“Here is how the descendants of Kohat are to serve in the tent of meeting and deal with the especially holy things: when the time comes to break camp, Aharon is to go in with his sons, take down the curtain which serves as a screen, and cover the ark of the testimony with it.”-Numbers 4:4-5
In the census in Numbers chapter 4, the first clan to be counted was the Kohathites.
This is different than the 1st census when the clan of Gershon was the first to be counted due to Gershon’s firstborn status.
Why the difference in order this time around?
There were two likely reasons for this:
First, Aaron and Moses were members of the Kohathite clan.
The fact that they were head over all of Israel significantly elevated the status of the Kohathites in the eyes of the common Israelites.
Second, the Kohathites were commissioned to carry the most HOLY object on earth at the time: the wilderness Tabernacle.
Now I need to warn you about something that has bothered Bible scholars.
Over time, the tribal status of the Levite clans would change.
And sometimes in the Scriptures we’ll see certain responsibilities originally assigned to common Levites being undertaken by the priests and vice versa.
In some cases, we’ll even see the Levites taking on the responsibilities of the common lay Israelite.
The reason this bothers scholars is because they’ll interpret these changes as errors or revisions that were made for political reasons.
Here’s one thing we have to realize.
Due to changing circumstances over the past 14 or 15 centuries of Biblical history, the way Israel performed their rituals and ceremonies also HAD TO CHANGE!
What kind of changing circumstances am I talking about?
One major change was the replacement of the Wilderness Tabernacle with the Temple.
Another major change was the fact that Israel was conquered no less than three times (as a punishment by God) by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Romans.
No doubt, such major and in some cases catastrophic changes seriously disrupted the way things were normally done.
That’s just the way life is.
For example, I can instantly right this very second point out two major areas of where it is impossible to keep God’s commandments perfectly as outlined in the TORAH.
The first is the Biblical Feasts.
Out of the seven Biblically ordained feasts, according to Torah, three of them require travel to Jerusalem.
I recently travelled to Jerusalem from Tokyo for summer vacation and this trip cost me total about $4000!
Now if I had travel to Israel 3 times a year, we’re talking about an extra $12,000 a year I’d have to set aside to obey the Biblical commandment.
For an independently wealthy businessman, that might not be a big deal, but for many folks with modest incomes, pilgrimaging up to Israel three times a year is just not feasible.
And here’s the thing.
Even if all believers could afford to make the trip three times a year, it really wouldn’t matter because there isn’t a Temple.
According to Torah, the whole point of going up to Jerusalem was to worship (and sacrifice) at the Temple.
For instance, there are some rituals that have to be done from the Great Altar like the water libation ceremony, but again they can’t be done because the Temple doesn’t exist at the moment.
Another area where it’s impossible to follow God’s commands as specifically outlined in Torah is keeping Kosher.
This might surprise you but there is not one person on the planet who can keep Kosher according to God’s commands in Torah.
“Isn’t it just a matter of staying from pork and shellfish” you say?
The answer is NO because meat had to dedicated at the Temple with a priest officiating over the slaughter of the CLEAN animal.
In addition, food grown in fields has to adhere to the Shabbat and Jubilee Laws as outlined in Scripture.
The truth is that there is actually very little food produced in Israel that strictly follows the regulations outlined in Torah.
These are just some of the many challenges religious Jews face today when attempting to obey God’s Law in light of circumstances that constantly change.
And this is the challenge that we believers also face.
How best to apply the eternal wisdom and principles of Torah to our particular and sometimes unique circumstances.
My whole point in saying all this is to not let these changes we see in Scripture shake your trust God’s Word.
God’s no dummy.
You don’t think He was aware of all the changes in circumstances that occurred and how they would affect His Chosen People?
Of course He was aware.
The point is we do the best we can with what we’ve been given while yearning for and praying for the arrival of the Kingdom when things will indeed be on earth as they are in heaven.
Another important point to remember about many of the HOLY rituals is that they were more about teaching obedience and trust rather than some inherent magical power in the rituals themselves.
This is just like when God ordered Namaan to bathe in the Jordan River to be healed of His leprosy.
It wasn’t like the water in the Jordan River contained some special mystical or magical healing powers.
In fact even Naaman himself said “Aren’t Amanah and Parpar, the rivers of Dammesek, better than all the water in Israel? Why can’t I bathe in them and be clean?”
No, it wasn’t so much about the ritual or the water but TRUST and OBEDIENCE to HASHEM.