Posts Tagged 'Levites'

By The Numbers, 6

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LESSONS FROM A LEVITE

Numbers 8:1 -14

Who were the Levites? Simply put, the Levites were part of the tribe of Levi. Numbers 8 deals with the cleansing of the Levites. Just as Numbers 6, the Nazarite chapter, dealt with the Nazarite vow and how the Nazarite was to live in light of that vow, so this chapter will tell us all about the Levites and how they were to live in light of their calling.

According to Numbers 8:15, this is what the Levites were to be doing:

After you have sanctified them and presented them in this way, they shall go in and out of the Tabernacle to do their work. (Numbers 8:15 TLB)

What kind of work did the Levites do in the Tabernacle? What kind of service did they render to the Lord? Was it a cold, legalistic, formulaic, liturgical kind of service? No, not at all! To think that is to completely miss three important facts. First, the Levites did their work in a place where God dwelt. Stop and think about that. These special people worked in the presence of the One who had promised to bless His people; the One who was leading them and feeding them; the One who was going to lead them into a land He promised to give them. A God who treats His people with such care and compassion could never be treated in a distant, robotic fashion. Second, to think that the Levites were only concerned about laws and movements and words dictated by mere rote is to miss the significance of Numbers 7:89 —

When Moses went into the Tabernacle to speak with God, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the place of mercy over the Ark, between the statues of the two Guardian Angels. (TLB)

We’ve never heard the audible Voice of God. I haven’t and I’m reasonably sure you haven’t either. Of course, He speaks to us everyday as we pray or read and meditate on His Word, but Numbers is talking about the audible Voice of God. How would you react if you actually heard God speaking to directly to you? Wouldn’t you be a little more reverent? Wouldn’t you stand still and pay attention? The Levites did their work in the very place God spoke to His people. And finally, the first four verses of Numbers 8 is all about light.

Tell Aaron that when he lights the seven lamps in the lampstand, he is to set them so that they will throw their light forward. (Numbers 8:2 TLB)

The Levites would do their work in the warm glow of God’s divine presence and voice, not in the darkness and shadows of a cold, hard room.

Not just anybody could serve the Lord like this, only the Levites could. What made them so special? Let’s find out.

Levi the misfit, Genesis 49:5 – 7

Simeon and Levi are two of a kind. They are men of violence and injustice. O my soul, stay away from them. May I never be a party to their wicked plans. For in their anger they murdered a man, and maimed oxen just for fun. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce and cruel. Therefore, I will scatter their descendants throughout Israel (TLB)

Levi was special. So special that his dying father, Jacob, called him and his brother “men of violence and injustice.” They were wicked, angry, scheming murders. Yet Levi’s descendants were given the singular blessing of acting as priests of God. In Levi and his descendants we see the grace of God. Yes, members of Levi’s family were scattered in Israel, but this was because they would, in time, be the priestly tribe. It was an act of God’s grace that took a social misfit and cruel person like Levi and made him the head of the priestly tribe!

But Levi is not the exception to the rule. In the New Testament, God’s grace is explained for us to understand:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NKJV)

Jesus didn’t die for the righteous, He died for the sinner! That’s who God calls and uses even today: the misfits, the troublemakers, the drunkards, the murderers.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen… (1 Corinthians 1:27, 28 NKJV)

God surprises us by using people we might just pass over. Remember this:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV)

God’s grace: How He works

God’s amazing grace sees a man, not as he is, but as he will be. Such was the case with Levi’s descendants, and such is the case with each one of us. God’s grace is always reaching out and calling the sinner to Himself. Consider again the Levites. They were:

Called, verse 6a

Take the Levites from among all the Israelites… (NIV)

The situation with the Levites was a little different than that of Nazarites. Remember, becoming a Nazarite was up to the individual Israelite. He or she would decide whether or not they wanted to become a Nazarite and for how long. But it was God who called the Levites to serve Him; it was God who decided who be His priests. The Levites prefigured the election of the Church; a body of “called out” believers – people called out and set apart from the rest of the world.

It’s an interesting trait of the Bible: many things in the New Testament are foreshadowed in the Old. In both the case of Levites and Nazarites, we see how God works with people. He calls and we respond.

Cleansed, verse 6b

…make them ceremonially clean. (NIV)

Those whom God calls, He prepares. The Levites had to be made clean, which implies they were not. The Levites had to be made both spiritually and personally prepared to do the work to which they were called. Only a holy people could engage in a holy work. Of special note is that this washing or cleansing was done for them; they didn’t do it themselves.

And the sinner doesn’t clean himself up, either.

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13, 14 NKJV)

This cleansing of the spirit is what God does for us. This act of God on our behalf is a practical reality, however, for it gives us a position and standing before God. In other words, while the Levitical priests were washed so that they could serve in the tabernacle, the sinner is washed by the blood of Christ so that he can stand in God’s presence completely justified. This is a profound change that took place at the moment of conversion. In addition, each and every born again believer now has a Divine power whereby he is enabled “to serve the living God.” What that means is this: not a single believer is able to serve God in his own strength any more than a single sinner is able to save himself.

Sanctified, verse 7

Do this by sprinkling water of purification upon them, then having them shave their entire bodies and wash their clothing and themselves. (TLB)

The Blood of Christ cleanses us. He purifies us because this is something nobody can do for themselves. This is God’s grace at work. But that doesn’t let us off the hook any more than the Levitical priests were absolved of any responsibility for cleaning themselves. Just as they had to wash themselves, so we have to work at staying clean as we walk through our lives. There’s sin all around us and we must be on our guard against letting it taint us. We have to take care to “shave off” any habit that might endanger our relationship with Christ. That’s our part of the sanctifying process.

Atoned For, verse 12

Next, the Levite leaders shall lay their hands upon the heads of the young bulls and offer them before the Lord; one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. (TLB)

Here’s something else no human being can do for themselves: make atonement for their sins. In very graphic fashion, the Levites learned that forgiveness of sins was made possible only through the process of substitution. Those offerings were given in place of the Levite.

It is only through substitution – Christ’s substitution for us – that we may be forgiven our sins and made ready to receive God’s grace. Jesus Christ was our “sin offering.” He was our substitute on the Cross. He was punished so we could be spared punishment.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands. (Isaiah 53:10 TLB)

Consecrated, verse 13

Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. (TLB)

This is an interesting verse. Once an offering had been given to God for the Levite, the Levite himself had to be given to God. It’s no different for the Christian. Having been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, it’s up to us to yield ourselves to God.

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1, 2 NET)

Like or not, we belong to God. We were bought with the Son’s Blood. This may rub some of the more independent-minded believers the wrong way, but it is true, nonetheless.

You do not belong to yourselves but to God; he bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 6:19b – 20 GNB)

That last phrase, “use your bodies for God’s glory,” perfectly describes what real consecration is.

Onwed by God, verse 14

In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine. (NIV)

The Levites were God’s property by His choice. They were His by grace. They were His by blood. Choice, grace, and blood. A three-fold cord cannot be easily broken.

A rope made of three cords is hard to break. (Ecclesiastes 4:12b GNB)

All these verses teach us the truth that God’s servants, be they Levitical priests or born again believers, must be pure in heart and sacrificial in spirit. God initiates the work in His people, but it’s up to us to keep it going. In the end, though, God demands undivided loyalty. The Levites were handpicked by God from among the population of Israel to serve Him. Christians have been handpicked by God out of the whole world to serve Him, too. And we belong to Him. Chosen by God. Saved by grace. Bought by the Blood of Jesus. Yes, the rope of three cords is not easily broken.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33 NIV)

By The Numbers, 1

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Most Christians have a vague idea of the book of Numbers. They know it’s someplace in the Old Testament. Beyond that, they’re not too sure about it. The book of Numbers is the fourth book of the Pentateuch, or the fourth of the first five books of the Bible. They were written by Moses and are referred to by the Jews as “the books of the Law.”

In Genesis we learn about the origins of man, and other origins: the origin of sin, the origin of the family, and the origin of the nation of Israel. In Exodus we find Israel, little more than a family, becoming a nation within the nation of Egypt. We see them becoming slaves in Egypt and we are witness to God’s mighty deliverance of Israel from their bondage. We watch Moses leading his people across the trackless desert to the foot of Mount Sinai. In Leviticus we see Israel killing time at Mount Sinai while God gives them His Law and the Tabernacle. And in Numbers, we watch as Israel leaves Mount Sinai, destined for Kadesh-barnea, where they massively fail the Lord, resulting in their 40 year exile in the desert. Yet, it wasn’t so much an exile as it was a time of discipline. God was teaching His people a great lesson.

We could call the Book of Numbers “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” but that title was taken by Bunyan. It’s an apt theme for this fourth book of Moses, though. And we, like these ancient Israelites, are on a journey. They were heading toward their Promised Land, and we toward ours. Numbers shows us how they traveled. In this book, we learn what works and what doesn’t work on a journey of faith. There are a lot of lessons to be learned. Paul knew this:

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 NIV)

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:11 – 13 NIV)

Indeed. Regardless of what you may be going through, somebody else already went through it. The trials of the Israelites were not unique to them. Your trials aren’t unique to you, either. There’s plenty to learn about living the Christian life from looking at these ancient texts.

So, let’s get in the Wayback Machine and head back to an ancient time so that we live God-pleasing lives today.

What was numbered?

Why do we call this book of the Old Testament “Numbers?” It’s because in the first chapter there is a census and in the twenty-sixth chapter there is another census. The people were numbered. That’s why we call this book Numbers. We get some vital information about early Israel from the numbers in Numbers. We can actually determine how many Israelites left Egypt by looking at the numbers. There were some 600,000 fighting men and around 400,000 women. It is estimated that there were in the neighborhood 200,000 senior citizens and almost 800,000 young people. Don’t forget, there was the infamous “mixed multitude” that left Egypt with Israel, and those people numbered upwards of 100,000. That’s a total of 2,100,000 people, not counting the tribe of Levi. If we were to add in the Levites, then we could safely estimate that between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 Israelites left Egypt, destined for the Promised Land.

The uncounted Levites

Our God is a God of order, and the first order of the day in terms of getting the people from where they were to where they needed to be was an inventory of all men of fighting age.

Take a census of all the men twenty years old and older who are able to go to war, indicating their tribe and family. (Numbers 1:3 TLB)

Can you imagine that? The Israelites had never fought in any conflict, and God told Moses to get the troops ready! It’s to Moses’ credit that he never debated with God. He never raised any doubts he may have had about either the forthcoming war or the outcome of the journey. And he never complained about the laborious task of having to take this census.

As the Lord commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the Wilderness of Sinai. (Numbers 1:19 NKJV)

Moses just did what God told him to. It’s too bad that in the days and weeks to come, Moses would let the circumstances dictate his level of obedience. But for now, we have to admire this man’s dedication to doing precisely what God expected of him.

The Lord also gave this command to Moses:

This total does not include the Levites, for the Lord had said to Moses, “Exempt the entire tribe of Levi from the draft, and do not include their number in the census.” (Numbers 1:47 TLB)

Why not? Why not count members of the tribe of Levi? What was wrong with them? What did they do – or not do – to get themselves excluded from the census? Truth be told, the Levites were excluded, not because of who they were or what they did, but because of what God wanted.

For the Levites are assigned for the work connected with the Tabernacle and its transportation. They are to live near the Tabernacle… (Numbers 1:50 TLB)

Not everybody was called to fight. Somebody had to take care of the tabernacle and its furniture and to act as ministers and priests. In God’s eyes, work, war, and worship were all part of His plan for His people. Each part was in His will and indispensable to the successful completion of the Israelite’s journey from bondage to freedom.

Qualifications

The Levites were, therefore, different from the rest of the population. Consider –

* They were separate.

The Levites were not counted with the rest of the tribes. God treated them differently than the other tribes. God had a special relationship with the Levites. Why? It was because they were to be completely devoted and consecrated to Him. They were closer to Him than any of the other Israelites were. God always treats those who are whose hearts are completely His differently than He treats believers who are mildly interested in Him. He hears and He answers their prayers, for example.

The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results. (James 5:16b TLB)

Not only that, God promises to keep watch over those who are completely sold out to Him:

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV)

Today, you don’t have to be a Levite to enjoy these kinds of blessings. You just have to serve God, holding nothing back.

* They were chosen by God

God took the Levites instead of the firstborn of Israel:

And the Lord said to Moses, “I have accepted the Levites in substitution for all the oldest sons of the people of Israel. The Levites are mine.” (Numbers 3:12 TLB)

The Levites were God’s personal property. This is the earliest recorded example of the consecration of people to the Lord. It was special in Old Testament times, but expected of Christians today:

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you. (Romans 12:1, 2 TLB)

The Levites belonged to God; He had full-claim on their time. They were to serve Him full-time. Here are the seeds God’s devotion to the Christian and the Christian’s devotion to God:

He is the Spirit who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is in you. (John 14:17 GNB)

* They were given to Aaron

And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons… (Numbers 3:9 NKJV)

And so are we given to Jesus:

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (John 17:6 ESV)

This really is a most remarkable verse, and a terrifying one. It’s part of the real Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus prayed before His Crucifixion. This was a deeply personal prayer between Son and Father.

The disciples had been given to Jesus by God. They were His gift to His Son and that gift was irrevocable. Jesus was talking to God about the doctrine of election. He refers to it several times in this lengthy prayer:

…you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. (John 17:2 ESV)

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11 ESV)

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.(John 17:12 ESV)

It’s a difficult thing to understand, but we have been given to Christ by God the Father. We, like the Levites before us, have been chosen from out of the world to serve God though a relationship with Jesus Christ. We belong to Him. He watches over us. He takes care of us. He holds onto us.

There’s a mystical union between our Lord and ourselves. It’s hard to understand and even harder to explain. Our finite minds can’t grasp the infinite, but looking at the Levites gives us a clue. They were one tribe out many, called and set apart by God to serve Him. You as a Christian have been called by God and set apart by Him to serve Him. Do you take your calling seriously as the Levites took theirs? If you think it was easy being a Levite, think again. It wasn’t. And it’s not particularly easy being a Christian. But you have something a Levite didn’t have and could never contemplate: the abiding presence of God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.


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