Numbers 4 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Numbers 4)
Arrangements for the carriage of the utensils of God's service

Next in order come the arrangements prescribed for the carrying of the things which the tabernacle contained, as well as their coverings, when the camp journeyed in the wilderness. I shall point out what appears to be the typical meaning of these prescribed ordinances. This is full of interest and of practical importance.

After the instructions intended to teach us how it is given to us to draw near God, the connection between the manifestations of God in Christ, and our walk here below, are for us what is most essential.

Now, this last subject is the one treated of in type, in the arrangements made for the carriage of the chief utensils destined for the service of God. When they were in their place, while the camp rested, they were uncovered. Those which were shut up within the tabernacle had reference to heaven; the altar and the laver were outside, before coming to it.

In the wilderness, these utensils put on certain characters, one of them especially; but others also, in certain cases. I consider them, therefore, as the manifestation of certain relationships existing between the walk of the Christian, and various manifestations of God in Christ. [1]

The ark of the covenant

The ark of the covenant represented the throne of God in heaven, the holiness and the justice which are there manifested in God. It was first of all covered with the veil of the humanity of Christ, such as He was here below in His Person; that is, that divine holiness and righteousness have clothed themselves in humanity. Over this were the badgers' skins.

The badgers' skins coverings

We have seen, in these skins, that practical and watchful holiness down here which keeps itself from the evil to which we are liable in passing through the wilderness. However, when there is an immediate connection with what God is in heaven itself (and it is thus that He Himself was manifested in Christ), the entirely heavenly character, which results therefrom, manifests itself outside.

The covering wholly of blue

Hence, outside even the badgers' skins, there was a covering wholly of blue. This was what appeared in the wilderness. This is what took place with regard to Christ: the ark, by the way, in the wilderness finds no perfect antitype but Himself, considered in His personal walk down here. Nevertheless, the walk of the believer, in as far as it reaches towards this height, has also its expression in this type.

The table of shewbread, its loaves and coverings

After the ark comes the table of shewbread; it was a figure of Christ in the divine perfection of justice and holiness, according to the power of the eternal Spirit, in connection with the perfection of human administration, which manifests itself in the number twelve and in the loaves, of which the twelve tribes, and the twelve apostles, were the expression. Here the heavenly covering was placed immediately upon the golden table; the part properly divine put on the heavenly character. Upon this covering were put the utensils and the loaves, which were covered over with a second covering of scarlet (that is, as it appears to me, human glory and splendour). [2] This glory and this splendour were of God, but they were human. Over all were the badgers' skins to preserve the whole from evil. This external protection is always needful for any one, save the Person of Christ. Christ was assuredly sheltered from evil; but it was in an internal and deeper manner. That which was heavenly was seen in Him at the first glance by those who had eyes to see: "the second man is the Lord from heaven."

As regards us, we have within ourselves that which is heavenly; but we must keep it carefully, with a vigilance most decided, and commensurate with the evil we are passing through, and from which it is of consequence we should keep ourselves. Therefore Christ, in His relationship with the government of the world in Israel in the age to come, will put on, in principle, that which is here represented by the badgers' skins, which, in the case of the ark, were inside. There will be in Him the divine character, then the heavenly, then the perfection of human government covered over with the brightness of the glory. In His passage in the wilderness, all this was guarded by a power which, in the wisdom of God, repelled all evil. In the manifestation of the kingdom it will be in the judicial exercise of power. But here we treat of the wilderness. The principle is the same, the repelling of evil, of all injury to the holy thing entrusted to be guarded; only one is moral and spiritual power, the other judicial (see Ps. 101).

The candlestick and its coverings

Next to the table of shewbread came the candlestick, covered with a cloth of blue and badgers' skins. It was the spiritual perfection of the light of the Spirit; that which covered it was simply heavenly, with the covering of badgers' skins, the guard against the injuries which the entrusted grace might receive in the wilderness. All its utensils bore the same character.

The altar of incense and its coverings

The altar of incense (spiritual intercession) was covered in the same manner. I leave these to the spiritual reflections of the reader, and the intelligence of that which has been explained in its principles. It was so with all that was contained in the holy place, for the sanctuary represented the heavenly places.

The brazen altar and its coverings

With regard to the brazen altar it was different. Its covering was a purple cloth, the royal colour. If we suffer, we shall reign. There is a connection between the cross and the crown upon the earth and in heaven. Thus was it with Christ, the King of the Jews, according to the superscription written on the cross; and the very throne of God was the answer to His sufferings, inasmuch as He was the burnt-offering, offered according to the power of the eternal Spirit acting in man, according to the exigency of the divine majesty. [3] But what was thus crowned was perfection itself; that which was being accomplished in man, according to the energy of the eternal Spirit, was also divine; so that the Lord could say, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again."

However, that which was divine in the act, was divine in the sense of the eternal Spirit acting in man, while the Godhead Itself was the source of it, and on that title it would claim the glory of the Godhead. The circumstances of the death of Jesus were consequent upon His humanity—a truth most precious to us. He was crucified through weakness; He was delivered into the hands of the Gentiles; His throat was dried up, whilst He waited on His God. He was perfect in all these things. They were manifested outwardly, seen of men: it was man. He who could look within saw Him who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.

Thus all that related to the service was placed on purple; the altar was under this covering. The badgers' skins here, as always, were spread over all. [4]

[1] I say the walk of the Christian, applying it to our consciences; but the expression is imperfect, for the subject seems to me to embrace the life of Christ Himself upon earth, and even, in some respects, His life in the time to come, but always upon earth. They shew the relationship between the manifestation of life here below, the forms and the characters it assumes, and the sources of life in the manifestation of God in Christ: a subject of the deepest interest. The badgers' skins, and the circumstances with which this book is occupied, still suppose the walk to be in the wilderness. It is only when we abstract, as to these circumstances, that we see the manifestation of things to come. Thus faith, that of the thief on the cross for example, saw, in Christ's suffering, the King, though all was hidden. I have therefore alluded to it without fear. I only present the idea contained in the type, without unfolding all the consequences of it.

[2] It is the idea which has been suggested to me by the examination of all the passages in the word where scarlet is mentioned. Saul adorned the maidens of Israel with scarlet and other delights. Babylon is clothed with scarlet. The colour of the beast is scarlet. Scarlet was cast into the fire when the leper, and he who was defiled by a dead body, were purified. Scarlet is a very brilliant colour.

[3] The comparison of Psalms 19, 20, 21, 22 is, under this point of view, most interesting. Psalm 19 contains testimonies of the creation and the law; Psalm 20 presents Messiah suffering, but externally, so that man can take an interest in Him; Psalm 21 Messiah exalted, and, as a consequence, vengeance striking His enemies who had rejected Him; Psalm 22 His sufferings as forsaken by God Himself. This is the expression of Christ alone, whilst in Psalms 20, 21 the Jewish remnant were speaking of His outward sufferings. There is no vengeance in connection with those sufferings consequent on His being forsaken of God, for it was expiation; there is nothing but blessing, which the mouth of the Saviour announces, and to which He Himself responded by praising in the midst of His saints. This blessing will extend to the ends of the earth during the millennium.

[4] The laver is not among the things to which these commands relate. The reason for this omission is apparent from the explanation we have just given of these figures, and confirms this explanation. The laver did not represent a manifestation of God, the efficacy of which is reproduced in the christian life, or in the glory of Christ; but a means for the purification of man. These directions here, only summarily entered on seem to me, if entered into with spiritual intelligence, full of the deepest import and interest.