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Chapter 5


Levite Labor


And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, after their families, by the house of their fathers, from thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation. This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things: And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it: And shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof. And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon: And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof. And they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick of the light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuffdishes, and all the oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it: And they shall put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put it upon a bar. And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put to the staves thereof: And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put them on a bar: And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon: And they shall put upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even the censers, the fleshhooks, and the shovels, and the basons, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of badgers’ skins, and put to the staves of it..… All those that were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chief of Israel numbered, after their families, and after the house of their fathers, From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation, even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore. According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses.(Numbers 4:1-49)


Perhaps as you read this chapter, you think as I did. — “What does this have to do with me?” May God the Holy Ghost be our teacher as I endeavor to show you what these things have to do with you and me. Remember that the tribe of Levi was taken from the tribes of Israel as Jehovah’s firstborn. The Lord God claimed the firstborn of man and beast as his own. — “Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine” (Exodus 13:2). And the Lord God says, concerning the tribe of Levi, “I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine” (Numbers 3:12). — “I have taken the Levites for all the firstborn of the children of Israel” (Numbers 8:18).


            So the Levites, being the priestly tribe in Israel, were typical of and representative of the Lord Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Firstborn, our Great High Priest. The law of the firstborn, given back in Exodus 13:12, was prophetic of the incarnation and virgin birth of our Savior. He who is born of a virgin is the only one who opened the womb by birth. Our blessed Savior, “the firstborn,” was conceived in Mary’s virgin womb by the overshadowing power of God the Holy Spirit. He opened Mary’s virgin womb when he came forth from it to accomplish our redemption. Christ, the Firstborn, is our High Priest, a Priest after the order of Melchisedec (Hebrews 5:5-10; 7:1-28).


            Without question, the Levites were also symbolic of faithful gospel preachers, those men who labor in the Word and doctrine of God, and labor in service to God’s Israel. Gospel preachers are not priests. But, like the Levites, they live to serve the house of God and the people of God. Their work, like the work of the Levites, here in Numbers 4, is a work, a burden, a load, a weight, a labor (Ephesians 4:1-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).


            And these Levites were typical of all believers. We who are God’s elect are God’s “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5-10). We are the “the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven.” As such, we are God’s Levites, God’s “royal priesthood.” Here, in Numbers 4, the Lord God tells us how we are to serve him as his “royal priesthood.


            Our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Head of the church, calls all his redeemed to his service and lays upon each one a burden which no one else can carry. It should be the joy of each believer to know what it is that his shoulders were made to bear, and gladly take up the ennobling load.


            In the moving of the tabernacle and all its belongings from place to place there was great division of labor. As we would think, the work of the Gershonites, looking after the curtains, could have easily been done by a few men. But for this task alone, 2630 were set apart. This teaches us that no work done for God is small or trifling. The packing up of the holy vessels was done by Aaron and his sons (vs. 5-15). Consecrated hands must set holy things in order. The bearers of the tabernacle and its furniture were three families of the Levites, the sons of Kohath, of Gershon, and of Merari.


Varied Work


Their work was varied. Some had one work to do and another had another work. Some carried heavy burdens and some lighter burdens. But each Levite had a specific burden, a specific work appointed to him by God.


            The sons of Merari had charge of the foundation things: sockets, pillars, boards, bars, and pins (vs. 31, 32). In setting up the tabernacle the sockets and pillars would be needed first. So the Lord God has given his church pastors who, doing the work of an evangelist, lay the foundation truth of the gospel in his house. — “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Rowland Hill rightly stated that every sermon must proclaim “The Three Rs: Ruin by the Fall, Redemption by the Blood, and Regeneration by the Holy Spirit.”


            The silver sockets speak of redemption, because they were made from the silver of the ransom price given for the souls of the people (Exodus 30:15). — Redeeming blood is the matter of first order, the matter of priority in the house of God. As almost everything in the tabernacle was sprinkled with blood, in the church of God everything is sprinkled with the sin-atoning blood of our dear Savior.


            The gospel we preach, the gospel of God, is all about blood atonement. It is a message about a past, historic event. The gospel preached by the apostles always refers to something in the past, a finished work, an accomplished deed, a completed task. This is very important. The pastness of the gospel is an essential aspect of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is the declaration of something done in the past. It is presently preached. It is presently experienced and received. And it presently saves. But it is a past, finished work which we declare in the gospel.


            In preaching the gospel, we declare specific, undeniable facts. We preach “how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” — Not just the fact that he died, but “H-O-W” he died. Whenever you think about the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, whenever you think about the atonement, four words should immediately come to mind.

1.    Sovereignty — “It pleased the LORD to bruise him!” — Our Savior was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God!

2.    Substitution — “For the transgression of my people was he stricken!” — “The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep!

3.    Satisfaction — “Propitiation!” — “Atonement!” — By his sin-atoning death, the Lord Jesus Christ fully satisfied the holiness, righteousness, justice, and wrath of God for the sins of his elect, those sinners for whom he died.

4.    Success — “He shall not fail!” — “He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied!” — The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ shall never be discouraged a miscarriage! Every sinner for whom he died upon the cursed tree shall be with him in everlasting glory. Yes, limited atonement is foundational gospel doctrine. Without it there is no gospel.


            The sons of Gershon had charge of the uniting things: coverings, curtains, and hangings (vs. 24-27). The sockets and pillars may be strong, but they would be naked and bare without the coverings and curtains. In fact, it was not a tabernacle without the coverings.


            These beautifully represent the work of the pastor, binding all together and beautifying with the coverings and hangings of order and doctrine. The coverings brought every pillar and board into union with one another. This is the work of the pastor making manifest the truth. — Ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).


            The sons of Kohath had charge of the approaching things. — “All the vessels of the sanctuary” (v. 15). The vessels placed in their position by divine order indicated the way to God. No service could be done in the tabernacle without them. All was powerless till the work of the Kohathites was finished. This, too, is the work of the faithful pastor, God’s appointed teacher in his house. These gifts belong to the church just as really as they belonged to the tabernacle. — He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4. 11, 12). — Evangelists, pastors, and teachers are all words that describe one group of men — Pastors — The Ascension Gift of Christ to His Church.


            Let no one mistake the teaching of Holy Scripture in this regard. There may be and usually are many in each local church who assist the pastor in his work. But each one who faithfully serves God’s family serves under the rule, direction, and teaching of one pastor (Hebrews 13:7, 17), God’s angel, God’s messenger, to that local church (Revelation 1:20).


Appointed Work


The work of the Levites was the work appointed to them by the Lord (vs. 1-4). No man takes this work upon himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. Imagine others making other sockets, coverings, and vessels, and setting up another tabernacle. The whole thing would only be a sham and a mockery.


            I have deliberately emphasized the place of God’s appointed pastors in his churches. I have done so because the Scriptures emphasize the work of faithful pastors and the honor they should have from the people they serve, and because the pastoral office and work is looked upon by many in the modern religious world with contempt. But these Levites were representative of all believers in this Gospel Age. If you are in Christ you are one of God’s priests, a part of his “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).


            Each of these Levites were chosen by the Lord God, just as every heaven born sinner is the object of God’s everlasting love and sovereign election (John 15:16; Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Each Levite was appointed of God to his specific work, just as you and I are appointed by our God to the work he would have us do as stewards in his house. Each one was gifted for that work to which he was appointed. And each one was ordained for a specific time of service, from 30 years old to 50 years old.


            You my brother, and you my sister, have a charge laid upon you by your God, God who gave his Son for you, gave you to his Son, and gave his Son to you. He has made you his servant and the servant of his people. As God gave the Levites to Aaron, he has given us to Christ to serve him and his people.


            Always be ready to serve him in whatever capacity he chooses to use you. And wherever it is that he is pleased to use you, serve him cheerfully and serve him faithfully.


United Workers


These Levites were united in all things. The Gershonites had no jealousy at all, although the sons of Merari commenced work before them, and took possession of the spot before they came. They all worked under one guiding will, for the honor and glory of one Lord. Their burdens were different; but their aim was one. — “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,… it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). They sought the good of the Lord’s house always. By each one using the gift entrusted to him as God’s steward, we show forth the manifold grace of God, serving Christ together (1 Peter. 4:10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-20).


John Newton rightly observed — “If two angels were to receive at the same moment a commission from God, one to go down and rule earth’s grandest empire, the other to go and sweep the streets of its meanest village, it would be a matter of entire indifference to each which service fell to his lot, the post of ruler or the post of scavenger; for the joy of the angels lies only in obedience to God’s will, and with equal joy they would lift a Lazarus in his rags to Abraham’s bosom, or be a chariot of fire to carry an Elijah home.”


Rewarded Laborers


The Levites were rewarded for their work. The Lord God made himself their portion and inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:1, 2). “I am their possession,” saith the Lord (Ezekiel 44:28). Those who consecrate themselves to the work of the Lord find their all in him. — They that wait at the altar are partakers with the altar (1 Corinthians 9:13). They that wait on the Lord are partakers with the Lord of his grace, mercy, and strength. Soon, every faithful Levite shall hear his Savior say, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:23). We shall be partakers of his life, of his work, then of his joy, and of his glory (Romans 8:17).


            I wonder what God might do with one congregation of Levites in our day. — Levites, people devoted to Christ. — Levites, people devoted to the worship and honor of God. — Levites, people devoted to God’s Israel. Spirit of God, give me more and more, every day, every hour, with every breath, to Christ as these Levites were given by God to Aaron.





Don Fortner








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