BIBLE STUDY SERIES #323, 324 and 325

1 February, 1998

LEVITICAL SERVICE - PART II

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which started several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has taken us through successive Scripture passages following the tribal history of God's people as Abraham's son, Isaac, and Isaac's son, Jacob (re-named Israel), became Patriarchs of the tribal nation of Israel. They moved down into Egypt, then suffered bondage there, from which The Almighty God drew them forth with great wealth, through the miracles of The Exodus. They have, more recently, formed a tribal encampment under the guidance of The Almighty God Himself, and under the supervision of God's Prophet, Moses.

Last week we made a slight digression in order to deal with a matter which has drawn some interested response, namely the matter of banners and flags of Israel, both ancient and modern, with particular attention centering upon the Union Jack. Today we revert to our study in Numbers 4, in which the various sections of the Tribe of Levi were apportioned their assignments, to be undertaken when the camp of Israel made a move from one location to another in the wilderness of Sinai. You may remember that we had previously discussed how The LORD had selected the whole of the Tribe of Levi to serve Himself in special forms of religious service, dedicated as if they were all firstborn, in the place of all the firstborn of the other Tribes of Israel. Other tribal firstborn sons were redeemed from that service through the commitment of these Levites in their places. The surplus above the total of the number of Levites had to pay a monetary amount in order to receive redemption status, and as the surplus amounted to 273, there had been a payment of 1365 sacred shekels to the Levites as compensation, as Keil and Delitzsch put it, "for the persons who properly belonged to Jehovah and had been appointed as first-born for the service of the priests.

We had then read Numbers 4:1-33, and perhaps, before we continue, it might be a good idea to see what some of the commentaries have to say on this portion of the chapter. Under the heading "Chap. iv. Rules of Service, and numbering of the Levites qualified for Service", Keil and Delitzsch state: "After the adoption of the Levites for service at the sanctuary, in the place of the first-born of Israel, Moses and Aaron mustered the three families of the Levites by the command of God for the service to be performed by those who were between the ages of 30 and 50. The particulars of the service are first of all described in detail (vers. 4-33); [that is the portion which we read two weeks ago, without comment] and then the men in each family are taken, of the specified age for service (vers. 34-49)." Let us now read those verses, which end this chapter, before continuing with the Commentary.

34. And Moses and Aaron and the chief of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites after their families, and after the house of their fathers,
35. From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation:
36. And those that were numbered of them by their families were two thousand seven hundred and fifty.
37. These were they that were numbered of the families of the Kohathites, all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, which Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
38. And those that were numbered of the sons of Gershon, throughout their families, and by the house of their fathers,
39. From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,
40. Even those that were numbered of them, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers, were two thousand and six hundred and thirty.
41. These are they that were numbered of the families of the sons of Gershon, of all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, whom Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the LORD.
42. And those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers,
43. From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,
44. Even those that were numbered of them after their families, were three thousand and two hundred.
45. These be those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
46. All those that were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chief of Israel numbered, after their families, and after the house of their fathers,
47. From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation,
48. Even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore.
49. According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Keil and Delitzsch continue: "The three families are not arranged according to the relative ages of their founders, but according to the importance or sacredness of their service. The Kohathites take the lead, because the holiest parts of the tabernacle were to be carried and kept by this family, which included the priests, Aaron and his sons. The service to be performed by each of the three Levitical families is introduced in every case by a command from God to take the sum of the men from 30 years old to 50." Here, Keil and Delitzsch begin a more detailed commentary upon parts of this chapter. At verse 2-3 they note the Hebrew word tsaba, (host) which signifies military service, and "is used here with special reference to the service of the Levites as the militia sacra of Jehovah. In verse 4, the service of the Kohathites at the tabernacle is (relates to) "the most holy"... . This term includes... the most holy things in the tabernacle, viz. the ark of the covenant, the table of shew-bread, the candlestick, the altar of incense and altar of burnt-offering, together with all the other things belonging to these. When the camp was broken up, the priests were to roll them up in wrappers, and hand them over in this state to the Kohathites, for them to carry... . First of all, Aaron and his sons were to take down the curtain between the holy place and the most holy..., and to cover the ark of testimony with it... . Over this they were to place a wrapper of sea-cow skin..., and over this again another covering of cloth made entirely of hyacinth-coloured purple... . The sea-cow skin was to protect the inner curtain, which was covered over the ark, from storm and rain; the hyacinth purple, to distinguish the ark of the covenant as the throne of the glory of Jehovah. Lastly, they were to place the staves into the rings again, that is to say, the bearing poles, which were always left in their places on the ark..., but had necessarily to be taken out while it was being covered and wrapped up... . Over the table of shew-bread... they were to spread a hyacinth cloth, to place the plates, bowls, wine-pitchers, and drink-offering bowls... upon the top of this, and to lay shew-bread thereon; and then to spread a crimson cloth over these vessels and the shew-bread, and cover this with a sea-cow skin and lastly to put the bearing poles in their places... . The candlestick, with its lamps, snuffers, extinguishers..., and all its oil-vessels (oil cans), 'wherewith they serve it,' i.e. prepare it for the holy service, were to be covered with a hyacinth cloth, and then with a wrapper of sea-cow skin, and laid upon the carriage... . So again they were to wrap up the altar of incense..., to adjust its bearing poles; and having wrapped it up in such coverings, along with the vessels belonging to it, to lay it upon the frame... . The altar of burnt-offering was first of all to be cleansed from the ashes; a crimson cloth was then to be covered over it, and the whole of the furniture belonging to it to be placed upon the top; and lastly, the whole was to be covered with a sea-cow skin. The only thing not mentioned is the copper laver... , probably because it was carried without any cover at all... . After the priests had completed the wrapping up of all these things, the Kohathites were to come up to carry them; but they were not to touch the 'holy' (the holy things), lest they should die... . The oversight of the oil for the candlestick... the incense..., the continual meat-offering..., and the anointing oil..., belonged to Eleazar as the head of all the Levites... .He had also the oversight of the dwelling and all the holy things and furniture belonging to it; and, as a comparison of vers. 28 and 33 clearly shows, of the services of the Kohathites also... . In order to prevent as far as possible any calamity from befalling the Levites while carrying the most holy things, the priests are again urged by the command of God to do what has already been described in detail... lest through any carelessness on their part they should cut off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites, i.e. should cause their destruction; viz. if they should approach the holy things before they had been wrapped up by Aaron and his sons in the manner prescribed and handed over to them to carry. If the Kohathites should come for only a single moment to look at the holy things, they would die... ."

This comment brings us to the details concerning the service of the next group of Levites, namely the Gershonites, which we shall have to leave for a later study.

8 February, 1998

LEVITICAL SERVICE - PART III

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which started several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has taken us through successive Scripture passages following the tribal history of God's people as Abraham's son, Isaac, and Isaac's son, Jacob (re-named Israel), became Patriarchs of the tribal nation of Israel. They moved to Egypt where they became multitudinous, and later experienced bondage from which The Almighty God drew them forth into the wilderness of Sinai in The Exodus. The Tribe of Levi, assigned the central position in the Camp, surrounding The Tabernacle, is being given further detailed assignments through Moses, and we saw, last week, how this applied to the section of Levi called the Kohathites.

Today's Scripture reading comes from Numbers 4:38-49, a passage which deals with those assignments which Moses is to give to two other portions of the Tribe of Levi, namely, those descended of Gershon and those of Merari. We read this passage last week, but we had not the time to make the usual comments thereon at that time. Today, I think that I might just review those verses, and then we shall consider what is contained therein.

Gershon's sons had been numbered, from thirty years old to fifty years old, and the number of those who were numbered of the sons of Gershon, throughout their families, and by the house of their fathers, "every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation", were two thousand and six hundred and thirty. These are they that were numbered by Moses and Aaron "according to the commandment of the LORD." Of the families of the sons of Merari, "throughout their families, by the house of their fathers", we learned that those between the ages of thirty and fifty, who would be assigned to the service of the Tabernacle, were three thousand and two hundred. The Scripture passage continues: "All those that were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chief of Israel numbered, after their families, and after the house of their fathers, from thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation, even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore" and the passage concluded "According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses."

Here we may, once again, benefit from reading the comments prepared by Keil and Delitzsch. That commentary states this of verses 34-49: "Completion of the prescribed mustering, and statement of the number of men qualified for service in the three Levitical families: viz 2750 Kohathites, 2630 Gershonites, and 3200 Merarites - in all, 8580 Levites fit for service: a number which bears a just proportion to the total number of male Levites of a month old and upwards, viz 22,000... - ver. 49 'According to the commandment of Jehovah, they appointed them through the hand of Moses (i.e. under his direction), each one to his service, and his burden, and his mustered things i.e. the things assigned to him at the time of the mustering as his special charge.'" It seems, therefore, that each task was assigned to a specific man or squad of men.

Here, we might pause to contemplate a possible spiritual sequel to this arrangement. When we stop to consider the oversight which Our LORD has over His Great Plan stretching down the vast details of the whole corridor of time and the total history of mankind, we will be in a position to better evaluate what may be our own part in life, as people who have accepted the claim of Our LORD upon our own lives. As St. Paul indicated, in I Corinthians 10:6, when he wrote to those in Corinth of their Israelite ancestors during The Exodus, and the wanderings of their camp in the wilderness: "Now these things were our examples... ."

As each of those Levites in the wilderness of Sinai, who were in their active working years, were given particular assignments which were their special responsibility in regard to the movement of The Tabernacle, in company with the tribes as God took them from encampment to encampment, so we, who have undertaken to bring our lives into accord with God's will through the sacrifice given for us on Calvary, must become aware of that particular service to which He may now be directing our attention. Our own lives and our efforts may be regarded as having been set among others, our neighbours, our work-mates and friends, to whom we may have been assigned for some particular service. Just as the tasks were considered "burdens" in the physical sense of transport of materials from camp to camp, we may have been assigned some "burden" of a different sort, but one which will serve to carry forward the spiritual task which might correspond to that of the Levites of old time. Doubtless God has some specific task of some Christian nature for each person and we must open ourselves to that possible occupation which corresponds to the movement of the focal point of national worship in that Israelite trek so long ago.

If one of those Levites shirked his responsibility, then the Tabernacle, when set up in the new location, would be missing some vital component, or else some other Levite would have had the added burden of covering for him by taking up his burden in addition to his own. As we never read of any part of the Tabernacle being left behind, we must assume that every item was transported with the utmost care and reverence when the order was given, and we would remember in that connection that God would certainly have had something to say to Moses and Aaron, should there have been any oversight. Indeed, in those days, the honour of being a part of the elect company that bore these sacred things would insure that nothing was left behind. Today, we have as great an honour and responsibility in regard to the contacts which we have daily in our own lives, and we must ask ourselves if we are "leaving anything behind" in doing our service before The Almighty.

We might just close our examination of this chapter 4 of the Book of Numbers by reading the closing portion of the commentary found in The New Bible Commentary. It states: "With this section we conclude the portion of the book which has led to the misleading title in Greek and in English. Only in these four chapters and in chapter xxvi do we find long lists of numbers. These numbers have sometimes been a cause of difficulty in accepting the narrative as true. It is asked how so many Levites could be occupied with the care of the tabernacle. While 8,580 men may seem a large number to be set aside for this task, we must remember that it was not only a matter of caring for the tabernacle, but also of setting apart a group to represent God in all the various sections of Palestine after the conquest. Moreover, although this section deals principally with the work of moving the tabernacle, there were doubtless many other duties to be performed while staying in one place and directing the religious life of a nation so large as to include 603,550 fighting men (i. 46)... ."

There is yet another extension for our consideration. As we of the British-Israel-World Federation continually assert, the actual descendants of all these ancient Israelites are alive today, and we perceive them to be found mainly among the generally Anglo-Celto-Saxon and related kinsfolk nations of the world. These also must contain Levites, as did the ancient Israelite encampment, for Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 33:17-18, was instructed by The Almighty God:

17. For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;
18. Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.
19. And the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, saying,
20. Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season;
21. Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers.
22. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me.

Noting that the sacrifices mentioned continue into the Christian era through the identification of Jesus as our perfect sacrifice, which is the culmination of all the Old Testament sacrificial ceremonies, we nevertheless have God's priests as ministers to perpetuate this promise in its grand and perfected form through the communion service with its bread and wine commemoration of the same. Thus Levites merge into Ministers, but God's word cannot be broken. Nor is it, as we understand the matter.

15 February, 1998

LEVITICAL SERVICE - PART IV

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which started several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has taken us through successive Scripture passages following the tribal history of God's people as Abraham's son, Isaac, and Isaac's son, Jacob (re-named Israel), became Patriarchs of the tribal nation of Israel. The tribal family moved to Egypt where they became multitudinous, and later experienced bondage from which The Almighty God drew them forth into the wilderness of Sinai through the miracles of The Exodus.

We had come to Numbers 5, a chapter in which several things in the nature of contamination within the camp are addressed. First, there is the matter of leprosy, which, though curable today with the proper treatment, was so incurable in ancient times that it became a symbol in the medical context for the incurable nature of sin itself, apart from that provision which The Almighty would provide in the later gracious act of love in Jesus Christ, through His Crucifixion.

Then there is the matter of a sin regarding some trespass, as the AV translates it, for which a penalty must be paid. We shall read the Scripture passage forming the basis for that short study. The rest of the chapter pertains to the matter of a married woman accused of sexual unfaithfulness. This last is explained at greater length than the other matters, but as it relates to a judgment rendered by Jesus during the years of His First Advent, I think that it may merit more than a few minutes in order to do justice to the topic and we may not do more than make preliminary reference to that aspect of the chapter today. Under the heading "Removal of Uncleanness And Defilement from the Camp", The New Bible Commentary notes: "This section has three parts, each of which is concerned with a specific type of evil which must be eradicated from the camp, if God's blessing is to remain upon it. The first of these involves people who are hygienically or ceremonially defiled. The second deals with defilement which results from theft or injury to others. The third relates to matrimonial jealousy whether justified or not." Let us read the Scripture portions relating to the first and the second of these topics, and add thereto some words of comment from Keil and Delitzsch, and from The New Bible Commentary. Numbers 5:1-4 state:

1. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2. Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead:
3. Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell.
4. And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the LORD spake unto Moses, so did the children of Israel.

Under the heading "Removal of defiled persons", The New Bible Commentary note says: "Commands are given for removal outside the camp of three classes of people: lepers, persons with certain other diseases and persons who are temporarily unclean as a result of touching a dead body. This removal was vital to the Israelites in the wilderness both from a hygienic and from a ceremonial viewpoint. Touching a dead body made one ritually unclean. God wished to indicate that His people should be completely separate from sin and defilement. In addition there was a hygienic purpose, to hinder the spread of disease. It was also important to make a sharp break, in order that people should recognize that when a person has died the spirit has gone to be with the Lord, and the body is no longer something beautiful, but rather something that is laid aside. This would prevent wrong attitudes toward the dead."

At this passage, under the heading "Removal of Unclean Persons out of the Camp", Keil and Delitzsch state: "As Jehovah, the Holy One, dwelt in the midst of the camp of His people, those who were affected with the uncleanness of leprosy (Lev. xiii.), of a diseased flux, or of menstruation (Lev. xv. 2 sqq., 19 sqq.), and those who had become unclean through touching a corpse... , whether male or female, were to be removed out of the camp, that they might not defile it by their uncleanness. The command of God to remove these persons out of the camp, was carried out at once by the nation; and even in Canaan it was so far observed, that lepers at any rate were placed in special pest-houses outside the cities... ." The second item relates to Numbers 5:5-10, which states:

5. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
6. Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the LORD, and that person be guilty;
7. Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed.
8. But if the man have no kinsman to recompense the trespass unto, let the trespass be recompensed unto the LORD, even to the priest; beside the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made for him.
9. And every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his.
10. And every man's hallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth the priest, it shall be his.

Here, under the heading "Restitution in case of a Trespass", Keil and Delitzsch make these statements: "No crime against the property of a neighbour was to remain without expiation in the congregation of Israel, which was encamped or dwelt around the sanctuary of Jehovah; and the wrong committed was not to remain without restitution, because such crimes involved unfaithfulness... towards Jehovah." After quoting the words of the passage in a simplified translation, and making clear that this pertains to a sin occurring among men which is not a sin against a man, they clarify this. The meaning relates to "one of the acts described in Lev. v. 21, 22, by which injury was done to the property of a neighbour, whereby a man brought a debt upon himself, for the wiping out of which a material restitution of the other's property was prescribed, together with the addition of a fifth of its value, and also the presentation of a sin offering (Lev. v. 23-26). To guard against that disturbance of fellowship and peace in the congregation, which would arise from such trespasses as these, the law already given in Lev. v. 20 is here renewed and supplemented by the additional stipulation, that if the man who had been unjustly deprived of some of his property had no 'Goel', to whom restitution could be made for the debt, the compensation should be paid to Jehovah for the priests. The 'Goel' was the nearest relative, upon whom the obligation rested to redeem a person who had fallen into slavery through poverty (Lev. xxv. 25). The allusion to the 'Goel' in this connection presupposes that the injured person was no longer alive. To this there are appended, in vers. 9 and 10, the directions which are substantially connected with this, viz. that every heave-offering (terumah, see at Lev. ii. 9) in the holy gifts of the children of Israel, which they presented to the priest, was to belong to him (the priest), and also all the holy gifts which were brought by different individuals. The reference is not to literal sacrifices, i.e. gifts intended for the altar, but to dedicatory offerings, first-fruits, and such like... ."

The New Bible Commentary says "The law given here presupposes the portion of the permanent priestly law contained in Lv. vi. 1-7. Full details are not now repeated, but the penalties of the law are restated in order to ensure removal of this type of defilement from the camp. A new feature is also added, providing for a special situation which might occasionally arise. Suppose that the man against whom the trespass has been committed can no longer be found and that there is no kinsman who would have the right to receive what is due him. In such a case the trespass and the accompanying penalties must be paid to the priest, as the Lord's representative. In order to avoid any misunderstanding verses 9-10 state plainly that the offerings and other things given become the property of the priest." Here is a lesson for the Christian. He should have absolute probity in his dealings with all men. If he has defrauded and injured others before he was won to the Lord, it is his duty to make full restitution, as far as possible.

We shall have to leave the third portion of Numbers 5 for separate consideration on the next study. However, we have sufficient to consider as a meditation in what we have already covered today, and I shall leave the thought with you that God is the same yesterday, today, and for ever, and thus His law still stands as the guideline for our conduct with our neighbours and ourselves even to this very hour.

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