In Numbers 3 and 4, we see God turn to the tribe of Levi, laying out their specific roles and responsibilities.
Who were the Levites?
The Levites, were the tribe set apart by God to fulfill duties related to the tabernacle. All priests were Levites but not all Levites were priests.
How did the Levites come to be set apart
To understand how the Levites were chosen for this role, we have to look back to Exodus 32. Moses was on Mt. Sinai, spending forty days and nights there while receiving the commandments from God. The people grew restless in the absence of Moses and urged Aaron to build gods for them. Aaron summoned the people to give their gold and fashioned a golden calf. The people began to worship the calf and offer sacrifices to it. God knowing what the people were doing, burned with anger and was ready to destroy the people. But Moses pleads with God for the people.
When Moses comes down from the mountain and sees the people celebrating and reveling in pagan worship, he is overwhelmed with anger and says, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.”
What does Moses tell them to do?
“Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.’” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.”
This can be challenging for us to digest, when we read this harsh directive given by Moses and carried out by the Levites. But we see the severity in consequences of turning away from God and worshipping other gods/idols. The people were quick to replace God with something else that appeased their desires in that moment.
The first of the two greatest commandments mentioned by Jesus is to Love God with our all. God gave us his all when he sent his son to be a sacrifice to atone for our sins and be restored to him. God deserves our all. The Levites proved their obedience in working towards keeping God in his rightful place among the people and we read on in response to their actions they were set apart. Exodus 32:29 “Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”
We have seen through the start of Numbers the desire for God to be in the very centre of His people’s lives. Through this story in Exodus, we are again reminded of the importance the Lord attributes towards His place in the Israelites lives and their worship of Him. His holiness and place are not to be treated lightly or traded easily.
Reverence in Worship
Getting back to Numbers 3, we read that Moses and Aaron were from the tribe of Levi. God tells Moses that the entire tribe of Levi were to be assigned to the ordained priests, Aaron, and his sons. And they were to serve the needs of the people and do the work related to the tabernacle.
Numbers 3: 2-4 “The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Those were the names of Aaron’s sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. Nadab and Abihu, however, died before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai. They had no sons, so Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron.”
The unauthorised fire is not further explained, but we understand that it was not approved by God. Nadab and Abihu, being priests would have thoroughly known how God was to be approached and worshipped. Were they callous, probably.
Approaching a Holy God requires a reverence that was translated through carrying out specific instructions for worship. It was not a maybe when you feel like it you can do it my way. We again see here that God takes very seriously his holiness and how he is worshipped. God knew what was needed to bridge that gap to approach him then, and He made a way for us now through Jesus.
How do we approach the privilege of worshipping a Holy God? Are we callous with His gift of grace? Do we do things sometimes his way and sometimes our way, taking His grace and mercy for granted? Or are we living with a profound sense of awareness of the magnitude of what we received? Our lives are meant to be a form of worship to Him. Through Jesus, we receive grace and a mercy that does not necessitate perfection from us, but God knows our hearts and our motives.
As we grasp the Holiness of God, it should make us reflect on our attitude and conduct as we worship Him. The appropriate response to the holiness of God is a fear and reverence, and the outworking of that fear and reverence is obedience.
Interdependence and a Heart of servitude
In the remainder of chapter 3 and 4, we see God command a census of all the first-born Levites one month and older. We go onto read that each clan within the Levites were given specific instruction of their roles.
Each clan of the Levites had to work together, there was an interdependence to make it all come together as they fulfilled their respective responsibilities so that the people of Israel could worship God and bring their life into line with God’s law and purposes. So rather than seeing their role as superior because they got to look after the tabernacle, it was a role that was in servitude to the people for God.
As followers of Christ, we do not need specific people to enable us to approach him, we all stand before him with the privilege of reaching out to Him. But as we serve him in whatever capacity, may we never assume that the privilege we have makes us more important or special, but it is to enable those around us to draw closer to God.
Heavenly Father, may we always remember that you are Holy and that is not to be regarded callously because you have made yourself approachable through Jesus. But you are to be revered and worshipped. May we always with humility serve and worship you, remembering that our service is to not make us feel superior or special, but it is to enable the body of Christ to draw closer to you and for those who do not know you, to see a glimpse of a life with you.