The Covenant of Levi
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Rev. Scott Ross
The covenant of Levi has been misunderstood by ministry and congregants and has therefore been the source of much confusion and skepticism. Malachi speaks to the responsibilities of the ministry in leading God’s people in worship financially.
Within that, God mentions the covenant He made with Levi, the reason He made the covenant, and briefly states the benefits of that covenant.
Malachi 2:4-7 – “And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
God said that He made a covenant with Levi that was of “life and peace”. At first glance “life and peace” are not very revealing words. The word “peace” in the Hebrew speaks of wholeness in every area of life. The benefits of this wholeness to Levi are elaborated elsewhere in scripture in great detail. These benefits were given to Levi because He feared God more than people and he spoke the truth at all times. As a “messenger of the Lord of hosts” he had to be completely committed to speaking in behalf of God without any outside influence from people that might sway him. As you read the book of Malachi you will see that God is rebuking the ministry for compromising under pressure from the people and failing to lead God’s people properly in the area of finances – a widespread problem today. Consequently, the ministry became “contemptible and base” among the people (Mal. 2:9) instead of whole in every area of life.
Why does God want the ministry whole in every area of life? When everyone understands this principle; all of the fears, concerns, skepticism, covetousness and criticism are put to rest. We have preached prosperity for the ministry but we have failed to adequately teach the reasons why God wants the ministry prosperous, and, that the ministry actually has a covenant made with them that is separate from the covenant made with all believers – and for good reason.
When God took the children of Israel into the land of Canaan they were promised houses they didn’t build and vineyards they did not plant – a land flowing with milk and honey. Prosperity they had not known before.
Exodus 3:8 – “And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”
Deut. 6:10-12 – “And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”
The argument for God wanting His people prosperous is clear and has been well propagated in recent years. However, the principle of God wanting His ministers prosperous has not been adequately explained. The “why” is extremely important in order for people to become comfortable with the idea.
If God wants His people to be prosperous then surely He wants all His people prosperous, including the ministry. But, God made a separate covenant with Levi that included prosperity. Let’s take a look at some of the articles of that covenant.
First, God said that the ministry would have no inheritance in the land.
Numbers 18:20 - “And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.”
No part among them and no inheritance in their land! Some have interpreted this as a relegation to poverty but it is not. It’s the beginning of a better deal. God said “I am thy part and thine inheritance”, so, what belongs to God now belongs to the ministry and He said exactly that.
Numbers 18:21 – “And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.”
Leviticus 27:30 – “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s: it is holy unto the LORD.”
God said, “I have given”. God said the tithe is His and that He has given it to the ministry for their inheritance. That should settle a lot of things. The ministry is not without an inheritance - they have been given a better inheritance for their consecration and service to the Lord.
Now let’s look at what God told His ministers about His tithe. It’s detailed, so God is making a very clear point.
Num. 18:8-14 – “And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Behold, I also have given thee the charge of mine heave offerings of all the hallowed things of the children of Israel; unto thee have I given them by reason of the anointing, and to thy sons, by an ordinance for ever. This shall be thine of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every oblation of theirs, every meat offering of theirs, and every sin offering of theirs, and every trespass offering of theirs, which they shall render unto me, shall be most holy for thee and for thy sons. In the most holy place shalt thou eat it; every male shall eat it: it shall be holy unto thee. And this is thine; the heave offering of their gift, with all the wave offerings of the children of Israel: I have given them unto thee, and to thy sons and to thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: every one that is clean in thy house shall eat of it. All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee. And whatsoever is first ripe in the land, which they shall bring unto the LORD, shall be thine; every one that is clean in thine house shall eat of it. Every thing devoted in Israel shall be thine.”
The points that stand out are that this ordinance was forever, that everything given to God was given to the ministry, and that all that was given was to be the best of everything. That’s about as clear as it can get. God has not set up the ministry to live in poverty; He set them up to live with the best of everything that there was. This was the covenant God made with Levi of life and of peace. But, the realization of that covenant was dependent upon their commitment and consistency in leading God’s people in worship with their substance as Malachi states.
There are many reasons God wants the ministry prosperous. As leaders, the ministry cannot lead people somewhere they are not going themselves. I have been in churches where the minister did not have the revelation of prosperity for himself and therefore had no prosperity in the congregation. You can see it all over the church. An organization will never rise above its leaders. So, for God’s people to realize prosperity the ministry had to be prosperous. God knew what was necessary for His people to have what He promised them and it began with prospering the leaders.
Another much overlooked principle is that of satisfaction. When you are satisfied you are happy, relaxed, confident and peaceful. We know that we are not to covet but the best way to avoid covetousness is to have what you need and want – to be satisfied. Some may have a hard time with this principle but God satisfied the ministry. Having the best of all the land, how can you be jealous of the others who were inheriting houses they didn’t build and vineyards they didn’t plant? This principle of satisfaction is illustrated in the New Testament as well when Paul wrote about marriage relations.
1Cor. 7:1-5 – “ Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”
When we are not satisfied we can become vulnerable to temptations of the devil. One of the ways God set up faithfulness in marriage is to be satisfied sexually in marriage. A satisfied person is not looking around for something else. Notice, to “avoid fornication” every man is to have his own wife and be satisfied. This is a principle of satisfaction. When a minister is prosperous he is satisfied and not looking around for money - and far less available to the temptations of the devil. There’s nothing worse than a minister who is coercing God’s people over money. Usually, it’s because they have a need of some kind that is not being met. I realize that some ministries and ministers are out of order but that doesn’t negate this principle for those of us who are truly seeking to obey God in all things.
The book of Nehemiah graphically illustrates the satisfaction principle. As you know, Nehemiah was restoring the city and the Temple. In conjunction, he found that he had to also set in order the ministry once again because all the priests were out farming trying to live because people were not bringing the tithes into the storehouse. I like the decisiveness of Nehemiah in dealing with this problem.
“Moreover he commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the LORD. And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.” (2Chr. 31:4-5, KJV)
“Then Hezekiah questioned with the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps. And Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him, and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the LORD hath blessed his PEOPLE; and that which is left is this great store.” (2Chr. 31:9-10, KJV)
Once the tithes came in, the ministry was encouraged. They finally had enough to eat and more left over. They were satisfied – with abundance. Notice, the statement was made that God had blessed his people – not the ministry. Once the decision was made to tithe (or prosper the ministry) the people began to prosper. The ministry had to prosper first.
People often use the Apostle Paul as an example to justify working alongside ministry. They need to accurately divide the Word of Truth. Paul was a foundational Apostle. As such, he was initiating everything in the church. Once the foundation was laid for church order etc. Paul then said in 1Timothy 5:17 “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” Sounds like he got passed the idea of having to work. Many of us have had to work a job in the initial stages of starting a church or ministry. However, God has a better covenant for His ministers, but it is entirely up to them to teach it to their people in order for it to manifest the prosperity it should. If a minister does not do this he will keep the entire congregation poor.
There are many other reasons why God wants the ministry prosperous. The lack of prosperity in the ministry has hurt the spread of the Gospel not only because of the lack of finances but because of the poor image it presents and the powerlessness that results from not maintaining the covenant of Levi. We ca see this going back to the book of Malachi.
Malachi 2:1-3 – “And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.
Malachi 2:6-9 – “The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.”
Notice it said, “ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi”. The ministers brought this on themselves! How – by allowing God’s people to bring in worship anything they wanted to bring instead of the best. Aren’t you glad God is not cursing the ministry today. However, the principle remains that failure to lead God’s people properly in tithes and offerings results in a powerless minister and he becomes contemptible and base before the people. What kind of image does that portray of God – particularly to those in the world? The church nor the ministry have been desirable as a result. Why would anyone want to join up with a bunch of poor down-and-outers? God bless the poor but aren’t we supposed to offer the “good news” to the poor? The only good news to the poor would be that you don’t have to be poor anymore. If the good news to the poor meant something else then God would be a respecter of persons concerning salvation, and we know He is not.
God wants His ministers satisfied with the best - that first of all they could easily live above covetousness and temptation. Second, so that they can lead God’s people into prosperity. And third, so that God can bless their blessings upon His people.
The covenant of Levi is yours but its benefits depend upon whether or not we accurately lead God’s people in worship with their substance.