Numbers 4:21-49 – When There Are Too Many Chiefs & Not Enough Indians…

Posted: July 7, 2016 in Book of Numbers
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Numbers 4:21-49

Duties of the Gershonite & Merarite Clans

There is an old saying that might not be politically correct to say anymore that says, “There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians!” It is not politically correct for there to be a football team called the Washington Redskins anymore so this old saying may fall by the wayside in this age of political correctness. Even if it doesn’t get much air play anymore, it does not take away the intent and the eternal truth of this old saying. Old sayings become old sayings because of the truth that they contain.

 

This particular saying has truth that is universal to the human experience. It is a commentary on when you have a situation where there is no clear cut leadership and everyone begins offering their opinion on how work is to get done. It often happens in churches where you have committees for this and committees for that. In some churches, you even have a committee about committees. What generally happens is that many, many discussions are held, everyone expresses their opinions which causes more and more meetings. Ultimately, nothing gets done or something gets done only when circumstances force a decision or decision is made when the necessity of it no longer exists. I have read stories of how not church plants but church splits have occurred over committee decisions. Red carpet chosen over green and other such silliness have caused churches to split right down the middle. Why is that we tolerate such behavior at church when such things would never happen in the business world? Churches seem to be the place where we think that we can exert control when we don’t have control anywhere else in our lives. Often churches suffer because of our own pride and churches become our little playpen of power struggles between folks who use church politics to compensate for our lack of authority in our lives outside the church. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is a claim that could be made about many churches in existence today.

 

Many churches today are their own worst enemy because, with the lack of clear leadership, those people that are willing to take responsibility for decisions, the church suffers and nothing gets done. When nothing gets done, we become inward focused and self-seeking. In that condition, we miss the whole purpose of why we are here. We are not here to argue over the color of the carpet. We are not here to argue over which communion set to purchase. We are not here to decide which folding chairs to buy. We are not here to argue over whether the baptismal pool should be heated or not. These are not the hills we should be dying. These are not the things that we should split a church over. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Too much pride and not enough humility. Using church to compensate for our lack of feeling of power in our non-church life. We are here for more than this! We are here not to implode from the inside but rather to explode outwardly. The church needs to be focused on teaching people about the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not the blood color of the carpet. It must start with humble submission to leadership and there must be daring leadership.

 

It is this idea of orderliness and clear lines of authority that struck me when I read today’s passage about the division of responsibilities among the Gershonite clan and the Merarite clan and the clearly stated lines of authority to who they would report. Let’s read Numbers 4:21-49, this morning:

 

21 The Lord said to Moses, 22 “Take a census also of the Gershonites by their families and clans. 23 Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the tent of meeting.

 

24 “This is the service of the Gershonite clans in their carrying and their other work: 25 They are to carry the curtains of the tabernacle, that is, the tent of meeting, its covering and its outer covering of durable leather, the curtains for the entrance to the tent of meeting, 26 the curtains of the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, the curtain for the entrance to the courtyard, the ropes and all the equipment used in the service of the tent. The Gershonites are to do all that needs to be done with these things. 27 All their service, whether carrying or doing other work, is to be done under the direction of Aaron and his sons. You shall assign to them as their responsibility all they are to carry. 28 This is the service of the Gershonite clans at the tent of meeting. Their duties are to be under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest.

The Merarites

 

29 “Count the Merarites by their clans and families. 30 Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the tent of meeting. 31 As part of all their service at the tent, they are to carry the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts and bases, 32 as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs, ropes, all their equipment and everything related to their use. Assign to each man the specific things he is to carry. 33 This is the service of the Merarite clans as they work at the tent of meeting under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest.”

The Numbering of the Levite Clans

 

34 Moses, Aaron and the leaders of the community counted the Kohathites by their clans and families. 35 All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work at the tent of meeting, 36 counted by clans, were 2,750. 37 This was the total of all those in the Kohathite clans who served at the tent of meeting. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command through Moses.

 

38 The Gershonites were counted by their clans and families. 39 All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work at the tent of meeting, 40 counted by their clans and families, were 2,630. 41 This was the total of those in the Gershonite clans who served at the tent of meeting. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command.

 

42 The Merarites were counted by their clans and families. 43 All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work at the tent of meeting, 44 counted by their clans, were 3,200. 45 This was the total of those in the Merarite clans. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command through Moses.

 

46 So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. 47 All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the tent of meeting 48 numbered 8,580. 49 At the Lord’s command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry.

 

Thus they were counted, as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

 

Here, in this passage, it is quite clear what everyone’s responsibilities were and to whom they reported. God was the original developer of the organization chart. God was the original one who understands that it necessary for there to be clear lines of authority for any organization to operate effectively. Here there is no question whose job is whose. There is no question to whom these groups reported. However, for any organization to be effective, we must start from a place of understanding our role and our place in an organization. Organizations that last are those that understand this. Organizations that get things done know this.

 

Why do we treat church so differently? We make church a place of disorganization and inaction because we all want to be leaders there whereas in the secular world we willingly submit ourselves to the leadership above us (whether we like it or not). We make church our playpen and we make it about us. We mistreat church to compensate for feelings of powerlessness outside its walls. We want to be the chief and take the glory but not have to get down and dirty in the details of what needs to be done. Everybody wants to be a chief and not a rank-and-file Indian. There was a song back in the 1980’s that seems appropriate for the power struggles that you often see in churches and it was called, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. All of this is far from biblical and all of it turns people off to church. If you belong to this kind of church, I pray for the Holy Spirit to bring a wind of change to your church. If you do not belong to this kind of church, I praise God for the wonderful spot in which you find yourself – God is ready to use your church to do mighty things.

 

We must approach church with biblical understanding. We must approach church with the understanding that we all cannot be the chief and we cannot be offended when we are not the chief. We must start from a place of humility each and every one of us. We must understand that God has us at this church at this moment in time with these people underneath these leaders for a specific purpose for us and for a specific task for this church at this moment in time. We must trust God’s sovereign authority over the church as a whole and that He has a specific reason for us to be serving under the people that He has us serving under. God will make a way for us and we must trust that He has the right role for us at this moment in time. We must pray for those who are in authority over us in the church in whatever role we play. We must pray that we will be a church that gets things done. Decisions are made by leaders and we follow with execution. Let us pray for clear lines of authority. Let us pray for our leaders not to be afraid to make decisions. Let us pray that we are willing to follow their direction. Let us pray that their direction is and will be what God desires and not their personal preferences. Let us pray that our leaders are in tune with God’s will and will seek to do his bidding and not their own. Let us pray that we will recognize their desire for God and submit to their leadership. Let us pray that leaders and workers alike are focused on the right things. Let there be the right number of chiefs and the necessary number of Indians. Let us get the work done that God has for our local body of Christ.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

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