Wednesday, 19 February 2014

(51) February 20: Numbers 3-4 & Mark 3:22-35

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider what the various roles would have entailed.

To ponder:
The dignity of the priestly line is stressed by being given its own account. Aaron and sons are to serve as priests. Only they would survive approaching God’s sanctuary (the inner tent). Yet by reminding us of the two sons who died for not following God’s commands, future generations of priests are warned that they must take their duties very seriously indeed. God’s call affirmed that the priests were authorised by him, and so their work on behalf of the people would be effective. It also declared that the people must respect their authority. Even Christ was given authority for his priestly work by God the Father (Heb 5v4).
Aaron’s tribe, Levi, are to assist by “doing the work of the tabernacle,” with the various roles this comprises carefully delegated to specific clans. Again this displays the order implicit within God’s character. But it shows too, that organisation and delegation are fitting in the work of the church. We should note that Moses, Aaron and sons were to camp on the east of the tabernacle, once more looking towards the place of new dawn and so God’s saving work.
The Levites are taken to serve God’s tent in the place of the firstborn, who since the Passover belong to God in a special way (Ex 13v1-6). They are to be under the direction of Aaron and sons (4v27), but their chief is Eleazar, who was destined to be High Priest (3v32). They are counted and their number compared to Israel’s firstborn. Because there were less Levites, the excess had to be redeemed by payment. God is exact in his dealings with his people. All is as he determines. Some think the transference from the firstborn to the Levites implies the transference of the primary responsibility for worship from the firstborn in each household to those designated at a national level.
The Kohathites are ranked in chapter 4 before the Gershonites because they are in charge of “the most holy things” (4v4). Careful instructions are given on packing the tent when the nation is on the move, with the ark always covered. Because of God’s utter purity, to touch the holy things would mean death (4v15, 20), and the Kohathites only survive because they are Levites (4v18-19). This seems harsh, but simply reflects the reality of God’s holiness with a people who haven’t benefited from the full cleansing that comes in Christ. Moreover, it reminds us that God cannot be dishonoured or treated trivially in any way.
The “blue” cloth would have marked out the most holy things, but may also have been a reminder of the heavens (sky) and so God’s presence (see Ex 24v9-10). With the count of those serving and carrying the tabernacle numbering 8,580 (4v48), we see it was quite a task! When Israel settled in the land and the temple replaced the tabernacle, the Levites were given different tasks, such as the musical aspects of worship.

Praying it home:
Praise God for equipping the church with gifts for his service. Pray that we would use ours according to his commands, and most particularly in love (1 Cor 12-14).

Thinking further:
God’s call of only men to the priesthood rubs in an egalitarian society such as ours. However we should note that it is not simply a gender distinction: The priests are being set-apart in role and authority from the other Levites, and the Levites in turn from wider Israel. This helps us set the discussion on gender roles in a more healthy context. The fact is that although God has made all human beings equal in nature, in numerous ways he distinguishes between them in the roles and authority he grants them. No matter how much the regular Israelite might have wanted to serve as the Levites or even priests did, no matter how able he might have been at it, he was not permitted to. This did not mean he was inferior. It simply meant that God had ordered things as was his right to do, and according to his wisdom. Leviticus and Numbers teach how important it is to submit to that order where it has been established.

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