We are going to take a very brief look at the Levites in the rabbinical writings, called “aggadah.” These writings were mainly composed by the Pharisees, and they opposed the Sadducees. Now, the Sadducees were composed of Kohanim and Levi’im. As a result, when you read the rabbinical writings about the Levi’im, there will be a certain bias in their writings that will be evident. However, the Levi’im were seen in a “better light” than the Kohanim who were seen as the real “corrupt” ones.
The Hotzi Shekel (1/2 shekel) was collected before Passover by the Levi’im, who were also the tax collectors. When you read about a “publican”, that was a tax collector. Matthew, a tax collector, was named “Levi” in Mark 2.14, a Levite. Zaccheus was probably a Levite (Luke 19.9) and a tax collector, who were called “parhedrin.” In the Talmud there were several other meanings for “Levi” besides the two we have already mentioned. The word “levah” means to escort, to lead, and it is related to the fact that the Levites “escort” the people to God (Genesis Rabbah 71.4).
Rashi writes that Jacob’s wives were prophetesses and each would have three sons, equaling the 12 tribes. Leah’s 3rd son was Levi and means “attached to me.” In Gen 29.34 it says “he named him Levi” not “she” and this alludes to God because they were “attached to God.” Num 16.1-5 you will see the term “bring near” and that is the Hebrew word “karav” which is the root for “korbanot” which is translated “sacrifices.” The word korbanot means to “draw near.” This is man to God, and God to man, which is one of the purposes for the Levi’im. God put one tribe and family apart from the rest. Korah had a problem with that (Num 16.3) saying that Moses and Aaron thought they were special, which is a common problem in the faith. They weren’t satisfied with what God gave for them to do, and they got jealous (Num 16.8-11). 1 Cor 12.12-40 gives us some insight into this matter. Paul goes on to describe how a body has many members and this is how the Lord did it, and the eye can’t say to the hand that there is no need for it.
This concept comes up in the Temple. People will say “it’s not fair that I can’t go into the Azarah of the kohanim.” Women will say “It’s not fair that I can’t go into the Azarah.” There are teachings going around that “everyone is a priest” and that the kohanim are not needed anymore, and so on. But, that is what is at the heart of Korah’s rebellion. People need to be content with who they are and who they are in the Lord. When we want to do someone else’s job, we are probably not doing our job. The enemy will try to exploit this. 1 Cor 7.17-24 says that we should be content with who we are.
On the other hand, God did make people “priests” in the family and home. This is symbolized by the one techelet thread in the tzitzit. The rabbi’s say that the kohanim had all blue thread in theirs, but that is tradition. But you can see the association. Uzziah burned incense when he wasn’t a priest and became a metzora (2 Chr 26.18), meaning there were kohanim for the Temple and that role was not to be usurped by someone who was not a son of Aaron. God divided the people into three camps and that was his idea, not man’s. The word for “camps” is “macheneh” and so the three camps were called Macheneh Israel, Macheneh Kohanim and the Macheneh Levi’im. When the Tamid was getting ready to be offered, a Temple official, who was called “the Gever” (rooster), gave a three fold cry for these groups to go where they needed to go in the Temple to get ready for the worship. It was this Temple Crier that Peter heard at the trial of Yeshua, not a literal rooster. They were not allowed in Jerusalem anyway.
We are going to look at some Hebrew terms that refer to these groups. The first term is “Mishmarot” and this means the courses, or divisions of the Kohanim and Levi’im. It literally means “guards” and this word is used in the post-biblical times. The next word is “Ma’Amadot” and this means the “standing men” and these were the people who would accompany the kohanim and the Levi’im of the mishmar who went to serve in the Temple for a week. They stood outside of the Azarah in the Court of Israel and prayed with the Kohanim and sang with the Levi’im during the Tamid service. Another term we need to know is “Machlakot” and this is the biblical term for the courses and divisions.
These were all men, but the plural form of these words is feminine. The concept being communicated is this. They represented all of Israel (the Bride). Just as Israel is in three divisions, they are represented in these terms to represent the Bride in the Temple and being present at a marriage ceremony, with the groom being the Lord himself.
The concepts involved with coming to the Temple was to draw near to God and to present yourself before the Lord. When you present yourself, this is where you have the three divisions, or “camps.” The Ma’Amad, or “standing men” were appointed from all 24 districts to be at the Temple service, representing all the people. This started with Solomon. So, in reality, the Kohanim on duty represent all the Kohanim in Israel, the Levi’im represented all the Levi’im in Israel, and the Ma’Amad represented all the people in Israel. As a result, everyone is represented everyday at all the services before the Lord.
The words Mishmar and Mishmarot refer specifically to the Kohanim and Levi’im. All 24 courses were required to be on duty during the Shelosh Regalim, or the three pilgrim festivals (Mishnah Sukkah 5.7-8). In the slaughter area north of the altar there are 24 rings. These rings had the name of the mishmarot on them and they rotated each week with the incoming mishmarot. You could tell what course was on duty by looking at the southeast ring (Midot 3.5). You could figure out what time of year it was by doing this.
In the conclusion, we will pick up here with the Mishmarot in their weekly duties. After that we will begin with the Levitical Choir and their music.