The matter last dealt with in the immediately preceding article is the instructions concerning the order of the tribes when on the march. Five other occurrences took place at Sinai before the people of Israel were ordered to break up camp. They are: (1) The making of the silver trumpets; (2) The offering of the princes; (3) The consecration of the Levites; (4) The second keeping of the Passover; (5) The cleansing of the camp.
As to the trumpets, according to the instructions respecting them, found at Num. 10:2, their number was 2. Their substance was silver and they were made of one pieces. Their various employments were as follows: When both were blown, all the assembly congregated with Moses at the door of the tabernacle, (vs. 3). If only one was blown, then all the princes, “Heads of the thousands of Israel,” gathered themselves with Moses, (vs. 4). If they were so blown that the sound emitted was loud and prolonged, the camp was being given the signal for departure. At the first peal, the tribe of Judah with his associates, were to depart, (vs. 5). The second peal had respect to the division that lied on the south side (vs. 6). Whether there was a third and a fourth peal for the notification of the two remaining divisions, is not stated.
The trumpets had still other uses. They were blown “in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn feasts, and in the beginning of your months. . . . over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; . . . (Num. 10:10). The terms “day of your gladness” and “solemn feasts” must signify all the annual and national holy assemblies or feasts, to wit, the feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread, of Weeks or Harvest, and of Tabernacles. Besides, they were to be blown “if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you” (Num. 10:9).
The sound of the trumpet was the image of the voice of God, as is evident from this that Holy Writ associates this sound with God’s voice and even identifies the two. At Mt. Sinai there was heard the voice of the trumpet, sounding long and waxing louder and louder. Simultaneously God was answering Moses by a voice, His voice. The prediction of Zechariah (9:14) is to the effect that the Lord be over His people, who war His warfare, that His arrow shall go forth as the lightning and that He shall blow the trumpet. At the sound of the great trumpet they, which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, shall come and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem (Isa. 27:13). At His appearing Christ shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet to gather together His elect from the four winds (Matt. 24:31). The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible (I Cor. 15:52). The trumpet was also used as from man to God. Then its sound symbolized the voice of prayer and praise. The prophet exhorts to praise God with the sound of the trumpet (Ps. 150:3). Further, if the people of Israel went to war in their land against the enemy that oppressed them, “then they shall blow an alarm (loud cry) with the trumpets; and they shall be remembered before the Lord and be saved from their enemies” (Num. 10:9). As blown over the burnt and peace offerings the trumpet’s peal signified the hallowed thoughts to which the believing Israelitish worshipper gave expression through his sacrificing. It thus, did this peal, symbolize his prayer. And as the Lord is ever mindful of his praying people and hears their cry, this blowing of the trumpet over the specified sacrifices was to the worshipper a memorial before his God (Num. 10:10).
It is significant, however, that the trumpets might be blown only by the priests—the mediators of God and man. Properly therefore the sound of the trumpet was the image of the voice of Christ as raised in prayer in behalf of His people over his sacrifice. It imaged, did this sound, the word of Christ’s power by which He raises the dead, transports His people from the kingdom of darkness into the light of the Father’s presence and endows them with power from on high to war His warfare and to gain the crown.
The second event is the offerings of the twelve princes, which took place immediately after the dedication of the tabernacle. There was first an offering made by the princes in common: six covered wagons and twelve oxen; a wagon for two of the princes and for each one an ox. Of these, two wagons with their accompanying four oxen Moses gave to the Gershonites because their employment was the transportation of the lighter articles, the tent coverings. The Merarites received the remaining four wagons and eight oxen, because their task was to transport the heavy boards and pillars. The Kohathites got no wagons, because they had no need of them, seeing that they were to carry the vessels of the tabernacle upon their shoulders.
In addition to these gifts, which were brought on one day, the princes gave offerings for the dedication of the altar. According to the command of God, each offered on his particular day, so that the total of days occupied was twelve and each of the days that was next followed immediately the one that preceded. Of the princes it is asserted, that they were “of Israel, heads of the house of their fathers, who were the princes of the tribes and were over them that were numbered” (Num. 7:2). Their total number was thus twelve; and each of them represented a tribe. The tribe of Levi was not represented. That the total of offerers was nevertheless twelve was due to Joseph’s providing two representatives through the generations of Ephraim and Manasseh. The princes offered in the order in which they were named at the numbering of the people as follows: Nahshon of Judah, Nethaneel of Issachar, Eliab of Zebulon, Elizur of Reuben, Shelu- miel of Simeon, Eliasaph of God, Elishama of Ephraim, Pedahzur of Manasseh, Abidan of Benjamin, Ahiezer of Dan, Pagiel of Asher, Ahira of Naphtali. All offered identical gifts and the same quota as follows: 1. One silver charger of 130 shekels weight; 2. One silver bowl, (both of these were filled with sacrificial flour and oil for a meal offering); 3. One golden spoon of ten shekels, full of incense; 4. One young bullock, one ram, one lamb of a year old, for a burnt offering; 5. One kid of the goats for a sin offering; 6. Two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five lambs of a year old for a peace offering. The adding up of all the offerings occurs in verses 84-88 of chapter seven. The total of silver charges is twelve, of silver bowls twelve, and of golden spoons a like number. The weight of the total of silver vessels is 2,400 shekels or 81 pounds; and of the total of golden spoons 120 shekels or 4 pounds. Now the weight of a silver shekel is held to be 2.5 times that of a shilling and the weight of a golden shekel 1.15 times that of a sovereign (the shilling and the sovereign are English coins). Thus, as the shilling is equivalent to about 24 cents of the United States’ currency and the sovereign to four dollars and 80 cents, the intrinsic worth of each silver charger will be $78.00, of each bowl $72.00, and of each golden spoon $51.20. But the real worth of such a sum, as measured by what it brought in food and clothing at that time, must have been vastly greater.
The offerings of the princes had this significance: Through the actual sacrifice of these offerings the Lord officially and publicly separated the altar from things common and wholly dedicated it to Himself and His service. But in this work of dedication, the princes and in them the nation took an active part through their providing the gifts for the altar and through their cooperating with the priest in the work of sacrificing the victims (the actual slaying was done by the worshiper). Through this participation they acknowledged that they could be His people only in the blood of their sacrifices, gave praise to Him for the gift of His altar and declared that they would be wholly consecrated to Him in love. The above transactions, were repeated at no time in the future, as through them the altar was once and for all time officially dedicated.
There are still other matters to be taken account of in connection with these offerings. It is natural to ask why the sacred narrator went to such great lengths in narrating the transactions of this chapter. The substance of the whole is told first in verses 10, 11, “And the princes offered for dedicating of the altar in the day that it was anointed, even the princes offered their offering before the altar. And the Lord said unto Moses, They shall offer their offering, each prince on his day, for the dedicating of the altar.” In the seventy three verses that follow, the offering of each prince is separately recorded. Then the substance of the whole is again told in verse 84-88. If all their offerings were exactly the same, without variation, why this great repetition in the sacred narrative? This was done not only for their sakes but also for our learning and comfort. For “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:15). What is the instruction to be had from the lengthy narration of these transactions? This that the one tribe was as much an object of God’s favor as the other and that their services were all alike acceptable. Through these repetitions God lets His people know that He records all acts of piety and charity that spring from love of Him and that He is not unrighteous to forget the labor of love (Heb. 6:10).
As to the event of the setting apart of the Levites, this has already been dealt with. A few additional remarks, however, are here in order. As was noticed in the article immediately preceding, the Levites were numbered with a view to their being substituted in the place of the firstborn in the other tribes. So the firstborn among these tribes were counted and their number was found to be 22,273 from one month and upward. This number cannot be the sum of all the firstborn among the whole people, but, as has been made plain, can include only those firstborn males who were born during the thirteen months that elapsed since the departure from Egypt. All the firstborn whose birth had preceded this departure had been redeemed by the pascal lamb, and were therefore not included in the count that was taken thirteen months later. As was noticed, the census of the firstborn sons among the common Israelites yielded a number in excess of the number of Levites by 273. These were redeemed for five shekels each. Thus, with the exception of the 273 all the firstborn sons born after the departure were redeemed by all the males in the tribe of Levi. That this substitution by the Levites was properly a redemption is plain from the following language, “And thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites: and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord an offering for the children of Israel” (Num. 8). Those for whom the Levites were taken directly are the firstborn. It is because the latter represent all the rest of the children of Israel, that the sacred narrator could speak of the Levites as being offered for the children of Israel instead of for the firstborn. But that the former were redeemed indirectly, that is, through the substitution of the firstborn by the Levites, is made clear by the language that immediately follows, “For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine. . . . on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself.”
This is the first and last time that Levites were taken in the place of firstborn sons, so that the transaction at Sinai stood for all time and was thus valid for the tribe of Levi of all the future. Henceforth the redemption of the firstborn was to take place by the payment of the five shekels.
It is natural to ask why the firstborn were substituted by the Levites. Some answer this question to the following effect. The firstborn were originally destined to the service in the tabernacle, that is, appointed to the actual performance of it. The reason that this appointment was not kept is that the appointees made themselves unworthy through their involving themselves in the sin of the worship of the golden calf at Mount Horeb. The Levites therefore were taken in their stead. This view, though incorrect, seems to be in line with Scripture. There is the command, coming to Moses, “Sanctify unto me the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel. . . . It is mine” (Ex. 13:2). The view apparently has a solid foundation in the following scriptures. “And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of the firstborn, . . . Because all the firstborn are mine for all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel. . . . mine shall they be. I am the Lord” (Num. 3:12, 13). The view seems to be demanded finally by certain statements occurring in the narrative of the consecration of the Levites in the room of the firstborn.” And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. . . . and they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel. . . . even instead of all the firstborn of the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me. . . .” “And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary” (Num. 8).
The Levites were given to Aaron to do the service of the children of Israel. Especially this statement seems, at first glance, to be conclusive. But let us get before our minds the point at issue. It is not a question of whether the Levites were taken in place of the firstborn and of the people at large on account of the inability of the latter to draw near to God without being consumed. This must be maintained. It is literally stated, “that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary.” Neither must the stand be taken that in executing the service in the tabernacle the Levites were not doing the service of the children of Israel and in particular of the firstborn. They were. This, too, is literally stated, “And I have given the Levites. . . . to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle.” The Levites were the representatives of the firstborn and thus indirectly of the people. It was thus in the place and also in behalf of the latter that the Levites functioned. The service which they executed was, in the first instance, that of the people. The sole question is whether the firstborn were originally appointed to the actual performance of this service, whether, according to a previous arrangement this service was to be executed directly by the firstborn and thus not by the firstborn through the Levites. Otherwise said, did God first appoint the firstborn and then later on repent of His doing on account of the apostasy of the appointees and, as so repenting, sanctify the Levites in their stead. This must be denied. Such is not the implication of the substitution of the firstborn by the Levites. And as to the declarations of God, “Sanctify unto me the firstborn.” “All the firstborn are mine”—they are not to be taken to mean that what the firstborn were sanctified unto directly is the service in the sanctuary. If these declarations be so construed, we have to do here with a command of God that on account of the great sin committed by the people at Sinai, at no time in the future went into effect. Yet it did. The firstborn were sanctified and through the centuries continued to be sanctified unto the Lord as they were born. On the day that the Lord slew the firstborn in the land of Egypt, He claimed for Himself all the firstborn in Israel, not only the firstborn that were then living, but all those as well who through the centuries were still to be born. This act of God was the cause of the actual sanctification of the firstborn to God in all the subsequent history of the Israelitish people. He had assigned to perdition the firstborn in Egypt in the room of the firstborn in Israel. The former He destroyed in the room of the latter, whom He choose and hallowed to Himself. The firstborn however by themselves were condemnable and ill-deserving. On this account, they could not in themselves draw near to God’s sanctuary and live. They had to be redeemed, bought with a price. And they were redeemed. And the price paid was the Levites; yet not the Levites by themselves either; for by themselves they, too, were sinful men. Thus they were redeemed, were the firstborn, by the Levites in association with the blood of their sacrifices. The statement occurs (Num. 8) that God gave the Levites “to make an atonement for the children of Israel” (vs. 19). The original text reads, “to constitute a covering for the children of Israel”, that is, for their sins. The meaning is not that the Levites on this occasion were raised to the rank of priest and sacrificed. They themselves constituted a covering for the firstborn, and this, as was said, only in association with the blood of the animal sacrifice by which they themselves were covered. Thus it was only in the Levites that the firstborn, that the children of Israel, could draw near to the sanctuary and live. But the common Levites, too, as a covering of the children of Israel, were but a figure of Christ. Hence, though covered by them, the firstborn might not enter with them into their service. It is plain wherein the actual consecration of the firstborn consisted, namely, in their being redeemed by the Levites. It is also plain, in the light of these observations, that it cannot be that in the first instance the firstborn were appointed to the actual performance of the service in the tabernacle.
The question why the Levites were taken in the room of the firstborn can now be definitely answered. The Lord ordered it to provide His people with one more token that they were redeemed ones and that only as redeemed could they actually be His people and have fellowship with Him. The very presence of the Levites in the sanctuary and in the land at large, as well as the sacrifices in general, testified of this.
(To be continued)