We've been reading through Numbers in our Wednesday night Bible readings. Numbers is a favourite book of mine, and I've read it through many times. But I admit that I am seeing Numbers in an entirely new light now that we're reading through it as a group.
When I've read Numbers previously, I saw it as a sort of a patchwork of stories about the journey from Sinai to Canaan, with commandments and laws interspersed. It wouldn't be fair to say that I never saw any uniting themes, but certainly Numbers has always seemed to me more of a series of anecdotes than a unified message. This time, I'm realizing that the laws given in Numbers are generally responses to the stories that come immediately before.
Numbers 18 is a fascinating chapter, it details the priest's duty (not merely privilege) to eat the offerings brought to the Lord. There are some offerings that only Aaron and his sons are to eat (Numbers 18:9–10), others are for Aaron, his sons, and his daughters (Numbers 18:11–13). There are some offerings that the Levites are to have (Numbers 18:21–24).
What I hadn't ever understood before is, the commands in Numbers 18 are a response to the events in Numbers 16–17. Numbers 17 ends with the people declaring that the Tabernacle was a place of death (Numbers 17:12–13). Numbers 18 is the instructions for the priest, detailing how to live in the place of death. How does the priest live in the place of death? he feeds on the sacrifices.
It's worthy of note that Numbers 17:8–10 introduces resurrection: God confirms Aaron's priesthood by making his [dead] staff bloom, producing blossoms and ripe almonds. God marks His priest by resurrection.
So Numbers 18 builds on these two ideas: first, the priesthood is characterized by resurrection; second, the Tabernacle is the place of death. So the question is, how can Aaron and his sons serve God in the place of death? How does one live in the place of death?
First, the priesthood must be in the power of resurrection. It's no use trying to serve God in the power of natural life. God's presence really is death to fallen men and women (Exodus 33:20). The fact is, the overwhelming majority of "Christian" ministry I have seen ignores this. If we want to serve God, if we want to come into His presence, it can only be in the power of resurrection. It's only as risen with Christ we can yield our members to righteousness (Romans 6:13). It's only as risen with Christ we can seek those things above (Colossians 3:1–3).
Second, the service of God is sustained by feeding on the Sacrifice. There is a great deal more involved in eating the offerings, but we must at least start with this: it is feeding on Christ as dead for us – His flesh our food, His blood our drink (John 6:53–58) – that we have any life in ourselves. God never intended us to be plants, He never designed us to produce our own food. We are designed to feed: the first man fed on plants in the Garden, the new Man feeds on Christ.
This is a challenge to me: it's incredibly difficult for me to admit that I can't produce for God. He hasn't called me to fill a need He has, but to have my needs filled by Him in His Son. God doesn't need us.