TODAY’S READING: JOSHUA 21-22
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
I believe Joshua 21 provides a picture of the Levites performing this ministry of reconciliation.
The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God’s presence in the midst of the people of Israel. During Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, the Levites were assigned the work of setting up, taking down, and ministering in the tabernacle. While Israel was continually disobedient in the wilderness, the Levites ministered God’s presence. This ministry continued once Israel entered the promised land. Therefore, the Levites were called to lead people to the presence of the Lord, to reconcile them to God.
Let’s look at the inheritance of the Levites to better understand the reconciling work of God and how we as his priests are called into the ministry of reconciliation.
CITIES: A COLONY OF HEAVEN FOR RECONCILIATION
The Levites did not inherit any of the land as a tribe. Therefore, in a sense, the Levites were sojourners in the land as they did not possess any of it. In this way, the Levites are a picture of the believers.
Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9 that believers are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Therefore, Peter urged them “as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh.” Lest we think this applies only to Jewish believers, in Revelation 1:6 John wrote the seven churches in Asia that Jesus “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”
While the Levites did not receive any land, they did inherit cities within the land. These cities are a picture of the local bodies of Christ that are spread throughout the world. Each local expression of the body of Christ can be though of as a colony of heaven.
In Philippians 3:20, Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” But, our citizenship that is in heaven is not a future, non-earthly one. Paul locates on the earth today. In Ephesians 2:19-20, he says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”
Our citizenship is in the household of God. It is this household that Hebrews 11:10 says is “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” that Abraham was seeking. Abraham was seeking it, but we have come to it. Hebrews 12:22 says, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”
It is from our citizenship in heaven, in the household of God, Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, that the disciples of Christ proclaim the excellencies of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation. It is from heaven, from these cities, that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
PASTURELANDS: FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FLESH
In addition to cities, the Levites inherited pasturelands around the cities. These pasturelands were for the feeding of their livestock.
But, what are we to learn from these pasturelands that the Levites inherited.
The Hebrew word for pasturelands is migras. This word is used 115 times in the Old Testament. Other than a few rare exceptions, migras, pasturelands, is always used in connection with the Levites and their inheritance.
The root word for migras is garas. Garas means to drive out or cast out. This word often is used in the context of people being driven out of a land. Also, the when the people are driven out there is often a loss of inheritance.
Proverbs 22:10 says, “Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.” Jude 18-19 says that scoffers follow “their own ungodly passions. It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” Jude likened scoffers to Cain who blasphemed all that he did not understand and are destroyed by all that they understand instinctively like unreasoning animals.
The pasturelands were for the keeping of unreasoning animals, scoffers. As part of the ministry of reconciliation, we do not regard these scoffers according to the flesh any more. But, the flesh – the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life – needs to be destroyed. Let’s be clear that it is not the person that is destroyed, but it is all that is of the world in them.
So, Paul says of the man practicing sexual immorality in the church, in the city, that “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5) Paul’s ultimate goal was the reconciliation of the person, not the destruction of the disobedient scoffer given over to worldly passions.
Recall how Nebuchadnezzar was cast out of his Babylon, his kingdom, and made a wild beast eating from the grass until he repented, acknowledging God. I believe this is what the pasturelands of the Levites is to teach us.
THE KOHATHITE DESCENDANTS OF AARON
The first group of Levites to receive their inheritance were the descendants of Aaron. We are told that they received 13 cities from the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. Given the meaning of the names of these tribes, we could think of this inheritance as a picture of praise for the obedience of the son of the right hand.
Throughout the Bible, the number 13 symbolizes rebellion to the law and commandments of God.
Evidence of 13 as rebellion is found in the genealogies of Genesis. Noah was the tenth man, the man of the law and commandments. Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generations.” Who was the 13th man?
- Adam begat Seth
- Seth begat Enosh
- Enosh begat Kenan
- Kenan begat Mahalalel
- Mahalalel begat Jared
- Jared begat Enoch
- Enoch begat Methuselah
- Methuselah begat Lamech
- Lamech begat Noah
- Noah begat Ham
- Ham begat Cush
- Cush begat Nimrod
Nimrod was the 13th man. Genesis 10:10-12 says, “The beginning of his [Nimrod’s] kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah, that is the great city.” Nimrod was the founder of man’s first kingdom Bablyon, which is the city pictured throughout the Bible, not just in Genesis 11, in complete rebellion to God.
Additionally, Genesis 36 tells us that there were 13 chiefs of the sons of Esau. Esau is a type of the natural man, the man in rebellion to God. And the Greek word drakon, which means dragon, is found 13 times in the New Testament, all in the book of Revelation. Of course, the dragon is Satan, from whom all rebellion comes.
Interestingly, Abram had a son, Ishmael, when he 86 years old in his rebellion to God’s command and promise. Thirteen years later, when Abram was 99 years old, God made a covenant with Abram. God changed his name to Abraham and said that every male among his household must be circumcised. Abraham’s rebellion lasted 13 years until God changed his name, in effect breathing God’s spirit into him, and commanded him to circumcise his the flesh of his foreskin, or die to him self. Therefore, after 13 years, Abraham’s rebellion was over.
That Aaron had his descendants inherited 13 cities that symbolize rebellion is fascinating. First, Aaron was himself a descendant of Kohath. The name Kohath means obedient. But, it was Aaron who made the golden calf for Israel to worship in Exodus 32. It was Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, that offered strange fire before the Lord in Leviticus 10. And, it was Korah, another descendant of Kohath, who led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16. From the son of Levi whose name meant obedience came all kinds of disobedience. God is never without irony.
Aaron’s descendants inherited their 13 cities from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. If consider the meaning of these names, then we understand that they symbolize praise for the obedience of the son of the right hand. In others words, Jesus gets the victory over our disobedience through his own obedience. This fact comes through in the names of the cities.
THE 9 CITIES OF AARON’S DESCENDANTS
Aaron’s descendants inherited nine cities from Judah and Simeon. These nine cities represent praise for obedience. The nine cities with their meanings and a scripture were:
- Hebron (also called Kiriath-arba), meaning to ally oneself, to be coupled, to join together (four-fold city). “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:5) This happens through our belief in the four-fold gospel of Christ.
- Libnah, meaning to whiten, cleanse. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
- Jattir, meaning preeminent or lofty. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1:17-18)
- Eshtemoa, meaning obedience. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
- Holon, meaning strong place, mighty place. “And raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7)
- Debir, meaning place of the word. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
- Ain, meaning spring or fountain. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:37-38)
- Juttah, to bend down or turn aside, i.e. to hear. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14)
- Beth-shemesh, house of the sun. “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:23)
Notice how many of these scriptures speak of us being joined to Christ through obedience or his will. This is work of the Spirit, which is represented by the number nine.
Matthew 27:46, 50 says, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out…And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” What was it that Jesus cried out again in the ninth hour? Luke 23:46 says, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’” Jesus released his Spirit in the ninth hour so that the Holy Spirit, God the Helper, could come to us.
Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Paul tells us that there are nine aspects to the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” The Spirit gives as he wills, or by lot. We have no say in the matter.
In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul lists nine manifestations of the Spirit:
- the utterance of wisdom
- the utterance of knowledge
- gifts of healing
- working of miracles
- ability to distinguish between spirits
- various kinds of tongues
- the interpretation of tongues
THE FOUR CITIES OF AARON’S DESCENDANTS
Aaron’s descendants inherited four cities from the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin means the son of the right hand. Therefore he represents the resurrected Jesus as do the four cities – Gibeon, Geba, Anathoth, and Almon – inherited from Benjamin.
Both Gibeon and Geba mean a high hill. But, there is a distinction between the cities.
Gibeon is associated with the wilderness. It was in the wilderness that Satan took Jesus up on a high hill to tempt him with all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8). But, Jesus rejected this temptation.
Geba, or Gibeah, was the home of Saul, Israel’s first earthly king. Of course, Jesus was the first true king. Jesus ascended to his throne from a high hill, the Mount of Olives.
Anathoth means answers or answers to prayers. In John 15:7, Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Because Jesus has ascended and on the throne, he has been given all power and authority. He can answer prayer.
Almon means hidden. Colossians 3:3 says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Because we died through baptism into his death, we are hidden with Christ in God, that is we abide in him.
One aspect of the number four is that it is the number of creation. There are four winds, four directions, four seasons, etc. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
Jesus sends us his Spirit so that we can obey. In Christ, we are a new creation. Through this combination, Jesus gives us the victory over our rebellion so that we can partake in the ministry of reconciliation with him.
THE OTHER KOHATHITES
The second group of Levites to receive their inheritance were the other Kohathites. We are told that they received 10 cities from the tribes of Ephraim, Dan, and Mannaseh. Given the meaning of the names of these tribes, this inheritance could be of as the fruitfulness of the one judged but has forgotten his hardships in his father’s house.
One meaning of the number 10 is the completeness of order. God made 10 statements to bring about creation. There were 10 generations from Adam to Noah before the flood. And, God gave 10 words or commandments of the law to Moses.
The 10 cities and their meanings that these other Kohathites inherited were:
- Shechem – shoulder
- Gezer – cut or divide
- Kibzaim – congregation; to collect, assemble, or gather
- Beth-horon – house of the hollow, place of the great cavern
- Elteke – the god of she who has vomited out
- Gibbethon – mound, height, lofty place
- Aijalon – place of gazelles, a large stag
- Gath-rimmon – pomegranate press, wine-press of the pomegranate
- Taanach – wandering through, wilderness, desert
- Gath-rimmon – pomegranate press, wine-press of the pomegranate
These ten cities tell the story of the order that Jesus brought.
He bore the cross on his shoulder. On the cross, his side was pierced, divided like Adam, so that his bride could come forth. When he was lifted, he would gather all men to him. After Jesus was lifted up, he was buried in a tomb, a cave, and went down into the grave. But, the grave could not hold him and vomited him out. Jesus then ascended to the heights to his throne with his Father. He was like a gazelle, swift and sure-footed, on the mountain of God. He entered the holy places on the mountain of God through his own blood shed in the wine-press. While we are yet wandering through the earth, Jesus has purified our conscience through his blood.
Because Jesus brought this order as God was reconciling the world through Christ, we can participate in the ministry of reconciliation with Jesus.
The third group of Levites to receive their inheritance was the Gershonites. Gershon means expelled or exiled one. So, it is no surprise that they inherited 13 cities too. We are told that they received 13 cities from the tribes of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh. Given the meaning of the names of these tribes, this inheritance could be thought of as Jesus bringing a reward and making happy the one who was wrestled but forgotten the hardships in his father’s house.
The 13 cities and their meanings that the Gershonites inherited were:
- Golan – captive, their captivity, their rejoicing
- Beeshterah – cohesiveness
- Kishion – hardness, very hard
- Daberath – the vocal conveyance of a whole message
- Jarmuth – to swell, be high or exalted
- En-gannim – gardens with fountains, fountain of the gardens
- Mishal – to ask, interrogate, or consult
- Abdon – place of work, working one
- Helkath – portion, field, possession
- Rehob – open place, open space
- Kedesh – to be holy
- Hammoth-dor – habitation of warmth
- Kartan – two cities, to meet or get together
The meaning of the names of these cities also tell a story.
Jesus led captivity captive, making us alive together with him. He replaced out hearts of stone with hearts of flesh as the Spirit dwelt within us to convey his truth. We are lifted up with Jesus, seated with him in heavenly places. The fountain of life in the garden is now within us. We can ask God about the work he created us for before the foundation of the world. We are his portion, his possession and he provides us open doors to preach the gospel. We are to be holy as he is holy. This is to love and he loves, creating a warm habitation that joins two realms, two cities, heaven and earth.
As we inherit these cities and these truths from Jesus, we are able to participate in his work of reconciliation.
The fourth group of Levites to receive their inheritance was the Merarites. Merari means my strength, which is interesting because they were responsible for carrying the frames of the tabernacle. They inherited 12 cities, and the number 12 speaks to God’s power and authority.
We are told that they received 12 cities from the tribes of Zebulun, Reuben, and Gad. Given the meaning of the names of these tribes, this inheritance could be thought of us being raised to behold the son of God’s fortune.
Here are the 12 cities and their meanings that the Merarites inherited.
- Jokneam – let the people inquire, possessed of the people
- Kartah – city
- Dimnah – dung heap, dung hill
- Nahalal – to escort, to transport, to provide, to move on further
- Bezer – fortress, gold ore, something precious that is harvested after maturation
- Jahaz – trodden down
- Kedemoth – beginnings, easternmost
- Mephaath – place of radiance
- Ramoth – high places, heights, lofty place
- Mahanaim – two camps, two hosts
- Heshbon – intelligence, invention, industry, power of reason or thinking
- Jaer – he shall help
Again, these cities help us to tell a story of our role in the ministry of reconciliation.
We inquired of a city. God moves us on from the dung hill to a fortress. Being trodden down is the just the beginning of going to a place of radiance that is high and lofty with Jesus. There the two camps – Jew and Gentile – in one Spirit, the power of our wisdom, reason, and thinking. He will help.
48 CITIES = THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION
The total number of cities that the Levites inherited was 48. These cities were scattered both in the promised land and east of the Jordan. But, the number 48 is not mentioned anywhere else in scripture.
However, all the factors of 48 reveal the ministry of reconciliation.
24 x 2 = 48
There were 12 tribes of Israel, God’s old covenant people, Jews. And, there were 12 apostles that laid the foundation for God’s new covenant people, Gentiles. That’s 24.
The number two is symbolic of union in the Bible. The two shall become one flesh.
Ephesians 2:11-16 says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
3 x 16 = 48
Three is the number of resurrection.
Almost everyone, given how often it is used in weddings, knows that 1 Corinthians 13 is about love.
Do you know many characteristics Paul lists about love in 1 Corinthians 13? 16!
- Love is patient.
- Love is kind.
- Love does not envy.
- Love does not boast.
- Love is not arrogant.
- Love is not rude.
- Love does not insist on its own way.
- Love is not irritable.
- Love is not resentful.
- Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing.
- Love rejoices with the truth.
- Love bears all things.
- Love believes all things.
- Love hopes all things.
- Love endures all things.
- Love never ends.
Agape (the noun not the verb) is the Greek word for God’s love. It is used 18 times in 1 John. But, the 16th time the noun love is used John writes, “But perfect love casts out fear.”
So, we are seeing a connection between the number 16 and the word love. But, not just any love, perfect love.
But, 16 is eight times two. Eight is the number that represents new creation. We saw that above in Leviticus 12:1-4 when it said the male child was circumcised on the eighth day. Circumcision, baptism, death to life, and old man and new man are tied together in the New Testament.
The new creation, God’s kingdom, comes to earth through Jesus. In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
What is the will of the Father? His commandments.
In Matthew 22, a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” In verses 37-40, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In the new creation (8), there are commandments (2) that must be obeyed.
The resurrection (3) gave us the Spirit, who makes it possible for us to obey to the two (2) commandments of love in the new creation (8). Multiply those together and you get 48. And, it is God’s loving kindness that draws, or reconciles, people to him.
4 x 12 = 48
Four is the number of creation. And, four is the number of the universal knowledge of Christ, as in the four-fold gospel.
The number 12 speaks to God’s power and authority.
All power and authority has been given to Jesus for him to recreated the world, reconciling it to God.
6 x 8 = 48
Six is the number of work. In six days God created the world. For six days he worked, and on the seventh day he rested.
Again, eight is the number of new creation. The work of Christ that he came into the world to is recreate the world to reconcile it to God (John 1).
The Levites’ inheritance of 48 cities and their pasturelands is all about the ministry of reconciliation.