We are nearing the end. There remain one or two extraneous matters to gather up, with a word of parting admiration. They do not form part of the law, but they are related to it, somewhat as a frame is to a picture. They form a beautiful finish to a divine work, and incidentally illustrate some forms of divine truth.
When the tabernacle had been constructed and fully set up according to the pattern shown to Moses in the Mount, and when it had been anointed and sanctified with all its instruments and vessels for the service, a circumstance happened that added much grace to the dedication ceremonies of the day.
The twelve princes of the tribes—heads of the congregation—brought to Moses a present of six covered wagons and twelve strong oxen, to be used in the service of the tabernacle. A more useful present could not in the circumstances be imagined.
The tabernacle had to be shifted from place to place with the changes of camp while the host was on the march. Though it was a portable structure—capable of being taken to pieces—many of its parts were heavy, such as the sockets for the pillars of the courts, which would weigh about a hundredweight each. The pillars themselves would be heavy pieces of timber, and so also would be the boards of the tabernacle. The golden candlestick also would be heavy, and the table of shewbread with its golden crown and cherubim. The business of carrying them on the journeys would be very laborious.
The princes had evidently consulted together on the matter, and had agreed jointly to make a present of the wagons to lighten the work.
But would the present be accepted in connection with a work wholly divine? The princes may have had their doubts on this, and Moses himself may not have been clear. Whatever uncertainty may have existed was dispelled by the direction that Moses received when the princes brought their offering before the tabernacle. We read (verse 89) that “when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation, he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of the testimony from between the two cherubims”. The message as to the wagons was this: “Take the offering of the princes, that they may be to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation”, Not only so, but Moses was told exactly what disposal to make of them. “Give them unto the Levites, to every man according to his service.” It will be remembered that to the Levites, under the superintendence of Aaron, was assigned the work of packing up and carrying the various parts of the tabernacle while on the march and to each particular family was allotted particular parts: to the sons of Kohath, the holy vessels and furniture of the tabernacle; to the sons of Gershon, all the curtains and hangings and pins and cords; to the sons of Merari, all the boards, bars, pillars, and sockets. The distribution of the wagons was according to these services: four wagons and eight oxen were given to the sons of Merari, who had to see after all the heavy parts: two wagons and four oxen were given to the sons of Gershon, who had to carry the curtains and hangings, which must have been of some bulk to enclose a court 150 feet by 75. To the sons of Kohath, none were given, “because the service of the sanctuary belonging to them was that they should bear on their shoulders”—that is, the ark, the incense altar, the table of shewbread, etc.
Two things strike us in connection with the whole episode. God accepts co-operation in forms He has not prescribed if they are in subservient harmony with His requirements. The twelve princes were in submission to Moses and in subjection to the tabernacle and the whole law connected with it. The object of their voluntary gift was to help and further a divine work appointed. Had they brought the materials for a second tabernacle, or a second camp, we cannot but suppose that the offering would not only not have been accepted, but would have been spurned as an act of presumption, like Nadab’s and Abihu’s offering of strange fire. But being in no rivalry to the divine work, but conceived in the spirit of helpfulness and being a wise measure, God approved and accepted it.
We see the same feature in the case of Jethro’s recommendation to Moses that he should delegate his authority in small matters to subordinate officers. God approved of the suggestion of Jethro, and it became a commandment to Moses to do as Jethro had suggested (Ex. 18:13–26; Deut. 1:9–18). From this we may draw the useful conclusion that the arrangements we are obliged to make in this latter day in the absence of divine direction, will receive the divine sanction and favour provided they are made in the sincere spirit of desiring to help the Lord’s work, and are in harmony with the requirements of that work as specified in the word of Jesus and the apostles. The use of the printing press and the holding of meetings for lectures are of this nature. We may hope presently to hear that the Lord approves of them as a doing of our best in an age when His purpose requires that He should be silent.
Is there any shadowing of the work of Christ here? Here is Moses surrounded by twelve heads of the tribes, helping him in the work he has on hand, by ideas of their own, in harmony with that work and accepted because useful as well as in harmony. If we look at the twelve apostles, whether in the day of suffering or the day of glory—the day of the wilderness or the day of the land of promise—we may get a glimpse of a counterpart. In the work done by the apostles in the taking out of a people for his name, their co-operation with the Lord was not an automatic one. It was the cooperation of intelligent faithfulness which devised measures according to the exigencies of the occasion, such as when they appointed a successor to Judas, or convened a council to consider the controversy that had arisen at Antioch. So in the day when they “shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel”, we may imagine, without being guilty of any freak of speculation, that they will, out of the fulness of wise and loyal hearts, devise measures of service that will go beyond what may be actually prescribed, but will be accepted because in thorough harmony with all the objects for which Christ shall reign.
Such a thought would impart a prospective interest to the work of reigning with Christ that would be absent if we supposed that the apostles would be mere court puppets, as we might express it. We are justified in believing that there will be nothing mechanical in the operations of immortal life. The controlling presence of the spirit will not exclude individuality of thought and volition. Rather will there be that diversity in glorious unity. One spirit, acting in the diversity of individual gift and intelligence —in harmony, but not in monotony—will be no new experience. In the apostolic age, the same phenomenon was exemplified in a lower form (1 Cor. 12:4–11). What would be true of the apostles in their exaltation would be true of all saints, so that we may look forward to a life full of the interest that comes even now from the application of individual judgment to the decision of problems as they arise.
In addition to the wagons and oxen, the twelve princes made each an individual offering in connection with the dedication of the altar. There is something remarkable in the way in which this was done, and in the way in which it is recorded. The princes did not come together and present their offerings as a joint offering; but each prince, commencing with the prince of Judah, came on a particular day one after the other, during twelve days, and presented his offering before the altar; and each prince presented exactly the same collection of articles and beasts: yet though each prince presented exactly the same offering, the articles composing it are minutely and exactly enumerated twelve times over, as each prince made his present on his day: and then all are summarized in a totalling of the twelve. The particulars, in which there is so much repetition, occupy a chapter of 89 verses (Numbers 7).
There must have been a reason for this apparently superfluous repetition of apparently superfluous details. It must have been to give conspicuousness and emphasis to the principle involved. What this principle was we may see if we consider that the princes of the tribes would stand representatively for the tribes themselves, and that the altar at which they prostrated themselves was the symbol of sacrifice as the basis of sinful man’s approach to God. Here is a dramatic proclamation of utter humiliation before God as the kernel principle of national existence. Its repetition twelve times on twelve different days would make the lesson more emphatic, and the identity of the offering in each case would show what Paul declares concerning all men, that “there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”
The offering in each case was an elaborate one, and covered every aspect of the Mosaic parable embodied in the tabernacle: a silver charger and a bowl piled full of fine flour mingled with oil (the Jew and Gentile, purified and wrought into divine shape by affliction, and filled with life and joy); one golden spoon, full of incense (perfected faith finding daily exercise in praise and prayer); one young bullock, one ram, and one lamb, for a burnt offering (strength, desire, and obedience absorbed in the incorruptible at the resurrection); a kid of the goats for a sin offering (the sacrificial condemnation of sin in the flesh); two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five lambs of the first year for peace offerings (all strength, executiveness, waywardness, and innocence brought into reconciliation with God and employed in His service).
That a ceremony with such significances should be twelve times repeated before the altar on the commencement of Israel’s national existence, and expressly for the dedication of the altar to the daily use of the nation, is more eloquent than tongue can tell, of the nature of the national life as it ought to be, and of the great departure from the true objects of national life, that is visible in the forms of national life now upon earth. Revenue, police, drainage, and public convenience are about all that is aimed at. State-churchism is a faint survival of the Mosaic ideal, but lacking life or light or power. The true aim of life is unknown and unprovided for. But the day is coming, of which the Mosaic ritual was a prophecy, as well as a law for Israel, when God will be as much taken into account as the sun or the fresh air, and when human life everywhere will converge upon Him as much as the arrangements of Israel’s camp converged upon the tabernacle. “All shall know me”, saith He, “from the least even to the greatest.”
Should the idea be correct, that the twelve princes will have their anti-type in the twelve apostles of the Lamb, whose names appeared in the gem-decorated foundations of the symbolical Holy City seen by John in Patmos, there may be an interesting counterpart in the inaugural ceremonies of the Kingdom, to this dedication of the altar. Christ is the true altar, and he will then be dedicated for altar use by the whole world, and it is possible that each apostle may, “each on his day”, edify and delight the whole congregation of the redeemed by the conduct of special dedicatory services in which the glory of Christ will be powerfully and thrillingly brought home to their immortal faculties. The submissive and obedient mortals in their thousands might share with acclamation in such a feast of fat things: for the feast is to be spread “to all people”. Not long after the dedication of the tabernacle, Moses received orders to march for the promised land. It was no light matter to marshal such an immense body of people. The tribes, when at rest, were pitched in four camps, with the tabernacle in the centre of all. Arrangements for the march were characterized by the consummate wisdom manifest in every part of the Mosaic system. At a blast from the two silver trumpets by the sons of Aaron at the door of the tabernacle, the east camp broke up and set forward. Then the priests to whom the work had been allotted, took down the tabernacle and the pillars and the courts with their sockets, and went forward with the wagons, leaving the Kohathites behind, in charge of the holy vessels and furniture of the sanctuary. Then at a second alarm of the trumpets, the camp of Reuben, on the south, broke up and fell in behind the priests with the wagons. Then the Kohathites marched, bearing the holy vessels on their shoulders. Then the west camp, the camp of Ephraim broke up, and marched behind the Kohathites, and after them, the north camp, the camp of Dan, which formed the rear of the lengthy procession (Num. 2, 3, 4 and 10).
On arriving at a new site, the camps pitched in the same order. The host of Judah, at the head of the procession, came to a halt first, and put up their tents. The wagons behind them stopped at the same time, and the priests in charge got out the pillars and court hangings, and the boards and bars of the tabernacle, and put up the empty structure in readiness to receive the altars and holy vessels on the arrival of the Kohathites in the rear. Then the host of the Reubenites turned aside to the right, and formed their camp at the due distance; then the Kohathites came up, and found the tabernacle ready to receive the ark and the holy vessels. Then the host of Ephraim formed camp on the ground where they stood, and the host of Dan behind them defiled to the left and went forward to their camping ground on the north of the tabernacle.
It was all done in beautiful order and without hitch. It was a most wise plan for avoiding confusion in the handling of such a mass of people. But it was also an illustration of the truth stated by Paul when he said, “God in not the author of confusion, but of peace”, and in this character it may be taken as a foreshadowing of the perfect order that will characterize the work of God in the age of glory. How much of the interest and impressiveness of all public functions (from the review of an army, to the performances of a trained orchestra in the presence of royalty), depends upon order. How abortive is a mere mob, even of respectable people. How great is the difference between a state ceremony and the rush of a rabble in the street. The beauty of order requires the surrender of some amount of individual liberty which may be irksome to mere mortals, especially to lawless mortals, of such an age as this, when the spirit of democratic insubordination is rampant. But to the multitude “redeemed from among men” because of the subjection of their will to the will of God, it will be as much a joy to respond to the organizing requirements of the Spirit of God as it is for the physical body now to respond to the lightning-like volitions of the brain. The “army of heaven” is not a mob (Dan. 4:35). The “multitude of the heavenly host” did not sing on the plains of Bethlehem without concert and leadership (Luke 2:13). Even the simultaneous flight of a flock of migratory birds under leadership (one of the most interesting sights in nature)—is a divine work in its way—which does not mean the sacrifice of the wills of the individual birds, but their voluntary accommodation to a collective necessity in which they find pleasure. So the movements of the saints in the perfect state to which probation is steadily taking them forward will have many glorious co-operations, in which the perfect order, which is “heaven’s first law”, will be the highest delight of myriads of co-operative wills. They will rejoice in the marshallings and movements of the host of the Lord as all true Israelites did in the movements of the camps during their march under Moses to the promised land.
One thing remains to be noticed, and that is, that though the Law of Moses ended in Christ, as a ground of justification unto life eternal, its national purpose is not yet wholly fulfilled. With Israel’s restoration from long dispersion, it will come into force again in an amended form, as a means and medium of that happy, holy, beautiful, and acceptable national service which Israel will render in the day when Yahweh will “bind up the stroke of his people and heal the stroke of their wound”, This we learn on the joint testimony of Moses and Ezekiel, and other prophets. Moses says, after foretelling Israel’s disobedience, scattering and return, “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live… and thou shalt return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day” (Deut. 30:6–8).
By Ezekiel God says: “In my holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen (the nations.”
The visions of God go further than this by the same prophet at the close of his book. In the last nine chapters, we have a detailed description of the new settlement of the land, and the new city of service about 40 miles in circumference, and the new temple, of gigantic capacity, in which, “from one new moon to another and from one sabbath to another, all flesh will come to worship before God” (Isa. 66:23). In this description, we recognize many features of the Law of Moses restored :—The burnt offering, the sin offering, the drink offering, and the trespass offering (40:39; 43:18–25; 45:17, 22–25; 46:4–7); the altar (43:13–18); the most holy place (41:4); the cherubim (verse 41:18); the meat offering, the priests and holy garments (42:13–14); sprinkling of blood (43:18–20); burning of the bullock (verse 43:21); offering of the fat and the blood (44:15); defiling by the dead (verses 44:25, 44:26); offering of the first fruits (verse 44:30); observance of the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month (45:21); keeping of the feasts, the new moons, and the sabbaths (verse 45:17); and so on.
With this agree the general allusions of the other prophets, of which a complete list of instances would be very long. Let the following illustrations suffice: “All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee: they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory” (Isa. 60:7). “Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein” (Zech. 14:21). “Then shall the offering of Jerusalem and Judah be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years” (Mal. 3:4). “The daughter of my dispersed shall bring mine offering” (Zeph. 3:10).
The fact that the Law of Moses is suspended during the absence of Christ from the earth, and while his body is being developed by the faith and obedience of the Gospel, does not interfere with the testified purpose of God to restore it ;is the rule of Israel’s obedience in the happy day of the return of His favour to them. In the day of Moses, it was the prophetic though unperceived adumbration of salvation by Christ, while serving the purpose of a national system and preliminary educator of the people of God: in the day of Christ, it will be the understood typical memorial of the work accomplished in him in the day of his rejection, while serving the purpose of a means, and joyful occasion of that obedience which it will be Israel’s joy to render in a day when they shall be “all righteous, inheriting the land for ever” (Isa. 60:21), and when the words of God will be fulfilled, which say: “A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them” (Ezek. 36:26).
In all the circumstances, it is not wonderful that the last injunction of the Scriptures of the “Old Testament” should be:
“Remember Ye the Law of Moses my Servant, Which I Commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the Statutes and Judgments” (MAL. 4:4).
The close of the nineteenth century finds the public attitude the very reverse of this, under the influence of natural bias and the sophistical ingenuity of a hostile learning, which superficially trifles with the majestic theme under the glib technicality of “the Pentateuch”. The close of the twentieth century will find it enthroned on Mount Zion in the glory of Messiah’s reign, imposed upon an unwilling world by the hand of coercive judgment which will fulfil the prayer of David placed on record nearly 3,000 years ago: “Arise, O Lord; let not man prevail: let the nations be judged in thy sight. Put them in fear, O Lord: that the nations may know themselves to be but men” (Psa. 9:19).