The Genealogy of the Levites
Open Your Bible
1 Chronicles 5:1-26, 1 Chronicles 6:1-81, Deuteronomy 10:8-9
Today’s reading prompted me to dig through several boxes to find what’s referred to by my family as the “family reunion book.” The letter-sized booklet—gifted to family reunion attendees a few years ago—is a collection of mini essays, family announcements, photos, and ancestry lists. Undoubtedly, this content doesn’t mean much to an outsider. But to our family, it means everything.
At first glance, the family records in 1 Chronicles can seem like mere lists to our twenty-first-century eyes. But I can only imagine what they meant to the Chronicler’s audience, people who had been displaced from their home, tradition, and way of life as a result of their disobedience. These lists of tribes, clans, and families, along with their geographical allotments, gave them a sense of place and promise. The genealogies included in today’s reading give special attention to Levi’s descendants.
Their relatives, the Levites, were assigned to all the service of the tabernacle, God’s temple.
—1 Chronicles 6:48
The pre-exilic role of the Levites was to act as attendants to the temple (and to the tabernacle that came before it). Certain Levites acted as mediators of the nation in God’s presence, making “atonement for Israel” (1Chronicles 6:49). Only those appointed by God—the Levites—could lead the nation in any services associated with public worship.
Built by King Solomon, the temple was the sacred space God designated for Israel to encounter His presence through worship. Here, the Levites mediated between God and the people through sacrifices and offerings specified in the law. However, the people lived in disobedience until God withdrew His presence from the temple and it was destroyed.
The Israelite people were coming back into their land and reestablishing their rhythms of worship. The temple was being rebuilt, the sacrificial system and altar were reinstated. This section of the genealogy was a message to the returning exiles that although they were broken and flawed, although they had been sent into exile for their lack of faithfulness, God was still making a way for them to be renewed and restored in worship post-exile.
Today’s reading falls on Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent, a season of prayer and reflection. It reminds us that we too are people broken and flawed, in need of atonement and restoration.
As I continue to read these genealogies, they become more special to me. They prompt me to confess and lament the ways that I have become displaced by sin. They remind me of God’s abundant grace and mercy in the face of my disobedience. And they point me forward to the never-ending promise and hope of the cross.