The Levites – the Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites
The Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites were the descendants of “Gershon, Kohath, and Merari” sons of Levi (Numbers 3:17; 26:57) and the grandsons of Jacob (Genesis 46:11). There were Twelve tribes in Israel in addition to the tribe of Levi, because Jacob had adopted Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:5, 6).
The entire tribe of Levi belonged to God and His sacred service in place of the first-born of the Children of Israel (Numbers 3:12). Anciently, the father in the family performed the priestly functions (Exodus 13:8; Judges 17:10). But now this tradition was replaced by the appointment of the Levites. They were chosen by God because they showed faithfulness at the time of the worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32:26). Alone among their brethren, the “sons of Levi” rallied to “the Lord’s side” and had not joined in the pagan worship.
The Levites (Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites) were distinct from the priests. All priests had to be Levites but not all Levites served as priests. The most sacred tasks, including offering sacrifices, were reserved for the priests, descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses (Exodus 28:1–3).
But the Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites had other certain roles within the Levite culture (Numbers 3 and 4). They served under Aaron to assist him in his responsibilities and to guard the tabernacle. They were not allowed to intrude upon the unique priestly sphere of Aaron and his sons.
A separate command from Jehovah was given in regard to them: “you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall attend to it and camp around the tabernacle” (Numbers 1:48–50).
The Kohathites were in charge of the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Showbread, and other holy items (Numbers 10:21; 1 Chronicles 9:32). These items were carried on staves on their shoulders when the sanctuary was moved (Numbers 7:9; 4:15; Exodus 25:26–28).
The Gershonites were in charge of the curtains, ropes, and coverings (Numbers 4:24–26). The Merarites were in charge of taking care of and carrying the pillars, bases, frames, pegs, and cords that formed the structure of the tent of meeting. The Gershonites and Merarites were given ox carts to carry the temple items. The Gershonites received two carts and four oxen, and the Merarites received four carts and eight oxen (Numbers 7:6–8).
A Levite, between the ages of 25 and 50 years, was to carry on the services of the tabernacle. At the age of 50 years, he was freed from his responsibilities. He had the honor of taking care of minor services in the sanctuary on a voluntary ground (Numbers 8:25, 26). The Levites were exempt from military service; consequently, they were not counted with the tribal forces (1 Chronicles 9:33).
As Levites, the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites did not get specific territory in the Promised Land. God commanded that they be given cities and pastureland from among the lands of the other tribes (Joshua 21:2) and that they should be well provided for (Numbers 35:1, 2).
The distribution of the cities of Israel was decided by the drawing of lots (Joshua 21:1–8). The Gershonites received 13 cities; the Kohathites, more in number, received 23; the Merarites
were the smallest in number, so they received only 12 cities.
Among these cities were 6 cities of refuge to which a manslayer may flee (Numbers 35:6). There were three cities in Canaan, and three on the east side of Jordan (Numbers 35:14; Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 20:7, 8). The cities of refuge were a type of Christ to whom the sinner may seek refuge.
The Levites received no territorial inheritance in the Promised Land as did the other tribes (Numbers 18:20). Therefore the Lord commanded, “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting” (Numbers 18:21,26, 30). And the Levites, in turn, were to give a tithe of what they received from the tithes of Israel to the priests (Numbers 18:26-28).
In His service,