The Consecration of the Levites

Numbers 8.

If Aaron and his sons represent the Church as a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ, the Levites are a prefiguration of the saints as set apart to God for His will and service. Read in this light, the chapter before us is full of interest and instruction; for if, on the one hand, we rejoice in the enjoyment of access (in our case) into the holiest, we must not forget, on the other, that we belong wholly to God for His service while passing through the wilderness. It is in the adjustment of these two things that so many of us fail. There are some who prize, as beyond all value, the privilege of being in the presence of God as worshippers; and there are others who count it as the highest favour that they are permitted to serve. But the perfection of the Christian life lies in the combination of the two, as exemplified, for instance, in the case of Elijah. "As the Lord of hosts liveth," he speaks, "before whom I stand." He lived within, and was thus ready to serve without. The one, therefore, who most enjoys his priestly privilege, will be the best qualified for his Master's service.

In the first place, it may be pointed out that the basis of the Lord's claim upon the Levites was the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt. If God redeems through sacrifice and judgment, He claims those whom He redeems, and hence we read, "All the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself." (v. 17.) All the firstborn among the children of Israel were thus bought with a price, the price of the blood of the Passover Lamb, type of the precious blood of Christ. From chapters 3 and 4 we learn that afterwards all the Levites were taken instead of the firstborn of the children of Israel, and that the transaction whereby the substitution was effected was so solemn and exact that the two hundred and seventy-three of the firstborn of the children of Israel, who were in excess of the number of the Levites, had all to be redeemed according to the divine estimation of their value. (See chap. 3:44-51.) Now all these things were types, and they are written for our admonition, that we may understand that we belong to the Lord, on the ground of redemption, as absolutely as the Levites did. Indeed, we can never occupy our true place until we have entered into this, and until, through grace, we have accepted the position. In saying this much, we are not speaking of "gifts," or of those who are called out for service in a special and extraordinary way, but of all Christians, all of whom alike have been redeemed, bought with a price, and who are, therefore, the Lord's servants.

In this way, then, Jehovah claimed the Levites; and we may now consider their cleansing as the qualification for their work. For if they had been divinely designated for their work they must also be divinely qualified: "Thus shall thou do unto them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean." (v. 7.) There is no mention of sprinkling with blood, as in the case of the leper (Lev. 14), because the Levites are regarded as being already on the ground of redemption, and, consequently, in a recognized relationship with God. It is a question, therefore, of purification and not of expiation, and hence of cleansing with water. In the full Christian sense water signifies death; and washing, therefore, as in the example before us, will mean the application of death to all that we are as children of Adam, so that all that is contrary to God is removed out of the way; for all that we were has come up under the eye of God for judgment in the death of Christ, and has passed away for ever, and also for faith. This is the cleansing with water - the removal of all that was offensive to God in us by the application of the water, the death of Christ. The blood has expiated our guilt, and the water has cleansed us from our sinful condition by bringing it to an end in the cross of Christ.

But in the application of this truth it goes further. There are many who rest in what is true of them before God, without knowing its practical power. The sprinkling of the Levites was done for them; but then they were themselves to carry out the application of what this signified, first to themselves, and then to all the details and surroundings of their daily lives. They were to shave, as in the case of the leper, all their flesh. No product of the flesh, however alluring it might be to the eye of man, was to escape the keen edge of the word of the cross. How much we all need to bear this prescription in mind. We are not so much in danger from the manifestly corrupt and violent manifestations of the flesh, as from those subtle forms of it which tend to commend us to others, or to give us a place of exaltation before their eyes. All the flesh must then be shaved, and daily shaved, if we desire to be kept cleansed. They were, moreover, to wash their clothes. Clothes are a figure of habits and surroundings; and it is necessary to bring all these constantly under the application of the water, if we are to be maintained before God with a good conscience, and to be found ready for His call and service. Indeed, the three things mentioned must be done before we are clean.

Next, they must be before the Lord in the conscious enjoyment of certain aspects of the life and death of Christ. "Then let them take a young bullock with his meat offering, even fine flour mingled with oil, and another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin offering." (v. 8.) Before, however, their sacrifices were offered two things had to be done. The Levites were brought by Moses "before the tabernacle of the congregation," in the presence of the whole assembly of the children of Israel; and then it is said, "And thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites: and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord." This is exceedingly beautiful, as it is also a striking exemplification of God's grace. Although chosen out of Israel for the service of the tabernacle, the whole congregation were identified with them, as shown by the laying on of their hands, and the Levites were, moreover, presented to the Lord by Aaron as the gift of the children of Israel. Belonging to Jehovah, claimed by Him on the ground of their deliverance from Egypt through judgment, He will yet receive them as the gift of His people, that they might be represented before Him in all the service of the Levites. Do we not learn that if service is individual in its responsibility to the Lord it is yet rendered on behalf, and in connection with the unity, of His people?

Called, or designated, to their special place, and presented before the Lord as the offering of Israel, they must also be before Him in the efficacy of the sacrifices which they were instructed to bring. It teaches very plainly that, apart from the sense of acceptance in Christ, no true service can be rendered. In connection with this part of their consecration their hands were to be laid upon the heads of the bullocks - one of which was for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. This action, as with the Israelites (v. 10) signified identification, but here a difference has to be noticed. Putting their hands upon the head of the sin offering transferred, so to speak, their guilt to the bullock - the bullock became identified, before it was offered, with their sin; whereas in the same action in respect of the burnt offering, the Levites became identified with all the acceptance of its sweet savour when burned upon the altar. There was thus clearance from guilt and positive acceptance. But besides these, there was the meat offering, which was offered together with the burnt offering. This signified the entire devotedness of Christ, at all costs, to the will of God through the whole of His life and up to death; and in which He is the blessed and perfect pattern of all service. There was no peace offering, as has been often observed, because it was a question of service, and not of communion.

After this manner were the Levites qualified for their position; thus they were separated "from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be Mine. And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation." (vv. 14, 15.) It is no light thing, therefore, to enter upon the Lord's service; and it may be for profit to recall the points of the instruction of the Levites. They were then designated for their work by the Lord Himself. So every true servant must be divinely marked out, and so plainly that his call will be apparent to God's people. They were wholly the Lord's. He claimed them absolutely; for they were His through redemption. In like manner now the servant must recognize that he is not his own, that he is wholly devoted to the Lord's will. No other claim, therefore, must ever be allowed to come between him and the Lord. (See Luke 9:59-62.) They were in their service the representatives of the whole assembly. In correspondence with this, the Lord commissioned His disciples when He was in their midst on the first day of the week (John 20); and they were thus to go forth, as sent by their Lord, from the assembly as the centre, and, as it were, on the assembly's behalf. Finally, the Levites were to be before God in all the value of the death of Christ and in the enjoyment of what He was as the perfect example of entire devotedness to God's glory. No one can ever serve aright if he be not in the sense of the present acceptance and favour of God, and in the enjoyment in his own soul of God's delight in His beloved Son.

One last particular remains to be observed. The Levites were given as a gift to Aaron and to his sons, for service in the tabernacle of the congregation. Regarding the Levites in this aspect as typical of all saints as servants, we learn that the Church is given to Christ for His service on the earth. Given to Him for salvation, as every believer is, we have also to remember that we are a gift to Him for His absolute disposal. Our only proper attitude, therefore, is that of Saul of Tarsus, who said, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" How precious it is to remember that we are wholly the Lord's, and that as such there is no room whatever for self-will or for man pleasing, only to labour that, whether present or absent, we may be acceptable to Him. May He vouchsafe to grant to us to be true Levites, and that in all our service we may be distinguished by that single eye to His glory which ever accompanies true and entire devotedness to Him and to His will.