3:16 – The Rest of the Story – God Reveals His Plan 4: Numbers

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan (Current location of study)
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response

“So Moses listed them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded.” – Numbers 3:16

Here we have a verse that seems very simple, but its contextual meaning is very important in understanding God’s revelation of his plan.

It comes from the book of Numbers, which derives its name from all the lists and counts that occur within it. There is a census of the Israelites at the beginning of the book (Chapter 1) of all the men able to go to war. There is another census of the new generation (the children of the rebels who died in the desert) in Chapter 26. There are lists of traveling and camping placements, lists of offerings, lists of travel stops, lists of festivals, lists of cities, lists of battles, and lists of spoils of victory. Scattered throughout the rest of the book is the history of all that happened to the nation to cause them to be sentenced to forty years of wandering in the desert and the events that transpired during that time.

Chapter 3 of Numbers, though, is integral to the revelation of God’s plan for his people. It concerns the Levites. Verses 32-33 of Chapter 2 introduce Chapter 3 by saying, “These are the people of Israel as listed by their fathers’ houses. All those listed in the camps by their companies were 603,550. But the Levites were not listed among the people of Israel, as the LORD commanded Moses.” Why weren’t the Levites included in the census? The census numbers were to be used to determine how large the army would be for the conquest of the promised land. It was also to be used to determine how much land would be distributed among the tribes upon completion of the conquest.

In Numbers 1:47-54, God prescribed that the Levites were not to be counted and that they would be charged with the care and operations of the tabernacle. Moses and Aaron (and their sister Miriam) were also descendants of Levi, and the priests were all to be taken from Aaron’s descendants. But the rest of the clan of Levi were assigned as tabernacle caretakers.

We first see the Levites singled out after the Israelites so quickly rebelled against God after He gave them the ten commandments. While Moses was gone up the mountain for God to give him the stone tablets (and the rest of the law), the people convinced Aaron to create a golden calf for them to worship. God informed Moses of this and threatened to destroy them all, but Moses interceded for them. When he returned to the camp and threw down the stone tablets, breaking them, he angrily asked “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for 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 32:26-29)”

The Levites alone were willing to repent and stand for the Lord’s righteousness. So God set them apart from all the rest of the tribes of Israel. One other group that were specifically “set apart” by God is from the time of the plagues on Egypt and the escape of the Israelites from their slavery there. In Exodus 13:1-2, “The LORD said to Moses,Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” So at the institution of the Passover, God had reserved for himself every firstborn. The firstborn of Egypt were killed, but because of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the spreading of the blood over the house, God “passed over” the Israelite houses and spared their firstborn from destruction and judgment. But he still reserved them for himself and said they would have to be “redeemed” (Exodus 13:13).

Now these two things (consecration of the firstborn and the Levites) become connected later on in Numbers 3:11-16.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the LORD.” And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, “List the sons of Levi, by fathers’ houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list.”

And that brings us to today’s 3:16 verse.

So Moses listed them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded.

The Levites served as a continual reminder that the firstborn of the Israelites belonged to God, but He provided a substitution for their lives. This furthers the picture of Christ as our substitutionary sacrifice. The shedding of blood was necessary for redemption, but the substitution also continues with a living person. Christ is our lamb and our priest and the caretaker of the tabernacle (the body of Christ – the church).

Oh, and one more thing. The Levites were not to be given land within the promised land. Rather, they were to be dispersed throughout all the other tribes in cities that they were to be given. And six of those cities were to be designated “cities of refuge” (Numbers 35). These were places that those who accidentally kill someone could flee to escape retribution. Similarly, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, lives in ALL believers and is our refuge.

All of these wonderful pictures were placed in the Old Testament to serve as a continuation of the revelation of God’s plan for our redemption. It was things like this that, no doubt, Jesus explained to the men on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection when he “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27).”

Next week we’ll continue looking at the work of the Levites and the priests and the continuing story of God’s revelation of his plan in Leviticus 3:16.

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