There are spiritual significances in little things in the law of Moses where they would not be suspected if we did not learn to recognize them by apostolic interpretation. Oxen, in the absence of threshing machines, were used in agricultural work to “tread out the corn”, The animals so employed would, of course, help themselves freely to the provender under their feet. Penurious owners, alias “thrifty men” of modern parlance, would put muzzles on them to prevent this waste. The law forbade this. “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.”
We might have supposed that this provision began and ended in the sentiment commended by Solomon when he said, “The righteous man considereth his beast”; or, at the most, that it was a figurative intimation of the principle that the meanest should share in the benefits which they help to develop by their labour. That it goes beyond these meanings, while embracing them, is evident from Paul’s remarks, in 1 Cor. 9, in answer to those who challenged his title to certain privileges. “Who”, exclaims he, “goeth to warfare any time at his own charges? Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof?… Say I these things as a man, or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen, or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope, and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.” The application he makes of it is this: “If we (the apostles) have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? … Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things (that is, the priests under the law) live of the things of the temple (that is, the sacrifices brought by the offenders), and they who wait at the altar are partakers of the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”
Paul instantly disclaims any application of the principle in his own case, saying, “I have used none of these things, neither have I written these things that it should be so done unto me”. Never-the less, the fact remains for the encouragement of all who set their hand to the work of God, that the very law contains promise for them, in giving enigmatic expression to the truth otherwise stated by Paul in these words: “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shown towards his name, in that ye ministered unto the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10). “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). All the treading oxen will have their mouthfuls. If that holds good now, how much more in the day of recompense, when “every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour” (1 Cor. 3:8).
It had also been written in the law: “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together” (Deut. 22:10). The animals were of different sizes and different motions and to yoke them together would be an unequal yoking that would cause discomfort to each and interfere with the effective work of both. Here also, there would not seem to be anything beyond the interdict of common sense in a matter affecting only the treatment of stock in the working of the soil. But that there was more than this appears from Paul’s command to the Corinthians: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). He made no confirmatory quotation from the law in this case as he did in the other, but it is evident that the allusion is to the prohibited unequal yoking of animals in work, which we are therefore justified in regarding as a typical intimation of God’s disapproval of all partnerships between men (and of course women) of such difference of principle as prevails between those who fear God and those who fear Him not. It is God’s own question: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). A man of the world and a man of God could not work in common, as regards principles of action and aims of life, without either the man of the world giving in to the man of God, which is improbable; or the man of God becoming corrupted by the man of the world, which is more likely.
The principle applies in all connections where the will of one man is put in the power of another. The friends of God are “not of the world”, They are commanded to “come out from among them, and be separate”. There are matters in which all are tied together in a common interest, such as the passengers in the same ship or the residents in the same village or town. Saints must live with, and in many matters co-operate with sinners, so long as God tolerates the sinners; but as regards the main purposes and friendships of life, it is safe and indeed (in the case of true saints) an inevitable rule, to refuse putting the neck in the same yoke with those who are unbelieving or unloving or disobedient towards God.
There were some incidents connected with Israel’s passage from Egypt to Canaan that appear merely historical and casual and yet may yield a counterpart in the glory yet to be revealed. Even historically viewed, they are full of the deepest interest. Such, for example, was the numbering of the congregation in “the first day of the second month in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt”, Moses received command to “assemble all the congregation together, to declare their pedigrees after their families by the house of their fathers”, Twelve “princes of the tribes” were told off to do the work. They were “expressed by name”—not by Moses or by the vote of the people or by lot or by any process of human nomination: they were named for the work by Divine authority direct: “The Lord spake unto Moses… These are the names of the men that shall stand with you”, etc. (Num. 1:1–5). For each tribe a prince is named —omitting Levi, and Joseph, for whom Manasseh and Ephraim (Joseph’s sons) appear.
If, as is probable, there was an intended meaning in the category as expressed by the significance of each individual name in the order of their enumeration, we have a concealed prophecy in a dry list. This will be seen in three ways, when the meanings of the names are expressed in succession: 1, The names of the princes; 2, the names of the tribes they represented; and 3, the names of the princes and the tribes taken together.
- The names of the princes—ELIZUR, God is a rock; SHELUMIEL, God is peace; NAHSHON, all oracle; NATHNIEL, God-given; ELIAB, God is Father; ELISHAMA, God hears; GAMALIEL, God recompenses; ABIDAN, father of judgment; AHIEZER, helping brother; PAGIEL, God meets; ABIASAPH, God gathers; AHIRA, evil brother—(which being strung together would yield the following declaration: God, the rock, is peace by the oracle He gives. He is Father and prayer-hearer, and will be a Recompenser in judgment through a helping brother when He meets and gathers His people for the suppression of the brother of evil).
- The names of the tribes represented by the princes—REUBEN, see a son; SIMEON, hearing; JUDAH, praise; ISSACHAR, hire; ZEBULON, dwelling; EPHRAIM, fruitful; MANASSEH, forgetting; BENJAMIN, the son of the right hand; DAN, judging; ASHER, happy; GAD, a troop or company; NAPHTALI, wrestling—(which in the same way, would yield the following sense: Behold a Son, for the hearing of praise by a purchased people, dwelling fruitfully when toil is all forgotten, through the Son of God’s right hand, judging happily in a great company after victorious wrestling).
- The two lists fused, taking the princes first and then the tribes, would yield the following sense :—GOD IS A ROCK. See a Son, our God-given peace, through hearing the oracle of praise given for a purchased people to whom God is Father, dwelling among them and hearing fruitfully as a Recompenser, causing them to forget the evil days. He is a Father o f judgment, by the Son of His right hand, a helping brother, judging when God meets the happy gathering in the great company from which the evil brother (i.e., Cain or the seed of the serpent) will be expelled by wrestling.
Reversing the names, and taking tribe and prince in the order of their divine enumeration (instead of prince and tribe), the following sense might be expressed :—See a Son in whom God, the Rock, hearing us, is peace, evoking praise by the oracle-purchase which he gives that he may dwell as a father fruitfully hearing us, and causing us to forget our toil in the recompense by the Son of his right hand, a father of judgment, judging through a helping brother making happy when God meets the great company of his gathering for the final wrestle against the brother of evil.
Whether this be a right rendering of the concealed meaning of the list of names divinely supplied to Moses for the numbering of Israel, it is not a little singular that the names should be capable of yielding meanings so exactly in harmony with the great purpose which God’s dealings with Israel were designed to accomplish. Those who understand the Gospel of the Kingdom and reconciliation, will have no difficulty in recognizing the complete adumbration of that purpose in the order of these names. And as the Law of Moses was in all things a shadow of good things to come, it is probable we are not wrong in seeking to trace these good things in so unpromising a hiding-place as a mere list of names.
The business of the men invites to the same question another way. Their business was to “assemble the congregation… and declare their pedigrees, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names”, Here was a preparation for the settlement that was about to be effected in the land of promise—a preparation pointing in the direction of order, precision, exactness of arrangements—first, the tribes carefully discriminated one from the other (no doubt they got mixed in Egypt a little); then the houses, or great branches in each tribe; then the leading families in each branch; and then the heads of households in each family.
As a measure of expediency, in a large body of people on the march from one country to another, something of the sort was indispensable to avoid inevitable confusion. This exact registry and enumeration of the people served a highly practical and pressing purpose; but does it yield no “pattern” for the days that are to come? Of this there can be no question. The mind naturally looks forward into the days of the Kingdom with curiosity as to the form of things, as regards practical arrangements. Will the multitude of the saved be as a mere cloud of disconnected atoms, each individual at liberty to rove and roam at his own sweet will? or will they be organized in such a way that each will have his own duties and his own place in the circle assigned to him? This Mosaic census in the wilderness supplies the answer.
We might have gleaned it on the principle hinted at by Paul when he asked the Corinthians: “Doth not nature itself teach you?” Order and mutuality of social obligations is the one thing that distinguishes human life from brute life. A herd of cattle, a drove of horses, a flock of sheep, exemplify the latter. Men living in communities, whether in tribes, villages, towns, cities or kingdoms, show the former. The higher up we ascend in the state of man, the more complex and definite are his social relations, till you come to the aristocracy, where etiquette is as the breath of their life. That the principle extends to man’s relation to God is shown by the whole Mosaic ritual, and by nothing more than in that declaration of the righteousness of God in the sacrifice of Christ, which is the basis of invited reconciliation. Is it conceivable, then, that the life of the redeemed should be a social chaos? The casual glimpses we get in various ways contradict the thought. Order and organization are indicated in all revelations on the subject.
Consider the symbolic use of the twelve tribes of Israel to represent the whole multitude of the redeemed (Rev. 7:4–8); the employment of a New Jerusalem, having tribe-named gates and apostolic-named foundations, to signify their municipal relation to the world (Rev. 21:12–14); a temple with foundations of apostle and prophet to express their relation to God (Eph. 2:20–21; 2 Cor. 6:16); and the human body, with its different members of differing functions, to illustrate the inter-dependent relations of the different parts of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:19–27).
As, therefore, the congregation of the Israelites were organized and numbered before they entered the land of promise, we may be sure the community of God’s immortalized children will be exact in number and definite in station. They are being slowly developed from age to age, each according to his foreseen and assigned place in the new and perfect system of things coming. The hour comes when as it is expressed in the 87th Psalm, “the Lord will count when he writes up the people”; or as it is in Malachi 3, He will “make up his jewels”, who are defined in the previous verses as “they that feared the Lord and spake often one to another”, for whom “a book of remembrance was written before him”, and saith He, “they shall be mine in that day”, when, as it is testified in the next chapter, “they shall go forth and grow up as fattening calves”, and “shall tread down the wicked as ashes under the soles of their feet”, All this implies very definite organization, as indeed is conclusively signified in the larger expression that God will make “new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness”
But the people were numbered a second time viz., at the end of the forty years’ sojourn in the wilderness (Num. 26:2, 63), when they were found to be only 180 more in number than at the beginning, viz., 603,730* men over twenty, as compared with 603,550. The reason of this almost total want of natural increase lay in the destructive calamities that befel them during the forty years on account of their rebellions, and in the steady action of the hand of God against them to weed out the whole generation that dishonoured Him by refusing to enter the land on receiving the evil report of the spies (Deut. 2:14–15). What counterpart can there be to this second numbering, if it be not in the second and final adjustment of human affairs that takes place at the close of the thousand years? At the beginning of that period, the world at large is delivered from the system of things “which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (Rev. l 1:8). The world is settled upon a divine foundation; it has received the law proceeding from Zion, and in a sense has been the subject of a divine census and declaration of pedigree; but it is not a final settlement. There are murmurings against the prophet like unto Moses, as shown by the need for withholding the rain from disobedient communities (Zech. 14:17). At the finish, there is a grand revolt and widespread concerted effort to overthrow the government of Christ (Rev. 20:8–9), which evokes the destructive anger of heaven. “Fire descends from God out of heaven and destroys them” like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then ensues the final numbering of the people and settlement of pedigree for ever. All whose names are not written as the children of Abraham are destroyed; the rest live for ever, and enter upon the state finally figured by the land of promise—the inheritance of the earth, in the peace, prosperity, and perfection of immortality—no more death, and no more increase in population.
And just as the second numbering of the children of Israel showed next to no increase upon the first, so it is probable that the earth’s population, when it enters the perfect state, will be about what it is when the reign of Christ begins—with this great difference, that whereas the population at the beginning of the blessed era will all be mortal (with the exception of the rulers—the saints) and taken in the mass from the generation contemporary with Christ’s advent (on the principle of submission to his enjoined authority, enforced by judgment), the population at the end will consist of selected individuals, chosen by individual faith and obedience under trial during the kingdom of the thousand years, and admitted to eternal life at the close of that period. Such a population will certainly be numerous enough for the comfortable and joyful occupation of the planet in glory to God for the endless ages of perfection that lie ahead.
The tribe of Levi was not included in the numbering of the children of Israel, nor afterwards in the division of the land that took place after conquest. This was “as the Lord commanded Moses” (Num. 2:33). In this, we may discover a useful shadowing of one feature of the constitution of the age to come. God said: “I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel”: “Thou shalt give them to Aaron and his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel”, “It shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations that among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance” (in the land). “I am their inheritance” (see Num. 8 and 18).
The separation of the tribe of Levi was made the occasion of a very solemn ceremony. What typical meaning can there be in this setting apart of a whole class for a special work and a special position in the midst of a whole nation whom the Lord had chosen as “a special people unto himself above all the nations upon the face of the earth”? We may not find it difficult to see as we look forward, when we behold in the Kingdom the brethren of the Lord Jesus gathered out of every kindred and nation and tongue, and exalted to his side as partners and helpers in the great work of leading mankind to God. As the Levites were given to Aaron to be at his service in all things (Num. 18:6), so the saints are given to Christ as fellow-helpers. The very expression is used, “Behold I and the children whom God hath given me … . The men whom thou hast given me.” “All that the Father hath given me shall come to me.” As the Levites given to Aaron became priests of a subordinate order in the divine service established under him, so the saints become priests under Christ in the more glorious day when they sing, “Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth”.
By another description, they are “his body”: by another, his Bride: which may take us to the end of the thousand years with the question: will the body of Christ cease to be the body of Christ: will the Bride of Christ cease to be the Bride of Christ: when the endless ages begin? If the answer be obviously, No, then we have some light on the constitution of things in the glorious BEYOND when sin and death are no more upon the earth. We see a feature corresponding with the dedication of the Levites in the Mosaic shadow.
Though all will be immortal, there will be those who are of the first rank, and those who are of the second, those who form the rank and file of the population, and those who are the captains and officers, guides and shepherds, in the perfect state. We have all, at one time or other, entertained the popular conception of future glory as a sort of celestial glow-furnace in which all individuals were fused into an indiscriminate mass of happiness. This is evidently as far from the truth as almost every other popular idea of divine things.
The society of the redeemed, developed and established upon the earth as the result of the seven thousand years’ work of God thereon, will be an organized and well-ordered society, with God as the head, Christ as the direct link of connection—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as “king’s friends” after the type of David’s and Solomon’s day—the twelve throned apostles as their immediate circle: the fathers and prophets, next in rank, and so on downwards in orderly gradations to “the meanest saint” of the millennial body of kings and priests :—below them, the immortal multitude prepared for eternal life by the institutions and exercises of the thousand years—all one body of blessedness in differing form of membership but without one envious jar such as now disturbs the best-constituted human society.
If this be, as it seems to be, a correct construction of the Mosaic shadow in that feature of it that concerns the separation of the tribe of Levi, it would follow that the privilege of being called to the millennial kingdom is much greater than it appears when we think only of ruling the mortal nations of the earth. To rule the mortal populations of the earth, will be unspeakable blessedness in the efficiency of an incorruptible nature, with unstinted resource of beneficence at our command and omnipotent power behind us. But it necessarily will not be comparable to the glory of ruling a community of immortals, each one of whom will be an untiring vessel of light and sympathy and “quick understanding in the fear of the Lord”.
The honour of exaltation always depends upon the character of the constituency according it. A Parliamentary representative does not think a hundredth part so much of a resolution of confidence by a packed meeting of rowdy electors, as he does of a vote of thanks from Parliament for some public services rendered. The head of an academy does not appreciate a testimonial from his pupils with the same ardour with which he esteems a degree conferred by the University Senators, or honourable mention by royalty. The acclamations of a grateful mortal populace will be a joy to those who find their pleasure in blessing them, but evidently it will be eclipsed by the greater glory of heading and leading and guiding a population from whom all dross and weakness have been purged by the happy change from the mortal to the immortal, which will be the portion of the faithful and chosen among the subjects of the millennial reign.
People think of the saved state as a state in which there will be nothing to do. They are apt to think of it as a kind of celestial stagnation in which there would be no scope for those exercises and ceremonies of life which we naturally associate with the idea of rulers and ruled. The truth of the matter evidently excludes such a view. Immortal life will be as endlessly varied in its exercises as the life we now know upon earth—indeed, necessarily more so from the absence of the fatigue that mars the best mortal enjoyment. Where it will differ will be in the form and nature of the activities, as royal life differs now from the life of the agricultural labourer. There will be eating and drinking, but no necessity for sanitary arrangements, by reason of the different treatment of alimentary substances taken into a spiritual body from that to which they are subjected in the chemistry of a mortal stomach. There will be no marrying and giving in marriage, by reason of the suspension of propagation, and the fusion of the whole human family into one house of love. There will be “dressing and keeping” the soil, as with Adam before he fell: but in the absence of the curse, a little labour (and that a pleasure) will be sufficient to provide abundance of all good things. There will be meetings and partings, but in no painful sense. There will be public life and private life: and therefore private possession; for the earth is to be inherited by the meek for an everlasting possession. Possibly, the inner aristocracy of the saints may occupy an exceptional position on this point, if they are to exemplify the counterpart of the law that forbade the Levites to have inheritance in the land.
Whatever the details may be, it is evident that “eye had not seen nor ear heard, neither had it entered into the heart of man to conceive what the Lord hath prepared for them that love him”, until He revealed it by His spirit in those communications at sundry times and divers manners in which He spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets.
*Should be 601,730. There was a decrease of 1820: Cp Num 1:46 and 26:51