The Book of Leviticus concerns itself with the rules and regulations concerning the sacrifices, the priesthood, the sacred feasts, and other various laws. As the narrative begins an assumption is made that the reader is familiar with the five sacrifices and the seven annual sacred feasts presided over by the Levites, the priests of Israel. The history of the Levites as priests is a manifestation of the grace of God given the history of the patriarch of the family, Levi.
Levi was the third son of Jacob and Leah. Genesis 29:34 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore, was his name called Levi. The year in which Levi was born is calculated to be c. 1945 BC.
Little is known about Levi as the son of Jacob with some notable exceptions. Levi, with his brother Simeon, had a full sister named Dinah (Heb. justice). While Jacob was dwelling in Shechem, Dinah was seduced by Shechem, the son of Hamor, the prince of the country. The terrible story is told in Genesis 34.
Being between the age of 13 and 15, the ordinary period of marriage in the East, Dinah was a candidate for marriage. Shechem offered to make reparation for the terrible deed he had done by paying a sum of money to Jacob, and marrying Dinah.
Later, the Law of Moses would demand this very reparation. Deuteronomy 22:28 If a man finds a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; 29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
Jacob declined the offer of Shechem to marry Dinah until he had consulted with his sons. Jacob’s hesitancy alarmed Hamor, Shechem’s father. Hamor encouraged the marriage to take place in order to ease the growing tension, unite the families in marriage, and promote commerce.
Unfortunately for Hamor and his son Shechem, Levi and his brother Simeon were committed to avenging the defilement of their sister. They would find their revenge, but in the most unusual military strategy recorded in Scripture.
Levi and Simeon pretended that they would support the marriage of Shechem to Dinah upon one condition. Hamor, Shechem, and all the men of Shechem had to be circumcised. Circumcision had become the sign of accepting the covenant relationship with God. If the Shechemites would be united with the Hebrew family then they had to accept the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and receive the ritual of circumcision.
The men of Shechem agreed to this provision which physically incapacitated them to the point that on the third day, Levi and Simeon were able to move to murder them and take their sister back home. Dinah probably continued unmarried and went with her father Jacob into Egypt.
Genesis 46:15 These be the sons of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob in Padan-aram, with his daughter Dinah: all the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty and three.
The ability of Levi to become angry and hurt others is revealed in another incident recorded in Scripture. Levi shared in the hatred that his brothers had to Joseph. Genesis 37:4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.
Levi joined his brothers in the terrible plot against Joseph which was carried out at Dothan. The story is told in Genesis 37:12-32. Only by the grace of God, and divine providence, did Joseph survive the jealous intentions of his brothers to get rid of him.
Years later, when Levi had matured, married, and had a family of his own, he was forced to go down to Egypt in order to survive the famine. By this time Levi had three sons – Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Together they went down to Egypt. Genesis 46:11 And the sons of Levi; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
As one of the oldest sons of Jacob, it is probable that Levi was specially presented to Pharaoh following his reconciliation with Joseph. Genesis 47:2 And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh.
The last mention of the patriarch Levi is found in Genesis 49. On his deathbed Jacob remembered the old crime against the Shechemites, and denounced what had happened. Genesis 49:5 Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. 6 O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger, they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
Many years later, c. 1520 BC, a descendant of Levi, through his son Kohath, would have a son who would become known to the world as Moses. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.