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?
"And 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.
"But 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." Numbers 1:50.
"Bring 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).
"Though 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 Prophets 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.
"And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they 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 :-
"The 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).
"The 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.
"By 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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© S. D. Goeldner, February, 2011. Last updated October, 2017.
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