But the Levites were not listed along with them by their ancestral tribe. For the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel. But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle. When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death. The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.” Thus did the people of Israel; they did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 1:47-54 ESV)
Of the 12 tribes of Israel God set Levi apart to be the priestly tribe. They were not conscripted for war and they were not given land once they reached Canaan. They were to be supported by the tithe God required of all the tribes. Their responsibility was to set up and take down the tabernacle and to maintain the holy fire, the fire God sent down on the altar of burnt offering when the tabernacle was originally set up.
Access to the tabernacle was tightly controlled, emphasizing the holiness of God and the prescribed manner in which He was to be approached. The Levites served as a kind of buffer between the people and God, preventing anyone from accidentally transgressing the boundaries of the tabernacle. It is here called the tabernacle of the testimony because within the ark of the covenant were the tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments and it is here God “sat” as on His throne and where atonement was made. God’s presence was the basis of Israel’s existence.
In our costly discipleship to the Lord we each have our different responsibilities. To each is given gifts that determine our responsibilities within the Body of Christ. Each is a sacred responsibility. Paul says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6). How would it have helped if the Levites had insisted on going to war? If each member of the Body does not do its part the Body does not thrive. God has always had a unique use for each of His unique creatures. You are unique and so is your benefit to the Body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:17-20, ESV)