Posted: 26 Nov 2010 11:00 PM PST
IN CERTAIN RESPECTS THE structure of Israelite life, including some facets of its religious life, changed when the people entered the Promised Land and were no longer nomadic. The first changes were obvious. The Lord stopped the daily supply of manna: the people had to gather food for themselves and grow things. Urbanization began. The Sabbath laws were increasingly applied to trade and commerce as well as to agrarian life.
Now with the establishment of the monarchy and the impending construction of the temple, much more organization and centralization must take place. In particular, David concerns himself not only with providing Solomon with the wherewithal to construct the temple, but with laying the foundations for the new organizational structures that would be necessary to keep it operating. Such matters are of central interest in 1 Chronicles 23–26.
Already in 1 Chronicles 23 David himself reflects on the changes that are coming. One of the duties of the Levites in the past, begun during the wilderness years, was to pack up and transport the tabernacle in the prescribed way, whenever the Lord indicated it was time to move. David reflects on the fact the Lord has now granted his people "rest": they are in the Promised Land. Moreover, he has chosen "to dwell in Jerusalem forever" (1 Chron. 23:25), so some of the duties of the Levites must change: "the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the articles used in its service" (1 Chron. 23:26). Meanwhile, new functions are introduced: more thought is given to temple choirs, and thus to schools of music and training.
So the Levites are reorganized. They are divided into major families, minor clans, and so forth. Moreover, the temple and its needs will not be allowed to take over. True, the following chapters focus on the kinds of tasks that those who serve the temple will have to discharge—not only the immediately priestly duties and the obviously menial tasks surrounding the temple, but the major responsibilities of upkeep, maintenance, finance, and administration. But from the beginning the priests were also to teach the people the law, and serve as "officials and judges." David allots six thousand Levites for the latter tasks (1 Chron. 23:4).
From all of this we derive significant lessons. Most importantly, this is a lesson in contextualization within the canon—that is, how to take the old "givens" of revelation and adapt them to a new context without sacrificing the givens. As the church has expanded outward into new cultural contexts, those sorts of questions have had to be addressed again and again. One party will latch onto mere traditionalism from another culture; another party will start to abandon what Scripture actually says. What we really need is faithfulness and flexibility.
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