(koh' hath ite) The descendants of Kohath, the son of Levi (Exodus 6:16; see Kohath). Since Kohath was the grandfather of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam (Exodus 6:20;
Numbers 26:59; see Amram), the Kohathites were considered the most important of the three major Levitical families (that is, Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites). The Kohathites were further divided into four branches according to the four sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel (Exodus 6:18;
1 Chronicles 6:1-3,1 Chronicles 6:16,1 Chronicles 6:18,1 Chronicles 6:33,1 Chronicles 6:38;
1 Chronicles 23:6,1 Chronicles 23:12-13,1 Chronicles 23:18-20;
1 Chronicles 26:23).
The Kohathites were active throughout Israel's history. The Kohathites, along with the Gershonites and Merarites, were placed around the tabernacle and were charged with caring for and moving it. The Kohathites were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle and were responsible to care for and move the ark, table, lampstand, altars, vessels of the sanctuary, and the screen (Numbers 3:29-31). The Kohathites could not touch these objects and could move them only after they had been properly prepared by Aaron and his sons. The result of attempting to move these objects without their first being fit with poles for carrying was death (Numbers 4:15,Numbers 4:17-20;
Numbers 7:9; compare
1 Samuel 5-6;
2 Samuel 6:6-11).
After the conquest, Kohathites descended from Aaron received thirteen cities from the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin (Joshua 21:4,Joshua 21:9-19;
1 Chronicles 6:54-60). The remaining Kohathites received ten cities from the tribes of Dan, Ephraim, and Manasseh (Joshua 21:5,Joshua 21:20-26;
1 Chronicles 6:61,1 Chronicles 6:66-70). One of the latter ten was Shechem, a city of refuge. See Levitical Cities; Cities of Refuge.
David appointed 120 Kohathites under the leadership of Uriel to bring the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:5). When Jehoshaphat sought deliverance from the Moabites and Ammonites, the Kohathites led the people in prayer and praise (2 Chronicles 20:19). Mahath and Joel of the Kohathites helped in the purification of Israel's worship during the time of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:12). During Josiah's religious reforms, two Kohathite priests (Zechariah and Meshullam) helped supervise the work (2 Chronicles 34:12).
When the Israelites returned from the Exile, some of the Kohathites were placed in charge of preparing the show bread every sabbath (1 Chronicles 9:32). See Levites; Gershonites; Merarites.