Discrimination by tribe

Here’s what the Bible says about how people were, or should have been, treated based on which tribe of Israel they were part of:


Moses set the Levites apart as God’s special favored tribe, to reward them for murdering thousands of their fellow Israelites. The Levites were exempt from military duty, but they had their own special duties, taking care of God’s stuff. And only Levites were supposed to do that kind of thing.

The law allowed Levites to do things that other people weren’t allowed to do. It even required them to do things that other people would be executed for doing. God personally killed people who touched his stuff if they weren’t Levites. And a king who let people be priests even though they weren’t Levites is labeled as evil in the Bible. If you’re not a Levite, God doesn’t want you to be a priest, except maybe if you’re Jesus.

A lot of the stuff that the law of Moses required other Israelites to tithe “to God” actually went to the Levites. Moses was a Levite, by the way. Moses kept claiming that God wanted the people to give Moses’s family and tribe free food and money. You don’t get that kind of treatment if you’re not a Levite, except maybe if you’re Melchizedek.

The Israelites were required to preserve their original tribal land divisions. Any marriage that would have resulted in people of one tribe inheriting land from another tribe was forbidden. The Levites didn’t get to inherit any land, though. They lived in the other tribes’ land. All the other tribes were required to set aside towns and pasturelands for the Levites. So… actually the Levites did get their own land, even though God said they couldn’t.

Other tribes

Moses called Asher the most blessed, and said Asher should be favored by the others. God’s chosen leader Jephthah had tens of thousands of Ephraimites killed, over a misunderstanding about whether he had wanted their help.

One time, some men in one of the cities of the tribe of Benjamin did something bad, so the other Israelites decided they needed to kill all the Benjamites. With God’s approval, they killed all the Benjamite women and most of the men. A few hundred men escaped before the Israelites changed their minds and decided they didn’t want to destroy one of their tribes after all. And they still wouldn’t let any of their daughters marry Benjamites.

The first king God chose for Israel was skeptical of the suggestion that he was anything special, because he was from Benjamin, the smallest tribe of Israel. (I wonder how it got to be so small…)

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