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.

16 Comments

  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.

  8. Shami Cee

    Grace was available to all the Israelites, but the difference was that the Levites said YES to the Lord. When we are on the side of salvation (Jesus) then we are safe.

  9. Amira Kamara

    interesting answers.well done every one.

    first of all in the book of Exodus 30:30 we can clearly see when God told Moses ‘anoint thy brother Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests’.
    that was before the building and worship of the Golden calf.
    in Exudus 32:26-29. This was where the levites proved themselves faithful to God.
    As Elias Kanunu also hinted, I think that God chose to bestow upon them this priestlyhood as God decided to favour Leah as she was not loved by her husband Jacob.(Genesis 29:30-31)
    so Leah decided to give his Third son the name levi and then said ‘now my hushand will love me and will be attached to me’.
    in Hebrew, Levi means joint together, attached. this i believe God honoured those positive pronouncement and God made the Levites his inheritance.(numbers 18:20)

  10. You say the tribe of Levi were chosen to be priests to the Lord because they were the ones obedient to God after the “golden calf” incident in Exodus 32:26–29.

    However, this is not exactly true. Aaron and his sons were chosen before Israel made the golden calf. Numerous verses in Exodus 28 confirm this. The chapter opens with the words

    “Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me–Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. (Exodus 28:1 NASB)

  11. Rev. Vinod

    God’s original plan of Priesthood wasn’t Levites but the firstborns. Consider the below scripture:

    Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priesthood a holy nation.. (Exo 19:6)

    God can change his mind over you and me. Let’s not take things for granted!

    And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’” 28 So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29 Then Moses said, “Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother. Exo 32:27…

    God chose Levites because they were not only on the side of God but were ready to execute the righteous judgement of God over grave wickedness of Idolatry. Every man against “brother and neighbor” You know I can smell the spirit of Jesus words here, “If anyone doesn’t hate his brother, mother, father, wife , children etc cannot become my disciple.. Luke 14:26.

    Lord let me bury my father and then I will follow you… Jesus said, Let the DEAD BURY THEIR OWN DEAD.. But you go…

    In other words, Levites suppressed their human emotions and relations for the sake of God… this is Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength… this is First love…

    God chose them… such people will go way beyond to serve the living God.

  12. Rev. Vinod

    God’s original plan of Priesthood wasn’t Levites but the firstborns. Consider the below scripture:

    Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priesthood a holy nation.. (Exo 19:6)

    God can change his mind over you and me. Let’s not take things for granted!

    And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’” 28 So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29 Then Moses said, “Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother. Exo 32:27…

    God chose Levites because they were not only on the side of God but were ready to execute the righteous judgement of God over grave wickedness of Idolatry. Every man against “brother and neighbor” You know I can smell the spirit of Jesus words here, “If anyone doesn’t hate his brother, mother, father, wife , children etc cannot become my disciple.. Luke 14:26.

    Lord let me bury my father and then I will follow you… Jesus said, Let the DEAD BURY THEIR OWN DEAD.. But you go…

    In other words, Levites suppressed their human emotions and relations for the sake of God… this is Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength… this is First love…

    God chose them… such people will go way beyond to serve the living God.. to achieve things that call of duty demands.

  13. Synner Mayocdan

    I happened to pass by dear brethren, as I seek for ways to discuss why Levites are very significant in the praise and worship part of a service.

    Ev. Victor B., I agree with you 100%… and sir Elias K., I believe Grace is (as grace is explained in the NT) why God favored the Levites. Yes they stood for God, and for this act they were rewarded, by God’s graciousness; then later the favor of being able to draw near to God first being guardians of the tabernacle, as He said, “the Levites are mine.”

    Just this brethren. And yes, stand firm Levites! Guard them tabernacles!

  14. I’m blessed by all your comments

  15. Ozioma Nwokoye

    I actually got to this page while I was searching for what liberated the Levites and set them up for greatness. As we all know, Levi was cursed alongside his two elder brothers by their father Jacob because of their sins. His sins however reduced him to one of the smallest among the tribes. When Moses asked who is on the Lords side, he was the only bold one who could stand up for the Lord, that was the beginning of his new found position as the priest of God forever. His priesthood was not as a result of his name but as a result of his action. James equally stresses the need for action (works) in James 2:17). Levi did not let his cursed state keep him down, he acted himself out of curses into blessings by that single action he took on that day.

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