The dying patriarch Jacob – when he was solemnly describing the character and destinies of the 12 tribes who were to bear his name – thus spoke of two of his sons: “Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations… I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” (Gen. 49:5-7). In the case of the descendants of Levi, the curse was turned into a blessing. Their zeal and faithfulness to God had been tested and proved on the sad occasion of the golden-calf-idolatry at Horeb. And although they were still “scattered in Israel” when the promised inheritance was divided up, the Lord Himself became their portion. Since they were the Lord’s appointed ministers, provision for their support was made by all the other tribes. At the Divine command, 48 cities were given to the Levites; and each of these cities had about 1,500 feet of pasture-land measured outward from the city walls. This pasture-land was for the benefit of the Levites’ cattle. The support of faithful ministers is not a thing that is merely left to the will and whim of God’s people; those who preach the Gospel should be supported by the Gospel, and they should be able to live comfortably.
This chapter describes the allotment of these 48 cities which were given to the three chief families of the tribe of Levi. These families were the Gershonites, the Merarites, and the Kohathites. Moses and Aaron were a member of the Kohathites, and the priesthood was restricted to the direct line of Aaron. The eldest son among each generation of Aaron’s descendants was to be the high priest, while the rest of Aaron’s descendants were ordinary priests; but the other Kohathites who did not descend directly from Aaron only served as Levites (who were like “assistants” to the priests).
The different families of the Levites were assigned to cities in certain tribes, by the casting of lots. The priestly family of Aaron was given precedence among the Kohathites, for they had a lot cast for themselves alone. The priests received 13 cities that were spread throughout the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The non-priestly Kohathites (those who were not of Aaron’s family) received 10 cities in central Israel – contributed by Dan, Ephraim, and the western half of Manasseh. The Gershonites’ lot contained 13 cities, given by the eastern half of Manasseh and three of the northern tribes: Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali. Finally, the descendants of Merari had 12 cities in the tribes of Naphtali, Reuben, and Gad. Thus, the Levites were given 48 cities in all – six of which were the cities of refuge. It was expressly said again and again that “Levi hath no part with his brethren, for the Lord is his portion.” The Levites were scattered throughout all the tribes, dwelling among all the people of Israel; and is this not a beautiful similitude of the everlasting presence of Jesus – our Great High Priest – amongst His people?
By mingling the Levites among the other tribes, they were constantly reminded that the eyes of all Israel were upon them; and therefore, their chief concern was to walk in such a way that their ministry might not be blamed. And since every tribe had its share of Levitical cities, it was convenient for any of the people to go to these spiritual leaders to receive advice and instruction, and to be taught the good knowledge of the Lord. See how God graciously provided for the keeping up of true religion among His people? They had the Word of God taught to them in all parts of their land. But blessed be the name of the Lord; for in our own day, we have the Gospel diffused even more freely amongst us!
The last verses of this chapter contain a beautiful summary of God’s faithfulness to His people. He had now accomplished what He had said He would do! He had given Canaan to His people; and the promise of the heavenly Canaan is just as sure to all God’s children, for it is the promise of Him Who cannot lie.
While we are contemplating God’s faithfulness to His Covenant-promises that He made with Israel, let us not fail to connect it with the certain confirmation of the same glorious character to His people now! “God is faithful,” says Paul, “who hath called us to the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:9). What a sweet relief to the soul of the believer, under all his own unfaithfulness and unbelief! “So the work was finished. There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.” And this is still true! Our Father has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ. He has withheld no good thing from us. In Jesus, all fullness dwells – all that is necessary for life and godliness. We are complete in Him! In due season, all His promises will be accomplished; and then His people will acknowledge that the Lord has exceeded their largest expectations, and made them more than conquerors, and brought them to their desired rest!
O Lord Jesus! You are the Priest of the order of Melchizedek! Grant us a portion in Yourself – in the true Canaan of Your Gospel-Church here below – as a pledge of being a member forever of Your redeemed Church which is in heaven above! Consecrate us and set us apart by the sprinkling of Your blood of Jesus, and by the anointings of Your Holy Spirit, so that we may become Your servants – offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to the Lord! Amen. (1 Pet. 2:5)
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