Many a servant of God has found the housing issue a challenge. Pastors have historically lived in parsonages although that has changed over the years. Missionaries are virtually homeless, renting homes abroad, and on the move during furlough when in their home nation.
It’s something sacrificial. Yet this has not been new. We read about something similar in Joshua 13.
Wee are tempted to skip this chapter because it’s a description of the borders that the Lord was giving to the twelve tribes of Israel. Perhaps it is a chapter of interest to ancient cartographers and modern-day archaeologists, but a little tough to read for modern day meditation times.
And yet there it is. It jumped out in a heart-provoking way. Perhaps it’s because I’m in the middle of move. It quite literally perhaps over the 100th move I’ve made since I left home as a young person many years ago, and it doesn’t get easier. This has been hard and necessary for the work.
Ministry in Israel
But listen to this about the people in ministry in ancient Israel, the Levites:
“He did not give any inheritance to the tribe of Levi. This was its inheritance, just as He had promised: the offerings made by fire to the LORD, the God of Israel” (Jos 13:14).
“But Moses did not give a portion to the tribe of Levi. The LORD, the God of Israel, was their inheritance, just as He had promised them” (Jos 13:33).
“But he gave no inheritance among them to the Levites” (Jos 14:3).
“No portion of the land was given to the Levites except cities to live in, along with pasturelands for their cattle and livestock” (Jos 14:4).
“But the Levites among you do not get a portion, because their inheritance is the priesthood of the LORD” (Jos 18:7)
The Levites did not have “tribal lands” or regions like the others. They were given cities and places for their cattle and livestock, but not a special place for their people.
Their provision would be what people brought to the temple of the Lord. They would have their food needs met through that. They could still have pasturelands for cattle and livestock so that was a supplement. And they had houses and cities they could live in and even land to own, but again, not a whole region set apart for them.
Dependence on Offerings from the People
It was a blessing and could be a challenge at the same time. They were deeply dependent on the generosity of the rest of the tribes of Israel. It was for this that the Scriptures say “Do not neglect the Levite within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance among you” (Deut 14:27). Without a doubt this meant financial support as that was the context of this Scripture.
And when the tribe of Israel grew neglectful in supporting those in ministry, the Levites had to leave the ministry and go back to their fields to work. Something that was not how God intended. We see this clearly when Nehemiah was restoring Israel. He said this:
I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and musicians responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields. So I rebuked the officials and asked them, “Why is the house of God neglected?” Then I called them together and stationed them at their posts.
All Judah brought the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil into the storerooms. (Neh 13:10-12).
The Levites were in a very special position. Their work was ministry. Their support was from the people.
As an aside I can assure you now that with the Coronavirus, many ministers and missionaries are wondering whether or not the people will continue to support them. Oftentimes when times are challenging, the first thing people do is withdraw their support. In a time where their support is most needed.
The Blessing of the Lord
Not having a place set aside specially for them was difficult and challenging in many ways. Yet the payoff and blessing for the Levites was that “The LORD, the God of Israel, was their inheritance” (Jos 13:33). But what did that mean?
Did it mean that the Lord’s provision would be with them through their people? Clearly this is the case in Jos 13:14 / Num 18:21 (above). Did it also mean that their sacrifice and service would be specially honored by the Lord in heaven? We don’t know.
The purpose of inheritance was to keep land and wealth in the family line for future provision and protection. The Levites weren’t going to need that as they had provision from the offerings to the Lord, and they had lands and cities for homes and cattle, even if they didn’t have regions set aside for them.
The bottom line was that those in ministry had different needs and different situations than all the others in Israel. But the Lord took care of them through the others.
In the same way, many pastors and missionaries in the world do not have the same kind of needs. They depend on the gifts and offerings by the churches and the Christian giving. Those gifts are the lifeline of those in ministry. And unfortunately, it’s a constant struggle as the average giving for the Christian is 2.5% (for stats). If everyone tithed the 10% the world would be a different place.
So the challenge is for the Christian–Don’t forget to be giving your tithe and taking care of your pastors and missionaries. And for those in ministry, the sacrifices can be hard but do not forget, “the Lord is your inheritance” (Jos 13:33).