The Hebrew expression behth ʼav (plural, behth ʼa·vohthʹ) could refer (1) to a dwelling place (De 22:21); (2) to the household of one’s father at his place of dwelling (Ge 31:30; 38:11); (3) to those making up the household itself, even in a location away from the ancestral home (Ge 46:31; Jg 9:18); or (4), as variously translated, to a “father’s house,” “chief house,” “ancestral house,” “paternal house,” which, in some cases, took in several families. For example, at the time of numbering the Israelites in the wilderness, four families were regarded as making up the paternal house of Kohath. (Nu 3:19, 30; see also Ex 6:14; Nu 26:20-22; Jos 7:17.) Several paternal houses constituted a tribe (such as the tribe of Levi, made up of the paternal houses of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari).
The terms “paternal house,” or “fathers’ house,” “house of our father,” and so forth, were not always limited to the above usages, however. (For a broader use of “paternal house” see Nu 17:2, 6, where a paternal house is a tribe.)
As the population of Israel increased and as various areas of the Promised Land became settled, paternal houses also increased in number. The priests were organized by David into 24 divisions of service according to their paternal houses, 16 divisions for Eleazar and 8 for Ithamar. The 24 headmen were called “heads for their paternal houses.” (1Ch 24:4-6) The rest of the Levites were selected for certain duties by lot, without regard to any priority of age of the heads of their paternal houses.—1Ch 24:20-31.
Each Israelite paternal house was represented by its hereditary head in connection with official tribal business and the administration of justice. (Ne 7:70, 71; 11:13) At the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem in King Josiah’s time, the people apparently entered the court of the temple by their paternal houses to offer their sacrifices. The Levites, by their divisions based on paternal houses, received the sacrifices of the people and prepared them.—2Ch 35:4, 5, 12.
Jesus Christ promised his followers that he was going his way to prepare a place for them in his ‘Father’s house,’ by which he had reference to the heavenly dwelling place of Jehovah.—Joh 14:2; see FAMILY.