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7 And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle.

At a blast from the two silver trumpets by the sons of Aaron at the door of the tabernacle, the east camp broke up and set forward. Then the priests to whom the work had been allotted, took down the tabernacle and the pillars and the courts with their sockets, and went forward with the wagons, leaving the Kohathites behind, in charge of the holy vessels and furniture of the sanctuary. Then at a second alarm of the trumpets, the camp of Reuben, on the south, broke up and fell in behind the priests with the wagons. Then the Kohathites marched, bearing the holy vessels on their shoulders. Then the west camp, the camp of Ephraim broke up, and marched behind the Kohathites, and after them, the north camp, the camp of Dan, which formed the rear of the lengthy procession.

On arriving at a new site, the camps pitched in the same order. The host of Judah, at the head of the procession, came to a halt first, and put up their tents. The wagons behind them stopped at the same time, and the priests in charge got out the pillars and court hangings, and the boards and bars of the tabernacle, and put up the empty structure in readiness to receive the altars and holy vessels on the arrival of the Kohathites in the rear. Then the host of the Reubenites turned aside to the right, and formed their camp at the due distance; then the Kohathites came up, and found the tabernacle ready to receive the ark and the holy vessels. Then the host of Ephraim formed camp on the ground where they stood, and the host of Dan behind them defiled to the left and went forward to their camping ground on the north of the tabernacle.

It was all done in beautiful order and without hitch. It was a most wise plan for avoiding confusion in the handling of such a mass of people. But it was also an illustration of the truth stated by Paul when he said, "God in not the author of confusion, but of peace", and in this character it may be taken as a foreshadowing of the perfect order that will characterize the work of God in the age of glory. How much of the interest and impressiveness of all public functions (from the review of an army, to the performances of a trained orchestra in the presence of royalty), depends upon order.

How abortive is a mere mob, even of respectable people. How great is the difference between a state ceremony and the rush of a rabble in the street. The beauty of order requires the surrender of some amount of individual liberty which may be irksome to mere mortals, especially to lawless mortals, of such an age as this, when the spirit of democratic insubordination is rampant. But to the multitude "redeemed from among men" because of the subjection of their will to the will of God, it will be as much a joy to respond to the organizing requirements of the Spirit of God as it is for the physical body now to respond to the lightning-like volitions of the brain.

The "army of heaven" is not a mob (Dan. 4:35). The "multitude of the heavenly host" did not sing on the plains of Bethlehem without concert and leadership (Luke 2:13). Even the simultaneous flight of a flock of migratory birds under leadership (one of the most interesting sights in nature)--is a divine work in its way--which does not mean the sacrifice of the wills of the individual birds, but their voluntary accommodation to a collective necessity in which they find pleasure.

So the movements of the saints in the perfect state to which probation is steadily taking them forward will have many glorious co-operations, in which the perfect order, which is "heaven's first law", will be the highest delight of myriads of co-operative wills. They will rejoice in the marshallings and movements of the host of the Lord as all true Israelites did in the movements of the camps during their march under Moses to the promised land

Law of Moses Ch 33.

13 Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am Yahweh.

The deliverance of the "firstborn" nation was an object lesson in the conditions on which God purposes finally to redeem all nations. That is why the firstborn males were the subjects both of God's penal stroke and of His clemency on that occasion: in each house the firstborn Israelite represented the whole of Israel as the firstborn nation.

What was true of him; then, was meant to be true also of Israel as a whole. This was made abundantly clear in the law of the consecration of the firstborn which was promulgated in connection with the Passover. His deliverance was emblematic of the deliverance of the entire people: and the deliverance of their firstborn cattle was likewise emblematic of the deliverance of all their herds (i.e., by extension, of all their possessions).

So God ordained, as a fitting commemoration of the event, "Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine" (Exod. 13: 2). Owing their redemption solely and entirely to God, Israel of necessity became His property, His servants obliged to do His bidding.

"Thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lord's. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem" (Exod. 13: 12-13).

Their children would be puzzled by these practices and ask "What is this?" The reply was to be, "By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem".

The emblematic character of the practices was then stressed. "It shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes, for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt" (verses 14-16).

Here was one of the earliest of that whole series of ritual devices which the Law adopted to bring home to Israel the moral and spiritual significance of the Exodus. None was better suited to its purpose, for though so simple it was wonderfully flexible and adaptable. Its basic lesson was that, having been redeemed by God, they were no longer their own but had become exclusively God's. "All the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the Lord" 

The allegory interpreted itself -- as a redeemed person the Israelite had to regard himself as utterly beholden to God.

A later ordinance was designed to reinforce that lesson in an emphatic way. Of the animals thus made over to God it was stipulated, "Thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thy bullock, nor shear the firstling of thy sheep". The moral was plain: God and man were not to share these animals: they were wholly God's. As objective representations of each Israelite individually, and of Israel as a whole, they taught that the redeemed of the Lord had to devote themselves in total dedication to Him: their calling demanded no less.

...The law did not concern only a man's bullock or sheep but "every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast". It thus affected a man's unclean beast of burden as much as the clean beasts of his herd and flock. This could only signify that his ass was also in some measure an objective representation of himself! Incongruous though this might seem at first it was none the less true, and the ritual made special provision for the fact.

The standard rule was that such firstlings had automatically to be put to death by the breaking of their necks.  This was a solemn reminder to the Israelite of what had befallen the firstborn of Egypt who were not numbered among God's favoured people, and what ought in strict justice to befall him as a sinner - and inasmuch as (speaking physically) he too could be classified among the unclean animals it brought the lesson all the more sternly home to him that it was not his lineal descent from Abraham which had saved him from death but solely the grace of God.

Yet - and in this lay the wonder of the ritual - he could, if he chose, spare his ass's life. But on how significant a condition! He could thus save its life only at the cost of another's, and that appropriately a lamb - the Passover victim. If his own consciousness of having been redeemed was as vivid as it should have been he would not hesitate to spare his ass in this appointed way, and it is doubtless this which explains the presumption in the law that he would so do (Exod. 13 : 13).

But to ensure that whether willingly or unwillingly he would recollect what God had-done for him, the redemption of his firstborn son was made compulsory - and on the same indispensable condition, the offering of a lamb. The distinction thus made between his son and his ass - between obligatory and voluntary redemption - served to emphasize that his own redemption was not a subject of doubt but an indisputable historical fact, and all the more urgent a motive for self-consecration on that account.'

Law and Grace Ch 4

15 Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them.

The rest of the tribes were numbered only from twenty years old and upwards, and of them those only that were able to go forth to war; but into the number of the Levites they must take in both infants, and infirm. Being exempted from the war, it was not insisted upon that they should be of age and strength for the wars. It appears afterwards that little more than a third part of the Levites were fit to be employed in the service of the tabernacle (about 8000 out of 22,000, Num. 4:47-48). 

GEM - www.logos.org.au

25 And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle [tent/ohel] of the congregation shall be the tabernacle [Mishkan], and the tent [ohel], the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle [tent/ohel of the congregation,

And the mishmeret of the Bnei Gershon in the Ohel Mo'ed is as follows: the Mishkan, and the Ohel, the covering thereof, and the curtain at the entrance of the Ohel Mo'ed, [OJB]

The Mishkan is the tabernacle, Yahweh's dwelling place. Ohel is the tent covering the tabernacle.


38 But those that encamp before the tabernacle [Hb. Mishkan] toward the east, even before the tabernacle [Tent over the tabernacle - Hb. ohel] of the congregation eastward, shall be Moses, and Aaron and his sons, keeping the charge of the sanctuary for the charge of the children of Israel; and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

38 And those that encamp in front of the Mishkan toward the east, even in front of the Ohel Mo'ed eastward, shall be Moshe, and Aharon and his banim, shomrim mishmeret HaMikdash (standing guard duty over the holy area) on behalf of the Bnei Yisroel; and the zar that shall encroach shall be put to death. [OJB}

The children of Israel, in the very act of laying their hands on the Levites during the consecration service, had confessed it to be their duty to devote themselves with the same completeness to the service of God. They were to attain by sinlessness to the reality of which the washing and shaving of the Levites were but dim representations. Thus, as we move inwards through the Camp to the Sanctuary at its centre, we find the symbolism to be laying increasingly stringent emphasis upon the duty, as well as upon the sinfulness, of the ordinary Israelite.

We find the same to be true as we seek to enter the Sanctuary itself. The ordinary Levites did not pitch their tents directly before the entrance to the Sanctuary. That position of honour was reserved for Aaron and his sons together with Moses. "Those that encamp before the tabernacle toward the east, even before the tabernacle of the congregation eastward, shall be Moses, and Aaron and his sons keeping the charge ... of the children of lsrael". To stress that an; presumptuous approach would have its condign punishment, it was added, "And the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death".

......The ominous caution brought home forcibly to the Israelite that he could not approach the Sanctuary (that is, have access to God) except through the mediation of a priesthood, on account of his sinfulness. Yet, once again, the symbolism presented him with reality and with an ideal at one and the same time. For had not God said, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation"? To be "a dynasty of priests", everyone of them - that was Israel's ideal destiny! But to be that they had also to be "an holy nation". To show them how imperative that was, was the object of the symbolism of the priestly laws.

The Levite, for all his privileges, could not exceed his mandate except upon pain of death. "They shall keep thy charge", said God of them to Aaron, "and the charge of all the tabernacle: only they shall not come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor ye also, die" (Num. I8 : 3). The priesthood, in the strict sense, belonged exclusively to the family of Aaron, as the rebellion of Korah made decisively plain (Num. I6)

Law and Grace Ch 5.