Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Feb 12, Num 3-4

Today's readings are Num 3-4.

We see two additional censuses in Num 3-4. These are among the Levites. Num 3 counts all the male Levites over a month old. Num 4 shows those between thirty and fifty years old.

The bookend censuses we see in Num 1:2 and Num 26:2 list all the men in Israel over twenty years old and able to go to war. Those censuses are taken to organize Israel’s tribes into fighting units. These additional censuses in Num 3 are to set the Levites apart to serve in and protect the tabernacle. Aaron and his offspring have been designated as the priests (Lev 10:11, Dt 24:8). The Levites will serve the priests and maintain the tabernacle. So, we see the Levites incorporated into the structure of the priesthood.

Why the Levites?

While Israel was in Egypt, God took the firstborn of Egypt in the tenth plague. As a remembrance of their deliverance, God commanded that the firstborn of Israel be dedicated to serving the Lord (Ex 11:4-13:5). We now see that in the incident with the golden calf (Ex 32:25-29), the Levites became a substitute for the firstborn (Num 3:12-13). Because they are a physical substitute, the number of Levites must equal the number of firstborn of all Israel. When the census of the Levites is taken in Num 3:40-51, there are 22,000 Levites (Num 3:39). But, we aslo see that  there are 22,273 firstborn males (Num 3:43). So, there number of Levites is 273 men short of the number needed to equal the number of firstborn. 

Keeping in mind that the firstborn have been called to be consecrated into the Lord's service and the Levites are now their substitutes, those additional 273 firstborn males in the general population have no substitute among the Levites. God directs the men in the general population to be redeemed by the payment of five shekels per person (Num 3:47) as per the guideline established in Lev 27:6.

This is an elaborate undertaking but it reveals a pattern that is beginning to emerge in the function of the Tabernacle - God appoints substitutes in serving Him. All God’s children must be redeemed either by paying a price themselves or by a substitute. In this early example, the substitutes are the Levites. If there are not enough substitutes to redeem each individual, a payment is due from those who have no substitute. This pattern is a shadow of what is to come and is not yet perfect but it shows us a principle of how God's plan of redemption will work among His people. Either a substitute pays or payment must be made personally. Either way, God's justice demands payment. 

As they assume their ministerial roles, the Levites are charged with serving and guarding the priests and the congregation. They are also assigned very specific duties in transporting the Tabernacle, setting it up and serving in it. In short, the Levites are the ones who are responsible for moving the House of God forward, for maintaining it and keeping it holy. 

On a larger scale, the Levites are the template for the ministry of a pastor and elders in the church today. Like the Levites who serve the Aaronic priests, the pastor and elders serve the high priest, Jesus. The pastor and elders serve the congregation and the Lord by moving the church forward and maintaining its focus. 

Furthermore, this division of labor we see among the Levites will become a model for how God's people will collectively do those things they are called to do. Each one will contribute a gift or talent to the overall work of the church.

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