Numbers 3 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Numbers 3)
The Levites set apart for service

In chapter 3 we have the Levites set apart, according to the thoughts of God, for service. They are a figure of the church, or rather of the members of the church in their service, even as the priests are the figure of Christians drawing near to the throne of God, though both be a shadow, not a perfect image.

The Levites and the Church as firstfruits

The Levites were firstfruits offered to God, for they were instead of the firstborn in whom God had taken Israel to Himself, when He smote the firstborn of the Egyptians.

Thus it is that the church [1] is, as the firstfruits of the creatures of God, holy to the Lord. The number of the firstborn being greater than that of the Levites, those that were over were redeemed, as a sign that they belonged to God, and the Levites became God's possession for His service (vers. 12, 13). It is the same with regard to the church: it belongs wholly to God to serve Him down here.

The Church's service wholly dependent on Christ and His priesthood

But, besides, the Levites were entirely given to Aaron the high priest; for the service of the church, or of its members, is wholly dependent on Christ in the presence of God, and has no other object but that which concerns Him, and that which is connected with, and flows from the place and service which He Himself renders to God in the true tabernacle, carrying out in service here the ends for which He is in the holy place up there; but directly connected with the sanctuary—that is for us heaven, for we belong to heaven, and our walk and all our service is referred to, and characterised by our connection with it. Our conversation (living association) is in heaven; we purify ourselves as He is pure, and are called to walk worthy of God, who has called to His own kingdom and glory,—worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing. Only, the veil being rent, we are much more fully connected with that than the Levites were even in figure. The service of the saints has no value (on the contrary, it is sin), except as it is united to the priesthood (that is to Christ on high, in the presence of God for us, with whom we, indeed, are also associated in this nearness, priests by grace); and hence all is accomplished in direct reference to Him in that heavenly character.

In all its details, consequently, our service is absolutely good for nothing, if it be not linked with our communion with the Lord and with the priesthood of Christ. Christ is "a Son over his own house." "There are differences of administrations, but the same Lord." The Holy Ghost gives the capacity and the gift for service; but in the exercise of this capacity and of this gift, we are the servants of Christ.

The three principles of service

Thus, as regards our service, we have these three principles: 1, we are redeemed, delivered from the judgments, under which are the enemies of God, being taken from the midst of those enemies; 2, as a consequence of this first fact, we belong absolutely to God; bought with a price, we are no longer our own, but God's, to glorify Him in our bodies which are His; 3, we are entirely given to Christ, who is the Head of the house of God, the Priest, for the service of His tabernacle. Blessed bondage, happy self-renunciation, true deliverance from a world of sin! Service is rendered in dependence on Christ, and in the communion of the Lord: it is linked to the priesthood and flows from and is connected with Himself, and the place where He is, and with which He has connected our hopes, our lives, and the affections of our hearts. We serve from, and in view of that: "to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."

Service exercised in the midst of God's people

Service appears to be limited to the tabernacle, that is, to be exercised in the midst of God's people and in connection with their drawing near to God. For the preaching of the gospel to those without made no part of the Jewish system, which was the shadow, but not the perfect image, of the present state of things. The gospel is the expression of grace visiting sinners, to effect their salvation, a love that goes actively out. The institution of the Levites is here presented to us in principle: we shall find, further on, their purification and their consecration to God.

The difference between the service of the Levites and that of the Church

We may remark here, that with regard to that which is most elevated in the calling of the church, all her members are one. The priests, the high priest excepted, accomplished, all equally or together, the service of the offerings to God. And so it is with the church; all its members equally draw near unto God, and are in the same relationship with Him. (A priest acting for another Israelite who brought an offering, or who had sinned, represented rather Christ Himself).

The order of the service of the Levites, on the other hand, was according to the sovereignty of God, who put each one in his place. Thus, in the service of the church, the greatest differences are found, and each one has his own place assigned him.

Diversity of services dependent on the sole authority of the Master

The same thing will likewise, I believe, take place in the glory (compare Eph. 4; 1 Cor. 12). All are conformed to the likeness of the Son; but as each has been filled with the Holy Ghost for service, and thus according to the counsels of God, they—to whom it is given of the Father to sit on the right hand or on the left—are over ten cities or five. All enter together into the joy of their Lord. We are all brethren, having only one Master. But the Master gives grace to each according to His own will, according to the counsels of God the Father. He who denies brotherly unity denies the sole authority of the Master. He who denies the diversity of services equally denies the authority of the Master who disposes of His servants as He pleases, and chooses them according to His wisdom and His divine rights.

[1] I speak always of the church here in its individual members as indicating the class of persons.