“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. All the firstborn males belong to me, because on the day that I killed all the firstborn males in the land of Egypt, I separated for myself all the firstborn males in Israel, both human and animal. They are mine; I am Adonai.'”-Numbers 3:11-13
In my last post I made two points very clear.
The first point I made was that in the ancient Middle East it was the custom of the firstborn males to serve as the household priests and perform certain religious rituals and rites on behalf of their respective families.
The second point I made is that God PUT A STOP to the practice of the firstborn males serving as household priests by replacing them with the Levites.
This isn’t my speculation.
Check out the commentaries of the learned Rabbis on this topic and you’ll see there was little doubt in their minds that up until the Levitical priesthood was established, it was the firstborns of Israel who served as the family priests.
However, understand that the firstborns didn’t serve as priests in their families due to some official decree.
It was just the long-held custom of the times.
Now one interesting question that arises is prior to YAHWEH coming on the scene and letting the Israelites know that He only He was to be worshipped, what was the nature of the worship and what kind of rituals did the firstborns officiate over?
The answer to be simply blunt is ANCESTOR WORSHIP.
Here are some of the things the firstborn male household priest was to be in charge of and you can see they’re all connected with ancestor worship.
-The firstborn was responsible for ensuring his parents had a proper burial when they died.
-The firstborn was responsible for bringing gifts such as food, oil, and water etcetera to the gravesite of his deceased parents because he believed that’s where their spirits dwelled. During this ritual, he would chant his parents’ names in a prayer to keep his parents’ spirits alive.
-The firstborn was responsible for appealing to the spirits of his dead ancestors to have them intercede on his family’s behalf with the gods. These worship rituals were done out of fear to prevent his dead ancestors from turning on him and were also pleas to keep the family safe from disease, ensure that his wife would be able to have children (so they could just continue on with the ancestor worship from generation to generation), protect them from crop failure and so on.
Here’s the thing and I’ve mentioned this before.
In the TANACH (“Old Testament” in gentile speak), there really is scant mention of what happens in the afterlife.
What does this tell us?
Quite simply, it tells us that the writers of the TANACH had no idea what happened after death since nowhere in the TANACH is this topic directly addressed.
Sure, there were a variety of theories and they all differed depending on which Middle Eastern culture we’re dealing with.
For the Hebrew man (actually probably for all men in the ancient middle east), the most important thing was to have a son, because in some undefined way it was believed that one’s spirit lived on through his son and of course this meant his son would also have to have a son ad infinitum ad nauseum in order to keep the family line intact.
This belief was just another holdover from ancestor worship which YHWH is putting to a firm and irrevocable end right here in Numbers chapter 3.
So let’s get this straight.
From way before Abraham up until the time of Moses, ancestor worship was well entrenched and widespread and we can see traces of this pagan belief in both the vocabulary and practices of ancient Israel.
For example, you know how we sometimes encounter that phrase “he died and went to be with his fathers” in the Scriptures?
This was nothing more than a typical form of speech usually used at funerals reflecting ideas of ancestor worship.
Keep in mind that it’s only been about a year since Israel left Egypt at this point.
The Lord still has a lot of work to do to recreate His Chosen People in His divine image.
And that’s what I love about the God of Israel (and Yeshua also to be honest with you!).
He is sooooooooooooo sovereign!
In singular fell swoops, God just dumps on and overturns cherished traditions.
No wonder His Word isn’t popular in the churches.
You can be sure that when the firstborns received the news that their services as household priests would no longer be needed, they weren’t very happy about it.
From their perspective, this God-ordained change was NOTHING less than a demotion and undoubtedly it stung at their pride to suddenly be replaced by a tribe that wasn’t even considered to be a part of Israel anymore.
It doesn’t matter.
The Lord was NOT going to tolerate ancestor worship among His People.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Follow me!” but the man replied,
“Sir, first let me go away and bury my father.”
Yeshua said, “Let the dead bury their own dead;
you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God!”
Yet another said, “I will follow you, sir,
but first let me say good-by to the people at home.”
To him Yeshua said, “No one who puts his hand to
the plow and keeps looking back is fit to serve
in the Kingdom of God.”