The Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel and they had a special role and purpose among God’s chosen people. They were set apart to serve in the tabernacle and later in the temple, assisting the priests with various duties and responsibilities. As a reward for their service, God decreed that the Levites would not receive a specific territorial inheritance like the other Israelite tribes. Instead, God declared that He Himself would be their inheritance.
This unique arrangement is first described in the book of Numbers. After commanding that the Levites receive no inheritance of land along with the other tribes, God declares to Aaron, “I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel” (Numbers 18:20 ESV). This statement reveals that God determined the Levites would find their inheritance directly in His divine presence, promises, and provision.
The fact that God Himself would serve as the Levites’ inheritance carried profound meaning and blessings for their lives:
- It meant the Levites enjoyed a special closeness with God by serving directly in His dwelling place.
- It signified God would supply their needs directly as they relied on Him.
- It showed their inheritance was not merely physical land, but found in spiritual riches.
- It displayed God’s concern for those who diligently served His purposes.
The Levites were initially responsible for transporting, setting up, and tending to the tabernacle during Israel’s wilderness wanderings. This portable tent structure was the dwelling place of God’s presence prior to the building of the temple in Jerusalem. As they carried out specific duties related to the tabernacle, the Levites enjoyed unique access to the Lord.
For example, the Kohathite clan of Levites specifically served by carrying the holy artifacts of the tabernacle as the people traveled (Numbers 4:4-15). In this capacity, these Levites found themselves in close proximity to objects like the Ark of the Covenant, which represented God’s presence. Serving at the very epicenter of Israel’s worship allowed the Levites to experience God’s presence in a very tangible way.
Later, when the more permanent temple replaced the portable tabernacle, the Levites continued to enjoy special access to God by handling various ritual tasks and chores. Certain clans were responsible for temple security, opening and closing gates, providing music and vocal accompaniment for services, mixing incense, baking shewbread, and keeping all holy precincts clean (1 Chronicles 23:28-32). In every duty, large or small, the Levites lived and served in the very environs where God’s Spirit dwelt and moved among His people.
The privilege of such intimate contact with the Lord compensation enough. But more than just nearness, God also promised the Levites would inherit direct material and financial provision from Him as they went about their work. For instance, several key passages helped ensure the Levites would be provided for:
- Tithes given by the rest of Israel went to support the Levites (Numbers 18:21).
- The Levites were granted cities scattered throughout Israel to live in andpasture lands around the cities for their livestock (Numbers 35:1-5).
- The Levites received a portion of offerings and sacrifices not consumed by fire (Deuteronomy 18:1).
- The first fruits and best of Israel’s grain, new wine, oil, and wool were given to the Levites (Deuteronomy 18:4).
Through such arrangements, the Levites were endowed with cities to dwell in and adequate food, materials, and money to supply their needs. As long as they remained faithful to tabernacle/temple duties, God committed Himself to providing their every necessity. Their inheritance would come directly from His hand as He dwelt among them.
But most importantly of all, the Levites’ special inheritance in God Himself wasn’t just about physical provisions. It also provided spiritual riches that far surpassed any monetary or material needs. As Deuteronomy 10:9 states, “Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance.” This inheritance represented a close walk with God, insight into His character, understanding of His Word, assurance of His faithfulness, and knowledge of His sovereign will. It included blessings like guidance, comfort, spiritual gifting, inner peace, and unconditional love.
These were benefits that the other eleven tribes would not know in the same intimate fashion since they were not tasked with such direct tabernacle/temple service. The Levites’ unique inheritance promoted a profound relationship with the Lord that was spiritually enriching in every way. Serving God under the same roof where His glory dwelt offered spiritual rewards beyond compare.
While the Levites may have lacked the comfort and security of owning family lands and farms like the other tribes, they had the surpassing privilege of inhabiting the land where God Himself chose to live. There could be no greater treasure. They were blessed to understand through firsthand experience that having the Lord Himself as their inheritance was far better than anything material possessions could offer.
Several key passages help shed light on how God served as the inheritance of the Levites in the tabernacle/temple arrangement:
This is the initial passage where God first declares the Levites will have no inheritance except Himself. God makes it clear the tithes of Israel will go to the Levites as their wages for tabernacle service. The passage emphasizes they will have no territorial inheritance as the other tribes. God will be their inheritance.
Moses reflects on how God chose the tribe of Levi to carry the ark and stand before Him. Then he reiterates that Levi has “no portion or inheritance” with their brothers because the Lord Himself is their inheritance.
This passage ensures the Levites will eat a portion of the offerings made to God. It again explains that they will have no territorial inheritance but will receive offerings in return for their special service before the Lord.
Joshua 13:14, 33
As Joshua begins allotting the land inheritances to tribes, he excludes the Levites, confirming the Lord as their inheritance. The Levites are given cities to dwell in throughout the lands of the tribes.
1 Chronicles 26:20-27
David organizes the Levites in their temple service duties. He ensures they receive tithes, gifts, and dedications to support the house of the Lord. As they serve in God’s house, He is their inheritance.
A few key factors emerge from these and related passages about God as the Levites’ inheritance:
- God intentionally chose the Levites for unique service before Him in the tabernacle/temple.
- The Levites had no tribal lands to inherit but were scattered within cities across Israel.
- Their inheritance was God’s presence and direct provision as they served Him.
- Tithes and offerings enabled the Levites to devote themselves fully to tabernacle duties.
- God dwelling among His people was worth far more than any earthly possession.
The Levites were called to exemplify complete devotion and service to the Lord, made possible by His promise to supply their every need. Their special inheritance as God’s ministers fostered an intimate walk with Him.
How the Levites lived out having God as their inheritance
On a practical level, the Levites lived out this special inheritance arrangement in three key ways:
- They demonstrated faith by relying on God’s provision and presence rather than earthly security.
- They cultivated humility by accepting roles of service rather than power or privilege.
- They pursued closeness with God by inhabiting His dwelling place through their duties.
Faith was essential because the Levites had no territorial lands or farms like the other eleven tribes. They had to trust that God would move through the tithes and offerings of the people to adequately supply them. And God was faithful as long as the Levites obediently carried out their duties. The Levites learned to be content with the basics of food, shelter, and clothing, trusting God to provide.
Cultivating humility was also key as the Levites were called to lowly service rather than prestigious roles. They surrendered rights to lands and power in order to take up tasks like cleaning, porting objects, performing menial labor, and assisting the priests. Despite being an entire tribe, they subjugated themselves to benefit the spiritual lives of the nation.
Most importantly, the Levites had a passion to draw near to God’s presence. They inhabited the precincts where His Spirit manifest, whether in transporting the tabernacle or serving in the temple. Their inheritance was God Himself – not just what He provided but who He was. Every mundane task had eternal significance because it was performed before the Lord.
A couple examples of Levites who embodied relying on God, serving humbly, and staying near His presence would be:
- Korah – A Kohathite leader who faithfully carried tabernacle objects like the ark as instructed and had the humility to serve in this capacity (Numbers 4:15).
- Berechiah – A doorkeeper for the ark who stayed near God’s presence and was commended for his faithfulness (1 Chronicles 15:23; 26:1-8).
These men encapsulated what it meant for the Levites to live out having God’s presence and provision as their inheritance. They sought no status or earthly reward but found joy and fulfillment in serving the Lord.
The Levites’ devotion established a powerful spiritual legacy in Israel. Their example inspired people to see that an intimate relationship with God held far more value than any material possessions. By clinging to God as their inheritance, the Levites left a heritage of walking by faith, serving in humility, and discovering the blessings of His presence.
Significance for believers
While the specific inheritance arrangement of the Levites was unique to Old Testament Israel, their remarkable privilege offers key insights relevant for believers today:
- A relationship with God is life’s greatest treasure. Any material blessings are secondary.
- Selfless service pleases God and benefits His kingdom work.
- Consistent time in God’s presence nourishes the soul.
- Faith in God’s promises allows believers to generously sacrifice for others.
No matter our vocations, believers can all embrace the Levites’ perspective – seeing our relationship with God as most precious and orienting our lives around pursuing His presence, relying on His provision, and serving His purposes. When believers make intimacy with God their supreme inheritance, they discover the blessings David described in Psalm 16:5-6:
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
As children of God under the New Covenant, all believers now dwell spiritually in His presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We can access God’s power and inherit every spiritual blessing through faith in Christ (Ephesians 1:3; 3:16). Therefore, we too can claim God Himself as our inheritance and walk confidently in that identity.
The example of the Levites inspires us to pursue the blessings of God’s presence above all. Their lives compel us to serve selflessly in whatever capacity God calls us to. And their faith challenges us to rely on God’s promises to generously provide for our needs. As we fix our hope on our eternal spiritual inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), we can labor diligently in our present callings for God’s kingdom purposes – just as the Levites worked tirelessly in their tabernacle/temple duties so long ago.
What a privilege all believers now share with the Levites – to know and experience God intimately as the very inheritance of our souls!