God’s Word for You
Numbers 7:1-9 Covered wagons
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 12, 2021
Chapter seven describes what most of us would think of as the “Opening Service” of the tabernacle. It includes a long scene (verses 7-83) that is perhaps about as interesting to us as watching all the grown-ups going to communion is to a ten-year-old; for a little while we’re curious, but then it may lose some of its fascination. But we need to watch, to listen to what the the Lord reveals about himself to us in his word (1 Samuel 3:21), and to apply what took place then to what do now.
Offerings at the Dwelling’s Dedication
7 On the day that Moses finished setting up the Dwelling, he anointed and consecrated it with all of its furnishings and the altar with all of its utensils. He anointed and consecrated them.
This dedication service actually took place after Leviticus 8:10, but Moses may have wanted to write out an uninterrupted copy of the laws for the people (the Book of Leviticus), and so the story finally resumes here. The chronology of this time can be worked out from several passages. We know that there was a total solar eclipse (solar eclipses only happen during a new moon) on March 10, 1446 BC. Since Passover begins with a full moon, the first Passover could have taken place two weeks after that date (March 24), or if that was too early, a month after that, on April 21. A year later, the Passover would have been on about April 9, with the first month (Nisan) beginning March 27. Using that estimate as a benchmark, this is the calendar of events at this time:
1445 BC The second year of the exodus and sojourn
March 27 (month 1, day 1) Tabernacle is erected (Exodus 40:2)
God begins to give the laws for the tabernacle (Leviticus 1:1)
Ordination of the priests begins (Leviticus 8:1)
The tribes begin to give offerings for the altar (Numbers 7:3)
April 3 (month 1, day 8) Ordination is completed (Leviticus 9:1)
Deaths of Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons (Leviticus 10:1-3)
April 7 (month 1, day 12) Offerings end (Numbers 7:78)
The Levites are set apart and purified (Numbers 8:5-26)
April 9 (month 1, day 14) Second Passover begins (one year after
the exodus, Numbers 9:2)
April 16 (month 1, day 21) Passover ends (cf. Exodus 12:15)
April 24 (month 2, day 1) The census begins (Numbers 1:1)
May 14 (month 2, day 20) The Cloud moves; the people leave
Sinai (Numbers 10:11)
2 The tribal chiefs of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ houses, brought offerings. These were the chiefs of the tribes, who were in charge of the registration. 3 They brought as their offering before the LORD six covered carts and twelve oxen—a cart for every two tribal chiefs and an ox for every tribal chief. They presented them in front of the Dwelling.
These carts are called covered wagons in some translations (KJV, RSV). The EHV footnote suggests that they may have been two-wheeled ox carts, but ancient terra cotta toys made in roughly the same period are short four-wheeled carts with rounded tops very similar to the Conestoga wagons that took families into the American West after the Civil War. The LORD had plans for these carts. We are not told who provided replacement animals, but it would be reasonable to assume that when a particular animal died, the tribe that had donated it would supply another. The wagons were only used until the time of Joshua; after that even their correct function was forgotten about, as 1 Chronicles 13:7 may attest.
4 The LORD spoke to Moses: 5 “Accept these gifts from them so that they may be used for doing the work at the Tent of Meeting. You are to give them to the Levites as each one’s work requires.” 6 Moses took the carts and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. 7 He gave two carts and four oxen to the descendants of Gershon as their work required. 8 He gave four carts and eight oxen to the descendants of Merari, as required for their work under the direction of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the priest. 9 But to the descendants of Kohath he did not give any, because their work was to carry the holy things on their own shoulders.
The carts were for the transport of those items for the tabernacle that did not need to be carried directly by hand. The things that could be transported on the carts included the frames and bases of the outer curtains, the curtains themselves, and the smaller utensils and tools, as well as all of the ropes and other hardware. Notice that the division of Merari that had the heavier and bulkier material to transport was given four of the carts. The Gershonites got two of the carts. Since the things like the Ark, the altar, the incense altar and the lampstand were carried with poles by the Levite descendants of Kohath, the Kohathites were not given any carts at all. The Lord had in mind just what he wanted his people to do, and he provided the means for them to do it. He still does this. When he needs a worker in a certain area, he provides someone with the right skills to accomplish what needs to be done (Titus 1:5). When he needs something to be done that will cost money, he provides his people with the funds that they will need. “Ask and it will be given to you” (Luke 11:9). But what about words? What about those times when I don’t need money or skills, but the right words? Jesus also said: “Don’t worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say” (Matthew 10:19). Remember as you read this chapter: The Lord gave his people the gifts he wanted them to give back to him. He provides what he requires. This is as true of faith as it is of any of the items, wagons, gold and silver dishes, or animals for offerings we will read about here. Your faith is a gift, and it’s what God looks for in you. “He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7), and he builds up our trust with his promises, his compassion, and his love, day after day.
Pastor Timothy Smith