In Hebrew the Book of Numbers is named Bemidbar, which means “in the wilderness.” This is an appropriate title because it describes the wanderings of the Children of Israel in the wilderness for almost forty years. Our English title of this book is due to the fact that it begins in chapter one with a census of the men of fighting age, those twenty years of age and older.
In this census the family of Levi is not counted. In chapter three the families of the three sons of Levi, Gershon, Kohath and Merari, are counted. The descendants of Levi were far less than the descendants of his brothers. The total for every male over the age of one month was 22,273. The next smallest family, or “tribe,” was Manasseh with 32,200 men over the age of twenty years. This tells us that numbers are not always important to the Lord.
There were twelve sons of Israel, but the sons of Levi were not enumerated in the census. Instead, Joseph was doubly blessed by the descendants of his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, being counted as separate families to make a total of twelve families. The smallest family, the Levites were chosen to serve the Lord in His Tabernacle, and later in the Temple.
The three families of the sons of Levi were given separate responsibilities regarding the Tabernacle. The family of Kohath was responsible for moving the implements of the Tabernacle. This included the Ark, the Table of Showbread, the Lampstand, and the Altar. All the articles within the Tabernacle were to be covered and carried by hand. The family of Gershon moved the curtains and coverings of the Tabernacle, and the family of Merari was responsible for moving the posts and beams of the Tabernacle. The Gershonites and the Merarites were given ox-drawn carts to help them move the Tabernacle of the Lord.
All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. Only Aaron and his sons were to be priests. The rest of the Levites served as movers and erectors of the Tabernacle. When you compare the 22, 273 Levites to the 603,550 men of fighting age, they represent about 3.7 percent of the nation of Israel.
According to the Pugh Research Institute, 80.1 percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christian. A survey by the Association of Religious Data Archives indicates 27 percent of “religious people” actively attend services. That is defined as once a week or more often. If we assume the same statistic for Christians, that would indicate 21.6 percent (80.1% x 27%) of Americans are active in Church. Using the rule of thumb that 20 percent of the Church does most of the work would indicate that 4.3 percent (21.6 x 20%) of Americans are doing the work of the Church.
There is a parallel between the Levites and the Christians of America. About 3.7 percent of the nation of Israel worked at the House of the Lord. Today, about 4.3 percent of Americans work at the House of the Lord. It is the small, active remnant of Christians that is “encamped” around the House of the Lord.
So do not become discouraged. The Lord deals with small numbers. Think of the three hundred men of Gideon, or of David against Goliath and the Philistines. The Lord uses a small number, a remnant to demonstrate His great power. Keep the Faith until the Lord comes for us. May His name be praised forever!