Oh, Envy. You are a cunning enemy, a persistent foe. You linger on the sidelines of our lives, whispering your cunning words of discontentment. “You deserve better. You should have what he has. His success should be your success, her life your life.”
The Old Testament tabernacle had one exceptional feature that set it apart from the temple: It was portable. As the Israelites wandered the wilderness, slowly making their way to the Promised Land, they could pick up that tabernacle and carry it with them.
The God who had revealed exactly how the tabernacle was to be created and erected, also revealed how it was to be transported from place to place. The tribe of Levi was not only given the responsibility of serving within the temple, but also of disassembling, transporting, and reassembling it. God gave specific duties to some of the clans within the tribe. He laid out three gradations of responsibility.
To the sons of Kohath went the task of entering the Most Holy Place, taking down the veil, covering the ark, inserting its poles, and carrying it wherever God would lead. They did the same with the table, the altar, and the lampstand. These men, and these men alone, were allowed to see the ark and the other furniture within the Holy of Holies. They alone were allowed to pick it up and carry it.
To the sons of Gershon went the task of caring for the curtains and the hangings. They would take them down, carefully prepare them for transportation, and load them onto a pair of oxcarts to follow where God would lead.
To the sons of Merari went the task of carrying the planks and poles and bases and whatever else remained. They needed four oxcarts to carry all of this bulky material.
There is a clear hierarchy here. The sons of Kohath were chosen by God to care for and to transport the most holy items. The sons of Merari were chosen by God to care for and to transport the most common items. You can’t help but wonder if, from time to time, a son of Merari envied a son of Kohath. “Why does he get to carry the ark when I only ever get to carry a plank? Why does he get to see the Most Holy Place when I only ever get to see the veil?”
But I like to think that the sons of Merari were content with their lot. Their work was good because they had been called to it by God and were able to carry it out for his glory. Though it did not fall to them to carry the ark, they had a clear calling from God to serve in his tabernacle. They had a lesser calling but still a noble calling. God expected they would embrace it wholeheartedly and carry it out skillfully.
The old pastor Andrew Bonar would sometimes compare himself to the sons of Merari. He would read accounts of the lives of great men of the faith and realize that his ministry paled in comparison. In these moments, he would content himself with carrying out the little life and hidden ministry God had called him to.
A man came in to ask me to go with him to settle a quarrel between him and his wife. The Lord does not use me, like his servant, Dr. Chalmers, for great things, but my way of serving the Lord is walking three or four miles to quiet a family dispute! The Lord shows me that He wishes me to be one of the common Levites who carries the pins.*
God called some Levites to carry the ark, and some to carry the pins, the tent pegs. But whether they carried the most holy or the most common items, their responsibility was to answer God’s call and to faithfully and joyfully carry out their task. We can learn from them.
It is God’s good will that some pastors minister to great congregations and some to minister to minuscule ones. It is God’s good will that some authors write books that sell in the millions and some write books that sell in the thousands. It is God’s good will that some moms write blogs that explode in popularity and some write blogs that remain in obscurity. Regardless, we can have confidence that God knows best, that God calls us to the tasks that will bring him the most glory. We must each ask, will we be content to carry the pins? We must each pray, “God, make me content to carry the pins. Let me carry them well.”
*As quoted in Seven Leaders by Iain Murray.