The Book of Numbers is not exactly prime devotional material by most standards. It contains a lot of lists, a lot of rules, some really weird narratives, and God often seems to be smiting people. But when you look closely, you can see the richness of Scripture which invites us into the narratives so that we might meditate on them and absorb the beauty and nutrients therein.
The Hebrew title for the Scroll we call Numbers is “Bemidbar” or “In The Wilderness.” This is a much better title! It continues the narrative of the Hebrew people coming out of Egypt and moving toward the Promised Land. All of the narrative takes place in the wilderness. It is in the wilderness that God forms His people … but that is a different meditation for another day.
In Numbers 18 there was a rebellion by a group of Levites, so God clarifies to everyone that Aaron’s line will be the priests and the rest of the tribe of Levi will serve a special role in caring for the Tabernacle. They will be a sort of “grounds and maintenance” team for this holy place.
In verse 7 we find a little nugget that one could easily miss if you weren’t paying attention.
Numbers 18:7 (NKJV): “Therefore you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything at the altar and behind the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood (to you) as a gift for service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”
In English, it is a little less obvious, but that is not the author’s fault. The author tells us what God said to Aaron and the priests in commissioning them for their duties. They were to “shamar” and “abad.” They were to “shamar” (keep, guard) their priesthood and to “abad” (work, serve, perform) the services around the altar.
Here is why this is so important: this is the same language God used when He commissioned Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 2:15 (NKJV): Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.
God put the humans in the garden to “abad and shamar” it.
This is no coincidence. The author of Numbers is continuing a theme that started in the Genesis scroll. God wants to be in a right relationship with His crowning achievement in creation: humans. Even though humanity messed it up in the Garden of Eden, God is still working to redeem our relationship.
When God gave the priests a holy commissioning, it was all about tending and keeping access to God available for God’s people.
In the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that through His death, resurrection, and ascension, everyone who follows Him is now responsible for tending and keeping access to God available for all people. God has given us all a purpose, no matter what your job or career might be. We are to “shamar” and “abad” the Good News of Jesus so that everyone is able to hear about God’s love.
So even in the book of Numbers, we can find our own meaning and purpose. For some strange reason, God wants to work with and through us. Would you like to join Him?
Rev. Jason Allison is pastor of spiritual formation at Press Church. For information, go to www.presschurch.tv.