Divine Designation

Divine Designation
The Fire Must Not Go Out
R.ARTHUR MATHEWS

The Israelite rabble, newly escaped from the clutches of proud Pharoah, needed time to develop their national consciousness and to establish their God as King in their new nation, and to become familiar with the constitution God gave them through Moses. So far a full moth following the setting up of the tabernacle the Lord outlined the rituals and sacrifices recorded in Leviticus. God purposed to dwell among them, in their camps, and this wonderful fact was meant to establish the character of their life from this point on.

Then as we pass from the details of sacrifices and God’s standards of holiness in Leviticus and start going through the book of Numbers, we are surprised by a dramatic shift. Suddenly we are introduced to God’s Selective Service Act. God orders the numbering of Israel’s men of war. Inherent in God’s character is an aggressiveness against sin and a motivation to redeem mankind from its bondage.

But in order to wage war and to deliver captives, God needs men and women. If God’s light is to shine in the world and to dispel its darkness, it will be through human light holders. If his truth is to displace the lies and deceit of Satan, it will only be as men and women pay the price for holding to the truth and strive together for the spread of the gospel. If the knowledge of the one true and living God is to overthrow the worship of false gods, God needs demonstrators to display the transcendent glory of his grace and power. The purposes of God for his people do not end with the blessings of their deliverance from Egypt. The Lord needs them to fulfill a vital role in his warfare against all the power of the enemy.
In this move from ceremonies to the more practical facts of living, God is showing the development that is to characterize the life and service of the Christian. Salvation and the divine indwelling are the preliminary steps to the call for active service. Not many people seem to realize this; yet the picture that is given here should dispel any illusions about the character of the Christian life. It is a life of the drawn sword.

But as the registration of the men moves forward, God suddenly interrupts the proceedings with a special command: “You must not count the tribe of Levi” (Num. 1:49). The draft board was not to include this tribe in the census of Israel’s fighting men.

Any who have the hot blood of patriotism flowing through their veins will have some idea of what it must have meant to the men of Levi to be set aside. The heroic always carries with it more romance than a mundane stay-at-home existence. What could be more important than fighting at the spearhead of attack for the cause of their God? And what could be more ignominious than having to say at home and be de-elected, when their peers are sent out to figith for the homes and families of the nation? It must have been a blow to the pride of the men of Levi. Perhaps the patriotic spirit has died out, but I think you will understand something of what it must have meant to the men of Levi when they heard the decision that they were not to be included in the muster for war.

Obviously there is a lesson here on priorities. Was God disqualifying the men of Levi? Far from it. Nor would it be reasonable to suppose that he was giving them up for some unimportant, second-rate service. The truth is that he was singling them out as an elite corps of specialists to act as his royal guard, with a top-priority assignment. In fact, they were so important to him that, in a representative capacity, he claimed them for himself. “The Levites are to be mine,” God declared. Theirs was a special task. They were “to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name.” (Deut.10:8).
Judah and the warriors of the other tribes might be out on the battlefield slugging it out with the Hittite, Amorite, Amalekite, or whomever-but the strength of their cause and the roots of their victory lay in the fact that their brethren, the men of Levi, were back at home, camped around God’s tabernacle and keeping the fires burning on his altar of sacrifice. For had not God commanded, “The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out” (Lev.6:13)?

The importance of this service was such that to allow it to fall into disarray would immediately be reflected in a lack of success at the front line. The death or wounding of soldiers in battle is one of the expected hazards of war. But to let the altar fire go out and the sacrifices cease would create a hazard they could not afford to consider.

The place of God in the life of a people is always more important than the activities of the group. This is because spiritually productive activities stem from and are the result of God’s being given his rightful place. Accorded his throne-rights in a group or in an individual, he will soon make it manifest where his priorities lie.

Draft boards can only exclude the disabled from the muster for war. But when God is in command, he can choose whom he will for his royal guard. These special ones do not come to their appointment as priests by default, but by deliberate divine designation. Therefore if God has set you apart for special priestly ministries, “do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before him and serve him, to minister before him and to burn incense” (2 Chron. 29:11). You are God’s gift to his great High Priest to offer prayer as incense, just as the Levites were given as a gift to Aaron and his sons, to keep the fires burning on the altar of God.