The wheel was first introduced in human history around 3500 BC by potters, but likely not used for transportation until 3000 BC.
So, by Moses’ day and the exodus (1440 BC), it would have been fairly common to see crude wooden wagons, pulled by oxen, carrying things too heavy to move by hand.
In Moses’ day, wagons were common conveyances.
Everyone, who could afford one, had one.
So, it caught my attention, in my reading this morning in Numbers 7, that when it was time to move the people of God and the things of God from Mount Sinai towards the Promised Land, several wagons and oxen were assigned to the Levites for the task.
Wagons were used to carry some of the things of God.
I imagine that the tent of meeting, the curtains and all the poles and pegs were heavy and required the oxen and wagons, especially over long distances and for great lengths of time… forty years, in fact.
Here is the exception… the “holy things had to be carried on the shoulder.” (Numbers 7:9)
The altar, where the blood of sacrifices covered the sins of the people.
The laver, where the dust and dirt of the day were washed away in preparation for the presence of God.
The golden lamp stand, that illuminated the things of God.
The table that held the bread of God’s presence.
The incense altar, where worship rose before God as a sweet aroma.
The very ark of the covenant, where God’s immediate presence rested inside the Holy of Holies.
These holy things were not to be carried in the common, impersonal conveyances of everyday life.
These things were too holy for an ox cart.
These things were originally designed by God with golden rings, attached to their sides, so that gold-covered acacia poles could be slipped through the rings and these holy things carried on the shoulders of the priests.
Carried on the shoulder because they were sacred, holy… set apart.
Carried on the shoulder because of the fear of the Lord.
Carried on the shoulder out of loving respect for God.
Carried so close that, as a priest, you could still smell the residue of their holy purpose… smoke off the altar, oil off the lamps, fresh bread off the table, incense from the worship.
Holy things held close.
Generations later, long after Numbers 7, the instructions regarding the holy things had either been totally forgotten or, worse yet, knowingly abandoned.
Three hundred years after God’s people had settled into the Promised Land, the ark of God’s covenant was stolen by the Philistines and then returned as far as a priest’s home in Kiriath-jiarim (2 Samuel 6).
When David decided it was time to bring the ark of God’s holy presence to the City of God, Uzzah, a priest in Kiriath-jearim, who should have known better, helped load the ark onto a wagon, pulled by oxen, for the trip to Jerusalem.
Uzzah should have been carrying the ark on his shoulder.
It was holy.
Instead, when the oxen stumbled and it looked like the ark would fall, Uzzah reached out to steady it… and God, who could not abide the disrespect any longer, killed Uzzah on the spot.
I’ve never liked that story very much. It seems, on the surface, that Uzzah did what any one of us would have done in that situation… reach out instinctively to steady the ark. Except God had made it so clear, back in His original instructions for priests, that some things associated with His work could be carried by the common conveyances of the day, but others only on the shoulder of a priest.
Are we using common wagons and oxen today, either in our personal Christian lives or the life of Jesus’ Church, to carry what should only be carefully, respectfully, fearfully carried on our shoulders?
The blood of Jesus’ covenant that alone forgives and cleanses us of sin.
The washing of the water with the Word.
The light of revelation by the Spirit.
The bread of God that alone satisfies.
The incense of worship in spirit and truth.
Communion with God Himself in the intimacy of the Holy of Holies.
These things cannot be carried on a common wagon by oxen.
They belong on your shoulder.