The house of Levi is one of the twelve tribes of Israel. It was taken by God for his service and was not given inheritance in the farm land God blessed the other tribes with. Instead, the Levites had to live off the tithes of the other tribes. Throughout the history of Israel there were Levites who had tremendous influence on the nation because they were set apart for service.
Moses was the most influential Levite in the Old Testament. He codified the Mosaic Law in the nation and instituted the priesthood through his brother Aaron and Aaron’s descendants. Moses prophesied concerning the house of Levi, “They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar.” Deuteronomy 33:10. Only Levites could offer sacrifices for the nation. When King Saul offered a sacrifice, God took the throne away from him, and when King Uzziah offered incense, God struck him with leprosy and he died a leper. Three people who were not Levites made sacrifices in the book of Judges (Gideon, Jephthah, and Manoah), but these were not for the nation. They were personal sacrifices for individuals or families. Priests descended from Aaron were the Levites who offered sacrifices for the nation, but God showed that He could appoint any Levite to the task. In the revival under King Hezekiah some of the priests were not clean, so Levites who were not priests offered sacrifices (see II Chronicles 29:34). There were two notable Levites in the Bible who offered sacrifices for the nation even though they were probably not of the priesthood.
The prophet Samuel was a Levite who was probably not of the priesthood, but God chose him to make sacrifices for the nation and to anoint David as king. Samuel`s sons were not put in the priesthood during the reign of David. They were put in service with other Levites (see I Chronicles 6:28). This probably meant they were not of the priestly line from Aaron. The second notable Levite was the prophet Elijah who made a tremendous sacrifice to God. It was because of that sacrifice that God delivered Israel and Judah from the evil line of kings from Omri. Elijah had to be a Levite for God to accept his sacrifice, but he was probably not of the priesthood. David had sent Levites into Gilead, the territory Elijah came from, but these were not Levites of the priesthood. David kept the priests in the land of Judah (see I Chronicles 6: 54-59). After the rebellion under Jeroboam, many of the Levites who were among the ten tribes resorted to the land of Judah so that they could serve in the temple. However, there were tens of thousands of Levites in Israel and they could not all serve in the temple, so there must have been many that stayed amongst the ten separated tribes of Israel. Elijah was probably descended from those Levites.
The Levites descended from Aaron were generally loyal to the throne of David. One line of priests was cut off by God. They were descended from Eli, whom Samuel served. The priests of Nob, who were slaughtered by Doeg the Edomite (see I Samuel 22:18, 19), were of that line. Abiathar the high priest was the last one of that line. Solomon had him removed from the priesthood because he opposed David’s wishes and tried to make Adonijah king instead of Solomon. The priest Zadok anointed Solomon as king and replaced Abiathar as high priest. The remaining priests were loyal to the house of David.
Centuries later, when the wicked Athaliah killed the king’s children after King Ahaziah died, and made herself ruler of Judah, it was the priest Jehoiada who hid the youngest son of the king. Later he deposed the wicked queen with the help of the Levites, who armed themselves to defend the young Prince Joash. The priest Jehoida had the wicked queen killed and placed Joash, a boy of seven years of age, on the throne. He acted as counsellor to Joash and the land had prosperity as long as the old priest lived. He destroyed Baal worship in Judah and taught the people to worship the Lord. Unfortunately, King Joash turned away from God after the old priest died.
The house of Levi is a huge subject, so I will continue this exposition of it in my next article.