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God’s Word for You

Numbers 4:16-20 Holy responsibilities

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, June 11, 2021

16 Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, shall be in charge of the lamp oil, the fragrant incense, the daily grain offering, and the anointing oil. He shall be in charge of the entire Dwelling, everything in it, the holy objects, and its furnishings.

As the eldest heir of the High Priest, Eleazar was directly responsible for these precious items: the pure olive oil for the golden lampstand (Exodus 35:8), the daily grain offering for the morning and evening sacrifice (Leviticus 6:20; Numbers 28:31), and the specially spiced oil for anointing priests (Exodus 25:6, 28:41). The recipe for a batch of this oil is given in Exodus 30:23-25, and it included liquid myrrh, cinnamon, fragrant cane, cassia, and olive oil. Eleazar was also to oversee the entire tabernacle and its furnishings, as well as the service of the Kohathite tribe who carried these furnishings. In this way, Eleazar can be compared to the Executive Officer of a ship in our navy. This officer is responsible for the running of the ship and for the crew. He is directly answerable to the captain, and would be promoted to captain should the need arise. These things are also true of the eldest son of the High Priest.

17 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, 18 “Do not allow the tribe of the Kohathite clans to be cut off from among the Levites. 19 Do this for them so that they may live and not die when they come near the most holy things: Aaron and his sons are to go in and assign to each one of them what he is to do and what he is to carry. 20 But the Kohathites must not go in to see the sanctuary even for a moment or they will die.”

In order that the line God had chosen to be his priests would continue, great care is commanded in handling the holy things. The Kohathite clan was to carry the articles of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, but they were not allowed to prepare those items. This was the duty of the High Priest and the other priests, especially the eldest son of the High Priest. The Kohathites were especially warned not to approach the Ark of the Covenant, nor even to look at it. Their duty was to carry those holiest things.

We can contrast this with the other items, and who or what carried them, since carts were used for some things.

I, The holiest items (the Ark, the Ark’s protecting curtain, the golden altar, the table of the showbread, and so forth) were wrapped and unwrapped only by the priests, and carried by hand by the Kohathites.

II, Other holy items (the lampstand and its furnishings) were packed by the priests and carried on carrying racks (stretchers) by Kohathites.

III, Still other items (the tabernacle curtains and coverings) were wrapped up by the Gershonites under the supervision of the priests, and carried by the Gershonites.

IV, The minor accessories like tent pegs and poles were wrapped up by the Merarites. Some items were carried, others could be transported by carts.

In general, the holier the item, the less contact it was to have with anyone except the priests. As one moved outward from the inner sanctuary, the more people were allowed to come into contact with the items, and some things could even be hauled without human hands. But the holiest things were prepared by priests and carried by the priestly family of Kohath alone.

Although the Lord commanded that the Kohathite clan must not be cut off, this didn’t mean that individual Kohathites were not responsible for their actions or inactions. We already saw that two of Aaron’s sons (Moses and Aaron were descended from Kohath, 1 Chronicles 6:1-3) were put to death when they attempted to offer fire or incense to the Lord in a way that was not commanded by the Lord. Later in this book we will see the eldest descendant of the second line of Kohathites, the line of Izhar, rebel against Moses and Aaron, and lead 250 others in the rebellion (Numbers 16:1-3). Was that man, Korah, immune to punishment, even the most severe punishment? Not at all. His punishment was one of the most horrifying ever depicted in Scripture.  And worse, showing that he was no true spiritual leader of Israel, he drew some men and families from another tribe into the rebellion, showing that false teaching is like yeast that starts to work and spread all through a lump of dough (Matthew 16:11-12; Galatians 5:9).

All of God’s people have a role to play in his kingdom. Paul compared this to a human body with its various members and organs. We can’t all be an eye or the head; some of us need to supply other gifts and talents to the body. And this means that we can’t be a disorganized body. We obey our leaders and submit to them (Hebrews 13:17). Why? Because this is God’s will. “The leaders of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong because the LORD of Armies is their God’” Zechariah 12:5). Whatever your role might be: Pastor, mother, teacher, brother, friend, babysitter, kid who does the lawn mowing… do what you do to the glory of God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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