Partners in the work

Slices

Prepare

Think of your church and all those involved in ‘behind the scenes’ work – cleaners, caterers, administrators, pastoral carers. Give thanks for each one involved and the contribution they make.  
 

Bible passage

Numbers 7:89–8:26

89 When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.

Setting up the lamps

8 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand.”’

Aaron did so; he set up the lamps so that they faced forwards on the lampstand, just as the Lord commanded Moses. This is how the lampstand was made: it was made of hammered gold – from its base to its blossoms. The lampstand was made exactly like the pattern the Lord had shown Moses.

The setting apart of the Levites

The Lord said to Moses: ‘Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean. To purify them, do this: sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then make them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves. Make them take a young bull with its grain offering of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering. Bring the Levites to the front of the tent of meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community. 10 You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. 11 Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord.

12 ‘Then the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, using one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. 13 Make the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. 14 In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine.

15 ‘After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the tent of meeting. 16 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. 17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. 18 And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. 19 From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.’

20 Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. 21 The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the Lord and made atonement for them to purify them. 22 After that, the Levites came to do their work at the tent of meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses.

23 The Lord said to Moses, 24 ‘This applies to the Levites: men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their usual duties and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.’

Word Live 138

Explore

The Israelite camp has been set in order. God is with his people. Preparations commence for worship. First the setting up of lamps in the tabernacle (vs 1–4). Light for the priests as they do their work. Next, the dedication of the Levites. They are ceremonially cleansed (vs 5–7), then set apart by the laying on of hands (v 10). The Levites are to take the place of the firstborn Israelites in serving God at the sanctuary (v 18). They are God’s ‘gifts’ to Aaron and his fellow priests (v 19).  

For busy priests, burdened with the work of offering daily sacrifices, the support of the Levites was vital. Time-consuming duties made easier by their faithful service. It is still the case today. All churches today need people such as this, willing to take on ‘backroom’ tasks enabling pastors to focus on ministries of word and prayer (Acts 6:4). Paul speaks of such people as partners in the gospel (Philippians 1:5). For them it is not about being in the limelight but, like the Levites, simply the privilege of doing God’s work whatever it might be. 

Author
Richard Trist

Respond

A wise minister once told me: ‘People come to church for all sorts of reasons but only stay for two – roles and relationships.’ What roles are currently needed in your church family? Who can you encourage to be involved? 

Deeper Bible study

Rejoice that we have a God who speaks to us and whose word we can hear today.

Throughout this passage we have the repeated note that everything was done as God had instructed Moses. The task of worship was committed to Aaron and other priests and Levites, but hearing and proclaiming God’s word was the task of Moses. We have a living God who speaks to his people and wants them to live according to his revealed word. There were in the tabernacle symbolic representations of the nature of God, like the lamps which were always burning, but the prime manifestation of God was when he spoke. That word was heard at the place where atonement was made for the people.

We have earlier (in chapters 3 and 4) seen the designation of the different tasks of the Levites. Now they are set apart for their ministry. They must be purified, both physically and with offerings for their sins. Their role as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel is symbolised by the hands of the people upon them. They are presented as an offering to God to be a living sacrifice1 – which under the new covenant can be applied to all God’s people who serve our Lord Jesus Christ, who is both our substitute and the temple in which we worship.2

Alongside the spiritual, ritualistic and symbolic significance of the Levites, we also have the strictly practical. There is an appointed age range during which Levites are to be acting in ministry: 25–50, the prime years of a man’s life. Immaturity has passed and they are ready to take responsibility seriously. And then at 50, when strength is lessening and others are ready to carry the daily burden, they are to retire. But the difficulty of retiring is recognised in that they may still assist. Finish well! 

Consider how you are a living sacrifice, day by day.

1Rom 12:1  2John 2:21; 4:21–24

Author
Ray Porter

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year: Exodus 5,6; Matthew 20

Pray for Scripture Union

Mission Enabler Toby Chant is excited about working with new Faith Guides in St Austell and Liskeard, and about relationships in Polzeath and Wadebridge that have come from the beach mission in Polzeath. Pray for him as he continues to develop the work in Cornwall.

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