Numbering the Levites
“By the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered from twenty years old and upward” (v. 27).- 1 Chronicles 23
David’s final words to Solomon included detailed instructions regarding the temple. As 1 Chronicles 22 shows us, David made sure to provide an extensive supply of construction materials and artisans to Solomon so that he would have the resources necessary for a temple worthy of the Creator of the universe. But David also told Solomon how to organize the personnel who would serve in the temple, and 1 Chronicles 23–26 presents this organization.
We are going to look briefly only at 1 Chronicles 23, but let us note that according to chapters 23–26, all of the personnel appointed for service in the temple were from the tribe of Levi. After all, only the Levites were to handle the holy instruments of worship (15:2). Not all of the Levites were priests who offered sacrifices. Only Aaron and his descendants, who were Levites, made offerings and blessed the people (23:13). The other Levites served as temple musicians, acted as gatekeepers, and otherwise assisted the priests in worship. Another way of saying this is that all priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests.
Prior to the building of the temple in Jerusalem, the main task of the Levites was to carry the tabernacle, the ark, and other implements from place to place, and to disassemble the portable sanctuary before its transport and set it up afterward (Num. 1:47–54). The numbering and reassignment of much of the tribe of Levi would be necessary under Solomon because with the permanent sanctuary, the Levites would have no “need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service” (1 Chron. 23:26). The tabernacle, then, was never meant to be a permanent place of worship for Israel. The fact that it was a portable tent was the first clue that the tabernacle would be temporary, but the promise in Deuteronomy 12:1–28 that God would choose a single place for sacrifice in the promised land also implies a more permanent arrangement for worship. Finally, the Lord commissioned Solomon to build a temple to replace the tabernacle as the site of Israel’s worship (1 Chron. 22:1–10).
Of course, even the temple was not intended to be a permanent place of worship. Ultimately, the temple of stone and wood in Jerusalem prefigured the living temple of Christ, and the service of the Levites anticipated the day when all of God’s people would be priests before Him (Isa. 66:18–21; Rev. 4:1–6).
Under the new covenant, we have been made priests to our God. Under the old covenant, only select individuals could enter God’s direct presence in worship—the priests, but more specifically, the high priest alone. In Christ, we can all enter God’s direct presence, for He has gone before us as our High Priest, and we also go with Him, for we are united to Him by faith. Let us thank the Lord for this privilege and never fail to take advantage of it.
Passages for Further Study
1 Chronicles 25
1 Peter 2:9–10