Reading: Numbers 3:13; 1:51; 3:38; 1 Chron. 15:2,13; Mal. 2:4,5; Rom 8:1,2,4,6-9.
We come to this further feature and characteristic of the sons of Levi, that they are the custodians of the way of life. They stand in the old dispensation as representing an abiding Divine idea; and though as a class and a caste literally on the earth as in the Mosaic economy they ceased to be, the Divine idea goes on and obtains as much today as ever it did then - perhaps more so. This idea of God is of a people standing in a relationship to Himself, wholly jealous for the expression of His full thought.
You notice that we read twice in connection with the ministry of the Levites, "the stranger that cometh near shall be put to death". In spiritual language, that means that which is strange to God's mind. And when we ask what it is that is strange to God, but which does often seek to come into touch with the holy things of God (and whenever it does it always brings spiritual death in its train) the letter to the Romans answers our enquiry very clearly, "The mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:5). "My covenant was with Levi of life and peace" (Mal. 2:5). So that it is immediately clear that the sons of Levi stand to represent Life in the Spirit as opposed to life in the flesh even in the case of the children of God. The stranger to God is the man or the woman who lives in the flesh, in other words, who lives on the ground of nature as differing from the ground of Christ. On the ground of nature there is condemnation and death; on the ground of Christ there is righteousness and life. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" - on the ground of Christ. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death".
The Course of Death Arrested
To come still closer to the sons of Levi, we have noticed that they have a very close and continuous association with the altar and with the blood. To no other tribe but to theirs was it committed to receive and slay the sacrifices and to sprinkle the blood. Theirs was ministry, shall we say, in virtue of shed blood and that is always related to Life which sets death aside.
When Israel broke loose at the mount, making the calf and worshipping it, death immediately came into the camp and would have made an end of all but for the Levites, who stepped into the breach, cleft the divide between this breaking out of the flesh in the Lord's people, this uprising of the natural life in holy things, and the life which is separate unto God in the spirit. They stepped into that breach and so, although there was judgment, condemnation, and death, they preserved a way of life that there could be progress still.
Spiritual Life Always Condemns Sin in the Flesh
What they did was, in type, what the Lord Jesus did when He came to this earth and went to the cross. Here in Romans 8 we have the words that He was made, "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (the margin says the flesh of sin), "and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit". The act of the Levites was, on the one hand, the act of condemning sin in the flesh in order to open up and preserve a way of Life in the Spirit. That is the function of spiritual people.
It is easy to talk about being spiritual. The test of our spirituality is in this twofold effect of our presence: of our testimony and of our life. Do we, on the one hand, condemn sin in the flesh, or do we condone and excuse it? The presence of a truly spiritual person brings condemnation to sin in the flesh. That again, is not pleasant for the spiritual person because sin in the flesh, wherever it is found, always comes back in antagonism upon the spiritual person. I mean that if you have any measure of true spiritual life, your presence among those who are living in sin, in the flesh, means that you are an object of their suspicion, of their dislike. You haven't to say anything at all. The antagonism wakes up and you know that you are a speckled bird so far as they are concerned, because sin is not impersonal, abstract or negative. Sin brings in Satan with spiritual intelligence, and the enemy knows the presence of a spiritual person and such a one will always suffer in the presence of sin. It is a test of our spirituality, whether we are condemning sin in the flesh.
Spiritual Life is Communicated in Fellowship
On the other hand, the presence of a truly spiritual person means Life to the spiritual. The gathering together of truly spiritual people means Life for anybody who has even a little spiritual life. May that not be one of the unexplained things (for God very rarely explains Himself when He says a thing) lying behind such a word as, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together... and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh" (Heb. 10:25)? For if the approach of the Lord's Day is marked by one thing more than another, it is by spiritual death in this world. We are all conscious today of a far more intense battle for Life than ever we have known. The very vitality is being sapped, especially from the children of God. It is a fight for spiritual life; the very atmosphere is impregnated with spiritual death. It is coming down upon us in spirit and mind and body in a very intense way.
The Day is approaching; the forces of death are active, rampant. Our salvation is found in one thing, in spiritual people being together as much as possible; in other words, in spiritual fellowship. Be watchful therefore against those disintegrations, separations and isolations which the enemy would bring about in order to deprive of spiritual life and energy. He will be far more active in that way towards the end than ever. How much he gains by isolating saints! How many imaginary things come up about others which have no foundation in fact whatever! They come up, they become very real, you believe them to be facts. And when you meet the people concerned, those facts are found to be phantoms, with no truth in them at all. It is isolation, the distance, that has been the occasion of so much. It requires that we take a very strong stand against all these insinuations and suggestions until we have proved that they are true, for the forces of death know that if they can but distance the Lord's people in spirit from one another, they have destroyed the life of the Lord's people in a very large measure.
The presence of spiritual people, then, means Life, and you can test the true spirituality by the true Life. But that Life is essentially in the spirit and not in the flesh.
The Activity of the Flesh Always Issues in Death
Now, if you as a stranger, without perhaps any spiritual discernment or perception, had come into the camp on that day when Moses came down the mountainside and the people were shouting and singing and dancing, you probably would have thought that it was a scene very full of life: it was religious, it was worship, and from all the semblance of life it looked as though they were having a good time. If (to pass over to 1 Chronicles 13) you had arrived on the scene on that day when David had put the ark upon the new cart and Uzza and Ahio were driving the oxen and David and all the others were before the ark dancing before the Lord with all their might, singing and clapping their hands and playing their instruments, you probably would have said, 'This is a scene of life'! But in both of those cases, it was a scene of death; death was terribly there.
Oh, how terrible was the former case when a great number fell by the sword of the Levites under the judgment of God! It was not Life, it was false life that day when David brought out the ark. It was a day of death; the Lord made a breach upon Uzza and he died before the Lord and the whole procession was halted and turned aside, and for three months there was not a movement. It was death and yet with all the marks of being something very much alive. There is a life of the natural man, the soul, the flesh, which is a false life, which is death and is not safe, and is not going to get us through. It may have a few hours or a few days of seeming to be doing something effectual, but it is really short-lived and it does not get through.
On the side of our natural life, which is the side of the flesh, we are bound to come to a point of arrest sooner or later. Spiritual people will not go very far in real progress if they drop down on to the ground of the flesh. I mean this: you know there are times when the Lord's children are subjected to trial similar in principle to that which produced this situation at Sinai. Moses, who had brought them out of Egypt and led them through the Red Sea, had gone up into the mount and he was there forty days and forty nights; and they were tested in their faith. They saw nothing, they heard nothing, they felt nothing. It was as though they had been forsaken by God and His servant, His representative, and they were left alone to their own resources. Faith was subjected to an intense test, for there was nothing to see and the test was as to whether in spirit they would believe God, though they did not see, feel, or hear Him, or whether they would come down onto the ground of nature which always must have evidences, proofs, sights and signs, and create for themselves something which answered to that natural requirement in order to believe. It was a real test under which they broke down. They were the Lord's children in life, in peace, until they broke down at that point.
True Life is Nourished by Faith in God, not by Outward Evidences
We come under the same kind of testing. The Lord allows us to pass into experiences where there is no sight, no sound, no sense, as to Himself; where we seem to be left alone to our own resources. What are we going to do? There are two alternatives: to cling desperately to God in sheer, naked faith, without anything as evidence; or to turn back, to come down on to some lower level of life, demanding proofs and evidences, and even making them for ourselves. The Lord brings His people very often into a situation like that in their education in the school of the Spirit. When we are there, let us beware lest we turn away from the position of faith to the position of human reasoning, which is the ground of nature, and begin to doubt because there is not the outward evidence and sign and seal of the Lord's presence with us.
If we come down onto that ground of human reasoning and begin to open the door to doubt, questioning the Lord and wondering whether after all He did bring us out, whether all has been of Him, we lose our position to begin with and we shall lose our life very quickly after. That is, we come to definite arrest in life. Whether we come down onto nature's ground in the realm of the reason or in the realm of feelings, we shall very soon be brought by them to the realm of will where in the matter of volition, which is decision, we decide that we cannot and will not go on until the Lord gives us evidence of His nearness. As a more or less mature child of God, have you ever found the Lord meet you on that ground? Have you ever had a controversy with the Lord and gone to Him and said, 'Now, Lord, you must give me evidence before I believe' and the Lord has done it? I think I can answer for you. If you have ever acted like that, you have never found the Lord come down onto that ground, the ground of your doubt and question. Israel in the wilderness fell finally and was destroyed because in unbelief they carried in their hearts too long one question which was in essence: "Can God?" God only came down to that ground at their very beginning. No, you die there, that is death. Oh, it is difficult; we have all failed in this way more or less.
Now, the Levites stand for the ruling out of that whole realm of nature, that mind of the flesh. They say that that has been entirely cut off, that now our life is wholly in the Spirit and our evidences are going to be of a different kind altogether; in the Spirit and not in the flesh. The Lord is going to prove Himself to us in another realm, not in the realm of nature; and the experience of a truly spiritual man or woman is that their proof of the Lord is always pre-eminently spiritual. Of course, in the days of our spiritual childhood the Lord does come and make Himself known to us in many things, circumstances and so on. The trouble is that we want to go on thus all our days, staying there as big, grown-up babies, always having these sops given us from the Lord to keep us going; and the Lord's mind is otherwise. No, we have to graduate from that, and the time comes with every true child of God when the line is drawn, and the Lord says, "I am not going to carry you any longer". To change the metaphor, He stirs up the nest to bring us out on the wing, suspended between heaven and earth with nothing solid in nature under our feet, in order to prove Him, and we begin to learn what life in the Spirit is, and to prove the Lord in a spiritual way. But spiritual proof is a very solid thing. It is really very much more solid than the other kind.
And this works in a multitude of ways. For instance, in the matter of guidance so often we naturally tend to ask the Lord to come and begin His evidences in some realm which is physical and natural. If only the Lord will do this in a physical, literal, material way, then we will know and we will act; and the Lord leaves His spiritual people alone altogether in that realm so that they are not conscious of His coming in thus. But He begins with us inside and touches us in spirit, and then when that life of His has touched the spirit it seems to work through to the mind and body and we rise up and things happen. We have found life in the spirit.
We learn as we go on with the Lord in this school not to wait for things to happen in the physical, external realm, but to get the touch of His Spirit on our spirit, and we have the guarantee of all the rest. It is marvellous how the other follows. God is dealing with us as with spiritual people and Life is there. And such a one is the true Levite. The Levite is not the one who must ever and always have the proof and the evidence in the physical, sentient realm. He is one who has learned to know and move with God in spirit, and that is a deeper intelligence; an intelligence that only the Levite has.
Knowledge for Others is with those who Know the Secret of Life
And that leads me to this great thing about the Levites, that whereas they were the custodians of the way of life, they were entrusted with the instruction of the Lord's people. And what is the nature of spiritual instruction? It is just this, that you know something that other people do not know and you have learned it in the deep school of experience with the Lord in spirit. How much we owe to people who have been in the school of the Spirit and know the Lord in spirit and in truth! Somehow or other they touch us, they help us, as no number of Bible readings ever helps us. Give us the one who speaks right out of that inner knowledge of the Lord gained in the deep school of experience, and Life will be ministered to us. Such are Levites. They are the ones who know that the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has made free from the law of sin and death, and they have that knowledge to minister to the rest of the Lord's people.
Does the Lord need Levites? Does He need the sons of Levi? In other words, does He need a people in the midst of His people who know the secret of spiritual Life, and through whom there can be ministered the Life of the Lord to His people? Oh, surely He needs a people like that!
Then another question. Is it not true that the majority of the Lord's people know nothing about that secret of Life? They are simply occupied with the externals of Christianity, with traditions and forms and offices. While perhaps knowing that they are saved, that their sins are forgiven, they know little of real Life in the Spirit - and there are multitudes of Christians who gape at you if you talk about the Lord.
The other day I was talking about spiritual things to a good man who had been brought up in a godly home, whose whole life has been among Christian people and who is a member of a church, and I used, quite unconsciously the phrase, "Now the Lord... so-and-so...". I saw that he looked rather far away, and when it came to his turn to say something, he said, "I don't think in terms of your phraseology, 'the Lord'; I simply say, 'God wants so-and-so'". It is indicative; he may have been just as true as I, but to talk about the Lord was strange language to him. But you and I know the difference; we know that such language indicates something of a relationship, a walk. God is remote for multitudes of His own people. 'The Lord' - that is so much nearer, it is not just phraseology. But many are awkward in the presence of such a phrase. They cannot talk about the Lord and the things of the Lord. As with Israel as a whole, they may love Him in a general way, they may be His people, but oh, He wants His people to know Him in a more living way, and His link with them is through Levites. The way of life for them all is the way of the sons of Levi.
Life Produces Results Inevitably and Spontaneously
And so there is bound up with those who are truly spiritual a great ministry to the Lord's people. Oh, let us be very careful that the others do not lose what the Lord would give to them or bring them into if only we, in patient, faithful, humble, selfless ministration out of our own deep walk with the Lord would minister to them. They need, and the Lord needs, Levites to meet their lack, and we never know what is going on in other lives. They may all seem so far away and so cold and so indifferent, but we do not know which among them may be longing for help. It may be one in a dozen, one in a hundred, but the Lord has His eye upon them. And if only we go on faithfully, denying ourselves, taking the Cross for our own souls day by day, it may be we shall at last find that the Lord has done something very vital through that quiet walk with Him in the midst of those who for a long time gave no sign whatever of desiring anything more.
Be a true Levite, that is the point, and leave the rest with the Lord. Walk in the spirit, and Life is bound to bring its own registration in some way. If there is life anywhere else, it will be found and drawn out. If there is sin in the flesh, the Life will condemn it. It is very important that we should be a savour of Life unto Life - or of death unto death. This latter is not a very pleasant ministry, but it is necessary to the Lord that the very presence of His own in this world should mean the condemnation of sin in the flesh. That is a Levitical ministry.