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NUMBERS CHAPTER 3
The genealogy of Moses, Aaron, and his sons, Nadab and Abihu, Numbers 3:1-4.
The Levites are joined with them in the administration of the tabernacle, Numbers 3:5-10, instead of all the first-born, Numbers 3:11-13.
The three families of the Levites numbered, Numbers 3:14-39.
The first-born numbered, Numbers 3:40-43.
Being more than the Levites, some of them are redeemed, and the money given to Aaron and his sons, Numbers 3:41-51.
These which follow in this chapter are the generations, i.e. either,
1. The things done by them; as the word generation is sometimes used, as Genesis 6:9; Genesis 25:19; Genesis 37:2. Or rather,
2. The kindred or family, for that is the subject of this chapter, and not their events or actions.
Object. Aaron’s family indeed is here mentioned, but not Moses’s family.
Answ. Moses’s family and children are here included under the general name of the Amramite, Numbers 3:27, which includes all the children and grandchildren of Amram, the persons only of Aaron and Moses being excepted. And the generations of Moses are thus obscurely mentioned, because they were but common Levites, the priesthood being given solely to Aaron’s posterity, whence Aaron is here put before Moses, who elsewhere is commonly named after him. In the day that the Lord spake with Moses in Mount Sinai: this seems to be added, because Nadab and Abihu, mentioned Numbers 3:2, were then alive, though dead at the time of taking this account.
In the time of Aaron’s life, as this phrase is taken, Numbers 3:4; see also Psalms 72:5,Psalms 72:17; and under their father’s inspection and direction, and as their father’s servants or ministers in the priest’s office; for servants are oft described by this phrase of being, or standing, or serving in the sight or presence, we of their master.
Present them; offer them to the lord for his special service. This was promised to them before, and now actually conferred upon them.
His charge, i.e. Aaron’s charge, or those things which are committed principally to Aaron’s care and oversight, and under him and his direction to the Levites.
Of the whole congregation, i.e. of all the sacrifices and services which are due to the Lord from all the people, and because all the people could not and might not perform them, or at least divers of them, in their own persons, therefore they were to be performed by some particular persons in their name and stead; formerly by the first-born, Numbers 8:16, and now by the Levites. See Numbers 1:53; Numbers 16:9.
Before the tabernacle, emphatically; not within the tabernacle, for the care of these things within the holy place was appropriated to the priests, as the care of the most holy place was peculiar to the high priest.
The charge of the children of Israel; those things which all the children of Israel are in their several places and stations obliged to take care of, though not in their persons, yet by others in their stead.
Given unto him, to attend upon him and observe his orders, and ease him of part of his burden in things hereafter mentioned.
They shall wait, in their own persons, not by the Levites.
The stranger, i.e. every one who is of another family than Aaron’s, yea, though he be a Levite. See Numbers 1:53; Numbers 16:40.
That cometh nigh, to wit, to execute any part of the priest’s office.
Instead of all the first-born, who were God’s propriety by right of redemption, Exodus 13:12, and to whom the administration of holy things was formerly committed, which now was taken away from them, either because they had forfeited this privilege by joining with the rest of their brethren in the idolatrous worship of the calf, or because they were to be mainly concerned in the distribution and management of the inheritances which now they were going to possess, and therefore could not be at leisure to attend upon the service of the sanctuary; which made it fit that this work should be committed to other hands. And God would not commit it to some other persons in each tribe, which might be an occasion of idolatry, confusion, division, and contempt of sacred things, but to one distinct tribe, which might be entirely devoted to that service, and particularly to the tribe of Levi; partly, out of his respect to Moses and Aaron, branches of this tribe; partly, as a recompence of their zeal for God and against idolaters; see Exodus 32:26,Exodus 32:29; Deuteronomy 33:9; and partly, because it was the smallest of the tribes, and therefore most likely to find both employment in and maintenance for the work.
Who may appoint whom I please for my service.
From a month old, because at that time the first-born, in whose stead the Levites came, Numbers 8:16, were offered to God, Luke 2:22, and to be redeemed, Numbers 18:16. And from that time the Levites were consecrated to God, and were as soon as they were capable,’ to be instructed in their work. Elsewhere they are numbered from twenty-five years old, when they were entered as novices to part of their work, Numbers 8:24; and from thirty years old, when they were completely admitted to their whole office.
The tabernacle; not the boards, which belonged to Merari, Numbers 3:36, but the ten curtains mentioned Exodus 26:1.
The tent, to wit, the curtains of goats’ hair.
The covering thereof, i.e. the coverings of rams’ skins and badgers’ skins. See Numbers 4:25.
The cords, by which the tabernacle was fastened to the pins, and stretched out, Exodus 35:18.
This family had many privileges above the others; of that were Moses below, Numbers 3:31; and in the land of Canaan they had twenty-three cities, which were almost as many as and Aaron, and all the priests; they had the chief place about the tabernacle, and the care of the most holy things hereboth their brethren received. See Joshua 21:0.
Keeping, or keepers, &c., i.e. appointed for that work, as soon as they were capable of it.
Of the sanctuary, i.e. of those holy things contained in or nearly belonging to the sanctuary, expressed Numbers 3:31.
The hanging, which covered the most holy place, for all other hangings belonged to the Gershonites.
All the service thereof, i.e. all the other furniture belonging to it, of which see Numbers 4:7,Numbers 4:9,Numbers 4:14.
Eleazar shall be chief, next under the high priest; whence he is called the second priest, 2 Kings 25:18; and in case of the high priest’s absence by sickness or other necessary occasions, he was to perform his work, 1 Kings 4:4; and he had a superiority over all the rest of the priests and Levites.
Over the chief of the Levites, i.e. over those three persons, who were each the chief of their several families; of whom see here, Numbers 3:24,Numbers 3:31,Numbers 3:35.
Therefore these were for another use than those mentioned Numbers 3:26.
For the charge of the children of Israel; either in their stead. that charge which they were obliged to keep either by themselves. or by others appointed by them, if God had not committed it to those; or for their good, and service, and benefit; for their preservation, as the word may be rendered.
Object. But if the particular numbers, mentioned Numbers 3:22,Numbers 3:28,Numbers 3:34, be put together, they make exactly 22,300.
Answ. The odd 300 are omitted here, either according to the use of the Holy Scripture, which in so great numbers small sums are commonly neglected, or because they were the first-born of the Levites, and therefore belonged to God already, and so could not be given to him again instead of the other first-born. See Leviticus 27:26. If this number of first-born seem very small to come from 22,000 Levites, it must be considered, that only such first-born are here named as were males, and such as continued in their parents families, not such as had erected new families of their own. Add to this, that God so ordered things by his wise providence for divers weighty reasons, that this tribe should be much the least of all the tribes, as is evident by comparing the numbers of the other tribes from twenty years old, Numbers 1:0, with the number of this from a month old; and therefore it is not strange if the number of their first-born be less than in other tribes. Although if the other tribes had been computed from a month old, as this was, their number of 600,000 had probably been double or treble to that; and consequently the number of their first-born being 22,273 Numbers 3:43, would have been as unproportionable to their whole sum, as this of 300 first-born Levites seems to their whole number. And some add, that only those first-born are numbered, both in this and in the other tribes, which were born since they came out of Egypt, when God challenged all the first-born to be his.
That they may be compared with the number of the Levites for the reason here following.
Instead of all the first-born, to wit, such are now alive of them, but those which should be born of them hereafter are otherwise disposed.
The cattle of the Levites; not that they were to be taken from the Levites, or to be sacrificed to God, any more than the Levites themselves were, but that they together with the Levites were to be presented before the Lord by way of acknowledgment, that the Levites might be set apart for God’s service, and their cattle for themselves as God’s ministers, and for their support in God’s work.
Take the Levites, to wit, the 22,000 reckoned up Numbers 3:39, See Poole "Numbers 3:39"
Five shekels apiece was the price to be paid for the redemption of a first-born a month old, Numbers 18:15,Numbers 18:16; but this money, though paid for these 273 persons, was probably paid out of the common stock of all, except lots were cast who should pay, which is not probable in so small a concern accompanied with so much trouble.
To whom all the Levites were given, and therefore the money which came in their stead.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 3". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20