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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

An insight from the Book of Numbers (Numbers?)

I’ve gotten behind on my Bible reading. I have a million reasons to justify my recent neglect (or at least eight). The most recent was a stomach bug, which confined me and two of my children to the couch all day yesterday. We were a pitiful sight.

But today, thankfully, I’ve felt better incrementally each hour. By 10 a.m., when I thought my stomach could tolerate Advil, I took it and blessed the Power above that brought us Ibuprofen.

And this afternoon, I opened the Scriptures although, I must admit, I was pessimistic about having to catch up on two chapters of Leviticus and five chapters of Numbers.

Immediately, I was surprised and chastened by my lack of faith. Why must I continue insisting that the Scriptures give me quick-fixes and sound-bytes, teaching that is easily tolerable and immediately relevant? And clearly this is what I seek if Leviticus and Numbers cause me such dread.

I wish I weren’t so self-seeking in my spiritual pursuits.

But gratefully, God grants us the insight we do not deserve - even when our hearts drag their feet and clamor for something more exciting.

Numbers 4:19. This is it. What God says today.

“Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them [the Kohathites] each to his task and to his burden.”

The book of Numbers details, in its early chapters, how the Israelite camp is to be arranged and to which tribes the tabernacle duties fall. It’s given to the Kohathites to carry the most holy things of the sanctuary: the ark of the covenant, the table of the bread of the Presence, the lampstand. But they cannot look on these sacred objects: before they carry them, it’s the job of Aaron and his sons to cover them with cloth and goatskin.

So why is Numbers 4:19 a thunderbolt of insight today?

Three reasons:

  1. The work we have to do is assigned to us. Let’s not mistake this. The New Testament also makes clear that God has foreordained our good works – planned them in advance. Lest you think that you’re particularly clever in thinking up the good you do (or intend to do), you’re not. I’m not. We’re all acting on orders. Our call is a response of obedience.
  2. We should be careful to do no more and no less that what God has assigned to us. Later in Numbers (chapter 16), Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, gets the grand idea that he’s just as holy as Moses and Aaron. “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them.” He wants Moses’ job description, not his own. And jealousy over another man or woman’s calling never ends well. For Korah, it costs him his life and the lives of those in his household.
  3. The tasks, which God gives us, can sometimes feel synonymous with “burden.” Doing good can initially feel good. We may be met with immediate gratitude. Maybe we’re told we’re special, gifted, even extraordinary. But eventually tasks assume rhythms of monotony, and those accolades no longer sustain.

And that brings me back to #1: we’re doing the work, which has been assigned to us.

No more. No less.

And for the purpose of pleasing Him.