so they pitched by their standards; every tribe, and every person in the tribe, as they were ranked, pitched by the standard to which they belonged:
and so they set forward, after their families according to the house of their fathers; the camps, and the tribes in them the families in those tribes, and the houses or lesser families under them, when they marched, proceeded in this regular order, as they did on the twentieth of this month; see Numbers 10:11.
INTRODUCTION TO Numbers 3
In this chapter an account is given of the genealogy of the priests and Levites, and of the gift of the Levites to the priests, of the numbering of them, and the service they were to perform; and first of the priests, the sons of Aaron, Numbers 3:1; and then of the Levites, as given unto them, to wait upon them, and assist them, Numbers 3:5; and these were taken instead of the firstborn, Numbers 3:11; and ordered to be numbered, which was done accordingly by their families, Numbers 3:14; and the sum of each is given, and the particular work assigned to them; of the Gershonites, Numbers 3:21; of the Kohathites, Numbers 3:27; of the Merarites, Numbers 3:33; the sum total of them is given, Numbers 3:39; then the firstborn of the children of Israel, from a month old are ordered to be numbered, and were, Numbers 3:40; and these appearing to be more in number than the Levites, by two hundred seventy three a direction is given that the two hundred seventy three should be redeemed at the rate of five, shekels apiece, and the money paid to Aaron and his sons, Numbers 3:44; which was accordingly done, Numbers 3:49.
in the day that the Lord spoke with Moses in mount Sinai; and not, altogether as it then, was when he spoke to him in the wilderness, of Sinai, for then Aaron had four sons, but now two of them were dead as is after observed; and it seems to be for the sake of this circumstance chiefly that this clause is so put.
Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar; as in Exodus 6:23.
whom he consecrated to minister in the priest's office; that is, whom Moses consecrated, by anointing them, putting the priest's garments on them, offering sacrifice for them, and filling their hands with sacrifices which is the phrase here used for consecration: see Exodus 29:15.
when they offered strange fire before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai; after the tabernacle was set up, and the service of it begun, and quickly after their unction and consecration: of this strange fire; see Gill on Numbers 10:1,
and they had no children; which is observed, partly to show the punishment of them, and the reproach upon their names, that they died childless, and had none to succeed them in the priesthood; for as the Jewish writers (n) observe if they had left any behind them, those would have come into the office before Eleazar and Ithamar; and partly to show that all the priests in succeeding ages sprung from those next mentioned:
and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest's office, in the sight of Aaron their father; in his presence, under his inspection, and by his direction, he seeing and observing that they did everything according to the laws delivered by Moses, relating to, the office of the priesthood; or while he was yet alive, as Aben Ezra, they were concerned with him, and acted under him in the priestly office; and so the Septuagint version renders it, "with Aaron their father" (o); but a Jewish writer (p) interprets it in a different manner, "in the room of Aaron their father"; as if it respected not any conjunction with him in the then present exercise of their office in his lifetime, but their succession in it after his death; but the former seems most correct.
(n) Torat Cohanim apud Ceseph Misnah in Maimon. Melachim, c. 1. sect. 7. Chaskuniin in loc. (o) Which is approved by Noldius, p. 731. (p) Chaskuni.
saying; as follows.
and present them before Aaron the priest; that he may receive them as a gift unto him, as servants to wait upon him; and! that he may appoint and declare unto them their work, and set them about it:
that they may minister unto him; in guarding the tabernacle taking care of the vessels of it, taking it down, carrying it, from place to place, and setting it up as there was occasion for it.
before the tabernacle of the congregation; not within it, neither in the holy place, nor in the most holy place, where they might not enter, to do any service peculiar thereunto, but at the door of the tabernacle, and in the court of it, and in the rooms and chambers in it: and do the service of the tabernacle; not to offer sacrifices on the altar of the burnt offering, which stood in the court, and much less to burn incense on the altar of incense, and to him the lamps, and set on the shewbread in the holy place; and still less to enter into the most holy place, and do there what was to be done on the day of atonement; but to do all that is before observed, and to bring the people's offerings to the priest, and to assist in slaying them; and to keep all profane and polluted persons out of it, the tabernacle, as we find in later times; they were porters at it, and some of them were singers in it, and had the care of various things belonging to it: see 1 Chronicles 9:14.
and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle; See Gill on Numbers 3:7.
they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel: even all of them entirely, none excepted; the whole tribe which were not in the priestly office; those were separated from the rest of the tribes of Israel, and appointed for the service of the priests: or they were "given, given" (q); which is repeated not only to show that they were wholly given, as we render it, but to denote the certainty of it, that they were really given; and especially to declare the freeness of the gift; the priests had them as free gifts, nor did they pay them any thing for, their service; they were maintained another way, namely, by the tithes of the people; and indeed the priests received a tithe out of the tithe of the Levites; so far were they from contributing any thing to their support, or in consideration of the service they did them.
(q) "dati, dati", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus, Drusius.
and they shall wait on their priest's office, to do what was peculiar to it, both in the holy and in the most holy place, at the altar, and within, the vail, where the Levites had nothing to do; and this is observed that the priests might take notice, that by the gift of the Levites to them, they were not excused from doing any part of service which was proper to them as priests; for they were given them that they might more readily attend their office, and be wholly employed in it; just as, under the Gospel dispensation, deacons were appointed to take care of the secular affairs of the church, that the apostles might give up themselves to the word of God and prayer, Acts 6:2,
and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death; that comes nigh to perform any part of the priest's office peculiar to him as to offer sacrifice, burn incense, &c. whether he be a common Israelite, or even a Levite, as Korah was; any that was not a priest was reckoned a stranger, and so to be put to death for intruding into the office, as the above mentioned person was: so Aben Ezra interprets it of anyone that came nigh to a priest, to be with him or join with him in the execution of his office, whether an Israelite or a Levite, he shall die: the Targum of Jonathan adds, by flaming fire before the Lord.
saying: as follows.
instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel; he made an exchange of those for the Levites; upon the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt, and saving the firstborn of Israel, he claimed the latter as his own in a special sense, and now he gave up his right to them, and instead thereof took the Levites; nor could the people of Israel reasonably object to this, nor be uneasy at it, but rather be pleased with it; since hereby they were not only freed from the charge of redeeming their firstborn, but since they were the Lord's, he might have appointed them to be servants to the priests; and every Israelite would choose rather, no doubt, to part with a tribe for this service than to have their firstborn sons employed in it; and there were none so fit as the tribe of Levi, not only because it was a small tribe, but because the priests were of this tribe, to whom they were to minister; and therefore as there was a connection between them, the Levites would readily serve them: it is a notion that has obtained both among Jews and Christians, that the firstborn before this time were priests in the family, but now the Levites were taken in their room; and Jarchi particularly observes, that when the firstborn sinned in the business of the calf, they were rejected, and the Levites, who did not commit idolatry, were chosen in their room; but it does not appear, before the fixing the priesthood in Aaron's family, that the firstborn in a family were priests, and officiated as such, but rather the father and head of the family for the whole, or everyone for himself, as in Adam's family, he and his two sons; and moreover, it was a recent thing, and only among the Hebrews, that the firstborn were in a peculiar manner the Lord's, not as priests, only to be redeemed, and now the Levites were redeemed in their room; it was not to be priests, but the servants of the priests (r):
therefore the Levites shall be mine; whom he gave to the priests to assist them in their work, which was for him and his glory.
(r) Vid. Outram. de Sacrificiis, l. 1. c. 4. sect. 1, 2, 3.
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; that is, sanctified or set them apart as his own special property, or ordered the people of Israel so to do, Exodus 13:2; for as when he destroyed the firstborn of the Egyptians, he saved the firstborn of Israel, he had a special claim upon them as his; and though it was in the night when he destroyed the firstborn of Egypt, yet it was the night which preceded that day, and was a part of that day, even the fifteenth of Nisan, when the instructions were given to sanctify all the firstborn; though, as Aben Ezra observes, "day" signifies "time", so that it was at or about the same time that the one and the other were done:
mine they shall be; this was declared when they were ordered to be sanctified to him, but now they were to be exchanged for the Levites:
I am the Lord; who have sovereign power to do as he would in claiming the firstborn, and then in exchanging them for the Levites, and appointing the Levites to minister to the priests, and serve in the tabernacle.
after the house of their fathers, by their families; into which the tribe was divided; house seems to be put for "houses", which were principal ones; and these were divided into families, which branched from them, and according to these, denominated from their fathers, and not their, mothers, were they to be numbered; for as the Jewish writers often say, a mother's family is no family; wherefore, if a Levite woman married into any other tribe, as she might, her, descendants were not taken into this accounts only such whose fathers were Levites, see Numbers 1:2,
every male from a month old and upwards shalt thou number them; the reason of this was, because the firstborn, for whom they were to be exchanged, were at a month old claimed by the Lord as his, and to be redeemed; and as this numbering was on, another account than, that of the children of Israel, who were numbered from twenty years of age and upwards, that they might on occasion be called out to war, from which the Levites were exempted, and the numbering of them was for the service of the sanctuary; so from their youth they were to be brought up and trained for this, that they might be fit for it, and enter upon it at a proper age.
as he commanded; he was obedient to the divine will in all things, and so in this, though it was his own tribe and his own posterity, which in all successive ages were to be no other than ministering servants to the priests, and to have no inheritance in the land of Israel.
Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari; these went down with him into Egypt, Genesis 46:11.
Libni and Shimei; and who are elsewhere mentioned as his sons, Exodus 6:17; and from hence were the families of the Libnites and Shimites, as in Numbers 3:21.
Amram, and Izehar, Hebron, and Uzziel; so in Exodus 6:18; and from whom were named the family of the Amramites, to which Moses and Aaron belonged; and the families of the Izeharites, Hebronites, and Uzzielites, as they are called, Numbers 3:27.
Mahli and Mushi; the same as in Exodus 6:19; from whom were denominated the families of the Mahlites and Mushites, who, as the preceding families, were numbered at this time: these
are the families of the Levites, according to the house of their fathers; in all eight families.
these are the family of the Gershonites; that were now, numbered.
according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upwards: in the said families:
even those that were numbered of them, were seven thousand and five hundred; 7,500 men, which was neither the least nor the largest number of the sons of Levi.
shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward; this was their situation when encamped; they were placed in the rear of the camp of the Levites, between the tabernacle and the camp of Ephraim, which was westward also, Numbers 1:18.
shall be Eliasaph the son of Lael; but who he was, or of which family of the Gershonites, whether of the Libnites or Shimites, is not said here or elsewhere; nor do the Jewish writers, who affect to know every thing, pretend to tell us.
in the tabernacle of the congregation; or with respect to the things of it, when it was taken down and committed to them; for otherwise they had no place in it, nor might they enter into it, or do any service therein:
shall be the tabernacle and the tent; the former intends not the boards of it, which were the charge of the Merarites, Numbers 3:36; but the curtains, as Aben Ezra, or the under curtains, as Jarchi calls them, which were made of fine twined linen, Exodus 26:1; and the latter is to be understood of the eleven curtains, as Aben Ezra, the curtains of goats hair, which were made for the roof of the tabernacle, as Jarchi observes, see Exodus 26:7,
the covering thereof: made of rams' skins, and badgers' skins, which were thrown over the tent, Exodus 26:14,
and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation; the vail, as Jarchi calls it; not what divided the holy and most holy places, for that fell to the charge of the Kohathites, Numbers 3:31; but the vail or hanging which was at the door of the tent, or which led into the holy place, Exodus 26:36.
and the curtain for the door of the court: which was an hanging of twenty cubits, of blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen, Exodus 27:16,
which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about: this refers to the court, the hangings, and curtains of the door of it, which are spoken of; and this court surrounded the tabernacle, and the altar which was without the tabernacle, as Aben Ezra observes, and which was the altar of burnt offering that stood within this court; for the particle sometimes signifies "about" (s), and the word "around", being joined with it, requires this sense:
and the cords of it; which seem to be the cords of the court, which fastened the hangings and curtains to brass pins, or stakes fixed in the ground to keep them tight, that the wind might not move them to and fro; but Jarchi says, these were the cords of the tabernacle and tent, and not of the court; and indeed the tabernacle had its cords as well as the court, Exodus 38:18; the cords of the court were in the charge of the Merarites, Numbers 3:37,
for all the service thereof: for that part of the tabernacle and court which the Gershonites had in their care and custody.
(s) Vid. Nold. Partic. Ebr. Concord. p. 992.
and the family of Izeharites; of which family was Korah, Numbers 16:1,
and the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites; which four families had their names from Kohath's four sons, Numbers 3:19,
these are the families of the Kohathites; which were as many as both the other sons of Levi.
keeping the charge of the sanctuary; of the holy and most holy places, and the vessels and instruments belonging thereunto; not that the males of a month old were keeping them, but when they were grown up and were capable of it, they had the charge thereof, in which they were instructed and trained up from their youth.
and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars; the table of shewbread, and the candlestick of pure gold, with its lamps, and the altar of incense, all which stood in the holy place, and the altar of burnt offering, which was in the court, for both altars were their charge:
and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister; all the vessels which belonged to the above things; for the table, candlestick, and altars, all had vessels appertaining to them:
and the hanging; that is, the vail, as Jarchi interprets it, which divided between the, holy and the most holy place; all the other hangings for the court, and the door of it, and for the door of the tabernacle, were the charge of the Gershonites, Numbers 3:25,
and all the service thereof; what belonged to the things in this part of the tabernacle.
shall be chief over the chief of the Levites; over the three chiefs of the three houses of the Levites, who were Eliasaph the son of Lael, the chief of the Gershonites; and Elizaphan the son of Uzziel, the chief of the Kohathites; and Zuriel the son of Abihail, the chief of the Merarites:
and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary; the Kohathites, who had the care of the things belonging to the holy and most holy places; and these were particularly under the inspection of Eleazar, because they were things the priests had a, special concern in; see Numbers 4:32.
these are the families of Merari; the youngest son of Levi, Numbers 3:17.
according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were six thousand and two hundred; 6,200 men; the least number of them all.
shall be Zuriel the son of Abihail; of whom we read nowhere else, nor is it certain of which family he was, whether of the Mahlites or Mushites:
these shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle northward; to the left of it, between that and the camp of Dan.
and the bars thereof; which kept the boards tight and close, see Exodus 26:26,
and the pillars thereof; the pillars on which the vail was hung, that divided between the holy and most holy place, and, on which the hanging was put for the door of the vail, Exodus 26:32,
and the sockets thereof; in which both the boards and pillars were put, Exodus 26:19.
and their sockets; into which the, pillars were put; of both which see Exodus 27:9,
and their pins, and their cords, the pins were fixed in the ground, and the cords fastened the hangings of the court to them, whereby they were kept tight and unmoved by the winds; see Exodus 27:19.
even before the tabernacle of the congregation eastward; that is, before the court of the tabernacle, where the people assembled together:
shall be Moses, Aaron, and his sons; Moses the chief ruler, and Aaron the high priest, and his sons priests under him; these had the most honourable place of all, beings at the front of the tabernacle, between that and the camp of Judah. There is an extraordinary prick on the word Aaron, to show, as Jarchi says, that he was not in the number of Levites, though of the tribe of Levi, being high priest:
keeping the charge of the sanctuary, for the charge of the children of Israel; either in their room and stead, which otherwise they must have kept; or rather for their safety and security, keeping out all persons from entering into the sanctuary, who had no business there, that they died not, as it follows:
and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death; that is, whoever came nigh to enter into the holy place, and did, who was no priest, though an Israelite, and even a Levite, or into the most holy place, excepting the high priest, it was death unto him, either by the civil magistrate, or by the hand of heaven; so the Targum of Jonathan.
numbered at the commandment of the Lord, throughout their families,.... Whence it appears, that Moses was not alone, but Aaron with him, in numbering the Levites, and that by the appointment of the Lord. The word "Aaron", in the Hebrew text, has a dot on every letter, for what reason it is not certain; the word itself is left out in the Samaritan and Syriac versions:
all the males, from a month old and upward, were twenty and two thousand; 22,000 men; but by putting the sums together they amount to three hundred more; for of the Gershonites there were 7,500, and of the Kohathites 8,600, and of the Merarites 6,200, in all 22,300; which difficulty some endeavour to remove by saying, as Aben Ezra observes, that the Scripture takes a short way, mentioning the thousands, and leaving out the hundreds but this, he says, is not right, nor is it the way of the Scripture in this chapter: and in an after account of the firstborn of the Israelites, not only the hundreds are mentioned, but the broken number of seventy three. Others think there is a corruption crept into the text somewhere in the particular numbers, through the inadvertency of some copyist; and suppose it to be in the number of the Kohathites, where they fancy six, is put instead of three: but there is no occasion to suppose either of these, for which there is no foundation, since the reason why three hundred are left out in the sum total may be, because there were so many firstborn among the Levites, and these could not be exchanged for the firstborn of the other tribes; they, as such, being the Lord's, and one firstborn could not redeem another; and so it is said in the Talmud (t), these three hundred were firstborn, and there is no firstborn redeems a firstborn, or frees from the redemption price of five shekels.
(t) T. Bab. Becoroth, fol. 5. 1.
number all the firstborn of the children of Israel, from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names; that they might be compared with the number of the Levites, and the difference between them observed.
I am the Lord; who has a right to all, and can claim who he pleases for himself in a special manner, and therefore could and did take the Levites to himself:
instead of the firstborn among the children of Israel; these he had taken to him before, and ordered to be sanctified unto him, and for whom a redemption price was paid to his priests for the support of them, and the tabernacle service, and now it was his will to make an exchange of these for the Levites:
and the cattle of the Levites, instead of all the firstling among the cattle of the children of Israel: every firstling of clean cattle was the Lord's, and given to his priests, and the firstlings of unclean cattle were redeemed with a lamb, and which were given to the same; and now instead of these he requires the cattle of the Levites; not that they should be deprived of their use of them, or that they should be taken and sacrificed, but that they should be with them devoted to him, and they should possess them in his right.
all the firstborn among the children of Israel; which some think were only those that were born since they came out of Egypt, as Bonfrerius, Bishop Patrick, and others.
by the number of names; which were particularly taken:
from a month old and upward; for before that time they were not sanctified to the Lord, nor subject to the redemption price:
of those that were numbered of them were twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen; 22,273 men; so that there were two hundred seventy three more than the Levites, Numbers 3:39.
and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; but not to be given to Aaron and his sons, or to the priests for their use, but to remain with the Levites for their use, who were now separated from the other tribes, and taken into the service of God; and as they were dedicated to God, so their cattle likewise for their support as his ministers:
and the Levites shall be mine; in a special manner his, being devoted to his service:
I am the Lord; who had a right to do this, and expected to be obeyed in it.
of the two hundred and threescore and thirteen of the firstborn of the children of Israel, which are more than the Levites; for the sum total of the Levites, as given, was but 22,000, Numbers 3:39, whereas the sum total of the firstborn of Israel were 22,273, Numbers 3:43, so that there were, two hundred seventy three more of the latter than of the former; and what was to be done with these next follows.
after the shekel of the sanctuary shall thou take them; being full weight according to the standard there kept:
the shekel is twenty gerahs; See Gill on Leviticus 27:25.
unto Aaron, and to his sons; since the Levites were taken in lieu of the firstborn, whose redemption money belonged to the priests; and seeing the Levites were given to Aaron and his sons on that consideration, and there being a deficiency of them to answer to the firstborn, it was but right and just that the redemption price of the superfluous number should be paid to them.
of them that were over and above redeemed by the Levites; or were more than those redeemed by them. A Levite redeemed a firstborn, or freed him from the redemption price, being taken in lieu of him: 22,000 Levites were answerable to 22,000 firstborn of Israel; but as there were no more Levites than the above number, there remained two hundred seventy three firstborn to be redeemed by money, and it was the redemption money of these Moses took.
a thousand three hundred and threescore and five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; 1,365 shekels, which is exactly the number of shekels that two hundred seventy three should pay, reckoning five shekels per head; which Jarchi counts thus, for two hundred firstborn, a thousand shekels; for seventy firstborn, three hundred fifty; and for three firstborn fifteen, shekels, which in all amounted to about an hundred seventy pounds of our money.
(u) Vid. Nold. Partic. Ebr. Concord. p. 579. (w) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 17. 1.