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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 4

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-49



Moses and Aaron are instructed in verse 2 to take a census of the sons of Korath, those males 30 to 50 years of age. In verses 21-22 the same is said as to the sons of Gershon, then the sons of Merari in verse 29. Before this census was taken, however, we are told in some detail of the responsibilities of the Kohathites, Gershonites and Merarites.

Kohathites were required to wait for the priests to prepare the tabernacle furniture for moving. When a move was to take place Aaron and his sons must first take down the veil from between the outer sanctuary and the holiest of all and use the veil to cover the ark (v.5). For only the priests were allowed to even look at the ark. thus, when the Lord Jesus was a sojourner on earth among His people, His great Godhead glory was veiled with that which speaks of His heavenly character (blue), His royal dignity (purple), His attractive beauty (scarlet) and His human moral perfection (fine linen). These were the components of the veil (Exodus 26:31).

Yet a covering of badger skins was put over the veil, the badger skins (or possibly sealskins) speaking of the opposite of beauty, for "when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2). However, that too was covered by a cloth entirely of blue (v.6), an important reminder that though walking on earth, the Lord Jesus is "the second Man, the Lord from heaven" (1 Corinthians 15:47). Only the ark had this blue covering visible for all, for it tells that God's authority is from heaven, an authority over all mankind. The poles for carrying the ark were then inserted (v.6) in readiness for the Kohathites to carry.

The priests then spread a blue cloth over the table of showbread and put on it the dishes, pans, bowls and pitchers. The showbread itself should also remain on it (v.7). A scarlet cloth was put over this, then also a covering of badger skins, and the poles inserted (v.8). The table speaks of Christ as the Sustainer of communion, and the blue cloth reminds us that communion with Him now is on a heavenly level, while the badger skins tell us that communion is not attractive to the outside world, though still strong and endurable.

The lampstand was to be covered with blue cloth, together with its lamps, wick trimmers, trays and oil vessels, then put on carrying bars or poles (vs.9-10). For the lampstand symbolizes Christ as the Sustainer of testimony, and the blue insists that true testimony for God is from heaven, while the badger skins again show it to be not attractive or popular in the world, though of a durable character.

The golden altar was covered just as the lampstand and the table, with a blue cloth and a covering of badger skins over it (v.11). This altar represents Christ as the Sustainer of worship, and worship too is of truly heavenly character (the blue), but has no attraction for the outside world.

The utensils of service were together similarly covered with a blue cloth and a covering of badger skins added, then placed on carrying bars (v.12). The same truths therefore apply to all the details of the furniture of the outer sanctuary.

The altar of burnt offering was outside. The priests were to take the ashes from it spread over it a cloth of purple (v.13). Purple is the royal color, for He who sacrificed Himself is the One who has absolute right to reign. Over this and over all its implements a covering of badger skins was put and its poles inserted.

Only after Aaron and his sons had finished their work in preparing the tabernacle furniture for moving were the Kohathites permitted to begin their work of carrying by means of the poles all this furniture (v.15). But they were not to even touch any of these furnishings, under penalty of death. This is intended to teach us that, while the Lord's servants are privileged to bear witness to the truth concerning the Lord Jesus in all of His wonderful relationships, yet they are to have such wholesome regard for the glory of His person that they are deeply to remember that no one knows the Father except the Son, and no one knows the Son but the Father. "Great is the mystery of godliness" (1 Timothy 3:16). We cannot and must not dare to try to explain the great mystery of the person of Christ, whose glory is infinitely above our understanding.

The priest did have a nearer place than the servant (the Levite) however, a place of enjoyment of the Lord's presence. For the glory of the person of Christ is for the worship of Saints, though not for the explanation to others. Thus Eleazar the son of Aaron was appointed to take charge of the oil for the light, the sweet incense, the daily grain offering and the anointing oil, and to oversee the ordering of the tabernacle and its furniture (v.16). Eleazar's name means "God is Helper," and he succeeded Aaron in the high priesthood when Aaron died (Numbers 20:23-28), He is therefore a type of Christ as High Priest in resurrection.

Verses 17-20 insist that the Kohathites were not to be cut off from Israel, but to avoid this they must fully obey instructions from the priests to do only the work assigned to them, and not to even watch while the priests covered the holy things in preparation for moving. Thus it is emphasized that service must not infringe on the privileges of priesthood.



The census of the Gershonites was now commanded to be taken (vs.22-23), but again their sphere of service is first detailed before the census. They were to carry the curtains of the tabernacle, the covering of badger skins, the hanging for the door of the tabernacle as well as that for the gate of the court, all the hangings of the court, their cords and other furnishings connected with these (vs.25-26). These speak, first of the moral perfection in the life of the Lord Jesus, and secondly, of the moral righteousness of the saints of God (the linen hangings of the court). the ministry seen in Gershon is therefore that insistence upon the unique ministry seen in Gershon is therefore that insistence upon the unique perfection of the Manhood of Christ and the becoming responsibility of saints to represent Him in their measure in their daily lives. "For the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints " (Revelation 19:8)

The service of the Gershonites was under the authority of Ithamar, rather than Eleazar (v.28). Ithamar's name means "where the palm is," which reminds us of Psalms 92:12, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," emphasizing the fruitful walk of the saints of God.



The same numbering was to be true of the Merarites, from 30 to 50 years of age, capable of serving in connection with the tabernacle.

When the priests had prepared things in readiness for moving, the Merarites were appointed to carry the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, pillars and sockets, the pillars for the court with their sockets, pegs and cords, and other accompaniments. These things speak of Christ as the Upholder of His people and of their place as accepted in Christ before God. This line of ministry is of vital importance too. Again, the service of the Merarites was under the authority of Ithamar (v.33). We have seen that Eleazar is typical of Christ in resurrection, and therefore connected with the Kohathite ministry dealing with this, for we are "in Christ" though walking through a hostile world, as is implied in 1 John 4:17, "as He is, so are we in this world." How we need to be reminded of this holy dignity, while all around us is great contrasting confusion!



The Kohathites were then numbered, that is, the males from 30 to 50 years of age, and found to be 2,750 (v.36). It appears evident that all these would not be expected to serve at all times, but would likely take turns in carrying the furniture of the tabernacle. thus there would be no hard labor for anyone.

The number of the Gershonites amounted to 2,630 (v.40). We shall see later that these were given wagons for the transporting of the burdens given to them (ch.7:6-7), so that they would have charge of wagons and animals that pulled them.

The Merarites were found to number 3,200, more than either the Kohathites or Gershonites (v.44). They were given wagons for their service (ch.7:8), twice as many as Gershonites. Then the total number of the three families is given in verse 48 as 8,580, that is, of those males between the ages 30 and 50.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 4". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/numbers-4.html. 1897-1910.
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