3 Powerful Life Lessons in the Biblical Story of Levi
- Hope Bolinger Author
- 2020 6 Apr
The name Levi may not readily come to mind when recalling Biblical stories. We don’t often hear many sermons about him. Some of us may have sung a Messiah song about his sons, but beyond that, who was Levi?
Levi has a significant role in the priesthood of Israel, and all of his sons take up levitical (priestly) roles. This is the reason why a man named Korah held a revolt (Numbers 16)—because he got angry that God decided to give the sons of Levi the priestly duties.
Levi, one of the twelve sons of Israel (Jacob), became the head of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. As mentioned above, Levi’s tribe in particular had a number of important religious tasks and duties.
As for the name Levi, we actually know quite a few biblical characters by this name. Not only is Levi the name of a man who became the head of a tribe of Israel, but it also belongs to a disciple of Jesus, who also went by the name Matthew (Mark 2:14). Two other men also went by the name of Levi in Jesus’ genealogy.
This article will center on Jacob’s son, Levi. We’ll explore the historical context of his story, where you can find him in the Bible, and what you can learn from this Levi.
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What Is the Context of the Story of Levi?
We first meet Levi when Leah gives birth to him in Genesis 29:34. For those who may not know the story of Jacob, Jacob works for his relative Laban for seven years to marry his youngest daughter, Rachel. But, on his wedding night, Laban tricks Jacob and replaces Rachel with his older daughter Leah.
Jacob begrudgingly works another seven years and also weds Rachel, scorning his other wife. Leah, who felt forgotten, was blessed with giving birth to many children, including the third son she gave birth to: Levi.
Levi’s name means “attached” echoing Leah’s hope that perhaps because she gave birth to sons that her husband would grow attached or fond of her.
Our other two snapshots of Levi don’t present him in the best of lights.
Levi Uses Vengeance as a Ruse for Justice
First, we encounter Levi in Genesis 34, when his sister Dinah is raped by a man named Shechem. Levi and his brother Simeon then convince Shechem, and all the males in his city, to circumcise themselves when Shechem asks for Dinah’s hand in marriage. While the men of that city are down for the count, Levi and Simeon lay waste to them.
Although they rightfully want justice for their sister, they take the act of wrath and revenge too far by ransacking a city and carrying off their women, an act of violence they appeared to be fighting to redeem, and instead they repeat.
Even Jacob makes mention that they took it too far, and had incensed great foreign powers.
Levi Collaborates in Deceit to Harm Joseph
Second, we see Levi collaborating with nine of his brothers to sell Rachel’s son Joseph when Joseph shares with his brothers some dreams that paint his family in a bad light. Levi didn’t like the idea of having to bow down before his little brother (Genesis 37).
As many know the story goes, the brothers enter Egypt several years later during a famine, and their brother Joseph saves them from starving...revealing himself to be very much alive and well.
At the end of Genesis, Jacob pronounces a prophecy over his sons.
He doesn’t have a pleasant one for Levi. Because of Levi’s violence and slaughter of many men, Jacob says those of his tribe will be scattered (Genesis 49).
What Can Christians Learn from Levi’s Story?
We may look at Levi’s story and wonder how on earth we could learn from a man like him? In his anger, he slays an entire city of men with his brother, and he sells his own brother into slavery in Egypt.
Can a man born of a scorned wife who chose a dangerous life have any effect on the New Testament and even in our own lives?
As is typical with many flawed people in the Bible, the story doesn’t just end with him.
First, we can learn that not all bad family trees lead to bad apples.
Levi’s family tree had many great descendants. As cataloged in this article, some of these descendants include Moses, Ezra, and John the Baptist.
Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest man who ever lived in Matthew 11:11. Moses also goes down in the Hall of faith in Hebrews 11:23-28, and Ezra helped lead the reconstruction of Jerusalem after the Israelites returned from the Babylonian exile.
Levi’s family gives birth to many great descendants who play an integral role in the salvation of Israel, and ultimately, the salvation of the world.
Second, we can learn that God gives great tasks to lesser people.
If you take a look at Levi’s family alone, it looks like something straight out of a “cautionary tale” reality TV show. He has multiple parents and his dad also sleeps around with concubines. His dad plays favorites with his wives and children, pitting everyone against each other. And his own sister is raped by a man who claims to love her. And her own father throws up his hands and essentially says, “Well, what can you do? They’re powerful nations.”
You can’t find stuff this scandalous, even on shows like The Bachelor.
Nevertheless, God uses the remains of a broken family and creates an entire nation from their lines. And through the violent hands of Levi, God allows for his descendants to get involved in the important priestly duties.
Third, our actions earlier in life may have consequences in the future.
Considering the story of Levi, this principle can have multiple applications.
First, maybe in our younger days we “got away” with a sinful behavior. But later on in life, it took a physical, mental, or spiritual toll on us.
Or, our sins we struggled with during different points of our lives may lead our children to be tempted by the same struggles. Maybe we had too much of a taste for alcohol, and now our kids are wanting to have one drink too many, for instance.
In the case of Levi, although he rightly wanted justice for the actions against his sister, takes the avenging too far. He forgets that vengeance belongs to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35). Because of this, his future descendants, though many, would end up scattered.
Levi wasn’t without flaws. He came from a messed-up family, and many of his actions lead to deaths and years of hardship in Egypt for his brother Joseph.
Nevertheless, God allows for Levi’s descendants to play an extremely important role in Israel, and many great descendants come from Levi’s line, including John the Baptist.
Through Levi, we can learn the importance and repercussions of our actions. Although we may not always see the consequences in our own lifetimes, our children or their descendants may have to overcome obstacles or temptations because we didn’t think through an action earlier.
But no matter what we’ve done, God can still redeem anything. He can still purify the sons of Levi (Malachi 3:3)—and he can still purify us.
Photo Credit: ©Sparrowstock
Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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