And the tabernacle of meeting shall move out with the camp of the Levites in the middle of the camps…
The Central Point of the Censuses of Numbers 1-4
What is beautiful about the Word of God is that none of its details are superfluous. I just began reading the book of Numbers, feeling compelled to do so as I prayed, and at first, I have to admit, I just didn’t see anything but a series of lists, numbers, and names. But as I stepped back from the text, I noticed that the first four chapters comprise a seven-fold chiasm.
A. 12 Tribes Numbered (20 yrs old and above) [Num. 1]
B. 12 Tribes Organized According to Function [Num. 2]
C. Levites Numbered (1 month old and above) [Num. 3:1-39]
D. 12 Tribes’ Firstborn Numbered (1 month old and above) [Num. 3:40-43]
C’. 12 Tribes’ Firstborn Redeemed [Num. 3:44-51]
B’. Levites Organized According to Function [Num. 4:1-33]
A’. Levites Numbered (30 yrs old and above) [Num. 4:34-49]
And what lies in the center of these lists? Redemption. The pattern emerged after I sifted through the many details, clustered them together, and organized them – and it was worth it.
God’s plan of redemption is central to the lists given. But there’s more…
The Central Point of War? Perhaps…
Numbers 1-4 also presents us with two groups of laborers for the Lord: the 12 tribes of Israel who would go to war to protect Israel from external threats and the Levites who would protect the things of God from internal threats.
5 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. 7 And they shall attend to his needs and the needs of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of meeting, to do the work of the tabernacle. 8 Also they shall attend to all the furnishings of the tabernacle of meeting, and to the needs of the children of Israel, to do the work of the tabernacle. 9 And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are given entirely to him from among the children of Israel. 10 So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall attend to their priesthood; but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”
Why does Israel “war”? The context would suggest that what is at stake is primarily the things of God – His tabernacle, presence, holy things. The 12 tribes fought external threats, and the Levites fought internal threats from “outsiders” without & within Israel.
Which, further, made me reconsider the fact that what may at first seem detached from the “holy things” of God, is not. While the 12 tribes were not functioning explicitly in a spiritual sense, they were still protecting the spiritual/holy things of God as they fought at the peripheries of Israel.
To sum all this up:
Redemption is central to the two groups of laborers. Therefore, whatever I do – whether camping at the edges of Israel, or camping around the things of God – is first and foremost about God (i.e. His presence, His glory, and His holy things).