What's Worth Guarding?
mishmereth to guard, watch as one would guard or watch a house of
detention or confinement
Have you ever thought of Levites as warrior priests? Likely this has not come up and one reason is the way this word mishmereth gets translated. Some examples of translation differences are: keep the charge, ASV, JPS, KJV, LITV; take care of, ISV; maintain care, TLV; be responsible for, WEB
It is difficult to see the concept of guarding something in these other translations. So, what about the Levites and guarding?
mishmereth is the noun form of the verb shamar. This text has both the noun and the verb together in one sentence which reads literally, “And shall guard (shamar) the Levites the guard (mishmereth) tabernacle the testimony.”
שׁמר shâmar to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life
How does that fit in with your understanding of a priest? Can you picture a priest with a sword in their hand, guarding the tabernacle to keep it from being defiled? Like the lyrics from the Kelanie Gloeckler song Praise Is the Breakthrough, “all of my days I want to be a Levite, dancing in the battle, singing on the frontline.”
Is there something more to the Levites going out ahead of the army of Israel worshipping when they went into battle than singing praise songs?
Levi and his brother Simeon were the ones who slaughtered an entire city following the rape of their sister Dinah (Gen 34:25-31) by deceiving Shechem who raped Dinah and his father Hamor and the city into being circumcised. When the men of the city were in pain and defenseless they killed them all and plundered the city.
Later when Jacob gave his blessings to his sons, he described Simeon and Levi as violent men who would be divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel (Gen 49:5-7). They would be scattered because of their violence and the Simeonites were placed within Judah and the Levites received no land.
Later when Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and came down to the golden calf incident, Moses burned the calf and powdered it and made the Israelites drink the powder in water (Exo 32:7-20). Then he stood in the gate of the camp and said ““Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.” Exo 32:26 ESV
He then commanded the Levites (his own tribe) to put on their swords and kill without respect to any relationship with the ones they were killing, and about 3,000 were killed that day (Exo 32:27-28 ESV)
“And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” Exo 32:29 ESV
This is the day where the Levitical priesthood originated in Israel. Where Levi with Simeon had taken vengeance into their own hands for their sister Dinah, here Levi’s zeal was defending God’s honor.
So the Levites were scattered throughout Israel instead of being located in one place. Although the officiating priests were to all be descendants of Aaron, the Levitical priesthood had the honor of protecting the tabernacle and all that took place within it.
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring near the tribe of Levi and present them before Aaron the priest and they serve him. And they shall guard (shamar) his guardings (mishmereth) and the guardings (mishmereth) of all the congregation to face tent meeting to work the work of the tabernacle.” (my own literal translation Num 3:6-7)
Scattered throughout all of the land, the Levitical warrior-priests were responsible to guard the worship of the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to keep the worship of Israel pure and holy.
While only Aaron and his descendants were technically priests, we can also speak of the Levites as priests because they all had a role in serving in the Tent of Meeting and guarding that service.
Messiah, the true Warrior-Priest who was a sacrifice for sin, will ultimately defend the new heavens and the new earth from idolatry and false worship, killing all those who refused to worship as commanded by God (Rev 19:11-21).
In a like manner those who are Messiah’s have been set apart to be a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:19) to join him in reigning and in guarding God’s own glory and honor. These priests like the Levites have the True God as their inheritance. And like the Levites, followers of Messiah and worshippers of God, are scattered throughout the earth to teach and to guard the proper worship of God.
When Yeshua returns he will welcome us all, including the Levites, into his kingdom.
Will you be welcomed as a warrior priest, having guarded the glory and honor of God?