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which would necessarily fail, if the worship and laws of God were neglected, they were deeply interested in their support." Being especially devoted to the study of the Divine law, which was a code of moral justice, as well as of religious worship, they must have possessed considerable influence over the people. They were everywhere at hand, ready to admonish and instruct. No others were admitted to discharge any sacred office, and even the administration of justice necessarily called for their assistance. From Deut. xvii. 9, and xix. 17, it appears that a connexion between the tribe of Levi and the judicial office was designed to exist. They also had the care of the public records and genealogies. The express mention of the Levite, Deut. xxvi. 11, may imply the residence of this tribe among other families; and the history of Micah and the Danites shows that the presence of a Levite in a family or community was much desired; also, that persons of that tribe were accustomed to go forth from their cities to seek places where they might be received, Judg. xvii. 8, 13. But the office of instructor was not exclusively confined to the Levites, whose primary duties were those called ritual, in attendance on the sacred ceremonies of the tabernacle and temple.
During the abode of the Israelites in the wilderness, the duties of the LEVITES were numerous and heavy. They had the whole charge of the tabernacle, and when it was removed had to carry most of the materials, as well as the sacred utensils. Their duties are stated, Numbers iv. When settled in the land of Israel, many of these ceased; and in Joshua xxi. are the names of cities appointed for their residence. Some Levites were still engaged in the services of the tabernacle, but there is no regular account of the distribution of their duties till the time of David and Solomon, who appointed them to attend the temple in regular rotation, and when not thus employed at Jerusalem, they were dispersed through the country on other public duties. 1 Chron. xxvi. 32, states that David made 2700 Levites rulers over the two tribes and a half located beyond Jordan, for every matter pertaining to God, and affairs of the king.
Their attention having been directed to the Divine law from early youth, they must have possessed peculiar qualifications for these offices. From i Chron. xxiii. 4, and 2 Chron. xix. 8, it may be learned that they were employed by David and Jehoshaphat, generally, as officers and judges. David allotted 6000 for these duties; 4000 were to be porters or guards, and 4000 to be singers and musicians. At that time, the whole number of the tribe, aged thirty years and upwards, was 38,300, and the remaining 24,000 were divided into twenty-four courses of 1000 each; see 1 Chron. xxiii. 24, and 2 Chron. xxxi. 2; these afterwards attended the temple, each course for a week in rotation, and all the duties of the temple were discharged by the Levites. The time for the attendance of each course being ascertained, they knew at what periods to go up to Jerusalem. From among them the guards who protected the temple, and kept order in its courts, were selected. The singers bore an important part in the temple services; for their use many of the psalms were composed. Heman, Asaph, and Jeduthun were chiefs among them. A particular account of the porters and musicians is given, 1 Chron. xxv. xxvi.; and 2 Chron. viii. 14, shows that the arrangement of David was confirmed by Solomon, when the temple was completed. From 1 Chron. ix. 22, it would appear that these regulations were partly made by Samuel, whether for the service of the tabernacle, or in prospect of the temple establishment, is not distinctly stated.
Scripture does not describe any dress assigned for the Levites. Josephus says, it was done only eight years before the destruction of the temple, when they obtained permission to wear a linen tunic like the priests, which displeased
The period of service for the Levites was settled by David to be from twenty to fifty years
1 Chron. xxiii. 24—27. Besides all the general duties of the temple and tabernacle, the Levites assisted the priests in killing the sacrifices, and sang during the offerings, see 1 Chron. xxiii. 31, and 2 Chron. xxxi. 2; but they did not themselves offer the sacrifices or burn the incense, unless in case of necessity, or when the priests were remiss in their duties, as at the time of the reformation by Hezekiah, 2 Chron. xxix. 34. The Levites were assisted in the most laborious duties by the Nethinims, who are supposed to have been descendants of the remains of the Canaanites, principally the Gibeonites, Ezra viii. 20. These appear, from Neh. iii. 26, to have had a place at Jerusalem called Ophel, near the temple, for their residence. The word Nethinim signifies given, or devoted: their service was accounted honourable, so as to be mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah next after the Levites.
The priests were the descendants of Aaron, chosen from the tribe of Levi exclusively, to discharge the higher duties of the public service. The name, when applied to men, signified those who have near access to the king, as it is used 1 Chron. xviii. 17. They prepared the victims and offered the sacrifices; they kept up the fire on the altar, attended to the lights in the golden candlestick, and made the loaves of shew-bread. Every morning and evening a priest, appointed by lot, brought a censer of incense into the sanctuary, kindled with fire from the altar. The ark of the covenant, in the wilderness, and in the times of the Judges, was under their charge. The priests were divided by David into twenty-four classes, 1 Chron. xxiv. 18, which order was retained by Solomon, Hezekiah, and Jehoshaphat. Descendants from only four of these classes returned from the Babylonish captivity, Ezra ii. 36—39; Neh. vii. 39— 42. These were subdivided into the same number as before, of twenty-four classes, distinguished by the original names, and each class was subdivided into three ranks. The chief of each class appointed an entire family to offer the sacrifices of each day; at the close of the week they all united together, and on the sabbaths the next class began to officiate. The members of each family drew lots for the offices they were to perform, which will be described under the daily service of the temple. But the services of the priests, like those of the Levites, included other duties besides the rites of the temple. It is expressly noted, 2 Chron. xv. 3, that Israel had long been without "a teaching priest;" and, Mal. ii. 7, that “the priest's lips should keep knowledge,” and that the people “should seek the law at his mouth,” because he was “the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”
In 2 Chron. xvii. 7, is a full account of the manner in which Jehoshaphat sent some of his princes, with priests and Levites, as an itinerant ministry, to explain the law, and teach the people throughout all the cities of Judah. The number of the officiating priests is not distinctly mentioned in Scripture. Those residing at Jerusalem, soon after the captivity, were one thousand one hundred and ninety-two; see Neh. xi. 10–14. Josephus states, at a later period, there were four tribes of priests, each of five thousand persons.
A considerable number lived at Jericho, Luke x. 31, 32, from whence they came up to Jerusalem when their duties required; the rest were dispersed through the land.
The genealogies of the priests were preserved in the temple; all who sought the office had to prove their descent from the children of Aaron. Health of body and holiness of life were indispensable. A hundred and forty personal blemishes are enumerated, as excluding from the services of the priesthood. No particular ceremony appears to have been observed at their admission, but only the performance of some office of their order, at a sacrifice, after they had been very strictly examined by the sanhedrim as to their descent and freedom from blemish. They were not distinguished by their dress unless engaged at the altar.
The official dress, described Exod. xxviii. and Lev. viii., was provided at the public expense: when the articles became old they were unravelled, to form wicks for the lamps required at the nightly rejoicings during the feast of tabernacles. The priests' garments were linen drawers; and tunics, or long garments with sleeves, closely fitted to the body, made of linen, which it is considered was wrought in chequer-work, somewhat like our diaper cloth; with girdles, or long embroidered pieces, encircling the body twice, and hanging down before; these girdles, having woollen mixed in the fabric, might not be worn under other circumstances. They wore mitres, or tiaras; these were turbans of several rolls of linen twisted round the head ; they originally were pointed at the top, but in later times were flat. The peculiarity of the priests' habit, it has been remarked, might remind them of the necessity of man's being clothed with other righteousness than his own; and the anointing may show the need of the unction of the Holy One, in all his gifts and graces.
The maintenance of the priests was from the tenths of the tithes received by the Levites, a share of the offerings, the skins of the animals sacrificed, and the redemption-money paid for every firstborn Israelite, Numb. xviii. 15, 16. Also, the firstborn of clean animals, and the firstfruits of the crops, varying from a fortieth to a sixtieth. They also received the fruit of trees in the fourth year of their growth, and a share of spoils taken in warfare. In 2 Chron. xxxi. is an interesting account of the abundant offering brought in by the people for the portions of the priests, and as free-will offerings upon the reformation by Hezekiah, when the nation rejoiced under the administration of a religious king and a faithful ministry. Such were the principal revenues of the priests; sufficient, as Horne observes, “ to keep them above want, yet not so ample as to enable them to accumulate riches or impoverish the laity.” By this wise constitution they were deprived of all power to injure the liberty of other tribes, or endanger the national polity. Some priests are spoken of as mighty in valour, 1 Chron. xii. 27, 28; and Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, had his name among David's thirty worthies, 1 Chron. xi. 22–25. This was not inconsistent with the principle of the Jewish theocracy, which regarded Jehovah as the supreme Monarch of Israel; and we repeatedly find the priests mentioned as going forth with the armies to battle. The services of those called porters included the duties of guards and sentinels.
The HIGH PRIEST was over all the other priests. He was the final judge in all controversies, and in later ages held the next rank to the prince, and at times united both offices in his own person. In the days of the New Testament, all who had filled the office retained the title. When the high priest was infirm, or had committed any crime, (for his office did not exempt him from legal control) or if he had been exposed to any pollution, so as to disqualify him for a time, a substitute, called the sagan, was appointed to perform his duties. Upon the entrance of the high priest on his office, he was invested with the sacred robes, and anointed with the holy oil, Exod. xxx. 23—25; but after the captivity the anointing ceased. Lev. viii. 23—30, shows that in the consecration of Aaron and his sons, they were sprinkled with the blood of the animal sacrificed at that ceremony
This appears to have been imitated and carried further by the heathen. At the consecration of the high priest of Cybele, he was placed in what literally was a shower-bath of blood; and when he came forth, with his head and vestments covered with blood, he was considered as so holy that the multitude dared not to approach him.
The robes of the high priest, in addition to those worn by other priests, were--1. The coat, or robe of the ephod, made of blue wool; the hem or border was ornamented with seventy-two golden bells, placed alternately with as many pomegranates of embroidered work.
2. The ephod, a vest fastened on the shoulders, reaching to the heels behind, but only a little below the waist in front. It was of fine twisted linen, wrought with gold and purple. On each of the shoulders was a clasp, in which was set a precious