The name Levi means ‘attached’ or ‘joined’. The Bible records him as the third son of Jacob coming after Reuben and Simeon. According to Jewish tradition, he was given this name because Leah wanted Jacob to be attached to her. Levi was born while his father was still working for Laban, his father-in-law as part of their 20-year agreement. According to the Biblical Timeline Poster, his dates are 1749 BC to 1612 BC.
The family was living at the time in Paddan Aram, but later Levi left with his family and with the blessing of his grandfather Laban, father of Rachel. He was one of 13 children, 12 boys and one daughter. Levi was one of those who plotted against Joseph and sold him into slavery and in Genesis 46 there is recorded how Levi and his family moved to Goshen in Egypt at the time of famine. His first born brother Reuben lost his rights as the eldest, and so the duty of priesthood passed on to Levi and his descendants. The family travelled as nomads through Mahanaim, Peniel, Succoth, and finally arrived in Shechem where, together with his older brother Simeon, deceived the local people. One of them had raped Levi’s sister Dinah, but still wanted to marry her.
The brothers claimed that they would become people with the Shecamites if they allowed themselves to be circumcised. Three days after the circumcision ceremonies, when the men concerned would have been at their most vulnerable, Simeon and Levi murdered them all. Genesis 34 v 31,32 records how, when Jacob was angry with this, Levi replied that they had treated his sister like a prostitute, and this could not be allowed.
Levi became the ancestor of the Jewish tribe of Levi, the Levites, the members of which were concerned with religious duties alongside the priests. Through the descendants of his son Kohath, the various levels of religious service were allocated. In the Jewish Apocryphal text the Levi Document; Levi is ordained to the priesthood by angelic beings. In another apocryphal document, The Book of Jubilees, Jacob, on his deathbed, passes on to Levi special secrets known to the ancients.
When the group reached Canaan, the country was divided among the twelve tribes, but the Levites received cities rather than land according to Joshua 13 v 33 ‘Because the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance.’ The other tribes paid them tithes of their own crops and herds. Included in this tribe are Moses, Aaron and Miriam through Levi’s grandson Amram. In the book of Numbers, (chapter 18) the Levites are given responsibility for serving the priests. All priests are Levites as Aaron was, but not all Levites were priests. Before the Exodus the eldest son of each family would play the priestly role, but after the Exodus priests were only made from the descendants of Aaron. The duties of the Levites included singing during Temple services, carrying out any construction and maintenance needed for the Temple. They also served as guards around the tabernacle and Levites also worked as both teachers and judges. The prophet Ezra reported that the Levites were in charge of building work on the Second Temple. They also would both translate and explain the Torah when it was read in public.
Bible and World History
At the time of Levi Thebes in Egypt was the world’s largest city and the fabulous Lion Gate of Hattushash, in what is now Turkey, was constructed. Nearer to Levi, the Canaanite city of Ugarit was at its greatest size.
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