Priests and Levites
(Numbers 18 & 19)
Introduction: After the last few weeks, what are your views about rebellion towards God? How about towards His leaders? I'm going to assume the answer is: "I don't want to be a rebel!" Can rebellion exist in something that is not obvious? For example, what if we refuse to support God's leaders financially? What if we are critical of their lifestyles? What if someone gives us correction and we resent them for it? What responsibility do leaders assume for the rebellious nature of the "flock?" With these questions in mind, let's dive into our study of Numbers!
- Take Responsibility
- Read Numbers 18:1. Review in your mind last week's lesson: the one about the earth opening up and swallowing the rebels, the one about fire coming down from heaven and burning those holding the censers. Then re-read our last verse from last week: Numbers 17:12-13. Now that you are in the right frame of mind, consider Numbers 18:1. What would you say if you were Aaron? (Either a trembling "Yes, God!" Or "Shoot me right now.")
- What do you think God means? After all, He just intervened to save and vindicate Moses and Aaron when "the family" was rebelling.
- Do you think that Aaron might have been partially responsible for the rebellion we studied last week?
- Or, is something else going on? (The current U.S. President refers to "teachable moments." I think we have a teachable moment right here. God is holy, and He holds his agents to very high standards when it comes to the sanctuary. That is part of the explanation for the dramatic treatment of Korah, who was, after all, a Kohathite - part of the group being addressed here. With great authority comes great responsibility.)
- Read Numbers 18:2-4. Why would both the supervisor and the supervised die for an infraction?
- About two months ago I preached a sermon that was professionally videotaped. This is rare in my local church. Just as I started the sermon, a little kid came flying up the steps of the platform. I immediately thought, "What should I do?" I turned and started walking the other way so the camera would follow me and not tape the sideshow. This so distracted me from what I was saying that I said the wrong word - which I then had to correct. That put me off to a bad start. Did I have an obligation to talk to the people about their obligations in the recording? I had not said a word about it. (This was partially my fault.)
- Reap the Benefits
- Read Numbers 18:8-9. Read Numbers 18:11-12. Recall that only perfect animals ( Leviticus 22:19) were to be offered. Aaron and the Levites had very important responsibilities, but they also had fine rewards. Should this apply to God's representatives today?
- An article in the most recent issue of Christianity Today talks about the controversy among some churches about the wealth of the leaders. Does this text speak to our spiritual leaders having the "finest" things?
- I don't make a dime from writing this lesson and never have. All of the translators are volunteers. Is this wrong? (If this were the only thing I was doing, it probably would be wrong. But, I get paid for my law-related work and do not need to be paid for this work.)
- Read Numbers 18:20. If you were a member of another tribe, you could make as much money was you wanted. Is this true of the Levites? (God prohibited their possession of land and regulated the amount of their income.)
- What application should this have for the support of ministers today?
- Read Numbers 18:21. What two sources of income have we discovered? (The priests took as income all of the sacrifices and offerings that were not burned. The Levites took as income the tithes paid by the people.)
- Read Numbers 18:25-32. I once heard a minister say to me "the Levites were never told to pay tithe." He failed to read his Bible carefully. Why should the Levites pay tithe? They received the tithe because of their work on God's behalf. What work does their tithe support? (This teaches us that tithing is not just a matter of supporting God's workers, it is about thanking God for His blessings.)
- Read 2 Corinthians 9:7. Compare it with Numbers 18:32. Can we say you "cheerfully" avoid dying?
- Can these two verses fit in the same room? (One distinction that I see is that the Levites were paid from what was given to God for His work. For them to misuse it or misappropriate it was a very serious matter.)
- What do you think about God's system for supporting the priests and Levites? Is it fair? How much would you pay for the forgiveness of sin? For the provision of food? For the guidance of God? (It seems 10% plus the various offerings is a real bargain. The value seems "priceless" to me.)
- Does any nation follow such a program when it comes to taxes? (The United States does not. In God's system of support, those who produced more, paid more, but they paid the same percentage regardless of income. In the United States those who earn more pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes. Those at the low end pay nothing in taxes. Those who pay nothing have no incentive to reduce taxes and those who pay the most have less incentive to earn more. God's system is more logical.)
- The Red Heifer
- If you review Numbers 19 you will see that it contains a great deal of discussion about dead bodies and being unclean as a result of touching a dead body. Why do you think this instruction comes here? (Read Numbers 16:49. They had a lot of dead bodies to deal with.)
- Read Numbers 19:1-5. They had the sacrificial system. They had an altar. They had the method for forgiveness of sin. Why should God require something that seems so similar yet different?
- Was there something wrong with the current system? (Think about what we have been studying. A large number of the Levites were in revolt. Many people had died because of God's judgment. The system was not working "smoothly" as of late. As a result, God did something a little different.)
- Why do you think the heifer had to be "red," without defect, never been used as a work animal, and sacrificed outside the camp? (All of these things might represent Jesus. He shed His blood for us. He lived a perfect life. He voluntarily gave His life. He was killed outside the gates of Jerusalem.)
- How does the idea of a similar, yet different sacrifice fit into our comparison with Jesus? (The sacrificial system set the example of how sin is taken care of, but Jesus is much more than the sacrificial system. When things were not going right with the sacrificial system, when death was all around, God gives an instruction that shows that He has a plan to deal with all of these problems.)
- Read Numbers 19:9. The ashes of the red heifer are used for "the water of cleansing." Can you relate that to Jesus? (Read John 4:11-14. Jesus gives us "living water." He gives us eternal life.)
- Read Hebrews 9:13-14. Where have you heard of sin being taken away by ashes being "sprinkled?" (The "heifer" referred to here is most likely the red heifer. The "blood of goats and bulls" refers to the sanctuary system. But, the heifer and the sprinkling seem to be a reference to Numbers 19 and specifically Numbers 19:17-21.)
- How is the red heifer linked to Jesus? (Jesus fulfills the prophecy of the red heifer.)
- Because the ashes of the red heifer were used to purify, some believe that a "red heifer" will be born in Jerusalem in modern times, that its ashes will be used to purify the historic place of the temple, and that a new temple in Jerusalem will be built by the Jews. What do you say about the Biblical basis for this claim? (Hebrews 9 tells us that Jesus gives us the better and eternal sacrifice. Why would we want to go back to a sanctuary system on earth?)
- Friend, it seems that we have covered several different topics this week. The thread between all of them is taking God's law seriously. We must respect God's will and His law. We cannot take God's law seriously if we do not study His word. Studying His word gives us access today to "living water" and gives us insight into the difficulty with "red heifer" theories. Today, will you commit to studying God's word?
- Next week: The Sin of Moses and Aaron.