Numbers 4:3. Thirty years old. We read in chap. 8., that the levites began to learn as is understood, at the age of twenty five. From 1 Chronicles 23., we learn that the census was taken at the age of twenty, and that they stood in the temple to sing praises. At fifty they retired from labour, and became overlookers. But what fallibility in certain popes, as Innocent 3., to make a canon to ordain priests at thirty, and then be compelled to reduce it to a minor age! Samuel and Jeremiah were prophets while children. Who is he that would limit the Holy One of Israel? Paul and John, among the apostles, are called young men.
Numbers 4:15. Lest they die. By the most holy things which the highpriest covered with a purple cloth, and which the levites were not to touch, nor to see, but only to carry, was meant the ark, the cherubim, the shewbread, the candlestick, the altar of incense, &c. God dwelleth in light to whom no man hath, or can approach. Sinners cannot draw near, but in the person of the great Mediator. In Bethshemesh, 570 men, as some critics would there read, died for looking into the ark, and Uzzah died for touching it. 1 Samuel 6 :2 Samuel 7.
The sanctuary of God was inviolably holy. The death of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, for offering strange fire; the death of Uzzah, a levite, for touching the ark, and profanely carrying it on a cart instead of bearing it by hand, were alarming visitations for obtruding on the divine prohibitions. Therefore every one must do his own work, and no levite must enter on pain of death, while the priests veiled and covered the mysteries of the sanctuary. And if God so guarded the shadowy pavilion of his presence, let us learn to treat sacred things, and especially the adorable mysteries of our faith, with reverence and awe.
The priests and levites were not to enter on their sacred and laborious functions till thirty years of age. God would have his sanctuary surrounded by men of sober age, or venerable with hoary hairs. Remarkable it is, that this was the age when the Lord Jesus entered on his glorious work; and the age also when Joseph, David, and John, persons highly figurative of our blessed Lord, entered on the high duties of their vocation. But in the christian church, as well as in the prophetic ministry, age is no fixed rule of the divine conduct; for out of the mouth of babes and sucklings God has perfected praise. Among the scripture characters, and since that period, some very young men have held a rank next to the most venerable prophets. Let these examples console the youth of conscious modesty against the imputations of vanity.
The persons and their age for service being fixed, behold the tabernacle of the Lord in motion; and all the tribes following in order to the promised land. The eldest son of Aaron, bearing the holy fire, is highly honoured; but his life was answerable for its preservation, and the younger superintends the removal of the sanctuary. The sons of Kohath, privileged by birth, bear away the ark and all the sacred vessels. The sons of Gershon march next with all the splendid curtains; and the numerous men of Merari’s house follow with the boards, the sockets and pins. Lord suffer me to follow too. I would not stay behind. I would follow the cloud. I would leave the desert, and claim my lot in the promised land.
We hear of no murmuring at the divine appointment. Though one bore vessels of gold, and another vessels of brass; though some bore the massy altar, and others the lighter curtains, yet no one murmured against his brother; but knowing themselves to be accountable for the smallest pin, they cheerfully performed their task. What an example of harmony to christian ministers! They who fill exalted stations in the church, and they who serve the humble village, if obedient to their call, shall all be accounted the good and faithful servants of the Lord, and shall enter into his joy. Let men of great gifts, and christians of high attainments tremble, lest self-love and pride should prevail; the weakest and humblest believer has at the same time cause to rejoice in the favours he has received of the Lord.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany