I tore the perforated sides of the little white envelope, tossing the strips in the trash as I unfold the familiar paper. My pay stub reported a healthy four figures deposited into my account. Not bad, really, for two weeks’ work teaching math to high school students.
These by-weekly stubs had always been one more piece of paper in my secure life. I tended to glance at them and file them away with little thought. But this day I studied the little numbers and columns, and had the strange sensation I was jumping off a cliff.
Most of us have something like this paycheck: money paid for services rendered, a relatively simple exchange. The ancient Israelites had the same idea, but even simpler: work your land and eat its food. It’s basic; it’s brilliant; it’s from God.
It combines the satisfaction of hard with and the necessity of provision, one driving the other, both necessary for a good, full life.
And now, with this last paycheck, I was stepping out of this system. I was joining my soon-to-be husband as a missionary and “going on support.”
And the LORD said to Moses, “I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites are mine…. I am the LORD… They will serve… the whole community, performing their sacred duties in and around the tabernacle.
-Numbers 3:11-13, 7
I’m not trying to make doctrine or draw spiritual parallels here. But I do see some strong practical parallels between the Levites and myself.
Most Israelites worked their fields and thus provided for their families. But for one tribe, the Levites, God simply said, “They’re mine.” He had a right to them, when you think about it. Without Him, the whole country would still be slaves in Egypt or dissipated among all the pagan nations or dead a hundred times over. God says, “You get Me; I get you.” Fair enough.
I was like an ordinary Israelite. I had my career; I provided for myself. I fought hard and lived well and this is what God desires from most people. It was pleasing to Him.
But then He picked me up and put me on a different track. Not because I was special or better, but simply because some people are vocationally His, like the Levites.
And the LORD said to Aaron, “You priests will receive no inheritance of land or share of property among the people of Israel. I am your inheritance and your share.
I had thought I’d had “an inheritance in the land,” my own little patch of soil to till. Then God swept me from it. I wanted to protest, to say, “That’s not fair! Everyone else gets their own land!”
As for the tribe of Levi, your relatives, I will pay them for their service in the Tabernacle with the tithes from the entire land of Israel.
Feelings of resentment fell as I realized what was being given to me: the tithes of God’s people. Now I wanted to protest the gift: “Who am I, Lord? I’m no one to receive gifts like this from Your hard-working people! No—it’s too much.”
But what could I do? Fight against the Lord? This is what he had said, so I would have to humble myself and receive the gifts.
I see the Levites, standing in their fine clothing at the tabernacle while the farmers, calloused and sun-burned from their labor, line up to bring their gifts to God. They are happy to have this part in worshiping their God. They’re far from rich, but they trust God’s blessing enough to give. So one after another, the best of the land is deposited before the Lord. And from the Lord’s hand, it is given to the Levites.
For us, this year of support raising has been like this. We do nothing but present ourselves, and to our amazement, His people just keep coming and coming and coming, laying down gift after gift.
But anything becomes normal after a time, and already these gifts seem less amazing to me than before.
The Bible—and church history—is full of examples of men who
stopped being amazed
… then grew to consider it a right
…then began to hold themselves above the givers.
What a sick perversion of God’s blessing! God knows the deceptive pull of our hearts, and He spoke this warning to the Levites:
But be careful not to treat the holy gifts of the people of Israel as though they were common.
This is the word to vocational ministers: Remember, these gifts are offered to God, not to you! Allow yourself to be awed and humbled. And do not worry: If God has chosen you as His special allotment, He will hardly let you starve.
To the “ordinary” people, the non-Levites: Thank you for your faithfulness. Work hard to till your land, not so that you will grow rich, but so that you will be counted faithful with what God has given you. It is no small thing. And keep giving to God. Of all the things you attain in this life, these gifts will last forever.