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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 3

Verses 1-4

Exodus 3:1-4 . Aaron’ s Sons.— These constituted a priestly order ( Numbers 3:10). The description of these (who during their father’ s lifetime were only ordinary priests) as anointed ( Numbers 3:3) agrees with Exodus 40:15 but not with the earlier ch. 29, where only Aaron ( Numbers 3:7) and his descendants who should succeed him ( Numbers 3:29) in the high priesthood, are directed to be anointed. As the earliest unguents were animal fats, and many animals were sacred, the practice of anointing was doubtless originally designed to impart to a priest or other important personage the virtues of the sacred animal from which the unguent was derived.

Numbers 3:1 . The mention of Moses here is an error.

Numbers 3:3 . whom he consecrated: lit., “ whose hand he filled” ( Exodus 29:9 *, Leviticus 8:33 *, 1 Chronicles 29:5 *), the object placed in the hand being perhaps the offering which the priests were to present ( cf. 2 Chronicles 13:9, Exodus 29:24). The phrase eventually lost its primary sense and could be used of consecrating an altar ( Ezekiel 43:26).

Numbers 3:4 . died: see Leviticus 10:1-7 .

Verses 5-10

Numbers 3:5-10 . The Relations of the Levites to the Priests.— The Levites ( i.e. the non-Aaronite descendants of Levi), who are here regarded as “ given” ( Numbers 3:9) by Israel to the priests to be their servants, are to have no share in the priesthood itself, which is limited to the descendants of Aaron ( Numbers 3:10; Numbers 18:7). This limitation seems to have been of late origin. In early times there was no restriction to a particular family or tribe, for, according to Exodus 24:5, sacrifice was offered by “ young men of the children of Israel” (without any mention of their belonging to a special priestly tribe); and in the time of David, his sons (of the tribe of Judah) and Ira (probably a Manassite) were priests ( 2 Samuel 8:18 *, 2 Samuel 20:26 *). But after the promulgation of Dt. the priesthood was limited to the tribe of Levi; and after the time of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 44:10-16 *) it was confined to the sons of Zadok, a descendant of Aaron ( 1 Chronicles 6:3-8).

Numbers 3:10 . priesthood: LXX adds, “ and everything about the altar and within the veil” ( cf. Numbers 18:7).— stranger: i.e. everyone (including Levites, contrast Numbers 15:1) who is not a descendant of Aaron.

Verses 11-13

Numbers 3:11-13 . The Relation of the Levites to the People.— The Levites are here considered as dedicated to Yahweh in lieu of the first-born of Israel to whom He had a claim, and for whom no redemption money had been paid in the past (in the future every first-born child is to be redeemed by the payment of 5 shekels ( Numbers 18:16)). Yahweh’ s claim is here based on the sparing of the Hebrew children at the Exodus ( Exodus 13:11-15); but elsewhere all first-born creatures are regarded as Yahweh’ s ( Exodus 22:29 f; Exodus 34:19 f.); Perhaps originally supernatural qualities were associated with the firstborn (in whom, if a family were thought to be descended from a Divine ancestor, the Divine strain might seem to be strongest, cf. Genesis 49:3 *), so that such were held to be more than ordinarily sacred; and if a sacrifice were required, the holiest victim would appear the most appropriate ( cf. Genesis 22:2, 2 Kings 3:27, Ezekiel 20:26, Micah 6:7).

Verses 14-39

Numbers 3:14-39 . The Numbers of the Levites, their Position and Duties.— The census here described included all Levites above one month, whose numbers amounted to 22,000. Their three divisions, when the camp was stationary, formed a cordon round the Tabernacle. The Gershonites on the W. had the care of the external hangings, the Kohathites on the S. that of the contents, the Merarites on the N. that of the framework. On the E., the position of most honour, Moses, Aaron, and the priests had their station.

Numbers 3:25 . the tabernacle: i.e. the linen curtains of Exodus 26:1 *.— the tent: i.e. the goats’ -hair curtains of Exodus 26:7 . the covering: i.e. the rams’ skins of Exodus 26:14 *.

Numbers 3:26 . the altar: i.e. of burnt-offering.

Numbers 3:28 . Read “ eight thousand three hundred.”

Numbers 3:31 . the table: i.e. of shewbread.— the altars: i.e. of burnt-offering and of incense. The latter, which is ignored in Numbers 3:26, was probably of late origin: incense was at first burnt in censers ( Numbers 16:6 f.).— the screen: i.e. the veil ( Numbers 3:45) between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place. The laver ( Exodus 30:18 *) is overlooked in this enumeration.

Verses 40-43

Numbers 3:40-43 . The Numbers of the First-born Males in Israel above one Month.— The figure (22,273) is out of proportion to the total population given in 146; for if it is doubled (for an equal number of females), the result is only 44,546, so that for every first-born person there were approximately 44 who were not first-born, which implies that the average family numbered 45. It has been sought to evade this conclusion by assuming that account is taken of only those first-born who were not themselves heads of families; but there is no hint of this restriction in the text.

Numbers 3:41 . and the earth, etc. Since the firstlings of clean cattle could not be redeemed ( Numbers 18:15; Numbers 18:17), read, “ and the cattle of the Levites instead of the cattle of all the first-born among the children of Israel.”

Verses 44-51

Numbers 3:44-51 . The Redemption by Money of the Residue of the First-born. Cf. Numbers 3:12 f . Since the first-born of Israel (22,273) exceed the Levites (22,000, see Numbers 3:39), those in excess are to be redeemed at 5 silver shekels (about 13 s. 9 d.) a head.

Numbers 3:47 . Read, “ after the sacred shekel.” This was the ancient Hebrew or Phœ nician weight (224 grains), as contrasted with the later Perso-Babylonian weight, which was lighter (173 · 3 grains): cf. Exodus 30:13 *, p. 116.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 3". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.