“Adonai said to Moshe, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel in lieu of every firstborn male that is first from the womb among the people of Israel, the Levites are to be mine.”-Numbers 3:11-12
Verses 11-12 introduce a Biblical principle that has been pretty much forgotten by both Christianity and Judaism.
The principle is that God has replaced the first-born of all the 12 tribes of Israel with the Levites.
Remember, from God’s perspective the firstborn males from all the tribes of Israel were considered special.
This principle was established back in Exodus when the Lord killed all the firstborns of both humans, animals and even vegetation of those households who failed to put their trust in Him by painting the blood of the lamb on the entrance gates to their homes.
So why did the Lord decide to replace the firstborn males of Israel with the Levites?
The answer is simple.
Before the Levitical priesthood was established, it was the firstborn males who served as the priests in their respective families.
In the ancient Middle East, it was the firstborns who were held responsible for performing the religious sacrifices and rituals on behalf of their households.
We have records going back a 1000 years before the time of Moses documenting that this is so and since Israel wasn’t living in a vacuum, they of course had adopted this custom.
In verses 11-12, God is in effect telling the firstborns of Israel that their status of being the family priests was about to come to a end.
All of their priestly duties were now going to be transferred to the Levites.
This was a revolutionary break from the past and the customs and cultures of the gentiles nations.
What we’re going to see fleshed out in the verses ahead is that this replacement of the firstborn with the Levites wasn’t some vague symbolic process.
No, it was a very specific man-to-man process.
Understand that this is the very purpose of this census we’re reading about.
It’s to determine exactly how many Levite males there were because that number determined exactly how many regular firstborn Israelites could be replaced.
We’ll see that special arrangements had to be made because the number of Levite males didn’t perfectly match the number of existing non-Levite firstborns.
This change was huge folks and for the most part is not really understand by the church.
From this point onward, God has officially adopted the tribe of Levi away from Israel.
They are no longer to be considered a part of common Israel.