Then Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘Do not let the tribe of the families of the Kohathites be cut off from the Levites. But do this to them that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy objects: Aaron and his sons shall go in and assign each of them to his work and to his load; but they shall not go in to see the holy objects even for a moment, or they will die’ (Num 4.17-18, 20).
Not only am I not a tabernacle expert, I’m not worthy to untie the shoes of one. I am nevertheless intrigued (probably naively so) by the role of the Kohathites in the tabernacle administration. Kohath was one of Levi’s three sons and therefore part of the priestly function in Israel (Num 3.17). Each on of these sons and their lineage would have particular responsibilities for the administration of the tabernacle. The Kohathites were in charge of the “most holy things” (Num 3.31; 4.4). When Israel would pack up and move the Kohathites would chauffeur the most important items: the Ark, the Table of the Bread of the Presence, lampstands, altar and all the utensils. They were an indispensable part of safely moving the tabernacle in a way that protected God’s holiness and Israel’s worship.
But as important as their function was, no Kohathite son ever set eyes on the very things he was raised to carry. Imagine carrying the most holy objects in all of Israel, but never being allowed to see them “even for a moment” (Num 4.20). Only Aaron and his sons see them. By the time you are called in for your assignment Aaron and his sons have already covered them up under several layers of protective skins and cloths (Num 4.5-15). You don’t poke your head in to see how Aaron was progressing. You don’t sneak a peek when the wind blows up a corner of the cloth (perhaps why heavy porpoise skins top the items). And although you must not see them, you must carry them. It’s like an Air Force One pilot who will will be shot on sight should he ever see the President out of the corner of his eye.
God charged Moses and Aaron to make sure the packing job is done perfectly well so as to protect the Kohathites (Numb 4.17-19a). If Aaron misses a button or slips a knot then a Kohathite life is at stake (v20). God is supremely holy and no one sneaks a peek at God’s holiness. No one treats God’s holiness like a giggly schoolgirl who wants to see what her boyfriend got her for Valentine’s Day. God’s “otherness” is not be trifled with. Like it or not, God decides who sees him and how. If you’re a Kohathite you do your job of carrying holy things because your life (literally) depended on it. You leave them at the entrance of the tabernacle and joyfully go home thanking God for the privilege. You praise God for what he allows you to do without resenting him for what he restricts you from seeing. Any peek at the goods would lead to pride rather than worship.
It may be a stretch, but a helpful one to consider how the Kohathites might help pastoral ministry. We tend to most holy things. We deliver them to God’s people so they may worship the right God rightly. We’re not the priests, but agents of the High Priest to make sure his things get to his people unprofaned and intact.
But Monday always comes when we’ve dropped off the most holy things at the hearts of men and women. We’ve gone home to leave the unpacking of those goods to Someone else. And what God may do with them is above our pay grade. Yet I demand that God show me exactly what it is that he is doing through my service. If he would have me preach then he owes me a peek at what lies under his mysterious providence. If I’m going to carry the most holy things then I deserve to see some affect of doing so. It’s not enough that God grant the sheer privilege of tending to the most holy things. I deserve see what no one else is allowed to see. Let me peek under the cover to see more people, more commendation, more money. All the while, God restrains such insight for our own good and maybe our own lives. Any peek at the goods will lead to pride rather than worship.
We must not insist on seeing what God hides under the surface of our ministry. We deliver the gospel as God has packaged it in Christ. We care for the gospel with acute attenion and keen consciences so that men do not die. We take no credit for the gospel or the privilege of preaching the gospel. “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9.16). The Kohathites received no praise for carrying the most holy things so well. They were a means to an end: the honoring of God’s holiness among the people of God. Likewise, we get no praise for preaching the gospel. We’re errand boys. We’re couriers. We merely bring God’s truth to God’s people and leave whatever progress that truth makes to the Most Holy God (1 Cor 3.6).
So what did God do yesterday in our preaching? Did he convert a soul? Did he convict a tempted believer? Did he encourage a faint heart? Did he prosper a gift? Did he amaze the masses? I don’t know. And as much as I want to know, I cannot know and must not know lest pride sow its sneaky seed. Our assignment was simply to pick up the gospel as God has packaged it in Christ and deliver it safely to God’s people. How and when he unpacks it is up to the High Priest to do with it what he wills. In the meantime we go home joyfully, thanking God for the privilege and waiting for our next assignment.
“For not man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. . . . but each man must be careful how he builds on it” (1 Cor 3.11, 10b).