This chapter and the next are concerning the tribe of Levi, which was
to be mustered and marshalled by itself, and not in common with the
other tribes, intimating the particular honour put upon them and the
particular duty and service required from them. The Levites are in this
I. As attendants on, and assistants to, the priests in the
temple-service. And so we have an account,
1. Of the priests themselves
and their work,
2. Of the gift of the Levites to them
in order to which they are mustered
and the sum of them taken,
Each particular family of them is mustered, has its place assigned and
its charge, the Gershonites
II. As equivalents for the first-born,
1. The first-born are numbered, and the Levites taken instead of them,
as far as the number of the Levites went,
2. What first-born there were more than the Levites were redeemed,
|The Separation of the Levites.
||B. C. 1490.|
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
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.
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
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.
I. The family of Aaron is confirmed in the priests' office,
They had been called to it before, and consecrated; here they are
appointed to wait on their priests' office: the apostle uses
Let us wait on our ministry. The office of the ministry requires
a constant attendance and great diligence; so frequent are the returns
of its work, and yet so transient its favourable opportunities, that it
must be waited on. Here is repeated what was said before
The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death, which
forbids the invading of the priest's office by any other person
whatsoever; none must come nigh to minister but Aaron and his sons
only, all others are strangers. It also lays a charge on the priests,
as door-keepers in God's house, to take care that none should come near
who were forbidden by the law; they must keep off all intruders, whose
approach would be to the profanation of the holy things, telling them
that if they came near it was at their peril, they would die by the
hand of God, as Uzza did. The Jews say that afterwards there was
hung over the door of the temple a golden sword (perhaps alluding to
that flaming sword at the entrance of the garden of Eden), on which was
engraven, The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to
II. A particular account is given of this family of Aaron; what we have
met with before concerning them is here repeated.
1. The consecration of the sons of Aaron,
They were all anointed to minister before the Lord, though it appeared
afterwards, and God knew it, that two of them were wise and two were
2. The fall of the two elder
they offered strange fire, and died for so doing, before the
Lord. This is mentioned here in the preamble to the law concerning
the priesthood, for a warning to all succeeding priests; let them know,
by this example, that God is a jealous God, and will not be mocked; the
holy anointing oil was an honour to the obedient, but not a shelter to
the disobedient. It is here said, They had no children,
Providence so ordering it, for their greater punishment, that none of
their descendants should remain to be priests, and so bear up their
name who had profaned God's name.
3. The continuance of the two younger: Eleazar and Ithamar ministered
in the sight of Aaron. It intimates,
(1.) The care they took about their ministration not to make any
blunders; they kept under their father's eye, and took instruction from
him in all they did, because, probably, Nadab and Abihu got out of
their father's sight when they offered strange fire. Note, It is good
for young people to act under the direction and inspection of those
that are aged and experienced.
(2.) The comfort Aaron took in it; it pleased him to see his younger
sons behave themselves prudently and gravely, when his two elder had
miscarried. Note, It is a great satisfaction to parents to see their
children walk in the truth,
3 John 1:4.
III. A grant is made of the Levites to be assistants to the priests in
their work: Give the Levites to Aaron,
Aaron was to have a greater propriety in, and power over, the tribe of
Levi than any other of the prices had in and over their respective
tribes. There was a great deal of work belonging to the priests'
office, and there were now only three pairs of hands to do it all,
Aaron's and his two sons'; for it does not appear that they had either
of them any children at this time, at least not any that were of age to
minister, therefore God appoints the Levites to attend upon them. Note,
Those whom God finds work for his will find help for. Here is,
1. The service for which the Levites were designed: they were to
minister to the priests in their ministration to the Lord
and to keep Aaron's charge
as the deacons to the bishops in the evangelical constitution, serving
at tables, while the bishops waited on their ministry. The Levites
killed the sacrifices, and then the priests needed only to sprinkle the
blood and burn the fat: the Levites prepared the incense, the priests
burnt it. They were to keep, not only Aaron's charge, but the
charge of the whole congregation. Note, It is a great trust that
is reposed in ministers, not only for the glory of Christ, but for the
good of his church; so that they must not only keep the charge of the
great high priest, but must also be faithful to the souls of men, in
trust for whom a dispensation is committed to them.
2. The consideration upon which the Levites were demanded; they were
taken instead of the first-born. The preservation of the first-born of
Israel, when all the first-born of the Egyptians (with whom they were
many of them mingled) were destroyed, was looked upon by him who never
makes any unreasonable demands as cause sufficient of the appropriating
of all the first-born thenceforward to himself
All the first-born are mine. That was sufficient to make them
his, though he had given no reason for it, for he is the sole fountain
and Lord of all beings and powers; but because all obedience must flow
from love, and acts of duty must be acts of gratitude, before they were
challenged into peculiar services they were crowned with peculiar
favours. Note, When he that made us saves us we are thereby laid under
further obligations to serve him and live to him. God's right to us by
redemption corroborates the right he has to us by creation. Now because
the first-born of a family are generally the favourites, and some would
think it a disparagement to have their eldest sons servants to the
priests, and attending before the door of the tabernacle, God took the
tribe of Levi entire for his own, in lieu of the first-born,
Note, God's institutions put no hardships upon men in any of their just
interests or reasonable affections. It was presumed that the Israelites
would rather part with the Levites than with the first-born, and
therefore God graciously ordered the exchange; yet for us he spared
not his own Son.
14 And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The Levites being granted to Aaron to minister to him, they are here
delivered to him by tale, that he might know what he had, and employ
them accordingly. Observe,
I. By what rule they were numbered: Every male from a month old and
The rest of the tribes were numbered only from twenty years old and
upwards, and of them those only that were able to go forth to
war; but into the number of the Levites they must take in both
infants, and infirm; being exempted from the war, it was not insisted
upon that they should be of age and strength for the wars. Though it
appears afterwards that little more than a third part of the Levites
were fit to be employed in the service of the tabernacle (about 8000
out of 22,000,
yet God would have them all numbered as retainers to his family; that
none may think themselves disowned and rejected of God because they are
not in a capacity of doing him that service which they see others do
him. The Levites of a month old could not honour God and serve the
tabernacle, as those that had grown up; yet out of the mouths of babes
and sucklings the Levites' praise was perfected. Let not little
children be hindered from being enrolled among the disciples of Christ,
for such was the tribe of Levi, of such is the kingdom of heaven, that
kingdom of priests. The redemption of the first-born was reckoned from
a month old
therefore from that age the Levites were numbered. They were numbered
after the house of their fathers, not their mothers, for,
if the daughter of a Levite married one of another tribe, her son was
not a Levite; but we read of a spiritual priest to out God who
inherited the unfeigned faith which dwelt in his mother and
2 Timothy 1:5.
II. How they were distributed into three classes, according to the
number of the sons of Levi, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, and these
subdivided into several families,
1. Concerning each of these three classes we have an account,
(1.) Of their number. The Gershonites were 7500. The Kohathites were
8600. The Merarites were 6200. The rest of the tribes had not their
subordinate families numbered by themselves as those of Levi; this
honour God put upon his own tribe.
(2.) Of their post about the tabernacle on which they were to attend.
The Gershonites pitched behind the tabernacle, westward,
The Kohathites on the right hand, southward,
The Merarites on the left hand, northward,
And, to complete the square, Moses and Aaron, with the priests,
encamped in the front, eastward,
Thus was the tabernacle surrounded with its guards; and thus does the
angel of the Lord encamp round about those that fear him, those
Every one knew his place, and must therein abide with God.
(3.) Of their chief or head. As each class had its own place, so each
had its own prince. The commander of the Gershonites was Eliasaph
of the Kohathites Elizaphan
of whom we read
that he was one of the bearers at the funeral of Nadab and Abihu; of
the Merarites Zuriel,
(4.) Of their charge, when the camp moved. Each class knew their own
business; it was requisite they should, for that which is every body's
work often proves nobody's work. The Gershonites were charged with the
custody and carriage of all the curtains and hangings and coverings of
the tabernacle and court
the Kohathites of all the furniture of the tabernacle--the ark, altar,
the Merarites of the heavy carriage, boards, bars, pillars, &c.,
2. Here we may observe,
(1.) That the Kohathites, though they were the second house, yet were
preferred before the elder family of the Gershonites. Besides that
Aaron and the priests were of that family, they were more numerous, and
their post and charge more honourable, which probably was ordered to
put an honour upon Moses, who was of that family. Yet,
(2.) The posterity of Moses were not at all dignified or privileged,
but stood upon the level with other Levites, that it might appear he
did not seek the advancement of his own family, nor to entail any
honours upon it either in church or state; he that had honour enough
himself coveted not to have his name shine by that borrowed light, but
rather to have the Levites borrow honour from his name. Let none think
contemptibly of the Levites, though inferior to the priests, for Moses
himself though it preferment enough for his sons to be Levites.
Probably it was because the family of Moses were Levites only that in
the title of this chapter, which is concerning that tribe
Aaron is put before Moses.
III. The sum total of the numbers of this tribe. They are computed in
The sum of the particular families amounts to 300 more; if this had
been added to the sum total, the Levites, instead of being 273 fewer
than the first-born, as they were
would have been twenty-seven more, and so the balance would have fallen
the other way; but it is supposed that the 300 which were struck off
from the account when the exchange was to be made were the first-born
of the Levites themselves, born since their coming out of Egypt, which
could not be put into the exchange, because they were already
sanctified to God. But that which is especially observable here is that
the tribe of Levi was by much the least of all the tribes. Note, God's
part in the world is too often the smallest part. His chosen are
comparatively a little flock.
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.
Here is the exchange made of the Levites for the first-born.
1. The first-born were numbered from a month old,
Those certainly were not reckoned who, though first-born, had become
heads of families themselves, but those only that were under age; and
the learned bishop Patrick is decidedly of opinion that none were
numbered but those only that were born since their coming out of Egypt,
when the first-born were sanctified,
If there were 22,000 first-born males, we may suppose as many females,
and all these brought forth in the first year after they came out of
Egypt, we must hence infer that in the last year of their servitude,
even when it was in the greatest extremity, there were abundance of
marriages made among the Israelites; they were not discouraged by the
present distress, but married in faith, expecting that God would
shortly visit them with mercy, and that their children, though born in
bondage, should live in liberty and honour. And it was a token of good
to them, an evidence that they were blessed of the Lord, that they were
not only kept alive, but greatly increased, in a barren wilderness.
2. The number of the first-born, and that of the Levites, by a special
providence, came pretty near to each other; thus, when he divided
the nations, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of
the children of Israel,
Known unto God are all his works beforehand, and there is an exact
proportion between them, and so it will appear when they come to be
compared. The Levites' cattle are said to be taken instead of the
firstlings of the cattle of the children of Israel, that is, the
Levites, with all their possessions, were devoted to God instead of the
first-born and all theirs; for, when we give ourselves to God, all we
have passes as appurtenances with the premises.
3. The small number of first-born which exceeded the number of the
Levites (273 in all) were to be redeemed, at five shekels apiece, and
the redemption-money given to Aaron; for it would not do well to have
them added to the Levites. It is probable that in the exchange they
began with the eldest of the first-born, and so downward, so that those
were to be redeemed with money who were the 273 youngest of the
first-born; more likely so than either that it was determined by lot or
that the money was paid out of the public stock. The church is called
the church of the first-born, which is redeemed, not as these
were, with silver and gold, but, being devoted by sin to the justice of
God, is ransomed with the precious blood of the Son of God.