Continuing to read in Joshua. Continuing to think about the Levites.
Yesterday, I wondered what it was like to watch the other tribes be allotted their inheritance in the promised land and for your tribe’s name never to come up in the draft, because you didn’t get a chunk of land. I wondered if it was like opening Christmas presents around the tree and there wasn’t one with your name on it. Or like going out with your family trick-or-treating and being the only one to come back with an empty bag.
But as I read this morning, I realize I may have overstated things a bit. They actually did get toys to play with on Christmas morning, just not their own, they had to settle with one of their brothers’ toys. And it’s not like they were left out of the Halloween candy windfall, its just that they had to rely on each of their siblings giving them some from their bags.
Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel. And they said to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, “The LORD commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasturelands for our livestock.” So by command of the LORD the people of Israel gave to the Levites the following cities and pasturelands out of their inheritance. . . . The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands.
(Joshua 21:1-3, 41 ESV)
If their brothers were landowners, then maybe you could think of the Levites as renters. However, the cost of their rentals was zero dollars down, with zero dollars per month, for forever. So, maybe not such a bad deal. But still, at the end of the day, they owned nothing. Nothing was theirs to pass on to their kids. So, like I said yesterday, they had to be content that their heritage was the priesthood. Satisfied that their legacy would be found in serving an eternal God. And thus, ultimately, their’s was an inheritance that would last.
But here’s the thing that hits me this morning. Their identity was also found in their ministry. And their community would only be realized through their calling.
Whereas the other tribes were given big chunks of land in which to live together, the Levites were to be scattered throughout the land in forty-eight cities. They were to live “in the midst of the possession of the people.”
Though their brothers would have identity through proximity, the Levites were to live, in a way, as strangers in a land not their own (sound familiar). And they would be most connected as a common people when they would come together for service to the tabernacle. Though apart, what would most define them was the fact that, rather than being given an inheritance, God had chosen them as an inheritance (Num. 3:12). And though scattered, what would bring them most into a sense of community and common purpose was when they came together to minister at the tent of meeting.
And it’s got me thinking that maybe there’s something in the Levites of old that paints a picture of what gospel community is about for believers today.
We don’t have an inheritance here. We’re scattered among the people. And while we might tend our pasturelands just like our neighbors, what truly defines us is when we’re in service to our God. And what ultimately unites us is not a common up-bringing, socio-economic status, or natural affinities and interests. Rather, what brings us together is a shared burning desire to worship our God, to serve Him, and to represent Him.
And guess what? COVID quarantine doesn’t change that one bit. While proximity certainly promotes community and unity, and while that is God’s preferred way for us to encourage one another and be built up in our faith (and I can’t wait until that day when we’re doing so again face to face), I’m reminded this morning that our ultimate bond is found by being in Christ, sealed with His Spirit, and set apart for a common mission. That our ultimate identity is not in how much, or in what manner, we gather, but in how faithfully we serve. That our ultimate community comes not from proximity but in purpose.
Like the Levites, God has owned us as His own (1Pet. 2:9). Like the Levites, we’ve been told our inheritance isn’t found in this land (Heb. 13:14). Like the Levites, we’ve been scattered, as salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14), among a world owned by others (yet still ruled by God). And like the Levites, our family is most defined by our faithfulness to our God (Mk. 3:34).
That’s my tribe. Praising God for them this morning.
Because of His grace. For His glory.