The Levites and holy violence

More on the golden calf episode (Exo 32.25-29). After Moses went down from the mountain and smashed the tablets of the covenant into broken pieces, the people broke loose — ITB-LAI: ‘seperti kuda terlepas dari kandang.’ Moses then shouted, “Who is on the YHWH’s side? Come to me.”

And the Levites gathered around him. And they killed 3000 men that day.

Moses proclaimed, “Today you have been ordained for the service of YHWH, each one at the cost of his son and his daughter, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”

The Levites were the ones who were ready to fight on behalf of YHWH. Indeed, Levi and Simeon were the ones who took their swords and killed all the males in the Dinah-Shechem saga (Gen 34). That’s why Jacob said on his deathbed that “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.” (Gen 49.5)

So the behavior of the Levites was consistent with their forefather. Interestingly, because of that particular incident, they were ordained for the service of YHWH. Well, God has stipulated earlier in Exo 28 when he met Moses that Aaron and his sons would become priests but Aaron and his sons didn’t know about it since Moses was still in Mount Sinai. So you could say that the priesthood of Aaron and his sons was extended to the whole Levite tribe. They were consecrated and set apart from the other tribes. They became the holy tribe, so to speak, because of their zeal to defend their God.

And perhaps such pattern of holiness can still be seen nowadays. Those who have set themselves apart for god, to defend their god. Those who are ready to fight in the name and on behalf of their god.

And perhaps that’s why those who are zealous for holiness are also the ones who will be the first ones to fight for their god. Holiness can easily be linked into violence. Again, abuse doesn’t rule out the ‘use’ but beg for the proper use. The moral of the story is not so that we abandon the pursue of holiness, but, to ask what kind of holiness we are pursuing. The one which leads to violence, or the one which leads to Shalom.

After all, it was Aaron who started the debacle. And he was a Levite as well. Who is on the YHWH’s side? The Levites. Who is against the YHWH’s side? Also the Levites.

And then you realize that Moses was a Levite as well. Remember that incident back then in Egypt when he strucked down an Egyptian, killed him, and hid him in the sand? It must be in their blood, huh.


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