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)

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