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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 4

 

 

Verse 1

1.And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron This census had a different object from the former one, which we have just been considering, viz., that an equal distribution of the charges should be made in proportion to the number of the individuals. First, as regarded age, a distinction must be observed between this tribe and the others; for we have already seen that all the Israelites above twenty years of age were numbered, because they were then fit to bear arms. But it was not without reason that a more mature age was required in the case of the Levites, so that they should not begin to discharge their ministry before their thirtieth year. For not only is strength and rigor of body requisite for spiritual warfare, but seriousness and gravity also. If they had been admitted in their youth, their levity might have detracted from the reverence due to sacred things, since the young are often led to act intemperately by their fervor and licentiousness. Access to the sanctuary, therefore, was not permitted them till they had grown up to be men; for by their thirtieth year men ought to have become so staid, as that it shall be base and inexcusable for them to give way to the wantonness of youth.

From their fiftieth year they were released from their duties; since sloth and inactivity generally accompany old age. The case is different as to war, because we find many who are vigorous after their fiftieth year. Furthermore, since religion is more precious than all earthly affairs, diligent care was to be taken lest it should fall into disesteem on account of the idleness and somnolency of its ministers.


Verse 4

4.This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath. He assigns their various offices to the Levites: firstly, lest their promiscuous sedulity should beget confusion; secondly, lest ambition should stimulate certain of them, (203) from whence disputes and contentions might arise. We know how confusedly men work unless a certain rule is prescribed to them, lest they should run about in an aimless hurry; and whilst each individual desires to anticipate others, an unworthy emulation ensues, which afterwards vents itself in quarrels. If, therefore, this had not been prevented, the Levites would soon have made disturbances in their duty, and contentions would have taken place between them. God, then, comes forward, and by His own authority confines them all within their proper bounds, and restrains their foolish passions. That a more honorable office is assigned to the sons of Kohath than to the others, proceeds from God’s gratuitous favor; and thus all pride was suppressed, lest any should boast of his dexterity, or industry, or other gifts. The charge of the Holy of holies is, therefore, entrusted to the sons of Kohath; not that they should handle any part of it, but only that they should carry on the march its vessels, when packed by the priests; for God commands the sons of Aaron to come and take down the sanctuary, and carefully cover the veil, the altar, and other sacred vessels with their proper covers, before the sons of Kohath laid a finger upon them, that thus the reverence of the people for holy things might be increased; and besides, that when the other tribes should see even the Levites forbidden from touching the sanctuary, they might be reminded of their unworthiness and humbled the more. Moreover, all cause of envy was removed when the other Levites heard that a perilous duty was entrusted to the sons of Kohath, for God threatens them with death if they touch any forbidden thing: and lastly, admonishes the priests, the sons of Aaron, lest by their carelessness they should destroy their brethren; for, if they should leave anything uncovered, they would be the cause of their destruction.


Verse 24

24.This is the service of the families of the Gershonites. The tasks which He enjoins upon the sons of Gershon, as well as the sons of Merari, are apparently mean and laborious, for it was a hard and also a servile work to carry the curtains and the tabernacle, together with its coverings, the boards, too, and the bars, and the pillars. But hence we learn that in God’s service nothing is to be despised, but that each and every part of our duty should be cheerfully performed, inasmuch as it ought abundantly to satisfy us, that God should have deigned to choose us as ministers of His sanctuary, so that neither weariness nor pride should ever hinder us in our duty.


Verse 34

34.And Moses and Aaron and the chief of the congregation Another exception is subjoined, viz., that none should be received unless they were free from all defect and blemish; for we have seen elsewhere that those, who were blind and lame, or defective in any part of their body, were excluded from the tabernacle, lest their disfigurement should produce contempt; and also that they might be admonished by this external sign, to preserve themselves more diligently from all spiritual defilement. Therefore, those are said to enter into the sanctuary who are fit to exercise the priesthood; and hence the expression, “for the service,” (426) is added.

Inasmuch as the inequality (of their charges) might have been the source of envy, God’s authority is asserted at the end of the chapter, where Moses records that he was only acting ministerially, and that he distributed the offices among them according to God’s command.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 4:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/numbers-4.html. 1840-57.

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