Reading through the first five books of the Old Testament can seem like a whirlwind, especially when it comes to the Israelites trying to reestablish their life after fleeing from Egypt under God’s guiding hand. We are quick to criticize them for wanting to go back to Egypt at the first sign of hardship (Exodus 16-17) and for quickly turning to idol worship when they thought Moses was dead on Mount Sinai (Exodus 32). We sometimes forget that these people never personally knew their forefather Jacob (also known as Israel). They were centuries removed from Joseph and his masterful guidance of Egypt through the years of famine. Though they knew they had a God, they had never interacted with Him the way that their ancestors had. Egypt is what they knew. Though they were slaves, it was home. God showed much more grace and patience with His people than most of us do.
However, as you read through the story of the children of Israel as they move from Egyptian slavery to entering Canaan, you will find that there are instances that show signs of hope. As Moses is following God’s instructions and helping the children of Israel get the tabernacle fully setup and ready for use, the leaders of the twelve tribes brought offerings to give to the Lord (Numbers 7:1-5). These offerings were to be used by the Levites as they labored in carrying out the day-to-day operations of the tabernacle, which included transporting the physical pieces of the tabernacle from place to place as they followed God’s instructions for relocation. From the twelve tribes, there was a total offering of 6 covered carts and 12 oxen. God instructed Moses to give these to the Levites, and we can all understand why carts and oxen would be needed when you are transporting walls, curtains, etc.
Instead of just passing them out on a first-come-first-serve basis, Moses was instructed to distribute the offerings based on the work that each family within the tribe of Levi was assigned to do (Numbers 4:1-33).
There were 3 specific families from the tribe of Levi that were identified for specific work: the families of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari. These are the three families that were to receive the offering of the carts and oxen. Two carts each and four oxen each. That’s pretty simple math. I mean, even I can do that.
But that’s not exactly what happened. Listen to Numbers 7:6-9.
“So Moses took the carts and the oxen, and gave them to the Levites. Two carts and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service; and four carts and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service…but to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because theirs was the service of the holy things, which they carried on their shoulders.”
Put yourself in the shoes of the family of Kohath. You are standing there waiting to get your fair share, possibly hoping that God was going to make your burden a little easier, and you get passed over. “What gives? How come the family of Merari is so much more important? Why do they get a double portion of the offering, and we get nothing? This isn’t fair!”
The sons of Kohath didn’t need the carts and oxen. Everything they were to transport was to be carried by hand, such as the ark and the table of showbread (Numbers 4:5-7). But do you know what is really interesting about this passage of scripture in Numbers 7? There was no immediate complaint from the family of Kohath. They did not react with animosity or demands for answers. They understood that they had been given a certain task to do by God, and God provided them with the tools necessary to carry out that task. The tools did not include carts and oxen, but instead strong backs and able bodies.
How many of us today will bubble over with jealousy as we look at the “tools” that others have available to them? How many of us will complain that we don’t have it as easy as someone else has it? How many of us will try to go to the person in charge and demand answers and equality?
Or how many of us will accept the blessings that God has placed in our hands, understand that we are to be good stewards of those blessings no matter how great or small (Matthew 25:14-30), and acknowledge that God’s grace is sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9) and that He will provide us with everything we need (II Peter 1:2-4)?