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God’s Sovereign Grace
“These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the LORD spake with Moses in mount Sinai. And these are the names of the sons of Aaron; Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest's office. And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children: and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest's office in the sight of Aaron their father…..And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them that were redeemed by the Levites: Of the firstborn of the children of Israel took he the money; a thousand three hundred and threescore and five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary: And Moses gave the money of them that were redeemed unto Aaron and to his sons, according to the word of the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Numbers 3:1-51)
It is always important to remind ourselves, as we read the Old Testament, that everything written in the Old Testament was typical and allegorical. All that is written there is for our learning, to teach us in type and picture the gospel of God, to show us Christ crucified and God’s salvation in him, by him, and with him (1 Corinthians 10:11). All the Old Testament teaches is about Christ and his work and the people for whom the work of Christ was performed.
Here, in Numbers 3, God the Holy Ghost gives us a picture of God’s sovereign grace in the Lord’s choice of the tribe of Levi to be his priesthood. We know that, because God the Spirit tells us precisely that in 1st Peter 2:1-10).
This chapter begins in a very unusual way. Aaron’s name is here mentioned before Moses’. Why? — In every other place where to the two are mentioned together (except when speaking of Aaron being older than Moses), Aaron is mentioned after Moses. Here his name is mentioned before Moses, as if giving Aaron superiority. — “These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the LORD spake with Moses in mount Sinai” (v. 1).
Aaron is here held before us in his priestly character with his priestly family. And being God’s priest, he typified our Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, a priest after the order of Melchisedec, who supersedes the law represented by Moses (Hebrews 7:12, 15-16).
Then, in verses 2-4, the Holy Spirt reminds us of Aaron’s two rebel sons, Nadab and Abihu, who died in the tabernacle because they offered strange fire to the Lord. Holding Nadab and Abihu before us, the Spirit of God gives warning. — Let no one presume to come to God with any sacrifice except that which God has given — Christ Jesus! He also tells us plainly that reprobates are sometimes found among those who are esteemed as God’s faithful servants.
The tribe of Levi was chosen of God to be his priestly tribe. To them all things pertaining to the worship and service of God were committed (vv. 5-10), just as the gospel is trusted to the hands of God’s chosen pastors and preachers, and the things of God are committed to the hands of his church and people.
The Levites were taken for the firstborn (vv. 11-15), representing both Christ who is Jehovah’s Firstborn and his church, God’s elect, which is the church of the firstborn.
It appears (vv. 16-39) that Levi was the smallest of all the tribes of Israel. So it is in all ages that “few are chosen.” God’s chosen are always in the minority, the despised few.
As Levi was accepted as a substitute for the firstborn (vv. 40-43), so Christ is accepted of God as a substitute for God’s elect; and we are accepted as God’s firstborn in union with Christ the Firstborn.
As the Levites were all redeemed by the atonement money God required (vv. 44-51), by the shekel of the sanctuary, so God’s elect are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Let me show you how his choice of Levi portrays God’s sovereign grace as it is proclaimed in the gospel.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him. And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle. And they shall keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle.” (vv. 5-8)
Here we have a picture of the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of the elect. How we ought to rejoice and give thanks to our God for his free, unconditional election! The tribe of Levi was typical of the elect both in nature and in grace. They were the priesthood. As such, they pictured the elect of God, whom Christ made righteous kings and priests unto God. That is part of our predestined conformity to Christ, who is the King of kings and the High Priest and Jehovah-tsidkenu, The Lord Our Righteousness. God’s saints, all believers, are God’s priests, a chosen generation and a royal priesthood, being made the righteousness of God in Christ.
So when we look at God dealing with Levi, we see God dealing with the sinner saved by grace and appointed to the lofty place of service unto God to offer acceptable sacrifices by Jesus Christ.
But there was nothing about Levi to give him superiority above his brethren, nothing that made him appealing to God. In fact, Levi was by nature a vile, base, depraved, murderous man. His nature was just like that of any other man. I stress this point because I want you to see the kind of people who make up God’s elect priesthood. Look at how Levi and his brother are described in Genesis 49:5-7.
“Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.”
Jacob here refers to the deceitful and murderous actions that Levi took against Shechem, the son of Hamor in Genesis 34. Shechem defiled Dinah, their sister. So Simeon and Levi, pretending to accept the men of Shechem as brethren, slaughtered all the men of the city, spoiled the city, and took Dinah home, bringing Jacob great shame and dishonor.
Simeon and Levi were wicked and cruel, deceitful and full of self-will. Jacob being set forth as a type of the Holy Lord God says that his honor could not unite with them. Nor would he enter into their secret. That is a pretty good picture of the relationship of the Holy God with sinful man. His eyes are too pure to behold evil. And he will by no means clear the guilty.
There is another man in Scripture who was widely known for his fierceness and cruelty. He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death for the gospel’s sake. He wreaked havoc in the church and went about to rid the earth of the name of Christ. He too was arrested in his career and put to the business of minding the tabernacle of God. His name was Saul of Tarsus;, and after the grace of God came upon him he wrote, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” ln another place he wrote “Unto me , who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Levi and Paul are both examples of what it takes to save cruel, fierce, wicked men. — Only the free and sovereign, omnipotent and irresistible grace of God will suffice! By nature we all have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Yet, by grace we have been made righteous priests and made fit for the service of God!
All God’s elect, like all other people, are by nature vile, God-hating rebels. Destruction and misery are in their ways. With their mouth they have used deceit. The poison of asps is under their tongues. But, glory to his name, God has visited us in sovereign mercy. By the accomplishments of his Son, he has made us priests, righteous and holy priests.
To see the glory of God’s sovereign grace, we need only to observe the change wrought in sinners by it. Look at the difference between the description of Levi’s position in nature in Genesis 34 and his position in grace in Numbers 3.
How is it that God brings such a sinner from the dunghill of fallen humanity to be seated among princes? We find the answer to that question in Numbers 8:5-7.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them. And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.”
Upon what ground can God, being just and holy, bring a wretch like Levi, such a one as you, as me, to be his honored priest? Note well that Levi did not volunteer for the job. He did not make a move toward God. By nature he wanted to be as far from God as he could get. — He was chosen by God and brought to God by God’s almighty grace, his omnipotent, irresistible, free grace (Psalms 65:4; 110:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Ephesians 2:1-10).
Levi’s self-will had no inclination toward God, no affinity to cause him to want to approach unto God. But the God of all grace had his eyes on Levi. God had both inclination and affinity toward him. And God’s self-will caused Levi to come. — “Blessed is the man whom thou chooseth and causeth to approach unto thee.” Salvation is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God who shows mercy.
Purifying, Washing, Shaving
In Numbers 8:7 we have a clear portrayal of that divine cleansing of grace that is essential to our everlasting salvation. God uses three things in the work of grace. These three things represent the work of grace. Purifying and washing and shaving picture the work of Christ in cleansing the sinner by his precious blood through his Word, and the cutting off of that which grows by nature. How wonderful the Word of God is!
“For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)
The water of purifying speaks of the work of God the Holy Ghost sprinkling our consciences with the blood of Christ, declaring us pure, righteous, holy, justified by God (Hebrews 9:8-14). When God works faith in us, that operation of God called “faith” embraces the testimony of God concerning his Son. This is the testimony of God in the hearts of his Enochs, that they please God. Yes, in Christ, by Christ, with Christ we please God (Hebrews 11:5-6).
Shaving hair off the body portrayed the believer’s renunciation of all personal righteousness, denying any merit or worth in anything and everything that comes out of man. Our righteousnesses we confess are filthy rags before God. The shaving of hair also tells us that nothing of nature is useful in the service of God. And the shaving of hair is something that has to be done continually. Even after we are made new creatures in Christ, the old hair of corruption keeps growing. The old man cannot be reformed. He must be cut off, mortified, slain!
The washing of the Levites’ clothes represented the renewing of the Holy Ghost, the new birth, righteousness imparted by grace, the new creation of grace (Hebrews 10:9-14, 18-22). One of the first lessons that the Spirit of God teaches the heaven born soul is that our nature is judged, condemned, and sentenced to death. We know that anything and everything produced by nature is condemned by God and can never be used in the service of the priesthood. That is the declaration of believer’s baptism (Romans 6:6-11; 8:12-13).
We who are God’s are purified by the blood of Christ and made righteous by our God. — Made righteous by the decree of God in predestination. — Made righteousness by the justice of God in blood redemption at Calvary. — And made righteous by the experience of his grace in the new birth, regeneration, sanctification.
The washing of the clothes is representative of self-judgment or self-condemnation, the condemnation of our nature from our own hearts. It is a personal, continual reckoning that the old man is dead. We are priests, God’s Levites. As such, we must cross the line drawn in the sand and find ourselves on the Lord’s side (Exodus 32:24-29). We must put our swords on our sides and go out to slay everything about us that would worship the golden calf, the idols manufactured by our flesh and our nature. It’s the water and the razor. It is purifying yourself even as Christ is pure, hating even the garment spotted with the flesh.
In Numbers 8:8 we see God’s acceptance of Christ and of us in, by, with, and because of Christ. — “Then let them take a young bullock with his meat offering, even fine flour mingled with oil, and another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin offering.”
Both a sin offering and a burnt offering symbolized the life of the priest. Both represented the death of Christ as the Lamb of God. Yet, each had a different distinction as to the believer’s confession of faith.
The burnt offering pictured Christ fulfilling the will of God and the voluntary sacrifice of himself for his people. It showed that Christ’s work when he was made sin for us, his death, accomplished God’s will in the salvation of the elect. This work was between God and his Son and it resulted in the full acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice, to the full satisfaction of God’s holiness, law, justice, righteousness, and truth. The fire of the burnt offering represented justice satisfied. Christ being accepted, all who were in him are accepted by God also. We are accepted in the beloved (Ephesian 1:6). Our gifts and sacrifices are accepted in him (1 Peter 2:5). And the whole life of every saved sinner is accepted by the thrice holy Lord God in Christ, because of Christ, and with Christ (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
This burnt offering pictured acceptance before God that was wholly accomplished by another. The believer placed his hands on the head of the offering but did not confess his sin. The act of placing his hands on the head of the sacrifice was identifying himself with the accomplishment or the acceptance of Christ. He was saying that the merits of the sacrifice were transferred to him. He was by this act saying that he was accepted before God. He was confessing that he was righteous before God and accepted.
The sin offering also represented the death of Christ, but differed in that it represented the sins of the believer being put away by the sacrifice of Christ. Here the believer put his hands on the head of the sacrifice to symbolize his sins being transferred to the victim.
The sin offering was a confession of sin with the knowledge that God was just to forgive sin because he had already accepted the burnt offering and accepted his chosen in it. The sin offering was for those who were already accepted through the merits of the burnt offering. Only those who are trusting the merits of Christ, believing they are accepted wholly upon those merits, are qualified to confess their sin to God who is just to forgive them.
The order of the sacrifices given in Numbers 8:12 is also instructive. — “And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and thou shalt offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, unto the LORD, to make an atonement for the Levites.” Here the sin offering is first mentioned and then the burnt offering. This is the reverse of their revelation given in Leviticus. In Leviticus we find the burnt offering in chapter 1 and the sin offering in chapter 4. This is a sweet reminder that all of salvation was accomplished by Christ alone.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Do you see the order? Our sin was transferred to Christ and made his. His righteousness is transferred to us and made ours. Sons of Levi, rejoice!
“And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.” (Malachi 2:4-6)
“And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; Who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant. They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar. Bless, LORD, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again.” (Deuteronomy 33:8-11)