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The Covenant Of Levi

This is one of the lesser known Bible covenants. The expression occurs in a most remarkable portion of Scripture, Malachi 2:4-8. The covenant was not made with Levi himself but with Aaron and his brethren, Levi's sons of the fourth generation

Levi was Jacob's third son. He was born of Leah in the first birth group recorded in Genesis 29. The names of the four (Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah, being respectively by interpretation, behold a son, hearing, join ed, and praise) prefigured the sequence and climax of the work of grace in our own day. The "joining" of Levi in his early experiences were unpleasant and greatly deplored by Jacob in Gen. 49:5,6; but the consequent scattering in judgement of his sons in Israel (v.7) was to prove a potential channel of blessing to the nation. Then they would be joined to God in an itinerant ministry among the tribes.

The covenant of Levi was made with his tribal sons who came out of Egypt. It can be traced to Exodus 32 when Moses, himself a Levite, stood in the gate of the camp in hot anger and said: "Whoso is on the LORD'S side, let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him" (v.26). Their consecration to the Lord that day brought the blessing of God on the tribe, as He so expressly commanded in Numbers 3:6: "Bring the tribe of Levi near..." The tribe was to be exempt from war and was to be appointed to the service of the dwelling-place of God. In addition, from the tribe, Aaron and his sons were selected for the priesthood. Thus the covenant of Levi can doubtless best be understood as the vesting of the priesthood in perpetuity in the male descendants of Aaron and the gift of all other aspects of the service of the house of God as committed to the male descendants of the rest of the tribe of Levi (see Numbers 3:5-10). When the service of God began there were 22,000 Levites in Israel (Num. 3:40-51), but only five men available for the priesthood: Aaron and his four sons. They were to serve the spiritual requirements of a nation of some two or three million people. Sadly even this tiny group was reduced to three by the tragic deaths of Nadab and Abihu in the early days of their service. They died childless. This left only Aaron with his younger sons Eleazar and Ithamar. Through one of these two the high priesthood would continue. And jealousy for God in the matter of Baal-peor determined the continuity of the office through Phinehas the son of Eleazar (Num. .11). God gave to Phinehas His "covenant of peace", assuring to him and to his sons after him "an everlasting priesthood". It would endure throughout Israel's national history as the people of God, and it would come at last to the glorious millennial prospects outlined in Ezekiel 44:10-31. (This continuity in the line of Phinehas got strangely off course for a time, but was eventually rectified in the sovereignty of God - see 1 Sam. 2:35 and 1 Kings 2:27,35).

Not only did the covenant of Levi give the priests and the Levites a sanctuary service Godward, but they had another vital responsibility which provides serious thought for us in the house of God today. They were charged with the reading and teaching of the law both in Jerusalem and throughout the land (see Lev. 10:11; Deut. 24:8; 2 Chron. 15:3; 17:8,9; 35:3) and with giving judgement on the domestic problems of the people (see Deut.17:8-13; 19:17;21:5).

Malachi 2:4-9 is deeply instructive regarding all this. In v.4 the prophet refers to Levi, but has ideally in mind the sons of Levi in their teaching ministry. In v.5 His covenant with them was life and peace. The service of God was their life and in it was all their peace. What God intended He achieved, for they stood in awe of His Name. In v.6 as a consequence truth was in their mouth and righteousness on their lips. Not only did they walk in peace and uprightness, but in their burning zeal for God they turned many of Israel's sons from iniquity. This was because, ideally, the knowledge of God lay deep in the heart of the priest or teaching Levite (v.7). He was "the messenger of the LORD of hosts", His channel of communication to the nation, and to them the people should have come for counsel. In the divine mind Israel was a nation in which the priests and Levites preserved through their teaching the knowledge of God in the land. To that teaching the people hearkened and by it they lived.

But divine ideal is one thing; human response may be altogether different. Sadly what went wrong in Israel is summed up in Hosea 4:6: "My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge". They were finally overthrown because they did not understand (v.14). There was priestly failure in the cessation of itinerant ministry. Priests and Levites who themselves turned out of the way caused the nation also to stumble. And sadly God said: "My people love to have it so" (Jer. 5:31).

With the failure of the Levitical ministry God brought in the powerful ministry of the prophets of Israel who "hewed" the nation by the authority of their messages (Hosea 6:5). Yet even among them arose false prophets who simply speeded up the declension of Israel by healing lightly their hurt, promising peace where there was no possibility of the deeper healing or peace.

Well did the Holy Spirit say to the Church of God in Corinth: "Now in

these things they became figures of us" (1 Cor. 10:6 RVM). The New Testament people of God were a holy priesthood with a sanctuary service. In the churches of God were men gifted of the Holy Spirit as evangelists, pastors and teachers. They had the responsibility to feed the saints, to teach the disciples, and at the same time to reach out to the unsaved. And this they did, a great host in fruitful testimony. But as the churches grew, and the apostolic letters circulated, there was common consensus of approaching danger, as for example in 2 Peter 2:1,2, "But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers ... by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of". Itching ears in the churches produced teachers after their own lusts in the rostrum (2 Tim. 4:3). So gradually lampstands were removed and the house of God ceased.

Strangely we never read in Scripture of the "disappointments" of God. "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18 AV). Yet as we view things He must have been greatly saddened by reason bf the recurring failure in testimony in the Old Testament Israel 'and then again in the New. And as we reflect on these things a call seems to come ringing through to us today. He has restored His house in the end of the days before the dispensation of grace closes. His people are gathered together in churches of God in a unity of doctrine which corresponds in our understanding to how His apostles first established the Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and then left it to others to keep and to hold.

Two essentials stand out beyond all dispute in their clarity and authority, as vital to the continuity of this testimony. The one is that in all the churches we maintain continuous and consistent teaching on every aspect of the Faith. The other is that the saints everywhere in all the churches of God present themselves for teaching and subject themselves to sound ministry in the house of God. Thus it will be well-pleasing to the Lord to see the knowledge of God both preserved and observed among His people.