The Covenant of Priesthood,Levi, Future Work of Elijah

The above title is taken from Nehemiah’s prayer concerning those priests who had disgraced their office after he had returned to Persia. (Neh. 13:29). During an absence of 12 years, the Levites had gradually corrupted their calling and as a result, led Judah astray. The prophet Malachi, “my messenger” as his name means, was sent to witness against this alarming trend. He observed that the people were not bringing God the best of their offerings. This was because the priests had not been faithful in teaching and showing a good example, to instruct the people how they should serve Him. Consequently, they had become “contemptible and base before all the people” and God would not support the blessings they pronounced because they had been foremost and leading “the holy seed” into marriage with the alien and divorcing the wife of their youth to do it! So good and evil were no longer clearly defined. In prophetical language, Malachi spoke of a coming “God of judgement” who would purify Levi and pronounce sentence against evildoers.

There was one reason why the “sons of Jacob were not consumed” for this. The LORD says, “I change not”. Many years before, He had pronounced the terms of an “everlasting covenant” which He was going to ensure would be enforced. This covenant is referred to six times by Malachi:-

2:4     ”that my covenant might be with Levi”;
2:5     ”my covenant was with him of life and peace”;
2:8     ”ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi“;
2:10   “profaning the covenant of our fathers”
2:14   ”the wife of your covenant“;
3:1     “the messenger of the covenant“.

In the days of Malachi and Nehemiah the pattern of future events was established. Malachi, “my messenger” prepared the way for Nehemiah, “the messenger of the covenant”. Nehemiah “suddenly came to his temple” returning from Persia and ejected Tobiah the Ammonite and his stuff. He found the situation exactly as Malachi had described it:

  1. “the Levites had not been given their portion” of tithes (Neh. 13:10,12)
  2. Judah had robbed the LORD of tithes and offerings” (Mal. 3:8). 
  3. He “commanded the Levites to cleanse themselves” (Neh. 13:22) and condemned those who had married foreign wives (Neh. 13:23-28), –  “Judah hath married the daughter of a strange god” (Mal. 2:11).
  4. He concluded with a most significant prayer: “Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites.” (13:29)

It is this “covenant of Levi” which we now wish to investigate. What exactly is it? How does it fit in with what the writer of Hebrews says about the new covenant superceding the old and how does it relate to the future of Israel?

Levi and the Firstborn

Before God brought Israel out of Egypt he slew all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. At the same time he spared the firstborn sons of Israel through the blood of the passover lamb. Because they had been redeemed from the death of Egypt’s firstborn, the LORD regarded them as His own (Exod. 13:2,12; Num. 3:13). As such the firstborn became a privileged class in Israel. When Israel came to Mount Sinai they entered into a covenant with the God of Israel to keep His laws, as summarized in 10 Commandments, or “tables of the covenant” (Deut. 9:9,15). But Israel quickly corrupted themselves and made a molten calf to worship. Moses returned from the Mount in judgement upon the guilty. At that time he said: “Who is on the LORD’s side? Let him come to me!” – and all the sons of Levi assembled before him.

Levi executed judgement with the sword without favour and 3,000 died that day. Their faithfulness was later commemorated in the last words of Moses, who remarked concerning Levi, “Who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children; for they have observed thy word and kept thy covenant. They shall teach Jacob thy judgements, and Israel thy law…” (Deut. 33:8-10).

More on this next issue.


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