God Calls A Man:
To understand how support raising worked in the Old Testament you must first understand how God set aside workers for His purposes. As you may know in the Old Testament God chose to glorify Himself and make His name known through the calling of one man, Abraham. From Abraham God promised to raise up a people who He would bless to be a blessing to all the world.
Genesis 12:1-3 says, “Now the Lord said to Abram (God would later change his name to Abraham), ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)
God Calls A People:
God fulfills His promise to Abraham and through his grandson Jacob (later becomes Israel) God raises up for Himself 12 tribes. As God is leading His people against a mighty Philistine army he has Moses assemble every man 20 years or older to prepare for war. However, he prohibits one tribe from being included, the tribe of Levi. The Levites (named after Jacob’s son Levi, no name change, he was always Levi, no relation to the jeans manufacturer) are called by the Lord to be set aside for His purposes in Numbers 1:50,54 which says,
“But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle…But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregations of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.” (ESV)
So while every other tribe prepares for war the Levites prepare for service as the setup/tear down team of God’s tabernacle. Steve Shadrach in “The God Ask” summarizes this calling well when he says, “Even though everyone was confused, the Lord was firmly in control. Little did the Levites know that this was ‘Day One’ in God’s history-long plan to sanctify and set apart certain individuals to represent Him, to serve and lead His people in worship and outreach.” (Location 754-755 Kindle Edition)
God Provides for His Servants:
Now that God has set a part the Levites specifically to do the work of serving and leading Gods people in worship and outreach, we can look at what Steve Shadrach calls “The Levites Support Raising Manual,” which is Numbers 18.
What we learn in Numbers 18:20 is that the Lord prohibits the Levites from possessing any inheritance or portion of the land God is giving to the other 11 tribes. Rather, God says, “I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.” However, God is not unaware of their needs, as a matter of fact He is showing His servants that by getting God as their inheritance their needs are already provided for, by God. Twelve verses earlier in Numbers 18:8 God tells Aaron the chief of the Levites, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due.”(ESV)
So God is showing Aaron and us as support raisers and supporters a very clear teaching. God is showing how our receiving support, as well as giving support, is primarily a transaction between us and God. God is telling Aaron all that His people give back to Him from their inheritance, He is giving to Aaron, and the Levites for the work they do.
Crazy thing is God doesn’t stop there, he reiterates this truth in Numbers 18:24, “For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”(ESV) Again God says that He will be the inheritance of His people and out of the abundance He has given to them they shall give back to God, and God shall provide for His servants through that.
Truth: Blessed to be a Blessing
As I conclude this post I want to come full circle. God chose to glorify Himself in the world through the calling and blessing of one man, Abraham. Through Abraham God raised up a people to Himself the Israelites, made up of 12 tribes. Of those 12 tribes, one tribe, the Levites were set aside specifically for the purpose of leading Gods people in worship and outreach.
God then gives Himself as the inheritance for his chosen servants, while the other 11 tribes receive a physical inheritance, land. It is then through the land that God has blessed His people. He expects them to turn around and give back to Him from their inheritance, so that God can bless his called servants. Ultimately, there is only vertical transactions happening. God blesses His people, they then give back to God, and God then blesses His called servants.
Practically, what this looks like in the 21st century is that God has called some of His people to be lawyers, entrepreneurs, techies, philanthropists, construction workers, teachers, carpenters, etc.. Following your calling in those fields is as much “ministry” as it is for those who are called in to service in the church. Through God’s blessing you with the skills, knowledge, and ability to be successful in your career path, God expects you to give back to him out of the fruit of His blessings to you. From that He provides the support and funding necessary for His called servants. These vertical transactions allow those, who are called by God, to lead His people by making disciples in our neighborhoods, cities, and the world.