Levitical Ministry Part 2 of a Four Part Series
An adaptation by Philip Powell from a transcribed message given by T. Austin- Sparks in 1957. The spoken form has been retained by the owners of the website mentioned in “About the Author”, below.
By T. Austin Sparks
For from the rising of the sun even to its going down my name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered to my name and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 1:11).
Then you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, that my covenant may continue with Levi, says the Lord of Hosts. My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him that he might fear; and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and the people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 2:4).
Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire, behold he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer to the Lord offerings in righteousness (Malachi 3:1-3).
As outlined in part 1 (CETF 45 September 2008 – page 7–9) we continue with the matter that is represented by the Levites in the Old Testament, which is dealing with spiritual realities and not just the forms of their embodiment and presentation. When we speak about Levites we naturally think of an Old Testament order and system of priestly ministry; but we need constantly to remind ourselves that whatever God has done, in this regard, is only a means of conveying spiritual and abiding eternal realities. The spiritual law of the Levite is come right into this very hour, to us at this time. We can only lift out some of the most vital elements in this whole matter. First then we are dealing with a spiritual conception and not with a formal ecclesiastical system, which does not obtain in our dispensation, but the spiritual conceptions do govern this dispensation.
Association with God in His work
The heart of this matter, i.e. the significance of the Levitical ministry is the association with God in His work. That is a very simple yet deep and searching way of putting it. This involves all that the Word of God reveals as to the nature of God. And if we were to put the nature of God into one word, surely we would have to say holiness. Holiness! You might say love, but love is governed by His holiness, love is qualified by His holiness, it is holy love. Whatever other words you may use to describe or define the nature of God—you may say truth and many other things—are but the expression of this innermost quality: His holiness. His holiness.
Association with God is a tremendous thing to contemplate. This is the governing, dominant consideration throughout Malachi’s prophecies. The one charge that the Lord had against the people then was that they had lost a sense of His holiness. So much so that when they were charged with the most conspicuously wrong things, they said, “How?” They could not see it. They had lost the sense of His holiness. Then He brings them to the point of recognition: “You offer on My altar the blind, the lame, the blemished”; “Go and offer that to your governor and see what he will say!” (chapter 1:8) You dare to offer Me a blind sheep, a lame ox, a blemished animal? Who do you think I am? What sort of a person do you think I am? Am I not greater than your governor? And yet you do it to Me! You see, the Lord has startling ways to make people face reality. This whole matter relates to our association with God.
The Levites were called into association with God referred to as “God’s covenant with Levi, of life and peace” see Malachi 2:4-5:
Then you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, That My covenant with Levi may continue,” Says the LORD of hosts. My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, And I gave them to him that he might fear Me; So he feared Me and was reverent before My name (NKJV).
Think of it, coming into touch with God as He is and continuing in “life and peace”. There would be war to the death if there were not a right foundation. God’s covenant was with Levi, of life and peace, in association with Him in His work. I’m trying, dear friends, to impress you with the greatness of this vocation.
This is not a special cult or class or denomination of people, but this is what the Church as a whole is called into. When the Church as a whole fails the Lord looks inside to find those who will not fail Him in this matter. He has done that again and again, and that is the history of the Levites.
The Historical Record
As we saw in part 1 the Levites first came into view with the Lord at the time of the golden calf—the breaking loose of the nation. The Levites separated themselves from the corruption, pollution and taint, standing right outside of it. Then, at great cost to their own souls, family and friends, they took their swords against this breaking-in of evil powers. That’s how it all started. Then later the Lord took the tribe of Levi in the place of the firstborn sons in Israel. The firstborn son was the official priest of the household i.e. he functioned as the priest of the household.
When Israel defaulted as a nation so that which the Lord required in the priesthood of the whole nation was lacking, He separated the tribe of Levi on the basis of the half shekel of silver and made the tribe of them representative of all the nation, as the “church” of the firstborn. From here on all the families of Israel are represented in and through the Levites—in holiness and satisfaction to the Lord—a people in the midst of the people, giving God the satisfaction that He must have. We dealt with this principle in part 1, based on which you can pursue the biblical record.
This law of the Levite is the law of the innermost association with God for the work of God in a priestly ministry. When we say that we mean mediation, intercession, standing between God and His people to bring them together, to mediate from God what He wants His people to have, to bring His people into touch with God and His resources. It is a spiritual thing, and in that sense we are all called to be priests and Levites. You are wondering, you are saying this is very technical and very ecclesiastical, but no, it is very simple. By way of example I refer to five elderly sisters in Denmark, who sought the Lord for ten years. They were by no means young and certainly not influential or rich in the things of this world, coming to the place where sometimes they wondered whether ever anything could be done. At the end of ten years the thing broke. I call that Levitical ministry. It was hidden; the world knew nothing about what went on—God knew all about it. You may be a lonely soul, you may be a lonely little group in some place, or you may be larger. But whether alone or in larger companies, this is what you are called to: to be God’s Levites—to stand between Him and His own needs and purpose for His own people. That’s a vocation which was the vocation of the Levites.
Dear friends, if you need impressing with the importance of that to the Lord, it is not something that is optional, extra—ie. you take it or leave it. Let me take you back to the first chapter of Malachi. Do you not see the link? In my Bible I have lines drawn across the pages, and those lines link things up, so in chapter one,
My Name shall be great among the nations... and in every place incense shall be offered to My Name and a pure offering for My Name shall be great among the nations.
My line runs first to the covenant made with Levi, and then from there to the purifying of the sons of Levi. I believe that is a right kind of link. You see that if His Name is really to be great among the nations, God needs a Levitical body after this order—a people within His people—it may not be His appointment originally. God would have all His people on this basis as representing the Church of the firstborn, but if the whole is not like this then He looks inside for those who will serve Him in this way. The purpose is that His Name should be great among the nations.
Let us put it around the other way: if the Levites are corrupt or defiled and out of their place, the Name of the Lord is dishonoured, and the nations suffer loss. There is a reproach on the Lord from the nations—His dishonour. The focus is on the Levites. So in order that the reproach on the Name of the Lord should be removed and that His Name should be great among the nations, He must purify the sons of Levi. God must do it. We begin with association with God. Let us take that to ourselves individually. There is nothing more searching than to have association with God.
That leads to the question, “What is my idea of God? If I have the right conception of God, who He is in His infinite holiness then my association with Him—being allowed to come near Him, to come into His presence, experiencing proximity to Him—is an awesome thing, a tremendous thing! Most would think it great to be associated with certain people in this world—those of high honour and responsibility. If we think that a great thing what about association with God, in His work? That He would do His work by us. We need a new concept, on the one side of the holiness and greatness of God. Shall we say, the awesomeness of God? And on the other side, the infinite mercy and grace of God to call us into association with Himself. What an honour, what a privilege, that He should do His work through us!
Oh, dear friends, we do not have a right conception of God’s work. We take it into our defiled hands. We project ourselves into it, spread ourselves over it, try to become something in it, strut about as though we were something. When Isaiah saw God’s holiness, “Holy, holy, holy!” he cried: “Woe is me, I am undone” (Isaiah 6:1-5). We need to recover that sense and then to realize He calls us into that association to fulfil His purpose and work through us.
Let’s pause there and consider something that can distract us. When we speak about holiness and sin and unrighteousness, and then begin to feel something about it and about ourselves in regard to it, we may start to wrongly call to our rescue certain Scriptures such as “there is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8: 1) and wrongly take the covering of that and similar Scriptures to hide behind.
There is a balance: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” (Romans 6:1-2). See the point? Oh yes, we will always be imperfect; there will always be much to be done in us in cleansing, sanctifying and saving right up to the end. And “if we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7) i.e. fellowship between Himself and ourselves and “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son goes on cleansing us from all sin”. But there is such a thing as not walking in the light and excusing it by saying, ‘Yes, I know I am very imperfect and I am a sinner but there is no condemnation in Christ.’ You see what I mean? Well, we can’t get away with that!
The people in the seven churches in the Revelation, where there was wrong, when the wrongs were mentioned, “You have there this and that and the other thing and this thing I hate” they might have said: “But there’s no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” That won’t do!
If we are really going to be in association with God for His work, the refining fires must do their work—the sons of Levi must be purified. We must be a purified people. We must be walking in holiness. We must, with all the value of the precious blood cleansing, and the Holy Spirit sanctifying, be walking in the light to maintain our association with the Lord.
It is our service that takes the pre-eminent place. Israel was called out of Egypt to serve the Lord: “Let My son go that he may serve Me” (Exodus 4:23). The whole idea of God in son-ship is service. It is practical, it is to do His work, it is to minister to Him, and that in the midst of the nations. Israel was called out from Egypt to serve the Lord on the basis of son-ship. When the whole nation showed its weakness and its defilement, its divided heart, half toward the land (and that mainly for their own gain), and the other half back in Egypt (and that for their own convenience and comfort). All of this was dragged out into the light. The Levites were taken as the people of an undivided heart. That was the test. Moses said:
Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbour (Exodus 32:27).
No man with a divided heart could undertake that. A man’s heart must be whole to be able to do a thing like that. They were really put to the test about this in a very practical way and they stood up to it. They went through with it. They therefore, right in the very centre of the nation, represent the principle of the undivided heart, the heart that is wholly for the Lord. That is essential to association with the Lord; that is essential to this thing that the Lord calls: His service; not what man calls the service, the work of God, but what God calls His service.
Mark this, sooner or later, if we really mean business with God, if we are honest with God, we will face this. We may have gone on for a long time, doing a lot of things and a lot of work for the Lord which the Lord did not agree with in our lives, but sooner or later the Lord says, ‘You have gone far enough with this, now then...’ At that time, all our life work is either coming to an end, or there is going to be something new or something more. It is the crisis of our testimony and the crisis of our work. That is what Levi represents: God looking on the heart.
Forgive me if I seem too heavy, too severe; but I think the Lord is seeking something. I am keeping my eye on the outcome not the process. I am quite sure the Lord is seeking a new thing, something mighty for His glory. He has that purpose in view—something more. This Levitical principle is just that— to ‘him that overcomes’. That is the Levite of our time.
The Levites stood then and stand now for what is most precious to God—holiness of life. You can’t dispute or challenge that. Throughout the book of Malachi, of the blemished, lame and blind offerings the Lord says, ‘Away with them! I have no delight and no pleasure in your offerings. Take them away! These blemished things give Me no pleasure. There is nothing precious in them for Me.’ It is what is most precious and unblemished to the Lord—that which is holy before the Lord is most precious.
God is a very jealous God. God is the only Person who has a right to be jealous; our jealousy is all wrong but God’s jealousy is a holy and a pure thing. He has a right to be jealous. He is jealous for His Name, and jealous, therefore, for His holiness.
This explains the Lord Jesus—His coming into this world, His life while He was here, and it explains His cross. In part one we said that He is the Great Levite. He commenced His ministry at the age of thirty as the Levite commenced his. He is the Great Levite.
Again we come to the whole matter of son-ship of service to satisfy God. Jesus Christ is One who is in the closest association with God. If Christ is our example, and if we are foreordained to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, and if Christ really governs everything in life and work, then we are in the presence of One whose heart is not divided, whose heart is wholly and utterly for God, whose association with God is complete and absolute. Mark you, this was by His own choice. We are not thinking now of His identification with God in Godhead, we are thinking of Him as the Levite, the representative Man, amongst the Lord’s people. One in real vital association with God; One fulfilling the purpose and doing the work of God. “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is still day” (John 9: 4). Here is the perfect Levite.
So, what is my point? In order that we may work the works of God we must be conformed to the image of God’s Son. We must come into Christ-likeness. That opens your whole Bible again because from beginning to end, whenever God has taken a step in the history of this world, and every successive step of the numerous steps, He has always taken it on the basis of Christ. Do you see this? Did He take a step with Abel? Was Abel a step? It is not difficult to see the feature of Christ that Abel represents. One who is separated to God, whose heart is undivided where God is concerned. So we could go on. Every new step with every new man from the beginning—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and so on. Then came the people of Israel, and so to the Levites, and on you go. Every step that God took was on the basis of Christ—an aspect of his life.
God has never moved on any other ground than His Son. You and I will be outside of the movements of God if we are not moving on the line of Christ. Christ is this all-comprehending Levite who has a heart only for God; Who at any cost, will prove that His heart is wholly for God and He will react violently against any insinuation from the enemy that would take something from the Father. The Levites did that when they took the sword; it was a violent reaction against a breaking in to take something from God. That’s the disposition of Christ. So, being called into fellowship with God’s Son is being called into a Levitical position of absolute separation to God, wholeheartedness for God, reaction against everything that would take from God and dishonour His Name, and all the rest that the Levite stands for.
I trust that you are catching the truth, the thought, the idea. The data is too much, all the details too many, to cover the entire ground. We are faced with this: the Lord would take new steps, to move on, to lead His people forward. His way has always been, at all times, to find either a man or a people of this Levitical order, so He can do something more; He can move on. He needs that today, everywhere.
We need not all be together. We can be scattered over the earth, so long as the principle of holiness to the Lord, of the undivided heart, the principle of a red-hot jealous reaction against any corruption from the enemy, the Lord will come along that line. He cannot do this willy-nilly. We have had too cheap an idea of the Lord’s service and of our relationship to Him. Too cheap, just too easy... anybody and anything will do; generality.
Oh no, if this says one thing to us it says, ‘No! No! Not at all.’ God is jealous for His holiness, and for His Name. May He write that into our hearts to explain Himself and what He means by speaking to us in this way. So much is at stake: “My Name... My Name... great in all the nations.”
I’m sure that appeals to our hearts.