Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. Observe the OCCASION of the gifts here commemorated. The Lord's tabernacle has been constructed, furnished, anointed, and (what is best of all) occupied by the King whose pavilion it was intended for. Yes; and the construction and furniture of this royal tent have been effected by the voluntary gifts of a willing people. The tabernacle and its furniture are completed according to the pattern shown to Moses on the mount. No necessary part is wanting. Still there is room for some supplementary gifts. Take two examples.
1. When the tabernacle was first dedicated there would no doubt he a golden spoon for Aaron's use when he burned incense at the golden altar. One such spoon was all that was strictly necessary. But it would occasionally happen that there would be more than one call to burn incense about the same time, and it was evidently unbecoming that in the palace of the King any worshipper should have to wait till the golden spoon was available. Hence the gift of the twelve golden spoons now presented by the princes.
2. The Levites have been appointed to bear the tabernacle and its furniture. They are able to do it; but not without difficulty, especially during the sojourn in the wilderness, where it is to be emphatically a moving tent. There was room, therefore, for a present of carriages and draught oxen. There are Christian congregations to whom this chapter teaches a much-needed lesson. The roll of their membership includes men of substance, yet they suffer the sanctuary to wear an aspect of threadbare penury and its services to be hunger-bitten. This ought not so to be.
II. THE INVENTORY OF THE GIFTS.
1. Some were for the tabernacle in its wandering state. Six wagons were provided, - they seem to have been small covered chariots, - and a yoke of oxen was attached to each. These wagons were distributed among the Levitical families according to the nature and amount of the burdens which had been assigned them respectively.
2. Others were for the handselling of the tabernacle service. These consisted partly of gold and silver utensils for the stated service; partly of offerings to be presently consumed. The offerings included all the principal kinds in use under the law. There were burnt offerings, sin offerings, peace offerings. The first sort and the last were much the most numerous. It was a time when the congregation might well rejoice before the Lord - freely devoting themselves to him, and expatiating on the blessedness of communion with him. A time of spontaneous bountifulness in God's service is always a time of gladness. Yet even at such times we are not to forget that we are sinners. The sin offering may not be prominent in this chapter of gifts, yet it has a place in every one of the twelve lists of offerings. What has been said about the nature of the gifts will explain the circumstance that the presenting of them was spread over twelve days. The peace offerings far exceeded in number all the rest. While the sin offering in each case consisted of a solitary kid, and the burnt offering consisted of only three animals, a bullock, a ram, and a lamb, the animals included in the peace offering were no fewer than seventeen. Now the specialty of the peace offering was this, that the person who presented it thereafter feasted upon it with his friends before the Lord. It was a becoming arrangement, therefore, that the disposal of this offering should be spread over several days.
III. A word or two about THE MEN by whom the gifts were brought. They were the hereditary princes of the tribes - the princes of the congregation who had taken charge of the census. This deserves to be noted, for it explains a certain feature of the present gifts in which they differ from almost all other gifts recorded in Scripture. The rule laid down in the Bible for all ordinary cases is that every man is to give according as God hath prospered him. Here, on the contrary, the gifts of the princes are identical in number and value - doubtless by prior concert. There would be richer and poorer among the princes, yet they all give alike. It was not so at the erection of the tabernacle. On that occasion there was the utmost diversity: the mite of the poor widow was made as welcome as the rich man's ingot of gold. Although a man could bring no more than a handful of goat's hair, he was not denied the honour of having a share in the work. There are times for both sorts of giving. When a place of worship, where rich and poor are to meet together, is to be built, it would be wrong to exclude any from the subscription list, however poor. When a college of sacred learning is to be built or endowed, it may be the fittest plan to limit the subscription list to twelve or twenty "princes of the congregation" who are able to contribute every man his thousand or his five thousand pounds. It is a good omen for a nation when its "nobles put their necks to the work of the Lord." And it is good for the nobles themselves when they have the heart to do this. They who are honourable should show themselves serviceable. Noblesse oblige. When the nobles forget their duty in this respect, God will not long maintain their nobility.
IV. Does any hearer complain that we have been doing him wrong in preaching today from this chapter of the law - barren and secular (as he thinks) - instead of conducting him into the green pastures of the gospel? Let such a hearer remember how Christ sat over against the treasury and marked what every one cast into it. That scene in the gospel and this chapter in the law - is not the scope of them the very same? - B.
I. THEIR SPONTANEITY.
1. The princes had already given offerings towards the erection of the tabernacle (Exodus 35:27, 28), and now they bring further offerings for its conveyance (verse 3) and for its complete furnishing (verses 10-17). The power and will to give are a "grace" bestowed (2 Corinthians 8:7), and the more we give the more of the grace of giving we may enjoy (Matthew 13:12).
2. If regarded simply as a duty, it was right that the princes should take the lead, as now it is a duty for men in authority and men of wealth, pastors and officers in Christ's Church, to be "zealous for good works."
3. But the chief excellence of these and similar gifts was the "willing mind" (2 Corinthians 8:12). Under the law of Moses much was left to spontaneity (cf. Exodus 35:5; Leviticus 1:3, etc.), how much more under the law of Christ (Matthew 10:8; 2 Corinthians 9:7). The absence of willinghood may change the fine gold into base metal in the sight of God.
1. The uniformity of the gifts might possibly have been the result of fashion; Nahshon, of the tribe of Judah, setting the fashion, and the other princes following it. The "fashion" of generous giving may well be set and followed, that the illiberal may be shamed out of their mean devices. But,
2. The uniformity here was probably the result of previous arrangement, and the sign of an honourable emulation. This God approves (Hebrews 10:24), and St. Paul seeks to employ (2 Corinthians 8:1-7: 9:1-5). With this object public benefactions (subscription-lists, etc.)are acceptable to God if the spirit of the precept (Matthew 6:3, 4) is not violated. The details here published for posterity remind us that every particular of our gifts and services is recorded before God. E.g., a coin and its value, absolute and relative (Mark 12:41-44). A jewel, a family heirloom, and how much it cost to give it up (2 Samuel 24:15).
3. The uniformity was a sign that each tribe had an equal share in the altar and its blessings; even as different families, races, and individuals, have in the world-wide redemption of Christ (Romans 10:11-13). - P.
I. IT WAS VOLUNTARY. Jehovah had made no provision that these wagons should be got. The Levites had the bearing of the tabernacle assigned them, and there was nothing to show but they must use their own backs and hands for the purpose. What was essential had been pointed out. But this did not prevent voluntary additions where such did not contradict commands already given. There were men enough - at least, so it would seem - among the Gershonites and Merarites to have borne the heavy furniture. God had not laid on them a work beyond their skill and strength. We may conclude, therefore, that the gift of the wagons was an act of pure good will from these princes to the Levites. It was a fresh bond in the unity of the nation.
II. IT WAS SUITABLE. Many gifts of good will are mere ornaments. Sometimes they are white elephants. It is a great deal when a gift shows both a loving heart and a sound judgment. These wagons and oxen were just the thing to help. Probably there had been careful estimates, so as to secure a sufficient number. These wagons were well used (see chapter 33).
III. IT WAS A UNITED GIFT. Something to express the interest of all Israel in the Levites. The whole nation, in an indirect yet real way, had its part in the service of the tabernacle. It is a good thing to have many joined in a good work. It is better to have a hundred people interested in a hundred good institutions to the extent of a pound a piece, than one man in one institution to the extent of a hundred pounds. God sends down his clouds in the wide-scattering, tiny drops of rain.
IV. IT WAS DULY PROPORTIONATE. Each tribe had its share in the gift and its share in the credit. It was such a kind of gift that each tribe might reasonably give an equal share. It was the gift of all and the gift of each. The niggardliness of the individual should not be bidden away in the munificence of the community.
V. IT WAS ACCEPTED OF GOD. A contrast with the way in which he treated the rashness and presumption of Nadab and Abihu. God is glad to have us lighten burdens and help one another, when it does not lead to a mean shirking of personal duties. It was right for these princes to take care that the strength of the bearers of burdens should not be decayed (Nehemiah 4:10). We see moreover a certain honour put upon the lower creation; it was an honour to be used for sacrifice, an honour to bear the tabernacle furniture.
VI. When accepted, THE GIFT WAS PROPORTIONED BY GOD. The princes gave, but God arranged. It was not fit that brute beasts should carry the vessels of the sanctuary, therefore the Kohathites could not avail themselves of the wagons. The Merarites, we may presume, had more to bear than the Gershonites, and they had more in the way of help. If even among these minute specifications of God's commands to Moses there was this room for voluntary gifts, how much more under the gospel. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, a great deal more liberty in giving than most believers avail themselves of. - Y.
The fixed standard of God as contrasted with the fluctuating standards of men. We should have a fixed standard -
I. IN DEALING WITH GOD. His claims are first. He took the first born and the first fruit. The great exactness that was required in all offerings as to quality and quantity. These sacrifices, perfect after their fashion, were only valuable as symbolizing the entire consecration and genuine penitence of those who brought them. Worship must be according to the shekel of the sanctuary. We must have a full sense of the reality of his existence, and adequate conceptions of all that belongs to his glory and sovereignty over creation. Also correct notions of ourselves as worshippers. Not with the humility of sinless angels who veil their faces, but as the polluted children of men, with their hands on their mouths, and their mouths in the dust. Our praise must be especially for his love, wisdom, and power in our redemption. Our expectations from God must be according to the shekel of the sanctuary. We must not lust for the comforts of Egypt. We must have expectations that correspond with the greatness of our redemption. Our Father in heaven treats us to an exhibition of the good and perfect gifts - be ours the desire for them. To look for temporal comforts is to look for trifles, things not promised, things that come without prayer and seeking, if we would only look for such things as God would have us seek. Ask for God's Spirit - you are then supplicating according to the shekel of the sanctuary. Seek for the kingdom of God and his righteousness - you are then seeking according to the shekel of the sanctuary. The sanctuary measure of expectation is in the Lord's prayer. The daily conduct of life must be according tot he shekel of the sanctuary. Everything in which our voluntary powers are concerned should be done as for God. The world is hard to please, but even when it is pleased, it is with a low standard. We are careful when the eyes of men are upon us, for that means reputation; let us be careful also when no human eye can see, for that means character. Each daily presentation of the living sacrifice should make that sacrifice holier, more acceptable to God.
II. IN DEALING WITH MEN. The Israelites were to do no unrighteousness in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. They were not to have divers weights and measures, great and small. Solomon tells us all the weights of the bag are the Lord's work. Amos spoke of the wickedness of the people who waited for the Sabbath to be gone that they might sell their corn, making the ephah small and the shekel great. The Almighty is just as particular about our work as our worship. Trade customs are no excuse in his sight. The eye that never misses anything or mistakes anything is on the weights and measures of all dishonest traffickers. God is just as angry when a man defrauds his neighbour as when he breaks the Sabbath. How many have been hindered in their religion, lost their peace of mind, and finally backslidden from the ways of God, because all was not right in their daily business. Remember also all the other relations. Commercial relations only a small part of human intercourse. Husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours, rulers and subjects, debtor and creditor, rich and poor, well and sick, young and old, believer and unbeliever: the shekel of the sanctuary has its place in all such intercourse. We need then to live in continual watchfulness and prayer, to have everything agreeable to this standard. One set of principles we should have, and one only, got from the teaching and example of our Divine Master. We must deal with one another as God has dealt with us, he who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to redeem it. The actions of the Almighty himself are weighed according to the shekel of the sanctuary. - Y.
(1) to the universality of sin, and
(2) to the need of an absolute, world-wide, everlasting atonement.
Classifying the references to the sin offering, we find various illustrations of this truth, fruitful of application to our need of the great offering' for sin at all times, and under the manifold circumstances of private and public life. The sin offering was required, and presented.
1. From one end of the year to the other, on every return of the new moon (Numbers 28:15).
6. For sins of all classes of men; e.g., a priest, the whole congregation, a ruler, "one of the common people" (Leviticus 4). In these offerings there were gradations, according to position and privilege, or according to means (Leviticus 5:6, 7).
Exodus 25:17-22) is now fulfilled, and Moses, as mediator, enjoys exceptional privileges even beyond the high priest, his brother (cf. Leviticus 16:2 with text, and Numbers 12:6-8). We are reminded of a truth respecting all times of intercourse with God in prayer. When we speak to God, we ought to expect God to speak to us.
I. THE SOUL INQUIRING. Our privilege (Hebrews 10:19-22) greater than that of Moses. Every place may be as "a tabernacle" (Genesis 28:17; John 4:23). Yet good to have some special place, consecrated by hallowed associations (Illus. 2 Samuel 7:18; Daniel 6:10; Matthew 6:6; Acts 1:13). Then we go to "speak with" God, words which imply holy boldness and confidence. As Moses brought to God the burdens of his office and his own temptations and sins, so may we (cf. Psalm 27:5; Psalm 73:16, 17; Psalm 77:1; Hebrews 4:16; James 4:8).
II. GOD RESPONDING. "Then," etc. - perhaps sometimes even before Moses began to speak. So at times Isaiah 65:24 fulfilled. See Esther 5:3. If we hear no voice from God at the first moment of approaching him, we ought not to be satisfied unless, while we are speaking to God, God speaks to us (Psalm 28:1; Psalm 35:3; Psalm 143:7, 8). The response we desire and receive will be from the same spot as Moses' answer "from off the mercy-seat." To sinners, God in nature keeps silence: God on the throne of judgment is "a consuming fire;" God on the mercy-seat is "God in Christ," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:19). Such manifestations and voices of God are earnests of further answers, if not immediate, yet certain (e. g. Matthew 7:7; Matthew 26:38-44; Acts 10:3-6; 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). - P.