“Here is what Adonai, the God of Isra’el, says: ‘Each of you, put his sword on his side; and go up and down the camp, from gate to gate; and every man is to kill his own kinsman, his own friend and his own neighbor!” The sons of Levi did what Moshe said, and that day three thousand of the people died. Moshe said, “You have consecrated yourselves today to Adonai, because every one of you has been against his own son and against his own kinsman, in order to bring a blessing on yourselves today.”-Exodus 32:27-29
When Moses made the call for those loyal to the Lord to join him, notice it was the Levites, those destined to be priests and attendants to the Lord, who rallied around Moses.
However, at this point in time, the priesthood was not yet in existence.
The Levites had yet to be declared priests.
So why was it only the Levites who rallied around Moses?
The answer is simple and here we get another glimpse of the essence of Tribalism, a social system where blood is indeed thicker than water or anything else.
Recall that Moses was a Levite.
“A man from the family of Levi took a woman also descended from Levi as his wife.”-Exodus 2:1
So Moses was kin.
And his current station also effectively made him the head of the Levite Tribe.
So of course, it was the Tribe of Levi who rallied around Moses.
This was pure fleshly driven human politics, plain and simple.
But even through these human motives, the Lord was accomplishing His will.
At God’s command, each of the Levites who had joined Moses drew his sword and slaughtered 3000 of the golden calf worshippers.
The way verse 27 is worded also implies that they killed some of their fellow Levites as well, so it appears that not every Levite in the camp had rallied around Moses.
Verse 29 is even more startling.
Moses told them that by not even sparing their own SONS, they had consecrated themselves to God.
In other words, given the choice between obeying the Lord or executing your own child for idolatry, you are to place obedience to the Lord above your own desires.
This is what sets you apart.
I would say that it was at this very moment the Levites had been consecrated and divided away from the rest of Israel to become God’s priests.
And this reality would be confirmed shortly in a formal ceremony.
There is another interesting point I want you to notice about the Levites separating themselves to join Moses and then slaughtering their kinsman.
Let’s go back to the Book of Genesis.
Recall these prophetic words from Jacob when he was on his deathbed and surrounded by his 12 sons.
“Simeon and Levi are brothers, related by weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let my honor not be connected with their people; for in their anger they killed men, and at their whim they maimed cattle. Cursed be their anger, for it has been fierce. I will divide them in Jacob, and I will scatter them in Israel.”-Genesis 49:5-7
Remember that it was Levi and Simeon who led the revenge raid on the helpless city of Shechem in retaliation for the king’s son raping their sister Dinah.
They slaughtered all the males, destroyed the livestock and enslaved the women and children who were spared.
Jacob’s final harsh words predicted that the destinies of Simeon and Levi would be constantly dealing in blood and violence.
However, more than that, the real meaning of “I will divide them in Jacob” is now revealed right here in Exodus chapter 32.
The Levites are divided from the rest of Israel…that is, they are DIVIDED IN JACOB.
Don’t forget that “Israel” and “Jacob” are synonymous.
However, unlike the evil that was committed in Shechem, here their violent natures are put to good use when at the Lord’s command they slaughtered the Golden Calf worshippers including even their own children.
Although I’m getting ahead of myself here, there is a second part of Jacob’s prophetic blessing that will be fulfilled much later when the land of Canaan gets divvied up among the tribes of Israel.
When the territory of Canaan gets divided up, the Levites will NOT receive any land.
Instead, they will be SCATTERED throughout the territories of the other tribes and given 48 cities to live in.
This is how the “I will scatter them in Israel” part of Jacob’s pronouncement will be fulfilled.
Isn’t it awesome how interconnected the Lord’s Word is?
The Levites, when they become the priests, will be the ones to deal with blood and killing on a daily basis.
But instead of murderous, revenge blood, this time it will be SACRIFICIAL BLOOD.
From that point on, the violent nature of Levi will be used for good.
God is indeed a master at taking a lemon and making lemonade out of it.