A tribe is a group of families who are related by virtue of descending from a common ancestor. All Christians have a common ancestor—God our Father—and by faith we are also “Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). Abraham was the founding father of Israel and his grandson, Jacob, sired twelve sons who became tribal patriarchs. All twelve tribes were initially chosen by God to be “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6), but they failed to fulfill that purpose. Instead, the Tribe of Levi emerged as a unique clan of spiritual leaders.
In Exodus 32, while Moses was on Mount Sinai with God, the Israelites grew restless and demanded that Aaron build them an idol to worship. Notice how some people only do right when leaders are present to monitor their behavior. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. Why do kids behave better when parents are present than when they are absent? Why do employees work harder when their boss is around? Why do people toe the legal line when police are nearby? Because behavior observed changes. Moses was gone, but God was still watching. We should live with the realization that God is always observing our behavior.
The human heart tends to wander, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Is. 53:6). Only a few months elapsed since God sent ten plagues on Egypt, delivered Israel from four centuries of slavery, opened the Red Sea, and drowned Pharaoh’s army. Less than forty days after seeing a spectacular display of God’s glory on Mount Sinai and hearing His audible voice utter the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were singing, worshipping, and dancing naked around a golden calf (breaking several laws God just issued). A calf or bull is a beast of burden, used in Bible days to pull a wagon, plow, or carry a load. It does work for you. The symbolism implies Israel wanted a god who would serve them rather than a God they had to serve. The Egyptian god, Hapi, was represented by a bull, so they were reverting to paganism. When Moses, a Levite, saw the idol, he smashed the stone tablets in fury, and asked a burning question that still echoes today: “Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him” (Ex. 32:26). Notice the Levites answered Moses’ call and distinguished themselves in four ways:
L. oyalty. The Tribe of Levi was faithful to God when others weren’t, refusing to indulge in idolatry. An idol isn’t just a statue of stone, wood, or metal. It can be anything we allow to replace God as the number one priority of our lives or dominate our time and attention. America’s golden calves take many forms—materialism, pleasure, and entertainment. Our culture worships celebrities, movie stars, singers, musicians, and athletes. The secular has replaced the sacred. Smart phones and other devices, which can be beneficial tools, have become digital vampires that drain our spiritual life. While this world is consumed with idolatry, God still has a righteous remnant of modern Levites who remain loyal to Him.
E. xtremism. Normally we avoid extremism, but the Levites were required to do some radical things. They were consecrated to God for the priesthood and as caretakers of the Tabernacle. Plus, Moses made them execute 3,000 fellow Jews (perhaps the ringleaders) who worshipped the golden calf. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating violence against people. One major difference between then and now is Israel fought natural battles and enemies using natural weapons while the church today fights spiritual battles and enemies with spiritual weapons (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). This violence is not directed at people but at evil forces that try to hinder our spiritual progress (Eph. 6:12). Levi became the bloody tribe who later offered atoning sacrifices to God. People will label you an extremist if you dedicate yourself to fast, pray, worship, study the Word, take mission trips, or work for kingdom causes. That’s alright. David got extreme when he danced before the Ark with all his might. Mary got extreme when she poured her pricey perfume over Jesus. Even Jesus got extreme when He wove a whip and cleansed the Temple. We’re not extremists; we’re just Levites who are extremely committed to the cause of Christ.
V. alidation. Levi means “joined” and they were united to the Lord in perpetual ministry. God’s favor rested upon them as they were set apart and anointed to serve in the priesthood and experienced God’s Shekinah glory. To “validate” means “to give official sanction, confirmation, or approval.” We too have received God’s stamp of approval by the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). In Bible times, letters were sealed with hot wax in which a signet ring was pressed leaving an identification mark and securing the document. God has placed His brand on us and is preserving us. Modern seals keep the contents in a container fresh and keep contamination out. The Holy Spirit does both—He keeps our walk with God vibrant and keeps spiritual toxins out.
I. nheritance. “Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the Lord is his inheritance” (Dt. 10:9). When Canaan Land was divided, the Levites were not given a specific territory. Instead, they were scattered throughout Israel in forty-eight cities. We too are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Plus, we have received the down payment of our heavenly inheritance. “You were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee [KJV—earnest] of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13-14). Earnest money is a deposit, a small down payment on the price of a house. It is a promise to pay the rest. The gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee to return and give us the remainder of our inheritance. Our spiritual inheritance is not cars, houses, boats, land, or money; rather, it includes all God has and all God is. So whatever you do, don’t sell your heavenly heritage for a carnal counterfeit. Remember, we are spiritual Levites—the Tribe on the Lord’s Side.