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The Seat of Moses

(What was it?)



          A strange saying appears in Matthew 23 where the Messiah mentions, "Moses' seat" to his disciples.  The complete text goes as follows, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:  All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23:2-3).  This statement comes directly after the Messiah had encounters with the Pharisees and Sadducees who tried to "entangle him" with his speech (Matt. 22:15).  The Pharisees challenged the Messiah regarding paying taxes (Matt. 22:17-22), of which they were silenced by His answer.  The Sadducees then tried to entangle Him with a question regarding the resurrection (Matt. 22:23-28), but the Messiah had an answer for this as well (Matt. 22: 29-32).  Then finally a lawyer came to challenge Him asking which was the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:35-36).  His answer astonished them and the chapter is concluded with, "And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions" (Matt. 22:46).  All this was just before the Messiah mentions the seat of Moses.  The big question is, what is the seat of Moses?  To answer this question we need to first do some historical research.


The Seat of Moses in History:


          The phrase, "Moses seat" is mentioned only once in the entire scriptures, but in extra biblical sources this phrase is also mentioned, but only a few times.  Rabbi R. Aha, in a 4th century Midrashim called the "Pesikta De-Rab Kahana," describes Solomon's throne “like the Kathedra of Moses,"  This is the exact phrase as used in Matthew 23.  In 1704, a Jesuit Priest named Jean Paul visited the Jews at Kai-Feng Fu (China).  He mentions a, “magnificent and highly elevated chair, with a beautiful embroidered cushion" (Kenneth Newport, “A Note on the Seat of Moses,” Andrews Univ. Seminary Studies 28 (1990), p. 56).  He mentions later that it is the chair of Moses and describes how they taught the Torah from this chair on the Sabbath.  Though mentioned rarely, it is obvious that there is a seat for the leadership of Israel to sit.  In fact, recently there have been archeological discoveries verifying such a seat existed.

          In 1934, Eleazar L. Sukenik, who wrote a study titled, "Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece," mentions several examples of "seats of Moses" in archeology (E. L. Sukenik, Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece, London, 1934, p. 57-61).  These seats were located in Temples and Synagogues in and near Israel.  Some of these seats faced directly away from Jerusalem possibly signifying that the law comes from Jerusalem.  Though very little is mentioned in scripture and throughout history, these seats seemed to have significant importance to the ancient Hebrews.


The Seat of Moses in Exodus:


          Though there is enough historical and archeological evidence to support a literal seat of Moses, all one really needs to do is study the book of Exodus to understand it's purpose.  In Exodus 18, Moses was growing weary of sitting in judgment of the people of God.  His father in law, Jethro, came to eat with him before God (Ex. 18:12).  The next day, "Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening" (Ex. 18:13).  The Hebrew word for "sat" is yâshab, which means, "to sit down, specifically as judge" (Strong's Concordance, H3427).  This seat is where Moses sat to judge the people, but this was too much for one man to do (Ex. 18:18).  Jethro then gave Moses advice to avoid growing weary of dealing with all the people.  His suggestion was to, "provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens" (Ex. 18:21).  This is the beginnings of the Levitical Priesthood, who was to judge the people of Israel.  "Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens" (Ex. 18:25).  These men sat in "Moses seat" throughout the land to judge the people with God's law.  As Israel grew, there was greater need for more than just Moses to sit in judgment, which is why others were chosen.  Moses sat in judgment in the Tabernacle of God to judge "great matters"  (Ex. 18:22) and "hard causes" (Ex. 18:26), but the others sat in "Moses seat" throughout the land in smaller "tabernacles" so to say to judge "small matters" (Ex. 18:22, 26).  The book of Exodus explains the need for more than Moses to judge the matters of the people (Ex. 18:21).  It also expounds on how to build the tabernacle of God after the pattern of the heavenly taberancle (Ex. 25:9 through the end of the book).  The book of Leviticus continues what Exodus started by explaining the procedures of this tabernacle (Lev. 1:1 and the rest of the book).

          So the tabernacle was a tiered system of judgment.  The highest seat was that of Moses at the Tabernacle of God, but there were several lower seats for, "rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens" (Ex. 18:25).  These lower seats sat in judgment for smaller matters, but the great matters were reserved for the Tabernacle with Moses judgment.  This system was also used during the time of the Messiah.  The High Priest occupied Moses seat in the Temple of God, but there were lesser seats of Moses throughout the land that other Priests sat in judgment.  The great matters went to the High Priest, but the lesser matters went to the lesser Temples (synagogues).  Believe it or not, we still practice this Levitical Priesthood today.  The Tabernacle/Temple is what we would call a Judicial Court.  Our court system is a tiered system as well.  At the top we have the Supreme Court (Temple of God), and the lower courts we call Appellate Courts (Synagogues).  If one disagrees with an Appellate Court's (Synagogue's) decision, they can appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court (Temple).  For more on how this works please see my video titled, The Sacrificial System.  This system is what the scriptures call the Levitical Priesthood and is what the Messiah referred to as "Moses seat" in Matt. 23:2).


What Did the Messiah Mean in Matthew 23?


          In Matthew 23, the Messiah referred to the Levitical Priesthood as "Moses seat."  This was correctly done for clearly the seat Moses sat in is what Exodus and Leviticus define as the Levitical Priesthood.  In Exodus, God explains what the system is and how it is structured.  In Leviticus, God explains the rules that govern that system.  The question to ask is, what did the Messiah mean in Matthew 23:2?  This sure sounds contradictory to what He taught just before and after this statement.  Let's take a look to see if we can gain some understanding.

          First, we need to realize that this seat was not a teaching seat.  It was a judgment seat (Ex. 18:16).  It might be true that the Priest's taught from this seat, but it's primary purpose was that of judgment at trial.  This is the seat where the Levites construed the law of God.  We need to remember that the Levitical Priesthood is what we would call today the Judicial System.  Our Judicial System comes directly from the Levitical Priesthood of the scriptures.  Just as our Judicial System construes the law of the United States, so did the Levitical Priesthood construe the law of God.  We need to remember that the Bible is a law book written in legal code.  The Ten Commandments placed in the arc of the covenant is the law of the land, under the Ten Commandments are over seven hundred statutes placed on the outside of the arc of the covenant.  Throughout Israel's history are several judgments by the Levitical Priesthood that construes the law for our understanding.  Many times we might not understand a law as it is written, but when brought to court a decision is made that helps us understand the intent of the law.  This is what the Levitical Priesthood was for.  Their judgments interpret/construe the law for us to help us understand.  From all this comes various doctrines of law such as baptism, justification and sanctification.  For more on this please read my article, How to Study.  With this understanding we can better understand what the Messiah meant.

          When the Messiah said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23:2-3), this is exactly what He meant.  The scribes and Pharisees are the leaders of Israel under the Levitical Priesthood.  The High Priest sits directly in Moses seat, other Levites sit in lesser seats of Moses, and other non-Levites might have roles as well such as the Apostle Paul being a prosecuting attorney (Acts 9:1-2) and Malchus being the High Priest's servant (John 18:10).  This is the Judicial System (Levitical Priesthood) of God.  When they sit in judgment over a case concerning the people of God, we are to respect their judgment.  Especially since this is a commandment of God (Ex. 22:28, Deut. 17:10-11).  We are to respect the judgment given and obey it.  After all, this is the example the Messiah gave us.  He accepted the judgment given him by this same authority, even though they were wrong (Matt. 26:59-60, 63).  We to are to respect this authority for it was God who ordained this authority.  Today, our Judicial System is appointed by God and we are told to accept this authority as well (Rom. 13:1-7).  If you do your research, you will find that modern courts, as well as ancient courts, made decisions in law with remarkable accuracy.

          We are to accept their judgment as from God Himself, if God so chooses, He can protect us when they error.  The Apostle Paul stated so in 1 Cor. 10:13.  Here he says, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."  The Greek word for "temptation" is peirasmos which means "a putting to proof" (Strong's Concordance - G3986).  This is a legal term which implies being brought to trial.  Paul uses it in Acts 20:19 when he said, "Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews."  This is obviously referring to the many times the Jews accused him of breaking their laws (Acts 23:1-5).  In fact, Paul answers this whole question here when he said, "Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people" (Acts 23:5).  Paul knew he was to respect the High Priest and accept his decision.  Why object when the God he serves is able to protect him.  In fact, throughout the book of Acts God did this very thing for his people.  Peter was saved from jail by the angel of God in Acts 12:10-11.  We are to do the same.  If we are brought to trial we are to accept the judgment given us, even if it were wrong.  God can spare us if He chooses, but His law requires that we honor and respect this Levitical Priesthood that He created.


          This is a hard understanding to accept.  I firmly believe that the Levitical Priesthood is for today and has not been abolished.  This is contrary to what most believe, but since the Law of God was said to be "for ever," including the Levitical Priesthood (Ex. 28:43, 29:28, Lev. 6:18, Num. 18:23, and many more), I believe we should still practice it today.  In fact, we do practice this same law with our Judicial System, although it has been modified today.  I contend that we should correct this modification and practice it exactly as God intended.  For more on the Levitical Priesthood please see my video called The Levitical Priesthood for Today.

By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV