God’s Word for You
Numbers 3:44-51 He IS
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, June 7, 2021
44 The LORD spoke to Moses: 45 “Take the Levites instead of every firstborn among the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock. The Levites will be mine. I am the LORD. 46 For the redemption of the 273 firstborn Israelites who outnumber the Levites, 47 you are to collect five shekels apiece for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel (this shekel is twenty gerahs). 48 You are to give the money, the redemption price for the additional Israelites, to Aaron and his sons.”
49 Moses collected the redemption money from those who outnumbered the ones redeemed by the Levites who took their place. 50 He collected the money from the firstborn of the Israelites, 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. 51 Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and to his sons, in obedience to the word of the LORD, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
There are some things I’m fairly good at, but math isn’t my strongest subject. In a book like this one, a good head for mathematics would be an asset, but I will admit that a quick look at my calculator and I saw that the multiplication problem here is done correctly: 273 x 5 = 1,365. Of course, they didn’t need to do the problem; they just needed the 273 firstborn to each pay the five shekels, and the sum of the addition would be the same as the product of my multiplication.
While we’ve already talked about the redemption of the firstborn Israelites through the tribe of Levi, we haven’t talked about the little sentence that ends verse 45: “I am the LORD.” This sentence occurs just three times in this book, always in this chapter, and always in reference to the redemption of the firstborn. Two other times, when God wants his people to remember his commands in general, he will say, “I am the LORD your God” (Numbers 10:10, 15:41).
The name LORD is our translation of God’s name for himself, a name that means “I (always) am.” God had already explained this name to Moses on Mount Sinai: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.’” (Exodus 3:14-15)
It would be equally appropriate, if confusing, to simply refer to God in a direct translation of his name: “IS.” When God says his name, it means “I AM.” When we say it, it means “HE IS,” or simply, “IS.” To avoid confusion, it’s probably best to stick with “the LORD.”
With his name, God teaches us about his eternal nature. He never ceases to be; he always is. That means that he always was, that he never had a beginning, but for him, that is not in the past. He always is; he is outside of our concept of time. When God first made the universe, he also created time as a reference for us. He created light, separated it from darkness, and as the light became twilight and faded for a few hours into darkness, he called it “the first day” (Genesis 1:5).
In Deuteronomy 33:27, God reveals his nature in another sense. He calls himself Elohim Qedem, “the God of the East.” Think of his people in the wilderness. Every morning, they saw the glow of the approaching day in the east over the desert hills. In the desert, that glow suddenly becomes long arms of color, red and purple, stretching up from the east and towering overhead until suddenly, as if without warning, the disk of the sun leaps from the horizon. Shakespeare’s Romeo says of the sunrise, “Night’s candles are burned out, and jocund (happy) day stands tiptoe on the misty mountaintops!” An Egyptian Pharaoh who lived before Abraham’s time had inscribed on his tomb: “Open are the double doors of the horizon, unlocked are its bolts. Clouds darken the sky, the stars rain down, the constellations stagger…” (Pyramid of Unas, Utterance 220). The suddenness of the dawn, the blessings of its brightness, are on their minds.
The image God paints with his name, “God of the east,” is of the continual flow of everything, not just dawn. Light, rain, sun, harvest, joy, breath, peace, and every blessing comes from God, continually, always coming, like dawn always coming out of the east. “From the womb of the dawn,” David said, “you will receive the dew of your youth” (Psalm 110:3). And again, “God will make your righteousness shine like the dawn” (Psalm 37:6). And Solomon said, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18).
God, whose blessings come daily like the dawn, blesses us most especially with his holy word. His forgiveness is without end. “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Psalm 136 teaches us 26 times that his love endures forever, as do his name (Psalm 135:13) and his faithfulness (Psalm 117:2). The blessings of his creation never end (Psalm 119:90). Praise him for his love, and his mercy in Jesus. Without that mercy, we would try to hide in the darkness like Adam in his fearful shame (Genesis 3:10). But because his mercy is renewed and poured out day after day like the rising of the dawn, we have a place with him, where he IS, forevermore.
Pastor Timothy Smith