by T. Austin-Sparks
The prophecies of Malachi, chapter one verse 11: “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the nations, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
Chapter 2, verse 4: “You shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant may be with Levi, saith the Lord of Hosts. My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him that he might fear; and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.”
Chapter 3: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant whom ye desire, behold he cometh, saith the Lord of Hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto the Lord offerings in righteousness.”
We continue with the matter that the Lord brought us to face this afternoon, this matter of what is represented by the Levites in the Old Testament. And again, may I say what has often been said here: that we, in all these things, are dealing with spiritual realities and not just the forms of their embodiment and presentation.
When we speak about Levites we naturally think of an Old Testament order and system of priestly ministry; but we need constantly to remind ourselves that whatever God has done, however He has expressed Himself from time to time in the history of this world, all the different forms and means of expression are only a means of conveying spiritual and abiding eternal realities. And that is very true of the Levites. We are speaking about them, we use their title, but let us realize all the time that we are in the presence of great, divine, spiritual realities that belong to us and to our time as truly as ever they belong to any people of God, so that this spiritual law of the Levite is something that comes right into this very hour, into this very place tonight.
We could not hope to comprehend and cover this whole matter even though we were here for days and I am not attempting to do that, only to lift out some of the most vital elements in this whole matter. Let us then begin by clarifying our minds on this one point: that we are dealing with a spiritual conception and not with a formal ecclesiastical system when we speak of priests and Levites. That latter does not obtain in our dispensation, but the spiritual conceptions do govern this dispensation.
Now, when we try to get to the heart of this matter, right to the very heart of it, asking ourselves this question: what is the innermost and deepest meaning and significance of this whole matter of Levitical ministry? I think the answer is: association with God in His work. That is a very simple way of putting it, but it is tremendously deep and searching. Association with God for His work. We have to bring up before ourselves all that the Word of God reveals as to the nature of God. God! And if we were to put the nature of God into one word, surely we would have to say holiness. Holiness. You might say love, but love is governed by His holiness, love is qualified by His holiness, it is holy love. Whatever other words you may use to describe or define the nature of God - you may say truth and many other things - they are but the expression of this innermost thing: His holiness. His holiness.
An association with God... that is a tremendous thing to contemplate. In this book of Malachi’s prophecies it is that that is governing, is dominant throughout. And the one charge that the Lord had against the people there and then was that they had lost a sense of His holiness. So much so that when they were charged with certain most conspicuously wrong things, they said, “How? How?”; couldn't see it, they couldn’t see it. They had lost the sense of His holiness. Then He brings them to the point, He says: “You offer on My altar the blind, the lame, the blemished”. Then He puts it like this, “Go and offer that to your governor and see what he will say! What will he say? You dare to offer Me a blind sheep, a lame oxen, a blemished animal? Who do you think I am? What sort of a person do you think I am? See what your governor would say. But, am I not greater than your governor? And yet you do it to Me!” You see, the Lord has startling ways of bringing people face to face, I am only using this by way of getting at this whole matter: association with God.
Just think of it... the Levites were called into association with God. That was God’s covenant with Levi, of life and peace. Think of it... come right into touch with such a God as He is! Come right into touch with His things, before Him, and live! And live! Why, it would be impossible to live in His presence, of life and peace... in touch with such as He is, in peace. Why, there would be war unto the death if there were not a right foundation and basis. “My covenant was with Levi, of life and peace, in association with Me in My work”. I’m trying, dear friends, I know so imperfectly and falteringly, to impress you with the greatness of this vocation.
If it is true what we were trying to say this afternoon, that this is not a special cult or class or denomination of people, but this is what the Church as a whole is called into. And when the Church as a whole fails the Lord, He looks inside to find those who will not fail Him in this matter. He has done that again and again, and that is the history of the Levites.
Now let us go back, and all the knowledgeable people will be patient, for everybody here hasn't got all the knowledge that you have.
What happened with the Levites? Well first of all you know what we read this afternoon how they came into view with the Lord at all, the time of the golden calf, the breaking loose of the nation, and Levi's separating of themselves from that corruption and pollution and taint; standing right outside of it. And then, at great cost to their own souls, family and friends, in taking the sword against this breaking-in of evil powers. Well, that is how they came into view first of all. And you know that later the Lord took the tribe of Levi in the place of the firstborn sons in Israel. The firstborn son in every household was the official priest of the household; he functioned as the priest of the household. When Israel defaulted as a nation and there was not that which the Lord required in priesthood in the whole nation, He separated the tribe of Levi on the basis of the half shekel of silver and made the tribe of Levi representative of all the nation, as the church of the firstborn ones. Representative, that is, in the Levites now, all the families of Israel are represented, but represented in holiness, in satisfaction to the Lord; a people in the midst of the people, giving God His satisfaction, for He must have it. You are familiar with that principle. I am not going on with the history of the Levites; you can pursue it, there’s much more. That is enough for us to get right at the meaning of this.
This law of the Levite is the law of the innermost association with God for the work of God in a priestly way. When we say that we mean mediation, intercession, standing between God and His people to bring them together, to mediate from God what He wants His people to have, to bring His people into touch with God and His resources. It is a spiritual thing, and in that sense you are all called to be priests and Levites.
You are wondering, you are saying this is very technical and very ecclesiastical, but no, it is very simple. There is a piece of work going on in Denmark just now which is growing, expanding, bearing all the marks of a very real movement of God. For ten years five sisters, not by any means young, certainly not influential in this world, poor in the things of this world; for ten years those five sisters prayed this thing into being. Not until after ten lonely, patient years with much heartbreak and disappointment, coming to the place where sometimes they wondered whether ever anything could be, at the end of ten years the thing broke. I call that Levitical ministry. It was hidden; the world knew nothing about it, it went on - God knew all about it. You may be a lonely soul in some place, you may be a lonely little group in some place, you may be larger. But whether alone, whether in larger, greater companies, the thing is, this is what you are called to: to be God’s Levites in this thing, to stand, not between Him and the world, yes that, but between Him and His own needs in, and purpose for, His own people. That’s a vocation which was the vocation of the Levites.
And, dear friends, if you need impressing with the importance of that to the Lord, it is not something that is optional, that is extra - you could take it or leave it. Let me take you back to what I read to you from the first chapter of Malachi. Do you not see the link? In my Bible I have got lines drawn across the pages, and those lines link things up, and I read to you in chapter one, “My Name shall be great among the nations... and in every place incense shall be offered unto My Name and a pure offering for My Name shall be great among the nations”. My line runs across to Levi, first to the covenant made with Levi, and then from there to the purifying of the sons of Levi. I believe that is a right kind of link. You see that if His Name is really to be great among the nations, He needs a Levitical body after this kind. He needs a people within His people it may have to be that is not His appointment originally; He would have all His people on this basis as representing the Church of the firstborn, but if the whole is not like this, we have said so often, He looks inside for those who will serve Him in this way. But the purpose is His Name is great among the nations.
Let us put it around the other way: if the Levites are corrupt and defiled and out of their place, the Name of the Lord is dishonored among the nations. If the Lord has not got this kind of thing that He needs, this ministry by such a people, the nations suffer loss and the Name of the Lord suffers loss. You see, the Lord brings it right back here, the reproach on the Lord from the nations, His dishonour. He focuses it right down on the Levites; right down on them. And in order that the reproach on the Name of the Lord should be removed and that His Name should be great among the nations, He must purify the sons of Levi. He must do it.
Now you see, we begin here: association with God. Let us take that to ourselves individually. I can think of nothing more searching for me than to have association with God. Well, of course, it would depend upon my idea of God, wouldn’t it? But if I have any right conception of God, the kind of God He is, His infinite holiness; association with Him, being allowed to come near Him, to come into His presence, proximity to Him, that’s a tremendous thing, a tremendous thing! We should think it a great thing if we were allowed to have association with some people in this world; high honour and responsibility for them to bring us into association with them. We think that a great thing, but association with God, for His work, He'd do His work by us, oh we need and God grant it may be one of the fruits, upshots of this time, this very hour... a new conception on the one side of the holiness and greatness of God. Shall we say, the awfulness of God? And on the other side, the infinite, infinite mercy and grace of God to call us into association with Himself. What an honour, what a privilege, that He will do His work through us!
Oh we, dear friends, haven't got a right conception of God’s work. We take it into our defiled hands. We project ourselves into it, spread ourselves over it, try to become something in it, strut about as though we were something. Well, Isaiah saw His holiness, “Holy, holy, holy!” And cried: “Woe is me, I’m undone.” This we need to recover and then to realize He calls us into that association and for the purpose of fulfilling Himself and His work through us.
Now I want to pause there and put in brackets something. When we speak on this matter of holiness and sin and unrighteousness, and, perhaps begin to feel something about it and ourselves, it is just possible for us to wrongly call to our rescue certain Scriptures; wrongly call to our rescue “there is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” and wrongly take the covering of that Scripture and such like Scriptures and hide behind them. There is a difference: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” See the point? Oh yes, we will always be very imperfect, always be much to be done in us until the end, in cleansing, sanctifying and saving... it has to go right on. And if we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another, that is, Himself and ourselves, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son goes on cleansing us from all sin. But there is such a thing as not walking in the light and excusing it by saying, ‘Yes, I know I am very imperfect and I am a sinner but there is no condemnation in Christ.’ You see what I mean? Well, you can't, we can’t get away with that.
These people in the churches in the Revelation, in the seven churches, in those where there was wrong, when it was mentioned to them their wrongs, “Thou hast there this and that and the other thing, this thing I hate” they might have said: “But there’s no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” That won't do. That won't do!
If we are really going to be in association with God for His work, the refining fires have got to do their work, and the sons of Levi must be purified. We must be a purified people. We must be walking in holiness. We must, with all the value of the precious blood cleansing, and the Holy Spirit sanctifying, we must be walking in the light and we must correspond to the Lord for association.
It is the effect, it is the service, it is service that takes preeminent place here as you see. Israel was called out of Egypt to serve the Lord: “Let My son go that he may serve Me.” The whole idea of God in sonship is service. It is practical, it is to do His work, it is to minister to Him, and that in the midst of the nations. Israel was called out from Egypt to serve the Lord on the basis of sonship. When the whole nation showed its weakness and its defilement, its divided heart, half toward the land (and that very largely, it became clear, for their own gain), and the other half back in Egypt (and that for their own convenience and comfort). And that was all dragged out into the light; the Levites were taken as the people of an undivided heart. That was the test, you see? Moses said, “Get every man his sword, gird every man with his sword on his side, go in and out, and slay your own brother, your own family, and your own friends”. No man of a divided heart could undertake that. A man’s heart must be whole to be able to do a thing like that. They were really put to the test about this in a very practical way and they stood up to it. They went through with it. They therefore, right in the very center of the nation, represent the principle of the undivided heart, the heart that is wholly for the Lord. That is essential to association with the Lord; that is essential to this thing that the Lord calls: His service; not what man calls the service, the work of God, but what God calls His service.
And mark you, dear friends, it is true, solemnly true, that sooner or later, if we really mean business with God, if we are honest with God, sooner or later we will be brought up against this. We may have gone on for a long time doing a lot of things for the Lord, and a lot of work for the Lord with things that the Lord did not agree with in our lives, but sooner or later the Lord says, ‘You have gone far enough with this, now then...’ And at that time, all our life work is coming either to an end, or there is going to be something new or something more. It is the crisis of our testimony and the crisis of our work. That is what Levi represents you see, it is just that: God looking on the heart.
Oh, forgive me if I seem too heavy, severe; but I think the Lord is after something. What I am keeping my eye on is not the process but the outcome. I am quite sure the Lord wants to do a new thing, a mightier thing, a thing for His glory, that He has purpose in view – something more, something more. And as I see it, this Levitical principle is just that; how God will go on, and how God will do greater things, and do more, and reach His end and it is with ‘him that overcometh’. That is the Levite of our time.
The Levites stood and stand for what is most precious to God, most precious to God. And what is most precious to God is holiness of life. You can’t dispute or challenge that. All this book of Malachi, these blemished offerings, these lame and blind offerings, the Lord says, ‘Away with them! I have no delight, no pleasure in your offering at all. Take them away! These blemished things give Me no pleasure, no preciousness in those to Me.’ It is what is most precious to the Lord and unblemished, unblemished... the thing that is holy before the Lord... what is most precious.
God is jealous, very jealous. He’s a jealous God. In one sense God is the only Person who has a right to be jealous; our jealousy is all wrong but God’s jealousy is a holy and a pure thing and He has a right to be jealous. He is jealous for His Name, and jealous, therefore, for His holiness.
Now, do you see, do you recognize that all this explains the Lord Jesus? All this explains the Lord Jesus, it explains His coming into this world, it explains His life while He was here, it explains His cross. It all explains the Lord Jesus. We said this afternoon that He is the Great Levite. He commenced His ministry at the age of thirty as the Levites commenced theirs. He is the Great Levite.
Here you come to the whole matter of sonship again; sonship unto service to satisfy God. Here is One who is in the closest association with God. If Christ is our example, and if we are foreordained to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, and if Christ really governs everything in life and work, then here we are, we are in the presence of One whose heart is not divided, whose heart is wholly and utterly for God, whose association with God is complete and absolute. Mark you, by His own choice. We are not thinking now of His identification with God in Godhead, we are thinking of Him as the Levite, the Man, representative amongst the Lord’s people. One in real association with God, One fulfilling the purpose and doing the work of God. “I must work the works of Him that sent Me”, or “we must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day”; here is the perfect Levite.
Now, what is the point? In order that we, we may work the works of God we must be conformed to the image of God’s Son. We must come into Christ-likeness. Now you see, that opens your whole Bible again because from beginning to end whenever God has taken a step in the history of this world, whenever He has taken a step and every successive step of the numerous steps, He has always taken that step on the basis of Christ. Do you see this? Did He take a step with Abel, was Abel a step? Well it is not difficult to see the feature of Christ that Abel represents. One who is separated unto God, whose heart is undivided where God is concerned. So we could go on now. But you see, every new step with every new man in the beginning, every new man: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and so on, came to the people of Israel, came to the Levites, and on you go. Every step that God took He took on the basis of Christ.
God has never moved on any other ground than His Son. You and I will be outside of the movements of God if we are not moving on the line of Christ. And Christ is this all-comprehending Levite who has a heart only for God; Who at any cost, any cost, will prove that His heart is wholly for God and He will react, violently react, against any insinuation from the enemy that would take something from the Father. Follow that, the Levites did that when they took the sword; it was a violent reaction against a breaking in to take something from God. That's Christ. So that being called into fellowship with God’s Son is being called into a Levitical position of absolute separation unto God, wholeheartedness for God, reaction against everything that would take from God and dishonour His Name, and all the rest that the Levite stands for.
Now I trust that you are catching the truth, the thought, the idea. The data is too much, all the details too many, to cover this ground, but here we are, we are faced with this: the Lord would take new steps, the Lord would go on, the Lord would lead His people on... but His way has always been, at all times, to find either a man or a people of this Levitical order, like that. When He's got that, He can do something more; He can go on. He needs that today, and He needs that everywhere. We need not all be together in one place for that, we can be scattered over the earth, but the principle of holiness unto the Lord, the principle of the undivided heart, the principle of a jealous, red-hot jealous reaction against any touch of corruption from the enemy, the Lord will come along that line. He cannot do this willy-nilly. I think you know we have had too cheap an idea of the Lord’s service and of our relationship to Him. Too cheap, just too easy... anybody will do, anything will do; generality. Oh no, if this says one thing to us it says, ‘No! No! Not at all.’ God is jealous and God is jealous for His holiness, and for His Name.
May He write that and put that into our hearts... just explain Himself and what He means by speaking to us in this way. So much is at stake: “My Name... My Name... great in all the nations.” I’m sure that appeals to our hearts.