Numbers chapter 7 (the second longest in the Bible) lays out a detailed repetitive description of offering presented by the leaders of the 12 tribes at the dedication of the tabernacle on 12 successive days.
From a 30,000-foot view what we are witnessing are some of the final preparations necessary to make the operation of the priesthood and God’s earthly dwelling place complete.
From a little narrower view what we are seeing is the leader of each of the 12 tribes of Israel bringing their offering, in turn, to the Lord. Beginning with the tribe of Judah, the headman of each tribe brought their tribe’s gift to the Tabernacle…one tribe per day, for a total of 12 days.
The first gift discussed (before we read of what each tribe brought) was a public donation: that is, to the Tabernacle as a traditional gift from the entire congregation of Israel’s leaders. And, it consisted of 6 large wagons/carts, each with two oxen for pulling it. These carts given to the particular Levite clans were in charge of transporting the various pieces of the Tabernacle.
The clan of Merrari given 4 of the wagons and the family of Gershon received two. It was Merrari’s duty to transport the heavy wooden planks that formed the load bearing structure of the Sacred Tent, so they needed more carts than did Gershon, who was to move the thick curtains that formed the door into the Tent.
Verse 9 explains why the highest ranked of the clans, the clan of Kohath, did not receive ANY carts: they were to carry the most precious Ark of the Covenant; and the Ark of the Covenant carried on the shoulders of the Levites, not laid on the back of a wagon. This regulation of the Levites carrying the Ark on their shoulders and not putting it in an oxcart was apparently (as were so many of the Laws given on Mt. Sinai) soon ignored by Israel’s leadership and it brought with it the promised consequences.
We see an incident in 1 Chronicles 13 when King David called for the Ark of the Covenant to be brought to him, and a fellow named Uzzah given the task. Let’s read that incident together because there’s a little more to it than meets the eye.
Now, what is interesting is that we read of the Hebrews transporting the Ark in an oxcart, and not on the shoulders of Levites. Great Jewish sages have said for ages that Uzzah was killed not for one infraction, touching the Ark, but rather for two:
- Touching the Ark
- Transporting it in a cart
That is why it speaks about the Lord’s anger burning so significantly. And, in fact, this whole thing was David’s fault for his personal negligence in allowing such a thing to occur.
OK, back to the book of Numbers. Hidden in verse 10 is something else that is informative: it says that the tribal chieftains brought their dedication offering for the altar. What makes this interesting is that the Hebrew word that is used here in Number 7, the word that is usually translated “dedication offering”, is Hanukkah.
Yes, the same word as used for the Holiday we celebrate in the fall, Hanukkah, to recognize the rededication of the Temple to God after having been taken over by the Syrians and made into a Temple to Zeus for a 3-year period.
It is kind of interesting that the first use of Hanukkah is to initiate the dwelling place of God into operation, here in Numbers. The second use of Hanukkah in Scripture was to re-initiate the dwelling place of God BACK into operation after the governor of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanies, had made the priesthood defunct for a few years.
What is also interesting is that the way the word Hanukkah used in Numbers 7 puts a little finer point on what it means; when we see the use of the word Hanukkah, it is more an offering of initiation than it is dedication. The Hanukkah offering is expected to be the offering that is the catalyst…it is the ribbon cutting ceremony that says “open for business.”
On the other hand, when we see a real dedication offering, in which something is consecrated (meaning ceremonially set-apart) for God, the ritual always involves anointing with oil. We don’t find an anointing of oil with the bringing of this Hanukkah offering here in Numbers, nor do we find it in the Hanukkah ceremony initiating the use of the Temple, once again, for worshipping God during the Maccabee Rebellion.
And, of course, in initializing our walk with Jesus, there is but an offering of ourselves, usually symbolized by Baptism, but there is NO call for a new follower to be anointed with oil to begin His service to God.
So, like so much else in the N.T., we find that the entire concept and purpose and use of Hanukkah commenced in the O.T., and this was just brought forward into the NT in a yet higher and fuller meaning and personified in Jesus.
The other thing we should not overlook is that it was the tribe of Judah from whom came Christ that was the FIRST to present their Hanukkah offering. And, what we find is that the gifts that all 12 tribes will give are exactly identical. Every tribe gave the same things, even the same amount and the same quality.
As we read for 12 consecutive passages each tribe’s Hanukkah offering was:
- 1 Silver bowl,
- 1 Silver basin, each filled with Semolina flour with oil mixed in (a Minchah offering);
- One golden spoon or ladle filled with incense;
- One bull, one mature ram, and one yearling lamb (for an ‘Olah offering);
- One male goat (for the Hata’at offering); and
- 2 Oxen, 5 Rams, five male goats, and five yearling lambs for the Shelamim offering.
I see great significance in this: because just as anyone who comes to the Lord for atonement and salvation must offer the same thing himself, nothing less, and nothing more, so it is with this Hanukkah offering. The 12 tribes were not at all equal in population, authority, status or wealth but that didn’t’ matter: the offering to the Lord had to be the same for all.