October 18, 2010

Levi: The Curse Broken

The book of Genesis does not tell us a great deal about Jacob’s third son. We do know that Levi was a part of the hot-headed and murderous plot to kill all the men of the village of Shechem (chapter 34). We know that he was also a part of the equally hot-headed and murderous plot to kill (and eventually sell into slavery) his brother Joseph (chapter 37). And we know that his father, because of the incident in Shechem, pronounced a curse on him – saying that his family would not be able to settle down like their kinsmen in Israel, but would be scattered about in the land with no tribal allotment in Canaan (49.5-7). And that’s about all we know. Levi (along with his brother Simeon) killed a whole village of innocent men, and plundered their goods, wives, and children; Levi plotted to kill his youngest brother, and eventually settled (with the help of eight other brothers) for selling him as a slave. And Levi was cursed with the promise of no tribal allotment in the Promised Land. That is all that Genesis has to tell us about Levi, save a few genealogical details about his descendants.

But it is as we read about Levi’s descendants that we learn, perhaps, the most valuable lesson from his poorly lived life. As we read on past Genesis, and into the book of Exodus, we discover that among the descendants of Levi was a couple named Amram and Jochabed (Exodus 2). They had two sons. Maybe you remember them – Aaron and Moses. And what became of them? Well, Moses became the greatest man in Old Testament history. And that means that, until the coming of Christ, Moses was the greatest man in all of history! He was used by God to pigeon hole the most powerful man on the planet (Pharaoh). He called down from heaven God’s curses on Egypt. He led the Israelites through the Red Sea on dry ground. He organized the nation. He supervised the building of the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place. And he put into place the various sacrifices that pointed the people of Israel forward to the great and final “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1.29) – Jesus! And Moses, of course, wrote for us the first five books of the Bible!

And what about his older brother Aaron? Well, he became the very first Israelite priest. He – and his descendants after him – were the ones who had the privilege of teaching the Israelites God’s word, and interceding on their behalf in prayer, and offering all those sacrifices that pointed them forward to Jesus, God’s full and final Passover Lamb! And all of Moses and Aaron’s cousins (i.e., all the rest of the descendants of Levi) had the privilege of helping Aaron and his sons in all these affairs. They carried the tabernacle, and the furnishings, and helped with those sacrifices that prepared the way for Jesus.

So the encouraging part of the story of Levi is largely in the descendants who came after him! They, many of them, were men of great commitment and zeal and love for God. They were men who, like no one else in the Old Testament, got regular, daily glimpses of what we call the gospel. They were men who, like no one else in the Old Testament, prepared the way of the Lord Jesus. All of this, even though they were descended from one of the most despicable characters in Israelite history!

What an excellent reminder Levi is of that truth taught to us by the apostle Peter – namely that, by the shedding of “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ”, men and women everywhere may be “redeemed from” the “futile way of life handed down from their forefathers” (1 Peter 1.18-19). Levi illustrates what Peter explains – we don’t have to be ruined by the sins of our parents and grandparents! The generational curses which are very real, and from which so many people suffer, are broken by the blood of Christ. Indeed, God was busy breaking them in the lives of those Levite men who were daily offering up those shadows and copies of the blood of Christ! Even the curse of having no tribal allotment in the Promised Land (Genesis 49.7) was turned into a blessing. Yes, the Levites were scattered all across the land of promise, with no place to call their own. But, dispersed as they were, the descendants of Levi (in their best days) became the salt and light of Israel, teaching God’s word to all the other tribes (Deuteronomy 33.10)!

So we who know Christ read the story of Levi (and his descendants!) and say to ourselves: ‘So what if my family was a mess. So what if my background is filled with generational curses just waiting to rear their ugly heads and destroy my fruitfulness. So what if I have some seeming handicaps because of the family or background from which I came. God can turn those curses into blessings. Or He can erase them altogether. The futile ways of life handed down by my own personal Levi’s are not decisive! I have been redeemed with precious blood – that which the Levites and the lambs foreshadowed … and which Christ shed once for all!

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