The Role/Rule of the Levite Kohanim

The Torah was never to be stagnate, but fluid and ever adaptable. Torah, although covering much of everyday life, did not cover every aspect that could happen. To handle new challenges and case laws, YHWH explained that if there arose any matter of controversy that was too wonderful for the local magistrates, we were to go to the Kohanim Lewi’im which would be “in those days” and in the place YHWH chose to set His name Deuteronomy 17:8-13.

אֶל־הַכֹּֽהֲנִים֙ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם וְאֶ֨ל־הַשֹּׁפֵ֔ט אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִֽהְיֶ֖ה בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֑ם וְדָֽרַשְׁתָּ֙ וְהִגִּ֣ידֽוּ לְךָ֔ אֵ֖ת דְּבַ֥ר הַמִּשְׁפָּֽט׃

To the Levite Kohanim and to the Judge- which shall be in those days; you shall inquire, and they shall inform you- the sentence of judgment. Deuteronomy 17:9

As to the plural nature of the verb higgidhu [וְהִגִּידוּ], this means the Judge [השׁפט] in conjunction with the Levite Kohanim [הכהנים הלוים]: that is to say, the Shofet is among the Levite Priests . This is the primary function of the Kohanim– to instruct the Israelites with Torah and Judgment as the following verse explained:

יוֹר֤וּ מִשְׁפָּטֶ֨יךָ֙ לְיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב וְתוֹרָֽתְךָ֖ לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל

Speaking of the Levites duty: they instruct your judgments to Ya’aqov [לְהוֹרוֹת מִשְׁפָּטִים לְיַעֲקֹב] and your Torah to Israel [וְתוֹרָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל].  Deuteronomy 33:10


This was specific to the sons of Aharon- as explained from the following verses:

וּלְהוֹרֹ֖ת אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַ֣חֻקִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֧ר יְהוָ֛ה אֲלֵיהֶ֖ם בְּיַד־מֹשֶֽׁה׃

To instruct benei Yisrael; all the statutes- which YHWH Elohim spoke- by the hand of Moses. Leviticus 10:11

Ezekiel, the Kohen Prophet in exile, understood Deuteronomy to explain that it is the Kohanim who were to deliberate all matters of controversy:

וְאֶת־עַמִּ֣י יוֹר֔וּ בֵּ֥ין קֹ֖דֶשׁ לְחֹ֑ל וּבֵין־טָמֵ֥א לְטָה֖וֹר יֽוֹדִעֻֽם׃ וְעַל־רִ֗יב הֵ֚מָּה יַֽעַמְד֣וּ לשפט (לְמִשְׁפָּ֔ט) בְּמִשְׁפָּטַ֖י ושפטהו (יִשְׁפְּטֻ֑הוּ) וְאֶת־תּֽוֹרֹתַ֤י וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי֙ בְּכָל־מֽוֹעֲדַ֣י יִשְׁמֹ֔רוּ וְאֶת־שַׁבְּתוֹתַ֖י יְקַדֵּֽשׁוּ׃

And they shall instruct my people- they shall make known between the sacred and the common; between the contaminated and the pure. And over controversy they shall stand as Judge [kethiv] for judgment [qere] with my judgment and he shall judge it [kethiv] and they shall judge it [qere] and they shall preserve my Instructions and my Ordinances and all my Appointments- and they shall sanctify my Sabbaths. Ezekiel 44:23-24

Torah and Mishpat are synonymous and are the duty of the Kohanim: the Kohen Gadol [Leviticus 21:10] which is anointed above his brethren [ וְהַכֹּהֵן֩ הַגָּד֨וֹל מֵֽאֶחָ֜יו אֲֽשֶׁר־יוּצַ֥ק עַל־רֹאשׁ֣וֹ ׀ שֶׁ֤מֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה֙] wears the royal attire of mishpat:

 וְנָֽתַתָּ֞ אֶל־חֹ֣שֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּ֗ט אֶת־הָֽאוּרִים֙ וְאֶת־הַתֻּמִּ֔ים וְהָיוּ֙ עַל־לֵ֣ב אַֽהֲרֹ֔ן בְּבֹא֖וֹ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְנָשָׂ֣א אַֽ֠הֲרֹן אֶת־מִשְׁפַּ֨ט בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֧ל עַל־לִבּ֛וֹ לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה תָּמִֽיד׃

And you shall set the Judgment in breastplate- the Urim and Thummim- and they shall be upon the heart of Aharon- as he enters before YHWH- and Aharon shall carry the judgment of benei Yisrael always upon his heart before YHWH. Exodus 28:30

The Urim and Tummim [הָאוּרִים וְהַתֻּמִּים] were to be consulted for mishpat- even the leader of Israel, whom all Israel must be obedient, must seek the Kohen Gadol for mishpat and must obey the word of the Kohen Gadol:

 וְלִפְנֵ֨י אֶלְעָזָ֤ר הַכֹּהֵן֙ יַֽעֲמֹ֔ד וְשָׁ֥אַל ל֛וֹ בְּמִשְׁפַּ֥ט הָֽאוּרִ֖ים לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה עַל־פִּ֨יו יֵֽצְא֜וּ וְעַל־פִּ֣יו יָבֹ֗אוּ ה֛וּא וְכָל־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֥ל אִתּ֖וֹ וְכָל־הָֽעֵדָֽה׃

And before El’azar the Kohen shall he stand- and he shall enquire of him according to the judgment of the Urim- before YHWH; according to his mouth they shall go out and according to his mouth they shall come in- he and all benei Yisrael with him- as well as all the edhah. Numbers 27:21


When Torah explained:

וְהָאִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יַֽעֲשֶׂ֣ה בְזָד֗וֹן לְבִלְתִּ֨י שְׁמֹ֤עַ אֶל־הַכֹּהֵן֙ הָֽעֹמֵ֞ד לְשָׁ֤רֶת שָׁם֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ א֖וֹ אֶל־הַשֹּׁפֵ֑ט וּמֵת֙ הָאִ֣ישׁ הַה֔וּא וּבִֽעַרְתָּ֥ הָרָ֖ע מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

And the man which acts imprudently- not obeying the Kohen, the one standing to minister there with YHWH your Elohim- or to the Judge; then that man shall die- so shall you burn out the evil from Yisrael. Deuteronomy 17:12

The meaning of “to the standing Kohen or to the Shofet” [אל־הכהן או אל־השׁפט] is, in my opinion, no difference than when Torah stated:

וְאִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֣י תִּמְאָ֔סוּ וְאִ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֖י תִּגְעַ֣ל נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם לְבִלְתִּ֤י עֲשׂוֹת֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְו‍ֹתַ֔י לְהַפְרְכֶ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִֽי׃

And if you reject my statutes and my judgment- your souls loathing; not to do my commandments- to break my covenant. Leviticus 26:15

Or when YHWH explained to Moshe:

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה עֲלֵ֥ה אֵלַ֛י הָהָ֖רָה וֶֽהְיֵה־שָׁ֑ם וְאֶתְּנָ֨ה לְךָ֜ אֶת־לֻחֹ֣ת הָאֶ֗בֶן וְהַתּוֹרָה֙ וְהַמִּצְוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר כָּתַ֖בְתִּי לְהֽוֹרֹתָֽם׃

And YHWH said to Mosheh, Ascend the Mountain to Me and be there; I will give to you the Tablets of Stone and the Torah and the Commandment- which I have written to instruct them. Exodus 24:12

It is clear that the Tablets of Stone [לחת האבן] contained and were synonymous with The Torah and The Mistwah [התורה והמצוה]- which YHWH wrote upon the tablets of stone.

It is to the mouth of the Kohanic court and the Kohen Gadhol- who presides over that court- which all Israel must obey.

עַל־פִּ֨י הַתּוֹרָ֜ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר יוֹר֗וּךָ וְעַל־הַמִּשְׁפָּ֛ט אֲשֶׁר־יֹֽאמְר֥וּ לְךָ֖ תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֑ה לֹ֣א תָס֗וּר מִן־הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־יַגִּ֥ידֽוּ לְךָ֖ יָמִ֥ין וּשְׂמֹֽאל׃


According to the mouth of the Torah which they shall instruct you and according to the judgment that they shall say to you- you shall act; you shall not leave from the word which they shall explain to you to the right or the left. Deuteronomy 17:11

We are not allowed to follow the ruling of a dead Judge as Torah explained that we must go to the Judge presiding in that place [Deuteronomy 17:8] in those days [Deuteronomy 17:9].

וְעָֽמְד֧וּ שְׁנֵֽי־הָאֲנָשִׁ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־לָהֶ֥ם הָרִ֖יב לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה לִפְנֵ֤י הַכֹּֽהֲנִים֙ וְהַשֹּׁ֣פְטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִֽהְי֖וּ בַּיָּמִ֥ים הָהֵֽם׃

And the two men- which had the controversy- shall stand before YHWH- before the Kohanim and the Shofetim- which shall be in those days. Deuteronomy 19:17

 This is because the Kohen Gadhol has the final judgment in the case which is why Torah explained that the man-slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadhol [Numbers 35:28]- as no other person has the purview of that case; after the death of the Kohen Gadhol, the matter can no longer be newly adjudicated.

וְנִגְּשׁ֣וּ הַכֹּֽהֲנִים֮ בְּנֵ֣י לֵוִי֒ כִּ֣י בָ֗ם בָּחַ֞ר יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֨יךָ֙ לְשָׁ֣רְת֔וֹ וּלְבָרֵ֖ךְ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה וְעַל־פִּיהֶ֥ם יִֽהְיֶ֖ה כָּל־רִ֥יב וְכָל־נָֽגַע׃

And the Kohanim- the sons of Lewy- shall come near- for YHWH your Elohim has chosen them to minister Him- in His Name; according to their mouth every controversy and plague shall be. Deuteronomy 21:5

In the days of King David, the Levites were organised into divisions; the Levites numbered 38,000 from the age of 30 and upwards. These were organised into the following divisions

24,000 were set over the work of the House of YHWH

6,000 were made officers [שֹׂטְרִים] and judges [שֹׂפְטִים]. The officers and Judges were appointed from the tribe of the Izharites- from the family of Kohath- the father of Amram [1 Chronicles 26:29].

4,000 were Gatekeepers [שֹׂעֲרִים]

4,000 were musicians in the House of YHWH

After the Monarchy of David dissolved into the two Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Jehoshaphat, one of the righteous kings of Judah, followed David in establishing the Kohanim and Levites as judges and officers over Israel [2  Chronicles 19:5-11]. The Kohanic court, in the days of Jehoshaphat, was established in Jerusalem [2Chronicles 19:8].

After the captives returned with Ezra and Nehemiah, the Levites were again installed in this same position [Nehemiah 11:16].

The outward business over Israel [הַמְּלָאכָה הַחִיצֹונָה עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵל] meant that they were not a part of the service of the House of YHWH [1 Chronicles 26:29; Nehemiah 11:16]. Instead, they were installed as officers and judges- in Jerusalem and in the various priestly cities throughout Israel.