I have to preface this by saying I am only a very amateur biblical scholar. I do my research online! So while this information is interesting to me, you should always take it with a grain of salt, read the Bible and other texts for yourself, and see what you think.
There is a lot in the BIble about firstborns. The whole Book of Genesis reads like a bad soap opera, with firstborn sons being overthrown left and right by younger brothers. While the firstborns should have received the wealth, honor, and titles of the family, in Genesis, most of them end up with the short end of the stick. Cain. Reuben. Esau. Even Leah, in a family of no sons.
And still God asserts their importance as being set aside for Him.
In Numbers, God tells Moses, “Look, I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites to serve as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites belong to me, for all the firstborn males are mine. On the day I struck down all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborns in Israel, both of people and of animals. They are mine; I am the LORD” (Num. 3:11-13, NLT).
You probably know that the Levites (ancestors of Jacob’s son Levi) were set apart as priests and holy workers in the Tabernacle. Here in Numbers, God explains why He chose one of the tribes as His own. They would act as a substitute for all of the firstborn sons among Israel’s tribes that should have been His – all the ones He didn’t kill during Passover.
God does like a good substitution, doesn’t He?
But why the Levites?
Well, Moses and Aaron were Levites. I think that gives the tribe one thumbs up. Some extrabiblical sources suggest that Levi was more pious than his brothers. I’m not sure that’s really supported by Genesis, though.
Other places suggest that the Levites showed the greatest opposition to idols when Aaron made the golden calf. Exodus 32:25-26 says, “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.’ And all the Levites rallied to him” (NIV).
So the answer to why the Levites is, who knows? We can make some good guesses. But it’s not clear.
What is clear is that God took the Levitical priesthood very, very seriously. He struck dead two of Aaron’s sons for lighting the wrong kind of fire in the altar. He truly wanted the tribe to be set apart, for they would be the ones to minister to His presence in the Holy of Holies.
Being near God’s presence is no joke.
In Malachi, God chastises the Levites for falling off course. But first He says, “The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and this is what I gave them. This called for reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name” (2:5, NLT).
I think bringing life and peace pretty much sums up God’s will for humankind. What else did Jesus do except promote life and peace?
We have the privilege now of having God’s presence living inside us, something very few of the Israelites could have ever imagined. Think about how seriously God saw his pact with the Levites. And we are the Levites now: the new priests.
It’s pretty daunting. And terrifying. And amazing.
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