Levite’s Census and Responsibilities: Numbers 3–5


Note the following is a summary. A complete audio version of this teaching session can be found here.

After taking the general census of the Israelites, Moses and Aaron now begin to count the tribe of Levi who would not be part of the military, but serve various tasks in the Tabernacle. The Bible tells us that the entire tribe of Levi was given to serve the needs of Aaron and the priests, the needs of the congregation at large, and the needs of the tabernacle itself.

But why Levi, rather than another tribe? One possible reason may be found in a consideration of the incident recorded in Exodus 32:26–29. Levi had been most zealous for the honor of the Lord at the time of the worship of the golden calf. When Moses stood in the gate of the camp and uttered his famous challenge, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side, let him come to me,” it is recorded that all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to Moses. Here, at a critical point in the history of the people of God, and at the point of challenge and destiny, the sons of Levi rose magnificently to the challenge and came out decisively on the Lord’s side. Surely this must be the special reason why God chose them.

There’s also a possible second reason, more a practical matter of expediency. One tribe among the twelve tribes of Israel would be more easily identifiable and more easily managed than a selection of priests and supporting cast from all twelve tribes. With the Levites, God had a unit ready-made and able to work harmoniously together.

These chapters, like much of the book of Numbers show God’s order of things. In chapter 4 for example, God directs Moses with specific instructions for the duties of the non-priest Levites. His directions are clear. Disorder and a sloppy approach are not part of how God expects the Tabernacle to be maintained and transported.

Then, chapter 5 gives us a number of laws and ordinances relating to the general theme of separation. These precepts continue into chapters six which we will examine in our next session. These ordinances are perhaps best understood in the context of both the military and spiritual situation of the Israelites. The camp is placed on a war alert. They will be facing enemies as they take over the Promised Land and God wants his army to be the fittest and also he wants them to keep separate from the people whom they conquer.

We can learn several things from these chapters:

  1. We need to encamp where the Lord directs. In other words, like the Levites we need to do what He’s called us to do.
  2. There is differentiation of function, not inferiority. There is contrast between the various tasks meted out to the Levites but they are all necessary and none is greater than any other.
  3. There is an emphasis on confession and restitution. Confession is putting things right with God; restitution is putting things right with people. Both are necessary for a wrong situation to be rectified.
  4. Preparation is required as we live in the wilderness. Pastor J. Vernon McGee said, “The Christian today needs to recognize that he is a pilgrim going through the wilderness of this world. Everything and everyone must be in his place for the walk, the work, the war, and the worship of the wilderness.”

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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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