[READ Numbers 7:1-11]
Over the next 72 verses, we have a very repetitious account of the other gifts the leaders of each of the tribes of Israel brought for the dedication of the altar. Each brought the same gifts, one tribe per day over the course of twelve days. So now we’ll jump to verse 74 for a summary of those gifts.
[READ Numbers 7:84-89]
All these gifts were nice gifts to bring to the tabernacle once it was finished. And they were expensive gifts. And the Hebrew people could give them only because of God’s grace. They had been slaves in Egypt with almost nothing to their names – but God allowed them to plunder the Egyptians as they were leaving. So they were giving to God was God had given to them.
The first batch of gifts was all practical: oxen and carts to help the Levites move the Tabernacle as the Israelites made their way through the Wilderness. Did you notice that they were not evenly distributed among the three clans of Levites? Two carts and four oxen went to the Gershonites, while the Merarites got twice as many: four carts and eight oxen. And the Kohathites received none.
God was not being unfair – God was distributing the gifts where they were needed most. The Gershonites were in charge of moving the curtains and coverings of the Tent of Meeting, while the Merarites moved the framing of the tent – wood is much heavier than cloth, so they needed more help. The Kohathites were to carry the Ark of the Covenant and other holy furnishings for the tabernacle on their shoulders, so they had no need of oxen or carts.
The second set of gifts was not at all practical – it was entirely ritual: animals, oil, and grain for sacrifice at the dedication of the altar, as well as silver and gold bowls and plates, and a good bit of incense.
The gifts appear to be the spontaneous response of the tribal leaders to God’s grace – in that God had established a place to dwell in the midst of His people, and a place to offer sacrifices by which God would forgive His people’s sins.
While we did not take the time to read twelve separate accounts of each leader’s gifts, the fact that the very same words are used each time – only the names have been changed – tells us that God spread out this gift-giving over twelve days so He could savor every gift – enjoy every gift.
In a couple of months we will be celebrating Christmas. When you give
gifts to someone – don’t you like to watch the receiver unwrap each gift individually, then take in the experience of each one-by-one? There’s delight in watching the process unfold.
Diane loves hot chocolate, and I get her an assortment of Land O’Lakes hot chocolate mixes every year for Christmas. They come in shrink-wrap, all lined up in a row. So every year, she knows which package is the hot chocolate. But last Christmas, I took off the shrink-wrap and wrapped each of the eight little boxes, then arranged them in a little pile with a bow on top.
It was so much fun watching Diane as she looked around – a bit disappointed, fearing I might have forgotten the hot chocolate, then opening the first little box and realizing that she was getting some after all.
This is why we give and receive gifts at Christmas – because God loves to give and receive gifts. Slowly. Deliberately. Indvidually. God extends His grace to people as individuals – then accepts their individual gifts of gratitude.
If you are starting to suspect this is a stewardship sermon, you are right. Honestly, this was not my plan – I’m not that clever. It was the next passage in the Book of Numbers – and God in His Providence saw to it
that it came up the week after we started handing out pledge cards.
And when the gifts had all been presented to God, God spoke to Moses from above the Ark of the Covenant. The place for reconciliation with God had been completed, the sacrifices which were linked to the sacrifice of God’s own Son could take place – and God’s people could then have true fellowship with Him.
This is not to say that fellowship with God depends upon how much we give, but our gifts certainly help to sustain the place where God’s people come to worship, to find forgiveness, and to enjoy fellowship with God.
Some of our gifts go for practical needs: roof repairs, lights, heat and air conditioning, office space, upkeep of Sunday School rooms and the Sanctuary.
Some of our gifts go for ritual purposes: sanctuary furniture and decorations, hymnals, instruments and musicians, the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the Sacraments.
And some of our gifts go to fulfill Jesus’ commands: going into the world and making disciples, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner, comforting the grieving, fighting for justice, praying for God’s kingdom to be fully realized on earth as it already is in heaven.
All of these purposes are important – and all of them require some combination of our time, our talents, and our treasure. So I ask you to consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians as you decide what support you will pledge for the coming year.
[Read II Corinthians 9:6-12]
We give because God has given to us. Like the gifts brought to the Tabernacle, God uses our gifts for a variety of His purposes: to help people and to bring them into fellowship with Himself – giving them a place to hear His voice, to find forgiveness, and to worship Him. He desires our gifts, and He enjoys them. And may we find joy in giving them. Amen.