Scriptures

Numbers 3

Introduction

‘This is the account of the family of Aaron and Moses at the time the LORD spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai. The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Those were the names of Aaron’s sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. Nadab and Abihu, however, died before the LORD when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai. They had no sons, so Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron.’ Numbers 3:1-4

The Levites

This chapter begins by reminding us that the sons of Aaron, who was Moses’ brother, were specifically anointed and ordained to the Lord as the high priests. From Aaron, priests were to come to minister the services of the tabernacle.

Notice that Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron sinned against the Lord, and as a result, they were struck dead, Leviticus 10:1-2. It appears that Eleazar and Ithamar inherited the priesthood and passed it down to their sons after them.

‘The LORD said to Moses, “Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him. They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the tent of meeting by doing the work of the tabernacle. They are to take care of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle. Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him. Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary is to be put to death.” The LORD also said to Moses, “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD.” Numbers 3:5-13

Here we read that the sons of Levi helped in their duties as priests with the sons of Aaron, Judges 17:5 / Judges 17:10 / Judges 17:13.

It’s at this point in time that the tribe of Levi was separated from the other tribes of Israel so that they can focus on ministering to the spiritual needs of the nation.

Notice that if anyone else approached the sanctuary they were to be put to death. This tells us that no one or anything unclean was allowed to do the tasks which were given specifically only to the Levites. God says the Levites are His, all the firstborn are His, in other words, the firstborn belonged to God.

God had consecrated the firstborn of Israel at the time of the exodus from Egypt, Exodus 13:2 / Exodus 13:11-12. God didn’t want human sacrifice, so He took the tribe of Levi as Israel’s firstborn. Instead of taking all the firstborn of Israel, He took only the sons of Levi.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘There is important symbolism in this. ‘As representatives of the hallowed first-born, Exodus 22:29-30 / Exodus 34:19-20, the Levites picture the saints composing ‘the church of the first-born, written (registered) in heaven’, Hebrews 12:23, having no earthly inheritance, but a heavenly place and service.’

‘The LORD said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, “Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more.” So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD. These were the names of the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. These were the names of the Gershonite clans: Libni and Shimei. The Kohathite clans: Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. The Merarite clans: Mahli and Mushi. These were the Levite clans, according to their families. To Gershon belonged the clans of the Libnites and Shimeites; these were the Gershonite clans. The number of all the males a month old or more who were counted was 7,500. The Gershonite clans were to camp on the west, behind the tabernacle. The leader of the families of the Gershonites was Eliasaph son of Lael. At the tent of meeting the Gershonites were responsible for the care of the tabernacle and tent, its coverings, the curtain at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the curtains of the courtyard, the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, and the ropes—and everything related to their use. To Kohath belonged the clans of the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites and Uzzielites; these were the Kohathite clans. The number of all the males a month old or more was 8,600. The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. The Kohathite clans were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. The leader of the families of the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. They were responsible for the care of the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use. The chief leader of the Levites was Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest. He was appointed over those who were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. To Merari belonged the clans of the Mahlites and the Mushites; these were the Merarite clans. The number of all the males a month old or more who were counted was 6,200. The leader of the families of the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail; they were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. The Merarites were appointed to take care of the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts, bases, all its equipment, and everything related to their use, as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs and ropes. Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp to the east of the tabernacle, toward the sunrise, in front of the tent of meeting. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary on behalf of the Israelites. Anyone else who approached the sanctuary was to be put to death. The total number of Levites counted at the LORD’s command by Moses and Aaron according to their clans, including every male a month old or more, was 22,000.’ Numbers 3:14-39

Here we read that the census included counting all the male children who were over one month old. The total number of males one month and older was 22,000.

It also included counting the children between the ages of 30 and 50. The total number of the males between 30 and 50 was 8,580, Numbers 4:48. Those between 30 and 50 would care for the tabernacle under the supervision of the sons of Aaron.

They were to be grouped by the families, with the main grouping according to Levi’s three sons, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The counting included the Gershonites, Kohathites, Merarites, with Moses and Aaron.

The total number that is given in Numbers 3:39 doesn’t include an additional 300. The 300 were possibly the firstborn of the Levites, and so, didn’t need to be counted with the total number since they were already consecrated to the Lord.

The Gershonites were to camp westward to the tabernacle which is in between Judah and the tabernacle itself. Their job was to take care of the skins that covered the tabernacle itself.

Kohath was probably a cousin of Moses. They served in taking care of the ark and ceremonial utensils and they were to responsible for the transportation of the ark and ceremonial utensils.

The family of Merari were to camp northward to the tabernacle, in between Dan and the tabernacle itself. Their job involved taking care of the structural aspects of the tabernacle, that is, the pillars, the boards, and so forth.

I’m sure those of you who are good at maths would have noticed that the numbers don’t add up.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘A number on which the commutation with the firstborn of the twelve tribes depends, Numbers 3:43-46. The actual total of the male Levites is 22,300, Numbers 3:22 / Numbers 3:28 / Numbers 3:34, and the extra 300 are considered by some to represent those who, being first-born themselves in the tribe of Levi, could not be available to redeem the first-born in other tribes.’

Wenham, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The total of 22,000 Levites given in Numbers 3:39 does not tally with the totals of the individual clans given in Numbers 3:22 / Numbers 3:28 / Numbers 3:34 which come to 22,300. The discrepancy is most easily explained as textual corruption in Numbers 3:28. The number of Kohathites may originally have been 8,300. 3, Hebrew ‘sls’, could quite easily have been corrupted into 6, ‘ss’.’

‘The LORD said to Moses, “Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the LORD.” So Moses counted all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the LORD commanded him. The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273. The LORD also said to Moses, “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD. To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.” So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites. From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD.’ Numbers 3:40-51

Matthew Henry, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The number of the first-born, and that of the Levites, came near to each other. Known unto God are all his works beforehand, there is an exact proportion between them, and so it will appear, when they are compared together. The small number of first-born, over and above the number of the Levites, were to be redeemed, and the redemption money given to Aaron.’

Remember there were 22,273 firstborn sons in Israel and there were only 22,000 Levite males, Leviticus 3:39, and so we have a difference of 273 between the final total of the firstborn and the total of the tribe of Levi.

To make up the difference there was a plan of redemption. Instead of the firstborn of all the nation being given for service to the Lord, an offering of five shekels was given for each one.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘It is significant that in the case of the cattle mentioned here, there was evidently permitted a redemption, through exchange, of both clean and unclean animals, some of which, according to legislation in Numbers 18:15-17, had to be sacrificed and not redeemed. Obviously, this was a special case not subject to normal requirements.’

Go To Numbers 4

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Matthew 28:19

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