Levi was the third son of Jacob and he was born in Paddan-Aram. His mother was Leah. The name “Levi” means “to join” or “twist” (Gen 29.34). You can see this concept in the name “Lev’yi’tan” or “Leviathan” which means “twisted (Levi) serpent (tan)” (Isa 27.1-2). The people who descended from Levi are called “Levi’im” or Levites. They were known for dancing before the Lord, but not in the way you see people in Pentecostal assemblies. This was more of what is called a “circle dance” and for more information on this, you can do some research on it. We may deal with this subject at a later time. We are going to do a very, very brief teaching on the Levi’im. We will discuss their role, position, function, dress, officers and divisions. It is from the Levi’im that the Kohanim will come.
As we have said before, Levi was the third son of Jacob, and his mother was Leah. Few things are known of Levi. We know that he was involved in the Dinah incident in Gen 34, where he avenged the rape of his sister on the city of Shechem, along with his brother Simeon (Gen 34.25-31). As a result, Levi and Simeon are often linked together from that point on. Levi is seen as a zealot. His descendant Pinchas (Phinehas) in Num 25.7 was son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron. Israel had been seduced into the worship of Baal-Peor, and a plague broke out among the people. He is the one who took a spear and thrust it through two people as they were engaged in a sexual type worship of Baal-Peor and a plague was stopped (Num 25.7-8).
In Gen 49 we have a prophecy of Jacob to his sons. In Gen 49.5-7 we see that he linked Simeon and Levi, and this goes all the way back to Gen 34. They were going to be divided once in the land, and they were scattered in Israel. Simeon was assimilated into Judah and Levi was scattered all over the land. You will see why later on in this teaching. The Maccabees were zealous, and they seemed to demonstrate this family and tribal quality to the fullest, especially against the enemies of the Lord.
In Genesis, they started out in a bad situation, but in Exodus 6.16-27 it starts to turn positive with the birth of Moses and Aaron, and Israel will begin to be seen as an army coming out of Egypt during the Exodus. However, this army did not include the tribe of Levi. At a certain age, one was ready to enter the army of Israel. A Levite at a certain age would enter the service of God, doing spiritual warfare. Num 4.1-3 says they were going to do the work of “the service” and the word used there is “tzava” which means “warfare.” They would go to war with the rest of the tribes and be like a “chaplain.”
Where does the tribe of Levi redeem themselves from the Dinah debacle? It will be at the Golden Calf incident in Exo 32.19-29. They will stand with Moses and the Lord than to worship the idol. To be fair, this happened once Moses showed up, and remember, Aaron helped them make this idolatrous calf. But all the sons of Levi gathered around Moses.
In the tribes, you numbered every male over 20 years old for war (the reason for any census), except for Levi. They were numbered at one month and up (Num 3.15, 40-41, 26.60-62). Why is this? God commanded that the firstborn of all the tribes belong to him. In the case of the firstborn, they did not have an inheritance, their inheritance was the Lord. However, God did a substitution between the firstborn of all the tribes and the firstborn of the tribe of Levi. Rather than take the firstborn from all the tribes, he took the tribe of Levi in their place (Num 3.11-13). In Num 3.39 there were 22,000 numbered among the Levites. The firstborn among Israel was 22,273, so there was 273 extra Israelites. So, a ransom was paid of five shekels for the extra Israelites beyond the Levites (Num 3.40-51). This ransom money was given to Aaron and the priests. This is called “Pidyon ha Ben” or the “redemption of the firstborn.” Later, in Num 26.62 there were 23,000 Levites numbered.
The Levites were singled out for service in the Mishkan. The word for service in our English Bibles can be tzava or avodah in Hebrew, that is why anyone needs to have a working understanding of Hebrew in order to study the Scriptures. There are many, many things you will pick up in Hebrew that you won’t see in English. Tzava means “war” so the services of God in the Mishkan/Temple is seen as spiritual warfare (Num 4.3). They will also carry the Ark and they attended to duties in the Mishkan/Temple (Num 1.50). But, even though this was happening, they will still have some problems. In Num 16.1-40, we learn about the rebellion of Korah, a son of Kohath, a Levite. He was displeased with who God chose to be High Priest, and priests in general. He believed that Moses and Aaron had joined into some sort of conspiracy, so he began to question this situation openly. God settled the situation quickly with Korah, and those who sided with him were killed also.
In Deut 33, Jacob blesses his sons and gives another prophecy before he dies. Judah and Levi are linked together in back-to-back prophecies and blessings (v 7-11), and by this we know that there was special relationship between Judah and Levi. In Judges 17.7 we learn that they intermarried because it says, ” Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judea, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he was staying there. Judges 19.1 and Zech 6.13 also seem to indicate that there is a link between the two tribes that has messianic implications.
Yeshua cannot be king of Israel through his step-father Joseph because of a prophecy in Jer 22.29-30 where it says that no descendant of Coniah will be king in Israel. Zerubbabel ruled as governor, but not as king. That means that the family line of Joseph, Yeshua’s step-father, cannot be kings because of that prophecy. This kingly line stopped after the Babylonian Captivity. However, in his mother’s genealogy in Luke 3.23-38, he does not descend from the kingly line, but he is a son of David. There is a separation with Nathan, a son of David, with Solomon, where the kings descended in Joseph’s genealogy in Matt 1-17. We will also see in Miriam’s genealogy that she comes from a priestly, therefore Levitic, line. Look at the names in Luke’s genealogy, and you will see many priestly and Levitic names like Matthias, or its variant Mattan, appears six times; Levi; Eli and so on. We know that she was the cousin of Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron (Luke 1.5). That means that Miriam had Levitic/Kohanic blood. Yeshua and John were cousins, and John was a kohan (priest). So, we see there are allusions to the Messiah being a descendant of Judah and Levi in the above verses, and this special relationship between Levi and Judah will live on. This “link” goes all the way back to Genesis. This will become very important later on.
In Part 2, we will begin with the Levites and their functions.