In early times the patriarchs were priests over their own households. God's original design was that the eldest son should take his father's place as priest of the family, but the plan of God was often thwarted by the sins of the eldest son.
In the New Testament we find that some people are called of God to become apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc. Yet these people can come from all walks of life, and from every nation under the sun. However, when it came to the workers and carers of the sanctuary we find a big difference.
There were twelve tribe in Israel and God could have chosen one family from each tribe similar to what He did when Israel sent spies into the promised land. Or He could have picked a couple of families from different tribes, but He did not do either. One tribe and one tribe alone were appointed to work in and care for the sanctuary. But which of the twelve tribes was it?
I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel
instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children
of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine; Numbers 3:12.
thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and
over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it:
they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof; and they
shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle.
the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that
they may minister unto him. And they shall keep his charge, and the
charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the
congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle. And they shall keep
all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the
charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle.
And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are
wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel. Numbers 3:6-9.
Why the Levites? Well Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were all of the tribe of Levi, would this have influenced His choice? Were the Levites stronger, smarter, more diligent, or just generally better than the other tribes? No, none of these attributes influenced God's choice. He chose them because they had not taken part in the worship of the golden calf that Aaron made while Moses was up on the mountain talking to God for forty days and nights receiving all the instructions for building the temple and the Ten Commandments written on tables of stone by the finger of God (Exodus 32:26-28).
God had granted the prayer of Moses in sparing Israel from destruction,
their apostasy was to be signally punished. The lawlessness and
insubordination into which Aaron had permitted them to fall, if not
speedily crushed, would run riot in wickedness, and would involve the
nation in irretrievable ruin. By terrible severity the evil must be put
away. Standing in the gate of the camp, Moses called to the people,
'Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me.' Those who had not
joined in the apostasy were to take their position at the right of
Moses; those who were guilty but repentant, at the left. The command
was obeyed. It was found that the tribe of Levi had taken no part in
the idolatrous worship. From among other tribes there were great
numbers who, although they had sinned, now signified their repentance.
But a large company, mostly of the mixed multitude that instigated the
making of the calf, stubbornly persisted in their rebellion. In the
name of 'the Lord God of Israel,' Moses now commanded those upon his
right hand, who had kept themselves clear of idolatry, to gird on their
swords and slay all who persisted in rebellion. 'And there fell of the
people that day about three thousand men.' Without regard to position,
kindred, or friendship, the ringleaders in wickedness were cut off; but
all who repented and humbled themselves were spared.
who performed this terrible work of judgment were acting by divine
authority, executing the sentence of the King of heaven. Men are to
beware how they, in their human blindness, judge and condemn their
fellow men; but when God commands them to execute His sentence upon
iniquity, He is to be obeyed. Those who performed this painful act,
thus manifested their abhorrence of rebellion and idolatry, and
consecrated themselves more fully to the service of the true God. The
Lord honored their faithfulness by bestowing special distinction upon
the tribe of Levi.
Patriarchs and Prophetscite by E. White, page 324 par. 1 & 2.
While most of the children of Israel and the mixed multitude that accompanied them danced, feasted, and worshipped the golden calf, the tribe of Levi stood out like sore thumbs abstaining. It would not have been easy for them to stand alone. They were probably picked on, teased, maybe even threatened by the others, but they did not participate. Today, just like them, it is not easy for us to stand alone for what we believe is right. It will get even harder towards the end of time when man will make laws condemning to death those who follow God's laws. But God will not forget His faithful people, just like He did not forget the faithfulness of the Levites. In Revelation 2:10 we are admonished to be faithful unto death and God will give us a crown of life.
The Levites did not receive crowns, they received something even greater. They were the chosen tribe who were to work in and care for God's house or sanctuary. This work brought them prestige and distinction among the Israelites, but it was also a great responsibility and required steadfast faithfulness in every little detail not just in the big things.
We have an example of this when we find that two priests were killed because they offered strange or common fire before the Lord instead of lighting their censers with holy fire which God and started and was never to be let go out.
Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire
before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, andthey had no children:
and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest's office in the sight
of Aaron their father. Numbers 3:4.
To God even the little things are of great importance and we should not consider them insignificant.
Even though God chose the whole tribe for His service, different families were given different jobs. Here is a list of the different jobs and which family were to do it :-
take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from
among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the
priest's office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar,
Aaron's sons. Exodus 28:1.
are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed,
whom he consecrated to minister in the priest's office. . . . And thou
shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's
office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.
Numbers 3:3, 10.
when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down:
and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up:
and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death. And the
children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp,
and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts. But the
Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle of testimony, that there
be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel: and the
Levites shall keep the charge of the tabernacle of testimony. Numbers
when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they
shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with
it: And shall put thereon the covering of badgers' skins, and shall
spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves
thereof. And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of
blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and
covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon: And
they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with
a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put in the staves thereof. And
they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick of the
light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuffdishes, and all the
oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it: And they shall
put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers' skins,
and shall put it upon a bar. And upon the golden altar they shall
spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers' skins,
and shall put to the staves thereof: And they shall take all the
instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and
put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers'
skins, and shall put them on a bar: And they shall take away the ashes
from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon: And they shall put
upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even
the censers, the fleshhooks, and the shovels, and the basons, all the
vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of
badgers' skins, and put to the staves of it. Numbers 4:5-14.
when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and
all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after
that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not
touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the
sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation. Numbers 4:15.
is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for
burdens: And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the
tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the
badgers' skins that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of
the tabernacle of the congregation, And the hangings of the court, and
the hanging for the door of the gate of the court, which is by the
tabernacle and by the altar round about, and their cords, and all the
instruments of their service, and all that is made for them: so shall
they serve. At the appointment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the
service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burdens, and in
all their service: and ye shall appoint unto them in charge all their
burdens. This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in
the tabernacle of the congregation: and their charge shall be under the
hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. Numbers 4:24-28.
for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them after their families, by
the house of their fathers; From thirty years old and upward even unto
fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth into
the service, to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation. And
this is the charge of their burden, according to all their service in
the tabernacle of the congregation; the boards of the tabernacle, and
the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and sockets thereof, And the
pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins,
and their cords, with all their instruments, and with all their
service: and by name ye shall reckon the instruments of the charge of
their burden. Numbers 4:29-32.
Lord designated a special family of the tribe of Levi to bear the ark;
and others of the Levites were specially appointed of God to bear the
tabernacle and all its furniture, and to perform the work of setting up
and taking down the tabernacle. And if any man from curiosity or from
lack of order got out of his place and touched any part of the
sanctuary or furniture, or even came near any of the workmen, he was to
be put to death. God did not leave His holy tabernacle to be borne,
erected, and taken down, indiscriminately, by any tribe who might
choose the office; but persons were chosen who could appreciate the
sacredness of the work in which they were engaged. These men appointed
of God were directed to impress upon the people the special sacredness
of the ark and all that appertained thereunto, lest they should look
upon these things without realizing their holiness and should be cut
off from Israel. All things pertaining to the most holy place were to
be looked upon with reverence. Testimonies to the Church Vol 1 by E.
White, page 652 par. 1.
Those who disregarded God's special requirement for the movement of His holy sanctuary did so to the peril of their life. We know this because we have the record of one man's disobedience many years after the making of the sanctuary. His name was Uzzah. He reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant which the oxen had shaken, and was struck dead for his error (2 Samuel 6:3-7).
fate of Uzzah was a divine judgment upon the violation of a most
explicit command. Through Moses the Lord had given special instruction
concerning the transportation of the ark. None but the priests, the
descendants of Aaron, were to touch it, or even to look upon it
uncovered. The divine direction was, 'The sons of Kohath shall come to
bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.'
Numbers 4:15. The priests were to cover the ark, and then the
Kohathites must lift it by the staves, which were placed in rings upon
each side of the ark and were never removed. To the Gershonites and
Merarites, who had in charge the curtains and boards and pillars of the
tabernacle, Moses gave carts and oxen for the transportation of that
which was committed to them. 'But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none:
because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they
should bear upon their shoulders.' Numbers 7:9. Thus in the bringing of
the ark from Kirjath-jearim there had been a direct and inexcusable
disregard of the Lord's directions. Patriarchs and Prophets by E. G.
White, page 705.
divine direction the tribe of Levi was set apart for the service of the
sanctuary. In the earliest times every man was the priest of his own
household. In the days of Abraham the priesthood was regarded as the
birthright of the eldest son. Now, instead of the first-born of all
Israel, the Lord accepted the tribe of Levi for the work of the
sanctuary. By this signal honor He manifested His approval of their
fidelity, both in adhering to His service and in executing His
judgments when Israel apostatized in the worship of the golden calf.
The priesthood, however, was restricted to the family of Aaron. Aaron
and his sons alone were permitted to minister before the Lord; the rest
of the tribe were entrusted with the charge of the tabernacle and its
furniture, and they were to attend upon the priests in their
ministration, but they were not to sacrifice, to burn incense, or to
see the holy things till they were covered. Patriarchs and Prophets by
E. White, page 350.
© S. D. Goeldner
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