God’s Word for You
Numbers 8:23-26 Retirement and the 4th Commandment
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 21, 2021
23 The LORD spoke to Moses: 24 “This applies to the Levites: From twenty-five years of age and up, they are to serve in the work at the Tent of Meeting. 25 But when they are fifty years old, they are to retire from the service and no longer work. 26 They may assist their brothers at the Tent of Meeting in performing their duties, but they are not to do the work. This is exactly what you are to do in regard to the Levites and their duties.”
In Numbers 4:3, the age of the Levites who did the work of carrying and guarding the holy things was set between thirty and fifty years. Here the lower end seems reduced to 25, but it’s within reason to assume that there was a planned five-year apprenticeship. My own apprenticeship as a housepainter involved puttying nail holes and patching walls in closets, prepping and painting the highest windows on barns and houses, and scraping and sanding the bottom boards of fences and outbuildings on dairy and sheep farms. That lasted more than a year, but the Levites weren’t trying to become journeymen at their task, but masters. So the young men would watch and practice, watch and discuss, learn and watch and be tested, so that when the time came they would be ready to step in without making any foolish or deadly mistakes. Later, David reduced the age to twenty, but that was after the duties of the Levites changed with the Ark being moved into the city (1 Chronicles 23:24,27), and it can also be said that while David’s served the Lord with his whole heart, he didn’t always stop to read the instructions (2 Samuel 6:3-8; 1 Chronicles 13:7-11).
The older men stopped carrying and guarding at fifty. The older men who wanted to, could remain at the tabernacle to help, or to instruct the younger men, but they were no longer required to lift and carry. At fifty, the body is no longer being built up, but is beginning to go in the other direction. In his mid-fifties, Paul called himself “an old man” (Philemon 1:9). Of course, some men remain vigorous for many years after fifty (my dad is a remarkable example).
It is a sign of sin and corruption in any society when those who are old are shown no respect (Lamentations 5:12). Of course, older men and women must also be “worthy of respect” (Titus 2:2) and not simply demand it because of their years, power, or wealth. The Fourth Commandment teaches in two directions. Not only do we owe honor to our parents, but as parents, we need to live lives worthy of honor. When we sin on either side of this we need to repent. Too often a sin on the one side (showing no respect for parents or those in authority) leads naturally to sins on the other side (being a worthless and corrupt parent or authority oneself). Luther preaches about parents:
“God does not want fools or tyrants in this office and responsibility; nor does he assign them this honor (that is, power and authority to govern) merely to receive homage. Parents should consider that they owe obedience to God, and that, above all, they should earnestly and faithfully discharge the duties of their office, not only to provide for the material support of their children, servants, subjects, etc., but especially to bring them up to the praise and honor of God. Therefore do not imagine that the parental office is a matter of your pleasure and whim. It is a strict commandment and injunction of God, who holds you accountable for it” (Large Catechism, Ten Commandments: 168-169).
The Fourth Commandment crushes parents. It makes us terrified over the way we failed to regard and respect our own parents and those in authority over us, and it rips open the veneer of vanity and shows us how unworthy of respect we are. No king was happier about the strong borders of his kingdom than sinful men and women are happy about the walls of their home. Mine, mine, mine, we think—embracing a home as a special freedom when we are young and like the gold of King Midas when we are old. Nothing we possess is truly ours. It is only a loan from God, a loan we will give back saying, “We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks” (Psalm 75:1).
Will the things we’ve taken care of increase in their value? What will their value be in God’s eyes? He cares nothing at all about bank accounts, manicured lawns, recreational vehicles, or beautiful weapons standing in a proud line in an oak case in the corner. Do my children know their Savior? Does my wife love her Lord? Do I fall on my knees every night in prayer, confessing my sins, wringing my hands together as much as folding them, until at last I hear the gospel at the end of the Apostles’ Creed? Those lovely words can be savored like the finest part of a meal: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” There is the whole gospel: Forgiveness, resurrection, and heaven, all because of Christ. Not because we’ve earned it (who understands failure better than an honest parent?), but only because God loves us. Praise your heavenly Father and treat your earthly parents with respect for Jesus’ sake.
Pastor Timothy Smith