Genealogies are possibly the most boring (am I allowed to say that?), and yet sometimes also the most insightful pieces of Scripture. When you are able to trace the names through the Bible, you begin to put pieces together that you would have never noticed before. One of my favorite examples, because it brings such a massive perspective change, is to trace Nimrod and the cities that he established. You find Nimrod in Genesis 10:10-12, where he is the one who builds Nineveh (capitol of Assyria, who will later be a hostile enemy of Israel). Yet, it is also Nimrod who builds the tower of Babel, in the plains of Shinar, which is the exact location that the future Babylon would be built (the city, before it was a super-nation). Babylon was not only a hostile enemy of Israel, but is the prophetic kingdom of darkness upon the face of the earth (which is why Babylon shows up in Revelation 17, even though its been in ruins for centuries by that point).
Here in Exodus 6, we have the heads of the families mentioned. At the last, you have Levi, and you have from Levi the priestly family (Aaron). So, here is my question: Why is it that Levi is chosen instead of Reuben, Issachar, Judah, or some other tribe? What does Levi have that others don’t? Or, is there nothing that Levi brings to the table, and it is all God’s prerogative and Divine choosing?
First off, let us address one thing. When you begin to read the passage, you find Reuben first mentioned (see Genesis 29:30-32). He is the first born, and therefore the first genealogy. Then, we find Simeon, who is the second born to Israel (see Genesis 29:33). Then, when we turn to Levi, we find the genealogy all the way down to Moses and Aaron, but we don’t have a continuation of the genealogies of the other tribes. Obviously the point of this genealogy is not to show the heads of all the tribes, but to come unto Levi. But, then we can ask why Reuben and Simeon are even mentioned…
My best guess to why they are mentioned is to point out that Levi is not the eldest son, but it is who God chose to be the priesthood (which is the leadership until the kingship is established). We all know according to history, and according to Levitical/Deuteronomic Law, that the eldest is the one to get the birthright. Yet, in Genesis, over and over again it isn’t the firstborn, but some later son. You have Seth rather than Cain getting the blessing. You have Shem rather than Ham or Japheth. You have Abraham rather than Nahor. You have Isaac instead of Ishmael. You have Jacob instead of Esau. You have Joseph and Benjamin being loved more highly than the other twelve sons. You have Ephraim being blessed over Manasseh. And here in Exodus, you also have Levi instead of Reuben or Simeon getting the blessing of the firstborn.
This seems to be the way that God works (even with David being the youngest of his brothers). Traditionally, the first name is the firstborn. And so, with the sons of Levi, you have Gershon, the eldest, Kohath, and Merari. Then, you have the genealogy traced through Kohath. Kohath’s eldest is Amram, and it is Amram who was the father of Aaron (the eldest) and Moses. Now, in regard to Korah, I want to kill this bird here and now. When you read the Psalms, you find that certain psalms are either dedicated to or sung by the Korahites. We then think this means that Korah, who rebelled against Moses and Aaron (Num 16), had children who repented. That isn’t so. We have here in Exodus 6:21 that the second son of Kohath, Izhar, bore Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. The Korah mentioned in the Psalms would be of this genealogy, and not the rebellious Korah of Numbers. You find that they even had the honor of working along with the priests under David (1 Chron 6:31-38), but so did the other sons of Levi.
This genealogy ends with Eleazar, Aaron’s son, taking for himself one of the daughters of Putiel (only place name mentioned in Bible) as wife, and she bore him Phinehas. Phinehas is later going to be the one who steadies God’s wrath by throwing a spear through a Midianite woman and an elder of Israel who are weeping before the Tabernacle, and before Moses (Numbers 25:6-9). This elder so desperately wants to continue to commit idolatry with his wife that he will weep outside of the Tabernacle with her – right in the very face of God.
The place of this genealogy seems strange, unless you comprehend the Hebrew mind. In the Hebrew mind, you focus upon stories instead of chronology. So, for example, the book of Exodus opens up with the genealogy to connect from Genesis to the current time. Then, we move from there to finding the great oppression of Israel, the birth of Moses, the life events that led to Moses’ fleeing Egypt, Moses’ life in the wilderness, and then God calling Moses back unto Pharaoh. Wouldn’t it seem a good place to put this genealogy back in chapter 2 with the introduction of Moses? Yet, that isn’t the place that we find this genealogy. Instead, we find the whole of the backstory given, all the way through to Moses going unto Pharaoh, the oppression worsening, and God reassuring Moses of what is about to happen.
The Gospels also have this. Why does Matthew conflict so heavily with Mark, Luke, and John as far as chronology? Why do all of the Gospels have the same teachings and stories (save John being 92% original), and yet not a one of them have the same chronology of those stories or teachings? It is because each Gospel is being written with a certain intent in mind. There is a purpose behind the story, and a purpose behind the teaching, that while the story/teaching gives us great understanding by itself, when coupled with the events before and afterward, we find there is a larger reason why it is placed where it is. This is why John has stories that the other Gospels don’t, and why certain Gospels have certain stories or teachings, while the others seem totally oblivious to such events. They aren’t oblivious to the event, nor the chronology, but are desiring to put forth a certain argument beyond just the stories and teachings.
Here in Exodus, we have the opening scene of the book, which might be longer than most television shows or movies, but is nonetheless the opening scene to give us all of the background information necessary. From there, we transition to the credits, which is this genealogy of Aaron and Moses. From there, we transition back to the story, picking up where we left off, that Moses and Aaron go back unto Pharaoh and demand that he let the people go. Whether this encounter we’re going to go into in chapter 7 is a reiteration of chapter 5, I’m not sure. It certainly could be, but there are also some distinguishing marks. Either way, the passage at hand is not something to simply skip past because we find the genealogies boring or uninteresting. Within it we find the heritage of the priesthood, of which we are called.
In the Old Testament, you have even within the book of Exodus a priestly nation (Israel – Exodus 19:6), and then a priesthood within that priestly nation. So it is today, that you have the priesthood (Church) within the priestly nation. In Exodus, the priesthood is quite tangible, with certain duties that surround the Tabernacle/Temple. In modern times, with the Temple destroyed, the priesthood is spiritual. The whole understanding of what it means to be Israel is spiritual. Jacob wrestled with God and with man, and yet overcame. That is why he inherited the name Israel. It is no less true today. Just because natural Israel doesn’t fit the bill doesn’t mean it isn’t their call, for “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable”. I could make the same argument that in many ways the Church hasn’t fit that bill either.
What does it mean for us to be priestly, even in the New Covenant? One thing it must certainly mean is that we know our heritage. We might not be of the priesthood of Aaron, but that doesn’t nullify its significance. The Melchizedek of Genesis has no heritage, and that is the point, but we must realize that our heritage is found in Hebrews 11, and that we do have roots that go back to “Adam, the son of God” (Lk 3:38). That priestly heritage is everything that it means to be Levitical (of Levi).
Malachi 2:1-6 gives us that perspective. I’ve actually heard this quoted (the first half) to ‘prove’ that Israel is no longer God’s people, but it is now about the Church. It’s incredibly ironic that the very passages that these supersessionists choose are the very passages that will demand Israel’s chosenness if you keep reading.
“And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if you will not take it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, because you do not take it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your descendants and spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your solemn feasts; and one will take you away with it. Then you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, that my covenant with Levi will continue, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, and I gave them to him that he might fear me; so he feared me and was reverent before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity.”
Can you follow that? Let me repeat, for it bears repetition: They who are priestly are they who 1) give glory to God’s name, 2) fear God, 3) revere His name, 4) have the law of truth in their mouth, 5) keep injustice far away from their lips, 6) walk with God in peace and equity, and 7) turn many away from iniquity. You know what this sounds like? It sounds like the very Davidic heart and character. The Kingdom of God is eternally a Davidic Kingdom. The heart of David is the heart of God, and the heart of God is the heart of David. The character of David is the character of God, and the character of God is the character of David. What David represents is the quintessential Jesus, and visa versa. If you want to know what it means to be priestly, you must know what it means to be Davidic. If you want to know what it means to be Davidic, you must immerse yourself in the Psalms, and within the books of Samuel and 1 Chronicles.
David was a priestly king, and a prophet as well. Jesus was also prophet, priest, and King. This is our heritage. This is our mandate. Unto this glory have we been called, whether we know it or not, and whether we know how to communicate it or not. We have fallen far short of this glory, but that doesn’t then negate our purpose. Let us run the race, casting off all restraint to come unto the beauty of holiness, seeing Jesus as our High Priest and the author of our confession, and seeing the great cloud of witnesses, who are our heritage, both enduring along with us, and not made perfect without us. Let this be the greatest motivation necessary, that the eternal covenant (known in the New Testament as the “new covenant”) is sufficient to save to the uttermost, because Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient.