Numbers 3:45 “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the Lord.”
This whole thing is a rather fascinating transaction. We don’t like to think of people as possessions and property, because that is slavery, but slavery was a completely accepted element of society back then. (That’s not at all to say that we should accept slavery today, but context is important in reading the Bible.) What God is saying here is that the first-born are His in a special way, whether of people or of livestock, but trying to keep that straight in terms of accounting would be an absolute mess. So, in a very logical solution, He is taking the tribe of Levi instead. It is very interesting that the numbers, even, are so close, with just over a 1% deviation, which was made up with cash. The ultimate “plague” by which the Lord liberated the Israelites from Egypt was when He took (in that case, killed) all the first-born of people and livestock. That was recent enough in their history that they couldn’t argue with His claim on their first-born, and substituting the tribe of Levi probably relieved everyone, Levites included. All of this was part of God’s provision for the nation, actually, because there needed to be a large group of people committed to transmitting the rules and regulations He was giving them for their good. We need to remember that the majority of people were probably illiterate at this point, so preserving and transmitting information required much more active participation than it does today. We just hit “save” and “send” and it’s done! The negative of that for us is that we probably internalize far less of what we hear, and even transmit, than those people did. All of this is to say that God was providing the manpower necessary to transform the Israelites into a demonstration of His reality to the world.
This applies to me to the extent that, as a pastor, I am in the position of a Levite today. That said, under the New Covenant all believers are called to draw near to God and serve Him. As was pointed out in a conference I attended recently, probably 99% of churches fail to practice, really, the Reformation concept of the priesthood of the believer. I need to do more to get this church out of that 99%, helping each believer understand that they are special to God and that He wants to use them for their blessing, the blessing of others, and for His glory. In Jesus, God gave His First-born for us, so we are His in a special way. I find that people are remarkably resistant to that idea. Either we want to run off and do our own thing, or we feel we aren’t at all worthy to be used by God – and sometimes both of those feelings at once! I am to continue to speak the truth in love so that the Holy Spirit may open their eyes to God’s plans for them, for their blessing and His glory.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for how You are firming up the message You are birthing in me for this Sunday. I pray that I would hear and obey You accurately so that Your Word would flow through me unhindered to accomplish that for which You send it, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!