The Merari Clan of Levi

Bible Reference: Numbers chapters 3 and 4

Heart of the Story: The third son of Levi was Merari.  This clan protected and had special duties to the priests and to the Tabernacle as the Israelites moved during their trek in the wilderness.

Background: Levi was the third son of Jacob (Israel) and Merari the third son of Levi.  When the census of Israelites was order in the Sinai Desert, God mandated that Levites not be counted as fighting men. God said that instead of every firstborn son of every woman, he would take the tribe of Levi to serve him. At this time in the Sinai desert, there were 6,200 Merari men one-month old and upward. The sons of Merari were in two clans: Mahli and Mushi. The chief of the father’s house of the clans of Merari was Zuriel, the son of Abihail.

Storyline: When the Israelites camped, the Merari were located next to the Tent of Meeting on the north side. These Levites buffered the Tent of Meeting from the three tribes (Asher, Dan, and Naphtali) camped on the north side. It was imperative that playing children and other individuals from Asher, Dan, and Naphtali not touch the Tabernacle. Also, the Merari were the last line of defense if foreign invaders attack the Israelites from the north.

When the Tabernacle moved, Merari guarded and carried the frames of the Tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the bases and all their accessories. They were responsible for all services related to these items. In addition, Merari carried the pillars around the courtyard with their bases, pegs, and cords. Remember all Tabernacle items were carried on the shoulder of Levites rather than transported in wagons. In addition, the Merari clan provided all services needed to these Tabernacle and courtyard frames, that is, they made sure they were in good working order.

Pondering Relationships: The youngest son of Levi, Merari, was the smallest clan and seemed to be responsible for transport and caring for less central portions of the Tabernacle. Nonetheless, their work was just as key as both the Kohathites and Gershonites.  None of these three clans of Levi were priests, rather they had ancillary work. They were the priest’s helpers. Only Levites in the line of Aaron were priests. Some Levites were members of the Temple choir, teachers of the law, and scribes. After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Levites were scattered throughout the Israelite tribal lands. Levites were given designated towns to live in located throughout the other tribes.

Although one would think that Levities did not drill for war like members of other Israelite tribes, this conclusion would be wrong. Merari protected the north side of the Tabernacle when the Israelites camped. Further, during movement of the Israelite encampment, the Levites had to protect the items they transported. The Merari were warriors as well as protectors and transporters.

Reflection: When reading about the clans of Levi, often we think more often about the Gershonites and Kohathites. Despite being the smallest clan of the sons of Levi, the Merari had a key role in Israelite history.

Copyright: August 7, 2017 Carolyn A. Roth

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