They are a Gift to You
I’ve been thinking and writing about gifts lately. About how sometimes good gifts come wrapped in “bad” packages. Or how sometimes we are disappointed with what we’re given and we want a different gift instead.
Along those lines, I was reading in Numbers the other day about the rebellion of Korah. Basically, Korah and some other guys incited a rebellion against Aaron and his sons, wondering why they should be the holy priests when they were no better than any of the rest of them. It didn’t go well. It wasn’t about gifts or abilities or holiness, so much as it was that God had chosen Aaron and his sons for that role. So, when Korah rebelled against Aaron, he rebelled against God and HIS choices.
Moses then responded that the people would know that he and Aaron were acting under God’s authority (and not their own ego trip) if the men leading the rebellion died of some crazy miraculous cause, like the ground swallowing them up. Which is exactly what happened. The ground split apart and 250 of them fell in and died. Right then and there.
You might think that would be sign enough, but to make it crystal clear to everyone, God told Moses to collect staffs from leaders of every tribe. They were to place those staffs in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where God met with them. The staff of the man that GOD chose to lead the people would sprout—and then the people would know whom GOD had chosen as priest. He chose Aaron, again. His dead wooden staff didn’t just sprout—that alone would have been miraculous. It sprouted, budded, blossomed and produced ripe almonds. Just to be clear they didn’t question anything.
After all of this, God talks to Aaron about gifts. “I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the Lord, to do the service of the tent of meeting... I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death” (Numbers 18:6-7). He told Aaron about the heavy burden being a priest would be (as if he didn’t already know), being responsible before God for the people, bearing their sins, etc. He also reminded Aaron that this, even the burden, was a gift.
In the wake of rebellion and death and conflict and the people’s criticisms, God tells Aaron this is all a gift. It’s almost a warning. When the people didn’t see Aaron as a gift, they died. It’s important to recognize the gifts God has given us, and to agree with God that they are what He says they are. It’s important that we not complain and grumble against the things He has given to us, appointed for a role in our lives.
Aaron just had people question his authority and his role. Not just people, but Levites, the very people who were assigned to help assist him in the temple. They weren’t content to be assisting him, they wanted to be him, so they had rebelled. It’s easy to guess that he might be a bit suspicious about letting any other people, especially any other Levites, continue to assist him in his role. He’d probably rather serve alone than risk another rebellion or even just live under the microscope of their criticism. So God re-established Aaron in the sight of all, AND he re-established the Levites (those who hadn’t died) in the sight of Aaron. They are a gift to you. They might not act like it; they might not feel like it, but trust me—you need them. They are a gift to you.
Not only might Aaron feel like the Levites weren’t much of a gift to himself, but he might easily have begun to believe the people were right to wish that someone else had been given to them as priest. In other words, he might not have believed that he was a gift to them. When people don’t like or want you, you can begin to think they would be better off with someone else. I’ve known children who have felt they were a disappointment to their parents and spouses who felt like they weren’t good enough for each other. Just because we aren’t what someone else wanted, doesn’t mean we aren’t exactly the gift God chose to give them. We can be a gift to someone even when they don’t see it... even when we don’t see it. So God affirms in Aaron the truth that, no matter what the people feel, Aaron is the priest God chose to give to the people of Israel.
If Aaron couldn’t question the Levites as a gift, then it might be easy for him to turn his frustration to his job. So, God reminds him that his role is also a gift. The priesthood is a gift. The statement is a little ambiguous. It’s a gift to whom? To Aaron? To the nation? To both; to all. Aaron needed to remember that this position was sacred, needed and honored. If anyone didn’t give Aaron the honor due the position, then God would deal with them. But, that also applied to Aaron—if he didn’t honor the priesthood he, too, would be dealt with.
At first read, I thought it was odd that God had to tell Aaron, “this is a gift.” Don’t we know when we receive a gift? They come wrapped in packages and we love them! At least, that’s the image I think of when I think of a gift—Christmas packages, birthday gifts, wrapped in bows and give for the sake of delight and joy. They may be frivolous or useful, but in either case, no one has to tell me “this is a gift.”
Not all gifts are like that. I think about Paul’s “gift”—he was “given” something to “trouble” him.
So that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me—so that I would not become arrogant. 8 I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Paul asked God to take it away because he didn’t recognize it as a gift at first. Later, however, he saw that it was good for him and learned to be content with all manner of things that didn’t look like gifts at all. (For more on this, see God is Such a GUY!) We receive all kinds of gifts. Some we love, some we don’t, at least not right away. The thing is, our feelings about the gift do not make it any more or less a gift to us. I think the challenge is to begin to recognize our gifts, and then to be grateful for them (or at least content). It’s also a challenge to see when we are a gift to someone else, when shame would tell us we aren’t what they wanted us to be.
Let me close with Hudson Taylor’s beautiful and humble attitude towards the gifts of God. I remember reading a quote where he said (roughly) after enduring tragedy in his family, that he considered “all circumstances as necessarily the kindest, wisest and best because either ordered or permitted by God.” In other words, anything that came into his life, good or bad by earthly perspective, he saw as a gift of God’s kindness, wisdom and sovereignty that God allowed into his life. Oh that we might all have such humility and trust in God’s great sovereignty and tender love towards us.