"And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 'Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them to Aaron the priest, that they may serve him"" (Num. 3:5-6).
No one likes to move. Moving involves packing, sorting, discarding, and serious planning. Imagine the planning and work it would take to move the Israelites in the wilderness. In the midst of all the moving, Israel had also the task of moving the Tent of Meeting. Changing locations would require the help of every Levite in breaking down the Tent of Meeting and then reassembling it at a new site.
The Lord separates Aaron and his descendants from all of the other Levites to minister as priests before Him in the sanctuary and to care for the most holy things. He gives them the responsibility of packing up the holy furnishings and articles used for ministering in the sanctuary. No one but Aaron and his descendants may view the holy things. They are to camp on the east side of the tabernacle in front of the Tent of Meeting.
All of the remaining Levites are organized by clan and assigned tasks to make moving the Tent of Meeting simple and to ensure that God's holy things are treated with respect.
The Gershonites are to camp on the west, behind the tabernacle. They have the responsibility of carrying the tabernacle and tent, its coverings, and the outer curtains.
The Kohathites are to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. They are responsible for carrying the contents of the sanctuary: the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, and the inner curtain.
The Merarites are to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. They must maintain the infrastructure of the Tent of Meeting and carry these pieces when they move to new locations.
These instructions reveal a number of truths about the ministry:
The wisdom of God is once again manifest in Israel's midst! Israel's learning to move together as an organized community is God's preparation to train them to take the land of Canaan in an organized manner.
What does the organization of Israel by tribe reveal about communal protection and forward movement?
Why were the Levites singled out for service?
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