Numbers 8:5-26 (Part 7) – Firstborn In My Family Meant Ralph

Posted: August 7, 2016 in 04-Numbers
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Numbers 8:5-26 (Part 7)

The Levites Dedicated

I was born second out of two children in my family. Not the first born child. I am the baby of my dad’s little family. How about you? What is it like to be the first born? There are jokes that float around about parenting. When you have your first kid, you make a million pictures of everything they do. With your second child there are only about half that. If you have a third child, the kid will think he is adopted because there are so few pictures. With your first child, you take all these precautions. You are super cautious about their safety. With the second child, you realize that they are not going to be hurt by everything and you are a lot less cautious. When you have a first child, you take the whole house with you when you travel even the slightest distances. When you have a second child, you’ve learned exactly what is necessary and so you travel lighter with a second baby than you do with the first. It’s not that you love the second child any less, it’s just that you have more experience as a parent by the time you have a second child and realize what is important and what is not. You also have two kids to take care of and not just one so there is just less time to make a fuss over every little detail as you did when you just had one child. But, really, in our society in the 21st century, there are some perks that go along with being the oldest but generally in families in today’s world, all children are treated as equal to one another. If you are the oldest nowadays are only a few situations where you can use the trump card of “I am the oldest.” For the most part, in today’s society, families are smaller and birth position does not mean as much. When you are the oldest of two or maybe three kids, it is not quite as big a deal as if you were the oldest of five or ten kids.


In my family, starting with my paternal grandfather, the eldest son was given the name Ralph. My grandfather was the original Ralph in our family. That badge of honor accorded to the firstborn was passed on to my dad. My dad was Ralph, Jr. My brother, the eldest son of two boys, is Ralph III. I escaped being the eldest of my dad’s boys by eighteen months. Just think, the guy you know and love as Mark would have been Ralph III. There are some advantages, I think, to being the baby! Mark, in my opinion, is a cooler name that Ralph. My brother, tired of dealing with the negative connotations of Ralph (caused by Happy Days, I think), cooled out his name by going by his initials. He goes RT now instead of Ralph. RT is cooler! And RT did not pass on the tradition of the title of Ralph to his firstborn son. His name is Jared. There was no Ralph IV.


Back in the biblical era, being the first born really meant something. Families were large and assets were limited. Therefore, for inheritance’s sake, the firstborn child, particularly a firstborn son, was a lucky little guy. He got everything. The whole smash. He was the big dog. Being the oldest really meant something back in those days. In the society of the Israelites, as in most ancient Middle Eastern societies, being the oldest male child was accorded special position. He would be the one that the father invested the most time and energy because he would be the one that took over the family trade whatever that happened to be.


Even here after escaping their Egyptian slavery, but before taking over the Promised Land, in the years in the wilderness, being the firstborn son was important in the service of the Lord. Prior to the dedication of the Levites as the workers of the tabernacle, each family’s firstborn sons were dedicated to the service of the Lord. Each family’s firstborn son was claimed by the Lord and were required to work in the Tabernacle. However, with the increasing sophistication and organization of the society, God deemed it necessary to replace the firstborn sons of every clan with a class of professional temple workers who would come from the Levite clan. There were to stand in the place of the firstborn sons of Israel from this point forward.


Let’s read the full passage together and then let’s concentrate once again on v. 15-19 for today after we have read through it:


5 The Lord said to Moses: 6 “Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean. 7 To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will

purify 3themselves. 8 Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering.[a] 9 Bring the Levites to the front of the tent of meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community. 10 You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. 11 Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord.


12 “Then the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, using one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. 13 Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. 14 In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine.


15 “After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the tent of meeting. 16 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. 17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. 18 And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. 19 From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.”


20 Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. 21 The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the Lord and made atonement for them to purify them. 22 After that, the Levites came to do their work at the tent of meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses.


23 The Lord said to Moses, 24 “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”


Here we see the Levites being set apart for service in the Tabernacle. They will become the temple workers from this point forward. That would be all that they do. Instead of firstborn sons being offered up for service on a rotating basis from every clan, these guys would be the specialists. Their full-time jobs would be to serve the Lord at the tabernacle and act on behalf of what was once the jobs of the firstborn sons.


The takeaway for me is that idea of replacement. The Levites were to take the place, be replacements, for the required duties of the firstborn sons of Israel. The firstborn sons had the additional burden of service in the tabernacle in addition to whatever else was required of them as part of their families. The specialization of the Levites for the tabernacle work lifted this burden from the firstborn sons of Israel. They were freed from this burden. That lifting of the burden from the firstborn sons of Israel is symbolic to me of what Jesus Christ has done for each of us.


Jesus has lifted our burden of sin from us. He takes the sin away from us. He is our replacement. He covers up for us. He covers our sins for us. He imputes his sinless nature upon us and His sinless nature replaces our sinful one before God. It was Paul who said that we are the firstborn sons of righteousness through Jesus Christ. We can claim the inheritance accorded to the firstborn through Jesus Christ. We get all the advantages of being a firstborn son through Jesus Christ. We get our eternal inheritance of heaven through His covering of us. We would get no inheritance of eternity if it were not for Jesus Christ. We are heirs to eternity in the presence of God because of Jesus Christ. He replaces us our part-time goodness, part-time badness with His eternal goodness and we benefit from His covering of us. We benefit from Him replacing us before God. God sees the perfection of Jesus instead of sin-filled nature. He takes our place so that we will not have the burden of our sin before God. In Jesus, we are all firstborn sons dedicated to the Lord through Jesus Christ’s perfection. Our inheritance of our eternal freedom in heaven is owed to his taking our place on the cross and bearing the burden of our sins. He took our place. He took the punishment for sin that we deserve. He is our Levite tabernacle worker. He took our place. He took up the work of paying for our sins so that we can be firstborn sons and inherit the kingdom.


Amen and Amen.

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