“Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.’ And all of the Levites rallied to him. Then he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, ‘You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers and he has blessed you this day.'”
For a bit of context, Moses went up to meet with God and meanwhile the Israelites built a Golden Calf and worshiped it. I didn’t realize this was the end of that very commonly told story. This is where the Levites are separated out and blessed. I always wondered what had made them special when referred to later in the Bible.
Matthew Henry commented on the Blue Letter Bible’s site:
[1.] How the Levites were called out to this service: Moses stood in the gate of the camp, the place of judgment; there he displayed a banner, as it were, because of the truth, to enlist soldiers for God. He proclaimed, Who is on the Lord’s side? The idolaters had set up the golden calf for their standard, and now Moses set up his, in opposition to them. Now Moses clad himself with zeal as with a robe, and summoned all those to appear forthwith that were on God’s side, against the golden calf. He does not proclaim, as Jehu, “Who is on my side (2 Ki. 9:32), to avenge the indignity done to me?’ but, Who is on the Lord’s side? It was God’s cause that he espousedagainst the evil-doers, Ps. 94:16. Note,
- First, There are two great interests on foot in the world, with the one or the other of which all the children of men are siding. The interest of sin and wickedness is the devil’s interest, and all wicked people side with that interest; the interest of truth and holiness is God’s interest, with which all godly people side; and it is a case that will not admit a neutrality.
- Secondly, It concerns us all to enquire whether we are on the Lord’s side or not.
- Thirdly, Those who are on his side are comparatively but few, and sometimes seem fewer than really they are.
- Fourthly, God does sometimes call out those that are on his side to appear for him, as witnesses, as soldiers, as intercessors.
“2.] How they were commissioned for this service (v. 27): Slay every man his brother,that is, “Slay all those that you know to have been active for the making and worshipping of the golden calf, though they were your own nearest relations, or dearest friends.’ The crime was committed publicly, the Levites saw who of their acquaintance were concerned in it, and therefore needed no other direction than their own knowledge whom to slay. And probably the greatest part of those that were guilty were known, and known to be so, by some or other of the Levites who were employed in the execution. Yet, it should seem, they were to slay those only whom they found abroad in the streets of the camp; for it might be hoped that those who had retired into their tents were ashamed of what they had done, and were upon their knees, repenting. Those are marked for ruin who persist in sin, and are not ashamed of the abominations they have committed, Jer. 8:12. But how durst the Levites encounter so great a body, who probably were much enraged by the burning of their calf? It is easy to account for this; a sense of guilt disheartened the delinquents, and a divine commission animated the executioners. And one thing that put life into them was that Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to theLord, that he may bestow a blessing upon you, thereby intimating to them that they now stood fair for preferment and that, if they would but signalize themselves upon this occasion, it would be construed into such a consecration of themselves to God, and to his service, as would put upon their tribe a perpetual honour. Those that consecrate themselves to the Lord he will set apart for himself. Those that do the duty shall have the dignity; and, if we do signal services for God, he will bestow especial blessings upon us. There was a blessing designed for the tribe of Levi; now says Moses,“Consecrate yourselves to the Lord, that you may qualify yourselves to receive the blessing.’ The Levites were to assist in the offering of sacrifice to God; and now they must begin with the offering of these sacrifices to the honour of divine justice. Those that are to minister about holy things must be not only sincere and serious, but warm and zealous, bold and courageous, for God and godliness. Thus all Christians, but especially ministers, must forsake father and mother, and prefer the service of Christ and his interest far before their nearest and dearest relations; for if we love our relations better than Christ we are not worthyof him. See how this zeal of the Levites is applauded, Deu. 33:9.”
Before Moses dies he blesses each tribe and to Levi he says: “Your Thummim and Urim belong to your faithful servant. you tested him at Massah; you contended with him at the waters of Meribah. He said of his father and mother, ‘I have no regard for them.’ He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant. He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. Bless all his skills, Lord, and be pleased with the work of his hands. Strike down those who rise against him, his foes till they rise no more.” (Deuteronomy 33:8-11)
—Thummim and Urim mean truth or perfection.