The Lord spoke to Moses saying: This is the rule for the Levites. From 25 years of age up they shall participate in the workforce in the service of the Tent of Meeting; but at the age of 50 they shall retire from the workforce and shall serve no more. They may assist their brother Levites at the Tent of Meeting by standing guard, but they shall perform no labor. Thus you shall deal with the Levites in regard to their duties. Previously, God had set an age limit of 30 to 50, so perhaps He had decided that the first five years were probationary.
This section of the bible has immediate implications for modern life. These include: term limits, tenure, mandatory retirement, and the duties of those who have achieved emeritus status.
Earlier in this chapter, God had said that the Levites were His. They were to take the place of the first born who had formerly occupied that status. Thus, the Levites occupy a very special and privileged position. With privilege and status come responsibility and the possibility of abuse.
Why did God specify age limits? A man (there can be no doubt that at the time Numbers was written the text was referring only to men) reaches his full strength at about 18; so why 25 or 30 as the lower limit for participation in the workforce? While a man can be strong at 18 he cannot be wise. Obviously, he also has no experience. Accordingly, is not surprising that God made the Levites eligible for workforce participation only upon reaching the age of 25 or 30. But why send them into mandatory retirement at age 50? Moses and Aaron the biggest Levites of them all lived to be 120 and 123 respectively. We can safely assume that the lesser Levites were living well beyond 50.
Clearly, He felt that regardless of merit, skill, or ability no one should serve in an important post for an indefinite period. Hence, the Levites were term limited. In modern American life the president is term limited. Many governors have their terms limited. In contrast, the Congress serves for as long as they can convince a gullible public to return them to office. Perhaps this is the reason that their approval rating is so low. The lesson from these verses is self evident – do your best and then move on. There’s always a new set of Levites in town and you have to give them a chance.
Universities give their faculty, after a probationary period, lifetime tenure. This is now literally true as the US Supreme Court has declared mandatory retirement unconstitutional. Why? The original purpose of tenure was to protect faculty from the consequences of their espousal of unpopular opinions. But what unpopular opinions are apt to arise from declarations in the line of duty from a professor of horticultural and turf grass sciences? I was interested to learn that a student can major in that subject at Texas Tech.
Anyway, in today’s University unpopular opinions are not likely to cause professors any problem as they all share the same popular ones. It’s outsiders who are apt to get into trouble when they stumble into a campus and espouse an incorrect opinion. The center of intolerance seems over the past half century to have moved from without to within the boundaries of the academy. Consequently, citing Numbers as my guide, I would eliminate tenure and replace it with a term of service similar to that of the Levites. Thirty to 50 seems just about right for a professor. Before 30 he does not know enough, after 50 he’s stale. Emeritus status should be a reward for good service.
The emeritus professor, or the emeritus CEO, or the emeritus legislator should serve as a source of wisdom for those still active and responsible for society’s business and as an inspiration and a guide for those who will in the future conduct this business.
Moses and Aaron served until death relieved them. You could argue that they were hypocrites, or that they placed themselves above the law, or that if they could serve until 120 why should the rest of us have to quit at 50? All I can say is that if you’re as good as Moses you can serve until 120, otherwise give it up at 50. This laying down of the baton does not mean that you stop working and go on the dole; rather you should refocus on something new and fresh and devote your intelligence and labor to that new focus.
What I’ve just said does not apply to all of mankind, just the Levites. Today’s secular Levites are those who occupy positions of privilege and/or authority. It is they who should be term limited. No man no matter how wise is always or forever wise.