1 Chronicles 23: Lessons from David’s Instructions to the Levites Regarding What Jesus Desires From You as One of His Priests

Introduction: 1 Chronicles 23 through 29 record David’s final words to Israel. In the book of Kings, David’s final days do not contain this same detail regarding his final days (1 Kgs. 1:1:1-2:10). Most of his instructions recorded in these final chapters were directed to the priests. The priest would serve an important role in keeping the kings and the people on the right path (Ex. 19:6). Today, every believer in Christ is part of His Holy priesthood. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;.” (1 Pet. 2:5). [A]nd He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:6). As part of His priesthood, you are also a co-builder of His Church: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). Thus, David’s instructions are relevant to you today. Through David’s instructions, God reveals seven things that He desires from you. These include: (1) accountability, (2) justice, (3) worship, (4) unity, (5) holiness, (6) service, and (7) evangelism.

First, David directed the Levites to be present for Solomon’s oath and ordination as king. God separated the roles of Church and State for each side to keep the other accountable. Believers today are also called upon to be God’s salt and light to keep civil leaders accountable to God. Second, David called upon the Levites to serve as judges to administer God’s justice. Believers are also called upon to be a source of God’s justice. Third, David called upon the Levites to lead the Jews in worship. Believers are also called upon to lead others in worship. Fourth, David called upon every member of the three clans of the tribe of Levi to serve Him. Believers should also be united through the Spirit in their service for God. Fifth, David called upon the Levites to keep the things of God holy. Believers are also called upon to be holy and serve as a light to lead others in holiness. Sixth, David called upon the Levites to serve God’s bread for the people in need. Believers are also called upon to serve others in need. Finally, David called upon the Levites to administer the Temple and the sacrifices to allow people to be reconciled with God. Believers are also called to lead others in finding atonement through Jesus.

1. Accountability: Believers Should Serve to Keep Leaders Accountable. 1 Chr. 23:1-2.

  • David gathers the leaders and priests of Israel for Solomon’s ordination. David ensured that Solomon took his oath to become king in front of the leaders and the priests to ensure that they would keep him accountable to his oath: “1 Now when David reached old age, he made his son Solomon king over Israel. And he gathered together all the leaders of Israel with the priests and the Levites.” (1 Chr. 23:1-2). Out of grace, God omitted from this account the attempt of Adonijah (David’s son) to usurp authority from both David and Solomon and make himself king. Even though God had ordained that Solomon would be the next king, David initially did nothing to stop Adonijah’s coup d’état (1 Kgs. 1:1-53). But, after David listened to the voice of God’s prophet and intervened, David’s son God established David’s son: “And Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.” (1 Kgs. 2:12). The priests, however, failed in their duty to keep Solomon accountable. Because they failed in their duties, Solomon felt free to take a 1,000 wives when he was allowed only one under God’s law (Dt. 17:17). These wives turned his heart away from God (1 Kgs. 11:3). He then built pagan idols for worship (1 Kgs. 11:7). This in turn led many future generations of Jews away from God.

Be accountable to Spirit-led leaders to stay on your walk1

  • God chose the Levites to serve Him. God called upon the Levites to be His servants. “At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day.” (Dt. 10:8). “For the LORD your God has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes, to stand and serve in the name of the LORD forever.” (Dt. 18:5). One of their many responsibilities was to guide the civil leaders to ensure that they stayed on a holy path.

  • Be God’s salt and light to convict sinners. It is for God alone to judge others (Ro. 12:19). But Jesus called upon the Church to hold both leaders and society accountable by being God’s salt and light in the face of sin: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;” (Matt. 5:14). Salt is an irritant in the wound of sin. God wants you to love the sinner but hate the sin. When you hate sin, your salt and your light can convict a sinner. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” (Matt. 5:13). When the Church stays silent in the face of a leader’s sins or society’s sins, the Church loses its saltiness. Thus, the Church should never avoid holding leaders or society accountable out of fear that it might offend.

  • Restore a fellow sinner in a spirit of gentleness. When you convict others of their sins, you are called upon to reprove other believers with kindness and love. “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness . . .” (Gal. 6:1). “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18). “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13; Prov. 15:1; Ro. 12:20; Prov. 25:21). Thus, a believer should not condemn or browbeat a sinner with his or her sins. Gossip, slander, and condemnation are Satan’s tools against believers (Rev. 12:10). Do you convict sinners to repent through your love and kindness?

2. Justice: Believers Should Be a Source of God’s Justice. 1 Chr. 23:3-4.

  • David counts the Levites and instructs them in their duties as judges. David’s final acts included a census of the Levites to ensure that each person knew their special responsibilities in serving both the leaders and the people of Israel: “The Levites were numbered from thirty years old and upward, and their number by census of men was 38,000. Of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work of the house of the Lord; and 6,000 were officers and judges,” (1 Chr. 23:3-4). The vast majority of Levites (24,000) would manage the Temple and lead the people in atonement. But David also appointed a substantial 6,000 Levites to serve as both officers and judges in resolving disputes.

Through prayer and service, help to be a source of God’s justice to help others2

  • The priests were required to serve as His judge to resolve disputes. As directed by the Holy Spirit, Moses revealed God’s plan for the Levites to administer God’s justice and resolve disputes amongst the people: “Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the LORD your God has chosen them to serve Him and to bless in the name of the LORD; and every dispute and every assault shall be settled by them.” (Dt. 21:5). “then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days.” (Dt. 19:17). “In a dispute they shall take their stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances. They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts and sanctify My sabbaths.” (Ezra 44:24). The Levities would use both God’s law and prayer to resolve disputes.

  • A Spirit-led leader should pursue justice. Like Levite judges and priests, God desires that you pursue His justice: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” (Dt. 16:20). This means that a Spirit-led leader must care about addressing wrongs and the plight of those in need: “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov. 31:9). “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.” (Ps. 82:3). “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” (Dt. 10:18). Do you pursue His justice by seeking to help the oppressed and those who cannot help themselves?

3. Worship: Believers Should Lead Others in Worship. 1 Chr. 23:5.

  • David instructs the Levites in their worship duties. Of the Levites that David counted, 4,000 served as “gatekeepers” to keep the Temple protected and holy. An addition 4,000 served the important role of leading the people in worship: “and 4,000 were gatekeepers, and 4,000 were praising the Lord with the instruments which David made for giving praise.” (1 Chr. 23:5). David discussed the worship duties before discussing the duties of atonement. David knew that worship serves an important role in aligning a person’s heart with God. When a person’s heart is not right before God, a person’s other acts of service are frequently done with the wrong motives.

Worship as an expression of your faith and as an example for others to follow3

  • The priests were meant to lead the Jews in worship. To stress the importance or worship, this was the third time in the book of Chronicles that David instructed the priests in their worship duties: “Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.” (1 Chr. 15:16). “He appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel:” (1 Chr. 16:4). Today, church leaders have an equally important duty in leading the people in worship. Believers have an equally important duty in actively participating.

  • Be filled with joyful worship. Worship can also bring you joy and prepare your heart to praise God: “Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, ‘All my springs of joy are in you.’” (Ps. 87:7; Ps. 126:2; Job 8:21; Ps. 51:14). “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). Is there joy in your worship?

4. Unity: Believers Should Be United Through the Spirit in Their Service. 1 Chr. 23:6-26.

  • The descendants of Levi all had a role in service. To ensure that each of the numbered Levities participated in their duties, David then called upon the leaders of the three clans of Levi by name to ensure that they followed their appointed tasks: “David divided them into divisions according to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Of the Gershonites were Ladan and Shimei. The sons of Ladan were Jehiel the first and Zetham and Joel, three. The sons of Shimei were Shelomoth and Haziel and Haran, three. These were the heads of the fathers’ households of Ladan. 10 The sons of Shimei were Jahath, Zina, Jeush and Beriah. These four were the sons of Shimei. 11 Jahath was the first and Zizah the second; but Jeush and Beriah did not have many sons, so they became a father’s household, one class. 12 The sons of Kohath were four: Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. 13 The sons of Amram were Aaron and Moses. And Aaron was set apart to sanctify him as most holy, he and his sons forever, to burn incense before the Lord, to minister to Him and to bless in His name forever. 14 But as for Moses the man of God, his sons were named among the tribe of Levi. 15 The sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer. 16 The son of Gershom was Shebuel the chief. 17 The son of Eliezer was Rehabiah the chief; and Eliezer had no other sons, but the sons of Rehabiah were very many. 18 The son of Izhar was Shelomith the chief. 19 The sons of Hebron were Jeriah the first, Amariah the second, Jahaziel the third and Jekameam the fourth. 20 The sons of Uzziel were Micah the first and Isshiah the second. 21 The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi. The sons of Mahli were Eleazar and Kish. 22 Eleazar died and had no sons, but daughters only, so their brothers, the sons of Kish, took them as wives. 23 The sons of Mushi were three: Mahli, Eder and Jeremoth. 24 These were the sons of Levi according to their fathers’ households, even the heads of the fathers’ households of those of them who were counted, in the number of names by their census, doing the work for the service of the house of the Lord, from twenty years old and upward. 25 For David said, ‘The Lord God of Israel has given rest to His people, and He dwells in Jerusalem forever. 26 Also, the Levites will no longer need to carry the tabernacle and all its utensils for its service.’” (1 Chr. 23:6-26). The genealogy of the three clans of Levi is repeated from the list first provided in Exodus (Ex. 6:17-19). In the book of Numbers, God originally appointed these three clans to perform separate functions in transporting the Tabernacle. Yet, because the Temple would allow God to “dwell[] in Jerusalem forever”, God had “given rest to His people” from performing their prior transportation duties. The Levites, however, were still called by name to be united in their service.

  • God gave His people rest from animal sacrifices. Today, God has freed His people from the process of atonement through animal sacrifices that these Levites performed: “who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” (Heb. 7:27). Yet, this has simply freed believers to serve God in other ways.

Jesus has given you rest from the requirements of salvation and offers to dwell with you4

  • Work together as one body for Jesus. Just as Levities had to work together, believers are called upon to act with one accord as the Spirit leads the body to help build the Church. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Ro. 12:5). “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17). “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12). “But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor. 12:20-21). “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;” (Eph. 4:4). Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:14). Are you responding for duty with your brothers and sisters when God calls you to serve?

5. Holiness: Believers Should Lead Others in Holiness. 1 Chr. 23:27-28.

  • The Levites were called upon to lead others in holiness. After instructing the Levites in their worship duties, David reminded the Levites of their equally important role in keeping both the Temple and the people pure: “27 For by the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered from twenty years old and upward. 28 For their office is to assist the sons of Aaron with the service of the house of the Lord, in the courts and in the chambers and in the purifying of all holy things, even the work of the service of the house of God,” (1 Chr. 23:27-28). Possibly through his own mistakes, David realized that purity was just as important as worship in keeping a person’s heart aligned with God.

  • David lowers the age of service from 30 to 20 years old. David’s instructions are equally remarkable because they represented possibly the only time he changed one of the edicts of Moses. Moses had repeatedly advised that the Levites service duties would begin at age 30: “from thirty years and upward, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tent of meeting.” (Nu. 4:3). “from thirty years and upward to fifty years old, you shall number them; all who enter to perform the service to do the work in the tent of meeting.” (Nu. 4:23). David lowered the age of service to age 20 (1 Chr. 23:27). Ezra later confirmed this change when the Jews returned from exile: “Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the LORD.” (Ezra 3:8). God wants to expand your service opportunities as much as possible. You are never too young or old to serve God.

  • Be holy and be consecrated for God at all times. God calls upon every believer to follow the example of the Levites when they walked in holiness and righteousness: “you . . . are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood . . .” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). As part of God’s nation of priests, you are meant to be a light to the lost: “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14(a)). To be a light, however, you must be holy: “‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44; 19:2; Ex. 22:31). “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1). “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48; Jam. 4:17). Being holy in part requires that you separate yourself from the unclean things of the world (Ro. 12:1). Being holy is also one part of the definition of “undefiled religion”. (Jam. 1:27). Are you living a holy lifestyle and serving as a beacon of light to others?

  • As God’s ambassador, walk with righteousness and integrity. You are also God’s ambassador (2 Cor. 5:22). You further represent His light (Matt. 5:14). Thus, God calls upon you to be blameless and righteous: “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:11). Do your actions reflect fairly upon Jesus’ righteousness?

6. Service: Believers Are Called Upon to Serve Others in Need. 1 Chr. 23:29.

  • The Levites were called upon to serve others. David also instructed the Levites in their duties to administer the showbread for the people who came to the Temple: “29 and with the showbread, and the fine flour for a grain offering, and unleavened wafers, or what is baked in the pan or what is well-mixed, and all measures of volume and size.” (1 Chr. 23:29). The showbread foreshadowed the bread of life that Jesus would offer. The showbread also foreshadowed God’s plan to provide for His people through His priests.

  • Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus revealed that He was the bread that God provided for His people: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (Jo. 6:48-51). He is also the Word who became flesh (Jo. 1:1, 14).

  • The bread foreshadowed fellowship with Jesus. Within the Tent of Meeting near the ark, God commanded the Levites to keep 12 holy loaves of bread (Ex. 25:23-30). Among other things, the bread showed God’s desire for fellowship with His people by allowing them to symbolically dine with Him. Dining together was considered in Jewish culture to be an intimate act of friendship. Christ also offers to “dine” with any person who opens the door of their heart to Him (Rev. 3:20). His bread was meant for you to eat in communion with Him (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). As one of Jesus’ priests, you can help others to find communion with Jesus by leading them to take communion.

  • Provide for God’s people. The bread also symbolized God's provision for His people through His priests. David encouraged the Levites to fulfill this duty by providing bread for all of God’s people (1 Chr. 16:7; 2 Sam. 6:19). As symbolized by the 12 loaves, Jesus promises to feed everyone who seeks after Him (Matt. 6:25-34). These instructions also symbolically apply to all of God’s believers (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Like the bread that God offered to all His tribes, He wants you to provide for those in need. Today, Jesus’ “food” is doing God’s will: “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.’” (Jo. 4:34). Serving God by helping others is also another part of the definition of “undefiled religion”: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (Jam. 1:27). Do you help others in need?

  • Be obedient in God’s call to serve Him. God also calls every believer by name to do good works for Him: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10). “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21). God has not called you to be a spectator. If you don’t know your calling, you should pray for Him to reveal it (Jam. 1:5). Are you being obedient in God’s calling in your life?

7. Evangelism: Believers Should Lead Others in Finding Atonement. 1 Chr. 23:30-32.

  • The Levites lead the Jews in atoning for their sins. Finally, David instructed the Levites in their important duty in being prepared at all times to lead the people in atonement. This included both regular Temple services and the special services that the Levites put on during the various festivals: “30 They are to stand every morning to thank and to praise the Lord, and likewise at evening, 31 and to offer all burnt offerings to the Lord, on the sabbaths, the new moons and the fixed festivals in the number set by the ordinance concerning them, continually before the Lord. 32 Thus they are to keep charge of the tent of meeting, and charge of the holy place, and charge of the sons of Aaron their relatives, for the service of the house of the Lord.” (1 Chr. 23:30-32). Today, Jesus has fulfilled the law of blood sacrifices. Yet, He still calls upon His priests to lead His people back to Him by finding atonement through faith in His sacrifice. This is called evangelism.

  • The priests were required to administer His Temple. Administering the Temple sacrifices was one of the Levites most important duties: “Moreover, Jehoiada placed the offices of the house of the LORD under the authority of the Levitical priests, whom David had assigned over the house of the LORD, to offer the burnt offerings of the LORD, as it is written in the law of Moses-- with rejoicing and singing according to the order of David.” (2 Chr. 23:18). Only through blood sacrifices was reconciliation possible. ‘“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”’ (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). The priests played an important role in ensuring that atonement was possible.

  • Like the Levites, lead others to atonement. Some mistakenly believe that the call to evangelism began in the New Testament. Yet, God originally called upon the Jews to be His light to the gentile nations around them: “He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”’ (Is. 49:6). “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you as a light for the gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the Earth.’” (Acts 13:47). Jesus is the “true light” (Jo. 1:9). He is also the Light of the World (Jo. 8:12). He wants you to share His light to the lost.

  • Like the Levites, always be ready to help others find God. The priests were told to keep the fire burning at all times, both day and night (Lev. 6:12-13; 6:9). This foreshadows what Jesus did for us (1 Pet. 1:18-19; Mk. 14:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; Is. 53:4-5, 10, 12). If a new believer wants to come forward to the altar and cast their sins onto Christ, you need to be there for that person, i.e., keeping the fire ready for them. Because His fire is burning both day and night, you should be available at all times for others in need.

  • Fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. Sharing Jesus’ light to others around you is also part of His Great Commission: “18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”’ (Matt. 28:16-20). Are you fulfilling His Great Commission?