All the descendants of Levi may be comprised under this name, Exodus 6:16,25 Joshua 3:3, (see LEVI;) but chiefly those who were employed in the lower services in the temple, by which they were distinguished from the priests, who were of the race of Levi by Aaron, and were employed in higher offices, Numbers 3:6-10 18:2-7. God chose the Levites for the service of his tabernacle and temple, instead of the firstborn of all Israel, to whom such duties naturally belonged, and who were already sacred to God in memory of the great deliverance in Egypt. Exodus 13:1-22 Numbers 3:12,13,39-51. In the wilderness, the Levites took charge of the tabernacle and its contents; and conveyed it from place to place, each of the three families having a separate portion, Numbers 1:51 4:1-49 1 Chronicles 15:2,27. After the building of the temple they took charge of the gates, of the sacred vessels, of the preparation of the showbread and other offerings, and of the singing and instrumental music, 1 Chronicles 9:1-44 23:1-32 2 Chronicles 29:1-36. They brought wood, water, etc., for the priests; aided them in preparing the sacrifices, and in collecting and disbursing the contributions of the people, 2 Chronicles 30:16,17 35:1. They were also the temple guards, Nehemiah 13:13,22; and the salutation and response in Psalms 134:1-3 are thought by Bishop Lowth to have been their song in the night. But besides their services in the temple, they performed a very important part in teaching the people, 2 Chronicles 30:22 Nehemiah 8:7, among whom they were scattered, binding the tribes together, and promoting virtue and piety. They studied the law, and were the ordinary judges of the country, but subordinate to the priests, 2 Chronicles 17:9 19:8-11. God provided for the subsistence of the Levites, by giving to them the tithe of corn, fruit, and cattle; but they paid to the priests the tenth of their tithes; and as the Levites possessed no estates in land, the tithes which the priests received from them were considered as the first fruits which they were to offer to the Lord, Numbers 18:21-32. The payment of tithes to the Levites appears not to have been enforced, but depended on the goodwill of the people; hence the special charges laid on their brethren, not to forget them, Deuteronomy 2:12,18,19.
God assigned for the habitation of the Levites forty-eight cities, with fields, pastures, and gardens, Numbers 35:1-34. Of these, thirteen were given to the priests, all in the tribes near Jerusalem. Six of the Levitical cities were appointed as cities of refuge, Joshua 20:1-21:45. While the Levites were actually employed in the temple, they were supported out of the provisions kept in store there, and out of the daily offerings. The same privilege was granted to volunteers, drawn to Jerusalem by the fervor of their love to God’s service, Deuteronomy 12:18,19 18:6-8. The consecration of Levites was without much ceremony. See Numbers 8:5-22 2 Chronicles 29:34.
The Levites wore no peculiar dress to distinguish them from other Israelites, till the time of Agrippa. His innovation in this matter is mentioned by Josephus, who remarked that the ancient customs of the country were never forsaken with impunity.
The Levites were divided into different classes: the Gershomites, Kohathites, and Merarites, Numbers 3:17-20. They were still further divided into courses, like the priests, 1 Chronicles 23:1-26:32. At first, they entered in full on their public duties at thirty years of age, Numbers 4:3 8:25; but David fixed the age for commencing at twenty years; and at fifty they were exempt, 1 Chronicles 23:24-27. The different courses of porters, singers, guards, etc., were on duty in succession, one week at a time, 1 Chronicles 23:1-26:32 2 Chronicles 23:4,8 31:17 Ezra 3:8-12. After the revolt of the ten tribes, a large portion of the Levites abandoned their cities in Israel, and dwelt in Judah, 2 Chronicles 11:12-14 13:9-11. After the captivity, numbers of them returned from beyond the Euphrates to Judea, Nehemiah 11:15-19 12:24-31. In the New Testament they are not often mentioned, Luke 10:32 John 1:19 Acts 4:36. The "scribes" and "doctors," however, are supposed to have belonged chiefly to this class.
These dictionary topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859. Public Domain, copy freely.
Rand, W. W. "Entry for 'LEVITES'". "American Tract Society Bible Dictionary".