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Bible Commentaries

Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 3

Verses 1-51

THE SONS OF AARON

(vs.1-4)

Aaron was the high priest, and in Israel a natural succession was practiced, as is not true in the Church of God today In fact, a special priesthood is not scriptural now, for all true believers are priests (1 Peter 2:5), not by natural birth, but by spiritual birth. However, Aaron had four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar (v.2), all consecrated as priests. But the weakness of the principle of natural succession was demonstrated at the very beginning of their service, for Nadab and Abihu, in disobedience to the Lord, offered forbidden incense, and died for this sin (Leviticus 10:1-2).

God's swift judgment in this case had deeply affected Aaron (Leviticus 10:19), and no doubt also Eleazar and Ithamar, who alone were left to serve as priests with Aaron. After such an experience they would certainly have a more serious and careful regard for the holiness of God.

THE SERVICE OF THE LEVITES

(vs.5-13)

The Lord now requires the Levites to be presented before Aaron, to serve him. The function of the Levites was for ministry, for true ministry will always serve to encourage worship, which is illustrated in the priesthood. As well as serving Aaron, the Levites were engaged in attending to the needs of the whole congregation of Israel (v.7), these needs being centered in the tabernacle and its service. They were responsible for the care of all the furnishing of the tabernacle (v.8). Today the answer to this is in the ministry God has furnished for the Church of God. Are we concerned to minister what well be of real help and blessing to the people? Every believer should have such a concern. To do this rightly we should have a good apprehension of the many precious truths that are pictured in the tabernacle and its furnishings. For instance, the ark pictures Christ as the Sustainer of the throne of God. The lampstand is typical of Christ as the Sustainer of all testimony for God. The table tells of Christ as the Sustainer of communion, and the golden altar speaks of Him as the Sustainer of worship. Outside, the copper altar reminds us of His holy person sanctifying the sacrifice, and every sacrifice being a picture of His one sacrifice at Calvary. The laver indicates the moral cleansing of water by the word. All of these things, as well as the materials of the tabernacle, provide subjects of helpful ministry for all the saints of God.

Again, it is insisted in verse 9 that the Levites were to be given to Aaron and his sons, reminding us that all true ministry is subject to the more important function of worship. Ministry, properly exercised, will lead the hearers to worship the Lord. But one who was not a priest or Levite, if he dared to come near as though he had some place there, would suffer the penalty of death (v.10).

The Lord again spoke to Moses (v.11), insisting that He Himself had separated the Levites from among the children of Israel as a substitution for every firstborn in Israel, for the firstborn were pronounced His from the time of the Passover in Egypt, when the firstborn of Egypt were slain. They had been virtually redeemed by the blood sprinkled on the door-posts and cross-bars of their homes. It is good for us too to recognize God's rights as being first.

NUMBERING OF THE LEVITES

(vs.14-39)

The Levites where then numbered separately from the other tribes of Israel. Yet, not only the males 20 years old and above were numbered, but all males from one month old and over. For this was not for military service, but for service to God, and though they were not to engage in sanctuary service until age 30 through 50 (Leviticus 4:3), they were evidently trained in view of that service. This reminds us that the Lord Jesus Himself did not begin His public service until He was about 30 years of age (Luke 3:23), but His earlier years were an important preparation for it.

There were three divisions of the Levites, names for Levi's three sons, Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Gershon had two sons, Kohath four, and Marari two. From the two in Gershon's family there had been such increase that his family numbered 7,500. They were to camp on the west side of the tabernacle, close to the court. The name of the leader of the Gershonites was Eliasaph. The Gershonites were responsible for the coverings of the tabernacle, the hangings for the entrance of the tabernacle, all the hangings of the court, its entrance hangings and cords, etc. These all speak of the practical moral character of the Lord Jesus or of His saints. Gershon would therefore stand for that ministry that insists on the moral perfection of the Lord Jesus and the practical righteousness that should be seen in all believers as a witness to our faith in the perfect one.

The Kohathites descending from the four sons of Kohath, numbered 8,600 (vs.27-28). They camped along the south side of the tabernacle (v.29). Their leader was Elizaphan the son of Uzziel (v.30). They were responsible for the care of the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the two altars together with the utensils and the veil, with all that related to these things (v.31). This no doubt included the laver. Whenever Israel traveled the Kohathites carried these things, though they did not see them, for before they were allowed to carry them, the priests were required to cover them with their appropriate coverings and insert the carrying poles (Leviticus 4:5-20).

These things the Kohathites carried are all typical of the objective truths of Christianity, -- not subjective, as we have seen in Gershon. For all this furniture speaks of Christ and His perfect work. Therefore Kohath stands for the ministry of the glory of the Lord Jesus set forth in unique excellence, altogether above and apart from human understanding or appreciation of it. It is absolute, living and real. John's Gospel presents this beautifully, as does Hebrews 1:1-14. May we deeply value such ministry, and seek grace also to present it faithfully.

Verse 32 tells us that Eleazar the priest, son of Aaron, was chief over the leaders of the Levites, appointing them to the particular work they were required to do (cf.v.19).

Merari had two sons, from whom were 6,200 descendants, males a month old and over (vs.33-34). Their leader was Zuriel the son of Abihail. They camped on the north side of the tabernacle. They were given the work of caring for the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, pillars and sockets, its related utensils, the pillars of the court, their sockets, pegs and cords. The boards of the tabernacle speak of the basic facts of what believers are "in Christ," and as united in one building, the Church of God. They were of acacia wood overlaid with gold, standing upright on sockets of silver, that is, believers upheld on the basis of redemption, covered with Christ (the gold) and united together with bars of the same materials. The pillars of the court made of copper and resting on copper sockets speak of Christ as the Upholder of His people, for the hooks that held up the curtains were of silver, the picture of redemption. Thus, in upholding them, He also unites them together. Merari therefore emphasizes the ministry that unites believers to Christ and to one another as dependent on the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Such ministry is of great importance in our present day.

To complete the inner circle of residents around the tabernacle, Moses, Aaron and his sons are seen on the east side (v.38), that is the front, as it were guarding the entrance of the court, keeping charge of the sanctuary. Any outsider who infringed on that which was for the priests, was to be put to death. The total number of males among the Levites from one month old and above was 22,000 (v.39). This was much lower than any of the other tribes in spite of the added number of young males.

THE LEVITES SUBSTITUTED FOR THE FIRSTBORN

(vs.40-51)

Since the Levites were to be dedicated to the Lord in place of the firstborn in Israel, it was necessary to enquire how closely the number of the Levites corresponded to the number of the firstborn. So the Lord told Moses to number all the firstborn males, from one month and above, as the Levite males had been numbered (v.40). Verse 41 also notes that the livestock of the Levites would substitute for the firstborn livestock of the other tribes, though we are not told that the livestock were numbered.

The number of the Levite males had been found to be 22,000 (v.39). Now the number of the firstborn was very close to the same, but 273 larger than the number of the Levites (v.43). To compensate for this difference, the Lord instructed that the 273 would be redeemed by the paying of five shekels of silver for each individual (vs.46-47). It is not likely that 273 individuals were required to give five shekels each, but rather that the tribes should share in the cost of redeeming the 273. This was to be given to the priests, Aaron and his sons, since actually the Levites were also given to them. The total amounted to 1365 shekels (v.50. While silver was used in such cases to illustrate the truth of redemption, we must always remember that today "we are not redeemed by corruptible things such as silver or gold, -- but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19).

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 3". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/numbers-3.html. 1897-1910.