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Chapter three outlines the general service for each of the three Levitical families. Chapter four gives specific details of this service.
Thirty years was the age at which the Levites became liable for the service of the Tabernacle. This age was soon lowered to twenty-five, see Nu 8:24. Scripture offers no explanation for his. During the reign of David, he lowered the age still further to twenty, 1Ch 23:27.
This text is likely the basis for the Jews’ custom that thirty years was the age at which a man attained to full maturity. It was at this age that Jesus began His personal ministry, Lu 3:23.
"Into the host" does not refer to military service, but to the service of the Lord.
"To do the work," literally, "to war the warfare."
The "most holy things" refer to the articles of furniture in the Tabernacle itself: the Ark of the Covenant, the golden incense altar, the table of shewbread, and the gold lampstand. These were to be the responsibility of the Kohathites.
Verses 5, 6:
The duty of the sons of Aaron included preparing the Tabernacle furniture for moving. First, they were to take down the "covering veil," the partition veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the holy place. They were to use this veil as a covering for the Ark of the Covenant. Over this they were to place a blue cloth, and a covering of "badgers’ skins," see Ex 25:5; 26:14; 35:7, 23; 36:19, 34. Then they were to insert the staves in the rings which were a part of the Ark, and thus it was ready for transporting.
Verses 7, 8:
Next, the sons of Aaron were to prepare the golden Table of Shewbread (Table of Presence) for transporting. They were to cover this table with a cloth of blue. Then they were to place the utensils upon this cloth, along with the prescribed loaves of bread. This was to be covered with a scarlet cloth, and then all was to be covered with a covering of badger’s skins. The staves were to be inserted in the rings prepared for this purpose, and the table was ready for transporting.
Verses 9, 10:
Next in order, the priests were to prepare the gold Candlestick (lampstand) for moving. They were to cover it with a cloth of blue, along with all the appliances pertaining to it. Then all was to be covered with a covering of badgers’ skins, and put upon a "bar," mot, "pole," or a carrying frame.
Verses 11, 12:
The golden Altar of Incense was to be prepared for moving in the same way as were the other articles of furniture. It was to be covered with a blue cloth, and over this was placed a covering of badgers’ skins. The staves were then inserted into the rings prepared for that purpose. All the utensils and various instruments used to minister at this altar were bound in a cloth of blue and covered with a covering of badgers’ skins, and then placed on a "bar" or carrying frame (see verse 10).
The "altar" in this text is the Altar of Burnt Offering, upon which the many sacrifices were made. This was a hollow box-like affair, with a grate suspended within it upon which the offerings were placed, see Ex 27:1-8; 38:1-7.
The altar was first to be cleaned of ashes, then covered with a purple cloth. The utensils and appliances were stored in the hollow altar, and all was then covered with badgers’ skins. The staves were then inserted into the rings prepared for that purpose.
When Aaron and his sons had completed the work of preparing the furniture and utensils for moving, then the Kohathites were to transport them. But none but the priests might touch any of these sacred items, under penalty of death.
This verse defines the specific duties of Eleazar; and of his successors.
"Office," pequddah, "inspection, charge." This word is translated as "charge, custody," and as "oversight" in this text. The term is episkopos in the Septuagint, denoting the office of an overseer, or bishop.
Eleazar had the oversight of all the appurtenances of worship which were within the Tabernacle. This included the oil for the lamps on the lampstand (Ex 25:6; Le 24:2), the incense (Ex 25:6; 31:11), the food offerings (Ex 29:40, 41), and holy anointing oil (Ex 30:23; 31:11).
God charged that the priests deal carefully with the Kohathites, to prevent them from committing a presumptuous sin by entering the sanctuary to look upon the holy furniture before it was covered and ready for transporting.
This text is further explanation of the duties of the Gershonites, see Nu 2:21-26. Their service was to transport the curtains and coverings of the Tabernacle, see Ex 26.
The age limits set for the Gershonites’ service were thirty (to begin) and fifty (to end).
Aaron’s son Ithamar was in charge of the Gershonites in their service. He was also one of the overseers of the Tabernacle construction, Ex 38:21.
The Merarites were the largest in number of the Levitical families. They were assigned the heaviest duty of all, the transporting of and care for the boards of the Tabernacle wall, see Nu 2:33-37.
The age limit for the Merarites’ service was the same as for the Gershonites: thirty and fifty.
Ithamar was in charge of the service of the Merarites.
The census of the Kohathites eligible for Tabernacle service, males between thirty and fifty years of age, was 2,750. Allowing one wife and one child per man, there were. likely about 8,250 people in this clan.
The census of the Merarites showed 3,200 males from thirty to fifty years of age, eligible for Tabernacle service. This was the largest of the three families of Levites, likely totaling about 9,600 souls.
The total of Levite males between the ages of thirty and fifty was 8,580. Using the formula above, this calculates the total of the tribe of Levi to be about 25,800. This was by far the smallest of Israel’s tribes. The tribe of Manasseh numbered 32,200 males twenty years old and upward, which was almost four times more than the total of Levite males between thirty and fifty.
Scripture gives no explanation for the small number of Levites. This is a mystery God has reserved for His own knowledge.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 4". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany