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The daily summaries are written by Wayne D. Turner, Pastor of Fayette Bible Church in Fayetteville, Georgia

This is the March 15 reading. Select here for a new reading date:


BibleTrack Summary: March 15
<< Num 2

For New King James text and comment, click here.

Numbers 3-4    Listen Podcast

 

Let's number the Levites and give them jobs (Numbers 3)

Aaron and his four sons

1 These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the LORD spake with Moses in mount Sinai.
2 And these are the names of the sons of Aaron; Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest’s office.
4 And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children: and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest’s office in the sight of Aaron their father.

Nadab and Abihu died on dedication day back in Leviticus 10 (see notes). All priests, subsequently, came from the line of Eleazar or Ithamar.

The Levites are to replace the firstborn of Israel

5 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
6 Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him.
7 And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle.
8 And they shall keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle.
9 And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel.
10 And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest’s office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.
11 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
12 And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine;
13 Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the LORD.
14 And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying,
15 Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them.
16 And Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded.

Originally, it appeared that the firstborn sons of each tribe would comprise the priesthood. While we see here the first formal declaration that the Levites will now serve as ministry servants, this seems to have been determined after the golden-calf incident in Exodus 32:26-29 (see notes). By the time we get to Exodus 38:21 (see notes), it appears to be already understood that the Levites have this special place among the Hebrews.

The three families of the Levites - numbering those who were one-month old or older

17 And these were the sons of Levi by their names; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari.
18 And these are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families; Libni, and Shimei.
19 And the sons of Kohath by their families; Amram, and Izehar, Hebron, and Uzziel.
20 And the sons of Merari by their families; Mahli, and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites according to the house of their fathers.

The Levites are numbered. A summary of this count may be seen in the chart below. All Levites are divided into three families; these are identified by the three sons of Levi. All Levites knew who their ancestor was. In the following 15 verses, each family of Levites is listed with their particular tabernacle responsibilities along with their stationing around the tabernacle structure.

Levite family #1: The Gershonites - 7,500

21 Of Gershon was the family of the Libnites, and the family of the Shimites: these are the families of the Gershonites.
22 Those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, even those that were numbered of them were seven thousand and five hundred.
23 The families of the Gershonites shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward.
24 And the chief of the house of the father of the Gershonites shall be Eliasaph the son of Lael.
25 And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation shall be the tabernacle, and the tent, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,
26 And the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords of it for all the service thereof.

Levite family #2: The Kohathites - 8,600

27 And of Kohath was the family of the Amramites, and the family of the Izeharites, and the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites: these are the families of the Kohathites.
28 In the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were eight thousand and six hundred, keeping the charge of the sanctuary.
29 The families of the sons of Kohath shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle southward.
30 And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.
31 And their charge shall be the ark, and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister, and the hanging, and all the service thereof.
32 And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be chief over the chief of the Levites, and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary.

Levite family #3: The Merarites - 6,200

33 Of Merari was the family of the Mahlites, and the family of the Mushites: these are the families of Merari.
34 And those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were six thousand and two hundred.
35 And the chief of the house of the father of the families of Merari was Zuriel the son of Abihail: these shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle northward.
36 And under the custody and charge of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and the sockets thereof, and all the vessels thereof, and all that serveth thereto,
37 And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords.

The substitution math: Levites for the firstborn of Israel

38 But those that encamp before the tabernacle toward the east, even before the tabernacle of the congregation eastward, shall be Moses, and Aaron and his sons, keeping the charge of the sanctuary for the charge of the children of Israel; and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.
39 All that were numbered of the Levites, which Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the LORD, throughout their families, all the males from a month old and upward, were twenty and two thousand.
40 And the LORD said unto Moses, Number all the firstborn of the males of the children of Israel from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names.
41 And thou shalt take the Levites for me (I am the LORD) instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel; and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstlings among the cattle of the children of Israel.
42 And Moses numbered, as the LORD commanded him, all the firstborn among the children of Israel.
43 And all the firstborn males by the number of names, from a month old and upward, of those that were numbered of them, were twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen.
44 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
45 Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the LORD.
46 And for those that are to be redeemed of the two hundred and threescore and thirteen of the firstborn of the children of Israel, which are more than the Levites;
47 Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:)
48 And thou shalt give the money, wherewith the odd number of them is to be redeemed, unto Aaron and to his sons.
49 And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them that were redeemed by the Levites:
50 Of the firstborn of the children of Israel took he the money; a thousand three hundred and threescore and five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary:
51 And Moses gave the money of them that were redeemed unto Aaron and to his sons, according to the word of the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Since God took the firstborn of those who did not display the Passover blood back in Egypt on the night before the Exodus, the firstborn of Israel had belonged to God (verse 13). These would be dedicated to God for priestly service. Now we get a new plan for the priesthood. God commands Moses to take a whole tribe of men, the Levites, and count them from one month old for dedication to priestly duties instead of the firstborn from every family (verse 12). From this time forward the Levites were the official, designated firstborn of Israel; they would handle the responsibilities of the Hebrews' worship in Israel. As a matter of fact, verse 10 emphasizes the consequence of someone other than a Levite assuming the role of a priest, "...the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death." That's a heavy consequence for impersonating a priest. Incidentally, we get a reminder in verse 4 of that day when Aaron's two oldest sons were lost in the God-created fire back in Leviticus 10 (see notes).

We see an additional counting from among the tribes in verse 43, the number of firstborn sons among the Hebrews who are older than one month. That number totals 22,273. The total number of Levites within the same age category is found to be an even 22,000. Whoops! We have a problem - more firstborn sons in Israel than Levites by a grand total of 273! God specifies in verse 46 that the firstborn sons of Israel must collect 5 shekels for each of the 273, the number of firstborn sons over the number of Levites. Subsequently, they present a payment to Moses totaling 1,365 shekels (273 x 5 = 1,365). Obviously, close doesn't count in this situation.

In Numbers 1 (see notes) the men who are 20 years and older are numbered. These are those who are able to go to war if needed. Men of fighting age is the only count we get of the Hebrews. Women and children are not counted; neither are the Levites. On the other hand, the Levites were counted a couple of different ways: (1) males over one month old (chapter 3) and (2) males eligible for tabernacle service - 30 to 50 years of age (chapter 4). The table below summarizes the content of Numbers 3 and 4.

 
The Levites - numbers and responsibilities
See the position of the Levites in the camp relative to the Tabernacle on the map at the bottom of this page.
Gershonites
7,500 (above 1 month old)
Kohathites
8,600 (above 1 month old)
Merarites
6,200 (above 1 month old)
Moses & Aaron
Aaron's sons: Ithamar & Eleazar
Headed by Ithamar
Headed by Eleazar
Headed by Ithamar
Headed by Aaron
Responsible for tabernacle and tent, including coverings, curtains, ropes, etc. Responsible for the sanctuary including the ark, table of shewbread, lampstand, altar of incense, related articles and veil Responsible for tabernacle and courtyard including the frames, crossbars, posts, bases, pegs and ropes Served as priests
Packed up and unpacked the tabernacle vessels on moving days.
2,630 (30 to 50 years of age)
2,750 (30 to 50 years of age)
3,200 (30 to 50 years of age)
 

The minimum age of 25 was established later in Numbers 8 (see notes) when the Tabernacle was being dedicated as the required age for Levite service, down from 30 in this passage. King David later decrees a change in this age requirement in I Chronicles 23:24, 27 (see notes). It would appear from context that the difference between wilderness service and temple service made it feasible for younger men to serve. Since the age of manhood in Israel began at 20, under David the Levites would be able to serve at that age also in the new temple. Incidentally, this is the age of service observed by the Levites who returned from Babylonian exile in Ezra 3:8 (see notes) as well.

The Levites had a big job on moving day (Numbers 4)

Kohathite responsibilities

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
2 Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, after their families, by the house of their fathers,
3 From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.
4 This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things:
5 And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it:
6 And shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.
7 And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon:
8 And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof.
9 And they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick of the light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuffdishes, and all the oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it:
10 And they shall put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put it upon a bar.
11 And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put to the staves thereof:
12 And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put them on a bar:
13 And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon:
14 And they shall put upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even the censers, the fleshhooks, and the shovels, and the basons, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of badgers’ skins, and put to the staves of it.
15 And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation.
16 And to the office of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the daily meat offering, and the anointing oil, and the oversight of all the tabernacle, and of all that therein is, in the sanctuary, and in the vessels thereof.
17 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
18 Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites:
19 But thus do unto them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach unto the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden:
20 But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die.

Gershonite responsibilities

21 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
22 Take also the sum of the sons of Gershon, throughout the houses of their fathers, by their families;
23 From thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them; all that enter in to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.
24 This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for burdens:
25 And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the badgers’ skins that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,
26 And the hangings of the court, and the hanging for the door of the gate of the court, which is by the tabernacle and by the altar round about, and their cords, and all the instruments of their service, and all that is made for them: so shall they serve.
27 At the appointment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burdens, and in all their service: and ye shall appoint unto them in charge all their burdens.
28 This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation: and their charge shall be under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

Merarite responsibilities

29 As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them after their families, by the house of their fathers;
30 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth into the service, to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation.
31 And this is the charge of their burden, according to all their service in the tabernacle of the congregation; the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and sockets thereof,
32 And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords, with all their instruments, and with all their service: and by name ye shall reckon the instruments of the charge of their burden.
33 This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service, in the tabernacle of the congregation, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

Kohathite numbering: 30-50 years old - 2,750

34 And Moses and Aaron and the chief of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites after their families, and after the house of their fathers,
35 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation:
36 And those that were numbered of them by their families were two thousand seven hundred and fifty.
37 These were they that were numbered of the families of the Kohathites, all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, which Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.

Gershonite numbering: 30-50 years old - 2,630

38 And those that were numbered of the sons of Gershon, throughout their families, and by the house of their fathers,
39 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,
40 Even those that were numbered of them, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers, were two thousand and six hundred and thirty.
41 These are they that were numbered of the families of the sons of Gershon, of all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, whom Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the LORD.

Merarite numbering: 30-50 years old - 3,200

42 And those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers,
43 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,
44 Even those that were numbered of them after their families, were three thousand and two hundred.
45 These be those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.

Total Levite numbering: 30-50 years old - 8,580

46 All those that were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chief of Israel numbered, after their families, and after the house of their fathers,
47 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation,
48 Even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore.
49 According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses.

There were a total of 8,580 Levites ready to do tabernacle service. In this chapter we see the responsibilities each Levite of service age (30 to 50) had when it came time to move the tabernacle. Obviously, moving day was a big day. You'll notice the number of service priests in the chart shown above. The Kohathites had a very tricky job on moving day. They moved the tabernacle furniture, but they were not allowed to look at the tabernacle furniture; if they did, they died. Therefore, Aaron's boys were in charge of thoroughly covering all the tabernacle furniture and vessels. A bad packing job could result in the death of a fellow Levite, a Kohathite.

Tribes of Israel in the Wilderness

How often did they move this Tabernacle? I mean...it looks like a lot of trouble to break it down and set it back up again. Look at the moves they made in Numbers 33 (see notes); I think you'll see that they moved around quite a bit after the Tabernacle was erected.


For commentary on another passage, click here.


Copyright 2003-2011 by Wayne D. Turner