Numbers 3:10-12, Why were the Levites selected for the priesthood?

The LORD also said to Moses, “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD.”

//To prove his power, one day God killed all the firstborn of Egypt. Every firstborn son died, except those among the Israelites, because they had sprinkled the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. But God didn’t merely spare Israel’s firstborn; he consecrated them to himself. The firstborn were to belong to God. 

Later, God accepts the Levites in place of the firstborn … see today’s verse. Numbers 3:46 explains that, because there lived more firstborn sons in Israel than there were Levites, God collected “redemption money” of five shekels for each of the 273 extra firstborn, and gave the money to Aaron.

But why the switch? Why choose the tribe of Levi over the firstborn, and set them up as the priesthood? Perhaps because of their ability or willingness to slaughter animals for sacrifice?

No, not animals. As the story goes, shortly after Israel escaped from Egypt, they built a golden calf. God was displeased. But the men of the tribe of Levi stood up and offered to take care of the situation. So here is what God asked of them:

So [Moses] stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him. Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. –Exodus 32:26-28

So the Levites were chosen because of their faithfulness. The God who slaughtered all the firstborn of Egypt chooses for himself the tribe willing to slaughter three thousand more people.


  1. I actually read this passage recently. A few questions come to my mind. For example, was it always the case that a redemption price had to be paid for the extra firstborn? The number of Levites would not always match the number of firstborn. So would a census be regularly taken to see how many excess firstborn there were? The problem with that is that God did not particularly care for the census, and tolerated it at times as a necessary evil.

    BTW—-I found out yesterday that I actually have the Book of Lilith! Never read it, though.

  2. Interesting insight that God doesn’t care much for census! There is so much depth in the Bible, isn’t there?

    So…do you have Brown’s Book of Lilith, or one that is a bit more scholarly? 😉 I put a post up awhile back about Lilith, maybe a year ago I don’t know, and it continues to get a lot of hits. So, I threw this review up.

  3. Oh, looks like I have a different one. Barbara Black Koltuv’s The Book of Lilith.

  4. olukayode ogunlade

    please, i want to know why God asked Moses not to count the children of Levite like other tribes and why he later count them.

  5. Evangelist Victor Berrios

    Great observations, everyone! My observations are quite different. Let me share with you! Everyone has commented why God has chosen the Levites over the first born. I happened to see it a little bit differently.

    In Luke chapter 10:26 there was a certain lawyer who stood up and tempted Jesus. Nobody knows the law better than a lawyer! So the question Jesus asked him is very interesting. The question was in reference to eternal life. Jesus ask the lawyer what is:

    ” written in the law? How do you read it?”

    In other words the Lord asked him:

    ” how do you understand it. How do you interpret it?”

    The way I interpret this passage,is to me, it’s not about God choosing the Levites over the first born. Rather the point of scripture is that the Levites stood out & above all the other tribes of Israel and chose to serve God. The Levites where on God’s side.(see Ex 32:26). They proved they were on God’s side.(Ex 32:27-28). After all the Bible does declare that faith without works is dead! (James 2:26).

    I hope my point of view was helpful the other point of view was very helpful to me. May the Lord bless you all!

  6. Cynthia.

    olukayode,the first count was for the men that were to go to war.That’s why the Levites were left out.They were set aside for priestly duties.

  7. Elias kanunu

    I think all the answers lie back in Genesis when Levi was born the meaning of his name says it all also read Hebrews 7:2 it’s not abt what the levites did but HIS Grace i hope i make sense.

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