How the Levites became the Priesthood of Israel

The book of Numbers records the events from the “first day of the second month” of the second year (1:1-2). It has been thirteen months since the children of Israel were delivered from the ‘house of bondage’, Egypt. At this point of time, Moses was instructed by the Lord to make a count of “all the men twenty years old or older who are able to go to war”(1:2-3). With the help of the leaders of the various ancestral tribes, Moses began to do as the Lord had commanded.

There were 603,550 men of fighting age – that is, twenty and above. Based on this, we can estimate the total population of Israel at that time to be between 2 and 3 million. It is a staggering number, I know; almost unbelievable. How can 2 million people be sustained in any reasonable way in a wilderness? Even though it is beyond our imagination, we have to remember that “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

One tribe of Israel was noticeably missing in the census. The tribe of Levi was not counted because God had other plans for them.

Up to this point of time, all the firstborn of Israel (of humans and animals) belonged to the Lord. This was so because if not for the lamb’s blood that was smeared on the doorposts of every Israelite home on that night when the Angel of Death passed through Egypt all the firstborn of Israel would also have perished together with the firstborn of the Egyptians. In doing this, as God explains in Number 3:13, the firstborn of Israel had been set apart by God, and they are His. What this means is that they are now destined to serve as priests to their families; kind of a private priest. There are problems, as you can quickly imagine, with this arrangement. Without any central control, each priest could end up doing what is right in his own eyes. Countless variations to the worship of God would inevitably emerge.

Without further delay, God shares with Moses His plan to exchange a male Levite for a firstborn of Israel. So, a count was made of the Levites. “The total number of Levites counted at the Lord’s command by Moses and Aaron according to their clans, including every male a month old or more, was 22,000″ (Num 3:39). A count was also made of all the firstborn males a month old or older, and the number came to 22,273. For the 273 firstborn males who did not have a male Levite to exchange with, redemption came in the form of a payment of five shekels – that is, about 2 ounces or about 58 grams of silver – by their families.

When all the transactions has been completed an all the firstborn had returned home to their respective families, a new order of priesthood had been formed comprising the members of the tribe of Levi.


This is an example of what members of the Torah Club will learn. Contact me if you wish the Torah Club today.


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