Levites and their Religious Practices -- By: Larry G. Herr

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 01:4 (Autumn 1988)
Article: Levites and their Religious Practices
Author: Larry G. Herr

Levites and their Religious Practices

Larry G. Herr*

*Larry G. Herr is professor of Old Testament at Canadian Union College in Alberta, Canada. He has participated in many excavations in the Mideast.

Teraphim - family gods mentioned in Genesis 31:19, 34; 35:1, 2. Perhaps the silver image of Yahweh owned by Micah, the DanJte, was like these.

The Levites traced their ancestry back to Levi, the third son of Jacob. But it was Moses and Aaron, the two great heroes of Israel’s Exodus, who under God’s direction gave the tribe its greatest prestige and standing. Ultimately it became one of the most influential tribes in Israel, owing to its position as holder of the Temple priesthood.

Levites given cities

Although this honor is viewed as a blessing, the tribe of Levi was not blessed with a territorial allotment as were the other tribes. This lack of landed inheritance in Israel could be seen as the result of an unfortunate situation (Genesis 49:5–7; see also 14:28, 29), but it was compensated by the spiritual honor of having God as their inheritance (Deuteronomy 10:9).

According to Joshua 21, the Levites were given 48 cities in which they lived, and most likely fulfilled the ritual needs of the town and its region. Of course, these local rites were not to take the place of the tabernacle (or Temple) ceremonies, but the Levitical presence was needed among all the tribes to prevent backsliding and apostasy, as well as to educate those whose homes were far from the central sanctuary. Note that most of the Levitical cities appeared to be situated far from the major centers of Israelite religion - Shiloh, Bethel, Jerusalem, and Shechem - and were, in fact, clustered near the traditional borders of tribal Israel.

However, the record shows that Levites were not confined to the designated Levitical cities, nor did they always retain a form of strict orthodoxy as they sought to make their living. For example, a young Levite once hired himself to a rich family in Ephraim, headed by a

man named Micah, to minister in the family shrine that included a silver image of Yahweh! ( Judges 17). Later the Danites, migrating from the region of their original tribal allotment in the lowlands west of Je...

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