Priests, Levites, Bread

Priests, Levites, Bread February 2, 2017

1 Chronicles 23 begins the concluding section of 1 Chronicles (chs. 23–29), which is mainly concerned with David’s arrangements for personnel and material of the temple. Chapter 23 consists of two chiastically arranged sections. The first is framed by references to David (vv. 1, 2, 6; 25–27).

A. David old, organizes, 23:1–6

B. Levites: Gershonites, 23:7–11

C. Levites: Kohathites, 23:12

D. Sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses, 23:13–17

C’. Levites: Remainder of Kohathites, 23:18–20

B’. Levites: Merarites, 23:21–24

A’. David’s instructions, 23:25–27

The second describes the work of the Levites:

A. Assist the sons of Aaron in courts, chambers, cleansing, work of service, 23:28

B. Bread: showbread and tribute offerings, 23:29

C. Praise morning and evening with ascension offerings, 23:30–31

B’. Charge of tent and sanctuary, 23:32a

A’. Attend to sons of Aaron, 23:32b

Embedded in a text that amounts to a genealogy is a concise sketch of the status and responsibilities of priests and Levites. Verse 13, at the center of the first chiasm, describes Aaron’s status by using qadash (holy, consecrate) three times: Aaron is set apart to qadash the qadash-qadashim; set apart to consecrate the consecrated things. The phrase might be read to mean that Aaron and his descendants are themselves set apart as most holy.

The work of the priests is summarized in three phrases: Aaron makes offerings before Yahweh, ministers to Him, and pronounces blessings (v. 13). Priestly work is dedicated not only to serve Yahweh but to pronounce blessings on the people in the name of Yahweh. As often noted, the work of the priest is mediatory, directed toward God in worship, flowing out to the people in benediction. Benediction is linked with consecration; in blessing, Aaron and his sons also consecrate. More precisely, priests are household servants of God, not only in the architectural temple but in the human temple of Israel.

The second section of the chapter is based on David’s observation that the Levites’ duties must change once Yahweh grants Sabbath rest to Israel in the land. Israel is no longer wandering, and so the Levites no longer have to maintain their traditional work of transporting the tabernacle and its furnishings (v. 26).

David replaces those duties with several others. First, the Levites are recruited to their work from “twenty years old and upward,” the same age cut-off as the military. This is one of many hints in Chronicles of the analogy between worship and war. The Levites form the primary host of Yahweh in Israel. Second, the text is framed by references to the Levites’ duty to assist the priests, which has long been their bailiwick. Third, the Levites assist with offerings in a new way, by praising and thanking God as the ascension offerings ascend to heaven.

Finally, the Levites have responsibility for the bread products of the temple service. The description in verse 29 lists three main responsibilities – showbread, tribute (grain) offerings, measures of quantity. Three forms of the tribute offering are specified (following Leviticus 2): wafers of unleavened bread, baked offerings, and offerings mixed with oil. Levites are ministers of bread, priests of flesh.

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