For the week of June 17, 2006 / 21 Sivan 5766
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 8:1 - 12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7
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. (Bemidbar / Numbers 8:16)
I am a Levite. At least that is what my parents told me. I don't have a certificate to prove it and the Temple records are long gone. But that is how it is done in the Jewish community. My father was a Levite and so I am a Levite. That means my children are Levites and their children will be Levites.
The tribe of Levi was given the special role as representatives of all the firstborn of Israel. Because God struck down every firstborn of the Egyptians in order to deliver Israel from slavery, all the firstborn of Israel belonged to him. Then in place of every firstborn, God took unto himself the whole tribe of Levi.
In ancient Israel, the Levites were not given territory like the other tribes, who were able to pass down their God-given land to their descendants. Instead, the Levites' inheritance was God himself (Devarim / Deuteronomy 10:9). They were to serve God primarily through caring for the sacred articles of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and later the Temple, and by assisting the priests with the sacrifices. They were also teachers and judges of the people. Under King David they became Temple musicians as well.
I often wondered what this all should mean to me and my family today. The practical role of the Levites and priests ended with the destruction of the second Temple in the year 70. In synagogue life the Levites and priests have a small, but honored, ceremonial role. For those of us who adhere to the New Covenant, it appears that we no longer have special responsibilities. For in Yeshua we are under a new priesthood (Hebrews 7:12).
Still, many years ago, I was struck by these words in the prophet Malachi:
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Malachi 3:2-4)
These words have suggested to me that perhaps God desires a special role for my tribe even in these days or the days to come. Whatever their current application, these words have encouraged me in times of hardship. Though not a pleasant thing, I welcome God's work of purification in my life.
Whether or not God has a continued role for the tribe of Levi today is of somewhat secondary importance. For the existence and calling of the tribe of Levi should speak to all of us. For Israel, Levi reminds us that our very existence is due to the special intervention of God. We are not like the other nations of the world. We will never realize the fullness of our destiny apart from our relationship to him and his call on our lives.
For all believers in Yeshua, the Levites illustrate the lives we are all called to live. We no longer belong to ourselves as if we could live any way we please (1 Corinthian 6:19). Because of Yeshua's sacrifice on our behalf, we all have been given over to God as his possession and for his service.
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