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God’s Word for You

Numbers 18:1-7 The gift of service

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, October 4, 2021

Duties of the Priests and Levites

18 The LORD gave these directions to Aaron:

It is unusual for the Scriptures to say that “the LORD said to Aaron” (the same as “gave directions” here) rather than to either Moses (Numbers 3:5) or “Moses and Aaron” (Numbers 2:1). Of the five times this happens, three are in this chapter (18:1; 18:8 and 18:20).

You, your sons, and your father’s house with you will bear the guilt for any sins in connection with the sanctuary. You and your sons with you will bear the guilt for any sins in connection with your priesthood.

To answer the fears of the people, the Lord made it clear that from this point forward, the priests would be responsible for sins committed against the sanctuary. If someone entered into the Holy Place who was not allowed there, the priests serving (which always included the high priest) would be responsible and would be punished. As we have seen, sins that were violations to the tabernacle were swiftly punished by death.

2 Also have your brothers from the tribe of Levi, your father’s tribe, come forward with you so that they may join you and assist you when you and your sons along with you are on duty in front of the Tent of the Testimony. 3 They will perform the duties for you and for the entire tent. However, they are not to go close to the furnishings in the sanctuary or to the altar, so that they and you will not die. 4 They are to join you and perform the duties for the Tent of Meeting, to do all the work at the tent. No unauthorized person is to go near you.

When the camp moved, the Levites had specific duties. They were concerned with wrapping up the outer curtains, disassembling the poles and bases, and carrying those things and some of the other furnishings that the priests were not specifically commanded to carry. But when the tabernacle was set up and there was nothing to carry, the Levites still had a place. The people were wondering (and especially the Levites themselves): Did the Levites still have a place in the tabernacle, or had Korah, who was a Levite, forfeit their blessed position? God showed that the Levites still had a role to play and tasks to perform. To be clear: the priests alone entered the Holy Places, from the sanctuary to the altar. The Levites were to assist with whatever the priests needed them to do. An important part of this work was security. The priests were to be responsible to the Lord for any unauthorized person who entered, but the Levites were the ones who actually did most of the guarding. They were also forbidden from entering into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.

5 You are to perform the duties for the sanctuary and for the altar so that there will not be any more wrath on the Israelites. 6 See, I myself have taken your brothers, the Levites, from among the Israelites. They are a gift to you, given by the LORD, to do the work at the Tent of Meeting. 7 But you and your sons with you will keep watch over your priesthood in connection with everything at the altar and inside the veil. You are to do this work. I am giving you your priesthood as a gift. Any unauthorized person who comes near must be put to death.

The Lord described the work of the Levites as a gift. First, it was a gift to the priests to have someone who could serve without any danger of wondering whether this was permitted.

Second this was the gift to the Levites themselves, because their position within Israel had not changed despite Korah’s rebellion. They were still the family from which the priests were taken, and the Levites who were not priests had a role to play and a way to serve the Lord. They were also blessed in this gift because a portion of the sacrifices was theirs. Not only this, but what they received was to be the best of the land (Exodus 23:19).

The Levites also carried out some of the teaching of Israel’s young people (Deuteronomy 27:14-28, 31:19), and they provided music for worship (men, women, boys, and maidens; 2 Chronicles 5:12; Psalm 68:25).

The tabernacle was the only place the Israelites could look to for the forgiveness of their sins. It foreshadowed Christ and his work, and therefore it was a gift more precious than anything else God provided for Old Testament Israel. It kept them focused on his true word, and showed the error of the false teachings of the pagans that surrounded them.

One of the gifts God gave them and still gives to all of his servants is the gift of prayer. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to approach the Lord, who gave us this gift as an essential part of our adoption as heirs of eternal life (Romans 8:15). We pray in our thoughts, or aloud. We pray in prose (ordinary words), in poems, in music, and we understand that the meditation and musings of our hearts are also prayers, communicating our needs and desires to God. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Prayer begins with faith in Christ as our only Savior (“How can they call on the one they have not believed in?” Romans 10:14). The believing heart may ask for anything, and we know that God hears and will answer. Hold tightly to the doctrine of being forgiven (justified) through faith in Christ alone. As long as we retain this and hold onto it as our dearest treasure and God’s most precious truth, we can weather every storm and remain confident in every question or controversy. But anyone who gives up that truth, the holiest pillar of the Church, won’t be able to stand up to any error. Any and every false teaching will blow him around like foam on the water, and he will be crushed and pulverized like a moth in a hailstorm. Trust in Jesus and rejoice that you have a place with God forever in Paradise.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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