Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine, because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the LORD.” Num 3:11-13
Remember that for the patriarchs, the firstborn son of the family received the blessing and the birthright, and he would act as mediator and priest for his family and his family’s clan when the father passed away? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob built altars and offered sacrifices and called on the name of the LORD. When they first came out of Egypt, it was still this way.
And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. Exo 24:4-5
So when did everything change? The golden calf. The children of Israel made for themselves a golden calf, and sacrificed to it, and worshiped it.
Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the LORD’s side– come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. Exo 32:25-26
The sons of Levi were the ones who came at the call, “Who is on the LORD’s side?” The sons of Levi slew three thousand idolaters that day, and sanctified themselves as on the LORD’s side from that day forward. So now, in Num 3, God is formally declaring that the Levites will serve Him in all things regarding Aaron and the tabernacle, instead of the firstborn sons of the children of Israel.
For further study: God’s paragraph divisions (the Hebrew Bible in English) reveal chiastic structures! Can you find them?
Finding Messiah: When the camp prepares to move, Aaron and his sons come and cover the ark of the covenant with the veil that separates the Most Holy Place from the holy place. Then they cover it with skins, then a blue cloth. Then they set its poles through its rings, and it is ready to move.
Likewise the table of showbread is spread with a blue cloth, then its utensils, and its bread, then it is covered with a scarlet cloth. Then a covering of skins, then they insert its poles and it is ready to move. The lampstand and golden altar of incense is covered with blue. The altar of burnt offering is covered with a purple cloth. Why not a blue cloth?
Now the sons of Kohath were given the charge of carrying these things. But they had to take care that they did not even watch Aaron and his sons covering them and getting them ready to move, lest they die, let alone touch them themselves.
We have seen the blue, purple, and scarlet colors mentioned before – the curtains and veil of the tabernacle were made very specifically in these colors. Blue represents heaven, also God by extension. The heavens are blue, to an observer on earth. When Moses and the elders of Israel saw the LORD, under His feet was a paved work of sapphire stone (Exo 24:10). The tradition of Israel says that when the pillar of fire led them by night, the color of the fire was blue. Blue is a distinct primary color, not a mixture.
Scarlet represents man, as adam literally means, ruddy, or blood in the face. Red is a distinct primary color, not a mixture. When blue and red come together, a new color is born, which is 100% blue and 100% red: purple. When God and man come together into one person, Messiah is born. The purple cloth covers the altar of sacrifice, because Messiah was born on this earth to offer up Himself once for all (Heb 7:27).
Here in Numbers, God is emphasizing His absolute separateness from man – from even the Levites, lest they die. Because of these commands in Torah, and the deaths of Nadab and Abihu for offering profane fire before the LORD, and other instances we will read about, His separateness was absolutely seared upon the consciousness of Israel.
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split …” Mat 27:50-51
So you can imagine what the veil being torn by supernatural means at the death of Jesus said to Israel. It would be a paradigm shift of tectonic proportions!
For further reading:
Blue, purple, and scarlet in the Tabernacle – Brad Scott