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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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Under this name may be comprised all the descendants of Levi; but it principally denotes those who were employed in the lowest ministries of the temple, by which they were distinguished from the priests, who, being descended from Aaron, were likewise of the race of Levi by Kohath, but were employed in higher offices. The Levites were descendants of Levi, by Gershom, Kohath, and Merari, excepting the family of Aaron; for the children of Moses had no part in the priesthood, and were only common Levites. God chose the Levites instead of the first-born of all Israel, for the service of his tabernacle and temple, Numbers 3:6 , &c. They obeyed the priests in the ministrations of the temple, and brought to them wood, water, and other things necessary for the sacrifices. They sung and played on instruments, in the temple, &c; they studied the law, and were the ordinary judges of the country, but subordinate to the priests.

God provided for the subsistence of the Levites, by giving them the tithe of corn, fruit, and cattle; but they paid to the priests the tenth of their tithes; and as the Levites possessed no estates in the land, the tithes which the priests received from them were looked upon as the first-fruits which they were to offer to the Lord, Numbers 18:21-24 . God assigned them for their habitations forty-eight cities, with fields, pastures, and gardens, Numbers 35. Of these thirteen were given to the priests, six of which were cities of refuge, Joshua 20:7 ; Joshua 21:19-20 , &c. While the Levites were actually employed in the temple, they were subsisted out of the provisions in store there, and out of the daily offerings there made; and if any Levite quitted the place of his abode, to serve the temple, even out of the time of his half-yearly or weekly waiting, he was received there, kept and provided for, in like manner as his other brethren, who were regularly in waiting, Deuteronomy 18:6-8 . The consecration of Levites was without much ceremony. They wore no particular habit to distinguish them from the other Israelites, and God ordained nothing particularly for their mourning, 2 Chronicles 29:34 . The manner of their consecration may be seen in Numbers 8:5-7 , &c.

Josephus says, that in the reign of Agrippa, king of the Jews, about A.D. 62, six years before the destruction of the temple by the Romans, the Levites desired permission from that prince to wear the linen tunic like the priests; and this was granted. This innovation was displeasing to the priests; and the Jewish historian remarks, that the ancient customs of the country were never forsaken with impunity. He adds, that Agrippa permitted likewise the families of the Levites, whose duty it was to guard the doors, and perform other troublesome offices, to learn to sing and play on instruments, that they might be qualified for the temple service as musicians. The Levites were divided into different classes: Gershonites, Kohathites, Merarites, and Aaronites or priests, Numbers 3, &c. The Gershonites, whose number was seven thousand five hundred, were employed in the marches through the wilderness in carrying the veils and curtains of the tabernacle; the Kohathites, whose number was eight thousand six hundred, in carrying the ark and sacred vessels of the tabernacle; the Merarites, whose number was six thousand two hundred, in carrying the several pieces of the tabernacle which could not be placed upon the chariots; and the Aaronites were the priests who served the sanctuary. When the Hebrews encamped in the wilderness, the Levites were placed around the tabernacle; Moses and Aaron at the east, Gershon at the west, Kohath at the south, and Merari at the north. Moses ordained that the Levites should not begin in the service of the tabernacle till they were five-and-twenty years of age, Numbers 8:24-26 ; or, as he says elsewhere, from thirty to fifty years old, Numbers 4:3 . But David, finding that they were no longer employed in these grosser offices of transporting the vessels of the tabernacle, appointed them to enter on service at the temple at twenty years of age. The priests and Levites waited by turns, weekly, in the temple. They began their weeks on one Sabbath day, and on the Sabbath day in the following week went out of waiting, 1 Chronicles 23:24 ; 2 Chronicles 21:17 ; Ezra 3:8 . When an Israelite made a religious entertainment in the temple, God required that the Levites should be invited to it, Deuteronomy 12:18-19 .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Levites'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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