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B'Midbar/Numbers 7:9 And he did not give to the sons of K'hat, for the service of the holy [was] upon them; they carried on the shoulder.
On the day that the Tabernacle is finally set up and consecrated, the princes of the tribes of Israel have together brought an offering of six wagons and twelve oxen toHaShem. HaShem has told Moshe to "Accept these from them for use in the service of the Tent of Meeting, and give them to the Levites according to their respective services" (B'Midbar 7:5, JPS), so Moshe has given two wagons and four oxen to the sons of Gershon, and four wagons and eight oxen to the sons of M'rari. Then comes our text: the sons of K'hat are not given any wagons and oxen; they had to carry all their burden on their own shoulders. Is this not rather unfair? Should not the wagons have been divided evenly between the Levite clans, each receiving two wagons and four oxen? The key appears to be in the last few words of HaShem's instructions: "according to the respective services". What were they carrying? The Gershonites were carrying all the hangings and layers of coverings for the tabernacle itself and the curtains for the surrounding courtyard; the M'rari'ites carried all the wooden items - planks, boards, pillars - the sockets, pegs, cords and so on. The sons of Kohat carried, "the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the sacred utensils that were used with them, and the screen" (B'Midbar 3:31, JPS) - all the sacred items of the cult. In the words of our text: "the burden of the holy was upon them".
The ancient rabbis quickly noticed this issue and made a connection to the occasion when David brought the Ark up to Jerusalem and a man called Uzzah was struck down by HaShem for touching to Ark to prevent it being jolted off the cart when the oxen pulling the cart stumbled (2 Samuel 6:6). The Midrash reports: "Rabbi Nathan says: The implication of the present text escaped the mind of David, for the Levites [of his day] carried the ark in a new cart; as it says, 'And they set the ark of G-d upon a new cart', (6:3) and 'David was displeased, because the L-rd had broken forth upon Uzzah' (v. 8). Ahitophel said to David: Could you not have learned from your Master Moshe that the Levites only carried the ark on the shoulder, as it says, 'But to the sons of Kohath he gave none'? Consequently David sent and had it brought up upon the shoulder; as it says: 'And David called for Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites, for Uriel, Asaiah and Joel... according to the ordinance... as Moshe commanded according to the word of the Lord' (>1 Chronicles 15:11,15). ... Thus the Levites introduced no innovation whatever, but did everything by the command of Moshe, and Moshe acted in accordance with the word of the Holy One, blessed be He" (B'Midbar Rabbah 12:20).
Jacob Milgrom tells us that, "according to 1 Chronicles 13:7-10, the death of Uzzah was caused by David's negligence in allowing the Ark to be transported by wagon instead of by shoulder." This is based on a passage from the Talmud where the Sages suggest that David was punished for demeaning the words of Torah. "Raba expounded: Why was David punished (because Uzzah died through him)? Because he called words of Torah 'songs', as it is said: 'Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning' (Psalm 119:54, ESV). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, 'You recited Words of Torah as songs! I will cause you to stumble in a matter which even school-children know.' For it is written: 'But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none ... they carried on the shoulder' (B'Midbar 7:9); and yet [David] brought it in a wagon" (b. Sotah 35a).
Hirsch points to the distinction between the Kohathites and the other Levite clans: , "the service of the holy" as opposed to , "the service of the Tent of Meeting" (v. 5). He explains that "they had the service of the holy in its real narrower sense. The objects which they had in their charge were the real objects for which the Tent of Meeting had been erected. They are the real sacred objects through which all the other holy objects receive their holiness. They are that holiness in which the whole of the task we have to accomplish in life is expressed, for which, accordingly, we have to expend the real force of our being, hence 'they carried on their shoulder'."
There is also a clear distinction between believers in Messiah and those who are not in relationship with G-d. "You do not identify with your old nature but with the Spirit - provided the Spirit of G-d is living inside you, for anyone who doesn't have the Spirit of the Messiah doesn't belong to Him" (Romans 8:9, CJB). Those who belong to Yeshua have the Holy Spirit, the Ruach Elohim, dwelling inside them. The prophets of old spoke of such a time - "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit" (Joel 2:28-29, ESV). John the Immerser explicitly connected this with the Messiah who was to come: "I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16, ESV). John's gospel confirms that connection - "He whom G-d has sent utters the words of G-d, for He gives the Spirit without measure" (John 3:34, ESV) - this is, "the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive" (7:39, ESV). Yeshua explicitly promised His disciples that "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you" (John 14:16-17, ESV). Just seven short weeks later, on the day of Shavuot in Jerusalem when the whole of the Upper Room was filled with the Spirit, in one of those defining "this is that" moments, Peter affirmed, "this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16, ESV). Peter then went on to urge his hearers to "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). These words were not spoken to the disciples - who already had the Spirit now within them - but to the general public, to everyone. Peter emphasises, "the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the L-rd our G-d calls to Himself" (v. 39, ESV).
Notice that this is nothing to do with the gifts of the Spirit or a charismatic or pentecostal experience. Peter doesn't promise that all believers will exhibit one or any of the supernatural gifts. The Scriptures certainly record that many did exhibit those gifts; the book of Acts is full of miraculous supernatural interventions as the apostles continued the works of Yeshua, as He Himself had promised: "he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father" (John 14:2, NASB). What Peter says is that every believer will receive the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are the gift of the Spirit, "distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Corinthians 12:11, NASB). Some claim that the supernatural gifts remain in operation today, while others claim that they ended in the sub-apostolic times; this debate has generated much heat. What everyone agrees is that "no one can say, 'Yeshua is Lord,' except by the Ruach HaKodesh" (v. 3, CJB) and that Yeshua's words - "the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26, ESV) - remain true for each and every believer today and throughout history.
This difference - between those who are in relationship with G-d and those who are not - goes further than that between the Kohathites and their brother Levites. For the sons of K'hat, "the burden of the holy was upon them" (B'Midbar 7:9); for believers, the holy is within us: "we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV), that we might show G-d's glory to those around us. How much more, then, if the sons of K'hat were not permitted to use a wagon, but carried the holy things on their shoulders, on their person, should we not show disrespect to the holy things over which we have been given charge. How much care should we take over displaying G-d's treasure to His maximum advantage. The modern phrase "wearing one's heart on one's sleeve" is defined as "displaying one's feelings openly and habitually, rather than keeping them private." People are often mocked for displaying their emotions too openly, taking and showing offence easily, revealing their inner struggles and feelings, not guarding their private thoughts or impulses; we should not go that far, or expose our faith to ridicule, but we are under an obligation to our L-rd: "No one who has kindled a lamp hides it or places it under a bowl; rather, he puts it on a stand, so that those coming in may see its light" (Luke 11:33, CJB). If we are to be, as Yeshua said, "a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14, NASB), we need to make sure that our burden can be seen. As Rav Sha'ul said, "By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:14, ESV)!
Further Study: 1 Chronicles 15:11-15; Romans 8:9-11
Application: How can you ensure today that the 'holy' that G-d has placed in you can be seen and honoured? How can you carry that holiness appropriately so that it can be seen and point the way to G-d?
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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