Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Numbers 7

Verses 1-4

Numbers 7:1-4

The princes of Israel . . . brought their offering.

The offering of the princes

The offering of the princes is set out by certain circumstances, of the time when they offered, when Moses had fully set up the tabernacle and had sanctified it, &c., of the persons which offered, the princes of the tribes, the heads of the house of their fathers, and of the place where they are offered, it was before the Lord. Then their offering is described by the particulars that were offered, which is performed jointly or severally. The doctrine from hence is this, that a good work begun, especially furthering God’s worship, is not to be intermitted until it be brought to perfection. We see this in Ezra 5:1-2; Ezra 6:14. The like zeal and forwardness we see in Nehemiah 4:3-4, &c. The apostle persuading the Corinthians to liberality toward the saints, willeth them readily to perform that which they had willingly begun. The reasons are plain.

1. The God of heaven will prosper weak beginnings if there be a readiness and cheerfulness in us. This should be a great encouragement unto us, as it was to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:20).

2. If we look back we are not apt to God’s kingdom (Luke 9:62). If we give over we lose our labour, we miss our reward.

3. It is better not to begin than, having begun, not to proceed; better never to lay the first stone in the building than, having laid a good foundation, not to make an end, because it will be said to our reproach (Luke 14:30).

1. This serves, first, to reprove such as give over their profession, resting in a good work begun and in weak and small beginnings.

2. Secondly, it reproveth such as stand at a stay, such as neither go forward nor backward, but are always the same men, and look where you left them, there you shall be sure to find them. These are earthly minded and savour only of the earth.

3. Thirdly, such deserve to be reproved who hate those that go before and beyond them in the duties of piety, in gifts of knowledge and understanding.

4. Fourthly, it is our duty to proceed in sanctification, and labour to bring forth fruit evermore in old age (Psalms 92:15). (W. Attersoll.)

Suitable offerings for God’s house

Why do they offer chariots, and oxen to draw them? Because these things were fit and good for the use of the tabernacle, to carry at removes such things as were to be carried, and to carry them dry. Learn by it that good hearts to Godward do not only give, but they give fit things, such as are most requisite for the service of God, the comeliness of His Church, the use of the minister, and the benefit of the whole congregation; yea, they to this end cast their heads, and observe what is wanting; what would do wall if it were had, what is now unseemly, and what would be more seemly for the reverence of God’s house, giving themselves no rest till either by themselves, at their own private charge, or by the parish at their public charge, such things be prepared. They are affected to God’s houses, as others are to their own, who are ever decking them with all necessaries till they are to their liking. Such a virtue as I may boldly say, God would sooner cease to be God, which we know is impossible, than forget to reward it. Do we remember in our own houses who gave us this and who gave us that, of plate, of household, of ornaments, or whatsoever, and will God forget in His house who gave anything for the necessary use, or greater beautifying it? We cannot think it, and our consciences tell us it cannot be. But even a thousand times more will God respect such love than any man can do. Make use of it then, I beg of you, and so show your heart to God in adorning His house and advancing His service, as living and dying He may fill your heart with His sweet comforts for it, bless you, and bless your friends after you, which He will do, even as He is God. (Bp. Babington.)

Princely liberality:

A wealthy European monarch has been fired with enthusiasm for Africa. When I visited King Leopold I asked him, “What makes you so earnest about Africa?” I was touched with his reply. He said, “You know God took away from me my son, my only son, and then He laid Africa upon my heart. I am not spending the revenue of Belgium on it, but my own private resources, and I have made arrangements that when I die this civilising and evangelising work in Africa shall still go on.” At the present time the king is expending £80,000 a year in Africa out of his private purse. (Grattan Guinness.)

Princely solicitude in regard to duty:

During the illness of King Edward the Sixth, who died in the sixteenth year of his age, Ridley, in a sermon which he preached before him, much commended works of charity, and showed that they were enjoined on all men, especially on those in higher stations. The same day, after dinner, the king sent for the doctor into the gallery, made him sit in a chair by him, and would not suffer him to be uncovered. After thanking him for his sermon, he repeated the chief points of it, and added, “I took myself to be chiefly touched by your discourse; for as in the kingdom I am next under God, so must I most nearly approach to Him in goodness and mercy. As our miseries stand most in the need of help from Him, so are we the greatest debtors. And therefore, as you have given me this general exhortation, direct me, I entreat you, by what particular act I may best discharge my duty.”

Prayer as a gauge of liberality

A gentleman canvassing for an important benevolent enterprise was about to call on a certain wealthy professor of religion who was more devout than generous. Ignorant of this fact, he asked his last contributor how much he thought the man would give. “I don’t know,” was the reply; “if you could hear him pray you’d think he would give all he is worth.” The collector called on the rich man, and to his surprise received a flat refusal. As he was taking his leave, it occurred to him to repeat what he had been told. “I asked a man,” said he, “how much you would probably give, and he replied, ‘If you could hear that man pray, you’d think he would give all he is worth.’“ The rich man’s head dropped, and his eyes filled with tears. He took out his pocket-book, and handed his visitor a liberal contribution.

Verses 5-9

Numbers 7:5-9

Give them unto the Levites, to every man according to his service.

Divine bestowment varied and proportionate

I. That God’s gifts are varied.

1. Men differ widely in many things--parentage, birthplace, physical vigour, mental capacity, education, spiritual gifts, &c.

2. For many of these differences they are themselves largely accountable. Some are crippled by their own indolence, extravagance, neglect, intemperance; others advance by their thrift, sobriety, perseverance, economy, and indomitable industry, to large influence and wealth.

3. But though the way in which men bear themselves may account for many of the differences between them, there are a thousand discrepancies which cannot be thus explained. No child is born in Alyssinia, or on the banks of the Ganges, or in crowded London because it wills it. Men are sick without being to blame for it, and women poor through no fault of their own. We must refer these problems to the Divine sovereignty. There is no other solution for many of life’s mysteries. “Even so Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” If Gershon and Kohath complain that Merari has more than they, Moses’ sufficient answer will be, “God ordained it so.”

4. This truth, apprehended and believed, would destroy a thousand seeds of discontent, envy, and socialistic heresy. It is God who bestows wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18), honours (Psalms 75:6-7), power (Romans 13:1). We receive gracefully the assignment of an earthly superior; why not as gracefully what God appoints?

II. God’s gifts are proportionate. In each case He proportions the means of transportation to the burden assigned.

1. That which is well proportioned is not excessive. This is true of a book, speech, building; eminently true of God’s work. God is bountiful, but never wasteful. We possess no talents or opportunities to be counted superfluous. Christ’s sufferings are proportioned to the sinner’s guilt.

2. Not defective.

Endowments and requirements:

I. As Moses appointed to the sons of Levi certain facilities, so the creator has endowed man with certain capabilities for work in his service.

1. Understanding.

2. Invention.

3. Will-power.

4. Judgment.

5. Affections.

6. Physical organs.

II. As Moses required the sons of levi to use their facilities, so God demands the exercise of our capabilities.

1. Yet how much indifference on the part of man in exercising and developing his faculties in useful and honourable employment! Many, instead of gaining their livelihood in the intended way, by the sweat of their face, study all manner of trickery and sin to satisfy their wants.

2. And how many professing Christians become so absorbed in worldly affairs as to neglect the business of the soul. God has claims superior to all claims of the world.

III. God’s requirements are no greater than our endowments. If we cannot give thousands, we can at least devote our “two mites.” A beautifully tinted leaf in the wood cannot be seen at a distance, yet it contributes its part to the glorious autumnal picture.

IV. Man must use his capabilities according to divine appointment. It is a solemn thing to trifle with the plans of God. Every man has a special power or gift, and “he who lives by other laws than those that wrapt his genius at his birth,” defeats, in a measure, the object of his creation. (W. G. Thrall.)

An ancient offering, and its modern lessons

I. They who hold the most honourable positions should be most liberal in contributions to worthy objects.

II. They who are not entirely engaged in religious ministries should seek to help those who are so engaged.

III. God is graciously pleased to accept of man’s offerings.

IV. Gifts for religious purposes should be used in accordance with the will of God.

V. In the divine arrangements help is granted unto men according to their respective needs. (W. Jones.)

Verses 10-89

Numbers 7:10-89

The princes offered for dedicating of the altar.

Such as have greatest blessings and gifts, must be most forward in God’s service

We heard before of the offering performed jointly by the princes, now let us see the offerings which they brought severally. For besides the chariots and the oxen, each of these great commanders of the people offered unto God for His service in the tabernacle a charger of fine silver weighing 130 shekels, a silver bowl of 70 shekels, and one spoon of ten shekels of gold full of incense, all which they performed at the same time when the altar was dedicated to God by Aaron, and before they marched from Sinai toward their conquest of the promised land. The weight of all the 12 silver chargers and the 12 silver bowls amounted unto 2,400 shekels of silver, and the weight of gold in the incense spoons did amount to 120 shekels of gold, which maketh of shekels of silver 1,200, every shekel of gold valuing ten of silver, so that the whole sum which they offered at this time was about 420 pounds sterling. These princes offered before with men and women, yet now they come again and think they can never do enough toward the furtherance of the tabernacle and the worship of God.

1. The doctrine from hence is that they which have most outward blessings and greatest ability must be most forward in God’s worship and service. In Ezra it appeareth, they “all gave according to their ability” (Ezra 2:69). The chief of the fathers, when they came to the house of the Lord, offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place. So in Nehemiah it appeareth how bountiful he and the princes and the people were. “They gave much silver and gold to finish the work of the Lord.” The examples of David and Solomon in this kind are very evident and apparent, for the which one of them prepared to the work, and the other employed and bestowed upon the work is exceeding great, as appeareth in the holy history (1 Chronicles 18:11, &c.). And so much the rather we should employ our blessings and gifts to the service of God, and so give them after a sort to Him that gave them first unto us, because it is a sign that our affection is set upon the worship of God, and an assurance to our own hearts that we love Him and His house (1 Chronicles 29:3-4).

2. Every one is bound to glorify God with his riches, knowing that they are but stewards and dispensers of them, of which they must give an account unto God (Luke 16:2). To this end hath God bestowed them, and to this end we have received them, and therefore to this end they should be employed.

3. This is a certain rule that “To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). He that hath little committed unto him hath the less account and shorter reckoning to make, but to whom men have committed much, of him they will require more; so is it with God, if He have left us five talents He will ask five of us again. First, this serveth to reprove the forgetfulness and thankfulness of such as never consider the end wherefore God hath blessed them, giving themselves wholly to carnal liberty and security, and so are more backward in good things than if they had never received so many and so great blessings from God. Secondly, it reproveth all idle and negligent teachers who have received many good gifts and graces profitable for the Church of God, and yet never use them, like the covetous person who hoardeth up great treasures, but suffereth no man to be the better for them: like the sluggish servant in the parable, or like unto those that cover the candle under a bushel that it can give no light unto them that are in the house. Wherefore hath God given greater gifts but that such should take greater pains? How many are there that desire great livings, but they do not desire to bestow great labour among them? Our reward shall not be according to our gifts, but according to our labours. Lastly, seeing such as have received outward blessings ought to be most forward to do good with them, we must know that thus also it ought to be in spiritual blessings. (W. Attersoll.)

The princes’ offerings for the dedication of the altar

I. The significance of the offerings for the dedication of the altar.

1. Their offerings express the sense of equality of obligation. Every tribe, by its prince, presents the same kind of offering, and in the same quantity as an expression of their equal indebtedness to God. There are certain mercies which all men have in common; certain Divine gifts bestowed upon all men; Christ “died for all” men; and there are certain obligations to God in which all men share.

2. Their offerings express symbolically the Divine calling of the nation to be holy unto the Lord. All the vessels presented were for sacrificial uses, all the animals were ceremonially clean and such as were proper for sacrifices; all the other gifts were of the best quality and were to be used in the worship of God. By these things it was indicated that the people were to be a separate people, entirely dedicated to God, and that God was to dwell in their midst. The lesson for us is that God is to be worshipped with our highest and best.

3. Their offerings express symbolically the great truths taught by the different sacrifices.

II. The significance of the record of the offerings for the dedication of the altar.

1. The pleasure of God in the gifts of His people. “That everything is so particularly noted,” says Babington, “and the weight so precisely mentioned, may teach us to our comfort, what an observation there is in God of the gifts we bestow on Him in promoting His glory, advancing His service, maintaining His ministers in a liberal manner, relieving the poor and doing such good things as with God and man are praiseworthy. Surely the number, the measure, with all circumstances, are observed; and the Lord is a plenteous Rewarder of all love to Him.”

2. The permanence of good works. The grateful heart will for ever cherish the memory of the kind service or generous gift. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” The noble deed shall live and bring forth fruit. And the doer himself by his deed has gained somewhat of nobility and strength.

Conclusion: Our subject is most fruitful of encouragement to--

1. Liberality of giving to promote worthy objects.

2. Diligence in working to promote worthy objects. (W. Jones.)

Rich givers and rich gifts:

I. The princes and great men were first and foremost in the service of God. Those who are entitled to precedence should go before in good works.

II. The offerings they brought were very rich and valuable. In works of piety and charity we ought to be generous according to our ability. He that is the best should be served with the best we have.

III. They brought their offerings each on a several day, in the order that they had lately been put into, so that the solemnity lasted twelve days. God appointed that it should thus he done on several days.

1. That the solemnity might be prolonged, and so might be universally taken notice of by all Israel, and the remembrance of it more effectually preserved.

2. That an equal honour might thereby be put upon each several tribe. In Aaron’s breastplate each had his precious stone, so in this offering each had his day.

3. Thus it would be done more decently and in order. God’s work should not be done confusedly and in a hurry. Take time and we shall have done the sooner, or at least we shall have done the better.

4. God hereby signified how well pleased He is, and how well pleased we should be, with the exercises of piety and devotion. The repetition of them should be a continued pleasure to us, and we must not be weary of well-doing. If extraordinary services come to be done for twelve days together, we must not snuff at it, nor call it a task and a burden.

5. The priest and Levites having this occasion to offer the same sacrifices, and those some of every sort every day for so many days together, would have their hands well set in, and would be well versed in the laws concerning them.

6. The peace-offerings were all to be eaten the same day they were offered; and two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five lambs were enough for one day’s festival. Had there been more, especially if all had been brought of a day, there might have been danger of excess. The virtue of temperance must not be left under the pretence of the religion of feasting.

IV. All their offerings were exactly the same, without any variation, though it is probable the princes were not all alike rich, nor the tribes neither; but thus it was intimated that all the tribes of Israel had an equal share in the altar, and an equal interest in the sacrifices that were offered upon it.

V. Nashon the prince of the tribe of judah offered first because God had given that tribe the first post of honour in the camp, and the rest of the tribes acquiesced, and offered in the same order that God had appointed them to encamp. Judah, of which tribe Christ came, first; and then the rest. Thus, in the dedication of souls to God every man is presented in his own order, “Christ the first-fruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23).

VI. Though the offerings were all the same, yet the account of them is repeated at large for each tribe in the same words. We are sure there are no vain repetitions in Scripture, what then shall we make of these repetitions? Might it not have served to say of this noble jury, That the same offering which their foreman brought, each on his day brought likewise? No; God would have it specified for each tribe. And why so?

1. It was for the encouragement of all acts of piety and charity, by letting us know that what is so given is lent to the Lord, and He carefully books it with every one’s name prefixed to his gift because what is so given He will pay it again, and even a cup of cold water shall have its reward. He is not unrighteous to forget either the cost or labour of love (Hebrews 6:10). We find Christ taking particular notice what was cast into the treasury (Mark 12:41). Though what is offered be but little, while it is according to our ability, though it be a contribution to the charity of others, yet it shall be recorded that it may be recompensed in the resurrection of the just.

VII. The sum total is added at the foot of the account (Numbers 7:84; Numbers 7:88) to show how well pleased God was with the mention of His free-will offerings, and what a great deal it amounted to in the whole, when every prince brought in his quota. How greatly would the sanctuary of God be enriched and beautified if all would in their places do their part towards it by exemplary purity and devotion, extensive charity, and universal usefulness? (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

The support of religious institutions

This dedication of the altar--

I. Suggests to us some of the responsibilities of the wealthy. Wealth is a talent. He holds the wealthy responsible--

1. To give of their wealth to carry on His work. God claims a share of all we get; how much that shall be He leaves to our conscience. He looks not so much at the amount as at the motive.

2. To take the lead in doing good--to be examples in giving. The wealthy are looked up to; if they fail to do their duty, not only do they fail to do good, but they also check others from doing so.

II. Is a striking illustration of the voluntary principle.

1. God has left His work to be carried on by His people.

2. The voluntary principle is the most effective for doing this.

3. God is greatly pleased with it. Read Numbers 7:89 with the text. He approves--

He heard the voice of One speaking unto him.

The condescension of God, and the privileges of man

I. The great condescension of God.

1. The sacred place in which He speaks. It was in the Holy of holies in “the tabernacle of meeting.” It was in this place that He had promised to meet with His servant. He specially manifests Himself to man in His house.

2. The grand medium through which He speaks. The mercy-seat: an illustration, perhaps a type, of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the true Mercy-seat (Romans 3:25). By the shedding of His blood the great atonement for the sins of the world was made. In Him God draws near to man and communes with him. He is the true Divine Oracle; through Him the most precious revelations of God have been made; in Him we hear the voice of God most clearly and graciously (Hebrews 1:1-3).

3. The gracious purpose for which He speaks. In this instance, the voice from between the cherubim doubtless announced to Moses the gracious acceptance by Jehovah of the cheerful offerings of the princes of the tribes; and intimated that He had taken up His abode in their midst. All the utterances of God are for the benefit of man.

II. The great privileges of man.

1. We may speak unto God. In time of grief or gladness, of perplexity or penitence, of doubt or dread, of triumph or tribulation, we may speak unto God in praise or prayer, or in the silent language of the heart, which He perfectly comprehends, assured that He will hear us graciously, and bless us generously.

2. We may receive communications from God. We receive messages from Him through the sacred Scriptures, through the operations of His providence, and through the mysterious and gracious ministry of His Spirit. And how precious and helpful are His communications! Pardon to the guilty, peace to the penitent, joy to the sorrowful, direction to the perplexed, hope to the despondent, &c.

III. The consequent duty of man.

1. To wait upon God in His house.

2. To address God in His house.

3. To listen for the voice of God in His house. (W. Jones.)

Indications of the Incarnation

By this we may know that God hears and accepts our prayers, if He gives us grace to hear and receive His Word, for thus our communion with Him is maintained. I know not why we may not suppose that upon each of the days on which these offerings were brought, probably while the priests and offerers were feasting upon the peace-offerings, Moses was in the tabernacle receiving some of these laws and orders which we have already met with in this and the foregoing book. Bishop Patrick observes that God’s speaking to Moses thus by an audible articulate voice, as if He had been clothed with a body, might be looked upon as an earnest of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the fulness of time, when the Word should be made flesh and speak in the language of the sons of men. For however God at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake unto the fathers, He has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son. And that He that now spake to Moses, as the Shechinah or Divine majesty from between the cherubims, was the eternal Word, the second person in the Trinity, was the pious conjecture of many of the ancients. For all God’s communion with man is by His Son, by whom He made the world and rules the Church; and who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

The speech of the Divine Spirit:

It is told of Claus Harms, the preacher who was most blessed in the first half of our century, that he related to a Quaker how much daily he had to speak. The Quaker listened, and when Brother Harms had finished his narration, he asked, “Brother Harms, if thou speakest so much, when art thou quiet? and when doth the Spirit of God speak to thee?” Harms was so impressed, that from that day forward he passed a certain portion of each day in retirement. (Professor Gess.)

Communion with God

Standing by the telegraph wires one may often hear the mystic wailing and sighing of the winds among them, like the strains of an AEolian harp, but one knows nothing of the message which is flashing along them. Joyous may be the inner language of those wires, swift as the lightning, far reaching and full of meaning, but a stranger intermeddles not therewith. Fit emblem of the believer’s inner life; men hear our notes of outward sorrow wrung from us by external circumstances, but the message of celestial peace, the Divine communings with a better land, the swift heart-throbs of heaven-born desire, they cannot perceive; man sees but the outer manhood, but the life hidden with Christ in God flesh and blood cannot discern.

Communion with God

A converted heathen said, “I open my Bible and God talks with me; I close my Bible and then I talk with God.”

The ear of the heart

“I talk to Him until I fall asleep,” she (Madame Louise) said. I asked whether He answered her. “Oh, yes,” she replied; “the ear of my heart hears His answer.”

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-7.html. 1905-1909. New York.