I. The Name (from Deut. 18:1)

According to Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 2, p. 358, the name "Levi" can have three possible etymological sources:

A. "to whirl around," assuming a ritual dance or procedure (similar to the dance of the prophets of Ba'al in 1 Kgs. 18:26)

B. "to accompany someone" or "to be attached to someone," possibly the popular etymology given in Gen. 29:34, also note Num. 18:2,4

C. "to lend," "to give as a pledge," possibly referring to and parallel to "given," referring to the firstborn to YHWH (Num. 3:12; 8:16) or to Samuel being given to YHWH in 1 Sam. 1:28

There are several developmental stages involved:

A. at the Exodus it was the firstborn from every family that was given to YHWH, to serve Him (cf. Exodus 13)

B. this was changed (Mosaic Covenant) to one particular tribe (i.e., Levi) who functioned as YHWH's special servants (cf. Num. 3:12; 8:16)

C. this was modified in Israel's history:

1. some Levitical families served at the central sanctuary

2. others ministered locally

3. later rabbinical Judaism expanded the concept of local Levitical teachers into local rabbis or scribes, but not necessarily from the tribe of Levi

D. for a good discussion of another theory see

1. The Language and Imagery of the Bible, by G. B. Caird, p. 70

2. Ancient Israel by Roland de Vaux, vol. 2, pp. 360-371


II. Set Apart For (taken from Dr. Utley's notes at Deut. 10:8)

The verb "set apart" (BDB 95, KB 110, Hiphil perfect, cf. Num. 8:14; 16:9; 1 Chr. 23:13) means "to divide." Here the separation is for

A. special cultic service related to the tabernacle and later temple

B. blessings of the people (cf. Deut. 10:8; Lev.9:22-23; Num. 6:22-27)

C. judging the people's disputes (cf. Deut. 21:5)

D. judging between clean and unclean (cf. Lev. 10:10)

This verb is parallel to "choose" (BDB 103, KB 119, cf. Deut.18:5; 21:5).

Israel was to be separate from the other nations (cf. Lev. 20:24-26; 1 Kgs. 8:53; i.e., "a holy nation," cf. Exod. 19:6), so the tribe of Levi was to be separated from the other tribes as YHWH's special cultic servants.

They were chosen because

A. Levi was from the tribe of Moses and Aaron

B. the Levites took the place of the "first born" for the Hebrews (cf. Exod.13; Num. 3:12; 8:14-19)

C. the Levites faithfully responded to Moses' call to punish Israel (cf. Exod. 32:25-29)

In Gen. 29:34, Leah called her first son Levi because her husband did not love her, but the child's name meant, "Jacob was attached (or joined) to me" (BDB 532).

As the priestly tribe, they will:

A. carry the ark of the covenant

B. stand before the Lord to serve Him (i.e., all the duties at the tabernacle and later, the temple, in Jerusalem, cf. Deut. 18:5; Num. 18:1-7

C. bless in His name (e.g., Num. 6:24-27)

Later there will develop specific tasks given to some families of Levi to be priests and others will function as Levites. However, in Deuteronomy all Levites can act as priests (compare Deut. 31:9 and 25). See Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 2, pp. 358-371.

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