Friday, April 19, 2024

2024.04.19 Hopewell @Home ▫ Numbers 8:5–26

Read Numbers 8:5–26

Questions from the Scripture text:  Who spoke to whom in Numbers 8:5? To whom was Moses to do what (Numbers 8:6)? By what three steps (Numbers 8:7)? Then what are they to bring (Numbers 8:8) where (Numbers 8:9)? Whom are they to gather with them (Numbers 8:9-10)? What are the children of Israel to do (Numbers 8:10)? Then who is to do what in Numbers 8:11? After themselves being presented as an offering, what are the Levites to do (Numbers 8:12)? What do they do again in Numbers 8:13? From whom does this separate the Levites (Numbers 8:14)? Unto Whom? What can the Levites then do (Numbers 8:15)? What two things are repeated a third time to conclude this section? Of what do Numbers 8:16-18 remind us (cf. Numbers 3:12–13, Numbers 3:45)? Of what does Numbers 8:19 remind us (cf. Numbers 3:9)? What three purposes does Numbers 8:19 add? How do the various people and groups respond to YHWH’s command (Numbers 8:20)? How does Numbers 8:21 summarize the preparation? What followed (Numbers 8:22)? Who speaks to whom in Numbers 8:23? About whom (Numbers 8:24)? At what age do they enter into the service of the tabernacle? At what age do they stop supporting the worship (Numbers 8:25)? What may they continue to do (Numbers 8:26)? What mustn’t they continue to do?

What are we to see in the ordination and work of the Levites? Numbers 8:5–26 prepares us for the evening sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these twenty-two verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that in Christ, our High Priest, all of His saints are designated by God for priestly service as living sacrifices.

Preparation: cleansing and presentation—cleansing, ordination, separation (Numbers 8:5-15). First things first. Before even speaking of the purposes of their service (Numbers 8:19), the Lord directs how the Levites are to be prepared properly for that service. There is the cleansing (sprinkling, shaving, laundry) of Numbers 8:7—anticipating when Jesus is baptized upon His entrance into His earthly ministry. Then there is the ascension bull with its tribute, together with the sin-offering bull, in Numbers 8:8

But before the atonement part of this cleansing can be completed, the Levites are ordained. The same leaning/resting that they are going to enact upon the animals in Numbers 8:12, the children of Israel enact upon the Levites in Numbers 8:10

Throughout their service, and their whole life, a Levite would remember when an Israelite household came and leaned upon them in the place of their head of household. The very memory of the pressure would recall them to the significance of their calling and the fact that the Lord Himself is the One Who designated them for their ministry. This procedure would continue in ordination to church office in the Christian church (cf. Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 5:22). 

With the cleansing and ordination (laying on of hands) completed, the Levites are presented as a wave offering. This is important enough to be mentioned before (Numbers 8:11), during (Numbers 8:13), and after (Numbers 8:15) the actual standing-presentation of them. The significance is that they are separate. They are separated from among the children of Israel (Numbers 8:14a). More emphatically, they are separated unto YHWH Himself (verse 14b).

We must be cleansed in Christ, and atoned for by Christ as our substitute, before we can enter into service. All of us are baptized into Christ and serve under His high priesthood. Just as the Levites were presented as living sacrifices, every Christian is called to live that way (cf. Romans 12:1). And especially those who are called to office in the church ought to remember both the necessity of their cleansing in Christ as a prerequisite to their call and the weightiness of being designated for that call by God Himself.

Purpose: substitution, work, plague prevention (Numbers 8:16-22). As we learned back in Numbers 3:12–13, the Levites were substitutes in the place of Israel as a whole—sanctified unto God against the backdrop of the plague of the firstborn (Numbers 8:16-18). Here, they are saving Israel from a different sort of plague. They are a “gift to Aaron and his sons” (Numbers 8:19), because the priesthood must administer Israel’s coming near to the holiness of God. (“sanctuary,” verse 19). 

This is a weighty assignment indeed, because by those who come near, YHWH must be regarded as holy (cf. Leviticus 10:3), and it is especially Aaron and his sons who distinguish the holy and the unholy, and between the clean and the unclean (cf. Leviticus 10:10).  When Nadab and Abihu added in the slightest to what God had commanded, they were incinerated with miraculous fire (cf. Leviticus 10:1–2). 

So the priests have their hands full administering the drawing near itself. But there’s so much demanding logistical work to support the tabernacle service. This is the work for which the Lord gives the rest of the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons. The word translated “work” in Numbers 8:19 (and Numbers 8:22Numbers 8:24Numbers 8:26) is actually the word for “service,” which can mean other types of service, but most often means “worship” and is usually the original language word behind “worship” in our English Old Testaments. The Levitical labor in earthly things is very much in service of the worship that is conducted for Israel by Aaron and his sons. 

This is similar to the purpose of the diaconate and the eldership in the New Testament. The difference there is that the Great High Priesthood of Jesus has ushered in the priesthood of all believers. So every believer now comes into the holy of holies; Christ’s spiritual-worship-officers (elders) oversee this worship, especially by prayer leadership and the ministry of the Word (cf. Acts 6:4). Similarly, every believer has a duty to serve the Lord as they can in His church’s earthly maintenance and earthly mercies. The deacons are set over all of that business (cf. Acts 6:3) as a gift to the apostles (and, later, the elders) in much the same way that the Levites are a  gift to the priests in Numbers 8. What a blessing YHWH’s command was for the priests, and what a blessing was the people’s and Levites’ obedience (Numbers 8:20-22).

Prime: service done in the prime of life (Numbers 8:23-26). Finally, Numbers 8:23-26 indicate to us the mental and physical strenuousness of the work. They had to be 30 years old to participate in transport or setup/takedown (cf. Numbers 4:3, Numbers 4:23, Numbers 4:30, Numbers 4:35). But at the age of 25 they were strong enough and wise enough to enter into the regular service (Numbers 8:24). Then, at the age of 50, they were forced into a semi-retirement (Numbers 8:25) in which they could do other things to help keep what God had commanded, but they would no longer provide labor for the actual worship acts administered by the priests.  

There are important principles here. We see the duty to train in anticipation of serving the Lord. We see the wisdom of waiting patiently to ordain or be ordained (cf. 1 Timothy 3:10, 1 Timothy 5:22). We see how important it is to give the Lord’s service the prime of our life, the years of sharpest mind and strongest body. We see that those whose abilities for particular tasks have diminished should find less taxing ways to serve and make room for the next ones that the Lord has raised up. 

Most importantly, this entire ordination teaches us important things to appreciate about Christ’s ministry. He properly prepared for it, was called to it, and consecrated Himself for it. He was all of the offerings, all at once, that atoned for us and brought us near. He gave Himself up in the prime of earthly life and even now in glorious, eternal prime, He always lives to intercede. Hallelujah!

What service would lie ahead of you in this life, in God’s ordinary providence? How are you training for it now? How can one be cleansed and atoned for, for the service of the Lord? How have you availed yourself of this cleansing? How do you continue to lay hold of it before the Lord? In what season of life are you right now (pre 25, prime years, or post 50)? How are you applying the lessons of this chapter to that? What implications does the priesthood of all believers have for your duty to serve the church in earthly maintenance and earthly mercy? What officers has Christ given you to oversee that service?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for giving to us Christ as our Great High Priest, and giving a priesthood, under Him, to every member of His church. Cleanse us and atone for us by Him, and give us to train and to serve in a manner appropriate to every season of our life. Grant that the proper earthly maintenance of Your church would result in blessed worship that draws near to You in the way that You Yourself define as properly hallowing You. And grant all of this, we ask, in Jesus’s Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP15 “Within Your Tent, Who Will Reside” or TPH404 “The Church’s One Foundation” 

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