Numbers 8 has two different stories. The first story is about Jehovah instructing Moses and Aaron how to place the lamps in the golden lampstand. Numbers 8:2 (ESV) records: “Speak to Aaron and say to him, when you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” We keyed in on the phrase, “the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” The lamps must light in front of the lampstand. The second story is about Jehovah telling Moses how Aaron should offer the Levites as a wave offering. The main verse we discussed at this meeting was verse 11 (ESV), “Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the Lord.” The phrase that stood out was Aaron offering the Levites as a wave offering.
Why were the Levites presented as a wave offering? The wave offering could be unleavened bread (ESV, Exodus 29:23) and the breast of the ram (ESV, Exodus 29:26). Unleavened bread was to be burned on the altar on top of the burnt offering before the Lord (ESV, Exodus 29:25). After the breast of the ram was waved, it could be returned to Aaron and his sons. Here it said that Aaron would offer the Levites as a wave offering. We understand that this is a spiritual representation. So, are the Levites like the unleavened bread, or the breasts of the ram, or both? Maybe both. But why would they be offered as a wave offering from the Israelites? Why not let other animals from the herd or the flock be offered as a wave offering instead of the Levites?
Numbers 8 mentions that when the Levites were offered as a wave offering, they needed to be sprinkled with the water of purification, to shave, and wash their clothes (Numbers 8:7, ESV). They shall take a bull from the herd and its grain offering, and another bull from the herd for a sin-offering (Numbers 8:8, ESV). They shall use one for a sin offering to the LORD and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites (Numbers 8:12, ESV). The Levites shall offer them as a wave offering to the Lord (Numbers 8:13, ESV). The reason the Levites were treated as a wave offering was that “the Levites shall be mine” (Numbers 8:14, ESV) and “in place of the firstborn of all the people of Israel” (Numbers 8:16, ESV). Because “On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself” (Numbers 8:17, ESV), “I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel.” (Numbers 8:18, ESV). Then the Levites could do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and make atonement for the people of Israel, so that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary (Numbers 8:19, ESV).
A man in our study asked, “What is the practical spiritual significance of the Levites’ story of being wave offering to Christians today? Christians can now approach God’s throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16, NIV), and we don’t need an intermediary as the Levites did.”
To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at Numbers 8:11 (NIV), “Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the Lord.”
Aaron’s work is to serve God in the Holy of Holies, which represents our spiritual life living before God to serve God Himself. There are very few such people around. I saw a conversation between our Heavenly Father and Anna Rountree. He asked her to eat the food in His hands and even told her that there were very few people serving Him in the Holy of Holies.
An English Christian named Margaret E. Barber greatly influenced Watchman Nee. When she read Ezekiel 44:9-26, it talked about some Levites wandering away from God; thus, they could only serve in the temple. But the sons of Zadok never left God’s sanctuary, so God allowed them to serve Him. When Margaret read this story, she knelt and prayed that she was willing to be a person serving God forever and not serving only in the temple. Watchman Nee told this story with the hope that fellow believers would grow in their spiritual lives, have a deeper relationship with God, and serve Him in the Holy of Holies.
It’s in the Holy of Holies that one serves God. There is no natural light in the Holy of Holies. No one can see what you’ve done. It’s just like when you pray behind closed doors at home, seeking to serve God every day. No one would know how much work you have done for God. You also can’t see how much you have achieved. But God knows because you are serving God Himself. Serving Him in the Holy of Holies is mainly to become a friend of God, have fellowship with Him and intercede for people. Serving God in the Holy of Holies represents the highest spiritual life.
The ministry in the sanctuary is divided into several layers. The descendants of the Levites, the Kohathites, were responsible for carrying the things in the sanctuary, including the ark, etc. Although they served in the sanctuary, they directly helped the priests (Aaron and his sons) in serving God. The Gershonites and Merarites were closer to the outer courtyard. They were responsible for carrying the things in the outer courtyard of the tabernacle.
Aaron and Zadok were also Levites. But not all Levites could serve God in the Holy of Holies. Many Levites, such as the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites, served in the temple of God and the chosen people of God on different stages.
Aaron and the high priest, who served God in the Holy of Holies, represent our closeness and fellowship with God in the spirit. The Levites, who served in the sanctuary, lit the lamps, replaced the bread of the Presence, and burned the incense. The work at this stage represents the cleansing work in the soul. The Levites who served the Israelites in the outer courtyard were mainly preparing the sacrifices such as the herds and the flocks, which represents the cleansing of sin in our flesh.
Therefore, the different services in the Holy of Holies, sanctuary, and the outer courtyard represent the spiritual life and spiritual service of Christians in three different stages. Most people’s spiritual life and spiritual service are in the outer courtyard. The service in the outer courtyard isn’t bad, because many people are needed to preach the gospel and testify of the redemption of Jesus Christ. Outer courtyard people will also help unbelievers prepare sacrifices, which include a repentant heart and a broken spirit (Psalm 51), dedicated to God so that they can be cleansed from their sins and please God. But this does not mean that preaching the gospel or serving in the outer courtyard is enough.
In addition to allowing Christians to preach the gospel and bring people to salvation, God also calls us to enter His holiness and glory, and participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4, NIV). So, in addition to dealing with sins, we also have to undergo changes in the soul. For example, Romans 12:1 (NIV) Let us offer our bodies as a living sacrifice and pleasing to God, which is our reasonable service. Verse 2 goes on to say, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” “Renewing of your mind” is specially mentioned here. It is a change and sanctification of the soul.
The Local Church Movement, where I was saved, focuses on pursuing holiness through teaching the renewal of the mind. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at the United Theological Seminary. I have come into contact with many believers of the United Methodist Church. Many teachers and classmates have a United Methodist background. They told me that John Wesley also focused on teaching holiness. The Pentecostal Movement was also born from the “Holiness Movement,” which was influenced by John Wesley. But the modern-day Pentecostal Movement is not known for pursuing holiness. It isn’t limited to the Pentecostal Movement, but it seems like as a whole, Western Christianity does not pay enough attention to holiness. I am very grateful to the Local Church Movement for teaching us the pursuit of spiritual growth, especially the change of soul-life. I also want to thank my friends in the United Methodist Church for sharing John Wesley’s teaching about holiness.
From my observation, in the United States, there are many Christians who are saved yet cannot overcome sin. Even fewer live a holy life, never entering into the Holy of Holies to serve God. God isn’t pleased with this situation. If Hebrews 4:16 says that we can boldly enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus Christ, why is it that many Christians have not entered the Holy of Holies in experience?
Jesus Christ has re-opened our way to the tree of life or opened our way of entering the Holy of Holies to meet God. But it doesn’t mean that you will automatically enter into the Holy of Holies. Madame Guyon said that coming near to God is as natural as balloons flying in the air. But if you tie the balloon to a stone, it can’t fly up into the sky. The sins in our lives and the uncleanness in our souls are just like these stones. They will prevent us from entering the Holy of Holies. Therefore, we need to confess our sins and experience the renewal of our minds to remove our sins and uncleanness. This is a pathway to enter the Holy of Holies and draw near to God.
So with this understanding, we can say that the role of the Levites here as a wave offering from the Israelites is like “renewing the mind” or purifying the soul. First of all, this is not merely an offering to make atonement in the outer courtyard. Those offerings in the outer courtyard are usually sin offerings and guilt offerings, but it is clearly stated that the Levites were offered as a wave offering by the Israelites. The meaning of this wave offering is like what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:12 (NIV), “Death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” The Levites were offered as a wave offering to replace the firstborn of Israel. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, the firstborn of Israel were considered dead. The firstborn of Israel were saved because of the lamb, which is a type of Jesus Christ. Therefore, they were redeemed by the blood of His Son, the Lamb of God. Similarly, the Levites were redeemed by the blood of His Son, the Lamb of God.
Here, the Levites were offered by Aaron as a wave offering from the Israelites. We, too, should experience more of being dead in the soul life. As the Lord Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (NIV, Matthew 16:24-25). Our church and Christians (represented by the Levites) must experience more of the lessons of the cross to have more power to become the sacrifice for more sinners (represented by the Israelites), allowing them to be forgiven from sins and be born again.
The real sacrifice is Jesus Christ, the flawless lamb and high priest, which is what Aaron represents. But we are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, helping Him to serve God. It’s just like the mission of the Levites was to help Aaron to serve God. So, when we are willing to experience a change in our soul and the renewal of our minds, not conforming to the pattern of this world, we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2, NIV).
Talking about the experience of the cross is not a very popular topic in American Christianity today. But it is an indispensable way for our spiritual life to be deeply rooted and enter the Holy of Holies to serve God. Therefore, Numbers 8:11 described this picture. Aaron (who represents our spirit or Christ) needed to offer the Levites (who represent our soul) as a wave offering, which is both a burnt offering (completely burned to ashes, absolutely for God), as well as a sin offering (removing our sins). This lesson of the cross was so that the Levites could help the Israelites be free from sin.
Today, the church is the light and salt of the world. If we won’t be the light, how can the world see the light? The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV): “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
This is the same as what Numbers 8:2-3 (ESV) says: “Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” And Aaron did so; he set up its lamps in front of the lampstand, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Here the Lord commanded Moses to tell Aaron that the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand to let the light shine on those who come to the sanctuary. Actually, the work of the Levites was to shine and let the light of God shine before others. The service of the priest in the sanctuary includes tending the lamps, repairing the channels to the lamps, and refilling the lamps. The purpose was to light the lamp. We are the lamp of God. As the Bible says, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his innermost parts.” (ESV, Proverbs 20:27). This verse is a better illustration of the work of our spirit (represented by Aaron), which is to search all our innermost parts (the Levites represent our soul). When we are willing to let Aaron tend this light, illuminate our inner being (which is our soul), and experience the renewal and change of our soul-life, darkness is removed in the soul and prevents obstruction for the light of God to shine in our spirit. Our light can then shine before others (Matthew 5:16), and people can be freed from darkness and sins and enter God’s salvation.
Today, the Spirit of God has lit the lamp through Aaron’s work, but we, who are the Levites, need to experience the death of soul-life, the renewal, and change of mind so that His light shines through us to those we come in contact with. They can then be convicted of sin, repent, accept God’s salvation, and come into the light.
This is the spiritual significance of the two stories in Numbers 8. These two stories are closely linked.
Only when the light of Aaron’s lamp faces outside will it gradually illuminate the Levites, treating them as a wave offering. Then the Israelites in the outer courtyard will experience atonement. This is also true in our spiritual experience today. When God is alive in our spirit and His light penetrates our soul, renewing our minds, we will know His good, pleasing, and perfect will allowing our bodies to be redeemed. Many unbelievers will be freed from sin and become members of the body of Christ. Believers will be cleansed from sin, which is the complete salvation of our spirit, soul and body, and a picture of the growth of the church, which is Christ’s body.