II Timothy 3:16-17
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Some people think Numbers is boring and has some things that are of no value to believers today. In an earlier article, I looked at the numbering of the people, in chapters 1 and 26, and pointed out some valuable lessons to learn from the account. I’d like to turn our attention now to Numbers 7 and the offerings of the princes. If THAT chapter is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and/or instruction in righteousness, maybe II Timothy 3:16 is true after all!
What Does Numbers 7 Say?
This is the second longest chapter (by verse, fourth longest by number of words) in the Bible, and has to count as the most repetitive as well. It records the offering made by the princes of the twelve tribes of Israel, in precise detail:
12 And he that offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah:
13 And his offering was one silver charger, the weight thereof was an hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them were full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering:
14 One spoon of ten shekels of gold, full of incense:
15 One young bullock, one ram, one lamb of the first year, for a burnt offering:
16 One kid of the goats for a sin offering:
17 And for a sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five he goats, five lambs of the first year: this was the offering of Nahshon the son of Amminadab.
Change verse 12, telling which day it was, the prince’s name, and the tribe, and change the names in verse 17, and you have verses 18-23, the offering of Nethaneel of Issachar. And so on, all the way through the twelve tribes. Each offered the same offering which is described with the same wording.
Why Is it So Repetitive?
Or, perhaps a better question, since we really do believe in II Timothy 3:16-17, why did God choose to repeat this over and over? What is the spiritual profit to us?
We should assume that the repetition is no accident. God intended us to see those same words, describing the same offerings, over and over. He intended to reinforce that they all brought the same offering, reinforce it so thoroughly (12 times over) that no one would miss it. So I think we can safely draw the following conclusion:
The Equality is Important
Let’s remind ourselves where we are — in Numbers. Just a few short (or maybe not always so short) chapters earlier, we saw the numbering of the tribes. Judah numbered 74,600 men of fighting age, and Manasseh had 32,200. Yet, Nahshon (representing Judah) and Gamaliel (representing Manasseh) brought the same offering.
Against Excessive Individualism
I would suggest this tells us something about how God views His people. We in Western societies live in a highly individualistic culture. We view ourselves as individuals who stand alone, who make our own decisions and are alone accountable. It is certainly true that God holds me personally accountable for the decisions I make, for the actions I take.
But there’s another side to our relationship with God that this passage illustrates, and which we often overlook in the West. We are part of a group. In the Old Testament, God put His people in a nation, and in tribes, and tribes had a mutual accountability before God as well. We see that with Benjamin and Ephraim, in passages in Judges, and with Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, in the book of Joshua. Similarly, we see it here in Numbers 7. These princes of the tribes did not bring an offering for 70,000 individuals or for 30,000 — they brought an offering for a tribe, however large it might be.
Today, God is working through churches. He expects us to be part of a church, and He expects churches to have shared accountability. If you don’t take your role in your church, you hinder it and burden the other members. God will still expect the church to carry out the task He has given it, but the church will struggle because of your neglect.
An Equal Part in the Tabernacle Worship
The sceptre was not to depart from Judah, so Jacob had said (Genesis 49:10). There was a special place for Ephraim and Manasseh, as the sons of Joseph. Reuben was Israel’s eldest. There were all these differences between the tribes, yet they all had an equal part in the tabernacle. Yes, the priests were Levites, and they were distinct, but all who had the priests serving as intermediaries between them and God were equal.
All Brought a Sin Offering
This was a time of great dedication, of joyful and solemn giving and commitment to God. These men had dedicated themselves and their tribes to worship, and were bringing offerings for the very worship of the Almighty, the One who had appeared on the Mount in fire and smoke and thunder.
They must have confessed their sins, cleansed themselves, offered any sacrifices necessary before this day — yet they still, every single one of them, brought a sin offering, in the midst of all the other sacrifices. They did not approach their God without an awareness of their sin, as individuals and as tribes, and the need for propitiation and reconciliation.
The Repetition Heightened Reverence
We read six verses, and then the next six, and then the next six, the same thing over and over again. We read it all in a few minutes and move on to the next chapter. But that’s not what happened in Numbers 7. This was twelve days, day by day.
It would have easily been possible for all of these offerings to be made in a single day. By extending it over twelve days, one prince and one tribe per day, one after another, the solemnity of what was happening was driven home to the people.
Imagine yourself there watching. Nahshon of Judah comes, and brings his offering. You watch and see the gifts he brings, the sacrifices of dedication. The next day it is Nethaneel. The third day, it is Eliab of Zebulun — and perhaps now you notice it is the same offering, the same gifts. The fourth day, you look to see who will come, and sure enough, when Elizur of Reuben comes, he also brings the same offering. Rather than reading a boring story, you are watching a building crescendo, through twelve days, until the twelve tribes have come.
Day by day, another tribe consecrated itself to the worship of the God who had given them the tabernacle, and brought its offering. Day by day the provision for the tabernacle and for the priests increased, and one more tribe was formally identified as being consecrated to the tabernacle worship. It builds and builds, and you wonder what will happen on the twelfth day.
On the twelfth day, Ahira the son of Enan, of the tribe of Naphtali, brings his offering. It is the same offering the other princes offered, the same sin offering, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, the same silver and gold and incense. And now, after the twelfth has come, when all the tribes have dedicated themselves by their gifts and sacrifices, Moses enters the tabernacle, and God speaks.
And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with him, then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubims: and he spake unto him.
Sometimes, instead of just reading the Bible, if we stop to think what it would have been like to see, to live through, the things it records, we might view passages like Numbers 7 a little differently. It might seem boring to read through, but I don’t think it was boring to live through. I think it was twelve exciting and glorious days.