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No. 90: A Note on Matthew

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 90
December, 1996
Copyright 1996 Biblical Horizons

The apostle Matthew is also known as Levi son of Alphaeus. While not much is said about this man, the few things that are told us are significant.

Matthew in Greek is Matthaios and comes from the Hebrew name Mattithiah, or Mattith-Yah, "Gift of Yah(weh)." Matthew’s other name is Levi, which in Hebrew means "Joined" (Genesis 29:34).

If we reflect on these names – and names are almost always significant in the Word of God – some interesting associations can occur to us. The Levites of Israel connected or joined the people to God, for they were the priests and deacons of the nation, mediators between God and the people.

The Levites received the tithe of the people (Numbers 18), and Levi was a tax farmer for the Roman Empire. He left that service to follow Jesus and become a fisher ( = farmer) of men. Tithes and taxes represent the people who give them; Matthew would collect the people themselves.

Moreover, the Levites were the teachers of Israel. To them was committed the task of teaching the Word to the people in the local synagogues and Levitical cities, as well as at the central sanctuary. Is it an accident, then, that the new Levi writes the first gospel, which is a "Mosaic" gospel full of sermons?

Matthew means "Gift of Yah." The Levites of old were given to Yahweh as His servants, but Yahweh gave them back to Israel as teachers and servants of the people.

Finally, I find it interesting that in all of the first three gospels, we find that Matthew Levi holds a feast in his house (Mt. 9; Mk. 2; Lk. 5). The Pharisees complain that Jesus eats and drinks with tax farmers and outcasts. Notice that this is an argument about eating, about the use of food, which was supervised by the Levites and priests. Yet, in the Law there is no prohibition on eating with any group of people; only certain meats are forbidden. Matthew Levi, in his feast, shows what a true keeping of the dietary laws entails.

Moreover, Jesus says that He came not to heal the healthy but the sick, and to save sinners. That was Levi’s task all along. The scribes and Pharisees, who were the heirs of the original Levites, were not doing their job. But Jesus and His new Levi are.