TODAY’S READING: NUMBERS 3-4
In Part 1 yesterday, we saw that Jesus is the tabernacle. Also, Moses took a census of the tribes of Israel, except one. To take the census, he got one assistant from each tribe. Then, Moses registered all men who were able to go to war. Finally, Moses told the tribes to camp around the tabernacle according to their armies and their banners.
But, the Levites were excluded from the census. According to Numbers 1:50-51, God told Moses, “But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle. When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up.”
And, right in the middle of God assigning the camp positions of the 12 tribes around the tabernacle, he says that the camp of the Levites should be in the midst of the camps. (Numbers 2:17) That meant the Levites would camp closer to the tabernacle than the 12 tribes.
THE LEVITES MINISTER JESUS
While the 12 tribes camped around the tabernacle were made of men who were able to go to war, the Levites were to minister in the tabernacle. In other words, the Levites are a picture of those who minister the presence of Jesus.
In Numbers 3 and 4, the work of the Levites is described as
- Guarding (11 times)
- Service (20 times)
- Work (1 time)
- Duty (10 times)
- Bearing burdens (2 times)
- Carrying (10 times)
Particularly important are the words guard and service as these come from the root words that describe Adam’s role in the garden in Genesis 2:15, which says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
THE LEVITES WERE TAKEN INSTEAD OF THE FIRSTBORN
All the firstborn in Egypt that did not come under the blood died the night Israel left Egypt. Therefore, all the firstborn in Israel were consecrated by God to be his. But, according to Numbers 3:11-13, God said that he was going to take the entire tribe of Levi instead of the firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. Collectively, the Levites would be as the firstborn to God.
THE LEVITES WERE LISTED
Moses was told to take a census of the 12 tribes. The Hebrew word census literally means head. In Numbers 1 and 2, the idea is that Moses would count the heads in each tribe to get a number of men who were able to go to war.
But, in Numbers 1:49, God expressly told Moses not to take a census of the Levites. Instead, Moses was told to list the Levites. But, the meaning of the Hebrew word translated list is to see to, tend to, to fulfill an assigned task. The idea here is that the Levites were appointed to certain obligations, which were to minister the fabrics, frames, and furniture of the tabernacle.
SPIRITUAL VS. CARNAL
When we compare the Levites to the 12 tribes of men who are able to go to war, I believe we see a contrast between the spiritual and the carnal believer.
Numbers 1:52-53 says, “The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony.” The men who were able to go to war in the 12 tribes camped in their own camp and by their own standard, which is to say they were divided. But the Levites, camped around the tabernacle only, which is to say they gathered around the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only.
Paul describes just this in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The Corinthian church was camping according to their own camps and standards. And, it is the same today with all those who camp according to their denomination.
Later, in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul explains exactly why these divisions were happening. “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” The divisions in the Corinthian church were caused by strife and jealousy.
James 3:14-16 says that it is jealousy and selfish ambition that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. Where these two things exist, so does disorder and every vile practice. Then in James 4:1-3, James explains where quarrels and fights come from. “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder.”
Because the 12 tribes were carnal, divided according to their own camps and standards, they were men who were able to go to war.
But, the Levites camped around the tabernacle. They were not divided. In effect, they gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only. The Levites were the ones who ministered in the tabernacle. As spiritual believers, the Levites were presenting their bodies a living sacrifice. They were following what Paul said in Romans 6:13, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.”
As spiritual believers, the Levites picture those who no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh. They provide a picture of those in intimate fellowship with Christ that recognize the old has passed away and the new has come. Dwelling between the tabernacle, Jesus, and the men who were able to go to war, the carnal believer, the Levites were the spiritual believers who were given the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says of these spiritual believers, the Levites, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Jesus, the tabernacle, was the firstborn among many brethren. 1 Corinthians 15:20 says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The Levites, collectively taken as the firstborn of all Israel instead of the firstborn that opened the womb, are a picture of the spiritual believer that is a kind of firstfruits, like Christ. James 1:18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” But, the carnal believer will be made alive too, just not until Christ’s second coming. 1 Corinthians 15:23 says, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
After 40 years wandering in the wilderness, Israel finally made it to the promise land. This is a picture of the Christian that enters the rest and abundant life that Christ gives. But, the carnal believer, the men who were able to go to war, don’t make it there. Joshua 5:4, 6 says, “And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt…For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
PRIESTS DON’T GO TO WAR
The distinction of the Levites from the rest of Israel is important because today all of God’s people are priests.
1 Peter 2:9-10 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Revelation 1:6 says that Christ loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, making us priests to God. Other passages in the New Testament make it clear that all God’s people are priests. And, there are a number of passages towards the end of Isaiah that prophesy that God’s people will one day be priests.
Today, all of God’s people are priests. These people are God’s possession. The Lord says these people are His, just like He did of the Levites in Numbers.
Because God’s people are all priests today, God’s people are not numbered among those able to go out to war. Rather, God’s people proclaim the excellencies of Him who called out us out of darkness into the His marvelous light.
God’s people do not do violence but minister the very presence of Christ, proclaiming the mystery of the gospel and the power of the cross. God’s people proclaim a suffering servant, Jesus Christ, that defeated fear and death through His own death. God’s people perform the ministry of reconciliation, which is not brought about through war and violence but by loving their enemies.
This is why the weapons of God’s people are spiritual and not carnal.
Let us hear the voice of Christ and no longer be men who are able to war. Let us turn our swords into plowshares. Otherwise, we will be the carnal believer that never that enters the rest and abundant life of Christ. This should be a significant warning to who profess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that are part of the wars of this world.
So, Jesus is the tabernacle. The question is – how do we camp, how do we gather, around Jesus?
The spiritual believers, the Levites, those that are priests, gather around the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. They are followers of the Prince of Peace and obey his voice and none other. Their war is spiritual in nature and uses only spiritual weapons.
The carnal believers, the 12 tribes, are around the tabernacle but further away. They gather according to their own camps, their own standards, their own banners, their own doctrines, their own traditions, dead letters (2 Corinthians 3 and 4), their own denominations. They are spiritual infants full or strife and jealousy, which lead to fighting and wars and murder so that their desires can be fulfilled. Their wars are natural, carnal, physical and the weapons they use are the same, resulting in death.
Let us turn to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. He is the way, the truth, and the life.