Numbers 4:15 “And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.”
So many of the laws of the Old Testament seem so strange to us in this day and age. The Bible says of itself “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).” It is because of this one verse that when I come to those like that in Numbers 4 above, I am motivated to keep digging and meditating for God has told us in no uncertain terms, that all Scripture is profitable to us in many ways. Sometimes I think to myself “Even this obscure passage from the Old Testament law?” and then the Holy Spirit whispers, no, more than that, speaks plainly in the black and white of 2 Timothy 3, “Yes, even this.”
So, to what can the passage above from Numbers 4 be referring? What does this passage, which speaks of the priests’ and Levites’ work of moving the tabernacle from place to place in the wilderness during Israel’s 40-years of wandering there, say to me?! And while I would never pretend to understand all that this passage would say to me, one of the things that occurred to me this morning as I read these verses again was how critical it was that the tabernacle, a “thing of God,” if you will, was to be handled by the children of God each and every time they handled it.
So, is there a parallel today? I would suggest that one such parallel would be a “thing of God” we have the privilege of handling day after day, and that is the Bible. Just as Aaron, his sons, and the sons of Levi were to precisely handle all parts of the tabernacle as they broke it down and moved it from place to place, so we are to properly handle the “Word of Truth” in our ministry of it. As Paul directed his disciple Timothy, we are to “Do (our) best to present (our self) to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” It is as we do this that we find that all Scripture is profitable for such things as “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
So, how did the Levites “handle” the things of the tabernacle? Well, for one thing, they broke the tabernacle down in a very specific way as commanded by the Word of God. So, as we handle the Truth of God, we are to “rightly divide it” by using the Word of God itself. So often it is the words God has given us in one place in Scripture that best help us to understand what God has told us in other places in Scripture. It is this process of comparing “precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little,” in the words of Isaiah 28:10, that God’s Word becomes more and more clear to our understanding.
But then the priests and Levites were to cover the articles of the tabernacle in very careful ways, with beautiful blue, scarlet, and purple cloths. And over all of this beauty they were to be covered with non-descript goat skins. As I thought of this, I thought about how necessary it is for us to “cover” our handling of the Word of God, each and every time we study it, with prayer. Anyone can read the Bible, but it is only the Holy Spirit that can teach us from it. It is the Holy Spirit Who alone opens our eyes to its truth. That’s why a prayer I often pray as I begin to study God’s Word is this one: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm119:18).” Surely, like the cloths used to cover the holy things of the tabernacle, prayer is a beautiful and precious thing to the believer in Christ.
But then, just as these beautiful coverings of the tabernacle were hidden under goatskins, so our prayers are to often be hidden away in the way that Jesus commanded: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6).” Prayer can be done publicly, such as in a church service, or at the dinner table, but one way it must also be done if we are true believers is in secret as we get alone, one on one, with our God.
Finally, the priests and Levites were strictly commanded to never touch the holy things of God, lest they die. This is a reminder to me that the things of God are just that, things of God, and they are not to be altered in any way by a human touch. In our sinful humanity, our touch will never add to what God has provided us, but rather detract from it. What a picture of the Word of God, which we are to proclaim, work to understand, i.e., to “rightly divide” but never to alter.
One of the commonalities of all cults that purport to be “Christian” is that they will, in one way or another, alter the Word of God. The Mormons have their alternative “scriptures,” like the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, which they would tell us are just as inspired as the Bible, though the teachings of these books erroneously contradict it. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own version of the Bible, distorted in various ways from the original manuscripts, as well as their extrabiblical “Watchtower” magazine. But to this God has said, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book (i.e., the Bible): if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).” Thus, just as any of the priests and Levites who would irreverently “touch” the things of God from the tabernacle to their own peril, so anyone today who would irreverently “touch” the holy and eternal Word of God does so to their own peril.
In all of this we are to follow the guidance Peter gave us in the last words of his second epistle, “Therefore, beloved, . . . be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”May God help us to approach the holy things of God provided to us in the Word of God with reverence, correctly handling the Word of Truth by comparing Scripture against Scripture, as God has told us, by praying for understanding, as God has told us, and by never altering what He has told us in any way. May we prayerfully and patiently ask Him to reveal to us His truth, including anything that at first blush we struggle to understand.