From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 3

The s word, toledowth[1], (translated “These are the generations of”) is used here in a technical sense and refers to what follows. The word toledowth marks a new departure looking down to the course of history. The account of Moses and Aaron was the beginning of vast influences that would move downward throughout the progression of history. The focus shifted from the greater to the lessor – from Moses to Aaron[2].

The narrator listed the family tree of Aaron and Moses as it stood when Moses was on the mountain top with Yahweh. He recorded the names of Aaron’s sons and the account of how the two oldest – anointed priests of Yahweh, Aaron’s sons, died when they offered unauthorized fire to him right after their dedication as priests. Since they died without male heirs their brothers Eleazar and Ithamar were left to serve alone during Aaron’s lifetime. The call of the priests was exclusively for Aaron’s descendants. It is important to remember that the priests were only one small family of the descendants of Levi. Priests and Levites were not one and the same. The fact that Aaron and his sons were anointed with the same oil as the tabernacle furniture demonstrated that the priesthood shared the holiness of the tabernacle. The function of the priests was predominantly focused on offering sacrifices on the altar including sprinkling the blood and burning portions of sacrifices. They also blessed the people in the name of Yahweh. These responsibilities were an important part of the formal agreement between Yahweh and Israel – the Covenant. The priests were also responsible for carrying the Chest of Atonement. “The Tribe of Levi served particular religious duties for the Israelites and had political responsibilities as well. In return, the landed tribes were expected to give tithe to support the Levites, particularly the tithe known as the ‘Maaser Rishon’. The Kohanim were the priests[3], who performed the work of holiness in the Temple.[4]” Only the descendants of Aaron could be priests. Any impostor was to be put to death as Yahweh chose Aaron and his posterities to represent him to the people and the people to him.

Yahweh told Moses to take the tribe of Levi[5] to Aaron so that they could help him. They were to work for Aaron and, through him, the whole congregation, doing the work of the Dwelling of the Tent of Meeting. They were to be full time workers responsible for the furnishings of the Dwelling and attend to its affairs as the people came to perform their duties. Each particular family of the tribe of Levi was gathered, and given its responsibility. Nothing in the holy things of Yahweh was left to chance. Every one of the people who ministered in his presence was prepared and directed by him. The service of the Levites made the work of the priests possible, and had equal value in the eyes of Yahweh. The tribe of Levi had an honored and privileged position that perpetually exempted them from military service.

Those Levites who were not priests were assigned duties connected with the tabernacle. They assisted the priests, prepared the cereal offerings, and cared for the courts and the chambers of the sanctuary. Later, the Levites were involved in interpreting the law and functioned as teachers. They were permitted to go near the sacred furniture, a privilege that distinguished them from ordinary Israelites. All Levites between the ages of twenty-five and fifty had the responsibility of caring for the tabernacle which included its dismantling, transportation, and reassembly. The Levites were able to approach the sacred furniture only when it was covered. They were supported by a tithe of the people and a tenth of the tithe was to be given to the priests.

The Levites were also Yahweh’s special people taken from among his people to stand in for every firstborn son Yahweh reminded his people that when he killed all the firstborn in Egypt, he consecrated for his own use every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They belonged to him. And then he reminded his people who he is – Yahweh, the great I AM, reality behind all reality, the eternal Supreme Being, perfect, unique and, without equal.

Yahweh’s order and organization extended to assigning certain jobs for certain people to do. The families of the Levites had certain callings they were to fulfill. There was not one man or family chosen to do everything; Yahweh gave his instruction so that his people would dependent on each other in order to accomplish the work. The family of Aaron, and Moses, were to camp on the east side of the tabernacle – closest to the entrance, which was on the east – toward the rising sun – , keeping charge of the sanctuary, to meet the needs of the children of Israel.

Yahweh told Moses to count the Levites by their ancestral families and clans. Moses counted them just as he was instructed by the mouth of Yahweh, every male a month old and older. Though they were not counted among the available soldiers, the Levites were still to be counted. They were numbered in three divisions: the Gershonites, the Kohathites, and the Merarites. The narrator listed all the leaders by name.

The families of the Gershonites[6] were to camp westward behind the tabernacle (between Judah and the tabernacle). Their duties in the Tabernacle of Meeting included the tabernacle, the tent with the skins that covered it, the screen for the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting, the screen for the door of the court, the hangings of the court around the tabernacle and the altar with their cords, and all the work in relation to them.

The families of the children of Kohath[7] were to camp on the south side between Rueben and the tabernacle. Their duties involved the Chest of Atonement, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the utensils of the sanctuary with which they ministered, the screen, and all the work relating to them. Eleazar the priest, the son of Aaron, was to have oversight over the leaders of the Levites and those who kept charge of the sanctuary.

The Merarites were to camp northward between Dan and the tabernacle. Their appointed duty was the structural aspects of the tabernacle that encompassed the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, its utensils, all the work relating to them, and the pillars of the court all around, with their sockets, their pegs, and their cords.

Yahweh calls Israel his firstborn son[8] one of the words that express his love for them. Israel has a prominent and important duty for the nations they are surrounded by. The firstborn of Israel are the link between Yahweh and the nation. So Israel, out of all nations, is designated to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation before Yahweh[9]. This is the way Yahweh sanctified Israel. Israel was taken out of Egypt to worship Yahweh[10]. He sanctified Israel because he wanted to dwell with his people[11]. He dwells in Israel and is enthroned on the praises of his people[12]. So Israel proclaimed Yahweh’s name among the nations and in the future Yahweh will use them again to declare his glory to the nations[13].[14]

Because Yahweh spared them in Egypt, the firstborn – the best and the favored – belonged to Yahweh[15]; but instead of accepting the firstborn of Israel in sacrifice, Yahweh took the tribe of Levi in their place. There were 22,273 firstborn sons in Israel; and there were only 22,000 Levite males so the extra 273 were given a monetary value and the money was given to the tabernacle as redemption money. Yahweh told Moses to take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock[16]. The extra firstborn sons of Israel were to be redeemed[17] according to the count of the two hundred and seventy-three of the firstborn of the children of Israel, who didn’t have a Levite surrogate. The redemption price was to be five sanctuary shekels (twenty gerah[18]s) for each one individually. The money was to go to Aaron and his sons[19].

Yahweh reminded Moses and his people that he is Yahweh, the great I AM – eternal, all powerful, all knowing, and all wise.

Summary of chapter 3

This is ואלה תלדות veelleh – toledowth – or the history of the lives, of the family of Aaron The generations of Aaron and Moses at the time that Moses was on the mountain with Yahweh. The tribe of Levi was set aside and appointed by Yahweh to minister to him under Aaron and his sons. They were assigned to take the place of the first-born, so Moses was commanded to number them. Gershom, Kohath, and Merari were the names of the three heads of families of the Levites. Of Gershom and his family their number, was 7,500 and their place behind the tabernacle was westward. Their chief’s name was Eliasaph and they were in charge of the tabernacle, its coverings, hangings and doors. Of Kohath and his family their number was 8,600 and their place, beside the tabernacle was southward. Their chief was Elizaphan and they were in charge of the furnishings and utensils. The chief of the Levites, Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was the overseer of all the work. Of Merari and his family their number was 6,200, their chief was Zuriel and they pitched beside the tabernacle, northward. They were in charge of the structural aspects of the tabernacle. Moses and Aaron were to camp before the tabernacle, eastward. The Levites were numbered according to the amount of all the males from a month old and upwards and was 22,000. Moses was commanded to number the first-born, and to take the Levites and their cattle, instead of the first-born of man and beast among the Israelites. Because the first-born number was 273 more than the Levites, Yahweh told Moses to take a redemption price of five shekels apiece for them for the 273 firstborn males of the Israelites over the count of the Levites. The redemption money was to be given to Aaron and his sons. Moses followed Yahweh’s instructions and gave the amount of 1,365 shekels to Aaron and his sons.

By the first century a.d. the concept of redemption had become part of the body of religious doctrines concerning the human soul in its relation to death, judgement, heaven and hell. The redemption of Israel from Egypt was a foreshadowing in history of the great act of deliverance that would be culminated at the end of history. In rabbinic expectation the Messiah would be the Redeemer of Israel, and the great Day of the Lord would be the day of redemption. Fundamental to the message of the New Testament is the announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hope and that, in him, the long-awaited redemption has arrived. Deliverance of humankind from its state of alienation from Yahweh has been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ[20]. In the New Testament, redemption requires the payment of a price, but the plight that requires such a ransom is moral not material. Humankind is held in the captivity of sin from which only the atoning death of Yeshua ha Mashiach can liberate.

As the means of redemption, the death of Yeshua provides a deliverance that involves not only forgiveness of sin[21], but also newness of life. Even though Christ’s redemptive work is perfect[22], the redemption of the believer will not be complete until the return of Christ[23]

The central theme of redemption in Scripture is that Yahweh has taken the initiative to act compassionately on behalf of those who are powerless to help themselves. The New Testament makes it clear that divine redemption includes Yahweh’s identification with humanity in its plight, and the securing of liberation of humankind through the obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Son. R. David Rightmire[24]

[25]

Prayer: Lord, I know that some of the tribe of Levi understood and drew closer to you through their service. You were their vision and their inheritance. You were the Sovereign of their hearts. I want you to be my vision – you’re the Monarch of my heart. You are my best thought, by day or by night – whether I am awake or asleep, your presence is the light at the end of all my tunnels. I want your word to be my wisdom as I walk close to you and follow your directions. You’re my great Father and I am your child. I don’t need riches or empty praise because you are my inheritance. You are first in my heart – the love of my life. You are the high King of Heaven and my treasure.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art –
thou my best thought, by day or by night;
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father; thine own may I be,
thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.

Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always;
thou and thou only first in my heart,
high King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.[26]

 

 

Things to think about

  1. The numbering, organization, and assignment of tasks for the Levites followed the numbering, organization, and assignments of the rest of the Israelites. What do you see as the most important reason for separating the two?
  2. What do you think Coffman meant when he said the focus shifted from the greater to the lessor – from Moses to Aaron?
  3. Why do you think the narrator reminded the readers about the fate of Aaron’s two oldest sons?
  4. What was the difference between the Levites and the priests?
  5. What was the job of the priests? What was the job of the Levites?
  6. Why do you think Yahweh required the rest of the nation of Israel to support the priests and Levites? Did the nation of Israel use the services of the priests and Levites? Should we all have to pay for the services we use? Why or why not?
  7. What does redemption mean to you?

 

 

[1] Following developements

[2] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/numbers-3.html

[3] Yahweh gave his word and he won’t take it back: you’re (of the Mashiach) the permanent priest, the Melchizedek priest. Psalm 110:4

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levite

[5] The firstborn of every tribe were to be “priests” of a sort but a hereditary priesthood from the family of Aaron was established and the Levites were formally set apart after the incident with the golden calf idol that the Israelites made while Moses was on the mountain top with Yahweh. The Levites didn’t take part in the idolatry, and actually killed 3,000 of those who were running wild. Exodus 32:25-29. Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of The Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, that he may bestow a blessing upon you this day.” Moses himself was from the tribe of Levi.  http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/levites.htm

[6] Aaron and his offspring, who were descended from Levi’s son Kohath were from the tribe of Gershom.

[7] All of the other descendants of Kohath ,who were not descendants of Aaron, were in charge of the most sacred parts of the Tabernacle

[8] Exodus 4:22

[9] Exodus 19:5, 6

[10] Exodus 4:23

[11] Exodus 25:8

[12] Psalm 22:3

[13] Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 11:12, 15

[14] http://www.whyisrael.org/2011/07/16/what-does-it-mean-to-be-the-firstborn-son/

[15] Exodus 22:29

[16] Exodus 15:12-15; 34:19

[17] Peter told his readers that they were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Yeshua ha Mashiach. I Peter 1:18, 19

[18] The smallest weight

[19] I Timothy 5:18 the workman is worthy of his wages; Malachi 3:8

[20] Rom 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

[21] Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Rom 6:4

[22] Hebrews 9:25-28

[23] Luke 21:28; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 4:30.

[24] http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/redeem-redemption.html

[25] http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/levites.htm

[26] http://www.hymnary.org/text/be_thou_my_vision_o_lord_of_my_heart

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