Gershon, Merari, and Kohath were the sons of Levi charged with toting the Tabernacle through the wilderness, but it was Kohath who took the greatest burden - having to carry the holy and the most holy things on their own shoulders, yoked to it as Gershon's and Merari's oxen were yoked to their burdens. But Kohath was not the only son of Levi to carry such a burden on his shoulders.
So, too, did the priests, the sons of Aaron.
Here, we have to take the story back a few books, all the way to Exodus 28 and to the creation of the priestly garments when the Tabernacle itself was first being built. There are a number of articles of clothing worn by the priests that were designed specifically the way that they were so that the priest would carry with him the guilt and the sin and the judgment of Israel.
It starts with the ephod, which was a piece of clothing that fastened over the shoulders of the priest. In the ephod, two onyx stones, each with the name of six of the tribes of Israel engraved on it, were set so that the priest always carried the names of all Israel with him. And each stone rested, one upon each shoulder of the priest, so that the priest carried the burden of Israel on his own shoulders.
Connected to the ephod was the breastplate. The breastplate had twelve stones in it in four rows of three, each of the stones being a precious gem that represented one of the tribes of Israel. (Interestingly, this is an image that shows up more than once in Scripture, but we are never told which gem represents which tribe. (That's irrelevant to today's story, but it's a fun fact anyway, so I shared.)) So the priest carries over his heart the names of the tribes of Israel, fastened to them on his shoulders, and this is the judgment of the nation.
Twice, then, it is that the priest carries the burden of the guilt of the entire nation of God's people, and the Scriptures tell us this is so. And look again at the way that he carries it - across his shoulders and around his chest, the same way that an oxen is yoked to it load - across its shoulders and around its front.
It is, of course, a bit more ceremonial than this in the human manifestation. Kohath's burden was adorned by gold and bronze and silver; the priest's burden with precious jewels. But let's not miss what's happening here. Let's not miss the imagery of these two groups of persons - the priests and the servants of the holy and most holy places - carrying these burdens on their bodies like beasts of burden, trying to bear up under the weight with every step.
There is a reason for this. There's a reason that these particular burdens must be carried in this way. There's a reason we can't just load them on a cart or yoke them to an oxen, but must take them upon ourselves and carry them just so.
More on that, coming up....