When the Lord redeemed the children of Israel from the fiery furnace of slavery in Egypt, because of the blood He shed of the Egyptian firstborn, the Israelites incurred a debt that had to be paid. Yahweh informed Moses of this in Exodus 13:1-2
The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”
From that point forward, from every tribe of Israel, the firstborn were to be consecrated, i.e. set apart, for the Lord. During the Exodus, however, a dramatic event changed this dynamic.
Moses had gone up on Mount Sinai where he remained 40 days and nights in the presence of Yahweh. During that time, He gave Moses the Ten Commandments. At the end of that period, God told Moses that the “people whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” (Exodus 32:7)
Because of their 400+ years in captivity in Egypt, the Israelites had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the ways of the Egyptians with their pagan deities. With Moses gone, they reverted to what they knew. They demanded that Aaron fashion an idol for them that they could see in their worship, and to which they would give thanks for their escape from captivity. Aaron crafted the golden calf, which just happened to pop out of the fire (Exodus 32:24), and the people broke loose in celebration. What this meant was that they engaged in pagan revelry, which included a sexual orgy.
Moses knew the extent of this great sin as soon as he saw it in the camp, and that Yahweh would punish the Israelites. His response was hard and swift. Exodus 32:26 tells us:
then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.
When they stood with him, Moses ordered the Levites to kill every participant in these festivities, even family members if they were guilty. And they did, as recounted in Exodus 32:28-29:
And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”
Their obedience to Moses and to the Lord set the Levites apart that day. Because they faithfully served Yahweh, He ordained them for His service. This took shape with the dedication of the tabernacle. And how they would serve Yahweh going forward.
Recall that in the Exodus all firstborn among the Israelites were to be consecrated. Now God changed this. He said in Numbers 3:12-13:
“Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.”
Rather than the firstborn from every tribe, the tribe of Levi took their place. When the census of the Levites was taken, their numbers came to 22,000. However, in the count of all firstborn males, the total came to 22,273 (Numbers 3:39,43). From this difference of 273 firstborn that the Levites could not redeem, the people had to pay a redemption price. Everything had to be done in order and with the legal precision that God set forth.
The setting apart of the sons of Levi carries forward to this day. The Orthodox Jews in Israel have been planning for years to build a third temple on the Temple Mount. Of course, this is currently thwarted because it is currently under control of Muslims, and the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque sit on the spot where they desire to build the temple.
The temple will be built. Somehow the Jews will move forward with it, perhaps because the two Muslim structures will be destroyed during the Psalm 83 War or Ezekiel’s War, or arising from the negotiations that Antichrist concludes in confirming the peace treaty that begins the 7-year Tribulation.
In this preparation for what they don’t understand, i.e. that this Tribulation Temple is not the temple of God, but of man, and will eventually be desecrated by Antichrist, the Temple Institute in Israel has been busy. From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency came this news release on August 2, 2016:
The Temple Institute, dedicated to reestablishing the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, announced it is opening a school for training Levitical priests for their eventual service in a new temple.
The institute ran several pilot programs in recent years and now “is embarking on a mission to teach Kohanim all the practical skills required to serve in the Third Holy Temple,” it said in a statement.
The institute advocates what many in the region — including a number of Orthodox Jews — see as a radical goal: replacing the Dome of the Rock with a new Jewish Holy Temple. Muslim fears that Israel will change the status quo that has kept the site in control of a Jordanian authority, known as the Wakf, has led to repeated clashes over the years and inspired a recent wave of terrorist attacks aimed at Israelis.
The institute has reconstructed nearly all of the sacred vessels needed to perform the services in a rebuilt Temple, including the High Priest’s breastplate featuring the 12 precious stones of the tribes of Israel, the half-ton golden menorah and the musical instruments of the Levitical choir.
The curriculum at the Nezer HaKodesh Institute for Kohanic Studies will include courses on the Temple service, theory and practice and the role and application of modern technology in the Third Temple, according to the Institute.
All this focus and activity around the temple, and in preparing the Levitical priesthood for service, will come at a price. Because the Jews have rejected Jesus Christ as their Messiah, they continue to look for His first coming rather than His return. This rejection has caused God to decree that unbelieving Israel must finally learn that Jesus is indeed Lord, God, and Savior. The cost will be great with 2/3 of Israel perishing (Zechariah 13:8). But God is merciful. Zechariah 12:10 describes His mercy:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
And so, all Israel will be saved.