Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, A The Counting, 4 The Compensation, Text: 3:40-51

Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, A The Counting, 4 The Compensation, Text:


The Pentateuch is filled with references to the priesthood. An  so here in the book of Numbers. The Levitical priesthood was essential to the existence and well being of Israel, but it has been replaced in the New Testament in two ways. As for the atonement through sacrifice for which the priests were responsible in the Old Testament we have Jesus our great high priest. We read about this in Hebrews 9:13-15, The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. In addition the priesthood has been replaced by the church, that is by believers. Peter reminds us in I Peter 2:5, You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In verses 9 & 10 he writes, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Some may ask, Why go back to these ancient types, when we have everything so plain in the writings of evangelists and prophets? Why stop to contemplate a picture when we have the original? Why linger in the twilight when we have the perfect day? The chief reason is that the very language of evangelists and apostles, which we now think so plain, is all derived and moulded from these ancient rites, and proceeds so fundamentally upon ideas generated by them, that, without them, it would be exceedingly obscure, and, in some things, wholly unintelligible. These typical rites thus hold a place in the economy of revelation, from which they cannot be spared. "Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope." The New Testament is necessary to a right understanding of them, but equally necessary are they to a right understanding of the New Testament. The priesthood of believers was a big issue in the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther wrote, “That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism.“ With these things in mind as we look at Numbers 3:40-51, I think we should consider these lessons, service, substitution, satisfaction, and salvation which are taught throughout our text: The Lord said to Moses, “Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the Lord.” So Moses counted all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the Lord commanded him. The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273. The Lord also said to Moses, “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the Lord. To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.” So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites. From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.


Here we learn the three principles of Levitical service which are also thr principles of Christian service. First, we are redeemed, delivered from the judgments, and taken from the midst of the enemies of God. The foundation of the Levitical service was the fact that the firstborn had been saved in the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt. Second, as a consequence of this first fact, we belong absolutely to God; bought with a price, we are no longer our own, but God’s, to glorify Him in our bodies which are His. The Levites were a reminder that all the people of Israel belonged to God. Lastly, we are entirely given to Christ, who is the Head of the house of God, the Priest, for the service of His tabernacle. The Levites are given to Aaron the high priest who has been replaced by a better priest and a better offering, even our great High Priest, Jesus. Blessed bondage, happy self-renunciation, true deliverance from a world of sin! Our service is connected with Jesus, and the place where He is, and with which He has connected our hopes, our lives, and the affections of our hearts. That is  Christian service.


In verses 44 & 45 the Levites are said to be a ransom for the firstborn of Israel. Moses is commanded to take the Israelites and present them to Aaron because the Levites are a ransom for the firstborn of Israel. And the cattle of the Levites are a ransom for the first born cattle of the Israelites. Substitution runs throughout the Old Testament. Every sacrifice of atonement was a substitution in the Mosaic ritual. The worshipper laid his hands on it and in that transaction it was assumed that his sins were transferred to it. The important thing was that it was an act of faith. We know that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin because the book of Hebrews tells us so, but it was a picture of the true way of salvation when Jesus the lamb of God offered himself in our stead, in our place, as our substitute on the cross. Jesus became sin for us and bore our sins in His body on the cross, thus fulfilling the Law. This is the witness of the New Testament. In II Corinthians 5:21 we read, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him: and in I Peter 2:24, And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed: and in Romans 8:3 & 4, For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. This message is carried forward from the Old Testament for we read in Isaiah 53:4-6, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. When Abraham went up Mt. Moriah to sacrifice the child of promise, Isaac, God provided a ram in the thicket instead. The ram was a substitute for the child, just as the Levites are a substitute for the first born saved in the Passover. However, as Christians we have a single lamb who is a substitute for us all, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Thus we are to serve our God as a holy priesthood.


For family devotions, Martin Luther once read the account of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar in Genesis 22. His wife, Katie, said, “I do not believe it. God would not have treated his son like that!” “But, Katie,” Luther replied, “He did.” What does it take to satisfy God’s wrath against sinners? We note that our text tells us that the number of firstborn exceeded the number of Levites, and God required an offering for the excess individuals. So we read, To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons. Under the elemental worship of the Old Testament which was typical in nature, and foreshadowed the New Testament reality, there was the ability to picture future realities in weak and beggarly ways. I say that because the New Testament clearly teaches that monetary gifts cannot atone for sin. In I Peter 1:17-19 we read, Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. Money cannot measure the value of spiritual things, but it can express that they have value. It cannot pay the debt we owe to God, but it can express that we do owe Him much. Five shekels, a year’s wages, paid under the conditions here specified, could express that the payer owed himself to God’s service, and that the payee accepted the position of substitute. Already in Exodus 30:12-16 we are told of this practice, When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord. All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives. So let us remember above all that because God has been finally and fully satisfied, we have the admonition of 1 Corinthians 6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.


The Levites were separated for the service of the tabernacle, that is, for worship. They existed to facilitate worship, not salvation. The sacrifices they offered could not take away sin, but they pointed to a God who could take away sin. The ordinances said beforehand that God was angry at sin and sinners and he needed to be appeased. All the blood which flowed on Jewish altars was shed to make a point, that God must be propitiated for our transgressions. Now, all Old Testament believers were truly forgiven, but they were forgiven and justified because the fulfillment of those Levitical rites would later take place through Jesus. Hebrews  9:6-8 says, When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. Not only that, but when the fulfillment came as the author of Hebrews tells us it was better in every respect than the typical foreshadowing. The firstborn of Israel are redeemed with the selection, ransom, and service of the Levites. Thus in Hebrews 12:23 we are called the, general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. Having been devoted by sin to the justice of God, we are ransomed with the precious blood of the Son of God.