Vs. 3, “So, as the LORD had commanded, the Israelites gave the Levites the following towns and pasturelands out of their own inheritance.” We now come to the allotment of the Levites. Question: Who were the Levites? They were set apart by God from the tribe of Levi to help administer to the sacrificial offerings. The tribe of Levi was the only tribe that stood up with Moses when he saw the idolatrous golden calf (Exodus 32:25-29). The Levites were broken up into three groups plus one: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (sons of Levi) and then the line of Aaron (they would serve in the priestly mode). It was now their turn to claim the promises of God. Though they would not possess any specific land, the LORD would spread them out to administer to His people in all the tribes. The Levites and Priesthood played a role much like Pastors, Missionaries, etc. of today.
Regarding application…Faithful Father. Vs. 45, “Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” Question: Is there something in your life that you are worried about? I was thinking about our consumerist society and being bombarded by all these companies that their products are the best. Most companies and retail stores want to give us peace of mind by offering “money-back” guarantees. If the product fails in its promise, we can return it hassle-free. Unlike worldly products, when the Lord offers His products of love and promises, there is no caveat “money-back” return policy. Question: Why? Because God never makes a faulty product! I know when we put our faith in God, there will be times of questioning and doubt. That is why we must root ourselves in His word to constantly remind us of our faithful Father. Take time today to let go of a specific worry in your life.
Vs. 2, “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns.” You may recall, the Levites tribe was not to inherit any land (Numbers 18). But, they still needed somewhere to live so the Lord solved this by assigning forty-eight towns equally distributed among the rest of the tribes as locations for them to live (vs. 1-5). I love how God provides for the Levites and also ensures that they will in turn be able to provide for the others! We then see quite an interesting provision the Lord institutes with the cities of refuge. These cities of refuge would serve as safe houses or sanctuaries for the accused. Question: Why? The cities of refuge were to provide a place of safety for those who had killed another. Upon investigation and trial, intentional murder (first-degree murder) would not keep the accused safe from retribution. However, unintentional murder (man-slaughter) would keep the accused safe as long as they stayed in the city of refuge. How interesting that only after the death of the current high priest could an unintentional person be safe to leave the cities of refuge. Only the death of the high priest would cover over this type of sin. Certainly, we think of Jesus the great high priest whose blood was shed for all (Hebrews 4).
Regarding application…Capital Punishment. Vs. 16, “If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.” Question: Is capital punishment right or wrong? This is certainly a polarizing topic to many. Even within the Christian community, we have our differing scriptural understandings. I stand on believing that capital punishment is just. God is love, yet we cannot divorce the fact that God is wrathful too. In His mercy and justice, God has instituted the right for people to receive consequences. Previously, we were told not to seek revenge (Leviticus 19:18), but this was on a personal perspective. Here in our chapter today, it is from a community’s perspective. God does not contradict Himself. It is not our right to dispense justice, but the laws in our society/community should ensure consequences. If a man kills my family, I do not have the individual right to kill him. But, through a trial and jury, he can be sentenced to death. This is justice. If the law allows a loophole through parole, and this man kills again; where is the justice? In the end, whether a person is served capital punishment that is not the end all be all of their existence. Remember the man on the cross next to Jesus who would be with him in paradise (Luke 23:42-43). He was served capital punishment but was going to be with Jesus.
Vs. 5, “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that wrath will not fall on the Israelites again.” After God revealed Aaron’s budding staff to all of Israel in our previous chapter, this was a sign to every tribe including the Levites/Priests that God has chosen them alone to administer to the sanctuary and altar. Any non-Levite who violates God’s standard will not bring wrath upon the whole nation, but upon themselves and the Levites (vs. 1-7). God in His wisdom knowing the possible low morale of the Levites and priests, reminds them of how He will provide for them (vs. 8-32). Their (Levites & Priests) work and dedication would not allow them to farm and provide. The tithes of the rest of the tribe were to be given to the Levites and then they were to additionally give their ten percent tithe to the Priesthood.
Regarding application…Tithing Today. Vs. 26, “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.” Question: Should we tithe today? You may recall, tithing first came into the biblical scene when Abraham gave ten percent to Melchizedek (Genesis 14). The Apostle Paul affirms the church today that those who serve it have a right to receive support from the church (I Corinthians 9:13-14). Jesus also exhorted the disciples when he sent out the seventy to receive support (Luke 10). Certainly, most of us are not farmers so we don’t present our literal firstfruits, but we do make wages. We are simply stewards of the possessions we have. Let us be wise and seek how we may continue to support the church and ultimately bring glory to God!
Vs. 8, “The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.” God’s people were grumbling. God in His wisdom administers another test, thankfully a peaceful test. This test would entail all the tribes to bring forth a staff and leader representing their respective tribe (vs. 1-5). They were to bring their staff in front of Tent of Testimony (law of tablets in the ark). An appropriate test for the word “staff” also has this understanding of “tribe.” The full budding of Aaron’s staff leaves no doubt divine intervention (vs. 8-11). Question: Why almonds? Almonds signified a sense of watchfulness (Jeremiah 1:11-12) and it was important to use Aaron’s staff as a watchful reminder of His people to not rebel.
Regarding application…Grumbling. Vs. 10, “The Lord said to Moses, “Put back Aaron’s staff in front of the Testimony, to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die.” Aaron’s rod was a response to grumbling. But this wasn’t just a complaint here and there. This was an outright protest with tempers flaring (maybe nostrils too) in our previous chapter. This grumbling showed their lack of faith and trust not only in Moses & Aaron, but also the LORD. I think we as churches today could use our own Aaron’s almond rod to remind people to stop their complaining and grumbling. Ultimately, it is a sign of God’s grace. The cross in our churches is that all inclusive reminder. For the United Methodist and other denominations, today is Ash Wednesday. Ashes is our sign of repentance and beginning the reminder of the cross and the joyful resurrection during the Lenten season. I pray we have the right perspective as we too journey with the Lord.
Vs. 2, “Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out.” Question: Why Trumpets? Earlier (Numbers 9), we read that the cloud would signify when the Israelites were to leave camp (vs. 1-10). With two million plus, there were people bound to be in their tents, so the trumpets played a practical role. Depending on the type of trumpet blast, would determine which tribes would head out. It was a pretty exciting time for the people for they had been at Mount Sinai for nearly a year (vs. 11-28)! They were on their way to claim the promises of God. Question: What will happen? We have a intriguing story ahead of us, so stay tuned in to God’s word. In the latter section of our chapter, we read of Moses asking Hobab (Father-in-law, or brother-in-law) to help assist them on their journey.
Regarding application…God Uses Us! Vs. 31, “But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes.” Question: If God was their guide, why would Moses ask Hobab to help them? Was Moses not trusting the Lord? Brothers and sisters, we are reminded throughout the Scriptures that God chooses to use us. Certainly, God can do everything on His own. Consider God being the ultimate delegator in a sense. Hobab had certain skills he had learned over the years that would benefit God’s people. Question: How is God using you? How can you be used more by God? Notice that Hobab, like many of us, declined to help (vs. 30). Just because we have said no in the past doesn’t dictate our future potential.
Vs. 1, “The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt.” Chronologically, this chapter should go before the military census in chapter one. In this chapter, we see an interesting relation with the observance of Passover (vs. 1-5) and then the cloud and fire (vs. 15-23); both of which were a part of the Exodus out of Egypt. Question: Why observe Passover each year? Some scholars point out that the Israelites were ungrateful. Whatever the reason, it was a way to please God and remind them of His faithfulness. Remember that Passover celebrates God’s deliverance by the lamb’s blood. I love God’s attention to the details given for those who became unclean due to a death (vs. 6-14). God cares even about some of the smallest details! In the latter half of our chapter (vs. 15-23), we see God giving clear direction of His purpose and presence through the cloud.
Regarding application…Living by the Cloud. Vs. 17, “Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped.” How interesting that we use this terminology when it comes to the way we live our life on the internet. The internet guides many people’s lives as it the source for information, studying, living and entertaining. Yet, just as the Israelites lives were dictated by the cloud (God), our lives must be obedient to God’s direction too. I’ve often thought what a privilege the Israelites had to have the physical manifestation of God. Yet, we have something far more special through the promised Holy Spirit in our lives!
Vs. 2, “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand.” The seven lamps were mentioned earlier in the Pentateuch (Exodus 25:37). Their purpose was to give light to the table and incense altar, hence the importance to put them facing forward (vs. 3). The light from the lamps not only served a practical function, but were symbolic of God’s divine presence. In the latter half of our chapter (vs. 5-22), the LORD instructs Moses how to get the Levites ready for service. Remember, the Levites were set apart for the work of the sanctuary. They were not given a tribal inheritance, for God was their inheritance. The Levites lived off the tithes of the rest of the nation (Numbers 18). It’s important to note that though priests came from the Levites, not all Levites were priests. Only the Levites who descended from Aaron were in the holy priesthood. Previously, we read (Leviticus 8) the ordination and ceremony of the priests. The Levite ceremony was certainly important and the laying of hands (vs. 10) by the Israelites show their importance for service to all the people. We are reminded they took the place of the firstborn requirement that needed to be fulfilled by the LORD (vs. 15-18). You may have noticed a possible discrepancy from (Numbers 4) concerning age of service (vs. 23-26). The five year difference is possibly explained (ages 25-30) by a training period.
Regarding application…Everyone is Important. The Levites represented those who directly served the LORD. In our churches today, we don’t have Levites who serve, but we do have the body of Christ. The Levites were separated with different, but important tasks. Likewise, we have diverse ways for the church members to serve and offer their gifts. This ceremony was important because it let the rest of the Levites and the Israelites know how important each Levite was. Question: How important are you? We did a survey at my church last Sunday with the question: Which are more important: sermon, worship or welcoming? Everyone plays an integral part in service to the church. I believe that one of the things that cause people to leave the church is because they don’t see what part they play. Continue to pray that God would give you wisdom and heart to be an important part of the church!
Vs. 10, “When the altar was anointed, the leaders brought their offerings for its dedication and presented them before the altar.” For all intense and purposes; this was the equivalent of a house-warming party! Each tribe came forth with their offerings to present to the Lord at the new Tabernacle. It’s pretty awesome how God instructed the tribes to give quite a practical gift; six covered carts and twelve oxen (vs. 3) from each tribe to the Levites (vs. 6). You may recall that the Levite clans were instructed to help transport the items of the tabernacle in our previous chapters, so these gifts would help them tremendously. This was one of the last events before their departure from Mount Sinai. Scholars are quick to point out that this particular chapter is not in chronological order, for it should fall in between chapters 8 & 9. While it may seem redundant, you will notice that each of the gifts from the tribes is the same (vs. 12-84). Question: Why list all of them out? The recognition of each gift was important and by this we see the thankfulness.
Regarding application…God Speaks. Vs. 89, “When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.” Question: What enabled Moses to hear the voice of God? Moses and the Israelites were fellowshipping with the Lord. They were relying on God. They were obeying God. They were giving of themselves to others. These things enabled them to be able to hear from the Lord. They were able to hear God speak to them because their relationship was pleasing to Him. Many of us went to church today to present a sacrifice of praise. May our ears and heart be open to hear God speak to us not just on Sunday, but each day of this new week!
Vs. 5, “During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.” In Leviticus we read of a permanent Nazirite vow, but in our passage today we see the opportunity for someone to give a temporary vow for a set period of time (vs. 1-21). Question: What is a Nazirite? Nazirite was a special class of individuals who wanted to devote their life to God. A woman or man could participate. It’s also important to mention that it was entirely voluntary (vs. 2). Samson (Judges 13), Samuel (I Samuel 1) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15-17) are examples of those who took on the Nazirite vow. People would take on a Nazirite vow for any number of reasons. It could be out of gratitude or something concerning a prayer request, etc. Like priests, when a person committed themselves under the Nazirite vow, they were to live a holy life of abstaining from certain things (vs. 3-8). Unlike the priests, the Nazirite vow ceremony was recognized at the end of their dedication rather than the beginning (vs. 13-21). And in the last section of our passage, we see a benediction (prayer for God’s blessing) given to Moses to share to Aaron, his sons and to all of Israel (vs. 22-27). This is the exact benediction I close with after each of the messages I preach on Sunday’s. This benediction is a beautiful prayer request to the LORD.
Regarding application…Prayers of Blessing. Vs. 24, “The Lord bless you and keep you.” The priests prayed this prayer in the tabernacle as a blessing to God’s people. While we don’t have a tabernacle to worship in, we have the church (“house of prayer” Matthew 21:13). I’m reminded of the passage, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16b). We were reminded recently from the book of Revelation, that spiritually, we are a kingdom of priests (Revelation 1:6). When we pray, we too can bless and encourage our brothers and sisters by the name of our LORD! Question: How can you be a blessing to others today?
Vs. 2, “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body.” The rulings on purity in the camp (vs. 1-4) supplement the Leviticus readings in chapters 12-15. Question: Why the reminder? Remember, the Israelites just did a military census and the intention is to quarantine people who are sick because it could reduce the number of able bodies ready to defend. But more importantly, God dwelt among them and they were to be a holy people. Bear in mind, this is no way diminishes God’s love and care for those who were sick. The next section of our passage (vs. 5-10) deals with reparation for wrongs (Leviticus 6:1-7). A timely reminder about how we are to deal with conflict in our lives. We should make right what we did wrong. And lastly, we are presented quite dramatic procedure to determine the guilt/innocence of a wife (vs. 11-31). There are two possible situations; a wife has been unfaithful to her husband but has kept it secret; or a wife is innocent, but her husband was jealous without cause. It’s basically “he said, she said.” This is hard topic to explain for it seems very unfair in our modern time. Remember, this was a specific thing done for specific time for a specific people. In other words, this type of procedure does not apply to us today. For Bible study purposes, this difficult section of our passage is descriptive (tells us the fact) nature rather than a prescriptive (tells us the facts and then asks us to do it) nature.
Regarding application…Community Living. Even in the midst of an estimated 2 million people (give or take), there was a sense of community. The spiritual health (or lack thereof) can also affect the body of Christ today. In our ministry, we talked the past month about the importance of family and church. Our tendency in society today is to adopt individualism. Remember, people were not cast out to be forgotten in the Israelite camp. There was a process of restoration in place. This is what community/church living is about. We are affected when a person is physically, spiritually or emotionally sick in the church. Let’s continue to have a larger perspective when it comes to caring and loving those in our community!