I have too many coffee mugs, and they are all different sizes. Which means fitting them into their small cupboard space is a bit like playing Tetris. In fact, there is only one configuration of the mugs that makes them all fit. If anyone helps unload the dishwasher, inevitably, there is at least one mug sitting on the counter. Because it didn’t fit. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who has that one way to make the mugs fit memorized. Actually, I’ve created a lot of systems and ways to take care of the house to ensure that everyone fits and feels like they belong in our modest home. Even the coffee mugs.
I think that’s why the specifications about the tabernacle and the temple make sense to me. Sure there’s lots of ways to make a tent, but only one way that makes God feel like He belongs there. There may be more than one way to carry a box, but only one way to carry a box that holds glory. As David learned the hard way when he brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel.
In 2 Samuel chapter 6, David decides it’s time to get the ark from Abinadab. So he asks them how they move it, and what the Philistines did when they had it, and decides he’s going to have Abinadab’s sons, Uzzah and Ahio, transport it on a new cart. Somewhere along the way the oxen pulling the cart stumble, which jars the cart and almost makes the ark fall out. Uzzah reaches up to steady the ark and falls dead right then and there. Because he wasn’t consecrated to handle the glory of God like that, and it killed him. David was shocked and shut the whole thing down.
The ark was left at the nearby house of Obed-Edom. David went home to grieve and reconsider the whole thing. After some time he found out that Obed-Edom was experiencing the favor of the Lord, and was greatly blessed because of the Ark of the Covenant. So David decides he has to finish what he started. Only this time he didn’t ask his friends what to do, he asks the Lord what way he should move the ark. (2 Sam. 6:1-12)
1 Chronicles describes David’s second attempt in a little more detail than 2 Samuel. This time David says that no one can handle the ark except the Levites, because they are chosen by God to carry the ark and to minister Him. So David gets some Levites together and tells them to sanctify themselves and make themselves ready for the big day.
When the time comes, the proper people who have been consecrated, carry the ark. Four Levites carry it with two poles that rest securely on their shoulders. Just the way God told Moses to handle the ark when he was on Mount Siani in the glory cloud for 40 days (Exodus 25:10-16).The way before them is paved with sacrifice and worship all the way from Obed-Edom’s to the Tabernacle of David in Jerusalem. (1 Chron. 15:1-16:2)
I’ve always been struck by the fact that the Levites had to carry the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders. If you read the description, there is a lot of gold inside and out, even overlaid on the poles. It had to be heavy. When I was a young person reading the story about David and the Ark of the Covenant, the cart made sense to me. Like, let’s get some leverage to help with all that gold.
Now that I’ve grown up, had children, and oversaw how they were transported hither and thither – I can see why the shoulders were better. The Levites could control the poles with their arms, and use their legs as shock absorbers on any uneven terrain. Much the same way I did when I held the handles of the car seats, and used my legs to absorb any shock from knocking my sweet babies around in their seat. It is the most caring way to carry something of immeasurable value. So when the ark, on which the glory of God rested, needed to be moved, it was done so while resting on chosen shoulders.
In Isaiah 9, it says Jesus is carrying something on His shoulder too. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” (Is. 9:6-7 NKJV emphasis added) Not only is Jesus born, fully God and fully man; not only is He wonderful, mighty, and everlasting; He has His own government and it’s resting on His shoulder.
I used to wonder why there was the bit about His shoulder. If anything, government plays out on paper, not shoulders. But Jesus’ government is not going to be anything like our natural governments on the earth today. Much like David’s new cart, paper would not be able to bear it. No, it needs something stable, something chosen and consecrated. Something priestly.
Hebrews 7, 8, and 9 go into great detail describing Jesus as our “Great High Priest.” He fulfilled the Law of Moses, and gave us a new covenant and redemption from sin through His own blood. The author compares the old tabernacle with the throne room of heaven, where the Mercy Seat is no longer on the Ark of the Covenant, but where Jesus sits.
Hebrews also tells us that Jesus is “The brightness of [God’s] glory.” (Heb. 1:3) The glory of God is still resting on the Mercy Seat, but it’s the new seat of Jesus. It’s still being carried by a priest, Jesus the High Priest. I would argue that it is resting on His shoulder, just like the Levitical priests in the Old Testament.
I think the government that Isaiah prophesied is actually the glory of God. The glory that once rested on the ark, is now resting on a Man: Jesus. Not only that, but Jesus is carrying His government just like the Levites carried the Ark of the Covenant, and the glory of God. I think the shoulder bit really matters, because it connects the source of Jesus’ authority and the way that He rules to the holiest object on which the glory rested. And His government will know no end, because there is no end to the glory of God. It will go on and increase and bring peace forever.
His government is His glory, and it is resting on His shoulder.