From Genesis 49:
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 after their freedom from slavery in Egypt, there was not yet a king over the large population of Israelites. Moses led the people as their prophet, a position chosen by God. The first king of Israel would not be installed for many years to come.
Hundreds of years before Moses, as patriarch Jacob’s death was approaching, he divinely prophesied over his twelve sons, who would themselves become the twelve tribes of Israel. A special blessing was spoken over the tribe of the fourth son, Judah – they would possess God’s kingly scepter and staff of regal authority until tribute comes to the ultimate King, Jesus Christ. We are told that when the King comes in glory, all people will obey His commands.
After the first king, Saul, disqualified himself, Israel’s line of kings would run, with some interruption, from David until the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Before King Saul, God preserved the regal authority of Judah’s line in the form of tribal chiefs. While in the desert, the chief of the tribe of Judah was Nahshon, the son of Amminadab. Both names are recorded in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, found in Matthew chapter 1.
God met with his people in the desert in a tabernacle, a large tent constructed using specifications given to Moses during his encounter with God on Mount Sinai. This portable temple included several different components that were a shadow or pattern of heavenly articles of worship.
The central focus of the tabernacle was a small wooden box called the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments written by God Himself on two stone tablets. It was kept in a very holy place, made acceptable for the presence of God. Only certain priests could approach or carry the Ark of the Covenant, and only when carefully following the specific procedures prescribed by God. Violations to these instructions could prove fatal.
When a priest’s time to serve the Ark of the Covenant drew near, they had to be purified to a clean and holy state. Their sin needed to be confessed and atoned for by the sacrifice of bulls, lambs and goats, all done in a specific manner at a specially designed altar. In addition to the priests, the Israelite people would also have their sins atoned for at this altar during annual festivals and at morning and evening sacrifices.
Why the need for these sin sacrifices? Because in God’s accounting, our 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 to escape the penalty of death for our sins. Jesus Christ came as the innocent Lamb of God to suffer in our place and to eliminate the eternal separation from God that our sin merits. 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 on the cross covered, once and for all, the sins of everyone in the world who will turn to Him in faith. Through Christ’s resurrection, the Father will also raise to life all those who have come to Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for their sin on the altar of the cross.
Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, there was a veil in the temple in Jerusalem, just as there had been one in the desert tabernacle, to separate 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 who would have faith. God no longer resides in buildings or temples, but through the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all believers worldwide. 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 as a seal of our eternal redemption. When we fail in obedience, and we all do, we can turn to God to confess it, claiming His grace and forgiveness, and be willing to forgive or make amends to others. We grow from our experience and learn to live a better life each day as God leads us and guides us.
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.
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, would become 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 called first to the altar.
Nahshon was also chosen to be the first chief to lead Israel through the desert whenever they broke camp and moved the tabernacle forward, following as God led.
2 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “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. 3 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…9 They shall set out first on the march. Numbers 2:1-3, 9 ESV
In the desert, God lived among the people of Israel in the tabernacle. After the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, He now gives us the Holy Spirit to reside in the temple of our hearts as believers.
Where do you meet with God? Do you have a special place where God has encountered you?
Father God, just as You led the Israelites safely through the desert behind the banner of Judah, lead us safely and securely through all of our trials and challenges through the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ. Grant us forgiveness for all of our sins and shortcomings as we bring them to the cross of Christ. We ask for Your mercy and grace, in Jesus’ name, Amen.