For the week of May 15, 2010 / 2 Sivan 5770
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 1:1 - 4:20
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22

Owned by God

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." (Bemidbar / Numbers 3:11-13; ESV)

The Levites (Hebrew: levi'im) fulfilled a special function within ancient Israel. Instead of being given territory within the Land as were the other tribes they were to be the religious ministers. A subset of the Levites were the priests (Hebrew: cohenim), the descendants of Moses' brother Aaron, who offered the sacrifices. The rest of the Levites assisted the priests in their duties and fulfilled other religious tasks throughout the nation. There is a sense in which the Levites belonged to God in a way the rest of the people did not, for their daily concerns were consumed with the service of God rather than normal human endeavors.

The setting aside of the Levites was not simply due to the need of having religious ministers. Rather they stood in the place of all the firstborn males who survived the Exodus. God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt by striking the Egyptians with ten plagues. The final plague was the killing of the firstborn males, both human and animal. To protect the people of Israel from this, God told them to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the doorframes of their houses. When God came to strike down the firstborn males, he passed over the houses upon which the blood was applied. This is why the festival commemorating this event is called Passover (see Shemot / Exodus 11:1-12:13).

An important element of this is how it relates to the Levites. The tenth plague was not limited to the striking down of the Egyptian firstborn only, but rather of all the firstborn of the land of Egypt regardless of nationality. The stubborn disobedience of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, brought general destruction upon his land. There were certain plagues in which the people of Israel experienced special protection, but not all of them. With regard to the tenth plague, if any Israelite home did not follow God's instructions, their firstborn males would have perished as well. Therefore, the preservation of the Israelite firstborn males was due to God's special grace. Thus, the firstborn males of Israel were indebted to God to a greater extent than the rest of the nation. While the whole nation was indebted to God for their freedom, the firstborn males were indebted for their very lives.

The preservation of the firstborn males and their special relationship to God was to be remembered throughout future generations. Instead of the actual firstborn males of the whole nation being called into religious service, God determined that the Levites should stand in their place. Their service to God was more than a special calling simply due to the need for religious ministers. Rather they represented God's unique ownership of the firstborn males.

Just as the Levites were God's special possession, so are all followers of the Messiah. Like Egypt of old, God's judgment is coming upon the whole Earth. Due to our stubborn refusal to obey God according to his standards, God himself will condemn everyone to eternal destruction, unless we apply the blood of Yeshua's sacrifice to our lives. Like the firstborn males, God's judgment will pass over us if we follow God's instructions and entrust ourselves to Yeshua the Messiah.

Like the firstborn males, if we believe in Yeshua, we are indebted to him, not just for our freedom, but for our very lives. Therefore, like the Levites, we are God's special possession. Since we are owned by God in this way, we don't have the freedom to live however we wish, pursuing our own goals and desires. Rather, we are owned by God, set apart to serve his interests alone.

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