According to verse 1, Moses had finished setting up the Tabernacle. He had anointed it and consecrated it and all the furnishings to the Lord. He also anointed and consecrated the altar and its utensils. And then the leaders of each of the 12 tribes of Israel brought gifts and offerings to the Tabernacle.
First, they brought six carts which were each drawn by a pair of oxen. And, according to verses 4 and 5, the Lord commanded that these carts and oxen should be given to the Levites. Now the Levites — you’ll remember — were responsible for looking after the Tabernacle and for taking it down when it was time to move on; and for putting it up when it was time to stop and make camp; and they were responsible for transporting the Tabernacle from place to place.
You’ll maybe also remember that the Levites were divided into three groups, each with a specific responsibility. The Gershonites were responsible for carrying the curtains and coverings and the ropes and related items. They were given two carts and four oxen to help them transport these items. The Merarites were responsible for carrying the frame of the Tabernacle: so the crossbars, posts, bases, tents pegs, ropes and so on. Since these items were heavy and bulky, they were given four carts and eight oxen to help them transport these items from place to place.
The Kohathites didn’t receive any of the carts or oxen, because they were responsible for carrying the most holy things in the Tabernacle — things like the ark of the covenant and the table of presence and the lampstand and all the objects which were kept in the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place — and all of these things had to be carried on their shoulders and not on carts.
You might recall the story of how King David tried to transport the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. At first he placed it on a cart; and when one of the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, and the Lord’s anger burned against him. David was afraid; and he wondered how they would ever be able to bring the ark to Jerusalem. However, on his second attempt, he did what he should have done the first time, and he made sure that the ark was carried, not on a cart, but on the shoulders of men. It might have made sense to David to transport the ark by cart; he even used a new cart to do it, rather than an old one. But instead of thinking we’re wiser than God and that we know best what to do, we’re to submit to his will and we’re to do what he was commanded even when it seems strange to us. And so, back in Numbers 7, the Kohathites did not receive any of the carts, because they were commanded by God to carry the holy things on their shoulders.
After they brought the carts and oxen, the leaders of each of the 12 tribes brought their offerings to the Tabernacle in order to dedicate the altar. And they came, one tribe at a time over the following 12 days. Each leader brought the same offerings. First, they brought one silver plate weighing 130 shekels and one silver bowl weighing 70 shekels, both of which contained flour and oil for a grain offering. Second, they brought one gold dish weighing 10 shekels, filled with incense; and one bull, one ram and one male lamb for a burnt offering. Third, they brought one male goat for a sin or purification offering. Fourth, they brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male goats for a fellowship offering.
Those are the offerings each leader brought each day for 12 days. Everything they offered is summarised in verses 84 to 88; and then in verse 89 we have the outcome: Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak to the Lord; and he heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him from between the two cherubim angels who surrounded the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy Place. The people brought their offerings to the Lord; and the Lord, who dwelt among them, spoke to them through Moses and made his will known to them.
At the beginning of the chapter we were told that the leaders of the tribes brought these gifts after Moses had set up the Tabernacle. Furthermore, this chapter is placed after the Aaronic Blessing. And so, the giving of these gifts and offerings was in a sense the grateful response of the people to God’s kindness to them. God has promised to dwell among them in the Tabernacle and to bless them by keeping them safe and by being gracious to them and by giving them peace.
Therefore, in grateful response, the people brought their gifts and offerings to the Lord. And giving to the Lord is still a part of our worship, because — in gratitude to the Lord for all that he has done for us — we bring him our offerings each week. Doesn’t he promise to meet with us when we gather for worship? And doesn’t he promise to dwell in each one of us by his Spirit? Doesn’t he promise to bring us into his presence in glory in the life to come? And hasn’t he promised to keep us as we make our way to the Promised Land of Eternal Life? Hasn’t he promised to be gracious to us and to forgive us our sins? Hasn’t he promised us perfect peace and rest in his presence for ever? Hasn’t the Lord been good to us? Well then, and as a token of our gratitude, we bring him our offerings.
But — as I pray most weeks when I dedicate our offering in our services of worship — we not only bring him our money, but we bring him ourselves. The Israelites brought animal sacrifices to offer to the Lord, but Paul in Romans 12 teaches believers to offer themselves to the Lord as living sacrifices. In other words, we’re to dedicate ourselves to the Lord: to love and serve him every day of our lives, obeying his commands and doing his will with glad and cheerful hearts. But to dedicate ourselves to him is not a hardship for us and it’s not something we resent, because the Lord who commands our obedience has been so good to us; and we want to show him by our obedience that we love him.
The giving of these offerings in Numbers 7 was the grateful response of the people to God’s kindness to them. And, of course, since each of the 12 leaders from each of the 12 tribes brought gifts, it shows that the whole community was grateful to the Lord and all of them wanted to worship the Lord and to give gifts to him. So, every believer today is to worship the Lord and to live their lives for him. Worshipping him, and living our life for him, is not for only some of us, but it’s for all of us. It’s the duty of every believer to worship him and to live for him.
Furthermore, since each of the 12 leaders brought the same gift, it tells us something of the unity of the people at that time. Later we’ll see how their unity was shattered; but on this occasion, there was a harmony among the people; and because of this harmony they brought the same gift. None of them tried to outdo any of the others; none of them tried to show the others up by bringing a greater gift; but they all brought the same gift to the Lord. Well, the peace and unity of the church is a fragile thing; it is so easily broken, because we’re sinners who offend one another by the things we say and do. But we’re to seek to preserve the peace of the church and we’re to love one another and to live in harmony with one another.
And then, finally, we need to understand that what we read here points forward to the good news of the gospel and to the great hope God gives to all who trust in his Son.
Each of these offerings which the people brought in those days were for the time being only; and each of these animal sacrifices pointed forward to the true sacrifice for sins, which the Lord Jesus Christ offered on our behalf whenever he offered himself on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. And his one sacrifice was better than their many sacrifices, because they had to offer many sacrifices, but the Lord offered himself just once as the perfect sacrifice for sins. Furthermore, they had to offer their sacrifices again and again; because every day, they brought other offerings to the Lord; but by his one sacrifice, the Lord has dealt with our sins forever so that no further offering for sins is necessary.
And then, they offered their animal sacrifices at the Tabernacle which was only a man-made, earthly representation of heaven; but the Lord Jesus — having offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins — has entered heaven itself where he now intercedes for us at the right hand of his Father in heaven.
And finally, after the 12 leaders brought their offerings, only Moses was able to enter the presence of the Lord; but now that Christ has died for us, all of us may draw near to God to give thanks to him, and to pray to him; and all of us can look forward to coming into his presence in the new heaven and earth where we will dwell with him for ever. And so, once again, all that we read here in the book of Numbers points forward to Christ and to the salvation he has won for us and the great hope he gives to us and to all who trust in him. And in grateful response to all that God has done for us by his Son, we should offer ourselves to him as living sacrifices, dedicating our lives to loving and serving him.