, the table of the bread of the Presence, the altar, the utensils used in sacrifices, etc. The Gershonites and the Merarites were responsible for the structure itself – curtains, poles, sockets, etc.
Now, in Numbers 7 we find that the Gershonites and Merarites are assigned carts and oxen to help carry everything under their care. The Kohathites, however, are responsible for the holy things. Those things cannot be transported on carts – they have to be carried. Not only that, but they have to be carried specific ways, otherwise the Kohathites face the wrath of God and certain death.
This is actually what I’ve missed every time through Numbers. Not so much that they had to carry everything, but the distinction between them and the other two clans. I’ve also missed the instructions about exactly how everything had to be carried. Take the ark, for instance. It is a box made of solid wood and covered with gold. Then, before the Kohathites enter the tabernacle to get the ark, the priests come along and take down the thick, heavy veil that hangs in front of the ark and drape it over the ark. Over that goes a porpoise skin. Over than goes a blue cloth. Then the poles are inserted. Can you imagine the final weight of all of this? It had to be incredible!
Similar instructions go for the other items that have to be carried. Utensils are placed on the table and then are covered with skins and cloths such that the table must be carried with the utensils on top of it.
Meanwhile, the Kohathites cannot actually see any of the things they are carrying. All they see are the top cloths that cover the holy things of the temple. If they were to look upon the holy things themselves, they would die.
Think about the service shown here. The intricate detail. The heavy demands. Contrast that with where we stand today. God has granted us full disclosure of the holy things. We do not have to worry about being struck dead because we see or touch something inappropriately. And yet, we complain about the demands placed upon us.
The Kohathites had a huge responsibility with very little reward. Yet they did their job faithfully. We have so much more open access to the things of God than they could ever have dreamed. And yet we fail.
Oh, may we learn from the faithfulness of the Kohathites and step boldly into all God lays before us to do!