And it came to pass on the day that Moses had fully set up the tabernacle, and had anointed it, and sanctified it, and all the instruments thereof, both the altar and all the vessels thereof, and had anointed them, and sanctified them; that the princes of Israel, heads of the house of their fathers, who were the princes of the tribes, and were over them that were numbered, offered: and they brought their offering before the Lord, six covered wagons, and twelve oxen; a wagon for two of the princes, and for each one an ox: and they brought them before the tabernacle. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, take it of them, that they may be to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; and thou shalt give them unto the Levites, to every man according to his service. And Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them unto the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave unto the sons of Gershon, according to their service: And four wagons and eight oxen he gave unto the sons of Merari, according unto their service, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders.
In our culture today, we place a high premium on fairness and equality. Everybody wants to matter just a little more than the other, we get consumed with the prosperity of others and wonder why God has treated us so unfairly!
On the day the tabernacle was dedicated and anointed, the leaders of the tribes of Israel brought twelve oxen and six wagons as an offering to the Lord. The wagons and oxen were divided between the three groups of Levites. The first group, the Gershonites, were given two wagons and four oxen. So far so good. But when the next group, the sons of Merari, was given four wagons and eight oxen, the Gershonites must have said, “Wait a minute. This isn’t fair. We only got four oxen and two wagons.” But if the Gershonites didn’t like this, imagine how the third group—the Kohathites felt when there was nothing left for them. “Unfair!” they must have cried. And today we do the same thing.
“Wait a minute,” we say. “We’re all called to serve God, aren’t we? Why, then, does he have four wagons and eight oxen and I have none? Look at the position he holds, the prosperity she enjoys, the prominence they have. Why don’t I?” And then we fall into the subtle mindset that God is not truly fair, that He plays favorites. And we’re not one of them.
Why were the wagons distributed the way they were? Does God indeed have favorites? The answer is found in a significant phrase in our text where it says the wagons were given according to their service. Earlier in Numbers, we read that the sons of Gershon were in charge of the fabric and coverings of the tabernacle—to take them up and down and pack them along. But the Merarites had an even heavier load, for they were in charge of the boards, silver sockets, and bars which made up the walls of the tabernacle. In fact, those who study these things say the weight the sons of Merari carried would have been approximately twice as great as that which the sons of Gershon carried. Consequently, called to bear twice as great a burden, it makes sense the Merarites would have twice as many oxen and twice as many wagons.
Of those who appear to be more blessed than we are, we say, “Look at the wagons they have. Look at their oxen.” Yes, they may have more oxen and more wagons. But they also have heavier burdens. They have obligations that you and I don’t understand. God is fair. With those wagons come added responsibilities and burdens because to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).
The Kohathites were to carry the furniture of the tabernacle—including the ark of the covenant—upon their shoulders, which speaks of intimacy, of close proximity. And now I begin to understand. Maybe I don’t have four wagons or eight oxen. Maybe I don’t even have two wagons and four oxen. Maybe I’m on foot. But maybe that’s because the Lord knows that not having the position or possessions others have will result in a deeper intimacy than if there were oxen and wagons rumbling around.
Jesus opted for this when He said, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). The priests and Pharisees had an abundance of oxen and wagons. But Jesus chose a different direction. Yet He was so happy and so full of joy that even those with lots of oxen and wagons, so to speak, left everything to follow Him.
He was able to focus on that which mattered. And as a result, there was a sparkle in His eye, a smile on His face, and a winsome quality to His personality, which caused multitudes—of which we are a part—to want to be around Him.
If God has given you four carts and eight oxen, rejoice. But be on guard lest these blessings distract you from walking with Jesus in simplicity. Carts and oxen aren’t always as good as they look. Carts lose their wheels and fall apart; oxen will crap a new wall in your pretty barn; and thus, life becomes much more complicated. I say, It is the wise man who says, “Lord, You set the agenda. You give me what You know is best for me.”
My tendency is to say, “I don’t think things are fair. It’s also the tendency of a culturally driven church. We do things like fundraising campaign’s to raise money to buy carts for the Kohathites.” But would that truly be best for the Kohathites?
Here is the deal. If you are one of those going through life with no wagons, no oxen, God says, “You have Me. And I’m all you need.” I’m glad that I roll through life simplistically, I am a guy who has very little to care for in life and this is giving me large amounts of time to spend with my Father.
I often look at my son who has already surpassed many of the achievements that I have made in life and I see the great responsibility that he is able to take on and handle with grace, I see the blessing that God has brought to his life, and yet I can only hope and pray that I can somehow pass along to him and others, the simple side of a walk with the Lord that has taken me over 50 years now to finally achieve and finally settle into.
On a related note, sometimes I look at people and wonder how they bear the burden they carry, how God could allow certain events to happen in their lives. I think to myself, “I could never go through that trial, never carry that weight.” But then I realize it’s because I haven’t been given the necessary carts or oxen to do so, that if I were to go through that trial, my Father would give me the oxen and carts necessary to bear the burden.
Now, we have the understanding and privilege, to say to those who are self-absorbed, self-focused, self-centered, those who think their situations matter most, and those who believe that that the culture should cater to their wants and needs. “God has you in the place that is best for you. He’s a fair Father who treats us all with passionate love, doing what’s best for each of us. God is so good. And Father knows best!”