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What is priesthood covenant in Malachi 2:4 and how do you interpret it in the context of the passage?

NIV: And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue," says the LORD Almighty.

ESV: So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts.

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What is priesthood covenant (covenant with Levi) in Malachi 2:4?

God made a covenant with the tribe of Levi, Aaron and his sons were to minister as priests to God,the rest of the tribe of Levi was set aside for the tabernacle services and other duties concerning the priesthood.

God instructs Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons to minister him as priests.

Exodus 40:12-16 (NASB)

12 "Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water. 13 You shall put the holy garments on Aaron and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister as a priest to Me. 14 You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them; 15 and you shall anoint them even as you have anointed their father, that they may minister as priests to Me; and their anointing will qualify them for a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” 16 Thus Moses did; according to all that the Lord had commanded him, so he did."

Duties for the tribe of Levi

Numbers 3:6-13 (NASB)

6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. 7 They shall perform the duties for [a]him and for the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, to do the service of the tabernacle. 8 They shall also keep all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, along with the duties of the sons of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle. 9 You shall thus give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the sons of Israel. "

10 "So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons that they may keep their priesthood, but the layman who comes near shall be put to death.”11 Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every firstborn, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be Mine. 13 For all the firstborn are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the Lord."

The Law covenant (Col. 2:14) was cancelled with the death of Jesus , and with it the covenant with Levi, with the new covenant(Heb.9:15) replacing it:

Colossians 2:14 (NIRV)

14 He wiped out what the law said that we owed. The law stood against us. It judged us. But he has taken it away and nailed it to the cross.

Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant between God and men.

Hebrews 9:15 (NASB)

15 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

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Jehovah separated the tribe of Levi to bear the Ark of the Covenant of Jehovah, to stand before Jehovah to minister to Him and bless in His name until this day. Therefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brothers; Jehovah is his inheritance, as Jehovah your God promised him.)......The priests, the sons of Levi, shall draw near; for Jehovah your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of Jehovah, and by their word shall every dispute and every assault be settled. Deut 10:8-9; 21:5.

The priests, Levi's descendants, were breaking the covenant by their sin, at Malachi's time in Israel's return from captivity. So the Lord through the prophet spoke to them, exposing them to help them. Jesus, being Jehovah incarnate, TriuneGodMan, is the Establisher and Mediator of a new and better covenant.

But you have turned away from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says Jehovah of hosts. Therefore I also have made you despicable and base before all the people to the same extent that you have not kept My ways but have been respecters of persons in the law.

A mediator is not a mediator for one, but God is one......There is one God and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus......Now He has obtained a more excellent ministry inasmuch as He is also the Mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted upon better promises...He is the Mediator of a new covenant, so that, death having taken place for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, those who have been called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance...Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham came into being, I am.

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The Levitical covenant was one of several such, and quite distinct but still closely related to the Israelite covenant. It was stated in various places such as: Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8. This is an eternal covenant (Num 25:12, 13, Ps 106:30) of salt, Num 18:19.

The Levitical covenant is stated in Num 3:11-13, 25:12 where God takes the Levites (especially the line of Phineas as High Priest) instead of the all the firstborn of each family, thus changing the (informal) priesthood from the firstborn of each family to the (formal) priesthood of tribe of Levi. Several Bible writers refer to this Levitical Covenant including:

  • Neh 13:29 – “the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites”
  • Jer 33:18, 21 – “covenant with the Levitical priests.”
  • Mal 2:4-8 – “the covenant with Levi”
  • Num 25:10-13 – the eternal covenant of priesthood was also a covenant of peace and a covenant of “salt” (Num 18:19), ie, very solemn and eternal.
  • Isa 54:10 & Eze 34:25 also describes the covenant of peace with the Levites

From other Bible passages we can see what the Levitical covenant was.

  • The purpose of the Levitical covenant was to teach and inculcate the plan of salvation (Deut 33:9, 10, Heb 9:8, 9, 11-14, 10:1-3, Col 2:16, 17). That is, it symbolically taught about salvation by grace through the coming Messiah via His substitutionary death in the place of the sinner. Thus, the sacrifices, Levites, priests and High Priest became a type of Jesus in various ways.
  • A promise by God to set them apart, ie, make them “holy” (Num 3:12, 13), to be a substitute for the first born in Israel, and to have the primary responsibility for caring for the sanctuary, its ritual services and sacrifices, maintaining and transporting its equipment. Ex 32:25-29. In this way, they became the priests of Israel. All these regulations were contained in Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27.
  • Thus, the Levites enjoyed a “blessed” (and privileged) status. Ex 32:29, Mal 2:5.
  • The book of Leviticus (and Num 1 & 18) sets out the responsibilities of the Levites in operating the ceremonial rites and sanctuary services and caring for the sanctuary equipment. See also Num 1:53, 18:2, Deut 10:8, 31:9, 25, Josh 3:3, 2 Sam 15:24, 1 Chron 15:26.
  • The token/sign (Heb: “oth”) of the Levitical covenant appears to have been the unleavened bread at the annual festival (Ex 13:6, 9, 16, Lev 24:8).

Note that according to Num 25:10-13, this Levitical covenant is permanent. In Matt 5:17-19 Jesus said that He had NOT come to destroy the law but to fulfill them. In the case of the Levitical covenant we can see this in several ways:

  • Jesus is now seated on the eternal throne in heaven at the right hand of God, Matt 26:64, Mark 14:62, 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 2:33, 7:55-56 (standing), Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22. See also Ps 110:1, Matt 22:44, Mark 12:36, Acts 2:34, Heb 1:13, Rev 5.
  • Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant Heb 4:14-16, 7:23-28, 8:1, 2, 9:1-28, 10:1-18. Thus, Jesus inherits and was the fulfilment of the Levitical Covenant (See Mal 3:1). Jesus did this in several ways as well such as:
  • Jesus was the fulfilment of what the sanctuary/temple typified, John 2:19-21, Heb 9:1-28, 10:1-18
  • Jesus represented the foundation of the temple as well, 1 Peter 2:4-8 (Compare Isa 28:16, Ps 118:22)
  • Jesus was the bread of life, John 6:35, 41, 48 (compare Ex 25:23-30, Lev 24:8).
  • Jesus was the light of life, John 8:12, 9:5 (compare the lampstand Ex 25:31-39, Lev 24:3, 4, Isa 53:11, Ps 56:13, etc)
  • Jesus provides the water of life, John 4:13, 14 (Compare the laver Ex 30:17-21. See also 1 Cor 6:11)
  • Jesus is the promised seed of the woman Gal 3:16 (compare Gen 3:15, and the Abrahamic Covenant)
  • Jesus was the Passover Lamb and thus the promised Messiah, John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 12:1-14).
  • Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant in fulfillment of the Levitical covenant, Heb 4:14-16, 7:23-28, because He was “pure, blameless, set apart” exactly as the Levites were. See also Heb 9:15, 12:24.
  • Jesus provided the blood of the new covenant of which the communion ceremony was to be a memorial, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 24:5, 8).

It is significant that Mal 4:2 says that the Levitical covenant will continue - alluding to the unending nature of the original covenant - Jesus is our High priest and has inherited the Levitical covenant.

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  • Dottard: I am referring to your last paragraph. The covenant with Levi continued in operation until the ending of the Law covenant.​ Heb 7:11-12 "Covenant to Be a Priest Like Melchizedek". This covenant is expressed at Psalm 110:4, Paul applies it to Christ at Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17. It is a covenant made by God with Jesus Christ alone. Jesus apparently referred to it when making a covenant for a kingdom with his followers Luke 22:29. – Ozzie Ozzie Dec 4 '20 at 7:54
  • Melchizedek was king and priest of God on earth. Jesus Christ would hold both offices of King and High Priest, not on earth, but in heaven. He was installed permanently into office after his ascension to heaven. Heb 6:20; 7:26, 28; 8:1 The covenant is forever in operation, since Jesus will act under God's direction as King and High Priest forever.​Heb 7:3. – Ozzie Ozzie Dec 4 '20 at 7:55
  • @OzzieOzzie Unfortunately, Luke 22:29 does not mention any covenant at all much less the Levitical covenant. Further, the Levitical covenant was an eternal covenant, not temporary (as noted above) and Jesus specifically said He had not come to do away with the Law (Matt 5:17-19), indeed he had come top fulfill it not destroy or end it. – Dottard Dec 4 '20 at 8:10
  • Dottard :The covenant with Levi continued in operation until the ending of the Law covenant.​Heb 7:12. In the scriptures an oath or a promise by God or Jesus is a unilateral covenant, it is implied in Luke 22:29, the Aramaic Bible writes:" And I am promising you a Kingdom as my Father promised me. The Covenant to Be a Priest Like Melchizedek, is expressed at Psalm 110:4, and the writer of the Bible book of Hebrews applies it to Christ at Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17. It is a covenant made by God with Jesus Christ alone. – Ozzie Ozzie Dec 5 '20 at 9:19
  • Paul makes a comparison of the two covenants "Levi and Melchizedek " in Hebrew chapters 7 and 8 – Ozzie Ozzie Dec 5 '20 at 15:55

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