In Numbers 4 and 7, the Lord gives detailed instructions for setting up the tent of meeting, the location of his presence with Israel. The tent of meeting requires materials produced by a wide variety of workers—fine leather, blue cloth, crimson cloth, curtains, poles and frames, plates, dishes, bowls, flagons, lamp stands, snuffers, trays, oil and vessels to hold it, a golden altar, fire pans, forks, shovels, basins and fragrant incense (Num. 4:5-15). (A similar description is found in Exodus 31:1-12; see “The Tabernacle” in Exodus and Work.)
In the course of worship the people bring into it further products of human labor, such as offerings of drink (Numbers 4:7), grain (4:16), oil (7:13), lambs and sheep (6:12), goats (7:16) and precious metals (7:25). Virtually every occupation—indeed nearly every person—in Israel is needed to make it possible to worship of God in the tent of meeting.
The Levites fed their families largely with a portion of the sacrifices. These were allotted to the Levites because unlike the other tribes, they were not given land to farm (Num. 18:18-32). The Levites did not receive sacrifices because they were holy men, but because by presiding at sacrifices, they brought everyone into a holy relation with God. The people, not the Levites, were the prime beneficiaries of the sacrifices. In fact, the sacrificial system itself was a component in Israel’s food supply system. Aside from some portions burned on the altar and the Levites’ portion mentioned above, the main parts of the grain and animal offerings were designated to be eaten by those who brought them. Everyone in Israel was thus fed in part by the system. Overall, the sacrificial system did not isolate a few holy things from the rest of human production, but mediated God’s presence in the entire life and work of the nation.
Adapted from Theology of Work Project. Image courtesy TOW Project.