Judah in the Desert – Exodus 25-26

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Genesis 49:10 ESV

In the desert, there was no king yet over the Israelites.  Moses led the people as a prophet, chosen by God. The first king over Israel was not to occur for many years to come. 

Hundreds of years before Moses, as patriarch Jacob’s death had neared, he prophesied over his twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel.  A special blessing was spoken over the tribe of Judah, that they would possess God’s kingly scepter and staff of authority until the tribute of a King comes, the true ultimate King and authority, Jesus Christ.  Also, we are told that when the King comes, all people will obey his commands. After their first king, Saul, disqualified himself, Israel’s line of kingship would run from David until the coming of their Messiah, Jesus Christ, as foretold by God’s Spirit through Jacob.

As a placeholder for the coming kings, God kept the authority in the line of Judah going in the form of chiefs.  While in the desert, the chief of the tribe of Judah was Nahshon, the son of Amminadab. Both names are found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, in Matthew chapter 1. 

God met with his people in the desert in the tabernacle, constructed after a design given to Moses during an encounter with God at the top of Mount Sinai. This tabernacle, a portable temple involving several different components, was a shadow of heavenly things to come. 

The central focus of the tabernacle was a small box called the Ark of the Covenant, which contained and carried around the Ten Commandments written by God Himself on two stone tablets.  Only certain priests could approach or carry the Ark of the Covenant, and only under extremely specific conditions prescribed by God.

When a priest’s time to serve near the Ark of the Covenant came, they had to be in a clean and holy state.  Their sin had to be confessed and atoned for by the sacrifice of bulls, lambs and goats, sacrificed in a specific manner at a specially designed altar.  In addition to the priests, all the Israelite people had their sins atoned for at this altar at annual festivals and at morning and evening sacrifices.

Why sacrifices? 

In God’s accounting, sin leads to death. 

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23 ESV

There is a way around the penalty of death for our sins.  Jesus Christ had to come as the innocent Lamb of God to suffer for us and to eliminate the death and separation from God that we deserve.  For the Israelites in the desert, the blood of bulls, lambs and goats was offered as a temporary cover, a shadow of things to come, until the sacrifice of Jesus Christ covered, once and for all, the sins of all in the world who would believe in Him.  By Jesus’ resurrection, the Father will also raise to life all those who have come to Jesus as their atoning sacrifice for sin on the altar of the cross. 

Before Jesus’ death on the cross, there was a veil in temple, just as there had been in the desert tabernacle, separating the people from the holiest location of God’s Presence.  When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn in two, offering the Presence of God to all people.  God no longer resides in buildings or temples.  He now resides as the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his believers, the Church.  The kingly Messiah Jesus is always reaching out for new believers to join His Church, all around the globe.

When we come to Christ, we are forgiven of all our sins.  The Holy Spirit is given to us to live in our hearts as a seal of our eternal redemption.  We no longer desire to sin, which offends God today just as much as it did back in the days of the tabernacle.  Unfortunately, due to our human nature, we are often unsuccessful at living without sin.  When we fail, we turn to God and confess it, claiming His grace and forgiveness and seeing how we can make amends where we have hurt others.  We grow from our experience and learn to live a better life each day as God leads us and guides us.  There is no person on earth today who achieves the perfection of a sinless life, and it is doubtful they could do it for even a single day. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all need a daily cleansing and forgiveness by the washing of God and His word.

Fortunately, the grace and generosity of God through Jesus Christ is available to believers without measure.  It is not something we have deserved or earned, but is freely given to us, even in the depths of our failures.

Just as the Israelites maintained a continual burnt sin offering for sin at the tabernacle, we are cleansed each day by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as we confess our sins and repent of our sinful thoughts and actions. Where appropriate, we seek to restore others for any wrongs we have done, and we forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us.

While the sacrifices in the desert pointed to the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the lineage of Judah in the desert pointed to His coming Kingship.

10 And the chiefs offered offerings for the dedication of the altar on the day it was anointed; and the chiefs offered their offering before the altar. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, “They shall offer their offerings, one chief each day, for the dedication of the altar.” 12 He who offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah. Numbers 7:10-12 ESV

It was appropriate that Nahshon was the first chief in all of Israel to make an offering at the tabernacle altar.  His descendant, Jesus Christ, became the true and acceptable offering for sin, the Lamb of God upon the cross of Calvary.  It was likely no accident or coincidence that Nahshon was first to the altar.

Nahshon was not only the first chief to participate with the priests in the altar sacrifices, he was also the first one to lead Israel through the desert each time they broke camp and moved the tabernacle forward, as God led.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. Those to camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah by their companies, the chief of the people of Judah being Nahshon the son of Amminadab…They shall set out first on the march.  Numbers 2:1-3, 9 ESV

Reflection

God met with the people of Israel at the tabernacle.  After the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection, God gave us the Holy Spirit to reside in the hearts of His believers. 

Where do you like to meet with God?  Do you have a special place where God encounters you?

Just as God kept the kingly line of Judah intact in the desert through the chief of Judah, Nahshon, so has He kept you intact for this moment.  Where can you see the hand of God in your life journey?  How has He saved you?  Is there someone around you that you can share your story with?

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