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People's Dictionary of the Bible


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Levites (lç'vîtes). A term applied sometimes to all the descendants of Levi. Numbers 35:2; Joshua 21:3; Joshua 21:41; Exodus 6:25; Leviticus 25:32, etc. But the "sons of Aaron" were separated from the rest of the descendants of Levi and consecrated priests; hence, after this the Levites comprised only those descendants of Levi who were not "sons of Aaron"—that is, priests. 1 Kings 8:4; Ezra 2:70; John 1:19, etc. Sometimes, also, the term was used to show from what tribe the priests came—"the priests the Levites." Joshua 3:3; Deuteronomy 17:18. The Levites numbered 22,000 in the wilderness, and took the place of the first-born, part of whom were redeemed at five shekels each, Numbers 3:45-51, the fixed ransom for a victim vowed in sacrifice. Numbers 18:16; Leviticus 27:6. Thus the Levites came to occupy in the Hebrew theocracy a position midway between the priests and the people. They consisted of three great families, the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites, of which the first carried the sacred vessels, the second the hangings and curtains of the tabernacle, and the third the boards and pillars. They also kept the book of the Law, Deuteronomy 17:8-12, and served as judges, etc. Forty-eight cities, with 1000 cubits of the country surrounding, were appropriated for the residence and maintenance of the Levites. Besides these cities, with adjacent districts, the Levites received a tithe of all produce, animal and vegetable, but of this they paid a tithe to the priests. Numbers 18:20-32. Another tithe they received every third year, and special provision was made for them during the term they administered in the sanctuary. In the time of David their number had increased to 38,000, of which 24,000 were set apart for the ordinary services, 6000 for the teaching of the Law and the administration of justice, 4000 as porters, and 4000 as musicians. They were divided into courses, and came up from their cities to the sanctuary in regular rotation. 1 Chronicles 23:1-32; 1 Chronicles 24:20-31; 1 Chronicles 25:1-31; 1 Chronicles 26:1-32. When the separation took place between the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah, all the Levites gathered to Judah, 2 Chronicles 11:13-15, and they continued to play a conspicuous part in the destinies of this kingdom. After the captivity, however, only a small number of them returned, Ezra 2:36-42; Ezra 8:10; Ezra 6:18; but in the new organization they assumed their old positions. They settled in the villages near Jerusalem, received their old tithes, etc. Nehemiah 10:37-39; Nehemiah 12:29. In the New Testament they occur as representatives of a formal worship destitute of love. Luke 10:32. The distinction of Levite is still maintained among the Jews.

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Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Levites'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. 1893.

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