Friday, March 18, 2011

God's Movers

What ever became of the Kohathites?

Introduced with several verses of ink in Numbers 4, but only mentioned in passing a few times beyond that; entrusted with what initially sounds like a refined responsibility, but in reality the ancestors of those indispensable guys you never think about till you need them: movers.

Never heard of them?

The Kohathites were a division of the Levite tribe in Israel, and were therefore assigned a responsibility related to the tabernacle during the years when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.

Their task, as presented in Numbers 4:4, was "...the care of the most holy things."

How can this job description not conjur up images of white-gloved hands polishing shiny things, stocking breads, refilling oils, lighting candles and generally keeping oneself clean and out of the heat?

If you thought those things like I did, the image is busted in the next several verses. It turns out the Kohathites didn't get to dust, shine, or refill the holy things at all. In fact, they didn't even get to see or touch them. The fancy parts of this job were reserved for Aaron and his sons, and whenever God called on His children to pick up camp and move across the wilderness, the holy things inside the tabernacle were packed up carefully by Aaron's sons, covered and concealed by the curtains from the tabernacle, the hides of sea cows, and solid blue cloths.

Once the holy things were secure and unseen, "...and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the Tent of Meeting." (verse 15)

"Do the carrying" would certainly fall into the "Care of the Holy Things" chapter, but it sure isn't the first thing that comes to mind.

What must this job have been like? Over and over again, to transport the same hidden items across the wilderness, only to arrive at the next stop, turn over the precious cargo to Aaron and his sons without seeing or touching it, and go back on standby till the next move is called for.

What was it like for these servants of God, to carry a burden for Him that they themselves could never see, never touch, never fully comprehend or appreciate? They doubtless saw the rough outline of the holy things of God, shrouded by mystery they were never permitted to uncover. They knew the strength it took to carry the load a long way, but they never saw the load itself, and, so far as we know, were never given a reason why they weren't allowed to see it.

Did the Kohathites bear their burden gladly? Was there ever any resentment felt over the limits of their privilege? If not resentment, at least a longing to know more, to become fully familiar with the burden God had assigned them to carry? Might a full appreciation for the splendor of God's holy things have made the burden easier to carry? (Or, might the Kohathites have thought so, at least?)

We're just not told.

One thing we do know, however, is that the Kohathites are not the only ones God has ever tasked with carrying a burden they could not comprehend.

"Have you considered my servant Job?" -- Job 1:8

"For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." -- Matthew 13:17

"It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things." -- I Peter 1:10-12

From Job to the Kohathites, to the prophets to the angels, the children of God can find kindred spirits in scripture during times of confusion created by burdens we bear but can't comprehend.

Illness, loss, good deeds seemingly unnoticed or even punished, attempts at godly influence spurned. Seemingly aimless periods in which God's direction is sought after, but just doesn't seem clear.

Why doesn't God always supply the full context for these burdens at the time we're carrying them?

Why doesn't he always satisfy our desire to know more, to comprehend fully in this life?

There are deeper waters to dive in search of scholarly answers to those questions, but a sense of His mystery can be found in the story of Jesus' healing of the man blind from birth. (John 9) Jesus makes clear that the man's affliction, his burden in life, was not caused by anyone's sin, but was rather an opportunity for "...the works of God to be displayed in him." (verse 3).

Ultimately, the burdens we bear without full comprehension can only be accepted on faith as God's opportunities to display His work in our lives.

And, ultimately, our ways are not His ways, and our thoughts are not His thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8)

Lord, please sustain us when we don't see what You see, when we can't comprehend what You ask us to carry, when it seems so clear to us that we just need You to tell us Your plan.

Help us to trust you more, Father, and to rest assured that You will never forsake us, even when the burden seems heavy, and the purpose seems unclear.