With the opening of the book of Numbers comes a dawn of new and promising pursuits. The journey to the land promised to Abraham–the father of the Jews–now lies within the grasp of God’s chosen people. Their destiny and sacred destination is before them, but there must be order. And so, God has the people numbered, tribes situated, camps organized, and one particular tribe set aside for a very important task–guarding the place where God’s holy presence (His kavod–glory) dwells.
“The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their fathers’ tribe. For the Lord had spoken to Moses, saying, “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel. But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death. The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel.”
The last plague inflicted upon Israel’s overlords was the slaughter of all the firstborn cattle and humans within Egypt not possessing the blood of a sacrificial lamb over its door post. God’s swift and violent judgment was wrought upon rebellious dissidents to the provision of His people, and left a subjugated Israel liberated and free to return to Canaan. However, their escape from God’s judgment upon the firstborn may have spared their lives, but the meaning of their rescue had far more reaching and profound implications. While they had obeyed God’s injunction of placing lamb’s blood over the door post, they nevertheless were not free from their need and God’s continual unfolding of His redemptive storyline. No, no, just like circumcision reminded Abraham and all of his progeny that God is the One who provides the seed of descendants (and therefore the Seed of Woman to deal with the source of sin–the Serpent), so too is now substitution of the Levite tribe for all the firstborns Israelites a symbol and reminder of God’s provision and liberation from Egyptian slavey–pointing to the day when One will liberate all who turn to Him in faith from the slavery and bondage of sin. And so, the Levites served a particular task within the tribes of Israel: protection and mediation on their behalf before God, as well as a ransom payment for the firstborns. Thus, God’s way of dealing with sin through the instrumentation of humanity is narrowed down to a tribe–the tribe of Levi. The canvas scenes are now flowing with color and magnificent pictures of God’s redemption. Glory to our God!
“Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every firstborn, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be Mine. For all the firstborn are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the Lord…Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel and the cattle of the Levites. And the Levites shall be Mine; I am the Lord. For the ransom of the 273 of the firstborn of the sons of Israel who are in excess beyond the Levites, you shall take five shekels apiece, per head; you shall take them in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), and give the money, the ransom of those who are in excess among them, to Aaron and to his sons.”
Numbers 3:11-13, 44-48
How does this apply to us today?
The tribe of Levi standing in as the priest and mediators between God’s Law and humankind’s sin was only a temporary measure to deal with sin (Leviticus 16-17). Their greater symbolism was the fact that they were a substitute, as well as a ransom payment for mankind to be reconciled with God. Therefore, as effective and efficient as they were at performing their new (1) task of offering the animal sacrifice each year, as well as (2) how acceptable they were as being selected as God’s firstborn ransom payment, they were nevertheless imperfect humans needing themselves to be atoned and reconciled. Thus, their task and their value as a ransom payment were only temporary means and subordinate measures to a greater priesthood yet to be ordained with an eternal task, as well as an undefiled and perfect value as a ransom payment yet to be paid.
In other words, the Levites could not eternally perform the task of priest, and their value as a ransom payment was intrinsically tainted because they were themselves sinners. God had to step in so that man’s sin could be eternally dealt with. And so, He did. He sent His Son as the priest of eternal lineage and ransom payment of incomparable perfection. Thus, this is yet another reason Why Christ Had to Die… Glory to our God!