The God Behind the Blessings

“Let Reuben live, and not die,
    but let his men be few.”

And this he said of Judah:

“Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah,
    and bring him in to his people.
With your hands contend for him,
    and be a help against his adversaries.”

And of Levi he said,

“Give to Levi your Thummim,
    and your Urim to your godly one,
whom you tested at Massah,
    with whom you quarreled at the waters of Meribah;
who said of his father and mother,
    ‘I regard them not’;
he disowned his brothers
    and ignored his children.
For they observed your word
    and kept your covenant.
10 They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.
11 Bless, O Lord, his substance,
    and accept the work of his hands;
crush the loins of his adversaries,
    of those who hate him, that they rise not again.” Deuteronomy 33:6-11 ESV

Moses begins his pronouncement of blessings on the 12 tribes with Reuben. This is in keeping with Reuben’s position as the first-born son of Jacob. And Moses seems to echo the sentiments of Jacob when he bestowed the following blessing on Reuben hundreds of years earlier:

“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength,
    the child of my vigorous youth.
    You are first in rank and first in power.
But you are as unruly as a flood,
    and you will be first no longer.
For you went to bed with my wife;
    you defiled my marriage couch.” – Genesis 49:3-4 NLT

Reuben had sinned against his father and against God, having slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah. This was a crime punishable by death, and yet, Reuben was allowed to live. But as the words of Jacob reveal, Reuben and his descendants would pay for dearly for his sin. The Reubenites would be one of three tribes who asked for and receive land on the east side of the Jordan, choosing to settle outside the land of promise. In time, they would lose their prestige, fading in prominence and number. It is interesting to note that the tribe of Reuben produced no judges, prophets, or rulers. In spite of his sin, Reuben was allowed to live, but his descendants would never enjoy fulness of life.

Moses deviates from Jacob’s order of blessings by skipping over the tribes of Simeon and Levi and focusing on Judah. And Moses’ blessing, while shorter in length, contains some of the same thoughts as those expressed by Jacob. Both men saw Judah as the preeminent tribe among the 12. Jacob had predicted Judah’s rise to prominence, describing his son as a young lion that grabs its enemies by the neck. Jacob mentions the king’s scepter and the ruler’s staff, symbols of power and authority, and states that from this tribe will come one to whom these things rightfully belong.

“Judah, your brothers will praise you.
    You will grasp your enemies by the neck.
    All your relatives will bow before you.
Judah, my son, is a young lion
    that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.
He ties his foal to a grapevine,
    the colt of his donkey to a choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine,
    his robes in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth are whiter than milk.” – Genesis 49:8-12 NLT

This prophetic statement concerns the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah and was a descendant of King David. The scepter and the ruler’s staff belong to Him. And in John’s vision of Jesus recorded in the book of Revelation, he describes Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5 ESV). Obviously, the tribe of Judah would play a significant role in God’s plan of redemption for the world. It would be through this tribe that the Savior would come. And Moses, seeming to understand the future significance of this tribe, pronounces a blessing, asking God to protect and provide for them.

The great king David would come from the tribe of Judah. And it would be he who elevated the nation of Israel to greatness, establishing them as a major political and military force in that region of the world. And after God eventually divided the kingdom of Israel in half, the southern portion would take on the name of Judah, further enhancing this tribe’s prominence among the 12.

Next, Moses turns his attention to the tribe of Levi, and he has much more to say about this tribe than Jacob did. Not only that, his words concerning Levi are much more positive than those of Jacob.

“Simeon and Levi are two of a kind;
    their weapons are instruments of violence.
May I never join in their meetings;
    may I never be a party to their plans.
For in their anger they murdered men,
    and they crippled oxen just for sport.
A curse on their anger, for it is fierce;
    a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob;
    I will disperse them throughout Israel.” – Genesis 49:5-7 NLT

Jacob had a reason to be upset with these two sons. They had brought shame to the house of Jacob by their deceitful treatment of the Hivites. The story is a complicated one, but involves the rape of their sister, Dinah, by “Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land” (Genesis 34:2 ESV). Rather than seeking revenge for the rape of his daughter, Jacob determined to make a treaty with the Hivites, agreeing to allow intermarriage between their two nations, in direct violation of God’s command. Jacob’s sons demanded that Jacob require the circumcision of all the males among the Hivites as part of the agreement. When the Hivites had agreed and followed through on their commitment to be circumcised, Levi and Simeon “took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males” (Genesis 34:25 ESV). And rather than bless them, Jacob had issued a curse, predicting their ultimate dispersal among the rest of the tribes of Israel. And little did he know, that is exactly what would happen. But not as he suspected.

The book of Exodus records a seminal event in the history of Israel. Moses had been on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God when he received the news from God that things were not going well back in the camp of Israel. Moses descended the mountain only to find the people of Israel reveling before the golden calf they had constructed in his absence. While he had been on Sinai receiving God’s law, the people had been in the valley worshiping a false god they had made with their own hands. After destroying the idol they had made, Moses turned his anger against the people of Israel.

So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.

Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” – Exodus 32:26-29 NLT

The tribe of Levi stepped up and used their swords to defend the integrity of God’s name and mete out His justice and judgment against all those who had participated in the idolatry and spiritual adultery. And as a result of their efforts, the Levites were set apart for the service of the Lord. They would become the priestly order, tasked with representing the rest of the tribes before the Lord and for the care and transport of the tabernacle. And when the nation of Israel conquered the land of Canaan, the Levites would not be given land as an inheritance but would be given cities scattered throughout the tribes of Israel, in fulfillment of Jacob’s words.

The Levites had used treachery and deceit to repay the Hivites for the rape of their sister, but they had been motivated by a desire to avenge her mistreatment. They had also stood opposed to the treaty their father had made with the Hivites, knowing that it was improper for them to intermarry with these uncircumcised pagans. But while their hearts had been in the right place, they had taken matters into their own hands and violated the treaty their father had made. Yet, hundreds of years later, God would redeem the Levites, raising them up and using them to serve as His agents of judgment against their own brothers and sisters.

And Moses blesses them for their role as God’s intercessors. They had been used by God to avenge His holy name and mete out His judgment against the wicked at Sinai. And they had been set apart as priests, teaching Israel God’s laws, and offering sacrifices on their behalf so that they might remain in a right standing with God. At Sinai, the Levites had shed the blood of their brothers and sisters in order to assuage the righteous anger of God. But in the tabernacle, they would spill the blood of innocent bulls and goats, pouring it out as a sacrifice to God on behalf of the sins of the people.

From the days of Jacob to the time of Moses, God was working behind the scenes,  orchestrating events in such as a way that every blessing bestowed by each man would be fulfilled. But these blessings were not the words of men. They were the Spirit-inspired will of God. Neither Moses or Jacob fully understood the full import of their words or the exact nature of their outcome. But God did. He was and is sovereign over all. And while the tribe of Reuben would settle outside the land of promise, they would assist the rest of the tribes in conquering and possessing their inheritance. And God would raise up the tribe of Judah, allowing them to produce the future Messiah, the Savior of the world. The Levites, while cursed by their father for their deceit, would be redeemed by God and used to carry His tabernacle, communicate His law, and care for the spiritual needs of His people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Read It and Keep It

Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 31:9-13 ESV

Moses is about to commission Joshua as his official replacement. But before he conducts that auspicious ceremony where he will turn over the leadership of the people of Israel to his successor, Moses called together two other groups of God-appointed leaders. One was the priests, who were all members of the tribe of Levi. God’s appointment them as priests is recorded in the book of Numbers.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” – Numbers 3:5-10 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been set apart by God as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel. As a result of His sparing of all the firstborn male Israelites during the final plague in Egypt, God had claimed them as His own. They were to be dedicated to Him. But He later appointed the Levites to serve in this role. They would be the tribe from which the priestly order would come – the men who would serve in the tabernacle and offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. So, these men played an important role in the lives of the Israelites.

The second group of leaders Moses called upon was comprised of the elders of Israel. Back during the days when Israel was making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, Moses had become overwhelmed by the weight of his leadership responsibilities. So, God had provided him with a solution.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. – Numbers 11:16-17 ESV

The nation of Israel had grown too large for one man to lead them effectively. So, God provided Moses with a system for delegating authority among a group of well-qualified men. Their job was to come alongside Moses and to help him bear the burden of the people. And as Moses, prepared to turn over leadership to Joshua, he wanted the sons of Levi who served as priests and the elders of Israel to understand that they would play an important role in the future of the nation.

Moses provided them with a copy of the law and with instructions to guard and protect it. This document was going to be vital to the nation’s spiritual well-being. It would be the key to Israel experiencing the blessings of God. And Moses instructed these men to set aside a day every seventh (sabbatical) year on which they would call for a national assembly and read the law in the hearing of the people.

“At the end of every seventh year, the Year of Release, during the Festival of Shelters, you must read this Book of Instruction to all the people of Israel when they assemble before the Lord your God at the place he chooses. – Deuteronomy 31:10-11 ESV

It was essential that the people remain well-educated concerning the content of God’s law. Not long after Moses had received the law from God, he had told the people of Israel:

“…you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NLT

And God had given a command concerning the kings who would eventually reign over the nation.

“…when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 ESV

By commanding the audible recitation of the law every seventh year by the priests and elders of Israel, Moses was ensuring that the people would have a regular reminder of their commitment to the law. Not only that, he tied it to the annual Feast of Booths, which was a commemoration of Israel’s release from captivity. As part of the feast, they constructed temporary “booths” or “tabernacles” meant to remind them of the years their ancestor spent wandering in the wilderness of their way to the land of promise.

The feast was timed to occur immediately after the fall harvest, and it was accompanied by sacrifices, offered in thanksgiving to God for His gracious provision. It was at this joyous occasion that the law was to be read aloud to the entire population of Israel “at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths” (Deuteronomy 31:10 ESV).

And Moses commanded that this solemn convocation was to include “the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12 ESV). No one was to be left out. And an important byproduct of this event was the instruction of their children regarding the law of God. 

“Do this so that your children who have not known these instructions will hear them and will learn to fear the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 31:13 NLT

And this reading of the law was to take place every seventh year for as long as the people of Israel lived in the land of Canaan. And since God had promised the land to them as a permanent possession, that means Moses expected the priests and elders to see their commitment to holding this solemn assembly as perpetual and never-ending in nature.

It’s interesting to note that, by spacing this reading of the law at seven-year intervals, there would have been thousands of 7-year-old children attending the festival who had born into the Jewish community during the gap years. These children would have been mature enough to hear the law and understand it. So, if they had not had parents who taught it to them, they would at least hear it for themselves on their 7th birthday and every seventh year after that.

To say that the law was important to God would be a vast understatement. He cared greatly about His law and was adamant that His people know it and obey it. He wanted them to live their lives by it. He demanded that they be committed to it. He wanted the leaders of His people to be the protectors and disseminators of it – for generations to come. And this law was not just a list of rules to keep. It was written documentation of the commitment the people of Israel had made. They had promised to keep all the commandments of God, and He was not going to allow them to forget the nature of that commitment.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Purge the Evil

“If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the Lord your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10 Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. 11 According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. 12 The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again. – Deuteronomy 17:8-13 ESV

It would appear from these verses that the Israelites were to establish a system of judicial oversight where cases that fell outside the scope of the local judges. These more difficult cases were to be taken to the city in which the tabernacle would be set up, and presented to a judicial panel comprised of Levites and appointed judges. These men were assigned to task of adjudicating these these cases and their decisions were to be considered binding and final. They were to function as a kind of Supreme Court for the nation of Israel.

The size of the panel is not clarified, but it consisted of at least one Levite and a judge. The Levite was there in his function as a priest of God. He was responsible for applying the law of God to the matter in dispute. The judge provided an additional set of ears to hear the facts of the case and to assist in determining a just and righteous settlement.

The verdict passed by this God-ordained court was to be accepted and carried out by all those involved. There was no appeal process available.

“You must carry out the verdict they announce and the sentence they prescribe at the place the Lord chooses.” – Deuteronomy 17:10 NLT

The Levites and the judge who sat on the panel were not responsible for enforcing the verdict, the people were. It was their responsibility to carry out whatever judgment was assessed – to the letter.

“After they have interpreted the law and declared their verdict, the sentence they impose must be fully executed; do not modify it in any way.” – Deuteronomy 17:11 NLT

The verdict was to be based on the Mosaic law, so this ensured that any decision arrived at had the full backing of God Almighty. Anyone who dared to reject the decision of the court stood opposed to God and faced the full wrath of His judgment.

“Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the Lord your God must die. In this way you will purge the evil from Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT

This sounds harsh to our modern sensibilities, but God was determined that Israel have a clear set of moral, legislative, and judicial guidelines by which to live. But those guidelines would mean absolutely nothing if the people were not held accountable to adhere to them. Laws that can be easily broken, with no threat of reprisal or punishment, are not laws at all. They are little more than suggestions, easily avoided or simply ignored altogether. Laws that lack enforcement are no more dangerous than a lion lacking teeth and claws. A judicial verdict that fails to be carried out has no weight. And the court that deliberates and delivers such a verdict ends up having no power to determine the well-being of a nation.

But if failure to carry out the verdict of the court was followed by capital punishment, “Then everyone else will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly” (Deuteronomy 17:13 NLT). Adjudication requires prosecution. For a verdict to carry any weight, it must be enforced. And refusal to follow the will of God’s appointed judges was going to bring His wrath. He would not tolerate disobedience, because disobedience was nothing less than rebellion against His will. And like any other sin, rebellion was an infectious disease that could spread among the people, if left unchecked. That’s why God demanded that they “purge the evil from Israel.”

They were to take rebellion seriously and deal with it immediately. To not do so would create an environment where everyone did what was right in his own eyes. All God-ordained authority would eventually become impotent and useless. And the people would end up ruling their lives according to their own personal standards. Rules would become purely subjective, determined by the individual. And the day was going to come when this very thing happened in Israel.

After the period of time in Israelite history when God had appointed men and women to act as His judges, the people of Israel would reach a point when they would no longer accept these leaders. And the book of Judges matter-of-factly states: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 ESV).

It was a time when autonomy ruled the land. There were no more judges and the people were doing what they deemed best. It proved to be an immoral time marked by spiritual anarchy. The people were not content to live by God’s law or to abide by the decisions of His judges. Self-rule was the law of the land and it had created an atmosphere marked by rebellion and rampant godlessness.

And it all begins when we fail to heed God’s call to purge the evil from our midst. Sin left unchecked and unpunished doesn’t go away, it grows. It spreads and eventually infects the entire camp. So, God demands that we take it seriously and deal with it decisively. Tolerance of sin sounds like the loving thing to do, but it actually results in death and destruction. So, God made it clear that the death of the one was to be preferred to that of the many. So, “purge the evil from Israel. Then everyone else will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly” (Deuteronomy 17:12-13 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

The Firstborn

19 “All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the Lord your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock. 20 You shall eat it, you and your household, before the Lord your God year by year at the place that the Lord will choose. 21 But if it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. 22 You shall eat it within your towns. The unclean and the clean alike may eat it, as though it were a gazelle or a deer. 23 Only you shall not eat its blood; you shall pour it out on the ground like water. – Deuteronomy 15:19-23 ESV

Moses returns to a subject that he had brought up earlier: The offering of the firstborn.

“There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks.” – Deuteronomy 12:6 NLT

“But you may not eat your offerings in your hometown—neither the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, nor the firstborn of your flocks and herds, nor any offering to fulfill a vow, nor your voluntary offerings, nor your sacred offerings.” – Deuteronomy 12:17 NLT

“Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 14:23 NLT

But what is the offering of the firstborn and why was it so important? To understand its significance we have to look back to the book of Exodus and the final plague that God brought upon the people of Egypt.

And that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died. – Exodus 12:29-30 NLT

This devastating event took place in conjunction with the establishment of the Passover. God had warned the people of Israel that He was bringing judgment upon the land of Egypt and He had mercifully provided the people of Israel with a means of avoiding His wrath. When His judgment came, it would be non-discriminatory, bringing death to the firstborn of every family living in the land of Egypt, whether Egyptian or Jew. Even the animals belonging to the Egyptians and Jews would suffer under God’s judgment…unless.

The truth was that all deserved God’s judgment. Even the Israelites had long ago abandoned their worship of Yahweh for the false gods of Egypt, and they stood fully condemned before God. But He provided them with a means of escaping His judgment – if they would trust His word and obey His command.

“Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. If a family is too small to eat a whole animal, let them share with another family in the neighborhood. Divide the animal according to the size of each family and how much they can eat. The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.

 “Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast. Do not eat any of the meat raw or boiled in water. The whole animal—including the head, legs, and internal organs—must be roasted over a fire. Do not leave any of it until the next morning. Burn whatever is not eaten before morning.” – Exodus 12:3-10 NLT

As long as the Israelites did exactly as God had commanded them to do, the firstborn of their families and flocks would be spared. The blood of the lamb, sprinkled on the doorframes of their homes, would cause the Death Angel to “pass over” them. They would be spared the judgment of God.

And the Israelites, having followed God’s instructions, were preserved by God, while the Egyptians suffered tremendous loss of life. And devastated by the loss of his own son, Pharaoh finally relented and allowed the Israelites to leave. And God commanded the people of Israel:

“Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.”  – Exodus 13:2 NLT

God had spared from death the firstborn among the Israelites and, therefore, considered them as belonging to Him. But later on, God would set apart the tribe of Levi as the surrogates or stand-ins for the rest of the firstborn of Israel.

“Look, I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites to serve as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites belong to me, for all the firstborn males are mine. On the day I struck down all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel, both of people and of animals. They are mine; I am the Lord.” – Numbers 3:12-13 NLT

The tribe of Levi would serve in the place of all the firstborn of Israel, and from within the Levites would come the priests who served in God’s tabernacle. They would dedicate their lives to the service of the people of God.

But the firstborn of the animals would always belong to God and He required that the people of Israel dedicate them to Him through sacrifice. It was to be an act of obedience and gratitude to God for His having spared them during that fateful night when the Death Angel passed over all the homes in Egypt. As long as the firstborn lamb or bull was alive, they were to be preserved for God. The Israelites were not allowed to shear their wool for clothing. They could not use a firstborn bull to pull a plow. These animals were to be seen as the permanent possessions of God.

And all of this foreshadows another firstborn who would also be dedicated to God and destined for sacrifice. Jesus Christ is described by the apostle Paul as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 ESV).

Elsewhere Paul writes that “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live” (Galatians 1:4 NLT). Jesus was the sinless lamb of God, who offered His life as a substitute for sinful mankind. He stood in our place. He took the punishment we deserved. And when we place our faith in Him, the wrath of God passes over us. His blood, sprinkled on the doorframes of our hearts, serves as a payment for our sin debt, satisfying the just and righteous wrath of God and allowing us to enjoy new life, rather than death.

And as a result of our faith in Christ, we become the firstborn, dedicated to God for His service. Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the Romans.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. – Romans 8:29 NLT

We belong to Him. We are His holy possession and our lives are to be dedicated to His use.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

The Levites became the firstborn of God, serving in the place of all the other Israelites whom God had deemed as His own. They sacrificed their lives in service to God on behalf of all the people of God. And the firstborn bulls, sheep, and goats were dedicated to God, reserved for His use and destined to give their lives in worship of Him.

But today, those of us who are in Christ, enjoy a relationship with God due to the substitutionary death of the firstborn, the sinless Lamb of God. And now, we find ourselves living as the Levites did, set apart by God for His glory. And Peter would have us remember that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). We belong to Him. Our lives are to be set apart unto Him. We are not our own, but we belong to God, having been bought by Him at a very high price: The death of His own sinless Son.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Jesus, Our Refuge.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood. He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them. And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not give up the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unknowingly, and did not hate him in the past. And he shall remain in that city until he has stood before the congregation for judgment, until the death of him who is high priest at the time. Then the manslayer may return to his own town and his own home, to the town from which he fled.’”

So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. And beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation. Joshua 20:1-9 ESV

10-cities-of-refuge

God had given His people the land He had promised them. But they were not free to live in the land according to their own standards or apart from His divine law. He had provided them with His law while they were still in the wilderness and He had intended for them to take the law with them into the promised land, where it would determine the nature of their relationship with Him and with one another. And God, knowing the reality of man’s sin nature, had made provision for the inevitable presence of sin among His people. The entire sacrificial system was designed to provide atonement for their sins and restore them to a right relationship with God. And because the sacrificial system could not remove sin, it would be a permanent part of their communal experience for generations to come.

One of the sad realities the law was forced to address was the human potential for murder. Even though the Israelites were united in their common bond as children of God, they were sinners who were fully capable of turning on one another out of jealousy or motivated by anger, and willfully taking the life of a brother or sister. So, God had made provision for such acts of violence, telling Moses, “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:12 ESV). And God went on to clarify and qualify the conditions for putting a man to death for murder. His actions had to be premeditated.

“if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.” – Exodus 21:14 ESV

God knew that there would always be the potential for extenuating circumstances. In other words, there might be unforeseen issues at play that dictated whether the murder was willful or simply an accident. So, He had added an important addendum to His law, stating, “But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee” (Exodus 21:13 ESV). God had gone on to provide the people of Israel with detailed plans concerning this important aspect of His judicial system. 

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11 then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. 12 The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. 13 And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge. 14 You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. 15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there. – Numbers 35:9-15 ESV

God had predetermined that the Israelites would designate six cities within the land of promise that would serve as places of refuge for anyone who committed murder. And these six cities, located strategically throughout the land, were intended to be easily reached by anyone who was guilty of murder. Within the confines of these cities, the guilty party was to be offered sanctuary and protection from anyone who might want to avenge the death of the victim. And it’s important to note that these six cities were among the 42 cities set aside for the tribe of Levi as their places of residence.

“The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.” – Numbers 35:6 ESV

The one who committed the act of murder was allowed to seek refuge in one of these Levitical cities. As long as he was in the city, he was to be provided protection, until such time as the residents of the city were able to ascertain whether his act was accidental or premeditated. If it was determined that he had committed murder willfully, he was to be turned over to the “avenger” in order that he might be put to death. If evidence was produced that proved the murder was accidental, the guilty party was confined to the city of refuge for life or until the death of the high priest, at which time the prisoner was to be set free and absolved of all guilt. The death of the high priest acted as an atonement for the sin of the guilty party. But if the manslayer willingly left the protective confines of the city of refuge at any time, he would be fair game for the avenger. He took his life into his own hands. But as long as the guilty party placed his life in the hands of the Levites, he was safe. If he chose to leave the city, he forfeited his right to life.

The cities of refuge are a picture of the role that Christ was to eventually play in the life of each and every guilty sinner. The book of Hebrews provides us with a comforting reminder that we, as guilty sinners, can seek refuge in Christ, our high priest.

18 Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 20 Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 6:18-20 NLT

We can run to Christ and find safety and protection from the condemnation of sin and death. And Paul would have us remember that our condemnation has been removed because of Christ’s death on our behalf.

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:1-2 NLT

Paul goes on to tell us that because we have sought refuge in Christ, we are freed from any and all accusations of guilt or any calls for our execution.

33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. – Romans 8:33-34 NLT

God knew His people were going to sin. That’s why He gave them His law and His sacrificial system. He also knew His people would commit murder, either willingly or accidentally. So, He provided cities of refuge. But notice that the only way the manslayer could be absolved of his guilt was through death. The high priest had to die. And the only way that sinners can be absolved of their guilt before God is through the death of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He gave His life so that we might have forgiveness of sin and be freed from condemnation. Jesus is our High Priest, in whom we find refuge. But we don’t just hide from our guilt and sin, we are completely freed from it because of what He has done on our behalf.

24 But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. 25 Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

26 He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. 27 Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. 28 The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever. – Hebrews 7:24-28 NLT

Jesus Christ, our refuge. His death set us free from our guilt and condemnation. And there is no one who can accuse us anymore.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Inheritance of God.

14 To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him.

15 And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. 16 So their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland by Medeba; 17 with Heshbon, and all its cities that are in the tableland; Dibon, and Bamoth-baal, and Beth-baal-meon, 18 and Jahaz, and Kedemoth, and Mephaath, 19 and Kiriathaim, and Sibmah, and Zereth-shahar on the hill of the valley, 20 and Beth-peor, and the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth-jeshimoth, 21 that is, all the cities of the tableland, and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses defeated with the leaders of Midian, Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the princes of Sihon, who lived in the land. 22 Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain. 23 And the border of the people of Reuben was the Jordan as a boundary. This was the inheritance of the people of Reuben, according to their clans with their cities and villages.

24 Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. 25 Their territory was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the Ammonites, to Aroer, which is east of Rabbah, 26 and from Heshbon to Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the territory of Debir, 27 and in the valley Beth-haram, Beth-nimrah, Succoth, and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon king of Heshbon, having the Jordan as a boundary, to the lower end of the Sea of Chinnereth, eastward beyond the Jordan. 28 This is the inheritance of the people of Gad according to their clans, with their cities and villages.

29 And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. 30 Their region extended from Mahanaim, through all Bashan, the whole kingdom of Og king of Bashan, and all the towns of Jair, which are in Bashan, sixty cities, 31 and half Gilead, and Ashtaroth, and Edrei, the cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. These were allotted to the people of Machir the son of Manasseh for the half of the people of Machir according to their clans.

32 These are the inheritances that Moses distributed in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan east of Jericho. 33 But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them. Joshua 13:14-33 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelThis section of chapter 13 provides us with greater detail concerning the allotment of the land of promise to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. All the way back during the days of Moses’ leadership, they had made a request that they be allowed to settle east of the Jordan, in the land of Gilead. The book of Numbers tells us that both tribes had significant numbers of livestock and that the land east of the Jordan was an ideal location for them to settle and raise their flocks and families. The Israelites had defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, as well as Og, king of Bashan. So, the tribes of Reuben and Gad appealed to Moses and the leadership of Israel to allow them to have this conquered land as their allotment of the inheritance.

“Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” – Numbers 32:3-5 ESV

And Moses had agreed to their request, on the condition that they assist the rest of the tribes in their conquest of the land west of the Jordan. Moses did not want them to abandon their brothers in their divinely decreed mission to conquer and possess the land of promise. So, the men of Reuben and Gad had given Moses their word.

16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” – Numbers 32:16-19 ESV

The tribe of Manasseh was allotted land on both sides of the Jordan, with half of them settling east of the Jordan and the remainder receiving land on the other side.

39 And the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and captured it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. 40 And Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he settled in it. – Numbers 32:39-40 ESV

Once the primary conquest of the land of promise had been accomplished and the majority of the significant opposition had been removed, Joshua allowed the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh to return to their side of the Jordan and settle in the land they had been given. The author provides us with great details concerning the geographic boundaries of their land, and he makes sure that we understand that this allotment had been according to the words of Moses.

And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. – Joshua 13:15 ESV

Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. – Joshua 13:24 ESV

And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. – Joshua 13:29 ESV

Joshua’s decision to allow the three tribes to settle east of the Jordan was in keeping with the command Moses had given years earlier. He was simply keeping the commitment Moses had made, because the clans of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh had kept their word to fight alongside the rest of the tribes until the land of promise had been fully conquered and settled.

It’s interesting to note that these three tribes had selected their land based on appearance. After Israel had conquered Og and Sihon, making the land east of the Jordan available, the tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh had seen that it provided a perfect environment for pasturing their flocks and herds. And it was already conquered land. The ready availability of the land, including its well-fortified cities was appealing to them. So, rather than wait to see what God had in store for them on the other side of the Jordan, they chose to settle outside the land of promise. And years later, they would be removed from their land because of disobedience and unfaithfulness to God.

25 But they broke faith with the God of their fathers, and whored after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. 26 So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day. – 1 Chronicles 5:25-26 ESV

They got the land they wanted. They fulfilled the lust of their eyes, but they eventually failed to keep their. commitments to God. The land was rich and perfect for raising their many flocks. But somewhere along the way, they took their eyes off of God and forgot that He was the one who had blessed them with their flocks and the land on which to raise them.

These verses are book-ended by references to yet another tribe, that of the Levites. The tribe of Levi had been appointed by God to serve Him in the tabernacle, alongside Aaron and his sons.

1 So the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.” – Numbers 18:1-2 ESV 

God had set them apart for this special role and had promised to provide for their needs. Rather than give them land on which to plant crops and raise flocks, God would allow them to eat the animals that were brought for sacrifice.

14 Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. – Numbers 18:14-15 ESV

And Moses made it clear that this provision by God would take the place of any inheritance of land. They would be cared for by God.

19 All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” 20 And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.” – Numbers 18:19-20 ESV

Rather than land, the Levites received the promise of God that He would provide for all their needs, in return for their faithful service in His tabernacle. The tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh asked for what they wanted and got it. The tribe of Levi asked for nothing and got the blessing of being provided for by God. They received no land, but were given the privilege of serving God in His tabernacle. And they found themselves fed by God Himself, enjoying the first fruits of the all the other tribes as their reward for faithful service to God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

King of Righteousness and Peace.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!  And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. – Hebrews 7:1-10 ESV

The author continues his comparison between Jesus and Melchizedek, begun all the way back in chapter two when he declared Jesus as “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV). Jesus was and is a high priest, but He was not a descendant of Aaron, the original high priest appointed by God. Jesus’ priesthood was not of an earthly order. His was a divine priesthood, commissioned by God. He was the Savior of the world, the Messiah sent from God to act as King and ushering in a new Kingdom, but also as priest, offering up a better sacrifice for the sins of men. His priesthood was not based on an earthly, human genealogy, but a heavenly one. On one of the many occasions when Jesus found Himself confronted by the Pharisees, He asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42 NLT). They replied, “He is the son of David” (Matthew 22:42 NLT). Then quoting from Psalm 110, Jesus replies, “Then why does David, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, call the Messiah ‘my Lord’? For David said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’ Since David called the Messiah ‘my Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” (Matthew 22:43-45 NLT). His point was that He was the Son of God. Yes, He was an earthly descendant of David, but His kingship was of a different sort than that of David. He was to be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And in that very same Psalm of David, it reads:

The LORD said to my Lord,
    “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
    making them a footstool under your feet.”

The LORD will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem;
    you will rule over your enemies.
When you go to war,
    your people will serve you willingly.
You are arrayed in holy garments,
    and your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew.

The LORD has taken an oath and will not break his vow:
    “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Psalm 110:1-4 NLT

This passage was not referring to David, but to the coming Messiah. It was a prophecy concerning Jesus, outlining His God-ordained role as both king and priest. The author used the story of Abraham and Melchizedek to prove the superiority of Jesus as both king and priest. It the story, Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham offered a tenth of all his spoils in return. Melchizedek was a king and a priest, and as such, he was Abraham’s superior. The real point seems to be that the descendants of Abraham would eventually offer tithes to God through the Levites, their own brothers. That’s why the author writes, “those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham” (Hebrews 7:5 ESV). When Abraham offered his tithe to Melchizedek, the tribe of Levi did not yet exist. So in a sense, the author says, Levi and his sons offered a tithe to Melchizedek through their forefather, Abraham. The whole issue here is one of superiority. Jesus, as a high priest of the order of Melchizedek, is superior to any earthly high priest. Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, the inferior was blessed by the superior. And we are blessed by Jesus. We are blessed by the King of peace and righteousness. And it interesting to note that Melchizedek blessed Abraham for no apparent reason. If you read the story in Genesis 14, it says that the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Goiim made war with the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, is not even mentioned. He had no dog in this hunt. When the battle took place “the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions and went their way” (Genesis 14:11-12 ESV). Abraham stepped in defeated the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Goiim, rescuing Lot and taking a great deal of plunder. And that’s when Melchizedek shows up on the scene. His country of Salem had not been attacked and yet he appears to Abraham and blesses him. Abraham had not done anything to deserve Melchizedek’s blessing. He had not rescued any of his citizens. He had not returned any of Melchizedek’s spoil. The king of righteousness and peace blessed Abraham.

Those of us who are in Christ, have been blessed by the King. And that blessing had nothing to do with any merit on our part. We have done nothing to earn His blessing. When Melchizedek blessed Abraham, he said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High,  Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you” (Genesis 14:19-20 NLT). And the blessing we have received is similar. We have been given victory over sin and death by God through the sacrificial death of His Son. We have been blessed by God through the Son of God.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews5:8-10 NLT

We have been given perfect righteousness through Christ. And we now enjoy peace with God, having been made right in His eyes because of the substitutionary death of His Son.

Numbers 3-4, Luke 17

Servants of God.

Numbers 3-4, Luke 17

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” – Luke 17:10 ESV

The Levites were God’s chosen servants. They were His handpicked replacements, intended to stand in for all the first-born males who were to be dedicated to God each year. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, after having received the Law from God, he discovered the people worshiping the golden calf. Moses issued a call to the people, saying, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me” (Exodus 32:26 ESV). It was the sons of Levi who came to his aid. He commanded them to strap on their swords and act as God’s hand of judgment upon the people. They obeyed and, as a result, nearly 3,000 Israelites died that day. In recognition of their obedience, Moses ordained them to the service of the Lord, “each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day” (Exodus 32:29 ESV).

These men, the Levites, would remain God’s chosen servants. They served as guards over the tabernacle and all it contained. They served as carriers of all the materials that made up the tabernacle, transporting it from one camp to another during all the days they spent wandering in the wilderness. But they also served as redeemers. Each Levite was a substitute for another Jewish first-born male. God had intended for every first-born male from every family to be dedicated to his service, but the incident with the golden calf changed all that. Instead, God would allow the Levites to redeem the lives of the firstborn, serving in their place. These men were the consummate servants. They served God and they served men. They dedicated their lives to the ministry of the tabernacle. They played an integral role in the worship of God, ensuring that the tabernacle remained pure and holy, and helping provide a constant dwelling place for God and His presence during all the days they spent in the wilderness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our knows and understands the heart of man. He is fully aware that man will always be prone to disorder and disobedience. Faithful allegiance on the part of men does not come naturally or willingly. But God is always faithful. He guaranteed His presence among His people and ensured that they would remember that He was their King and that they were dependent upon Him for everything. The Tabernacle was not just a place of worship and sacrifice, it was a constant reminder of their dependence upon God. It was not enough to simply have Him in their midst. The Tabernacle provided the means by which they could be assured of His continued presence as they faithfully atoned for their sins through obedience to His sacrificial requirements. The Tabernacle and the Levites traveled at the center of their company, and it was to be the erected at the center of their camp at the close of each day. The physical centrality of God’s presence was to be a constant reminder of their need for God to be the spiritual focus of their lives as a people.

What does this passage reveal about man?

While God had been giving His Law to Moses, the people had been busy rebelling against Him and revealing the depth of their unfaithfulness to Him. Their own sin made their first-born sons unqualified to serve Him. But the sons of Levi had remained faithful. They had willingly stepped up and done what needed to be done to cleanse the sin from the midst of the people and satisfy the just demands of a holy God. So God made these men His servants. He dedicated the sons of Levi as permanent ministers in His tabernacle and among His people. Once again, in spite of man’s sin, God provided an acceptable solution. When He could no longer accept the firstborn males because of their sinfulness, He allowed the Levites to act as substitutes, redeeming the lives of those who were unacceptable for service.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The Levites were set apart by God. They had specific responsibilities and duties that were essential to the worship of God. Their roles were vital to ensuring that God’s presence remained with the people. The tasks they had to perform were not glamorous or prone to make their fellow Israelites jealous. They were guards of the holy things of God. They were porters and packers, making sure that the tabernacle of God, which housed the presence of God, traveled along with the people of God. In the book of Luke, Jesus gives an interesting commentary on servants. He asks His disciples, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly,  and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?” (Luke 17:7-8 ESV). Jesus goes on to say, “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?” (Luke 17:9 ESV).

Within this same passage, we see Jesus telling His disciples to beware of temptation. He assures them that it will come, but to make sure that they are not the source of temptation. Instead, they are to rebuke a brother who sins. If he repents, they are to forgive him. And even if this brother sins against them seven times in a single day, and each times repents, they must forgive him. As servants of God, the disciples were being asked to do what He expected of them. Humbly and expecting no form of thanks. They were to obey, remembering that they were “unworthy servants” who served a holy and worthy God. There is to be a humility to the servant of God. There is also to be a gratefulness. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one returned to express praise to God. He didn’t deserve healing, but he knew enough to acknowledge the One who provided it. Humility and gratefulness are the marks of a true servant of God. The Levites served without fanfare and probably received little in the way of thanks. Their roles were difficult and they had no choice in the matter. They were expected to do what God had assigned them to do. And they had to do it well – without complaint, in humbleness, and grateful for the opportunity to serve a holy, mighty God. That is the way I should live my life as a servant and son of the Most High God.

Father, Your Son came to serve, not be served. May I live with that same attitude of sacrifice and selflessness. I want to serve You faithfully and well, humbly and gratefully. Thank You for choosing me to serve You and Your people. Continue to show me how to do it with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

2 Chronicles 17

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!

“They took copies of the Book of the Law of the LORD and traveled around through all the towns of Judah, teaching the people.” ­– 2 Chronicles 17:9 NLT

Don’t ask me where the phrase, “Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat” comes from or what it means. No one really seems to know. But I couldn’t help but think about it as I read today’s chapter. Nowhere in the story of the life of Jehoshaphat do we see him jump, but we do see him take a leap of faith and decide to follow after God, something most of the kings of Judah and Israel seemed to have a hard time doing. When he became king of Judah, Jehoshaphat did what just about any king would do: he fortified the cities, strengthened his defenses, and prepared an army to protect his nation. But more importantly, he sought the God of David and served Him rather than the false gods of the nations around him. This guy instituted some pretty serious spiritual renewal efforts on behalf of the people of Judah. One of the most intriguing ones was his commissioning of  officials from his administration to travel around the countryside with a copy of the law and a couple of Levites, teaching the people God’s commands as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Here was a king who took the law of God seriously and wanted his people to know it. Obviously, they must have needed a remedial lesson in the law or Jehoshaphat wouldn’t have bothered sending out his own officials to make it happen. In teaching them the law, he was enabling the people to know the will of God. If they knew the will of God, they would be less likely to disobey it out of ignorance. So Jehoshaphat not only fortified his kingdom physically, he strengthened it spiritually.

God blessed his efforts. Not only did Jehoshaphat’s kingdom grow strong, he grew rich. Even the pagan kings brought gifts to the king of Judah because the people of Judah were faithful to God. What an incredible reminder to us all of the need to make spiritual formation a foundational part of our lives. We will never know the will of God without the written Word of God. We will never know how to live in obedience to God if we never hear from Him. Jehoshaphat knew that a kingdom with military might was useless without the power of God made available through faithful obedience to His Word. We could learn a lot from the life of Jehoshaphat.

Father, without Your Word I am directionless and powerless. Never let me attempt to build my life on anything other than Your Word and Your will revealed in it. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org