In such obscure passages of the Word we find rich kernels of the wheat of the truth of God. In Numbers 1 we see the divine presence among the people of God. It is a good thing to be saved, baptised, and gathered out. In Numbers 3 and 4 the sovereignty of God is seen in the dispensing of gift. In Numbers 5 we see the purity of the house of God and the responsibility of the people of God to maintain it. In Numbers 6 God claims the feet of His people as seen in the separated path of the Nazarite. Now, in Numbers 7, when God has our hearts (ch.5) and our feet (ch.6), then He accepts our princely exercises.
The chapter opens "on the day that Moses had fully set up the tabernacle" (v.1). Exodus tells us that it was a New Year's Day (40.2). There are seven of these in the Old Testament. On this day the priesthood was instituted - it became a centre of worship. On this day the lampstand was lit - it became a centre of witness. On this day the Levites' service commenced - it became a centre of service. When we think of the assembly it is precisely that. And on that day princely men stepped forward to establish and maintain that which had been set up.
There are many in church fellowship today with little exercise, but God wants us to have an appreciation of the divine constitution of the assembly. There is nothing else in the Word apart from church and churches of God. The Lord is looking for princely men today. The Lord says we should not hide our lamp under a bushel (Mk 4.21); service can be too busy for God. Also, we should not hide our lamp under a bed; laziness can be too lazy for God. But He wants the lamp to be on the lampstand.
Princely men recognise that there is something set up on earth the pattern for which came from heaven, and they wish to maintain it. We should put our all into the service, worship and witness of the house of God.
Princely men had a balance in exercise. In v.2 and v.10 they offered materially and spiritually, manward and Godward, for the service of God and for the altar of God. A balance is seen in His people which delights the heart of God. "The legs of the lame are not equal" (Prov 26.7), and today there is not a balance among us as assemblies and as individuals. Some are weak in worship and strong in service and some are just the other way. Service is occupation for Him; worship is occupation with Him. We ask, "Which is the greater?" - "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Mt 4.10).
Worship always comes before service: hence, Leviticus precedes Numbers and 1 Corinthians 11 precedes 1 Corinthians 12. And so also Peter speaks of a holy priesthood (1 Pet 2.5) and a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2.9). In Malachi God says, "Yet ye have robbed me, But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes (materially) and offerings (spiritually)" (3.8). There was nothing going up and there was nothing coming down. We may be barren in gospel testimony, and God is saying, "Ye have robbed me". But He also says, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith…if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (3.10). David did not have room enough to receive as he was not allowed to build the temple. He was a man of blood (1 Chr 28.3), but he collected wealth with all his might for the building of that temple. He also danced with all his might before the Lord (2 Sam 6.14), before the ark of God. He had a balance in service and worship.
There was an individual exercise before each prince brought an ox (Num 7.3). There was a collective exercise, for each two brought a wagon (7.3). Moses is told to take it from them, that it might be used for the work of the Levites (7.5). And so he took the twelve oxen and the six wagons. He gave two wagons and four oxen to the Gershonites, and gave the rest to the Merarites, but to the Kohathites he gave nothing. The reason was that they were to bear their burden on their shoulders.
Whilst princely men and women bring in that which is material it takes godly discernment to distribute it. Moses was governed by divine revelation. We need to be reminded that there are servants and servants. In Micah the heads, priests, and prophets were in it for what they could get out of it (Micah 7.1-4). There are those today who have no interest in divine principles and do not maintain that which has divine authority. And there are those whose hearts beat true to the Lord and who maintain church of God truth. Thus we need to have the discernment that is seen in a Moses.
God gave the wagons and the oxen to the Levites; God has His Levites still. These are they who work unceasingly in the service of the house of God, taking nothing of the Gentiles. Thus in Galatians, "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things" (Gal 6.6).
In 1 Samuel 6 the Philistines have the ark but they want to get rid of it as God had sent them plagues. And so they put it on a new cart. (That is the same as the word for "wagons" in Numbers 7). The milch kine then took it to the borders of Beth-shemesh. The hand of God was upon it and it moved straight to the borders of Israel. In 2 Samuel 6 David is going to bring the ark of God up to Jerusalem.
He also puts it on a new cart but even with a man at the head and tail of the oxen they stumbled. God had said, a thousand years before in Numbers 7, that the Kohathites would carry the ark and have no wagons. We ought not to say that we should get the work done no matter how: God is particular as to how His work is done.
But they also gave Godward. God could have conveyed the truth of this chapter in one third of the space. All twelve brought the same to God. So why is there repetition? God took note of what they individually gave for Him. God does the same today. Never fear to bring to God the same as another. We are to note not only what Nahshon brought but the order in which they brought it. When the man brought the burnt offering in Leviticus 1 he was to lay it in order upon the altar. Not simply was he to cut it into pieces but he was to cut it into his pieces, and then lay it in order upon the altar. On the first day he brought his offering. On the first day of the week the disciples gathered together to break bread. There is no gathering like it this side of eternity.
Notice the basis on which a prince brought his offering. It was on a silver bowl and a silver charger. The basis of our approach into God's presence is redemption. In Exodus 30, a priestly chapter, in the middle of speaking of other things God speaks of the redemption money. Why? Those only can worship God who are in the good of redemption.
Note what he brings: a charger full, and a bowl full, of fine flower (7.13,19 etc). He brings Christ - the person of Christ, His stainless humanity, His fragrance. And then he touches the cross, and he brings his offerings. We read of the fine flour in Leviticus 2. There it is the fine flower of the meal offering, composed not only of flour but of fine flour. It speaks of the stainless, spotless humanity of Christ. Sometimes it was mingled with oil and sometimes it was anointed with oil. When "mingled" it tells of the conception of our beloved Lord; when "anointed" it takes us to the banks of the Jordan.
Both the charger and the bowl were full but they are spoken of as one meal offering. The charger is double the capacity, weight and volume of the bowl. The charger is Luke's account of the stainless humanity of Christ; the bowl, half the volume, is Matthew's account. They were both guided by the Spirit of God and together they form the meal offering. When the offerer came in Leviticus 2 he took his handful out. This is what God wants from us in worship. It is our individual grasp of Christ. But then there is also one golden spoonful of sweet incense. We read of the incense in Exodus 30. As to the origin of its contents there is no certainty, but there is no doubt that it speaks of the fragrance and virtues of our beloved Lord. Two things in Exodus 30 were not to be copied: the holy anointing oil (vv.22-25) and the sweet incense (vv.34-38). The first prefigured the Spirit of God and the latter the person of Christ. And so there was a bowl full, a charger full, a hand full, and a spoon full. The challenge comes, "What do I bring?". Sisters are not hindered by the silence imposed upon them when gathered in assembly capacity: "None shall appear in my presence empty" (Ex 23.15, JND). Yet many worship meetings are barren. It may be that we have to say that we only bring a spoon full but, note, it is a golden spoon. It tells us something that the charger and the bowl do not - that the person who was down here was divine.
The Old Testament speaks of three different handfuls. The woman of Zarephath (1 Kings 17.9ff) had only a handful, but it was God's handful, as He said that it would not fail. It would sustain the people "until the day". In Ruth 2.16 handfuls were dropped on purpose; this is the servant's handful. In Leviticus 2 there is the worshipper's handful.
In his, the prince's, presentation (7.12-17 etc) we have the virgin birth, fine flour mingled with oil; His stainless life, the fine flour; and the fragrance of His life, the sweet incense. And now he touches the cross. But note his exercise: a burnt, a sin, and a peace offering. Why in that order? The burnt offering is the highest aspect of the death of Christ and God always starts at the highest. There is a bullock, a ram, and a lamb but it is only one burnt offering. The bullock is Christ in the strength of His service. The ram is Christ in the devotion of His walk. The lamb is Christ in His meekness and gentleness.
Then he brings the sin offering, of which there is only one. That is all that is essential: had it been omitted the work of Christ would have been incomplete. And then he brings his peace offering.
The peace offering is the communion offering. The burnt offering was all for God, but in the peace offering God, the offerer, and the priest all had a part. It was a fellowship offering. When first saved we know Him as the sin offering. Then we realise that we have a standing before God that nothing can alter, and this is the burnt offering. Then we know the peace offering aspect of the death of Christ: it is fellowship with Him and with His people.