Withdrawal from one’s employment or from certain aspects of it.
In assigning the Levites (not of the priestly family of Aaron) to serve at the tent of meeting under the direction of the priests, Jehovah made loving provisions for their welfare. He commanded Moses: “This is what applies to the Levites: From twenty-five years old upward he will come to enter into the company in the service of the tent of meeting. But after the age of fifty years he will retire from the service company and serve no longer. And he must minister to his brothers in the tent of meeting in taking care of the obligation, but he must render no service.”—Nu 8:23-26; 1Ch 23:3.
At Numbers chapter 4 the service organization of the Levites is described. There it is stated that they were to be registered from the ages of 30 to 50.
It was heavy manual labor to set up, take down, and transport the tent of meeting. The 96 socket pedestals of silver for the panel frames weighed a talent (c. 34 kg; 92 lb t) each; there were also four pedestals for the pillars between the Holy and Most Holy compartments, of probably the same weight, and five copper pedestals for the pillars at the tabernacle entrance. (Ex 26:19, 21, 25, 32, 37; 38:27) The 48 panel frames (4.5 m [14.6 ft] long; 67 cm [26 in.] wide) were made of acacia, a fine-grained, heavy wood, which was gold plated. (Ex 26:15-25, 29) There were gold-plated bars running lengthwise on each side and across the back of the tabernacle. (Ex 26:26-29) All these items would be heavy. Additionally, there was the considerable weight of the coverings of sealskin, ram skin, goat hair, and linen, as well as the linen screen around the courtyard, with its pillars, socket pedestals, tent pins, and so forth. So the handling of the tabernacle involved real muscular work. (Ex 26:1-14; 27:9-19) Six wagons were provided for hauling these items, but the table of showbread, the golden lampstand, and the copper-covered altar of sacrifice were carried. (The priests, not the nonpriestly Levites, carried the ark of the covenant.)—Nu 7:7-9; Ex 25:10-40; 27:1-8; Nu 4:9, 10; Jos 3:15.
Another purpose of the retirement arrangement was apparently to give all the Levites the opportunity to have assignments of service at the sanctuary, because only a limited number were needed, especially during the time the tent of meeting or tabernacle was in use. There was no retirement provided for the priests, the Levites of the family of Aaron.
Evidently there was a five-year period from the ages of 25 to 30 years in which the Levite was serving in what may be termed “training.” It may have been that these younger ones were not used for the heavy duties, which were reserved for those 30 years and older—full-grown men. (See AGE.) Later, after the Ark was permanently located on Mount Zion (and especially with the temple construction just ahead), the heavy work of carrying the sanctuary would no longer exist. David therefore arranged for the Levites to begin serving at the age of 20. Doubtless this was done because at the temple more would be needed to care for the greatly enlarged services there.—1Ch 23:24-27.
The Levites who retired at the age of 50 did not retire from all service. They could still serve voluntarily and “minister to [their] brothers in the tent of meeting in taking care of the obligation.” (Nu 8:26) Probably they served as counselors and assisted in caring for some of the lighter work included in the obligation of the Levites, but they were spared the heavier work. And they were still teachers of the Law to the people. (De 33:8-10; 2Ch 35:3) Those of their number who lived in the cities of refuge were helpful to those taking refuge there.
The Christian Ministry. Those who become spiritual “brothers” of Jesus Christ and footstep followers of his are termed “a royal priesthood.” (Heb 2:10-12; 1Pe 2:9) For these, there is no provision for retirement. The apostle Paul was active in his ministry while in prison and continued steady ministerial activity until he was put to death. (Ac 28:30, 31; 2Ti 4:6, 7) Peter was active to the end of his life. (2Pe 1:13-15) John wrote his Gospel and three canonical letters at an extremely old age, in about 98 C.E.
The “great crowd,” who were seen by John after the vision of the 144,000 “sealed” ones, are said to be “rendering [God] sacred service day and night,” or continually. There is therefore no retirement from God’s service for any Christian.—Re 7:4, 9, 15.