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CRITICAL NOTES.] This and following three chapters contain an account of Levites and distribution of their services. Here their number, classification, and work (1 Chronicles 23:1-6). But 1 Chronicles 23:6-32 give heads of houses composing the four Levite families and their offices.
1 Chronicles 23:1.—King. For full particulars cf. 1 Kings 1:0. “The author of Chronicles, who does not concern himself with the domestic history of David, naturally omits the circumstances, and merely states the fact” [Speak. Com.].
1 Chronicles 23:2-5.—Number and distribution of the Levites. Princes. David made arrangements with Levites in their assembly (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1). Thirty, Mosaic census followed (Numbers 4:3). None counted who exceeded 50 years by man, i.e., reckoning men only. Judges, local magistrate (chap. 1 Chronicles 26:29). “This office resembled that of the modern Mahometan Cadi” [Speak. Com.]. Porters (1 Chronicles 23:5), door-keepers by night and day. “Psalms 134:0 is the chant of the night sentries” [Speak. Com.].
1 Chronicles 23:6-23.—Houses or families of Levites. Enumeration of all Levites, afterwards distributed into their classes. Courses, divisions definitely numbered and arranged by David. 1 Chronicles 23:7-11. The Gershonites (Exodus 6:6). Laadan, called Libni (chap. 1 Chronicles 6:17, cf. use in Exodus 6:17; Numbers 3:18). Shimei, not that of 1 Chronicles 23:7, but another, cf. 1 Chronicles 23:10. 1 Chronicles 23:10. Zina, marg. Zizah. 1 Chronicles 23:11. Not many and did not make separate houses. 1 Chronicles 23:12-20. The Kohathites (Exodus 6:16). Separated, therefore not counted in the number (1 Chronicles 23:8). Burn incense (cf. Exodus 30:7-8; Numbers 6:23-27). Named (1 Chronicles 23:14) not like those of Aaron (1 Chronicles 23:13). 1 Chronicles 23:15. Moses (cf. Exodus 18:3-4). 1 Chronicles 23:16. Shebuel (cf. 1 Chronicles 24:20). 1 Chronicles 23:18. Shel., the founder or head. 1 Chronicles 23:21-23. Sons of Merari, two chiefly given (Numbers 3:20; 1 Chronicles 6:19), but 1 Chronicles 24:26 seems to give a third son.
1 Chronicles 23:24-27.—Sons of Levi. Polls (1 Chronicles 23:3). Twenty, thirty previously fixed. Certain lighter duties imposed at 25 (Numbers 8:24), but only liable for full service at 30 years. David made a change. The temple would require a more numerous ministry since the ark ceased to be carried from place to place. This limit continue 1 in after times as David fixed it. 1 Chronicles 23:27. Last orders or arrangements Some understand a historical work, drawn up by Gad or Nathan, or a work of directions for the service of the sanctuary.
1 Chronicles 23:28-30.—Purifying, i.e., washing holy things; shewbread (Leviticus 24:5-9); fine flour, materials for all chief kinds of meat offerings (cf. Leviticus 2:1-5; Leviticus 6:14-15; Leviticus 23:13); cakes, must be rightly made, &c.; measure of liquids and things dry fixed by law (Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 6:20; Numbers 15:4-10).
1 Chronicles 23:31.—By number, exact number of cattle to be offered at various festivals fixed by law (Numbers 28:9-11; Numbers 29:8-13).
1 Chronicles 23:32.—Keep, duties of Levites here summed up in words from Numbers 18:3-6. “This passage (1 Chronicles 23:8-32) gives the most complete account to be found in Scripture of the nature of the Levitical office” [Speak. Com.].
THE SACRED TRIBE: ITS CALLING AND ITS DUTIES.—1 Chronicles 23:2-5
In view of death, David called a representative assembly. Solomon succeeds him, and he wishes to arrange for the service of the temple. The Levites called to officiate; here classified in order and houses, with distribution and general regulations for work.
I. The sacred calling of the tribe. “To set forward the work of the house of the lord.” “Their office to wait on the sons of Aaron” (1 Chronicles 23:28-29), and “to offer”—to help in the offering of “burnt sacrifices” (1 Chronicles 23:31-32). This a noble, “a high calling.” Notice—
1. The legal age of entering the work. “From thirty years old and upward, even until fifty years old” (Numbers 4:3); then reduced to twenty-five years (Numbers 8:24), and now fixed “from the age of twenty years and upward” (1 Chronicles 23:24).
2. The numbers engaged in the work. Thirty-eight thousand, an increase of more than fourfold since the time of Moses (Numbers 4:47-48). What a proof of God’s power and grace, who can make his servants “a thousandfold more.” Considered a privilege to belong to the retinue of an earthly monarch. What must it be to be numbered with the household of God on earth, and with the innumerable company in heaven!
II. The special duties of the tribe. We have four classes given (1 Chronicles 23:4-5), which are afterwards described in detail.
1. The overseers. Twenty-four thousand, including priests and attendants, to (set forward) superintend (1 Chronicles 23:4). They had under their charge the younger Levites and servants of the sanctuary, devoted to menial duties (1 Chronicles 9:2).
2. The judges. Administrators of civil affairs “for the outward business of Israel” (2 Chronicles 19:5-11). Officers mentioned early (Exodus 5:6), generally foremen; judges concerned with religious matters chiefly.
3. The musicians, who praised on instruments—“cymbals, psalteries, harps, trumpets” (2 Chronicles 5:12)—which David might approve or appoint, but not invent for service. He was given to music, and desired, in his latter days, to give example of its use. Handel declared, when he finally resolved to consecrate himself to sacred music, “that it was better suited to a man descending in the vale of years.”
4. The porters. At gates, guarding entrance of improper persons, and keeping from profanation and divine displeasure. In such service we may engage, leading in the song, and perfecting the praise of the sanctuary; administering law and government; creating, preserving, and perpetuating reverence and truth in all things.
THE SACRED TRIBE: ITS HEADS AND ARRANGEMENTS.—1 Chronicles 23:6-24
After giving number and divisions of Levi according to duties, we have next an enumeration of heads of houses into which the four families branched, with a brief account of their work.
I. The houses of Gershon (1 Chronicles 23:6-11). This branches into two—six families for Laadan, and three for Shimei; nine houses altogether.
II. The houses of Kohath (1 Chronicles 23:11-20). Aaron not reckoned because specially set apart. His sons form subject of ch. 1 Chronicles 25:1-19. Hence such descendants of Amram noticed which belonged to Moses, whose sons were numbered among Levites generally, and did not belong to that part to whom priestly duties were assigned. Kohath, the founder of nine fathers’ houses (mentioned ch. 1 Chronicles 24:20-25). To these must be added the priests through Aaron and his sons, two houses, making eleven in all.
III. The houses of Merari (1 Chronicles 23:21-23). Two sons as two leading branches, Machli and Mushi (Exodus 6:19; Numbers 3:33). Merari is third son of Levi (Genesis 46:11). As there are four houses for him, nine for Gershon, and eleven for Kohath, we have twenty-four in all of the sons of Levi. Some give Merari six, and the others nine each, which makes the same number.
IV. The arrangements of the Levites (1 Chronicles 23:24-32). By the last words of David, at the end of his life, new arrangements were made. He thought it would contribute to the glory of God to have as many officers as possible in divine service.
1. The enrolment of office was changed. The rule was to begin at 30 years; for two reasons he relaxed this. First, Jerusalem was the chosen city, and there would be no more moving from place to place. Second, the carrying of the tabernacle was not needed any longer.
2. The duties of office are arranged. Detailed in a few items. Aaron’s sons had higher office in the service of the house of the Lord. Service in the courts (Exodus 27:9); the chambers as judges; and in religious work generally. Levites helped in this service, had “to wait on the sons of Aaron.” Several things mentioned—
(1) Keeping things clean. “Purifying, i.e., cleansing of all holy things” (1 Chronicles 23:28). Holy places, garments, vessels, and sacrifices.
(2) Getting things ready. The shewbread for priests to arrange on the table; fine flour morning and evening in just quantity for meat-offering; unleavened cakes rightly made.
(3) Adjusting weights and measures. Standards of which were considered sacred, kept in the sanctuary, and not to be altered in liquids (wine, oil, &c.) or dry goods.
(4) Blowing with their instruments. Every morning and night “to praise the Lord” in sounding their trumpets (Numbers 10:10).
(5) Offering sacrifices. “To offer all burnt sacrifices” (1 Chronicles 23:31). Priests alone sprinkled the blood, trimmed the fire on the altar, and lay the parts of the victim on it. Levites did everything preparatory and needful to these priestly acts. Sacrifices offered in right number (2 Samuel 2:15; Numbers 28:1-31), and at set feasts: Passover (Leviticus 23:4-5); Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-17); and Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-37).
(6) Guarding the tabernacle. “Keep the charge of the tabernacle” (1 Chronicles 23:32). Charge of the tent of meeting, of holy apparatus, to have everything fit, orderly, and ready for special functions of priests.
(7) Attendance on priests. “The charge of the sons of Aaron, their brethren.” Thus service honourable and menial, orderly and regular. Nothing a drudgery, but pleasant, joyful, and devout.
“Who sweeps a room as for God’s laws
Makes that and the action fine” [Herbert].
THE THREEFOLD FUNCTIONS.—1 Chronicles 23:13
The posterity of Aaron advanced to dignity and the priest’s office to “sanctify the most holy things.” Their office here described as threefold.
1. To make atonement. Offer burnt incense upon the golden altar in the holy place. For a “stranger to come near” and do this would incur prompt punishment (Numbers 16:40). Incense-burning a preliminary to morning and accompaniment of evening sacrifice (Exodus 30:7; Exodus 30:9; Luke 1:9-10), and a special part of ceremony on Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:11-13). Amid sudden danger and impending wrath, the priest took the censer of incense “to make atonement” (Numbers 16:46-47). No priesthood, no office like this now; but regarding this as typical of diffusive influence and specific intercession, the minister of the gospel may be an intercessor for his people, render acceptable service and point to the atonement for sin and the Mediator between God and man.
2. To minister to God for man. “To minister unto him.” This a privilege and within the power of every one. The Christian minister specially called, and set apart for this work. In prayer, preaching, and daily work, he should minister to God.
3. To bless man for God. “To bless in his name.” None have power to bless and bestow grace in themselves. But first receiving light and life they give—speak of God’s favour to men, offer pardon and assure of acceptance. They represent God in their ministry; bring down the influence of Heaven in their walk; and seek to recover fallen men from sin and death. “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying on this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel” (Numbers 6:23).
THE REST OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD.—1 Chronicles 23:25
I. In the mysterious polity of the people of Israel, spiritual and temporal blessings were so closely allied that the same language might naturally be employed to signify either. II. Hence David hinted at profounder truths than lie on the surface of his words. III. It becomes us to secure the great blessing—the rest that remaineth—as the chief object of existence. IV. Rest and peace must fall on a Christian spirit—
(1) From the imitation of Christ;
(2) The singleness of its object;
(3) The nature of the Christian affections;
(4) To support and exalt us, heaven must mingle with earth [A. Butler].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
1 Chronicles 23:1.
1. An instructive view of life. “Old and full of days.” Life made up of days, not years. Day by day given until the numbers appointed (Job 14:5) are filled up, finished. “There is no elixir of life,” says one, “that can prolong our days beyond that period. Soon we shall come to the outer limit; then we must die.” Isaac died, being “old and full of days.”
2. A touching picture of old age. As a portrait made up of minute touches, so old age in character, habits, hopes, and condition. It has peculiar comeliness and attractiveness of its own when crowned with piety. Pitiable to see an old man who has missed the object of life and spent his days in folly. “The sinner, being an hundred years old, shall be accursed.” But “the hoary head is a crown of gold, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”
3. A solemn warning to all. The end sure in youthful days or “full of days.” “Old age is near neighbour to death.” Understand life before you leave it. If ready to depart we can say cheerfully, Nunc dimittis.
1 Chronicles 23:14. Moses the man of God; the honourable appellation. Given to Moses five times in the whole of Scripture—once in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 31:1), once in Joshua (1 Chronicles 14:6), twice in Chronicles (here and in 2 Chronicles 30:16), and once in Ezra (1 Chronicles 3:2). It is also assigned thrice to David (2 Chronicles 8:14; Nehemiah 12:24; Nehemiah 12:36), and once to the prophet Shemaiah (1 Kings 12:22). “Man of God,” without the article, is common [Speak. Com.].
1. Specially called and qualified for God’s work.
2. Privileged with close and familiar intercourse with God. Face to face with God and “the similitude of the Lord shall he behold.”
3. Divinely taught to declare the will of God. “With him will I speak mouth to mouth.” “The law was given by Moses.”
4. Faithfully carried on the work of God. “My servant Moses who is faithful in all my house.” God gave orders. Moses verily was faithful as a servant (Hebrews 3:5), and obedient in carrying them out.
5. Wonderfully honoured by God at the end. God buried him. “There arose not a prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” “We must think and speak honourably of saints departed” [Trapp].
1 Chronicles 23:28-32. Waiting in service.
1. In active work.
2. In orderly worship.
3. In devout supplication.
4. In watching attitude.
“God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait”
Rest an argument for service.
1. Rest affording opportunity.
2. Specially designed for service.
3. Service, individual, orderly, and varied. Service entered upon early, and patiently conducted. Morning and evening thanks. Needful, demanded, and should be willingly given. “Every day will I praise thee.” “Evening, and morning, and at noon will I pray, and cry aloud” (Psalms 55:17). “Pray without ceasing.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 23
1 Chronicles 23:1. Old. I venerate old age, and I love not the man who can look without emotion upon the sunset of life, when the dusk of evening begins to gather over the watery eye, and the shadows of twilight grow broader and deeper upon the understanding [Longfellow].
1 Chronicles 23:6. Courses. If there be any beauty and comeliness in order, where should we most expect to find it than in the divine government, and in the conduct and management of the affairs of the supreme and the celestial kingdom, wherein only the remoteness of those things from our sense makes everything seem little and inconsiderable [J. Howe].
“All things are infinite in parts, and the moral is as the material.
Neither is anything vast, but it is compacted of atoms” [Martin Tupper].
1 Chronicles 23:6; 1 Chronicles 23:30. Instruments and praise. In order to the high result intended, the music of religion must be religious. There must be a distinction of sounds. As this language is given for the heart, it becomes a first principle that it must be of the heart, else it is an unknown tongue. And so true is this, that nothing really can fulfil the idea of religious music which is not the breathing of true love and worship. Even instruments without life will not speak the true notes of power unless the touch of faith is on them, and the breath of holy feeling is in them; how much less the voice itself, whose very qualities of sound are inevitably toned by the secret feeling of the spirit [Dr. H. Bushnell].
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent