- 2. The work of the Levites, taken instead of the first-born, verse 5-13.
- 3. Of the number, place and charge of each family; the Gershonites, verse 14-26.
- The Kohathites, verse 27-32.
- The Merarites, verse 33-39.
- 4. Of the first-born, verse 40-51.
These - Which follow in this chapter. The generations - The kindred or family. Moses his family and children are here included under the general name of the Amramites, Numbers 3:27, which includes all the children and grand-children of Amram, the persons only of Aaron and Moses being excepted. And the generations of Moses are thus obscurely mentioned, because they were but common Levites, the priesthood being given solely to Aaron's posterity, whence Aaron is here put before Moses, who elsewhere is commonly named after him. In Sinai - Nadab and Abihu, were then alive, though dead at the time of taking this account.
In the sight of Aaron - Under his inspection and direction, and as their father's servants or ministers in the priest's office.
Present them - Offer them to the Lord for his special service. This was promised to them before, and now actually conferred.
His charge - That is, Aaron's, or those things which are committed principally to Aaron's care and oversight. Of the congregation - That is, of all the sacrifices and services which are due to the Lord from all the people, because the people might not perform them, in their own persons, therefore they were to be performed by some particular persons in their stead; formerly by the first-born, Numbers 8:16, and now by the Levites. Before the tabernacle - Not within the tabernacle, for the care of the things within the holy place was appropriated to the priests, as the care of the most holy place was to the high-priest.
Of the children of Israel - Those things which all the children of Israel are in their several places and stations obliged to take care of, though not in their persons, yet by others in their stead.
Given to him - To attend upon him and observe his orders, and ease him of his burden.
The stranger - That is, every one who is of another family than Aaron's; yea, though he be a Levite. That cometh nigh - To execute any part of the priest's office.
The first-born - Who were God's property, Exodus 13:12, and to whom the administration of holy things was formerly committed, which now was taken away from them, either because they had forfeited this privilege by joining with the rest of their brethren in the idolatrous worship of the calf, or because they were to be mainly concerned in the distribution and management of the inheritances which now they were going to possess, and therefore could not be at leisure to attend upon the service of the sanctuary: and God would not commit it to some other persons in each tribe, which might be an occasion of idolatry, confusion, division, and contempt of sacred things, but to one distinct tribe, which might be entirely devoted to that service, and particularly to the tribe of Levi; partly out of his respect to Moses and Aaron, branches of this tribe; partly as a recompence of their zeal for God against idolaters, and partly because it was the smallest of the tribes, and therefore most likely to find both employment in, and maintenance for the work.
From a month old - Because at that time the first-born, in whose stead the Levites came, were offered to God. And from that time the Levites were consecrated to God, and were, as soon as capable, instructed in their work. Elsewhere they are numbered from twenty-five years old, when they were entered as novices into part of their work, Numbers 8:24, and from thirty years old, when they were admitted to their whole office.
The tabernacle - Not the boards, which belonged to Merari, Numbers 3:36, but the ten curtains. The tent - The curtains of goats hair. The coverings - That is, the coverings of rams-skins and badgers-skins.
The cords - By which the tabernacle was fastened to the pins, and stretched out, Exodus 35:18.
Of Kohath - This family had many privileges above the others: of that were Moses and Aaron, and all the priests: they had the chief place about the tabernacle, and the care of the most holy things here, and in the land of Canaan they had twenty three cities, which were almost as many as both their brethren received. Yet the posterity of Moses were not at all dignified or distinguished from other Levites. So far was he from seeking any advantage or honour for his own family.
Keeping - That is, appointed for that work, as soon as they were capable of it. Of the sanctuary - That is, of the holy things contained in or belonging to the sanctuary.
The hanging - Which covered the most holy place, for all other hangings belonged to the Gershonites. The service - That is, all the other furniture belonging to it.
Chief - Next under the high-priest; whence he is called the second priest, 2 Kings 25:18, and in case of the high-priest's absence by sickness or other necessary occasions, he was to perform his work, and he had a superiority over all the rest of the priests and Levites. The chief of the Levites - That is, over those three persons, who were each the chief of their several families, Numbers 3:24,31,34.
For the charge - Either in their stead, that charge which they were obliged to keep, if God had not committed it to those: or for their benefit; for their preservation, as the word may be rendered.
Two and twenty thousand - If the particular numbers mentioned Numbers 3:22,28,34, be put together, they make 22,300. But the odd 300 are omitted here, either according to the use of the holy scripture, where in so great numbers small sums are commonly neglected, or, because they were the first-born of the Levites, and therefore belonged to God already, and so could not be given to him again instead of the other first-born. If this number of first-born seem small to come from 22,000 Levites, it must be considered, that only such first-born are here named as were males, and such as continued in their parents families, not such as had erected new families of their own. Add to this, that God so ordered things by his wise providence for divers weighty reasons, that this tribe should be much the least of all the tribes, as is evident by comparing the numbers of the other tribes, from twenty years old, Numbers 1:3-49, with the number of this from a month old; and therefore it is not strange if the number of their first-born be less than in other tribes.
Instead of the first-born - Such as are now alive of them, but those which should be born of them hereafter are otherwise disposed. Of the Levites - Not that they were to be taken from the Levites, or to be sacrificed to God, any more than the Levites themselves were; but they together with the Levites were to be presented before the Lord by way of acknowledgment, that the Levites might be set apart for God's service, and their cattle for themselves as God's ministers, and for their support in God's work.
For those that are to be redeemed - 'Tis probable, in the exchange they began with the eldest of the first-born, and so downwards, so that those were to be redeemed, who were the two hundred, seventy three youngest of them.
Five shekels - Which was the price paid for the redemption of a first-born a month old.