Numbers 8:23

Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine. There was a threefold reason why the Levites were separated from the rest of the nation and wholly dedicated to the Lord's service. In the first place, they were to stand instead of the first-born, whom the Lord had specially claimed for himself (verses 16-18). It was judged expedient that to the service of the sanctuary one whole tribe should be dedicated, rather than individuals out of all the tribes. Secondly, the due serving of the tabernacle being much too burdensome for the single family of Aaron, their brethren of the tribe of Levi were appointed to help them. But there was a third and deeper reason. All the chosen people are the Lord's, and he claims their service. But all cannot, in person, serve him in the way of keeping the charge of the sanctuary. Some of them must be separated to this ministry. Official service is necessary under the gospel. Much more was it necessary under the law. Hence the separation of the Levites. When the time came for the Levites to enter on duty, they were set apart in a service, not so solemn indeed as the service on the occasion of Aaron's consecration, nevertheless highly impressive, and fitted to suggest many a lesson worthy to be laid to heart by us on similar occasions.

I. Let us begin by taking A GENERAL VIEW OF THIS ORDINATION SERVICE. The outstanding features were these. It took place at the door of the tabernacle and in presence of the whole congregation. The Levites being marched in, the congregation put their hands on them, q.d.: "We are thine, O Lord. Thou hast redeemed us and brought us out for thyself, to be to thee a kingdom and priests. With respect to the charge of this thy sanctuary, thou hast made choice of these our brethren to minister to thee in our stead. We freely give them up to thee, and renounce all the rightful claim we should otherwise have had upon their service in peace and war." This done, Aaron "offered" the Levites to the Lord as a "wave offering." Finally, Aaron in turn accepted the Levites as the Lord's gift to him, to aid him in the tabernacle. Who can fail to see the significance of all this? Besides suggesting

(1) how fit it is that men who are entering on a life of official service in the Church should be solemnly set apart to their office and charge, it plainly teaches

(2) that ordination to sacred office should take place in the face of the congregation. It ought not to be performed in a corner. The people are vitally interested, and have a right to be present. This is the rule, I believe, in all evangelical Churches.

(3) When a man has been set apart to sacred service, at the instance of his brethren and in their presence, a relation is formed between him and them which involves reciprocal obligation. He is to lay out his strength in their service; and they are to charge themselves with his maintenance while he does so. The people of Israel having laid their hands on the Levites, were thenceforward to communicate with them in all good things (see Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27). When Dr. Carey consented to go down into the pit of heathendom, it was only fair and just that the brethren at whose instance he went should "hold the rope," as he stipulated that they should.


1. Lustral (verse 7). First, Aaron sprinkled the Levites with water of purifying - either that described chapter 19, or, more likely, spring-water, such as was used in the laver. Then the Levites, on their part, shaved off their hair and washed their clothes, q.d.: "Lord, we are not meet for thy house and service. Holiness becometh thine house. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil. And we are unclean. But thou canst make us clean. As thou hast sprinkled our persons with clean water, so do thou remove all filthiness from our hearts. And we, for our parts, are resolved by thy grace to put away the evils of our past lives and to follow after holiness henceforward."

2. Expiatory (verses 8, 12). The Levites were to bring a sin offering for atonement; laying their hands upon it with confession of sin (see Leviticus 4). They were thus reminded of their guilt as well as impurity, and were encouraged to believe that there is forgiveness with God, on the ground of which they might hope to be accepted in their persons and service.

3. Dedicatory. The sin offering was to be followed by a burnt offering to signify that the Levites presented their whole persons to the Lord, a living sacrifice, to be employed in his service all their days. Blessed be God, we are rid of these burdensome and carnal rites. Care must be taken not to let anything like them creep again into the sanctuary. But the ideas they set forth - the great realities of purification, and pardon, and dedication - ought to be often present to our minds and hearts in the house of God. - B.

The Levites; from twenty and five years.

1. Burden-bearing.

2. Singing.

3. Study of the law, "Search the Scriptures."

4. Attendance on the ordinances of the sanctuary.


III. GOD DEMANDS THIS SERVICE WHEN IT CAN BE MOST EASILY RENDERED. He suits the burden to the back. All He asks is, that we shall do what we can.

(R. A. Griffin.)

I. THE NECESSITY OF FITNESS FOR THE DIVINE SERVICE. In learning any handicraft or trade, years are spent under instructors; for the practice of law or medicine men must have special training; and is it not important that they who engage in religious services should be qualified for such services?


1. An encouragement to persons of feeble powers and narrow opportunities to try to do good.

2. A rebuke to those who plead inability as an excuse for their indolence in religious service.

III. THE CARE OF THE GREAT MASTER FOR HIS SERVANTS. Conclusion. This subject supplies —

1. Encouragement to enter into this service. "Come thou with us," &c.

2. Encouragement to persevere in this service. A glorious reward awaits those who patiently continue in well-doing.

(W. Jones.)

1. They were to enter upon the service at twenty-five years old (ver. 24). They were not charged with the carrying of the tabernacle and the utensils of it till they were thirty years old (Numbers 4:3). But they were entered to be otherwise serviceable at twenty-five years old — a very good age for ministers to begin their public work. The work then required that strength of body, and the work now requires that maturity of judgment and staidness of behaviour which men rarely arrive at till about that age : and novices are in danger of being lifted up with pride.

2. They were to have a writ of ease at fifty years old; then they were to return from the warfare, as the phrase is (ver. 25), not cashiered with disgrace — but preferred rather to the rest, which their age required, to be loaded with the honours of their office, as hitherto they had been with the burdens of it. They shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle, to direct the junior Levites, and set them in; and they shall keep the charge, as guards upon the avenues of the tabernacle, to see that no stranger intruded, nor any person in his uncleanness; but they shall not be put upon any service which may be a fatigue to them. If God's grace provide that men shall have ability according to their work, man's prudence should take care that men have work but according to their ability. The aged are most fit for truths, and to keep the charge; the younger are most fit for work, and to do the service. "Those that have used the office of a servant well, purchase to themselves a good degree" (1 Timothy 3:13). Yet indeed gifts are not tied to ages (Job 32:9), but "all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit."

( Matthew Henry, D. D..).

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