The line of Kohath (another son of Levi) was divided into 4 lines, or clans, each representing the 4 sons of Kohath, one of them being the line from which Moses and Aaron came (the Amram-ites).
From Kohath came the family of the Amramites, the family of the Izharites, the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites; these were the families of the Kohathites. According to the number of all the males, from a month old and above, there were eight thousand six hundred keeping charge of the sanctuary. The families of the children of Kohath were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. And the leader of the fathers’ house of the families of the Kohathites was Elizaphan the son of Uzziel. Their duty included the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the utensils of the sanctuary with which they ministered, the screen, and all the work relating to them.
Numbers 3:27-31 (NKJV)
The combined number of males from this family group was 8,300. They were to camp to the south side of the Tabernacle…the 2nd most prestigious place to camp.
Their duties were to care for the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Shewbread, the Menorah, the Golden Altar of Incense, and all the various ritual utensils like the fire pan, the golden pitchers, the bowls used to catch the blood of the animal sacrifices, and so on.
Notice that these duties were the highest duties of the non-priests…that group that the Bible typically calls just “the Levites”.
The Kohathites cared for the things INSIDE the tent. The first group we discussed, that of Gershon, cared for things that were either barriers between the inside and outside of the tent or the things that were located fully outside the tent (such as the Altar of Burnt Offering).
Things inside the tent were generally considered more sacred and prestigious than things placed outside the tent.
Let me remind you because it can get confusing: once God set up the priesthood (and event that occurred at Mt. Sinai), He divided the tribe of Levi into two main divisions:
- Priests and
The Priests performed the rituals and did the teaching of the Law, and they were called “Priests”, or in Hebrew, cohanim.
The non-priests (the remainder of the tribe of Levi) went by the title of “the Levites”; this was those who did the blue collar work around the Tabernacle and later the Temple.
Biologically and genealogically speaking the Priests and the Levites were all part of the tribe of Levi; but God elevated the descendants of Aaron, the Priests, into a higher status than the remainder of the tribe of Levi.
So from this point forward in the Bible, 9 out of 10 times that the Scripture refers to Levites it is ONLY referring to those Levite blue color workers and NOT the Priests.
And ALWAYS when Scripture refers to Priests it in no way includes those blue-collar worker Levites. We will see the phrase “Levite Priests” quite often, but don’t be confused.
The purpose for this is to remind the reader that the priesthood comes from the tribe of Levi and ONLY the tribe of Levi; no other tribe can participate in the priesthood.
Sadly most Christian commentators make Levites and Priests to be but two words for the same thing and so we get a very inaccurate picture of what went on around the Tabernacle and later the Temple.