But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them.…
This is the first of a series of passages in which the law regarding the Levites is delivered. These all occur in Numbers, excepting a very few which are found in Deuteronomy; and they must be read together if you would get a connected and complete view of the statutes relating to the sacred tribe. Read together, the several texts will be found to dovetail one into another. The first is quite general, merely intimating that the Levites were to be numbered and marshaled as a host by themselves, being wholly dedicated to the service of the sanctuary. The second, entitled "The generations" of the Levites, their Family Book, gives particulars regarding their divisions and several offices (chapters 3, 4). The third describes how they were set apart to office by a solemn purification (Numbers 8:5). Subsequent passages contain (fourthly) the tragic story of Korah and his company (chapter 16), and (fifthly) the provision made for the Levites' honourable maintenance (chapters 18, 35). One who reads this series of passages with care will make a discovery of some value regarding the structure of these books of the Pentateuch. Because the several laws relating to one subject are not set down in one place, as they would be in our books, and are not arranged according to our ideas of order, it is confidently affirmed that they are set down without any order, and indeed that the Mosaic law is a somewhat random collection of documents diverse in date and character. This is certainly an error. The beautiful order discoverable in the ordinances regarding the Levites will be found to prevail in the ordinances - scattered as they may seem - on many other subjects.
I. This, being the earliest notice of the Levites as a separate and sacred tribe, invites us to review THE STORY OF THEIR CALLING. The first step was taken when the Lord, ordaining in Israel a hereditary priesthood, nominated "Aaron the Levite" and his sons. Still, though Aaron the Levite was called, nothing was said regarding the rest of the tribe. But it was plain that one man and his two sons (the whole number of the Aaronites after the death of Nadab and Abihu) could not execute the priests' office for a great nation. Helpers they must have. Who more fit than their brethren of their own tribe? They were much the smallest of the tribes, so that their maintenance would not be too burdensome; and they had already distinguished themselves by their zeal for the Lord to such a degree as amounted to a virtual consecration to his service (see Exodus 32:29). Accordingly, when the order was given to number and marshal the congregation, an exception was made in relation to the Levites. They were numbered by themselves, as a separated and sacred tribe. Recall the fact just noticed, that the Levites were fitted for their office before they were called to it. Their fitness was made manifest before a word was spoken regarding the honourable office in which it was to be exercised. The whole history of the Church is full of similar facts. When some great exigency arises calling for the services of men possessing special qualities of character or attainment, it is generally found that the Head of the Church has anticipated the occasion by raising up the men required. See for an illustrious example, Galatians 1:15, 16.
II. THE WORK APPOINTED TO THE LEVITES. It was "to keep the charge of the tabernacle" (verse 53). They carried it; guarded it; did all the work of it except offering sacrifice, burning incense, and blessing the people. In a word, they, under the hand and oversight of the priests, attended to the "outward business of the house of God" (Nehemiah 11:16). One cannot read this account of the Levites' work without being touched with a sense of the superiority of the Christian Church and its services over the tabernacle and the Levitical ministrations. To thoughtful and spiritually-minded men the Levitical ministrations must have been an intolerable burden. Barnabas the Levite would, without doubt, say Amen when he heard Peter's description of them as "a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear" (Acts 15:10). It is right to remember that, as time passed, the yoke was much mitigated. If the Pentateuch gives no express commandment to the Levites except about the external business of the tabernacle, that simply confirms the antiquity of the Pentateuch. By King David they were invited to higher service as singers and even as psalmists. Jehoshaphat employed them largely as public teachers of the law throughout the cities of Judah (2 Chronicles 17:8, 9). Moreover, the Levitical services as prescribed by Moses, although burdensome and unprofitable when compared with those of the New Testament Church, had a great purpose to serve both in prefiguring the truth to be afterwards revealed, and as an educational institute by which the people of God were prepared for the better time. It is a good thing to have a charge to keep in connection with Christ's Church, in any capacity, however humble. Better be a Levite to keep the door of the house of God than live without God in a palace. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them.