Kohath Gershon, and Merari

1. — Kohath

The book of Numbers is the history of the wilderness, the type of our journey through the world to the rest that remaineth for the people of God. It is preceded necessarily by Leviticus, in which first we learn what suits God in the sanctuary before we come out to practise it in the world. Leviticus is therefore the priest's book, as Numbers is that of the Levites: both are types of Christians, who as priests have access to God where now His glory is for us displayed, and as Levites have to carry through the world the precious testimonies of that glory to us displayed.

And Christ it is in whom Divine glory shines for us. It is the glory of the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, but a glory which now shines out for us from the face of a Man passed into the heavens. In Him we are brought near to God. In Him we know God. He has descended into the darkness which hid from us the face of God; He has dispelled it forever. He has revealed the holiness and the tenderness of Divine love. We know God, and are known of Him. We are His, and He is ours.

This knowledge it is that we carry with us through the world; and it is our competency for testimony in the world. It is in no wise a testimony to ourselves, but to Him. We are "the epistle of Christ read and known of all men." And this is not responsibility only, but competency for the epistle is not written with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God not on tables of stone, but on fleshy tables of the heart. The gladdening light which has shone in, shines out again. And, no matter what it shines upon, it is easy enough to tell where the light is shining. The moon, our type, is but herself a ruin, but bathed in the sun's brilliance, she can reflect it to us.

It is a good and happy thing to know that this is Levite service. As Levites, they had (in one way) as much to do with the holy things of the tabernacle as had the priests themselves. Their service was in these. And ours no less is to carry with us through the world One of whom it is always safe and happy to speak, and occupation with whom is itself a real and precious testimony. What more real than when men see that He has attraction for us? what more precious than to feel, as our eyes fasten upon Him, that here is sunshine for a whole world, and healing, if they will have it, for every sin-sick, sorrow-sick heart, the wide world over?

"Ye are the epistle of Christ," says the apostle not "epistles." It is not after all that you or I could be individually an epistle of Christ. No single heart of man is a table broad enough to write such an epistle upon. It takes the whole Church to make what could be called the "epistle of Christ" and then, as little as the world could contain all the sun-rays, or the moon reflect the full brightness of the sun, so little could even this fitly represent Him. Ah, we belittle Him, with all we can do. Yet a warm and bright spot can be made nevertheless with but a few of His beams.

The apostle, in Heb. 11 reminds us of a "great cloud of witnesses" who had exhibited in their day the necessity and power of faith. But when he comes to the Lord, he does not mix Him up with these, but speaks of Him alone as the "Beginner and Finisher of faith." * They had shown it out piece-meal: one the energy, and another the patience, another the strength, another the humility, another the clear-sightedness of faith, and so on. But in His life there had been exhibited the full dimensions and the full content of faith, and there alone.

{* Not "of our faith": our is merely inserted by the translators, as the italic letters show.}

The work of the sons of Levi shows us this. Kohath, Gershon and Merari have each their division of labor in the things of the Lord, a division which I desire a little to interpret and to emphasize now. Only by the united work of all could that which needed, be accomplished. Still we must guard a little against a thought that might arise, as if it was meant that, for us individually as Christians, there was only a responsibility to present Christ in a certain character as if we were to discern for ourselves whether we belonged to Kohath, or to Gershon, or Merari, and, if Kohathites, were not to intrude on Gershon's office, or if Gershonites, then not on Kohath's or Merari's. It is not so at all. We are indeed privileged and responsible to perform the whole Levite service, however much in fact our service may be of one kind rather than another. Just as, however much our lives may show perhaps the patience of faith rather than its energy, or the reverse of this, we are none the less responsible to manifest energy as well as endurance, or endurance as well as energy.

Now let us try to gather the meaning of this various service. If we look back to the consecration of the priests in Lev. 8 we shall find the blood of the ram of consecration, by which they were set apart to God, anointing the ear, the thumb and the great toe. This signified the devotion to Him of the whole man. The ear was anointed to listen to His word; the hand to do His work; the foot to walk in His ways of pleasantness and peace. Hearing — the receptive life; walking — the subjective; doing — the practical, outward life. Hearing — the Godward side; walking — the selfward; doing — the manward. The whole life was purchased and redeemed to God.

Now Levite service was, and is (as we have seen), based upon the priestly. The Levites were given to the priests, to wait on them, as ministry or testimony in the world must wait upon communion. Thus it will not be strange to see these three parts of priestly consecration connecting themselves with the three families of Levi and their service in this chapter. Kohath, in fact, we shall find connected with the consecrated ear; Gershon with the anointed foot; Merari with the blood-sprinkled hand. To speak generally, the Kohathites represent the objective side of Christianity; the Gershonites, the subjective; the Merarites the practical manward side. If I fail to make myself at once clear, my meaning will come out, I trust, as we go on, and some important truth along with it.

Let us first, then, consider Kohath. The things entrusted to his care are the ark, the table of show-bread, the lampstand (or candlestick), the golden and brazen altars, with the respective coverings of these.

The ark was God's throne in Israel, by the blood put upon the mercy-seat, at least typically, a "throne of grace." In the double material of which it was constructed (the shittim-wood and gold) it symbolized the Lord, through whom alone God dwells amongst His people. This was further shown by its being wrapped in the covering veil, the humanity or "flesh" of Christ. This was further covered with the badger-(or seal-)skin covering, which seems fitly to typify the impenetrable holiness which resists all outside influences; while over all the cloth of blue displayed the heavenly color.

This is, then, Christ in glory (the gold outside the shittim-wood), maintaining the government of God in grace towards His people, and withal in unswerving holiness. By carrying this first, the sons of Kohath proclaim their Master: the Saviour-God, come down so low, gone up after His work accomplished, having not only put away our sins, but the enmity of our hearts also, and brought us back to holy and loving obedience.

Next comes the table of show-bread, of the same materials as the ark, and covered with a cloth of blue, upon which the continual bread is placed, twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes of Israel, significantly covered with a crimson cloth, and that again with a seal-skin covering. Here is Christ again, maintaining His people before God, the fruit, in resurrection, of His death, the display of the value of the blood of the cross, where as "a worm and no man" He proclaimed the holiness of God in the very place of sin.* That holiness thus confessed then (in the seal-skin,) is seen enwrapping and applying itself to all.

{*The loaves are primarily for God, though the priest afterwards partakes of them. They are, as it were, the fruit of that "corn of wheat," which would have abode alone if it had not fallen into the ground and died, but, dying, has brought forth much fruit.

The "scarlet" or "crimson" is literally the name of an insect (a kind of cochineal,) from which a dye was and is still produced. It is the same word as that in the text quoted above from Ps. 22 where the suffering of the cross is seen.

I must be pardoned for passing briefly over what is of such infinite beauty and such importance also. My reader will do well to ponder it.}

Thus, in the ark and in the table of show-bread, Christ is seen for God and for His people. The third object that comes before us is still Christ, and still as in the sanctuary of the heavens, the Light-bearer for his own; He who has the fulness of the Spirit, from whose face shines the light of the unclouded glory in which alone we see light.

The two altars follow, and still both are Christ. The first is the golden altar, from which the fragrant incense rises up to God: — a double type of Him who is altar and incense both. By Him, as worshippers, we draw near to God. In the fragrance of what He is, our prayers and praises find acceptance.

The brazen altar is the only object here for which we travel outside the heavenly sanctuary. Every Christian heart will understand why it is linked with what is heavenly. The brass, which here replaces the gold of the holy places, is the type of enduring strength, easily apprehended as the result of His being what He was, Son of God as well as Son of man, as the brass in the altar overlaid the shittim wood. Although not suffering now, it is the holy Sufferer.

The ashes are taken from the altar, and a purple cloth now covers it: the royal color, for the Lamb slain reigns as such; and once more over all is the unfailing seal-skin covering.

Thus, in Kohath's charge we have Christ in glory before us continually:

Giving God His throne of grace, as in the ark.

Giving man his place before God, as in the table of show-bread.

The Lamp of the Sanctuary, in whose light atone we see light.

The One by whom our prayers and praises rise up to God.

Yet still, though reigning, the Holy Sufferer of the Cross.

Thus Kohath (so to speak) has his gaze upon the heavens, and Him who is seated there. His is objective truth essentially. He is receptive; and thus I have likened him to the priest's anointed ear. I do not mean that he is not practical, for this is all of the very first necessity for practice: —

God, known in grace, is now really his God: — he is reconciled — subject.

In Christ is His place, and he is a new creature.

The true light shines which manifests the character of all things.

He is a worshipper and the Father hears him.

And the Crowned One is the Crucified: the way to the glory is the cross.

What would we do without all this for practice? Yet, I may say again, they are essentially objective truths: they point the eye elsewhere than upon self; and nothing can be more practical than this very thing. Our first Pentateuch of lessons here, is Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ; and Christ, too, risen and glorified, although still in His heart of hearts just what He was on earth.

Here, then, let us find our Levite lessons first. The first form in this school is the highest. We enter the heavens to be qualified for earth; we do not begin on earth, to reach the heavens. Our simplest earthly duties require us to be conversant with the "things above."

2. — Gershon.

The family of Gershon have a charge essentially different from that of Kohath. Theirs is the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the., badgers' skin that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the hangings for the court, and the hanging for the door of the gate of the court, which is by the tabernacle and by the altar round about, and their cords, and all the instruments of their service, and all that is made for them."

These curtains are, as to material, of goats' hair, or of fine twined linen; the coverings, of rams' skins and of badge's' skins. The "fine linen," we are clear, from Rev. 19:8, is "righteousness" — practical righteousness (dikaiomata). The curtains which compose the tabernacle itself, represent this in Christ, in whose flesh the Divine Word "tabernacled," as the expression is in John 1:14. The hangings for the court represent the righteousness of saints, exhibited outside the sanctuary in the world; the hangings for the "door" and "gate" again represent Christ, as the only way of access. The skins, whether of goats or rams or seals (badgers), give also traits of personal character. That is, it is walk (the manifestation of personal character) that we find expressed in all with which Gershon has to do: the anointed foot is what characterizes his occupation here.

Let us look at these things however more particularly.

The curtains which formed the tabernacle itself are described fully in the book of Exodus. They were of "fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet, with cherubim of cunning work." The first was pure white, with which the blue, purple and scarlet were interwoven in patterns of cherubim. We may remember the Lord's own garment, seamless, woven from the top throughout: and also Joseph's "coat of many colors." The white is of course absolute purity, the complete reflection of the perfect ray of light. Blue is the heavenly color; purple, the royal; scarlet (or crimson) the sacrificial.* These characters in the Lord combined to form the cherubic patterns which show Him as the One maintaining the majesty of the throne of God; for the cherubim belong ever to the throne. The Lord then is here before us in the diverse glories that His life down here exhibited. King of God's kingdom; heavenly, come down to earth; highest, and lowliest; absolute purity, self-sacrificing for the guilty. Never shall we get beyond this wonderful display of grace and goodness in which Deity has made itself familiar to us: that path in which extremest suffering only pressed the grapes into that precious "wine, that cheereth God and man." Such then is Gershon's occupation: and because that wonderful life is taken up from earth, and exists but as a remembrance, therefore is He indeed "Gershon" — his life an "exile," though but temporary, from his true home, where Christ is.

{*I in no wise refuse another meaning in Numbers 19 and some other places, and see a profound significance in the fact of "earthly glory" being thus represented by that which represents also the suffering of the cross; but the former meaning seems to me only applicable in a bad sense; to the Lord here it could not apply.}

But the curtains of the tabernacle, though its beauty, do not give us all. Above these, as a tent upon the tabernacle, were the curtains of goat's hair, in which it puts on (so to speak) its prophetic garb — "the rough garment," assumed so often "to deceive" (Zech. 13:4), but here the garment of the absolute truth itself. This is the John Baptist covering of separation from the world, which the Lord did not wear externally, or as outward separation, refusing meats and drinks and social intercourse with those after whom as a physician, or a shepherd, He had come to save them. Still if He could touch the moral leper and be undefiled, that only showed how much deeper in, as nature and life, the separation lay. It was an essential unlikeness that made Him able to approach so near, as oil and water can be mixed and never mingle: contagion requires that the being to whom the disease is carried, should have affinity with the one from whom it is brought.

Yet was He true man, truest that ever was, the pattern and perfection and archetype of man; the "corn of wheat" which, till it fell into the ground and died, abode alone, and yet was to be that from which all human harvest was to grow for God. Strange to those to whom He was nearest, essentially unknown where most accessible, His words to Philip apply to more than to him: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? "

And it was the goats' hair; for the goats' hair speaks of sin, and of its due from God, and of the needed offering for it; and the whole condition of the world, and all God's dealings with it connect themselves with this. He hated sin with a hatred none but God could have, yet longed over men with a longing none but a Divine heart could know without breaking. And these two things, this hatred and this longing, the prophet's garb implies; for the prophet is God's mouthpiece to men before judgment, and in view of judgment, yet God speaking, that He may not judge. And such, though more than such, He was.

Over these curtains was another covering of rams' skins, dyed red, the beautiful symbol of devotedness even to death. For the ram is not simply the sheep, the meek surrenderer of life, but, as the male sheep, imports the bringing into this surrender a firmer and stronger will, an energy of character which makes it purpose, determinate surrender. Hence the ram was "the ram of consecration," and the typical trespass, or restitution, offering. The reddened ram skin shows the purpose actually carried out, and to its extreme result.

Over all this was, again, the seal-skin covering.

For my purpose here I need not enter into further details. All this is Christ, however it may be in measure reproduced in His people. This part of the tabernacle was indeed Christ exclusively; for if "we" too "are God's house," it is in the boards and bars we find our representatives, that over which these coverings fell, and wrapped them in their beauty. Yet outside the sanctuary, as I have said, we do find, in what was Gershon's case, that which typifies the "righteousness of the saints," their practical character as manifested in the world, where indeed manifested. The hangings of the court exhibit this.

They were of fine twined linen five cubits high, two hundred and eighty cubits in their compass round the court; hanging by silver hooks from pillars of brass, resting upon brazen sockets in the sand of the wilderness. The fine twined linen we have already looked at. The numbers also speak, if we have skill to read them. Five is the stamp of what is human — the divine measure for us is still the "measure of a man," yet beyond what we esteem man's measure, as we shall find if we reckon it here.* The compass round, 28o cubits, seems to yield the numbers 7 x 4 x 10. Ten, the number which tells of responsibility, as the ten commandments are the measure of man's duty under the law. Four, the testing as to this, which the world-journey implies; these two together give us forty, the well-known stamp of perfect probation. Finally, seven is the sign of perfection, but not merely of human, but of Divine work. Thus we have not only the fulfillment of responsibility, as measured by God and tested in the world, but also in all this "God working in" us what we "work out.". The brazen pillars again are Divine strength upholding human testimony, while the silver hooks show how all hangs upon the redemption-work of Christ. This perfects the picture.

{*Taking the cubit at Parkhurst's estimate or thereabouts 174 inches, it would be over 7 feet high.}

We are now in a position, then, to see how peculiar is Gershon's charge. He is occupied, whether in Christ or in His people, with what we may properly call subjective. It is not Christ in His offices or in His work that he has to do with, but Christ in His personal character, as manifested by His blessed walk. And thus naturally we find associated with this the same thing as to the believer: not his position, nor his worship, nor what he is in the holiest, but what he is to be as a man upon earth.

And this comes in its rightful and proper order, as dependent upon Kohath and his objective side of things. The "foot" must wait upon the "ear." The only way to practice is by faith; and a faith which puts Christ in the place which He has taken for us, and puts us in corresponding relation to Him as in that place. The objective must be before the subjective, as the Levite himself waits upon the priest, and as the book of Leviticus precedes the book of Numbers.

But then it has its place, and a most important place it is. Could we be really in the glory of the holy place, and not come out, as Moses from the Mount, with something of that glory reflected in our faces? We are not simply citizens of the heavenlies; we are also, and on that account, strangers in the world. The practical way in which we show ourselves the latter is the real measure of how far we have entered into the other. Gershon surely follows Kohath: not precedes indeed, but inseparably follows. We must learn Ephesian truth really, properly to understand Hebrews; but Hebrews is then as necessary as Ephesians.

In our place in the heavenlies we have no failures and no weakness. "In Christ" we have, blessed be God, unchanging perfection and abiding rest. In the wilderness there is frailty, and too often failure. Yet God has united the two together for us now, as in the holy places of the tabernacle, the feet still pressed the desert sands. And we must remember that if the wilderness had its pains and difficulties, it had its own peculiar privileges also. The manna fell nowhere but in the wilderness. It was there the power of the living God was made known for and to His people. It was there that living guidance was needed and obtained. It was there that in God's holy discipline the lurking evil in His people got its rebuke. Precious and wonderful lessons, which we may find hereafter it was worth while even to have stayed a while on earth to learn. His power and His grace are not alone found in the sanctuary, but suit themselves to the desert also. The very things of the sanctuary can put on their traveling dress and accompany us by the way. We do not lose them. 'The world is the sphere rather in which we need to carry them with us, and tell out their preciousness.

3. — Merari.

Merari's charge is given us as "the boards of the tabernacle and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof and the sockets thereof, and the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins and their cords, with all their instruments and with all their service."

We have seen that the curtains of the tabernacle speak of Christ Himself as the One in whom the Word, made flesh, "tabernacled" amongst us: just as with a kindred meaning He spake to the Jews of "the temple of His body," In Him, in fact, as thank God we know full well, dwelt bodily all the fulness of the Godhead. But there is another aspect of the tabernacle also, for we too are God's "house," that house which Christ as Son is over (Heb. 3:6). And this is shown out in the boards of the tabernacle over which these curtains fell, covering them with their manifold beauty.

The boards were forty-eight in number, upright, and fitted together with "tenons," — in the Hebrew, "hands;" each board resting upon two silver sockets, made from the atonement money, and each overlaid with gold, with golden rings for the bars which united all together. Thus the Church consists of those individually resting on the testimony of redemption, and fitted together by God as His own habitation, in which His glory shines out of the face of men as the typical gold* from the shittim-wood.

{*The "cherubim of glory, shadowing the mercy seat," (Heb. 9:5), I do not doubt to be the Scriptural key to the meaning of the "gold."}

The bars of shittim-wood, covered with the same gold, and fitted into golden rings upon the boards, speak of special gifts for maintaining all in place, which need however a corresponding receptivity on the part of the saints individually, in order to make them available: the "bar" was of no use without the "ring."

The pillars were first the pillars of the veil, four in number, of shittim-wood and gold as before, each standing on one silver socket, the veil hanging from these by golden hooks. Secondly, the door of the tent had five, of the same material, but upon brazen sockets, the hanging being here also suspended from hooks of gold. The gate of the court was again a similar hanging, suspended by silver hooks from four pillars of shittim-wood, with silvered capitals, and standing, like the last, upon brazen sockets.

In veil and door and gate we shall have no difficulty in seeing Christ; and Christ as a way of access; though the veil must be rent before we can in fact draw near to God. The hanging of the gate we easily read as pendent from the silver hooks of atonement, and these borne up upon the four pillars which speak of tried and perfect humanity, the silvered capitals proclaiming still pre-eminent grace. That of the door of the tabernacle hangs from golden hooks, for Christ "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father" receives as "Son over His house" those already partakers of salvation by His blood. Here therefore the pillars of shittim-wood are overlaid with gold; but they stand, as do those of the gate, upon the brazen sockets which speak of unchanging perpetuity of strength. The veil (rent, as we know) gave the way of access to God Himself, and it too hung from golden hooks supported on four pillars of shittim-wood overlaid with gold; but which stand again upon silver sockets. Is it not "the gospel of the glory of Christ" that is here expressed to us? of Him in whom, as "the image of God," we find God expressed?

The pillars of the court rest upon brazen sockets, and are surmounted with silver capitals, while the fine linen curtains are suspended from them by silver hooks. Thus grace enables us to hold up before the world the character of Christ, and divine strength is what we rest upon in doing so; the pins and cords still further coming in to brace all up against the contrary influences which are too much for our unassisted strength.

Merari's service thus has to do with the house of God, the church of the living God, with the holding up of Christ as the way of access in to God, and with the supporting, strengthening, and steadying of that which is His witness in the world. He represents the workman, as Gershon does the "stranger "-pilgrim, and Kohath the one occupied with Christ. His name — Merari, "bitterness," — speaks of the painful character of such service at which self-love will break down, or run off from it into some eccentric path, less burdensome to flesh and blood. Indeed in our day the family of Merari has dwindled down into a very small number; and their work has been very ill done. Who cares for these boards and bars, and pillars and pins and cords? Who thinks of God's plan and pattern, and all the minutiae of Divine appointment? Who desires work of this menial kind, costing so much and bringing in so little? The pattern is old, and will not adapt itself to the fashion of changed times. It gives no room for human invention to display itself in. It requires only plodding accuracy and diligent obedience. And yet is it not true, that in the Divine interpretation of these types, Merari's service is the full ripe fruit of what we have seen depicted in Kohath and in Gershon?

"If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us." And this love, if true, manifests itself in service; if Divine love, in service according to the Divine pattern. To put a "pin" in its true place may involve a surrender of one's own will to God, a voluntary taking up of what is little, not counting it little, — an attentive hearkening to God's words, which to Him is sweeter than much that is thought more costly sacrifice. Service about God's house must own Him Master, and that He may have things to His taste, not we to ours.

Does it disparage Kohath or Gershon to put Merari's lowly and painful service as the fruit of theirs? Not so! For without Kohath you can have no Gershon and without both these no true Merari. "Faith, if it have not works, is dead, being alone." Does this disparage, or exalt, faith? It is faith must have the works. These are not independent of this, any more than fruit is of the root it grows on, and which nourishes and gives it character. So faith comes first, because Christ, whom faith alone embraces, and from whom it draws all sustenance, is absolutely needful. And then faith's fruits are produced by love, which is the stem upon this root. "Faith worketh by love." Thus Gershon is the link between Kohath and Merari.

How important this connection! How needful to maintain this order! First Christ: — "high truth!" as high as Christ in glory. Never lower it, never omit it, never talk against it as unpractical. If Merari fails, never turn Kohath from his work on that account. Only your truth must be high enough to reach Christ Himself, a living, personal Christ, who is at God's right hand alone. If it be not this it will fall with its own weight, and be wrecked utterly.

But then Gershon, the "stranger," will display the beauty of his fine linen, his curtains and his veils. The response of love in man to the Divine love will be also maintained. The moon, because in the sun-light reflects the sun to us. Our responsibility is measured by our place, and the grace, which has given it us, is alone power for the fulfillment of our responsibility.

Then comes Merari, the Timothy-service in the house of God. Ear, foot, and hand, all testify to the power of the blood of Christ, and are set apart to God as purchased by it. The living water, being drunk in, flows out, and in channels already prepared of God, that it may bring fertility and beauty to many a plant of the Lord's planting, and carry His seed moreover to enrich many a barren spot, and make the desert blossom as the rose.