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B'Midbar/Numbers 7:42 On the sixth day, the leader of the sons of Gad, Elasaf the son of D'ueyl ...
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This is the sixth of twelve identical offerings brought, once the Tabernacle has been set up and commissioned into service, by the leaders of the twelve tribes. The Levites do not bring a gift as they are already set apart as a tribe for the service of G-d, but both of the half-tribes of Joseph - Ephraim and Manasseh - are counted, keeping the tally to twelve. The text describing these offerings (B'Midbar 7:12-83) is highly formulaic, each of the twelve blocks starting with the day number, followed by an almost identical list of ritual items, vessels, incense and sacrificial animals, bracketed by the name of the individual tribal leader. Only very minor variations in spelling and word order - usually not seen in translation - separate the twelve lists which are obviously designed to show strong unity and commitment between the tribes and their leaders.
Jacob Milgrom (pg. 55) comments that the animals that were part of the offering (one young bull, one ram, one lamb, one goat, two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five year-old lambs) were not offered on the altar, but used to create a sacrificial store. Milgrom bases this comment on the animals themselves: some were peace offerings, while others were sin offerings; some were only offered on specific feast days. So, in just the same way as the basin, bowl and ladles were not offered on the altar but taken into the general service of the tabernacle, so the animals - not given for sacrifice on that very day, but to the service of the tabernacle - could have been used to form a stock of animals that were later available for special occasions.
Nachmanides explains that the ancient rabbis found (B'Midbar Rabbah 13-14) a special reason for the offering of each tribe, given the subsequent history of the tribe. "It is for this reason", he continues, "that Scripture treated them all equally, giving the details of each as if the others had not been mentioned, then together, to hint that each thought of their offering at the same time and independently." Rabbi Hirsch confirms this idea: "Each tribe represented a special kind of social activity, and its being purified and penetrated with the spirit of Torah and using its activities in making the demands of the Torah a reality, formed a completely essential specialised contribution for accomplishing the common mission of the nation."
Rav Sha'ul tells us that, "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua, you are all one" (Galatians 3:28, CJB),. Although we are all different people - with different callings, genders and social circumstances - yet in Messiah we are all one, we all stand on the same spiritual ground. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of G-d; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which G-d prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10, NASB); it is by faith alone that we are in good standing with G-d, by receiving His gracious offer of forgiveness and life in Yeshua. The charge sheets on which we were arraigned and the basis on which our cases have been handled are all identical: a serial sinner; guilty as charged; forgiven and pardoned, bound over to keep the peace. Or as Rav Sha'ul puts it: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d ... the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of G-d is eternal life in Christ Jesus our L-rd" (Romans 3:23, 6:23, NASB).
Yeshua told His disciples a parable about the kingdom of G-d: "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44). Just like the twelve tribal leaders, to come into relationship with G-d costs each of us the same, no matter what resources we have: everything! What we bring is conditioned upon what we have and, to some extent, what we will be, but we bring ourselves and so no-one brings more and no-one brings less. G-d loves each of us enough to provide a saviour; Yeshua loved each of us enough to die for us. He doesn't value any of us any more or any less than any other.
That said, each of us has a different background, each of us has been given different skills and abilities, each of us is a different colour or shape and has been specifically called and chosen to work with a different group of people in similar but different ways. Rav Sha'ul again: "Whenever you come together, let everyone be ready with a psalm or a teaching or a revelation, or ready to use his gift of tongues or give an interpretation; but let everything be for edification" (1 Corinthians 14:26, CJB). If everyone comes to worship G-d all wanting to sing the same psalm, it will get boring after the first few times through - we've all been at one of those worship sessions, where the leader only seems to have one or two songs and they are sung endlessly. Instead, some bring a psalm, some a hymn or another spiritual song, some a verse of encouragement from the Scriptures, some a word of prophecy or even a sermon. In the blend of gifts the Spirit weaves a harmony of high and low voices - melody, bass-line and descant - and, yes, sometimes plainsong sung in unison; a mixture of voices lifted together to praise G-d and to declare His wonders. Whatever we bring to worship, from a grunt to a whistle, a mellow contralto to a gruff baritone, even silent sighs, we bring everything we have and G-d is pleased to receive the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, counting all the verbal or non-verbal contributions as the same.
The Jewish writings even record a supposed argument between the tribes as to which order they should bring their offerings, in patriarch birth order or in camp travelling order. That seems strangely reminiscent of a certain argument between the Yeshua's talmidim as to which one of them was the greatest or should sit at Yeshua's right and left hands - isn't it funny how the same themes crop up again in different generations! In the same way, just as the tribal princes each brought their gifts on subsequent days, so congregations don't have two or three worship leaders trying to lead worship in the same session; two or three rabbis don't try and deliver sermons at the same time. We each have to take our turn in being used by G-d as He sees fit. As instruments, the bassoon and the double-bass have very few concertos or solo pieces written exclusively for them and they are rarely heard distinctly in the orchestra, but their presence underpinning the sound of most classical pieces would be instantly missed if they were not playing. The player may only have a moment of distinction once in a whole concert, but must always have his eyes on the conductor so that he is ready to play, louder or softer as the maestro commands.
So we should always be in state of readiness, with our eyes fixed on Yeshua (Hebrews 12:1), to speak the word He has given us, to console or pray for the person He puts in our path, to rejoice with or rebuke a fellow believer at the Master's call. We need to keep our ears open to hear those same encouragements, challenges, remonstrance or praise being directed at us from the L-rd via other members of the Body when they too play their part. "So let's not be asleep, like the rest are; on the contrary, let us stay alert and sober" (1 Thessalonians 5:6, CJB), because "those who stay alert and keep their clothes clean ... won't be walking naked and be publicly put to shame!" (Revelation 16:15).
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 12:14-26; 1 Peter 4:7
Application: Do you feel neglected or left out in the L-rd's economy? Do you worry that you can make no contribution or that your time will never come? Be encouraged that everyone is essential to the whole, that without you, we are incomplete. Ask the L-rd to show you today what part you are to play and then keep your eyes firmly fixed on Him and wait for His directions - it may be sooner than you think!
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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