D'varim/Deuteronomy 18:6 And if the Levite will come ... and he will come in any desire of his soul
Rashi comments that this teaches that "a cohen may come and offer offerings ... even in a watch that is not his own." At the end of his life, King David gathered vast quantities of building materials so that everything would be ready for his son Solomon to build the Temple. Among the other preparations, David organised all the priests and Levites - not just the priests who officiated at the altar, but all the Levites who carried out all the other ministry tasks: singers, door-keepers, musicians, treasurers - into a watch or shift system. David realised that the Levites lived throughout the Land of Israel, as the Torah commanded, among the people, so that they could teach them about the L-rd's commands; they could not all be in Jerusalem to serve at the Temple at the same time or the city would be unable to house and feed them all. Each of the families and clans drew lots to allocate two-week time intervals around the year when they were to be "on duty" in Jerusalem to fulfill their particular function, and the rest of the time they lived at home in their cities. This system ensured that there were always priests and Levites in Jerusalem to perform the service of the Temple: the regular offerings and the voluntary offerings of the people coming up to Jerusalem.
So Rashi's comment tells us that a Levite, if he so wishes, may come to Jerusalem at other times and minister alongside his fellow Levites - even though he is "off duty" and they are "on duty". The text goes on to say that he serves in exactly the same way and rank as his colleagues, regardless of the extra or voluntary nature of his service. This teaches us three important principles about worship: firstly, that worship is equally acceptable by those who are "on duty" or leading the worship and by those who are participating in the worship, the congregation being led; secondly, that worship may be offered at any time, whether one is an official worship leader or not; thirdly, that there are times when we are called to worship G-d as a matter of duty rather than desire, but that our worship at those times - even if we feel that our heart is not in it - is still acceptable on an equal footing with those who have come because their heart moves them.
The word , the construct form of , means "a desire or longing for" and comes from a root that in its Arabic cognate speaks of a bending or an inflection. When David was in the Judean wilderness, he captured that sense of the heart calling out to G-d when he wrote: "O G-d, Thou art my G-d; I shall seek Thee earnestly; my soul longs for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1, NASB). In spite of the physical hardness of life in the desert, the lack of water or even moisture, the sapping effect that has one's mental strength and the incessant focus upon existence, yet David goes on, "Because Thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips will praise Thee, so I will bless Thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Thy name" (v. 3-4, NASB). David's heart is bent towards G-d, so that he has a desire, a longing for G-d that is expressed in praise and worship even in the extreme heat of the wilderness.
We find the same word, desire, on Yeshua's lips at the end of the Pesach Seder that He held with His talmidim on the night of His betrayal and arrest. Just before they went out and crossed over the Kidron valley to the garden on the Mount of Olives, Yeshua said: "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory" (John 17:24, NASB). Yeshua's heart desires that His little band of disciples may stay with Him so that they may see His glory. His desire for each of us is that we may be close to Him and see His glory. In the ups and downs, the trials and temptations of this life, Yeshua still longs that we may be close to Him, to know the desires of His heart and see His glory.
Further Study: Psalm 27:4-6; Acts 7:55-56
Application: What does your heart desire today? Do you find yourself praying or seeking G-d out of duty rather than desire? Know that that prayer, that service, is still acceptable to G-d and press on in your relationship with Him so that duty may turn to desire.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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