This week’s Torah portion is entitled BaMidbar, which means “In the Wilderness.” It covers Numbers 1:1-4:20. The wilderness was where Israel was tested, and learned obedience to Adonai’s sovereign order and authority.
Chapter one opens with Adonai giving instructions to Moses in the Sinai Desert, a year after the Israelis had left Egypt. He was instructed to take a census of the people according to their clans and families; and record the names of men twenty years or older, who were able to go to war. In addition, he and Aaron were to register each man with the assistance of one leader, chosen from each of the twelve tribes. So, Moses and Aaron obeyed Adonai’s commands, and the total of the men was 603,550.
Now, these men were not just a number, as they gave their genealogies by family and tribe to Moses and Aaron. This count had a deeper purpose – Adonai’s unfailing love and faithfulness to an unfaithful people was obvious. It should remind us of the value of every person created in His image. (Mt. 10:30-31) “And the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”
The Levites were not included in the census because they were set apart for spiritual service. They were to care for, and protect the Tabernacle and everything within it. In addition, they were to camp around it from inside the camp, standing between the people and access to Adonai. His Prescence could not be approached by just anyone. A warning was given: Any unauthorized person who comes near the Tabernacle would be put to death! So, Israel obeyed.
In chapter two, Adonai instructed Moses and Aaron to command the Israelis to organize their camp by their tribes. The twelve tribes were positioned symmetrically around all sides of the Tabernacle, under their family banner when they traveled or camped, but at a distance. Clearly, Adonai was providing a protective barrier around the Tabernacle, safeguarding it in the event of an attack. When they traveled the tribe of Judah was the lead, followed by the other eleven; the priests and Levites were positioned in the middle.
What an honor, gifted with Adonai’s Holy Presence! He moved from Mount Sinai to dwell with His beloved Israel. What an honor to have His Holy Spirit living in us, guiding and teaching us!
In chapter three, Aaron’s four sons – Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar were chosen, anointed, and ordained to serve before Adonai as priests. However, Nadab and Abihu disobeyed His command, and burned unauthorized fire before His Presence. Consequently, Adonai killed them. This was the first recorded act of disobedience by priests.
This should remind us that Adonai is concerned with details, and demands that service to Him be done in the manner that He has chosen. Nadab and Abihu had no children, so their brothers, Eleazar and Ithamar, served with their father Aaron, the high priest.
The Levites were chosen by Adonai to assist the priests with the sacred duties of the Tabernacle, and to serve Aaron and the community of Israel before the tent of meeting. Both priests and Levites were commanded to serve the people before the Holy Presence of Adonai. However, any unauthorized person who went too close to the tent of meeting was put to death.
Adonai chose the Levites to be His first-born male substitute for the nation of Israel. Every first-born male belonged to Him. “He is Adonai!”
He later commanded Moses to take a census of all males one month and older, from the tribe of Levi, and record them by clans and families. They were divided according to the three sons of Levi and totaled 22,000. This was insufficient because Israel’s numbers totaled 273 more first-born males than the Levites. Therefore, a redemption payment of five shekels of silver, for each of the 273 first-born males, was given to Aaron as Adonai commanded. Moses, the priests, and the people obeyed every command from Adonai.
And for those of you who may not know, this command to redeem the firstborn son is still practiced by some Jewish people today.
Chapter four opens with Adonai commanding Moses and Aaron to take a census of men ages thirty to fifty, from the sons of Kohath who were part of the Levite tribe. These men were chosen to carry the holy furniture and utensils when Israel traveled, but only after Aaron and his sons had completely covered the holy things inside the Tabernacle. If they touched or looked upon any of the holy things they would die. To preserve them, Adonai instructed Moses and Aaron to assign priests to supervise them when they approached the holy things.
The other Levites, the sons of Gershon and Merari, were responsible for carrying everything else that was part of the Tabernacle.
In closing, Adonai’s Presence was in the very center of all the tribes; He was tabernacled among them. This was the structured order that He gave Moses. Adonai is a covenant keeping King, dwelling among His covenant people. The Glory of God assured Israel that he was with them and before them as they journeyed to the land He’d promised. Israel was to trust Him faithfully by living obedient, holy lives before Him.
Yeshua is the ultimate expression of God dwelling among His people; a presence that continues through the Holy Spirit today, and will find His complete expression in the New heaven and the new Earth.
Adonai’s Presence should fill believers with bold confidence to accomplish His kingdom mission. It should also inspire us to live holy and obedient lives of reverence before Him, because He dwells within us by His Holy Spirit.
When the Presence of Adonai is evident in a congregation believers can hear His voice. Our strength is not in numbers but being separated unto Him in purity of life.