Strength for the Journey: "Laying the Foundation" – Numbers 7

Foundations are incredibly important. Across the street from my house, a neighbor passed away recently. The son took over the house, and soon after took down a score of scrub pines in the yard. Next the graders came in and the heavy equipment began pulling plants and digging holes on the property. It took a few days for us to really recognize what his workers were doing… but eventually it became clear. He was about to double the square footage of the house by pouring a new foundation and then erecting new walls connected to the house. Great care was given to digging out the footers, and pouring the right sized pilasters for the foundation weight. By the time the pad was poured for the addition, the foundation was completely tied together with reinforcing bars and concrete that was poured to the specs of the engineer on the project.

How did the engineers and builders know exactly how deep to dig and how large to make the foundation? Over the years, Floridians have gotten good at building on this sand bar. We know how to build rigid structures that are properly set in the earth, and will hold up during significant storms. Weights and stresses are measurable, and engineers have ratings on all the materials to work out mathematically how the foundation will hold in stress. One thing any builder will tell you is this – a bad foundation creates an unsafe and unstable structure. It MUST be properly laid or it must be fixed. NOTHING is more important in the project than the critical distribution of force in the foundation.

What is true in building is also true in ministry. The foundation supports the structure. As we have studied in Numbers together, we have walked through a number of important steps in the organizing of the children of Israel at the foot of Sinai – as they prepared to journey through the desert to the Promised Land. The first ten chapters of this book of the Torah collection describe the foundation laying of the people. They left Egypt as a rabble of slaves, but in the heat and tests of the desert, God would mold them into a nation. Our lesson today is about God’s call to common ministry at the dedication of the Tabernacle. Why did God retain this lesson? Because the formation of a foundation in the desert is not unlike the formation of any ministry anywhere – and we are all about spreading God’s Word and forming new ministry works around the globe.

Key Principle: Ministry is about shared identity, shared provision and common mission as a community of faith takes what God has provided and publicly and obediently follows His call.

“Seven Principles of Laying a Foundation in Ministry”

Today we will look at seven foundation building principles. Just as engineers need guidelines to build a plan upon, so ministries need a foundation plan that will determine the strength of each to endure the stresses of spiritual battles.

Principle #1: God’s blessing and direction came only after OBEDIENCE to God’s directions.

Numbers 7:1 Now on the day that Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle…

In the beginning the project was daunting and difficult.

Let’s recall the TEAM that God provided to do this with: the point – the team always looks bad at the beginning.

The entire Exodus was led by an ex-con on the run named Moses – an adopted child with a shady background and a stuttering tongue.

He was accompanied by his slick talking brother, who was swayed by the crowd within weeks of his first solo time in charge.

They were accompanied by their sister, an opinionated woman who didn’t like her brother marrying a Gentile Ethiopian, and bad mouthed him until God had to bench her with a case of leprosy for a week.

We don’t even need to take the time to mention the many followers and their murmuring spirit, nor do we need to mention the rebellion of other leaders like Korah, that led God to open up the earth and swallow them. Drunk priests that cut corners in worship are also a part of this happy band. People hoarding quail and manna, and complaining about the menu… we could go on and on..

We sometimes romanticize the work of God in the Bible, and we are disappointed when we work with people in real life ministry today. The problem is that we didn’t really read closely what the text said. Things weren’t as good in the “good old days” as we like to think.

Another very important problem we face is this… We are far better at picking out faults than we are at seeing possibilities. We have to recognize God’s power through a life and not simply see the flaws of that life. We have to learn to see past the big mouth’s of the Boagernes (“sons of thunder”) brothers – James and John – and see future preachers. We have to look past the faults of Peter and see a wise Pastor in the making. We have to see past the criticial, rabble rousing Saul of Tarsus and see a brilliant mind with the potential to plant churches all over the world! We have to see the teams as they really were, and then see our team as it can be.

Let’s recall the CIRCUMSTANCES that God placed the leadership into, and the difficulties they faced getting things going.

They were in the desert of Sinai in the heat of the day and the cold of the evening. They were moving around a rough landscape, in a subsistence living that was dependent upon God’s direct intervention for them to have even the most basic necessities. They were living in tents, sleeping on the ground, traveling in a large mass. Things were difficult and they were difficult. Yet, God used them…

How was it possible to accomplish common ministry in that difficult place with that roster of personnel? In short, it wasn’t. Ministry DOES include each of us carefully observing the Scriptures for our guide, and using our gifts for the enabling – but the fact is that real ministry happens when God WORKS THROUGH MEN- not when men work for God. Here is the point: God works through our committed obedience to His Word, through humbled men and women who decide that He is God and He has the right to correct our thinking, and light up our path. Our job is NOT to create ministry, but to FOLLOW obediently where He leads. He has commanded us to follow Him when we DON’T know the future – but we know His character.

Principle #2: Before use of the place, there was symbolic DEDICATION for the physical things.

Numbers 7:1b “… Moses anointed it…”

Moses took a flask of oil and sprinkled some of it on the various objects of the new tabernacle. The oil wasn’t magic – it was symbolic of God’s manifest presence – and perhaps even God’s very Spirit settling on the items. It is clear that anointing was symbolic and was used in the case of priests, as prescribed by God (Exodus 29). It was also used for the symbolic call to the monarchy by God in 1 Samuel 10 (Saul) and 1 Samuel 15 (David). Pouring oil by itself would not have made them physically prepared to do anything but drip. The idea was a physical picture of a spiritual reality – like a wedding ring pictures the covenantal bond of marriage in two people.

One thing every anointing had in common was this: oil was poured at times of dedication for a specific task as specified by God Himself. They were done by God’s servant, and done to people and things that were being prepared for God’s service. They were generally public events – and they were deeply meaningful to both the pourer and the one (or thing) upon whom they were poured.

Let me ask you a very simple question: Have you ever openly, publicly declared your life to be the Lords for His use of you? Have you ever consciously and deliberately said: “Lord, my life, my body, my money, my talents are yours. I dedicate them to your use.” I hear Christians talk about “an anointing” like it is an empowering, but NOT like it is a statement of dedication. Surely when David was anointed by Samuel, God was enabling him, but that was not the whole story. David wasn’t getting a jolt of juice from on high, as much as he was being called to conscious dedication. Anointing isn’t just about enabling – its about God’s call and God’s choice – and our proper response of dedication.

Principle #3: Before the thing became common, there was SEPARATION of its use.

Numbers 7:1b “…and consecrated it with all its furnishings and the altar and all its utensils; he anointed them and consecrated them also.

The items were anointed, but they were also CONSECRATED. That means they were separated for God’s use – and made UNCOMMON. They were no longer like the items of everyday use. The Tabernacle was a goat hair tent of gathering before God – but it was no city hall or open public facility. It was at the center of the camp, but it was no gathering courtyard for parties or civic meetings. This was HOLY GROUND, because God made it so. He said that place was specifically for meeting with Him – and it served no other purpose.

Just as I asked you about your public dedication, so I want to ask you about your CONSECRATION. Do you see yourself as God’s property? Do you see your time as HIS, your talents as HIS and your treasure as HIS? Can He count on you to make decisions to maintain that body so that He can call upon it for His purposes? Do you see yourself as “bought with a price” and therefore make decisions in light of His ownership?

What I watch must fall under the category of God’s choice – or I think I am my own. Where I go must conform with His choices for me – or I am not walking the consecrated path. What I become in my job or who I marry for my life’s companion – all of these decisions MUST be done with His OWNERSHIP and His MASTERY in mind – or I am not living a consecrated life.

If you know Jesus as your Savior, you are NOT an ordinary person, destined for ordinary purposes. There is something wonderfully different about you. God wants to use your life, your body, your testimony like a glove. He wants to come inside your life and move your hands, your feet, your lips and your heart to speak His love to a lost world. He wants to touch others through your touch. He wants to encourage the discouraged, through your thoughtful and rich words. He wants to work through YOU – and He will…. If we are set apart for His use. He will resist using those who cannot let Him lead. God loves to dance, but He is never the one who follows. He will lead, or He will sit down and let you stand there on the dance floor moving like He is in your arms. CONSECRATION is about the commitment to let Him lead, and to set your life apart for His Holy use.

Principle #4: Before the journey with God, LEADERS were identified and followed.

Numbers 7:2 Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ households, made an offering (they were the leaders of the tribes; they were the ones who were over the numbered men).

I drill this principle over and over in Scripture, because I find it so often in every plan God works. God calls people to rise to LEADERSHIP in order to get things to move forward. In this case, as we have seen so very often, God called MEN who were to lead their HOUSEHOLDS to sacrifice and serve God. There is little I should need to say on this score – but it is obvious that our culture has another objective for men.

We live in a time when masculinity has been caricatured to be stupid, smelly and Neanderthal. Our country has embarked on a great social experiment – and excessive reaction to the holding back of women – and has cut men and masculinity to the floor. Men on TV are stupid, boorish and half-witted, pathetic but loveable characters. We went in one generation from “Father Knows Best” to the image of Homer Simpson and “Father Knows Nothing – but he is a sweet dumb guy!” There is no need to denigrate men or the role they have been given to play. Yes, far too many are passive and don’t lead in their homes. The problem is, denigrating the role and demonizing the extreme of dominant males won’t train a new generation of young men for their God-given task.

Recently in our Bible class I reminded students that God made the definitions of masculine and feminine – they are Biblical and not simply cultural. They are founded in Genesis 2 and 3. The roles included being a family leader, a guardian, a mentor and a provider. Men need to reclaim the role God has carved out for them by hard work, faithfulness both on the job and in the marriage. They need to discipline their lives so they are worthy examples of leadership. They need to become what they truly want their sons to become. God works through leaders. God works through the training ground of the HOME. Today’s young boys will be tomorrow’s leaders – and we must guide them by living as examples to them. When a man lives unfaithfully to his wife – he scars and mars the children that observe the unfaithfulness. He divides their hearts and brings death into the home – a place that should be safe and sweet. In ministry we have seen it far too often – I call on our men to guard their homes prayerfully, faithfully and with intense and deliberate purpose.

Men, it has been my experience that we find it easy to block out godly counsel and quickly forget what we heard when we DO hear it. We have selective hearing and selective memory. Could this story be YOU?:

An older couple had trouble remembering common, day-to-day things. They both decided that they would write down requests the other had, and so try to avoid forgetting. One evening the woman asked if the husband would like anything. He replied, “Yes. I’d like a large ice-cream sundae with chocolate ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry on top.” The wife started off for the kitchen and the husband shouted after her, “Aren’t you going to write it down?” “Don’t be silly,” she hollered back, “I’m going to fix it right now. I won’t forget.” She was gone for quite some time. When she finally returned, she set down in front of him a large plate of hash brown potatoes, eggs, bacon, and a glass of orange juice. He took a look and said “I knew you should have written it down! You forgot the toast!” (A-Z Sermon illustrations).

I ask all of you men to please, make a note in your heart. Let’s put effort into our walk and our homes. In a few years, our nation will be glad you did.

Principle #5: Among the leaders, there was a SHARED responsibility.

Numbers 7:3 When they brought their offering before the LORD, six covered carts and twelve oxen, a cart for every two of the leaders and an ox for each one, then they presented them before the tabernacle.

No leader was called to do everything, but all were called to do SOMETHING – and that is still true today. We have on our ministry team a number of people that are very gifted in their areas. I celebrate them, and love to work with them. One is very technical, and spends his time in the electronic and computer area. Another is very administrative, and he spends his time thinking about planning, setting plans in place and operating ministry. I spend my time preparing to teach, teaching, and working on content. Among our other leaders some are musically talented, others are exhorters, and others are mercy-filled lovers of people.

Are we short on anything in our ministry? Sure we are. We have lots of gaps. I don’t mind telling you that, because you already know it. No team in this town has it all, but thank God that each ministry team has each other! I watch people, they jump from one church to the next, trying to find the perfect one… and they never will. No one has it all, but all of us have SOME of what God wants to do in our town. Let me offer two things you can do instead of looking for the “place with it all”. First, find an area you can help and figure out a way to start helping. There are widows who need help, there are hurting families that can use some extra help. You don’t need a program to get busy helping ministry move forward, you just need to look for someone who is hurting and lend a hand. One more thing you can do: Measure your leaders on their faithful use of the gifts God gave them, not on the gifts you wish they had – you will be less disappointed if you do.

I make no excuses for laziness. I want to be honest before both YOU and the LORD, and do all the things necessary for this ministry to thrive that I am able to do. Even if I do, there will be a YOU sized gap in what we have to offer. That is the truth… we need all hands on deck. This is a shared responsibility.

Principle #6: Before the ministry got underway, God DIRECTED the use of resources.

Numbers 7:4 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 5 “Accept these things from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and you shall give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.” 6 So Moses took the carts and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. 7 Two carts and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service, 8 and four carts and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. 9 But he did not give any to the sons of Kohath because theirs was the service of the holy objects, which they carried on the shoulder.

Money and goods are not a problem for the Savior – He is not broke. He owns all that has ever been, and is capable of managing an entire universe. Let me be clear: God is not asking you to give to His work because HE needs your money – He is commanding it because He is WILLING to include you and I in His work. He loves collaboration. He didn’t need Mary’s womb to bear Jesus – He could have made the “Second Adam” the way He made the first Adam – from the dust of the ground. Yet, He wanted to give a young woman the delightful experience of participating with HIM in bringing Jesus to the world.

By the same token, God isn’t desperate for your funds to get the Gospel out. He LETS you and I give, pray and share so that we can participate. Moses was told to ACCEPT the gifts from the people. Where did THEY get the wealth? They were ex-slaves! They got the wealth by God providing through Egyptians the things they would later need in the wilderness, along with the goods and animals that multiplied while they were in the land of Egypt. God GAVE them all they had – just as God gave ME all I have.

The carts were provided for those who NEEDED them to ACCOMPLISH their God-given ministry. No carts were given to those who were not charged with work that required them. The Kohathites didn’t feel slighted and they didn’t complain about not getting carts – because the people who needed resources got them. Ministries need to be strategic in the use of resources. We don’t have enough to follow everyone’s idea about what to provide support for – so we have be selectively choose by the parameters of our own focus of ministry. God directs God’s resources for God’s ministry. The job of each ministry is to pray and listen – to discern the places God wants that work to focus.

Principle #7: All PROVISION must be clearly acknowledged as from God’s hand – and ALL are expected to do their part in participating.

Each in the community were called to give a base amount. If they publicly displayed according to their wealth, some would have been proud, and others shamed. The dedication offering was NOT a freewill offering, but rather the foundational prescribed amounts needed to get the whole Tabernacle offering system in place. This was about public participation and unity, not about amount. The specifications of what each brought were a symbolic covenant that everyone equally pulled their weight and gave their share.

Numbers 7:10 The leaders offered the dedication offering for the altar when it was anointed, so the leaders offered their offering before the altar. 11 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Let them present their offering, one leader each day, for the dedication of the altar.”

Each family shared the same proportions as prescribed for the needs. The gifts of the chieftains fall into three categories: vessels, commodities that fill the vessels, and sacrificial animals:

Numbers 7:12 … on the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of … Judah; 13 and his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 14 one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; 15 one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; 16 one male goat for a sin offering; 17 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of Nahshon the son of Amminadab.

Numbers 7:18 On the second day Nethanel the son of Zuar, leader of Issachar… same offerings…

Numbers 7:24 On the third day it was Eliab the son of Helon, leader of … Zebulun; ..same offerings.

Numbers 7:30 On the fourth day it was Elizur the son of Shedeur, leader of the sons of Reuben… same offerings.

Numbers 7:36 On the fifth day it was Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai, leader of the children of Simeon…same offerings.

Numbers 7:42 On the sixth day it was Eliasaph the son of Deuel, leader of the sons of Gad; …same offerings.

Numbers 7:48 On the seventh day it was Elishama the son of Ammihud, leader of the sons of Ephraim…the same offerings.

Numbers 7:54 On the eighth day it was Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur, leader of the sons of Manasseh; the same offerings.

Numbers 7:60 On the ninth day it was Abidan the son of Gideoni, leader of the sons of Benjamin… the same offerings.

Numbers 7:66 On the tenth day it was Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai, leader of the sons of Dan …the same offering.

Numbers 7:72 On the eleventh day it was Pagiel the son of Ochran, leader of the sons of Asher; ..the same offerings.

Numbers 7:78 On the twelfth day it was Ahira the son of Enan, leader of the sons of Naphtali; …the same offerings.

Why do you think God commanded the individual offerings of each tribe be spread out over a twelve day period? Probably so that the obedience of each man, and the unity of each tribe to the others could be observed and acknowledged separately by the people.

Did you notice what was missing in Nahshon the Judahite’s description that was included in all of the other eleven passages? Nahshon was the only leader of the twelve who was not titled “chieftain” – though know that was his designation elsewhere in Numbers 2:4. Why not call him by the same title? The Jewish sages offered a possible explanation – that this omission was intended to prevent Nahshon from claiming Jacob’s deathbed promise for Judah by declaring himself a king over the other chieftains (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 54). Is that true? I cannot say for sure, but it is important to note that the principle is a sound one. God did not call Nahshon to a higher place than the others – though Judah would one day have a Prince like that. We need to be careful about two things here:

Not appropriating promises that are not ours. Christians are quick to move Scriptures out of their context to adopt them for personal blessing. What God promised Judah long ago isn’t necessarily a promise you can adopt. How many times I have heard believers openly consider promises that were made in very specific situation by God in the Word as their own personal promises? We need to be careful!

Not taking greater recognition that should be ours. Paul reminds us that some parts of the Body of Messiah get better exposure. That doesn’t mean they are more important – it means they are more visible. Ask anyone who is in a cardiac ward if their face is more important than their heart – they will know it is not. In the same way, we who are more visible need to be careful not to misunderstand our own importance.

The Final Tally: 7:84 This was the dedication offering for the altar from the leaders of Israel when it was anointed: twelve silver dishes, twelve silver bowls, twelve gold pans, 85 each silver dish weighing one hundred and thirty shekels and each bowl seventy; all the silver of the utensils was 2,400 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; 86 the twelve gold pans, full of incense, weighing ten shekels apiece, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, all the gold of the pans 120 shekels; 87 all the oxen for the burnt offering twelve bulls, all the rams twelve, the male lambs one year old with their grain offering twelve, and the male goats for a sin offering twelve; 88 and all the oxen for the sacrifice of peace offerings 24 bulls, all the rams 60, the male goats 60, the male lambs one year old 60. This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it is necessary that we recall that practical side of this whole story- ministry that makes a difference costs something. If we would serve God, we will show it by committing our resources.

Ministry is about shared identity, shared provision and common mission as a community of faith takes what God has provided and publicly and obediently follows His call.

Kirk Nowery in The Stewardship of Life wrote: “At 12:55 pm the mayday call crackled through the speakers at the Flight Service Station on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The desperate pilot of a Piper A22, a small single-engine plane, was reporting that he had run out of fuel and was preparing to ditch the aircraft in the waters of Cook Inlet. On board were four people, two adults and two young girls, ages 11 and 12. They had departed two hours earlier from Port Alsworth, a small community on the south shore of Lake Clark, bound for Soldotna, a distance of about 150 miles. Under normal conditions it would been a routine flight; however, the combination of fierce headwinds and a failure to top off the fuel tank had created a lethal situation. Upon hearing the plane’s tail number, the air traffic controller realized that his own daughter was one of the young passengers aboard the plane. In desperation himself, he did everything possible to assist the pilot; but suddenly the transmission was cut off. The plane had crashed into the icy waters. Four helicopters operating nearby began searching the area within minutes of the emergency call, but they found no evidence of the plane and no survivors. The aircraft had been traveling without water survival gear, leaving its four passengers with even less of a chance to make it through the ordeal. Fiercely cold Cook Inlet, with its unpredictable glacial currents, is considered among the most dangerous waters in the world. It can claim a life in minutes, and that day it claimed four.

Kirk adds these thoughts to the story: For reasons we will never know, the pilot of that doomed aircraft chose not to use the resources that were at his disposal. He did not have enough fuel. He did not have the proper survival equipment. Perhaps he had not taken the time to get the day’s weather report. Whatever the case, he did not use the resources that were available; and in this instance the consequences were fatal…The stewardship of resources is a serious business; and God’s will is that we give it serious attention. This demands that we have the right perspective on our resources, and that is possible only if we have the right focus on our source.” (Story from Kirk Nowery: The Stewardship of Life, Page 118).

The ending verse appears to set up the next story in chapter 8…7:89 “Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him.” What did God say? Stay tuned…