The Levites were Israelites from the tribe of Levi . This tribe was chosen by God to care for the temple and guide the people in worshiping God. The temple priests were all descendants of Aaron, who was a Levite.
The people of Israel had 12 tribes, who were the descendants of Jacob’s 12 sons. The Levites were descendants of Levi, Jacob’s third son with Leah. Levi was a violent man but his descendants became a large tribe.
During the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt, Israel’s most famous Levites were born: Moses and his brothers Aaron and Miriam. Under Moses’ leadership, the Israelites broke free and left Egypt for the promised land. Miriam was a prophetess and Aaron was chosen by God to be His priest, the bridge between the people and God ( Exodus 28: 1 ).
Before reaching the promised land, the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert. During this time, the Israelites rebelled against God and turned to idolatry. But Levi’s tribe remained faithful and fought against idolaters. Therefore, God chose the Levites to work in temple service ( Numbers 8: 9-11 ).
Find out more about priests in the Bible here.
What were the Levites’ functions?
The Levites did all the work connected with the temple of God. Aaron’s descendants were the priests , who were the only ones who could enter the temple building to offer sacrifices to God ( Leviticus 1: 10-11 ). They also blessed the people, carried the Ark of the Covenant and received a portion of the sacrifices for their livelihood.
See also: what was a high priest?
The other Levites were divided into clans and, during the time of the tabernacle, carried all parts of the tent whenever it moved. When the temple was built in Jerusalem, in Solomon’s time, the Levites had assumed several other functions connected with the temple:
- Musicians and worship leaders
- Teachers who taught the laws of God
Since the Levites worked for the temple, they did not receive a portion of land as an inheritance, like the other tribes of Israel. God was his inheritance. Their temple work was very important to the nation, so the rest of the people had a responsibility to support the Levites with their tithes ( Numbers 18: 23-24 ). The Levites then titheed what they had received for the support of the priests. They also received some cities throughout Israel, to have a place to live. So the Levites were close to all the Israelites.
The Levites’ responsibilities are described in the book of Leviticus .
Are there Levites today?
Today, among the Jews there are still descendants of Levi. But the Levites can no longer perform all the functions described in the Old Testament because the temple was destroyed in 70 AD
In the New Testament, Jesus instituted a new order. Now, every Christian is dedicated to God and called to serve Him ( 1 Peter 2: 9 ). You don’t have to be a Levite or a special family. Everyone must take care of the church and live in consecration to God, reflecting His glory in the world around them.
In some churches, it became popular to call members of the Levite worship group, because one of the functions of the Israelite Levites was to lead worship in the temple. However, these new Levites do not have much in common with the Levites in the Bible, who had many other functions.