Ask me to think about moving the ark of the covenant and I immediately think about the poor guy who instinctively put out his hand and grabbed the ark to keep it from falling when the oxen pulling the cart it was on stumbled. He touches the ark and the Lord’s anger is kindled. The ark remains upright on the cart, but the guy ends up struck down beside it (2Sam. 6:6-7). Such are the occupational hazards of encountering the holy. Right motive, perhaps. Wrong method.
But what I’m reminded of this morning as I read in Numbers is that the ark shouldn’t have even been on the cart. That’s not how it was intended to be transported.
. . . the chiefs of Israel . . . brought their offerings before the LORD, six wagons and twelve oxen . . . Then the LORD said to Moses, “Accept these from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.” So Moses took the wagons and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service. And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder.
(Numbers 7:2-9 ESV)
Think about it. The Levites have all this stuff to transport as they travel to the Promised Land. Every time they set out, they’re charged with packing up the tabernacle and taking it with them. They are the ones making sure the place where God has said He would dwell among them would actually be among them. What a relief then, when they see the gift of six wagons and twelve healthy beasts of burdens to pull those wagons.
Do the math. Three divisions of men in charge of moving the tabernacle–that’s a wagon and pair of oxen each. “Good deal!” they’re thinking. “Load ’em up!” they’re thinking.
But not so fast. The sons of Kohath didn’t need no cart. Two strong oxen were of no benefit for them. For they were in charge of transporting “the holy things.” And the holy things were to be carried on their shoulders. They were to be the cart. They were the “beasts of burden.”
Think about it, again. Everything inside the tent–the lampstand, the table for bread, the altar for incense, and the ark in the holy of holies, cherubim and all–all of it either made of gold or plated with gold, was to be transported on the backs of men. I’m guessing that’s a lot of weight and they have a long way to go (and they don’t even know about doing laps in the desert for 40 years yet). So, was it a privilege or a pain?
What was it to get up everyday and know that at some point you’d be taking your turn under one of the sets of poles? And, after the debacle at Kadesh-Barnea, when, for forty years they wandered in the wilderness, what was it like for their kids to grow up knowing that they too, one day, would take their place bearing the weight of the holy things? Pain or privilege?
And as I chew on it, I wonder if sometimes we might view our association with the holy as more of a pain than a privilege. That we might see following Christ more in terms of what we have to do than what we get to do. That we view the Christian walk more as bearing the weight of a bunch of rules and expectations rather than carrying a weight of glory. That sometimes, we just might think the load would be lighter if weren’t having to do service for “the holy things.”
And I chew on it more, I think of Jesus and the weight He bore in order to transport the holy. The One who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross. The pain paling in comparison to the privilege of bringing many sons and daughters into glory.
I’m no son of Kohath. And I’m not asked to carry anything on my shoulders that He isn’t prepared to carry it alongside with me. But I have been redeemed to interact with the holy, and that is a privilege. A privilege of grace–not because it’s deserved or earned, but because He has called me to sojourn with Him in the midst.
“Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” ~ Jesus
(Matthew 11:29-30 ESV)
By His grace. For His glory.