SALVATION BY SUBSTITUTION
Lord, I am open to deeper biblical truths.
Read NUMBERS 3:1–13
3 This is the account of the family of Aaron and Moses at the time the Lord spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai.
2 The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 3 Those were the names of Aaron’s sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. 4 Nadab and Abihu, however, died before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai. They had no sons, so Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron.
5 The Lord said to Moses, 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him. 7 They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the tent of meeting by doing the work of the tabernacle. 8 They are to take care of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle. 9 Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him.[a] 10 Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary is to be put to death.”
11 The Lord also said to Moses, 12 “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.”
a Numbers 3:9 Most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text; some manuscripts of the Masoretic Text,
Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint (see also 8:16) to me
New International Version (NIV)
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“Bearing shame and scoffing rude, / in my place condemned he stood” (Philip P. Bliss, 1838–1876).
If you are coming to Numbers for the first time, you might be asking what relevance it contains for modern Christians. It looks, maybe, like a mere recitation of practical housekeeping details of tabernacle worship. However, as with all Scripture, golden threads of timeless truth shine through even here.
This chapter tells us about God. He is the One who is sovereign in all things and Lord—the covenant-keeping God of his people (1,13). He is the One who sets apart those for whom he has a special work (5), a work that will meet the needs of all his children (8). If we think we can approach him in any way other than that which he has commanded, we risk retribution, as the sad story of Nadab and Abihu confirms (4).
This fearsome God is also the God who redeems. The people of Israel, who have been numbered in chapter 1 and set in formation in chapter 2, have reached this point only because their merciful God redeemed them from Egypt and its bondage (13) through the death of Egypt’s firstborn. The tribe of Levi is set apart for priestly service as a substitute for the firstborn of every Israelite family. This picture of substitution is essential, not only here but throughout the Old Testament sacrificial system, as animals die in the place of sinners. Redemption and substitution find their ultimate fulfillment in the coming of Jesus, God incarnate—the Firstborn over all creation, whose death alone can make us able to serve God acceptably! If that is true of us, we need to remember that he says of us, “They are to be mine. I am the Lord” (13).
Thank You, Lord, that though You are sovereign and holy, in grace You choose sinners for salvation and service. Thank You for redemption in Christ, our substitute!
Lord, we thank You for pictures of New Testament truths placed in the Old Testament for our edification.