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God’s Word for You

Numbers 3:5-10 The work of the Levites

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, May 28, 2021

5 The Lord spoke to Moses: 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near and have them stand before Aaron the priest so that they may assist him. 7 They will perform the duties for him and for the entire congregation in front of the Tent of Meeting by doing the work for the Dwelling. 8 They will take care of all the furnishings for the Tent of Meeting and perform the duties of the Israelites by doing the work for the Dwelling. 9 You will give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons. They are completely given to him from among the Israelites. 10 But you will appoint Aaron and his sons, and they will serve in the priesthood. Any unauthorized person who goes near must be put to death.”

This command will be repeated and only slightly expanded in chapter 8. The modern reader might be curious as to what the Levites did? A simple reading of the tasks that are mentioned might give the impression that the Levites set up the sanctuary, and they took it down again, and they carried most of the articles from place to place. However, their duties were more rigorous than that. The Levites had at least four important daily tasks.

The first task is underscored above in verse 10, a repetition of the command: “Any unauthorized person who goes near must be put to death.” The Levites served as guards for the sanctuary and the courts of the Dwelling. The organization of this force was certainly carried out according to needs that changed from time to time. But however they were organized, they were the guards who watched the courts of the Lord.

The second task is presented in verse 8. The Levites were to “take care of all the furnishings for the Tent of Meeting.” This meant that the utensils and various pans and pails had to be cleaned and organized so that if one was called for by a priest, it could be brought quickly and without a search, and it would be ready for use at a moment’s notice. These articles were used for sacrifices, and there was no way to know precisely how many sacrifices would be presented on a given day. The better the spiritual condition of the nation, the more sacrifices would be brought.

The third and fourth tasks are not specifically mentioned here except in the phrase, “Doing the work of the Dwelling.” When we understand that the sacrifices were of two kinds, these tasks become evident. The Levites had to take charge of the gifts that people brought as offerings. These gifts were mostly food, wine and oil. They were not just for the priests, but for the entire tribe of Levi. The Levites took care of all of their tribesmen, including the widows.

The fourth and final task probably took up more of the Levites’ time than any of the others. This was cleaning. There would always be a certain amount of dusting and sweeping, especially in the blowing desert wind, but it also meant cleaning up blood. The sacrifices created a great deal of spilled blood, and blood and ashes would get on the pans, bowls, forks, and the other tools and implements that were used. The pans that caught the blood for sprinkling would need to be cleaned thoroughly, and so would anything else that came into contact with any blood. A priest who had blood on his hand who touched a water pan would create a cleaning task for a Levite, and so on and on. We must see that my meager description has to fall short, far short, of the real problems and difficulties of keeping the tabernacle clean, even in an age without the sort of windblown litter that our present culture has created.

We will see in a later verse that only Levites of a certain age did this work; younger men learned, and older men were permitted to assist or give direction or instruction. The service of the tabernacle meant that certain tasks needed to be performed that some people might find strange, mundane, even disgusting. But the tasks needed to be done. So it is with ministry today. Some of our tasks are mentally challenging, requiring many hours of study and thought, and sometimes two qualified men will arrive at different decisions about the same question, especially when the question is not directly addressed in the Bible, or when emotions or personal attachment becomes part of the process. Other ministry tasks are more routine; some tiring, some exhilarating. Sometimes we do things that are altogether unexpected. All we can do is try to be faithful, knowing that God will judge. But despite human frailty and weakness, the Lord achieves his will among his people. The Psalm probes our deepest motives for service to the Lord: “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, O Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8). Whether you pray for your pastor, or whether you yourself are a pastor, have confidence in the gospel pastors preach. This is the very Word of God. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

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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