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Who Were The Levites? Pt 1

by | Mon, Aug 8 2022

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We’ve been learning about the various religious groups and sects within Judaism, and while the entire nation of the Hebrews were supposed to be a priestly nation before all the nations of the world, there was one tribe in particular that was specifically selected to be a priestly tribe to their own nation and that was the tribe of Levi. Why was this tribe specifically chosen by God for this high and sacred role?

Remember the story of Israel sinning by worshiping the golden calf while Moses was up the mountain getting the commandments? When Moses came down to deal with the wickedness of his people so that the Lord didn’t wipe them all out, he had a very serious judgment to enact. This is what happened.

Exodus 32:26-27, ‘Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. He said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbour.’ So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.’

A really brutal event, but God was demonstrating in clear and explicit terms that sin, rebellion and idolatry would not be tolerated and the consequences would be swift and deadly. So Moses drew a line in the desert sands and asked who would stand on God’s side and it was the Levite’s who put their hand up and remained solid and steadfast in meting out the judgment, regardless of the person cost to themselves.

It’s for this reason that it’s believed that the tribe of Levi was chosen by God to be the priestly tribe to be the mediators between the rest of the tribes and God Himself. The Levites may also have had a measure of loyalty to Moses as well, since he was also of the tribe of Levi, as was Aaron, Moses’ brother, who I might add played a pretty significant role in the rebellion since he’s the one who asked the Israelites to hand over their jewelry so he could make the golden calf. Nice.

So when did God actually choose the Levites for this special priestly role? When the stone tablets containing the commandments on Moses’ first trek up the holy mountain, were smashed by Moses because of the Golden Calf incident, another set had to be written. Also, the Ark of the Covenant was also constructed, which the tablets would be stored in, and it was then that God selected the Levites.

Deuteronomy 10:8-9, ‘At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day. Therefore, Levi doesn’t have a portion or inheritance with his brothers, the Lord is his inheritance, just as the Lord your God spoke to him.’

So the Levites were selected for the role of priests and the priesthood, serving God in a close and intimate way. They wouldn’t get a tribal land allotment like the rest of the tribes, rather, their inheritance would be in their very special relationship with God, but the rest of the tribes would have the responsibility for ensuring their priestly brothers would be taken care of.

There were divisions within the Levites as well, mostly familial. For example, the only Levites that could actually fill the role of priests were the members of the family line of Aaron. Aaron, Moses’ brother was the first High Priest and his sons were the first regular priests. They didn’t last long because they disobeyed God’s instructions as soon as they were ordained and God killed them. Not a great start. Being a Levite or a priest did not a godly man make!

The Levites were sinners just like the rest of us. By the time the nation arrived at Shiloh where the Tabernacles was set up as Israel’s capital during the days of the Judges, the High Priest Eli was fairly weak and he did nothing to stop the wicked behaviour of his sons. That was when Samuel was born and raised in the Tabernacle and God brought judgement on Eli’s family line. Not long after that, the priestly line of Zadok, during David’s time, became the family line of priests.

Interestingly, Samuel was actually born in the tribe of Ephraim, but became a Levite under the training of Eli. So perhaps, adoption into the Levites was a possibility?

If only a certain family was permitted to be priests, what did the rest of the Levites do? We’ll look at that next time.