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The Bible mentions four men by the name of Levi. Two of them appear in the genealogy of Jesus. They both father a person by the name of Matthat (Luke 3:24, 29). A third person by this name was Jesus’ disciple Matthew (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27–29) the tax collector (Mark 10:3). It was common for Hebrew men to have more than one name like Simon Peter and John Mark (Mark 3:14).
The Son of Jacob
The fourth Levi is the third son of Jacob and Leah, born in Paddan Aram. His birth is recorded in Genesis 29:34 (NKJV): “And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.’ Therefore, his name was called Levi.”
This man had a total of eleven brothers, making him part of the twelve sons of Jacob who would later become the twelve tribes of Israel. Notable among his brothers were Reuben, Simeon, Judah, and Joseph, each of whom played crucial roles in the unfolding narrative of the Israelites.
In Genesis 37, this son of Jacob was involved with Joseph’s sale. The narrative details the jealousy and rivalry among Jacob’s sons, leading to the selling of Joseph into slavery. This brother was not exempt from this tumultuous event, as he, along with his brothers, participated in the decision to sell Joseph to traders (Genesis 37:25-28).
One of the defining moments his life is the incident at Shechem, recorded in Genesis 34. After the violation of their sister Dinah, Levi and his brother Simeon took matters into their own hands. With cunning deceit, they orchestrated a plan to avenge their sister’s honor, leading to the massacre of the Shechemite men. This incident would later have repercussions for his tribe.
In Genesis 49, as Jacob approached the end of his life, he pronounced blessings and prophecies upon his sons. Concerning Levi, Jacob declared both a blessing and a curse. In verses 5-7, Jacob recounted the incident at Shechem but pronounced a curse on their anger, stating that they would be scattered in Israel.
The Tribe and the Priesthood
Despite the curse, the tribe of Levi would later play a unique and honorable role among the Israelites. His descendants rose to imminence when they took a firm stand for the Lord after the Israelites sinned greatly by building the altar of Baal while Moses was on Mountain with God (Exodus 32:1-6). When Moses came down and saw the altar of Baal, he said, “who [is] on the LORD’S side? [let him come] unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him” (Exodus 32:26). And they executed the Idolaters people about three thousand men. Thus, they purged the sin from the camp (verse 28).
For this reason, this tribe was chosen by God for the priesthood. In Numbers 3:6-10, God instructed Moses regarding the consecration of the tribe of Levi. The Levites served as priests and caretakers of the tabernacle and later the temple. They were entrusted with various responsibilities, including offering sacrifices, conducting rituals, and teaching the Law to the people. References to the Levitical priesthood can be found throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.
Descendants and Cities
Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Each son became the ancestor of a specific group within the Levites. The Levites were not given a territorial inheritance like the other tribes; instead, they were given cities scattered throughout the land of Israel. Examples of Levitical cities include Hebron and Debir (Joshua 21).
The Conquest of Canaan
During the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, this tribe played a vital role. They were not involved in the distribution of land but were assigned cities and pasturelands to fulfill their duties as priests and caretakers of the tabernacle.
The Chronicles provide additional insights into the role of this tribe. In 1 Chronicles 23-26, details about the organization and divisions within the tribe are outlined, emphasizing their importance in the worship and service of God.
Levi’s journey in the Bible encompasses family dynamics, personal choices, blessings, and curses. From his involvement in the sale of Joseph to the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, his story weaves into the broader Israelite history. Despite challenges and curses, this tribe emerged as a significant conduit for God’s presence among His people, underscoring the redemptive nature of God’s plan throughout biblical history.
In His service,