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Continuing our series on the Twelve Tribes of Israel (We have previously shared the Tribe of Reuben and the Tribe of Simeon), today, we turn our attention to the Tribe of Levi, often considered the “chosen tribe”
Who was Levi in the Bible?
Levi, the third-born son to Jacob, mothered by Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Levi (the Levites) as well as the grandfather of Aaron and Moses.
His birth is recorded in Genesis 29:34.
“Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ So he was named Levi.”
Levi translates as “joined”. In the sense Leah felt joined to Jacob now, so the tribe of Levi would become joined to God, set aside as His tribe. Levi was mentioned briefly in the narrative concerning the 12 sons of Jacob.
He is most known for his joint attack of Shechem with his brother Simeon.
Why were they chosen?
In God’s original plan, the firstborn sons were to have been set apart as priests. When the Lord spared the Jewish firstborns in Egypt, He designated them for this special role.
Unfortunately, when the Israelites created and worshipped the golden calf after the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the only tribe that did not participate was the Tribe of Levi. It was then, that the firstborn sons lost their set apart status, and it was transferred to the Levites.
“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 minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today.” – Deuteronomy 10: 8
The Levites had been designated as “special” even before that, though. During the bondage from the Egyptians, they were excepted from the hard labor and allowed to devote themselves to spiritual pursuits, which helped the other Hebrews and tribes by providing encouragement and a strong example.
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The Tribe of Levi Territory?
Unlike the other tribes, the tribe of Levi was the only tribe of Israel that did not receive a territory of land from God.
Numbers 3 reiterates, God’s commandments concerning the Tribe of Levi to Moses.
“The Lord also said to Moses, ‘I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.’ ” – Numbers 3: 11-13
But, he goes on in a later verse to share his intentions:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the Lord. ” – Numbers 3: 40-41
It is interesting to note that in both sections of scripture, God end by reminding Moses that He is the Lord, showing that His command is final.
Of course, throughout the Old Testament, God required blood sacrifices to atone for the sins of the Israelites. We know that because of Pharaoh, his stubbornness and hard heart, God allowed all firstborn males in Egypt to die. Pharaoh’s hardheadedness and refusal to let the Hebrews go compelled God to demonstrate to Pharaoh His strength and power.
So the tribe of Levi became the sacrifice of thanksgiving for God delivering the Hebrew to safety. In exchange for the firstborn males and livestock, God took the Levites as a sacrifice for Himself, and dedicated the Tribe of Levi to serve Him.
So, now we know why the Levites were set apart, but why did they not receive an allotment of land or territory? Simple, their service to the Lord would require them to live and travel throughout all of Canaan. They were to serve and minister the Lord’s instruction and carry out the required sacrifices for all of the 12 tribes of Israel.
If they were limited to one territory, they would not be able to effectively carry out their service to the Lord. Instead, God assigned cities to the Levites that they were to live in to carry out their priestly duties.
These cities were spread throughout the land of Canaan and surrounded every tribe and every region.
A full list of the cities designated by God for the Levites to live in can be found in Joshua 21.
A bit later, we learn of a birth that would change history. The birth of Moses. Both his father, Amram and his mother were Levites making him pure Levitical blood.
Levi, Murder and Deceit
Scripture mentions one daughter of Jacob, named Dinah. While she is not a prominent figure, she does play a short, but pivotal role in biblical history.
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In Genesis 34, we read that she was out visiting some Canaanite women and was raped by Shechem, the son of the chief in the area, Hamor.
Shechem claims to have fallen in love with Dinah and her beauty and asks his father to approach Jacob with the hopes of marrying her. Hamor tells Jacob to set any bride price he wished and for there to be peace between them. Neither Shechem nor Hamor seem to have no repentance for his crime!
Jacob, clearly distraught, as any father would be, said nothing until his sons returned from the fields. When Jacob’s sons learn of what happened, they are angry and upset, naturally.
It is interesting to note, here, that scripture says that “Jacob’s sons” conspire together, but that no one brother was called out as leading the revenge and that Jacob was mainly silent. (He was probably in shock!)
So what did they conspire to do? They deceived Shechem and his father by agreeing to allow Dinah to marry Shechem if all of the men in the city of Shechem are circumcised.
Shockingly, the men of Shechem agree to this, and all of the men in the city were circumcised.
Now, this is where it really gets interesting.
“Three days later, when the men were still sore from their circumcision, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah, took their swords, went into the city without arousing suspicion, and killed all the men, including Hamor and his are Shechem. Then they took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. After the slaughter Jacob’s other sons looted the town to take revenge for their sister’s disgrace. They took the flocks, the cattle, the donkeys, and everything else in the city and in the fields. They took everything of value, captured all the women and children, and carried off everything in the houses.” – Genesis 34:25-29
Jacob was beside himself about this situation and said to Simeon and Levi:
“…’You have gotten me into trouble; now the Canaanites, the Perizzites, and everybody else in the land will hate me. I do not have many men; if they all band together against me and attack me, our whole family will be destroyed. ‘” – Genesis 34:30
God instructed Jacob to move the family further south, to Bethel.
In addition, Levi was not mentioned by name in the Though not mentioned by name in the conspiracy to kill Joseph, he did readily go along with the plan of his brothers.
Ultimately, it was Reuben who swayed their minds from murder making Levi guilty of harming his own family member.
It may be due to these incidents that Jacob’s “blessing” was so harsh:
“Simeon and Levi are brothers.
They use their weapons to commit violence.
I will not join in their secret talks,
Nor will I take part in their meetings,
For they killed people in anger
And they crippled bulls for sport.
A curse be on their anger, because it is so fierce,
And on their fury, because it is so cruel.
I will scatter them throughout the land of Israel.
I will disperse them among its people.” –
From this point, scripture references about Levi mainly focus on his sons. We do know that in Genesis 46:11, Levi went into Egypt with his three sons; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
During the time of Exodus, the Israelites, grew greatly in number and it was during this time that the tribe of Levi would rise to its known prominence.
Through service to the Lord, they would right the wrongs of Levi and their faithfulness to God would be noticed and rewarded.
What Lessons Can We Learn From Levi in the Bible?
We are never too far gone for God to use us
Levi plotted, murdered and acted in revenge, yet no matter the sin, Levi’s tribe was rewarded for their eventual obedience and God worked out all things for good. You have never sinned too much, or have been too far gone from God for Him to work in you and use you for His Kingdom.
You have never sinned too much, or have been too far gone from God for Him to work in you and use you for His Kingdom.
Anger can leave a wake of devastation
Anger can be a catapult to sin. Anger can cause us to do or say things that leave long-lasting consequences. And, we should never take counsel from angry people. They are thinking with their emotions rather than logic or biblical truth.
Jacob said, in his “blessing”, “They use their weapons to commit violence. I will not join in their secret talks, Nor will I take part in their meetings, For they killed people in anger.” Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. No matter how angry we become at someone, we are to exhibit self-control and respond in a loving way – no matter how our emotions are trying to direct us. Always pray about your response first.
What do you think about the tribe of Levi and their prominence in biblical history despite their shortcomings? What lessons do you take away from their story? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
If you would like to learn more about the tribe of Levi or its history, consider one of these recommended resources:
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