By Eugene Garner
THE LEVITICAL COVENANT
AND EVERLASTING PRIESTHOOD
Scripture Lesson: Numbers 25:1-13; Neh. 13:29-31; Jer. 33:20-22; Mal. 2:4-10.
Of all the covenants recorded between God and men, there is probably no other so obscure or little discussed as the one made concerning Levi. That so little is recorded, even in the Scriptures, does not mean that it is unimportant. To the contrary, it is a perpetual covenant with far-reaching implications.
Chas. Briggs has briefly stated the essence of the Covenant of Levi: "The priestly succession is here assigned to the line of Phinehas forever. The Messianic feature is in the establishment of an EVERLASTING PRIESTHOOD. This is a genuine prophecy which culminates in the Everlasting Priesthood of the Messiah, the Great High Priest after the order of Melchisedec; and thus the Priesthood of the nation advanced to an Everlasting order of priests
in the nation," (in Messianic Prophecy,
This covenant was given after it became apparent that the nation
of Israel would not so submit itself under God's order as to be, in reality, a "kingdom of priests," (Ex. 19:5-6).
I. THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD WAS ORDAINED UNDER THE MOSAIC COVENANT.
- BECAUSE OF HIS TREACHERY, A CURSE HAD BEEN PLACED ON LEVI BY HIS DYING FATHER, (Gen. 34; 49:5-7).
- BUT THE CURSE HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A BLESSING, (Ex. 32:26-29).
- Israel sinned against the covenant in making the golden calf and bowing down to worship it.
- Calling to himself such as would take their stand with the true and living God, Moses was quickly surrounded by the Levites who stood ready to execute judgment on the idolaters.
- They would not be hindered from serving God by any sentimental or fleshly ties.
- Their relationship to God was valued above any earthly kinship, (Deut. 33:9-11).
- They did not see their erring brethren as kinsmen in the flesh, but as violators of God's covenant.
- What a splendid example! May many observe and follow this example.
- GOD CHOSE THE TRIBE OF LEVI INSTEAD OF THE FIRSTBORN IN EVERY HOUSEHOLD; THEY WOULD RENDER SPIRITUAL SERVICE UNTO HIM, (Num, 3:12, 39, 41, 45; 8:16-19; Deut. 18:1-8; 21:5).
II. THE COVENANT OF LEVI WAS MADE WITH PHINEHAS -- descendant of Levi, and grandson of Aaron, (Num. 25:1-13).
- A GRIEVOUS SIN WAS COMMITTED BY ISRAEL.
- Balaam, forbidden of God to curse Israel outright, had counseled Balak to entice the covenant people to commit whoredom with the women of Moab, (Num. 25:1-2; 31:16; Rev. 2:14).
- When Israel was joined to Baal-peor, God's anger was stirred against him, (vs. 3-5).
- A destroying plague was sent against the covenant nation.
- Moses was commanded to slay every person guilty of this gross sin; God's fierce anger would, thus, be turned away.
- In defiance of God's command, and human decency, Zimri brought his woman into the camp of Israel -- to his own tent.
- This he did openly, in the sight of Moses and the congregation, as many wept before the door of the tabernacle.
- A prince of Israel, his example would have far-reaching affect if it were ignored.
- Though the plague of God's judgment had already set in to devour the nation, Zimri not only persisted to indulge the pleasure of his passionate lusts, but encouraged others to do so, (Rom. 1:32).
- BY AN ACT OF COURAGE AND HEROISM, PHINEHAS STOOD FORTH IN HOLY ZEAL TO MAKE ATONEMENT FOR HIS PEOPLE.
- Inflamed by an unquenchable zeal for God's holiness, he stood as the "man of the hour."
- Grasping a javelin in his hand, and following the offenders to their tent, he caught them in the shameful act of their sinful pleasure; with a single thrust of his manly arm, he put an end to their scandalous indiscretion.
- Though this does not justify one in "taking the law into his own hands," it does point out certain qualities that are commendable in God's servants in any age.
- We should be zealous for God's honor.
- We should be angry with sin -- always.
- We should be concerned for those in danger of stumbling through the sins of others.
- We should unhesitatingly accept our civic responsibilities for the maintenance and enforcement of law and order.
- GOD SPEEDILY MANIFESTED HIS APPROVAL OF WHAT PHINEHAS HAD DONE.
- His wrath toward Israel was pacified.
- This act was accepted as "an atonement for the children of Israel," Num. 25:13b; comp. 16:46-47).
(1) This does not suggest any meritorious element in the blood of his victims.
(2) Rather, it suggests that God was pleased to accept his deed as a sacrifice to Divine Justice.
- Because of Israel's great sin, 24,000 had already fallen, (vs. 9).
(1) Twenty-three thousand fell in the plague, (I Cor. 10:8).
(2) Another thousand had, evidently, fallen by the sword as God had commanded Moses.
- Everyone in Israel should have recognized a debt of gratitude to Phinehas for this noble deed.
- God's mercy cannot be shown where there is no vengeance against sin.
- To Phinehas God gave a covenant.
- It was a covenant of Everlasting Priesthood.
(1) God gave the priesthood in Israel to him and his seed in perpetuity; by this ACT OF FAITH his servant was justified, or "declared righteous," (Psa. 106:28-31; comp. Rom. 4:3; Neh. 9:8; Jas. 2:14-25).
(2) Nor will God ever break His covenant with Levi, (Jer. 33:20-22).
- It was a "covenant of peace," (vs. 13; comp. Isa. 54:10; Ezek. 34:25; 37:26; Zech. 9:10-11).
(1) Bearing testimony to Phinehas' acceptance with God.
(2) Suggesting that through him, and his descendants in the Priesthood, peace would be maintained between God and His people.
(3) Previewing the High Priesthood of Christ, Who would reconcile all things to God by the sacrifice of Himself, (Isa. 53:5; Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 1:20).
- It was a "covenant of salt" -- a term that is also applied to some of the other covenants, (Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5; comp. Matt. 5:13; Mk. 9:49-50; Lk. 14:34; Col. 4:6).
(1) Salt contains purifying and preserving qualities.
(2) Its function is the opposite of that performed by leaven.
III. IT IS A SAD COMMENTARY ON THE LIVES OF PHINEHAS' POSTERITY THAT THEY DEFILED THE PRIESTHOOD AND CORRUPTED THE COVENANT OF LEVI.
- CONSIDER THE PRIESTLY IDEAL AS SET FORTH BY MALACHI, (2:7).
- His lips should keep knowledge; it is his responsibility to know the Lord -- His word and His way, (Lev. 10:11).
- He is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts -- responsible to make God's message known when the people "seek the law at his mouth," (Deut. 33:10-11; Neh. 8:7; Num. 27:21; Deut. 17:8-13).
- He must also walk in obedience to that knowledge of which he is the depositary.
- It is not enough that he merely tell men what the will of God is.
- It must be more than a theory with him; his life must be an example that others may safely follow, (I Tim. 4:12-16; Titus 2:7-8; I Pet. 5:3; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thes. 3:7-9; John 13:15).
- Phinehas had been such an example, (Mal. 2:5-6).
- He feared God and stood in awe of His name.
- The law of truth was in his mouth; no unrighteousness was found in his lips, (Psa. 119:142, 151, 160).
- He walked with God in peace and uprightness, (Psa. 37:37).
- He turned many from their iniquity, (Jer. 33:22).
- So, God's covenant of "life and peace" had been given to him.
- THE PRIESTLY IDEAL HAD BEEN GROSSLY PERVERTED, (Neh. 13:29; Mal. 2:8).
- They had turned aside from following the Lord's directions -- despising and profaning His name, (Mal. 1:6-8, 12-13).
- They had caused many to stumble in the law.
- By their insincerity toward the holy priestly office.
- By their unholy alliances -- marrying even Moabitish women, (Neh. 13:23-28).
- By their "respect of persons" in judgment, (Mal. 2:9).
- They had corrupted the covenant of Levi, (Mal. 2:8). Therefore, the People no longer respected them and failed to properly provide for their sustenance -- driving them to their fields, (Neh. 13:10).
- God also had rejected their service; He would no longer accept an offering at their hand, (Mal. 1:10; 2:1-4).
- The priests had even erred in their own understanding -- claiming to desire the "Messenger of the covenant" whose coming would bring swift judgment upon their sorry heads, (Mal. 3:1-6).
- Not a judgment of eternal condemnation or annihilation.
- But a purging, purifying judgment whereby they might again offer up acceptable sacrifices to God, in righteousness.
On the shepherds of Israel, in any age, rests a very heavy responsibility, (Jas. 3:1). They may lead the sheep in paths of righteousness and safety, or drive them astray to become lost on the rugged mountains of life -- where enemies, dangers and death lurk at every turn. It is their responsibility to watch for the souls of men,
(Heb. 13:7, 17). But the sheep must not increase the weight of this burden by deliberate rebellion against the authority of the faithful shepherd.
There is a sense in which the covenant community (the church in this age) is a royal priesthood.
It has the responsibility of offering up spiritual sacrifices to God -- showing forth the praises of Him Who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, (I Pet. 2:5, 9-10).
Let us be faithful to our calling --that in East and West, North and South, Jehovah's name may be great among the Gentiles, as prayers and praise unceasingly ascend to His gracious throne on High, (Mal. 1:11).
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
- Who was Levi?
- To whose line, in the tribe of Levi, was the priestly succession assigned in this covenant?
- Was this the beginning of the Levitical Priesthood?
- What admirable action did the Levites take when Moses called on Israel to choose between God and the golden calf?
- In whose stead was the tribe of Levi devoted to priestly service?
- What was the sin of Israel at this particular time?
- What one man personified the rebellion of Israel against God?
- Who was God's "man of the hour"?
- What did he do?
- What does this teach us?
- How did God show His approval of Phinehas' action?
- What terms are used to describe this covenant?
- Were the descendants of Phinehas faithful?
- What was the divine ideal for a priestly life?
- How did the priests of Israel pervert that pattern?
- Do New Testament shepherds have any less responsibility than those In Israel?
- Does God have a "royal priesthood" in this age? Who?
- Are YOU offering up sacrifices that are acceptable to God?