Jacob Blesses Levi
A Review of the History of the Tribe of Levi
The story of the tribe of Levi records a history consistent with the oracle Jacob pronounced upon the tribe when they, too, were destined to be scattered without inheritance in the land.
Exodus 32 in Review: Golden Calf
· How is it that the prophecy which proved to be a curse for the tribe of Simeon actually turned into a blessing for the Levites? Levi’s exploits in Exodus 32 may provide that answer.
Here is what is going on
Verses 1-6—Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him"… and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt."—The Israelites crafted a golden calf to be worshiped by the people. Aaron encouraged this idolatry while his brother was on the mountain receiving the Law from the Lord. The idea of making this calf may have come from their memory of the Egyptian gods.
· When Aaron saw that they had made a golden calf, he proposed a mixture of worship, making an altar and proclaiming tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord (v. 5). The next day they: (1) offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings, (2) sat down to eat and to drink, and (3) rose up to play – the word for play suggests sexual activity (1 Corinthians 10:8).
Here is how God responded
Verses 7-14—… So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. —When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the shameful sight, he shattered the tablets of stone in righteous anger and protest. When God told Moses what the people had done, He referred to them as your people whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt. God said they are an obstinate [or literally, hard] people (v. 9). Then He told Moses to be at rest (NASB, KJV let me alone) that I may destroy them, and I will make you a great nation.
Moses then appealed for the people with two arguments:
1. The Egyptians will say, “With evil intent He brought them out to kill them” v. 12. Notice the assumption that the world is watching.
2. “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens…in the land’” v. 13 (Genesis 15:18–21; 22:17; 26:4; 28:13; 32:13).
PT: The result was that God changed His mind [KJV repented]. This word is to “be sorry, repent, regret, be comforted, comfort”. It’s the same word translated sorry in Genesis 6:6, when before the Flood, the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth. Moses first argument here seems to be his own speculation. But his second argument was a good one, and the reason God changed His declaration.
An Application—God has an eternal plan which cannot be altered, but at the same time, the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16). God’s change of mind was real and in His eternal plan. Predestination and free will are both 100%. How can God have a predetermined plan and still change His mind or be sorry [KJV repent]? Because the fact that God changed His mind [KJV repented or was sorry] was already in His predetermined plan. God really changed His mind, that change of mind was effected by Moses’ plea, and God’s real change of mind based on Moses’ plea was in His sovereign eternal plan.
Verses 15-30— —After personally destroying the calf, Moses decided that radical spiritual surgery had to be performed on the people. The zeal of Levi had earlier resulted in the death of the Shechemites—a deed deplored by Jacob. Now through their obedience to Moses, the Levites demonstrated their zeal in a righteous cause. As a result, they were awarded the special place as the priestly tribe throughout Jewish history. While later reflecting upon this incident, Moses reminded the people 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 (Deuteronomy 10:8).
An Application—It is appropriate to have zeal for the Lord, His will, and His word. We should eagerly desire and contend for righteousness. Romans 12:10-11 says to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14). Be eager to study the Bible. Be dedicated to loving God with all your heart. Be passionate about living with an eternal perspective. Be devoted to making disciples of Jesus Christ. Be zealous for the things God is eager about.
PT—Certainly Simeon and Levi were zealous, but originally their zeal was not channeled into godly paths. Zeal in itself is not sufficient, even for ministry on behalf of the Lord. It has been taught that activity, devotion, commitment, and sincerity are the only necessities in serving the Lord. But such zeal can be misdirected and even hinder service.
· Paul testified about his Jewish kinsmen for I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge (Romans 12:2). Even Paul encountered an unproductive zeal in his own life
Deuteronomy 33 in Review: Moses Blessing
· The blessing we have here is the blessing of Moses given just before his death. God gave the Levites a special place of service amongst the nation.
It’s striking that Simeon is the only tribe omitted from Moses blessing, while the longest blessing is given to Levi.
1. The Thummin and the Urim, whose meaning is uncertain, refer to sacred stones carried in a pouch on the breastplate of the high priest and examined on occasion as a means of ascertaining God’s will or direction. (See Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6).
2. Moses blessing also noted of Levi who said of his father and his mother, 'I did not consider them'; And he did not acknowledge his brothers (v. 9). This statement no doubt alludes to the Levites’ destruction of their own fellow tribesmen following the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:25-29). Moses said of Levi at that time they observed Your word, and kept Your covenant (v. 9).
3. Levi’s influence included teaching the people the Law of God. Moses in his final blessing of the tribes had said to Levi in Deuteronomy 33:10 he teaches Your precepts to Jacob and Your Law to Israel. They were to instruct the people where they lived in the Law of the Lord so that the knowledge of God’s Word would be maintained among the people of the nation.
An Application—Recognize the word of God in your life. Determine to give it a fair at face value reading and then orient your life according to its values. Don’t marginalize the Bible, but place it front and center. Learn how to study it. Read it. Apply it. Put it to use.
Joshua 21 in Review: Levis Allotment
· God not only found a special place of service for Levi and his posterity, He also ensured their spiritual presence amongst the people.
Verses 1-40— the sons of Gershon… [and] the sons of Merari—The tribe of Levi steps forward to claim their inheritance. This is the last allotment to take place. Moses had promised them an inheritance "command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities (Numbers 35:2). The distribution of the territory is according to the three main branches of the tribe of Levi. These correspond to the three sons of Levi, Kohath, Gershon and Merari.
The sons of Kohath were given twenty-three cities from six different tribes (vv. 4-5). The sons of Gershon received thirteen cities from four of the tribes (v. 6). The sons or Merari were giv en twelve cities from three different tribal territories (v. 7). Then verse eight concludes: These cities and their pasture lands the people of Israel gave by lot to the Levites as the Lord had commanded through Moses.
PT: Of these three sons, the Kohahites were more prominent and had the most cities assigned to them they were for the sons of Aaron, one of the families of the Kohathites, of the sons of Levi, for the lot was theirs first (v. 10). The reason was because Moses and Aaron were sons of Kohath. So the Aaronic priesthood came from this branch of the Levites.
PT: The Levite cities in the north and the east were placed there as deterrents against idolatry that could easily infiltrate from Tyre and Sidon, and from the Midianites, Ammonites, and Moabites. So the entire nation had someone near enough who knew the Law of God that they could easily visit and get advice, counsel and instruction. It was essential that the nation stay faithful to the Law of God in all areas of their lives because their propensity to stray and forget God would forfeit the privileges they enjoyed in covenant with God.
Since they were to be spiritual leaders of the nation at large, the Levites were trans-tribal not bound by any borders or boundaries. It was clear they did not own these cities or the grazing land
surrounding them. According to Numbers 35:6-7 Levi’s allotment included The cities and the surrounding countryside would provide for the tribe of Levi, but they were to focus on the spiritual influence they were to have amongst the people.
PT—Apparently, the Lord meant for the verdict of justice to be decided by the Levitical priests. The point is that God established due process to control vigilantism.
An Application—Premeditated sin is worse than other sin because it involves our intention. It assumes we know what is sin and do it anyway. But believers who claim to be unaware of some particular sin should be informed, not disciplined or punished. All people accused of anything who claim to be innocent should be assumed innocent until proven guilty. Provisions should be made to protect unknowing sinners—such as new believers—from the attacks of other believers.
Verses 43-45—Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. —Looking back at the beginning, then summarizing the conquest and division of land, Joshua emphasized God’s faithfulness in all of it the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it (v. 43). That God gave victory over their enemies and then the Lord gave them rest on every side (v. 44). That God keeps His promises as they all came to pass (v. 45). There was still territory the tribes needed to possess, and while Israelites lived there many Canaanites still did too. There was still much trouble ahead and tragedies that would develop during the Judges and the Kings. But those would be Israel’s fault, not God’s. God was faithful to the promises He made to the tribes including the Levites.
Observations from the Tribe of Levi
· Although landless regarding their inheritance in the land, the Levites actually were the most privileged of all the tribes. Moses declared this privilege Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, just as the Lord your God spoke to him (Deuteronomy 10:9).
· Both priests and Levites were financially supported by the tithes of the people, thus enabling them to give their full time to ministering before the Lord
· The responsibility for the tabernacle was serious business as it represented God amidst the Israelites as they journeyed. Approaching God is like approaching a hot fire—you get close enough to warm yourself but never too close that you get burned. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony” (Numbers 1:53). The point was to prevent any unnecessary profane approach or activity around the Tabernacle which represented sacredness and holiness never to be taken lightly. The Levites, like godly people today, were the sentry posts of protection for the people from the wrath of God.
An Application—Similarly, we belong to the household of God—a collection of individuals united together as a family, each distinct and individual in gifts, opportunities, and responsibility. In this sense, the church is never called a community—a collective for the common good. Even in Israel, they fought as an army of tribes—each distinct, but contributing to the overall battle strategy together.
· Unfortunately, it seems the influence of the Levites diminished over time and even the priesthood became corrupted, until God had to judge His nation and people. God commanded Ezekiel to
PT: Even though God ensured a spiritual influence among His people that was no guarantee that the influence would produce what it was designed too. Just because the body of Christ teaches the Bible, prays, sings, and meets does not guarantee devoted believers.
An Application—Today we might say of churches and ministries, dig through the wall and you will see they justify divorce and remarriage. Dig through the wall and you will see women clergy. Dig through the wall and you will see they encourage homosexuality. Dig through the wall and you will see them cohabitating and fornicating. Dig through the wall and you will see their spiritual immaturity and biblical ignorance.