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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
The generations of Aaron and Moses, Numbers 3:1-4. The tribe of Levi to minister to the Lord under Aaron and his sons, Numbers 3:5-10. They are taken in the place of the first-born, Numbers 3:11-13. Moses is commanded to number them, Numbers 3:14-16. Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the names of the three heads of families of the Levites, Numbers 3:17. Of Gershon and his family, Numbers 3:18-21. Their number, 7,500, Numbers 3:22. Their place behind the tabernacle, westward, Numbers 3:23. Their chief, Eliasaph, Numbers 3:24. Their charge, Numbers 3:25, Numbers 3:26. Of Kohath and his family, Numbers 3:27. Their number, 8,600, Numbers 3:28. Their place, beside the tabernacle, southward, Numbers 3:29. Their chief, Elizaphan, Numbers 3:30. Their charge, Numbers 3:31. The chief of the Levites, Eleazar, son of Aaron, Numbers 3:32. Of Merari and his family, Numbers 3:33. Their number, 6,200, Numbers 3:34. Their chief, Zuriel, they shall pitch beside the tabernacle, northward, Numbers 3:35. Their charge, Numbers 3:35-37. Moses and Aaron to encamp before the tabernacle, eastward, Numbers 3:38. The amount of all the males among the Levites from a month old and upwards, 22,000, Numbers 3:39. Moses is commanded to number the first-born, Numbers 3:40; and to take the Levites and their cattle, instead of the first-born of man and beast among the Israelites, Numbers 3:41. Moses numbers the first-born, who amount to 22,273, Numbers 3:43. As the first-born were 273 more than the Levites, Moses is commanded to take from the people five shekels apiece for them, Numbers 3:44-47, which is to be given to Aaron and his sons, Numbers 3:48. Moses does accordingly, and finds the amount of the money to be 1,365 shekels, Numbers 3:49, Numbers 3:50, which is given to Aaron and his sons, Numbers 3:51.
1These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the LORD spake with Moses in mount Sinai.
The generations of Aaron and Moses - Though Aaron and Moses are both mentioned here, yet the family of Aaron alone appears in the list: hence some have thought that the word Moses was not originally in the text. Others think that the words ואלה תלדות veelleh toledoth, these are the generations, should be rendered these are the acts, or transactions, or the history of the lives, as the same phrase may be understood in Genesis 2:4; Genesis 6:9. However this may be, it is evident that in this genealogy the family of Aaron are alone mentioned, probably because these belonged to the priesthood. Moses passes by his own family, or immediate descendants; he gave no rank or privilege to them during his life, and left nothing to them at his death. They became incorporated with the Levites, from or amongst whom they are never distinguished. What a strong proof is this of the celestial origin of his religion! Had it been of man, it must have had the gratification of some impure passion for its object; lust, ambition, or avarice: but none of these ever appear during the whole of his administration amongst the Israelites, though he had it constantly in his power to have gratified each. What an essential difference between the religion of the Pentateuch and that of the Koran! The former is God's workmanship; the latter is a motley mixture of all bad crafts, with here and there a portion of heavenly fire, stolen from the Divine altar in the Old and New Testaments, to give some vitality to the otherwise inert mass.
2And these are the names of the sons of Aaron; Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
3These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest's office.
4And 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 - See the notes on Leviticus 10 (note).
5And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
6Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him.
Bring the tribe of Levi near - The original word הקרב hakreb is properly a sacrificial word, and signifies the presenting of a sacrifice or offering to the Lord. As an offering, the tribe of Levi was given up entirely to the service of the sanctuary, to be no longer their own, but the Lord's property.
7And 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.
The charge of the whole congregation - They shall work for the whole congregation; and instead of the first-born.
8And 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.
All the instruments - The tabernacle itself and all its contents: see all described, Numbers 3:25, Numbers 3:26, Numbers 3:31, Numbers 3:36, Numbers 3:37. The Levites were to perform the most common and laborious offices. It was their business to take down, put up, and carry the tabernacle and its utensils; for it was the object of their peculiar care. In a word, they were the servants of the priests.
9And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel.
10And 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.
Aaron and his sons - shall wait on their priest's office - It was the business of the priests to offer the different sacrifices to God; to consecrate the shew-bread, pour out the libations, burn the incense, sprinkle the blood of the victims, and bless the people. In a word, they were the servants of God alone.
11And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
12And 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;
I have taken the Levites - instead of all the first-born - The Levites are taken for the service of the sanctuary in place of the first-born. The first-born were dedicated to God in commemoration of his slaying the first-born of the Egyptians, and preserving those of the Israelites. Even the cattle of the Levites were taken in place of the first-born of the cattle of the rest of the tribes. See Numbers 3:45. Several reasons have been assigned why God should give this honor to the tribe of Levi in preference to all the others, but they do not seem to me to be conclusive. Their zeal in destroying those who had corrupted the worship of God in the business of the golden calf, Exodus 32:28, has been thought a sufficient reason. A better reason is, that this was the smallest tribe, and they were quite enough for the service. To have had a more numerous tribe at this time would have been very inconvenient. Aaron, says Mr. Ainsworth, being in his priesthood a type of Christ, all these rites are fulfilled in him. For unto Christ God gave children, Hebrews 2:13. And they are a congregation of first-born, whose names are written in heaven, Hebrews 12:23, being of God's own will begotten by the word of truth, that they should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures, James 1:18, to whom he also gives the first-fruits of his Spirit, Romans 8:23. These wait on and follow the Lamb, being first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb, Revelation 14:4; and Christ hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, that we may serve him day and night in his temple, Revelation 1:6; Revelation 7:15.
13Because 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.
14And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying,
15Number 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.
A month old and upward - The males of all the other tribes were numbered, from twenty years and upward; had the Levites been numbered in this way, they would not have been nearly equal in number to the firstborn of the twelve tribes. Add to this, that as there must have been first-born of all ages in the other tribes, it was necessary that the Levites, who were to be their substitutes, should be also of all ages; and it appears to have been on this ground, at least partly, that the Levites were numbered from four weeks old and upward.
16And Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded.
Moses numbered them - Though Moses and Aaron conjointly numbered the twelve tribes, yet Moses alone numbered the Levites; "for as the money with which the first-born of Israel, who exceeded the number of Levites, were redeemed, was to be paid to Aaron and his sons, Numbers 3:48, it was decent that he, whose advantage it was that the number of the first-born of Israel should exceed, should not be authorized to take that number himself." - Dodd, from Bishop Kidder.
17And these were the sons of Levi by their names; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari.
18And these are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families; Libni, and Shimei.
19And the sons of Kohath by their families; Amram, and Izehar, Hebron, and Uzziel.
20And the sons of Merari by their families; Mahli, and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites according to the house of their fathers.
21Of Gershon was the family of the Libnites, and the family of the Shimites: these are the families of the Gershonites.
22Those 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.
Seven thousand and five hundred - Perhaps originally ר resh, 200, instead of ך caph, 500; see the following note Numbers 3:39 (note).
23The families of the Gershonites shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward.
24And the chief of the house of the father of the Gershonites shall be Eliasaph the son of Lael.
25And 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,
26And 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.
27And 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.
28In the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were eight thousand and six hundred, keeping the charge of the sanctuary.
29The families of the sons of Kohath shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle southward.
30And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.
31And 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.
32And 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.
33Of Merari was the family of the Mahlites, and the family of the Mushites: these are the families of Merari.
34And 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.
35And 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.
36And 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,
37And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords.
38But 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.
39All 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.
Which Moses and Aaron numbered - The word ואהרן veaharon, "and Aaron." has a point over each of its letters, probably designed as a mark of spuriousness. The word is wanting in the Samaritan, Syriac, and Coptic; it is wanting also in eight of Dr. Kennicott's MSS., and in four of De Rossi's. Moses alone, as Houbigant observes, is commanded to take the number of the Levites; see Numbers 3:5, Numbers 3:11, Numbers 3:40, Numbers 3:44, and Numbers 3:51.
All the males - were twenty and two thousand - This total does not agree with the particulars; for the Gershonites were 7,500, the Kohathites 8,600, the Merarites 6,200, total 22,300. Several methods of solving this difficulty have been proposed by learned men; Dr. Kennicott's is the most simple. Formerly the numbers in the Hebrew Bible were expressed by letters, and not by words at full length; and if two nearly similar letters were mistaken for each other, many errors in the numbers must be the consequence. Now it is probable that an error has crept into the number of the Gershonites, Numbers 3:22, where, instead of 7,500, we should read 7,200, as ך caph, 500, might have been easily mistaken for ר resh, 200, especially if the down stroke of the caph had been a little shorter than ordinary, which is often the case in MSS. The extra 300 being taken off, the total is just 22,000, as mentioned in the 39th verse.
40And 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.
41And 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.
42And Moses numbered, as the LORD commanded him, all the firstborn among the children of Israel.
43And 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.
All the first-born males - were twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen - Thus we find there were 273 first-born beyond the number of the Levites. These are ordered, Numbers 3:46, to be redeemed; and the redemption price is to be five shekels each, Numbers 3:47, about 15s. And this money, amounting to 1,365 shekels, equal to 204 15s. English, he took of the first-born of Israel, Numbers 3:50. But how was this collected among 22,273 persons? Rabbi Solomon Jarchi says, "to prevent contention, Moses took 22,000 slips of parchment, and wrote on each a son of Levi, and 273 others, on which he wrote five shekels; then he mixed them in a basket, and each man took out one; those who drew the slips on which five shekels were written, paid the money; the others went free." This is a most stupid and silly tale, for such a mode of settlement never could have been resorted to by an intelligent people. It would have been much more simple to have paid it out of a general fund; and it is very likely that in this way the expense was defrayed. This species of redeeming of men is referred to by St. Peter, 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19 : "Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation, received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious (τιμιω αἱματι, valuable) blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot," etc. And it is not the first-born only which are thus redeemed, for he, by the grace of God, tasted death for Every man; Hebrews 2:9. Reader, give glory to God that such a ransom has been paid for thy soul, and see that, redeemed from thy vain conversation, thy empty, fruitless, and graceless observances, on which thou hast built thy hopes of salvation, thou walk in newness of life, giving thy whole soul with thankfulness unto the Father who hath translated thee from darkness, and placed thee in the kingdom of his beloved Son. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever! Amen.
44And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
45Take 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.
46And 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;
47Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:)
48And thou shalt give the money, wherewith the odd number of them is to be redeemed, unto Aaron and to his sons.
49And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them that were redeemed by the Levites:
50Of 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:
51And 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.