Willing Work3rs

#3 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”

The book of Numbers is the story of God’s Kingdom – his warriors, his workers, his worshipers – and their progression in the wilderness.

In part one of this series, God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the warriors, to prepare them for the journey that was ahead. That was in chapters one and two.

In part two, we examined the circumstances they were in – specifically, that God was living among them as they lived in Him. This was accomplished by trusting in His promises, faith that He was with them and would go with them. Hopefully, you can see the connection between them and us.

Like us, they would fail. Like us, they would follow other gods. But, like us, they experienced God’s patient forgiveness.

In chapters 3 and 4 the focus turns from the warriors to the workers.

Recognition of a Special Tribe

Numbers 1:46-49 The total number was 603,550. 47But this total did not include the Levites. 48For the LORD had said to Moses, 49“Exempt the tribe of Levi from the census; do not include them when you count the rest of the Israelites.

Ever feel special – and you don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing? “You’re special.” Yeah? How do you mean that? I imagine that’s how the Levites felt.

Christ is the fulfillment of all the foreshadowing we see in the Old Testament. What was symbolic in the Old Testament became reality in Christ. As we look at the Levites and why they were special, it applies to us as well, in our relationship to Christ. (Of course, not everything is symbolic, so don’t go overboard and try to apply everything. Some things just were what they were, with no symbolic references attached. Yes, that’s complicated, but true.)

The Reason They Were Chosen

Why were the Levites special? Let’s eliminate the false reasons, the things that did not make them special..

Not because of Natural Goodness

The Levites were special because they descended from a mild, meek, gentle, good guy. Genesis describes him as being far from that..

Genesis 49:5-7 Simeon and Levi are two of a kind—men of violence. 6 O my soul, stay away from them. May I never be a party to their wicked plans. For in their anger they murdered men, and they crippled oxen just for sport. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; cursed be their wrath, for it is cruel. Therefore, I will scatter their descendants throughout the nation of Israel.

Maybe this is punishment. Maybe this is the bad kind of “special.” Maybe my sin has finally caught up with me. Moses was from the tribe of Levi. He killed a man, just like Levi had done.

But they also did something of even greater significance…

They Chose God

Exodus 32:25-29 When Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control—and much to the amusement of their enemies— 26he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the LORD’S side, come over here and join me.” And all the Levites came. 27He told them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Strap on your swords! Go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other, killing even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” 28The Levites obeyed Moses, and about three thousand people died that day. 29Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Because of this, he will now give you a great blessing.”

There were two parts to this story, the first part more important than the second part, though we often skip the first part. The first part was this…choosing sides. Am I on the Lord’s side?

Ever been asked to do something, and you don’t know if you should or shouldn’t? We want to see the task. We want to know who else is going. Who’s going to be there? Will it be fun? Will I have time? Will it conflict with my priorities?

On many Friday nights we have volleyball and basketball at the church. Before any game begins, the teams have to be decided. Who is going to be on which side?

The success and failure of many games are decided in that first selection. You know if you have the really good players, chances are better that you will win. If you’re stuck with the kid who is afraid of the ball…well, you’ll have to be satisfied with the camaraderie of the night, and not worry so much about winning and losing.

After you surrender your will, obedience is automatic. If you are a servant, if the master wants you to stand silently by until he calls for you, you don’t say, “This is boring. What if I just see what’s on T.V.? I’ve got some things to do, I’ll be right back.” Once you say, “Not my will,” going to the cross is assumed.

1st John 3:9-10 Those who have been born into God’s family do not sin, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.

So…the promise was…you will receive a great blessing.

The Rights They Obtained

Exempt from War

Number 1:45 They were counted by families—all the men of Israel who were twenty years old or older and able to go to war.

Were they really exempt from war? For now, let’s just say that they were going to fight a very different war.

Eligible for Service

Numbers 3:5-10 Then the LORD said to Moses, 6“Call forward the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest as his assistants. They will serve Aaron and the whole community, performing their sacred duties in and around the Tabernacle. 8They will also maintain all the furnishings of the sacred tent, serving in the Tabernacle on behalf of all the Israelites. 9Assign the Levites to Aaron and his sons as their assistants. 10Appoint Aaron and his sons to carry out the duties of the priesthood. Anyone else who comes too near the sanctuary must be executed!”

They obtained the privilege of ministry in and around the Tabernacle. Other than the priests, they came closer to the Holy of Holies than any other group. They would even handle the Holy things.

When you put aside your will for the will of God, He is able to put you aside for His special purposes.

He wants each of us to come closer, to not only accept His grace, but also to accept the opportunity to live in service to Him.

One of those facts of life we learn early – with privilege comes responsibility.

The Responsibilities They Gained


Numbers 3:11-13 And the LORD said to Moses, 12“I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites are mine 13because all the firstborn sons are mine. From the day I killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel of both men and animals. They are mine; I am the LORD.”


Numbers 3:14-38 The LORD spoke again to Moses, there in the wilderness of Sinai. He said, 15“Take a census of the tribe of Levi by its families and clans. Count every male who is one month old or older.” 16So Moses counted them, just as the LORD had commanded.
17Levi had three sons, who were named Gershon, Kohath, and (and the Italian brother) Merari.
18The clans descended from Gershon were named for two of his descendants, Libni and Shimei.
19The clans descended from Kohath were named for four of his descendants, Amram, Izhar (Yits-hawr), Hebron (keb-rone), and Uzziel (ooz-zee-el).
20The clans descended from Merari were named for two of his descendants, Mahli (makh-lee) and Mushi. These were the Levite clans, listed according to their family groups.
21The descendants of Gershon were composed of the clans descended from Libni and Shimei. 22There were 7,500 males one month old or older among these Gershonite clans. 23They were assigned the area to the west of the Tabernacle for their camp. 24The leader of the Gershonite clans was Eliasaph son of Lael. 25These two clans were responsible to care for the tent of the Tabernacle with its layers of coverings, its entry curtains, 26the curtains of the courtyard that surrounded the Tabernacle and altar, the curtain at the courtyard entrance, the cords, and all the equipment related to their use.
27The descendants of Kohath were composed of the clans descended from Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 28There were 8,600 males one month old or older among these Kohathite clans. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. 29They were assigned the area south of the Tabernacle for their camp. 30The leader of the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. 31These four clans were responsible for the care of the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the various utensils used in the sanctuary, the inner curtain, and all the equipment related to their use. 32Eleazar the priest, Aaron’s son, was the chief administrator over all the Levites, with special responsibility for the oversight of the sanctuary.
33The descendants of Merari were composed of the clans descended from Mahli and Mushi. 34There were 6,200 males one month old or older among these Merarite clans. 35They were assigned the area north of the Tabernacle for their camp. The leader of the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail. 36These two clans were responsible for the care of the frames supporting the Tabernacle, the crossbars, the pillars, the bases, and all the equipment related to their use. 37They were also responsible for the posts of the courtyard and all their bases, pegs, and cords.
38The area in front of the Tabernacle in the east toward the sunrise was reserved for the tents of Moses and of Aaron and his sons, who had the final responsibility for the sanctuary on behalf of the people of Israel. Anyone other than a priest or Levite who came too near the sanctuary was to be executed.

Here is a short list of how the responsibilities were broken out:

Levi — |
|Gerson – Outer Coverings (Curtains, Coverings, Cords)
|Kohath – Inner Curtain, Holy Items and Utensils
|Merari – Structure (Posts, Pillars, Pegs, Frames, Bases)

As you look at their instructions for service – and think about God’s purposes and plans for your life – notice these elements:


The only question that ever had to be answered was, “Whose side are you on?” We make our lives very complicated by trying to follow our own will – it’s always changing! Where do I live? What do I do? How can I get more money? How can I get more time? How can I get more relaxation? How can I…listen to God?

Just keep the primary question and answer in mind. Whose side are you on?


This was a mobile community. It was critical that the camp be movable.

But this was all about more than a camping expedition. The point of all this was the Promised Land. If they were going to successfully navigate what was ahead, it was going to take more than what they could all do together. The presence of God among them would be essential. Nothing would be more important. Nothing – not the enemies ahead, not the dangers ahead, not the hardship or toil – nothing would be more critical to insuring their safe arrival in the Promised Land than to have the presence of Jehovah among them at all times.


Pegs were important. It’s easy to lose sight of that in year 19 of holding the pegs.

We go back and forth between being responsible and being a busy-body. If we’re responsible for the curtains, then we need to leave the posts alone. God doesn’t need us to keep tabs for Him. However, we need each other, so we can’t say, “that’s not my job.”

1st Corinthians 12:27 Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.


Everything pointed to the Messiah. As we said, the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant and everything that was there looked ahead to a time when God would live in human hearts because of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

Everything about the Levitical service was about the presence of God. Everything about our service is about the presence of God, which all points to Christ. If it’s not about Christ – then it has no meaning.

“Church stuff?” No. God-stuff. It’s all about Him.

1st Corinthians 10:31 Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:23-24 Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.


They were Levites. From birth until 30, they were preparing for service. From 30-50 they were serving directly. And after 50 they served those that were serving directly.

Who are you serving? What is the quality of your service? Do you sense its importance? Do you feel connected? Are you committed for the long haul?

(For a full explanation of this series, see the Series Intro post. All Scripture references in this post are taken from the New Living Translation.)


Numb3rs: The Intro

I’m not known as a decider. I’ll leave that title to former President Bush. The usual scenario when I’m in a restaurant with friends is to listen to everyone else order, then I’ll eventually make up my mind about what I’ll have.

Many people can look at a menu and narrow their choices quickly by eliminating what they don’t like. I like too many things. Chicken, beef, seafood, pasta…sure, I’ll have some of that.

When it’s time for me to preach or teach, I have the same problem. It’s not that I can’t think of anything to preach about. There are too many choices. There is much that God wants us to hear and many ways to say it. There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible and, as Paul said…

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”*

All Scripture. That’s too many choices.

Many pastors/teachers/preachers have this same problem. That’s why many of them use sermon series. My pastor does it all the time. Yours probably does, too.

But, I’m not the lead pastor. I don’t have 3 or 4 weeks at a time to do a sermon series. As a staff pastor, I preach whenever. That’s usually not very frequently. A Sunday night here, a Wednesday night there. Hardly ever on a Sunday morning.

That left me with the same frustration every time I had the opportunity to preach – what do I preach on? What will be the text? What will be the subject? It seemed like I spent as much time figuring out what the text would be as I did preparing the rest of the sermon.

The solution was to start preaching a series. That’s what real pastors do. The key would be in selecting a series that wouldn’t conflict with all the other series that would likely pop up during my series. It couldn’t be something common or ordinary like “Life’s Healing Choices” or “Lifestyles of Generosity” or “Fear” or “Worship“. It needed to be something that my pastor wouldn’t likely do a series on.

The book of Numbers. I’ve never heard a series on it. It’s briefly mentioned if someone ever does a “Through the Bible” series. But no one goes through Numbers verse-by-verse. Too many names. Too many verses that have seemingly nothing “useful”, as Paul said it would.

Try to preach through Numbers, and what will you do when you get to passages like Numbers 26? It’s chock-full of stuff like the 5th verse:

The descendants of Reuben, the firstborn son of Israel, were:
through Hanoch, the Hanochite clan;
through Pallu, the Palluite clan…

Gripping. Inspiring.

And frightening if you would actually try to do a series on it.

Naturally, that’s what I decided to do. Any time I am able to preach on a Wednesday night – which is called a Bible study night at my church – I teach through the book of Numbers. The names, the genealogies, the censuses, the Levitical rituals…everything, verse-by-verse.

The series – Numb3rs, in so many words – began on November 9, 2005. This coming Wednesday – November 4, 2009 – I’ll be preaching part 20, as we begin Numbers chapter 19. There are 36 chapters in Numbers, so I still have some time before I have to pick my next Wednesday night series.

In the meantime, I decided to post the text of the entire series here on SarcasticMonkeys. There isn’t much commentary or teaching based on the book of Numbers, so I thought this might be interesting. I won’t post it all at once, because I need to go back through it and make it readable for the web. I’ll also need to try to make appropriate attributions for the things I stole referenced from other sources – if I can remember where I got them.

This kicks off a new section of the site where I hope to be posting the some of the things I’ve taught or preached that others might find useful or interesting. Enjoy.

[Updated: 11/01/09 – As if to illustrate the point that my opportunities to preach are tenuous at best, I found out this morning – as Pastor told the congregation – that he invited a guest speaker for Wednesday. I guess Part 20 will wait. Such is the life of a staff pastor.]

* 2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT courtesy of