To ASSIST Aaron and his sons in their work about the sanctuary, God selected the members of the tribe of Levi, which tribe on several occasions had shown its zeal for the Lord. Originally, all the firstborn of man and beast belonged to the Lord, according to the specific command: Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsoever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is Mine. Exodus 13:2. The further explanation is given: It shall be when thy son asks thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shall say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that opens the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. Verses 14, 15.
God had graciously spared the first-born of the Israelites; yet He had slain those of Egypt. In view of this, God claimed as His, all first-born of man and beast. Those of the beasts were sacrificed to God, but those of man were dedicated to God, and a redemption sum of five shekels was paid. (Numbers 3: 46, 47)
This law of the first-born was later modified because of Israel's departure from God in dancing about and worshiping the golden calf. When Moses came down from the mount where he had received the two tables of the law containing the Ten Commandments, he saw the calf and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it. Exodus 32:19, 20. He then made a call, Who is on the Lord's side? Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. Verse 26. He then commanded the Levites to slay all the unregenerate and -rebellious among the people, which was promptly done, And there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. Verse 28.
Because the tribe of Levi responded to God's call for consecration, the Lord chose them instead of the first born. Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the chi.1dren of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord.. Numbers 3:45. As the Levites were numbered, they were found to be 22,000. (Verse 19) The first born were 273 more. (Verse 43) God asked that five shekels be given for each of these 273, a total sum of 1,365 shekels, which were given to Aaron and to his sons. (Verses 47-51) This constitutes an interesting lesson in God's keeping of accounts.
The work which the Levites were to do in the temple was to execute the service of the Lord, to do the service of the tabernacle, to keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel. Numbers 8:11; 3:7, 8. Thou shall give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel. 'Present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him. Numbers 3: 9, 6. The Levites used for this service were to be from twenty and five years old and upward . . . : and from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and they shall serve no more. Numbers 8:24, 25. After the age of fifty they could still do certain work, but no hard duty as is the meaning of service in verses 24 to 26.
The public ceremony at which God exchanged the first-born for the Levites was a beautiful and impressive one. Moses was commanded to take all the Levites to cleanse them: sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean. Verse 7. Then they were brought before the whole assembly of Israel, who were gathered at the tabernacle. Here the children of Israel were to put their hands upon the Levites: and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel that they may execute the service of the Lord. Verses 10, 11. After that Moses offered a sin and a burnt offering unto the Lord to make an atonement for the Levites. Verse 12.
These instructions given to Moses were carried out as commanded. And Moses, and Aaron, and all the congregation of Israel, did to the Levites according unto all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so did, the children of Israel unto them. And the Levites were purified, and they washed their clothes; and Aaron offered them as an offering before the Lord; and Aaron made an atonement for them lo cleanse them. And after that went the Levites in to do their service in the tabernacle of the congregation before Aaron, and before his sons: as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so did they unto them. Verses 20-22.
The words offer and offering in the verses quoted are wave and wave offering in the original. Certain offerings were waved before the Lord before they were used by the people. The offerer would take a sheaf of barley or part of the meal offering or the right shoulder of an animal, and, standing before the altar of burnt offering, present it to the Lord for His approval, slowly moving it from side to side or up and down, thereby dedicating it to the Lord.
In like manner the Israelites presented the Levites to the Lord, asking Him to accept them as their offering on their own behalf. The American Revised Version reads: Aaron shall offer the Levites before Jehovah for a wave-offering, on the behalf of the children of Israel. Numbers 8: 11, A.R.V. In this offering the Israelites said in effect. We have sinned and broken Thy covenant. We did not repent or take our stand on Thy side when the call was made. We are sorry now, and humbly beg Thy pardon. We acknowledge Thy justice in choosing the Levites instead of our firstborn. We are not worthy to serve Thee or to minister in Thy Tabernacle. We present the Levites on our behalf. Accept them, 0 Lord, as our offering.
God had wanted to make Israel a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. Exodus 19:6. The special prerogative of priests is that they may draw near to God. When God spoke to them, the people removed, and stood afar off. Exodus 20:18. In thus separating themselves from God, in asking Moses to speak to them instead of the Lord, in dancing before the golden calf, they had rejected the offer of God to make them a, kingdom of priests, and had broken the covenant. Now God rejected them, and instead of the whole nation's being a kingdom of priests, the tribe of Levi was chosen for that honor.
But God did not forsake His people. In accepting the Levites on the behalf of the people, He accepted Israel. Henceforth Israel might approach God through the ministration of those whom God had appointed for the service. Aaron and his sons were of the tribe of Levi. So, of course, were the Levites. God would now deal with the men of the tribe of Levi. No one else might come before Him in the sanctuary. But Israel was not excluded from God. He would accept them as in penitence they brought their offerings to His court. There the priests would minister for them; they would take the blood and place it on the horns of the altar; they would appear in the holy place and offer up prayers as the sacred incense ascended. They would take upon themselves the sin of the penitent and make atonement for it; and in the person of the high priest they would even appear before the mercy scat of God to have sins blotted out. All this they accepted as they placed their hands upon the Levites and offered them before God on their own behalf. Through the sacrificial service and the ministration of the priests, they were restored to communion with God as in faith they offered their sacrifices, denoting trust in a Redeemer to come who could take away sin.
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