Spirit of God, as I worship you today, may I be alive to the stirrings of your Spirit in my mind and heart.
Read NUMBERS 3:1–16
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.”
14 The Lord said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, 15 “Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more.” 16 So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.
- 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)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Give thanks for Christ, our substitute.
Advertisements might say ‘accept no substitutes’, but a substitute comes off the bench in a game and transforms. Our God accepts substitutes: from the ram that replaced Isaac on Mount Moriah1 to his own Son who substitutes for us in our sinfulness. Our reading today is about substitution: the replacing of the first sons of Jewish families with the tribe of Levi. All of Israel is God’s people, but only some have a direct role in the work of the tabernacle. They represent all the people in their service of God and protect them from contact with a holy God.
These opening chapters of Numbers are concerned with imposing order on the motley crew who came out of Egypt. They are the people of the Passover, delivered from the death that came to the Egyptians. They are set in their tribal orders around the Tabernacle, with the Levites becoming a sort of cordon sanitaire to protect the whole nation from the holy presence of the Lord. Verse 4 has the stark reminder of the danger that these people were in if they defied or ignored the commands of God. The nation rejoiced in a mighty God who acted to deliver them, but now they have the transcendent God as an immanent neighbor.2 They need to make choices of obedience.
Our ‘God is [still] a consuming fire’,3 but when we approach him we also see Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant. It is the sight of his sacrifice and remembrance of him as our neighbor on earth, as well as the holiness of God, that helps us to become obedient people. We have no priestly caste to stand between us and God, but by his Spirit within us we hear the call, ‘Be holy, because I am holy’.4
What do you have in your life to remind you of the holiness of God?
My Lord and Savior, I yield myself to you. I surrender my hopes, dreams, and ambitions to you today.
1 Gen 22:1-14 2 From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Covenant and Conversation, Maggid Books, 2017, p37 3 Heb 12:29; Deut 4:24 4 1 Pet 1:16
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