Well, now I know where they got the idea for “The Twelve Days of Christmas”! Numbers 7 is the longest chapter in the Pentateuch (89 verses) and it benefits hugely from the copy-and-paste facilities that a word processor provides. Twelve representatives of the twelve tribes each bring an offering on one of twelve days; the offerings are very generous in financial terms, and, by a massive coincidence, every tribe brings precisely the same gifts as part of their offering. If this was a wedding list, it would be your worst nightmare! But the work of the tabernacle needed twelve silvers plates, twelve silver sprinkling bowls, twelve gold dishes, and twelve young bulls, (are you seeing a pattern here?) but wait: twenty-four oxen, seventy-two rams, seventy-two goats and seventy-two male lambs. An additional twelve oxen were preserved to pull the six carts that carried the tabernacle equipment and coverings. Notice that the most precious and holy objects – including the ark – had to be carried by hand. In 2 Samuel 6:3, King David disobeyed these commands and had the ark carried on a cart drawn by oxen (copying instead the methods of the Philistines), which led accidentally to an innocent man’s death. It is always best to obey God rather than go with the flow!
The offerings were presented in the same order that the tribes marched in – starting with Judah. The gifts were presented and dedicated at the altar, one per day. Collectively the total numbers of each animal and precious metal seem to make more sense than in separate individual gifts – and perhaps that says something about the collective power of the church’s spiritual gifts when used together for the benefit of the whole body of people. The animals were used for burnt offerings (devotion), sin offerings (forgiveness), and fellowship offerings (intimacy). Also, grain and oil were offered, along with incense.
It is instructive to read every line of this chapter – although very tempting to skim over the obvious repetitions! Such repetitions do tend to highlight any differences, such as the beginning of verse 19, for example and cause you to question the reason. They also make the names of the individual people more important. Thirdly, they emphasise that the Lord does not just want a general collection of offering items (which he could easily provide himself) but that the giver is more important to him than the gift and each gift is made special and unique by the particular tribe and leader who provides it. Similarly, our gifts, characters, service, and devotion to the Lord are absolutely unique in his eyes, and He values each of us as one of a kind. Therefore in God’s Word, each gift is written out again and again in full; our God is not a ‘ditto’ God!
This chapter ends with its purpose being achieved; the gifts having been generously given and graciously accepted, God presences himself between the cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. From that chosen vantage point, the Lord speaks to his people, through Moses. For us, it is at the cross that we first encounter the living God – where atonement has been made for us – and then beyond the ‘curtain’ into heaven itself, where now all believers live (see Ephesians 2:4-6). I think that this truth bears a little repetition, don’t you!