When you attended elementary school, did your teacher ever have the bulletin board of classroom tasks? It’s a board with duties and chores that are assigned to “special” students. Some tasks everyone looked forward to: feeding the goldfish, passing out papers, being the leader and head of the lunch line. But for some reason I usually ended up with the job labeled “trash.”Trash? Where’s the beauty and romance in picking up and taking out the trash? Even cleaning the chalkboard erasers were better than that – you could create huge billowing clouds of not-so-good-for-my-lungs dust to cough and laugh within. But trash? Do you KNOW what kinds of slimy-disgusting things people throw in trash cans these days? But it seemed every time the names were rotated on the bulletin board, I was continually stuck with “trash” – the absolute worst job in the history of classroom chores.
In Numbers 3-4, God tells Moses to assign duties and roles to the Levite tribe. There were three sons of Levi and thus each “clan” receives a different task. Unlike the rest of the Israelites, the Levites were special and held in great honor – they got the privilege of ministering within the Tabernacle, the very place God dwelt. And thus, the Gershonites, the Kohathites and the Merarites (the three groups) all had the unique opportunity to be the ones to move the Tabernacle and its items throughout the desert. The Gershonites were responsible for
the care of the tabernacle and tent, its covering, the curtain at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, teh curtains of the courtyard, the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, and the ropes – and everything related to their use (3.25-26).
were responsible for the care of the sanctuary … the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use (3.28, 31).
However, it says that the Merarites
were appointed to take care of the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts, bases, all its equipment and everything related to their use, as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs and ropes (3.36-37).
Could you imagine being within the clan of the Merarites? If I had to choose, I’d definitely want to be with the Kohathites – they got to carry all the good stuff! Think what it would be like to carry the ark or even the lampstand?!?!? But the poor Merarites got stuck with crossbars, metal bases and tent pegs. Tent pegs? Sounds like taking out the trash in elementary. Who would want to get stuck carrying tent pegs around the desert? But it gets worse. Unlike the elementary bulletin board where names get switched around, within the Levite clan, you were assigned to a job for life … gulp … for LIFE!
I’ve been processing today what it must have been like to be a Merarite growing up. You weren’t allowed to start ministering in the service of God until age 30, so for the first thirty years you learn and prepare, anxious to finally arrive at decade three so you could start your ministry in the Levite tribe. The day arrives, you’ve been preparing – and knowing you’re from the Merarite clan, you realize that it will have something to do with the framing of the Tabernacle. You stand in line and they announce your name. You hobble over to the platform where they hold up your certificate of arrival and they declare – “from this day forward, you shall be in charge of carrying one of the tent pegs from the West side of the Tabernacle. Congratulations.” Unlike today, tent pegs back in the Ancient Near East were rather large. And so, from now on, its your duty to carry a tent peg while your best friend gets to be one of the guys carrying the ark.
The Levites are an incredible picture of the Christian life. These were the people who stood before the Lord in ministry and service – just like Christians are filled with Jesus and allowing Him to serve through their lives. They were set apart, even from the other tribes of Israel – just as we are set apart from the rest of the world. Everything they did was about the honor, glory, and holiness of God. But what if we too were called not to carry the ark but to carry the tent peg? What if the very thing we disliked (trash and tent pegs) was the very thing God wanted to do through our lives in order to demonstrate Himself to the world? Those menial tasks we detest, with no recognition, become the avenues for Jesus to flow through our lives? One of the Psalmists put it this way “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper (or a tent peg carrier) in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84.10). Even the most menial task becomes the greatest joy, privilege and honor – if Jesus is doing it through you.