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The importance of the Levites (3:1-51)
Details are now given concerning the position of the Levites in the camp and the duties given to them. Although all Levites were God’s special servants, the only Levites who were priests were those descended from Aaron. The writer therefore gives details of Aaron’s family (3:1-4). The Levites maintained the tabernacle and helped the priests in the religious ceremonies, but only Aaron and his sons did the priestly work itself (5-10; cf. 1 Chronicles 23:3-5,1 Chronicles 23:24-32).
Because God preserved Israel’s firstborn during the Passover judgment in Egypt, those firstborn became his special possession. But for the service of the tabernacle, God took the whole tribe of Levi as his special possession instead of those who had been spared in the Passover judgment (11-13).
In counting the Levites, Moses divided them into three sections according to the three families descended from Levi’s three sons, Gershon, Kohath and Merari (14-20; cf. Exodus 6:16). The Levites camped on the four sides of the tabernacle in the area between the tabernacle and the other tribes (see 1:53).
The Gershon group camped on the west side of the tabernacle and looked after most of the curtains and hangings (21-26). The Kohath group camped on the south side and had care of the tabernacle’s most sacred objects - the furniture, the vessels and the curtain (or veil) that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (27-32). The Merari group camped on the north side and had responsibility for all the timber and metal parts belonging to the tabernacle framework and the fence that surrounded the court (33-37). Moses, Aaron and the priests camped on the east side of the tabernacle in front of the entrance and had responsibility for all the ceremonies (38-39).
From the census Moses learnt that there were 22,273 firstborn but only 22,000 Levites. Since the firstborn were replaced by Levites on a one-for-one basis, this meant that 273 firstborn still had not been replaced. They still belonged to God. They therefore had to be bought back from God, or redeemed, by a payment of money to God’s representatives, the priests (40-51).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Numbers 3". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19