They were already part of a misfit nation. A people within a people that was trying to find a place among other people who didn’t want them in their midst.
To just be an Israelite was to paddle upstream against the flow, to stand out in the crowd of the nations who occupied the land. But to be a Levite? That was to do it without an oar (or, at least, without any land) and, with a big “L” stamped on your forehead (“L” for Levite, of course).
Thinking about the Levites this morning as I read the census of the generation of wilderness wanderers ready to enter the promised land (Num. 26).
All the congregation of Israel was counted on the basis of every male who was twenty years old and upward, “who are able to go to war” (26:2). They were to be counted so that they knew how much “promise land” they should receive — each tribe’s inheritance to be allotted in proportion to each tribe’s size (26:52-56). And though Levi was the third born of the twelve sons fathered by Jacob, you get through the census — twelve tribes counted, almost 602,000 twenty+ males numbered — and there’s no mention of the Levites. (Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, the saving son who once ruled in Egypt, taking two spots through his sons Manasseh and Ephraim).
This was the list of the Levites according to their clans: of Gershon, the clan of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the clan of the Kohathites; of Merari, the clan of the Merarites. . . . And those listed were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward. For they were not listed among the people of Israel, because there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.
(Numbers 26:57, 62 ESV)
They were of the line of a son of Jacob, just like the rest. But there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.
Four hundred years in Egyptian bondage, just like everyone else. But no inheritance. Forty years of walking in circles in the wilderness, just like the other people of God. But no inheritance. Ready to fight to take the land God had promised them. But no inheritance.
So, if you’re a Levite, how ya’ feelin’?
Among a people set apart for God, they were specially set apart.
“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.
(Numbers 3:13 ESV)
They were to be the nation’s offering to the God who was worthy of all firstfruits.
Set apart among a set apart people, they were to be God’s elite army of worship warriors. Ministering in the tent of meeting. Serving in the tabernacle. Setting a guard around the holy place of God when the camp was still. Bearing the tabernacle and it’s furnishings on their shoulders when Israel was on the move. All with no hope of possessing any land to call their own. Just a life of being set apart, called as God’s own.
If that’s you, how ya’ feelin’? That’s what I’m chewing on this morning.
Feeling special or especially swindled? Chosen or cheated? Euphoric or used?
If they had had their hearts set on settling down on 40 acres they could call their own, like everyone else, they were in for disappointment and frustration. But if they had set their hearts on the God of their calling, the God who they would be serving, the God into whose presence they could draw nearer to than anyone else, maybe they’d see each day more as a blessing than a burden.
I’m no Levite, but I wonder how I’d feel about it if I were. Not much of a story to tell in terms of the things of earth, but a legacy to leave of serving the God of heaven. Content with what I had, though less than those around me, because I knew I had been consecrated for service to the Most High God. Not much of an inheritance to look forward to here and now, at least nothing that lasted, but sure of an inheritance to be realized there and then, one “that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1Pet. 1:4).
No inheritance. Just an eternity. No earthly legacy, but life everlasting. No place to leave my mark, but content that my name is written in the Book.
So how am I feelin’? Pretty good, actually. Pretty blessed.
Because of grace. For His glory.