When Scott asked me to write something on authority for Messianic Home, I thought about all the examples of authority I could pull from scripture, demonstrating where authority comes from, how authority is given to someone, and how some exercise, and even abuse, authority. After some study, I realized that I was overwhelmed with information, and, quite frankly, out of my league. I have written commentaries on every Parasha in the Torah, but I could not seem to figure out how to sort through all the information on this seemingly simple subject. After some time, I understood why this was not coming as easily as I had anticipated. It was because the groundwork regarding authority had not been laid. Before a person can attain a position of authority, they must be qualified. All the study and writing on what authority is does not matter if we do not know what the qualifications are. Unfortunately, there are more qualifications than time to write them all, so we will stick to the primary qualification upon which all the others must be measured: AGE.
Many times throughout scripture we read about the duties of God’s people, not assigned by their strengths or abilities, but by their age. For instance, when God outlines the tasks of the Levites in Numbers 8:23-26, He does so by age – a Levite is not permitted to serve in the Tabernacle until the age of twenty-five. When we first read this scripture, it appears to be in contradiction to Numbers 4:3, 23 and 30, which lists the age of the Levites who [come] to join the legion to perform work in the Tent of Meeting as thirty. Why does Numbers 8:23 mention the beginning age as 25? Levites may have been born as Levites, but they were not born knowing how to serve as Levites – they had to be taught. Thus, the Stone Edition Chumash states that the five years between age 25 and age 30 were used for apprenticeship so that the Levites could learn that which was required of them as workers in the Tent of Meeting.
Another point of view concerning this five year period is purported by Rambam. He explained that the five-year apprenticeship, still used today in training Rabbis, was instituted by Rabbinic tradition. He further explains that during this time, the young Levite was eligible to voluntarily assist other Levites in their assigned tasks. In many ways, this could also be considered a self-imposed apprenticeship. Even today, those who are successful in their chosen professions are those who take the initiative to participate in internships that allow them to watch and learn others who are already operating in the profession. The pay for these internships is usually little or nothing but the long-term reward is great.
Age does make a difference to God. He has established seasons of life in which we are to fulfill certain purposes. In The Pirkei Avos Treasury/Ethics of the Fathers, Mishna 5:25 contains a summary of the understanding of these age brackets:
“He [Yehuda ben Tema] use to say: A five-year-old begins Scripture; a ten-year-old beginsMishna; a thirteen-year-old becomes obliged to observe the commandments; a fifteen-year-old begins to study the Gemara; an eighteen-year-old goes to the marriage canopy; a twenty-year-old begins pursuit [of a livelihood]; a thirty- year-old attains full strength; a forty-year-old attains understanding; a fifty-year-old can offer counsel; a sixty-year old attains seniority…
In the traditional Hebrew society, there were certain ages at which certain things were to be accomplished. At the age of five, for example, a boy was to enter into the study of Torah, with the book of Leviticus. At age eighteen, a young man was to get married. And the reason we refer to the leaders of our congregations as elders is for the simple reason that they are, physically, our elders.
Why are these age brackets established? Why does age make a difference to God? It would seem that if a man is capable of something at a younger age, he should be given the opportunity at that time. The fact is, that each of these age brackets brings with it a certain level of authority.Contrary to popular belief, there is no authority “brass ring” – authority is realized throughout our lives as we grow and age and mature. Using our age brackets as an example, a man of eighteen years “goes to the marriage canopy” to assume authority over his household. He is able to do this because of the things he has accomplished up to this point.
Psalm 90:12 states: So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. Our lives are not meant to be a haphazard collection of years, but a meaningful progression through the things that God has ordained for us to accomplish, asHe gives us authority over different areas. This is not to say that He judges us solely on what we accomplish, because this is certainly not the case. God does however, desire thatwe number our days – that we make each day count, doing the things that He has ordained for us to do, in order, at that stage in our lives – so that at the end of our days, we can present to [Him] a heart of wisdom.
At 32 years of age, I was afforded the opportunity to teach Torah to a special group of people in Columbia. I saw this as an excellent opportunity, and immediately leapt at the prospect. As the year went on however, I realized that I was not properly equipped for the job. It was not because I did not know the subject – I had been studying Torah for two years, and had a working grasp of most of the concepts contained in it, as well as sometrue revelation. It was simply because I lacked the wisdom and the authority needed to teach a group like this one. Most of the people were older and wiser than me. In fact, I should have been their student and not their teacher. What they really needed was a teacher that had already been where they were at that time. They needed, according to Yehuda ben Tema, a fifty-year-old, who had not only reached full strength, but had also gained understanding and could offer counsel. This is not to say that no one learned anything in our studies. I can say without question that I learned a great deal, and I think that others did as well. Nevertheless, the study would have been better if there had been someone older who was available to teach, and had the authority to do so.
We also need to understand that our age brackets do not match up exactly with those listed in the Mishna. If we do not get married until age 30, we are as an eighteen-year-old in many ways and we should be doing those things that an eighteen-year-old should do. This means that our first responsibility in ministry is to our family. Deuteronomy 24:5 states: When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army, nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.
God makes provisions for a husband and wife to have uninterrupted time together after they are married. It is very important for a newly married couple to establish a life together, and have time to raise small children, because this is the area of authority that God provides at this stage of life. All of this cannot be accomplished in a year, as prescribed in the above scripture, but it does give a time period in which a husband and wife begin to establish their family.
How much more important was it for the Levite to have the time to establish his family before he entered into Tabernacle service, which lasted the rest of his life! Even if an Israelite had to go to battle a year after he was married, the battle would not last forever and he would soon be home, reunited with his family. The Levites of today, the pastors and teachers, need to be afforded the opportunity to establish their families before they try to take on the management and administration of another family; their congregation. The stress that comes with small children can be overwhelming at times and to add the stress of pasturing a flock could bring the family structure to its knees. We should never feel as if the ministry the Lord has given us is competing with the children that He has given us. This is a sign that we are out of balance in some area of our life.
What did it mean in the Numbers passage to join the legion to perform work in the Tent of Meeting? It meant that this person, as the Mishna says, has attained full strength. They were now able, both physically and spiritually, to serve in the Tabernacle performing the various duties, which included the transport of the Tabernacle when the camp journeyed. They were the workers, responsible for the goings-on in the Tabernacle on a daily basis. Does this mean that they knew nothing – that all they were good for at the age of thirty was manual labor? Certainly not. On this subject, Midrash Shmuel states that until the age of thirty, one should study to increase his own knowledge; at thirty, those who canshould begin teaching and guiding others on the path of Torah. The Levites were, by age thirty, learned men. They had been studying Torah since they were five, and we can only assume that they were well versed in the teaching and instruction. Similarly, a thirty-year-old today may have engaged in his or her study of the scriptures for many years, and may be equipped with the necessary knowledge to teach others. This still does not mean that they possess the wisdom to offer counsel to others or to serve as an elder. They simply have not lived long enough, and therefore they do not possess the authority – self assurance and expertise that come with experience – to take on these roles.
At the age of forty, the Levites were still serving in the Tabernacle, and they had, according to the timeline in the Mishna, attained understanding. According to Tiferes Yisrael, this means that they had “the ability to understand the ramifications of an idea and extrapolate one fact from another. By the age of forty, one’s intellectual abilities have matured to the point where he attains this degree of perception.” It is also interesting to note the similarity between this age and the number of years the Children of Israel wandered in the Wilderness. The Sages say that a person does not fully understand his teacher until the age of forty and that it took the Children of Israel forty years in the desert to understand their teacher, Moses.
We can see this in action in Deuteronomy 29:3, when Moses address the Children of Israel after their forty years: “You have seen everything that haShem did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land – the great trials that your eyes beheld, those great signs and wonders. But haShem did not give you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day. The more understanding we acquire, the better equipped we are to teach others that which we have learned. There is a parable contained within Midrash Bereishis Rabbah that illustrates this point, using Abraham’s recognition of God at the age of forty:
“A person was once walking through the forest when he noticed a brilliantly lit castle in the distance. As he approached, he thought, “Can it be that the castle has no owner?” Immediately, the lord of the manner turned to him and cried out, “I am the owner of the castle.” Abraham, too, looked around at the wondrous world in which he lived, and asked himself, “Can it be that the world has no owner?” Immediately God focused His attention on him and cried out, “I am the Owner of the world.”
Just because Abraham came into the knowledge and understanding of who God is at the age of forty does not mean that he was ready to be the father of a multitude of nations. He had more to learn before God would recognize him as fit for this position. Likewise, teachers and pastors do not know everything at the age of forty, and may still not be equipped for the demands of their position. They may be able to teach, shepherd, lead and do a host of other meaningful and worthwhile functions, but may still lack the ability to draw from their life’s experiences and advise others, simply because of their age alone. It is hard to advise a grandparent or parent of an adult child, when one has not experienced those situations yet in their life. This person can only imagine what it is like.
To be fully capable of offering spiritual guidance and counsel, one must be able to draw from life’s experiences, as well as understand that on which he bases his decisions. Proverbs 4:7 states that: The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding. Additionally, Proverbs 9:10 states: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Knowledge is achieved on the path to wisdom, but it is not wisdom itself. Wisdom comes from understanding, but it also comes from having lived.
At the age of fifty, the Levites “retired” from physical labor in the Tabernacle and began a “new” career – that of advising others on spiritual matters. The elders consisted of men over the age of fifty, because they had lived long enough to be able to offer sage advice; they could weigh conflicting options and opinions impartially before offering advice (Rashi). This is the point at which God considers a person equipped to be a true spiritual leader and counselor, because they have become an authority in such matters. They have not ceased living or learning, but they have seen enough to be effective in this role. Likewise, a pastor should ideally be at least this mature to effectively lead his congregation and offer counsel to them on spiritual matters. He has studied, acquired knowledge and understanding, and obtained wisdom based on his life’s experiences. He is truly equipped to be a leader and an authority. It is as if the apprenticeship to be a Levite or a pastor has been going on for the past 25 years, preparing him for this role that he assumes at the age of fifty.
Having said all this, we turn our attention to those of you that are not yet fifty, but are pastoring a congregation. God has put you in this position for a reason, so please don’t change your leadership or be offended based on this commentary. It is God’s perfect plan for His people to number their days in this manner, but how many of us know that we nor the world in which we live are perfect, and we have a bad habit of getting in God’s way and messing up his plan. Does this mean that we have done something wrong? Of course not. It simply means that we got started before we knew everything that was required of us. Moreover, our lives do not always “line up” perfectly with His plan. If we got married at age twenty-five instead of eighteen, it would seem that we are off schedule.This just means that we have to take a detour, but we do not have to start over completely.
God has ordained specific seasons for certain purposes. There is a season to learn His teaching and instruction, a season to get married, a season to raise children, a season to work, a season to offer counsel, etc. Our task is to recognize the season that we are in, based on our age, family situation and what God has us doing, and that God has given us authority in specific areas at specific times. We then have to learn how to do what it is that is required of us so that we might move to the next season, thereby expanding our scope of authority. We have to learn to number our days, and remember that we cannot do that for which God has not equipped us. We have to be content to remain in the place He has put us, until such a time as He moves us to a higher level of responsibility, understanding, or wisdom. Authority comes from having lived – from having gained experience. Let us live first, and gain the experience required, before we claim to be an authority.