Expositing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, New Testament scholar D. A. Carson wrote: “In much contemporary evangelism, there is little concern for whether or not God will accept us, and much concern for whether or not we will accept him. Little attention is paid to whether or not we please him, and much to whether or not he pleases us. . . . As a result, there is far too little stress on God’s character and the requirements of the kingdom, and far too much stress on our needs.”
Today’s passage presents an instructive contrast. In order to serve in the tabernacle, the Levites were required to meet God’s standards for purity and holiness. Following the dedication of the tabernacle, the next step was the consecration of the Levites.
The Levites’ one-day ceremony was rich with spiritual symbolism. Water—sprinkled and used for bathing and washing clothes—represented cleansing. There was even a special recipe and ritual for preparing holy water (see Num. 19:9). Shaving their entire bodies signified completeness. Bulls were offered as a sin offering and burnt offering to make atonement. The laying on of hands indicated substitution—they represented the nation (vv. 10, 16–18). And their public presentation by Aaron, the high priest, showed that they were now prepared and qualified for service.
Males served between the ages of 25 and 50. It appears that there was a five-year period of training, with full service beginning at age 30 (4:3). Perhaps because the job was physically strenuous, retirees could assist or perhaps stand guard, but no more than that. What an honor it must have been to be a Levite, but also a serious responsibility with God-given standards. The same is true for ministry today.