And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, saying: “Command the children of Israel that they give the Levites cities to dwell in from the inheritance of their possession, and you shall also give the Levites common-land around the cities.” (Numbers 35:1-2)
In this chapter we see the directive given for the organization of Levitical towns and villages. Forty-eight villages, in fact, were set aside with land attached to each one for the different Levitical families. Unlike the other tribes, Levi’s inheritance was the LORD, meaning that they served the LORD in the Sanctuary and “benefitted” temporally from that service. These cities served a practical purpose, for instance, because they were dispersed among the different tribes, living together in these cities would promote the retention of their own tribal identity — a very important aspect of their purpose.
Other aspects of their singular lifestyle was supported by living among the tribes. For example, the Levites depended upon the tithes of the people for their support. The Levitical cities given to them were to have open land around them, meaning there were no houses, vineyards or farms on that land. While they could use it for their livestock and other such resources, the farms and vineyards lay beyond the land allotted to the Levites. However, when the tribes harvested those farms and vineyards, the tithe allotted to the Levites could be given directly to those who lived nearest to them. If you think about it, this was a very logical and practical thing to do considering the tithe was most often fresh produce. In return, the Levites provided a source of Scriptural instruction and spiritual leadership directly to the different tribes in their specific territories.
So what benefit does this system have for those of us who do not live in an agrarian society? The principle behind the protocol is that God sets among us different talents, skills and callings in order that His purpose can flourish among all His people, not just a select group of elites. In other words, let us consider the benefit the five-fold ministry provides for the Body and why: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are distributed among the Body “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Messiah” (Ephesians 4:12). It may not look the same as it did then, but the result is the same — all of God’s people benefiting mutually when everyone is doing their part, or as I like to say, functioning in their purpose.
Blessings and Shalom,