LEVITES (le'vites), (I I eh. ')t.7.' P, bane son of Levi, or simply Lay-yee'; usually in the plural and with the article :273, sons of Levi • Sept. Atarat, Levitae), the descendants of Levi, through his sons Gershon, Kohath, and Nlerari, whose descendants formed so many sub-tribes Or great families of the general body.
In a narrower sense the term Levites designates the great body of the tribe employed in the subor dinate offices of the hierarchy, to distinguish them from that one family of their body—the family of Aaron—in which the priestly functions were vested. 1. Appointment to Service. While the Israelites were encamped before NIount Sinai the tribe of Levi, to which Moses and Aaron be-, longed, was, by special ordinance from the Lord, set specially apart for sacerdotal services, in the place of the firstborn of the different tribes and families to whom such functions, according to an cient usage, belonged ; and which indeed had al ready been set apart as holy, in commemoration of the firstborn of the Israelites having been spared when the firstborn of the Egyptians were destroyed (Num. iii :12, 13, 4o-51; Exod. xiii). When it was determined to set apart a single tribe of Levi for this service, the numbers of the first born in Israel and of the tribe selected were re spectively taken, when it was found that the for mer amounted to 22,273. and the latter to 22,000. Those of the firstborn beyond the number of the Levites were then redeemed at the rate of five shekels, that is I2S. 6d., or three dollars and twen ty-five cents each, and the money assigned to the priests. At the same time the cattle which the Levites then happened to possess were considered as equivalent to all the firstlings of the cattle which the Israelites had; and, accordingly, the firstlings were not required to be brought, as in subsequent years, to the altar and to the priesthood (Num. iii:41-5i).
(1) Specific Service. In the wilderness the office of the Levites was to carry the tabernacle and its utensils and furniture from place to place, after they had been packed up by the priests (Num. iv:4-15). In this service each of the three
Levitical families had its separate department; the Gershonites carried the hangings and cords of the Tabernacle, for which they were allowed two wains, each drawn by four oxen (Num. iii :25, 26; iv :24-28; vii :7). The Kohathites carried the ark, the table of shew-bread, the candlestick, the two altars, and such of the hangings as belonged to the sanctuary ; for this they had no wains or oxen, the whole being carried upon their shoul ders (Num. iii:31 ; iv:4-15; vii :9) ; the Merarites had charge of the substantial parts of the taber nacle—the boards, pillars, bars, bases, etc., and also all the ordinary vessels of service, for which they were allowed four wains and eight oxen (Num. iii :36, 37 ; iv :31, 32; vii :8). In this man ner they proceeded in all their journeys; and when they settled in a place, and had erected the Tabernacle. the different families pitched their tents around it in the following manner : the Gershonites behind it on the west (Num. iii :23), the Kohathites on the south (iii :29), the Merar ites on the north (iii :35), and the priests on the east (iii :38). They all assisted Aaron and his sons in taking care of, and attending on, the Tab ernacle, when it was pitched ; but they were al lowed to take no part in the services of the altar (xviii :2-7).
(2) Duties Changed. This was the nature of their service in the desert : but when they entered the land of Canaan. and the Tabernacle ceased to be migratory, the range of their service was con siderably altered. While part attended at the Tab ernacle, the rest were distributed through the country in the several cities which were allotted to them. These cities are commonly reckoned forty eight ; hut thirteen of them were reserved for ihe priests, so that only thirty-five belonged to the Levites. The names of these cities, and the tribes in which they were situated, are given in Josh. xxi :2o-42; Chron. vi :64-81. Of the forty-eight cities six were cities of refuge for the uninten tional homicide, of which one, Hebron, was a priestly city (Dent. iv :41-43; Josh. xx :2-9).