The various duties connected with the tabernacle worship were far too numerous for Aaron and his sons to do by themselves. Even the preparing of the sacrifices for the altar involved an amount of physical labor greatly beyond their strength. Since Moses and Aaron belonged to the tribe of Levi, God saw fit to give Aaron and his sons the help they needed by giving them the whole tribe of Levites to do what they couldn’t do by themselves.
The tribe of Levi numbered 22,000. Of this number, 8,580 were qualified by age to perform the duties of their office. They were solemnly set apart to their office by Aaron. They shaved their flesh and washed their clothes. Then they were sprinkled with the water of purifying, and then presented as a national offering to the Lord. The elders of the respective tribes, which were the Israelite nation’s representatives, put their hands upon them signifying that the people gave the Levites to the Lord in place of the first-born, as God had commanded otherwise. Actually when the first-borns were counted they came to 22,273, which was about the same as the whole tribe of Levites.
After they were given to the Lord, they offered two bullocks as sacrifices: one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering.
The job of the Levites was to assist the priest in whatever way was needed. It was true that the Levites could not offer up the sacrifice, sprinkle the blood, burn incense, or perform other priestly acts; but they could do so in the case of an emergency of not having enough priests that could perform the duties. The basic job of the Levites was to prepare the victims for the altar, and do the work that went on in the background to prepare for the sacrifices themselves. A Levite might also lawfully assist in the religious services of the tabernacle.
In the wilderness the Levites had the sole responsibility of taking down and putting up the tabernacle, and also transporting it from one place to another. At one time the Levites may have been busy helping the Priests do their work, while at another they were doing the actual manual labor of transporting the tabernacle itself. They were also in charge of transporting all the holy vessels that were connected with the tabernacle. Even though they were helpers of the Priests, they were able to teach the people and had just as much right as the Priests did.
When the children of Israel were settled in the promised land, and the tabernacle was fixed for long periods in the same place, the Levites were relieved of a very burdensome part of their labors. Since they didn’t have to move the tabernacle very much then, there was not a necessity for them to all be in attendance to serve there and they divided into divisions and waited their turn to serve.
When they were not serving and doing their duties, they resided in the Levitical cities that were situated in all the tribal territories. They did not just have a time of recreation there, but spent their time reading and explaining the law and doing things to promote the spiritual and moral welfare of the people. They administered justice and took charge of the cities of refuge when a person came in that had done something wrong unintentionally. They dwelt in the midst of every tribe and were always at hand to explain the law, instruct the ignorant, comfort the afflicted, shield the innocent, punish the guilty, and generally guide the people in the way in which they should go.
They possessed immense influence and were charged with many highly important duties. A good Levite never failed in maintaining and advancing the best interests of the Kingdom of Israel.
From this time of service in the Tabernacle to the time of King David and the Temple, King David appointed a new arrangement of the Levites and enlarged their duties. Other than assisting the priests in the courts of the Lord’s House and instructing the nation, 4,000 served as porters who had charge of opening and shutting the gates, and only admitting the ones who had a legal right to enter. (This is talked about in this month’s text of The Temple also). Also 4,000 of them served as musicians and conducted the public praise, and 6,000 served as officers and judges.
The Levites had no share in the division of the Holy Land, and the 1 1 tribes got more land when it was divided because of that. That is why they were spread out among the different tribes in each land. God wanted them to be spread out so they could teach the people and be there in their midst to handle any problems. Since they didn’t get their own land, God provided for them by giving them 48 cities in the midst of the land of the other tribes. Besides these cities, one-tenth of the produce of the whole land was to be given to them because they were not permitted to work a secular job. By this arrangement the Levites got about the same quantity of the produce of the land as they would have gotten if they had actually been participants in the division of the land in the beginning. This way they they were saved from having to work two jobs, as it was to be their full-time job to teach the people and do their turns in serving at the Tabernacle. This way each person in Israel was to have a full-time job and each was to carry his own weight.
However, as the years passed, many of the priests and Levites performed their duties to God and the Hebrew people so as to glorify Him and benefit them, and thereby ‘purchased to themselves a good degree.’ By the time Jesus lived, there were few to be found who were executing their duties with clean hands and a pure heart. But there were a few who were still blameless and upright before God in their duties.
With all their sins and shortcomings, the Levites were the custodians of the Scriptures up to the time of our Savior. They read and explained them in the synagogues, and were the instruments of keeping alive a knowledge of the true God, however faint it might have been. They had watered it down so much that there was not much left of the truth. Even with their defects, though, they still represented a signal service to their nation. By their separation to God, the light of true religion was kept burning amidst surrounding darkness. The ritual services of the tabernacle and temple were attended to, and there was always a true remnant found even in the very worst of times who were not ashamed to truly worship God and magnify and declare his great name.
God has always made provision for making known His will, instructing His people, and making a way to bring the glad tidings of Salvation to all His peoples. Under the New Covenant, however, all believers are His chosen people and are separated from the rest of the world unto Himself. He calls upon them all to dedicate themselves to His service.
When the Levites were not on duty, they were scattered up and down the whole land, becoming centers of light over the whole nation. The same is true for followers of Christ. They are not to just congregate in one place, but are to go out over all the world and tell the Good News of His Birth and the Salvation that he died to give us. Christians are to be the lights on the hill that shine all throughout the land. They are God’s chosen people to keep His statutes and spread the word about His Goodness.