Those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, guarding the sanctuary itself, to protect the people of Israel. And any outsider who came near was to be put to death.
In the Book of Numbers, as God lays out the way that the Israelite camp was to be set up, he placed guards around the sanctuary. Now, generally, when you place guards around the sanctuary, you would assume that the purpose would be to protect the sanctuary. Perhaps these guards were placed to prevent intruders from stealing some of the gold or silver that was used in the construction of the tabernacle? Perhaps the guards were posted simply to keep curious tourists from getting too close to the precious equipment?
But a look at the verse above tells us that the guard around the sanctuary was for a different reason than you might have thought. God placed guards around the sanctuary in order to protect the people. “Protect the people from what,” you ask. God placed guards to protect the people from, get this, God.
It might sound ridiculous to you to think that people would need God to post guards to protect them from God, but it is not. if you think that people, in their natural state need no protection from God, you do not have a grasp of the holiness of God and the consequences of his holiness.
God is holy. Part of what that means is that God is absolutely, without exception, perfectly pure, right, clean, faultless. Add to this fact that God is just, and you end up with a holiness that is deadly. If we, in our sinful state, were to trespass into the concentrated presence of God, his perfect holiness would consume us in an instant and we would die on the spot. Why? We would be consumed because God’s perfection cannot be tainted by our sinfulness. Since none of us are holy as God is holy, none of us could survive exposure to his glory.
The fact of the deadliness of God’s holiness is why he posted guards around the tabernacle to protect the people. Those guards kept foolish men and women from traipsing into the presence of God and losing their lives. Like a sign that warns people to keep away from high voltage wires, the guards warned the people that, in the tabernacle was the holy. The guards warned the people that they must not, under any circumstances, foolishly walk into the holiness of God, for to do so would mean immediate and certain death.
The concept of guarding the people against the holiness of God does much to open for us an understanding of the glorious kindness of Christ. Jesus Christ, the Holy God himself, came to earth to make a way for us to enter into God’s presence. He came to receive the punishment for our sin. HE also came to purify us, to make us holy, so that we might be able to stand in the presence of the divine without being consumed. Ponder the glory of this statement: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). In Christ, God makes sinners clean, so clean that we might stand before him without being destroyed.
It is certain to me that Christians today have lost much of our grasp of the danger and deadliness of divine holiness. We have believed the false teaching of the world that depicts God as willing to tolerate anything, any sin. But we have forgotten that the only way that God can accept us into his presence is through the shed blood and imputed righteousness of his Son. Were we to attempt to enter his presence in any other way, we would rightly be destroyed, burned up like dross by the utter purity of God. It would be right for us to think this issue through, and to give Jesus Christ thanks for doing for us what we could never have done on our own. Jesus, God in flesh, came to, like the guard around the tabernacle, protect us from the deadliness of God’s holiness. What a wonderful and amazing Savior!