“Take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ houses and by their clans. From thirty years old up to fifty years old, you shall list them, all who can come to do duty, to do service in the tent of meeting. … All the service of the sons of the Gershonites shall be at the command of Aaron and his sons, in all that they are to carry and in all that they have to do. And you shall assign to their charge all that they are to carry.” Numbers 4:23-24; 27 ESV
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.” Number 8:23-26 ESV
The Lord set age boundaries when serving. During the forty years in the desert after the Exodus, those who carried the parts of the Tabernacle we to be from 30 to 50 years of age. Physical strength was necessary and maturity to handle these pieces carefully were requirements and thus, thirty years old was the minimum age allowed. The rest of the Levites who were to serve in the Tabernacle, could begin as early as 25 years of age.
Whether serving in the Tabernacle or carrying it through the desert, both tasks were age limited to 50 years old. Upon reaching that age, Levites were to “withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more.” The older Levites moved from direct ministry in the Tabernacle to an indirect role of serving others by ‘keeping guard.’
It would seem that a pattern of ministry is that direct ministry is primarily a young person’s responsibility. But with increasing age and experience, older servants move into more indirect roles, thus making room for younger leaders to emerge. Note that the older Levites did not ‘retire,’ they just assumed less intense ministry roles.
These guidelines for Levitical service in the Tabernacle should cause us to pause and think carefully about our own ministry contributions and those whom we lead. Are you thinking about your succession plan? Are you looking to transition into a more indirect role of service?
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Lamentations 3:27 ESV