Temple 101- The Levi’im (Levites)

In this section of the Temple we are going to look at the Levi’im (Levites) and their position, role, function, offices and divisions. We will start with the birth of Levi and go up to the Second Temple period. We will touch on their role today and in the future. Levi was the third son of Jacob, and his mother was Leah (Gen 29.34). He was born before Jacob reentered the land. Levi means “to twist, join or turn” and you can see this meaning in the name “Levyi’tan” which means twisted serpent (Isa 27.1). This was tied in with Levi because of their dancing in worship, not like in charismatic dancing today, but in what is called “circle dancing.” Few things are known of Levi. We know he was involved in revenging the rape of his sister Dinah (Gen 34) and he is linked with Simeon and they remained a “team” from that point on. The tribe was seen as zealous and Pinchas demonstrated this zealousness in Num 25.1-13. In Jacob’s prophecy in Gen 49.1-5, Simeon and Levi are linked and they were “divided” and scattered, with Simeon being assimilated in Judah and Levi scattered throughout the land. In Exodus.6.16-27, their situation takes a positive turn. A Levite named Moses is sent to Egypt to bring the sons of Israel out and to bring them into the promised land. The tribe redeems itself after revenging Dinah to being on the Lord’s side at the Golden Calf incident. Israel was seen as an army coming out of Egypt and the males were numbered for war from 20 years old and up, except for the Levites. They were numbered from one month old and up (Num 3.15; 40-41; 26.60-62). This was because the Lord had commanded that the first-born of all the tribes belonged to him. The first-born did not have an inheritance because their inheritance was the Lord (Deut 10.9; 18.2; Num 18.20). But in their case, the Lord substituted the Levites for the first-born (Num 3.11-13). By Num 26.62, they numbered around 23,000 and they were assigned to be in service to the Mishkan, to carry the Ark and to attend the duties in the Mishkan. But, they still have problems. In Num 16.1-40 we have the rebellion of Korah who tried to usurp the priesthood from Aaron. A special relationship will develop between Judah and Levi (Deut 33.1-11) and these tribes intermarried (Judges 17.7; 19.1; 2 kings 11; Zech 6.13). This concept will become more and more important later. Their functions can be studied in Num 3.1 through 4.49. Now, it’s one thing when you are staying in the wilderness because everyone is together just for survival, but what about after they cross the Jordan and enter the land and are scattered throughout the land. You had a portable tent and then to a building, so their assignments will change accordingly (Num 1.47-54; 18.22-23). They were to share equally (Deut 18.6-8) and the tithe, once they were in the land, were paid to the Levi’im and they tithed to the Kohanim (Num 18.21). By the time of King David, the nation had grown and David began to organize. He was preparing for the Temple and in 1 Chr 23 through 26 we see that he organizes the priests (Ch 23), the Levites (Ch 24), the musicians (Ch 25) and the gatekeepers and treasurers (Ch 26). The Temple would have the basic function as the Mishkan (1 Chr 23.1-11, 18-19). This will go on until idolatry begins to grow and by 1 Kings 12.31, the Levites who were loyal to God migrated south to get away from the replacement theology of Jereboam. As time went on, competition grew between the priests and rabbinical parties until the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The Levites lost their platform, voice and influence giving rise to the Rabbi’s and their rulings which evolved into what is known as Rabbinic Judaism today. What is taught today is essentially what the Pharisees believed. The Levites did not write books but the Rabbi’s wrote the Mishnah, the Talmud and many other religious books of the Jewish people. The duties of the Levi’im were not the same as the Kohanim. They had an “honored” status in Israel especially in the second Temple period (Luke 10.32; John 1.19). In Ezra 2.40-42 we see a small number returning to the land after the Babylonian Captivity compared to the Kohanim. This added to their importance in the eyes of the people. You had certain duties and you did not cross the line. However, there are times in the Tanach where this happened (2 Chr 35.1-18), but not by their own initiative. When reading the rabbinic writings, you must understand that the Pharisee’s wrote these books and they reflect their beliefs. The Pharisees opposed the Sadducees, who were made up of Priests and Levites. When looking at the rabbinic writings you must understand that there is a built-in bias against the Priests and Levites in their writings. The Levites were usually seen in a better light than the Kohanim, who were seen as the real “corrupt” ones. The Levi’im were also the tax collectors. They collected the “hotzi shekel” or the half-shekel tax before Passover. When you read about a publican, that was a tax collector. Matthew was from Levi and a tax collector (Mark 2.14). Zaccheus was a tax collector and most likely a Levite (Luke 19.9). The Levites were to lead the people to the Lord (Levi means “to join”) and one of their purposes. In the rebellion of Korah, he was right when he said that the whole “kahal” (congregation) was holy. But, he accused Moses and Aaron of thinking they were special and exalted themselves over everyone else when, in fact, it was the Lord who set them apart. This is common today in the Faith. People aren’t satisfied with the portion the Lord has given them and they got jealous. But, we read in 1 Cor 12.12-50 that there is one body with many members and it is the Lord who composed the body (1 Cor 12.18,24) so we should not be jealous of one another and what God has assigned us to do. This attitude comes up when discussing the Temple. People will say “It’s not fair that I can’t go into the Court of the Priests” or “the Court of the Israelites” but that is the root of Korah’s rebellion. People are not content with who they are. That is the root behind the “Two House Theory” that plagues many believers today that says Gentiles who believe today are really part of a lost tribe and therefore “Jewish.” The attitude behind Korah’s rebellion is the root of all replacement theology. They want to be someone else and do someone else’s job. We know what happened to Korah and his followers. King Uzziah burned incense on the Altar of Incense when he wasn’t a priest and God struck him with leprosy (2 Chr 26.18). We need to be content with who we are and not try to usurp roles and authority in an area that does not belong to us. This is one of the most important lessons we can draw from studying the Levi’im. When Yeshua returns and he builds the Messianic Temple during the Kingdom (Ezek chapters 40-48) the Levites will again minister in the Temple along with the Kohanim (Isa 66.20-21; Ezek 44.15-31; 45.5).

Posted in Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, The Tanach, The Temple, Understanding the New Testament

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