Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, B The Centrality, 3 The Church, Text: 8:5-26

Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, B The Centrality, 3 The Church, Text: 8:5-26


Among the sons of Levi were the priests, the family of Aaron. However the greater part of this group, the Levites were servants in charge of the portage of the tabernacle. Thus, they were more like  church Deacons in the New Testament, who, at least in my denomination, are also trustees in charge of the property of the local church including its building. This portion is about the setting apart of these men for their sacred work as deacons are set apart today by ordination. There is almost always a laying on of hands in a modern ordination. This signifies a transfer of something from the ordaining party to the ordinand. In the case of some this means the transfer of apostolic authority in they as in the Roman tradition. In the case of most protestants what is transferred is symbolically representing the endowment of the Holy Spirit for the task at hand. Paul speaks of this to Timothy in I Timothy 4:14, Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. In this narrative the Levites are first washed, then they are warranted as in ordination, then they are waved, and finally welcomed.


There is a physical cleansing, and a spiritual cleansing. The physical cleansing is in verses 5-7, The Lord said to Moses: “Take the Levites from among the other Israelites and make them ceremonially clean. To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes, and so purify themselves. Then in verses 8 & 12, we have their inward spiritual cleansing, Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering... After the Levites lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, use the one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. In this instance, too, something is being transferred by the laying on of hands and it is the sin of the servants which is transferred to the sacrifices. The two bulls represent their sin, to be consumed and done away as by fire, and their life and strength, to be wholly offered unto God in the whole burnt offering and accepted as by fire. Now, cleansed inwardly and outwardly they are ready to be warranted.


A warrant is simply the legal permission to do something. In the case of police it is the permission to make a search of residences or records, or seizure, or  the permission to arrest someone. In this case it is permission to serve. Here the warrant is conveyed through those who are to be served, the congregation of Israel. We read in verse 10, You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. Here again the laying on of hands signifies transference. The Israelites are granting to the Levites the responsibility for ministering for them in the work of the Lord. In doing this they are submitting to the will of the Lord God. He orders this so that it may be clear that the rank and file of Israel is not to approach the sacred premises because they are neither chosen for the task nor fit. This is explained more fully in verses 16-19, They (The Levites) are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. Every firstborn male in Israel, whether man or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. Of all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the Tent of Meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary. Now this also points to the fact that they belong to God and that is the reason for the waving.


It is always the case with mediators that they must represent both parties. The priests and Levites who ministered in the tabernacle were chosen to represent men to God and God to men; This they did imperfectly. However, in the New Testament God and man are brought together in Jesus Christ the Son of God. We read in I Timothy 2:5, For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Here the people identify themselves with the Levites by the laying on of hands and now they are offered to God by the waving. Waving was a common way under the Mosaic system for indicating that sacrifice was rendered to God. The people themselves waved their offerings as in Leviticus 7:29 & 30, Say to the Israelites: “Anyone who brings a fellowship offering to the Lord is to bring part of it as their sacrifice to the Lord. With their own hands they are to present the food offering to the Lord; they are to bring the fat, together with the breast, and wave the breast before the Lord as a wave offering.” The priests also waved the sacrifices that they brought as in Leviticus 9:18-21, He slaughtered the ox and the ram as the fellowship offering for the people. His sons handed him the blood, and he splashed it against the sides of the altar. But the fat portions of the ox and the ram—the fat tail, the layer of fat, the kidneys and the long lobe of the liver— these they laid on the breasts, and then Aaron burned the fat on the altar. Aaron waved the breasts and the right thigh before the Lord as a wave offering, as Moses commanded. The wave offering is mentioned twice in our text in verses 11-14, Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord. “After the Levites lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, use the one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine. The final sentence tells us what the waving represented, namely, that the Levites like the sacrifices were being presented to the Lord exclusively for His service. In Jesus we have a priest, as sacrifice, and a temple builder, so he supplies to us everything that was symbolized in the Levitical system.


Now having been prepared and offered, the Levites are welcomed to the work of the tabernacle in verses 20-26, Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the Lord and made atonement for them to purify them. After that, the Levites came to do their work at the Tent of Meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. The Lord said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.” Once all the preliminary measures had been taken in accord with God’s commandment through His servant Moses, the Levites commence their work. They ministered at the tent of meeting. They went in only after the priests had covered all he holy objects according to instructions. They preserved the integrity of the tabernacle , guarding it against unwarranted intrusion which is called here “keeping the charge” of the tabernacle. They tended to most of the duties of the sacred dwelling having to do with transport. This latter responsibility required age limitations. 25 was the age of instruction, and training and 30 was the age of assuming duties. 50 was the retirement age, not from the office, but from the “regular” duties which were strenuous. Those who say that the Bible says nothing about retirement are wrong, however they are right in spirit because they did not leave their jobs but were reassigned lighter duties such as doorkeepers. In Psalm 84:10 David writes, Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. One might infer from that verse that it was a menial task, but in Psalm 84 David is longing for the temple of the Lord. He wishes to be lifted up, not humiliated. To be a doorkeeper in God’s House was an inestimable and awesome privilege. The doorkeeper guarded the sacred things. The doorkeeper preserved life and holiness by excluding those who did not belong and admitting those who did. He was a guardian and according to Hebrews 8:5 he was in the Old Testament a “shadow” of the Heavenly, the reality of which is found in the New. His duties in guarding the treasury and the sacred environs are virtually identical to the duties of an elder in the spiritual temple, the Church of Jesus  Christ. David’s first attempt to return the Ark of the Covenant recaptured from the Philistines, to Israel had failed because he had tried to bring it back the wrong way, it had been left in the house of Obededom. For the three months it was there. and Obededom’s house experienced tremendous blessing. When David came to take it to the tent he had set up on Mt Zion for it, Obededom followed it. He became a doorkeeper in David’s Tabernacle, living in the glory of God’s presence. Finally I would leave you with the thought that the ministry of the doorkeeper on earth was to both guard and reveal God’s glory! According to Ezekiel’s visions, this is the same job that the mighty cherubim do. They are the Heavenly guardians around the Throne of God, and revealers of His glory. In Isaiah 6 these are the attendees at the throne who chant day and night, holy, Holy, Holy.