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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 3

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-13

Numbers 3:1-13

The priests which were anointed.

Aaron and his sons: parents and children

In Numbers 3:1-4 we have--

An incidental illustration of the exalted personal character and the divine mission of Moses.

An intimation that the duties of the ministers of religion demand for their faithful discharge their entire consecration thereto.

An example of wicked sons descending from a godly parent.

An example of the widest difference of character and destiny in children of the same parents. Our subject utters earnest counsels--

1. To the children of godly parents. Trust not in the character and prayers of your parents for salvation. These are of priceless value, yet they will not avail to your salvation apart from your own faith and obedience. (See Ezekiel 18:1-32.)

2. To parents. Be diligent and faithful in the discharge of your duty to your children.

(1) Let your own life be right, and so set them a good example.

(2) Give them wise religious instruction and training.

(3) Commend them often and earnestly to God in prayer.

(4) Afford them encouragement in every manifestation of pious feeling and conduct. (W. Jones.)

The dedication of the Levites--

Church work and workers

verses 5-10.

The offices of the church are divinely instituted.

There are different ranks in the offices of the church as instituted by God.

The lowliest labour in the service of God is sacred and blessed.

God also appoints the persons to fill the various offices in his church.

Intrusion into sacred places and duties awakened the stern displeasure of the Lord.


1. Encouragement to those who are called of God to Christian work. He who has called you to your work will sustain you in it, make it efficient by His blessing, and confer upon you rich rewards.

2. Admonition as to our estimate of the ministers of the Lord. They “are ambassadors for Christ.” God Himself speaks through them to men. (W. Jones.)

God’s claim upon man’s service:

From Numbers 3:11-13, we learn--

God’s claims upon man’s service are incontestable. Upon what are they grounded?

1. Upon what He is in Himself.

2. Upon what He does for man.

There is a correspondence between the gifts and the claims of God. His demands are proportioned to His bestowments.

1. This is righteous.

2. This is beneficent.

The divine arrangements are ever marked by infinite wisdom and kindness. (W. Jones.)

The measure of the Divine demands upon man:

. God gave the best he had to effect our salvation.

The son gave himself. Let us sacrifice ourselves to God as He sacrificed His Son for us.

1. Thus only can we attain to a high ideal in religion. Be the best possible Christian: be not content with mediocrity: aim high.

2. This is the best way to be useful. The power of Christianity is in the fact of Christ giving Himself. Our influence for good is in proportion to our selfsacrifice.

3. This is the way to enjoy religion. The more we give of self to God, the more will He give of Himself to us. Let all think of what God has done for them, and consider what returns they have made to Him. (David Lloyd.)

The necessity of a standing ministry

We see in this place, how Moses immediately after the numbering of the people, that meddled not with the ministry of the word, or killing of the sacrifices, or serving in the tabernacle, or carrying of the ark, or teaching of the people, handleth in the next place the fashion of the ministry. For let there be never so great order or good policy in the commonwealth, yet if the care of the ministry be neglected, all is to little purpose. We see from hence the goodly order that God observeth in this great army. He establisheth among them most carefully the holy ministry to the end they might be instructed in the Word. Hereby we learn that among all nations and people under the heavens, the ministry of the Word ought to be planted and established, to guide them in the ways of godliness.

1. A certain and settled ministry is an evident token that God hath a church and a people to be begotten by the immortal seed of the Word.

2. Without the light of the Word the people remain in darkness and cannot see: they grope at noonday, and know not what they do--as it was in Egypt when the plague of palpable darkness was sent among them (Exodus 10:23).

3. The necessity of a ministry is so evident that all the Gentiles had their priests and prophets that attended on their profane and superstitious altars, and it was their first care to establish a religion, such as it was, among them. If it were thus among them who saw darkly, and were without the true light of the Scripture, much more ought we to learn it, that have been taught better things, and have the sure word of the prophets to guide us.

4. Such is our frailty, that notwithstanding we live under a settled ministry, and have given our names to the faith, yet we are ready to start back again. For as the body is prone to pine away without supply of daily food, so are our souls ready to perish, being destitute of the heavenly manna of the Word of God.


1. There is offered unto us this truth arising from the doctrine itself, that the preaching of the Word by the minister, and the hearing of it by the people, is no ceremony nor a matter of indifferency, such as may either be done or left undone at our own discretion, but it is such a part of the public service of God as ought not to be neglected without great sin.

2. It serveth to reprove divers abuses.

(1) Such as think and spare not to say that the ministry is a vain and superfluous thing, and that the ministers are men that may very well be spared, as if they were a sixth finger upon the hand, or a sixth toe upon the foot; that is bringing a burden rather than a benefit. For as they account the Sabbath the loss of one day in a week, so they account the maintenance of the ministry the loss of their goods. These have learned another language than the tongue of Canaan. They do not the works that beseem Christians, and they cannot speak as beseemeth those that profess the fear of God, if so be they do profess so much. Is it a needless thing to have the light of the sun in the firmament, without which all things are covered with darkness, and nothing can have life and quickening? But the sun is not more necessary to be in the world than the light of the Word in the Church to give life and light unto them that sit in darkness (Matthew 4:16). Is it needless to have labourers to reap down our corn in time of harvest? To have meat brought unto us and provided for us when we are hungry, or drink when we are thirsty?

(2) The vain conceit of their hearts, who having learned the principles of religion and some grounds of knowledge, proceed no further, as if they had no more use of the Word, whereas there is matter of instruction always to be learned out of the Word for all persons. When we have eaten one kind of meat one day, we eat the next day as hungrily of it as we did before.

(3) They that extol to the skies the kingdoms and commonwealths of the heathen as the only prosperous, flourishing, and happy nations, which indeed excelled in outward glory and thereby dazzled the eyes of many, yet indeed were no better than assemblies of men destitute of religion, and consequently of salvation. Their peace and prosperity, their wealth and dignity, were all carnal and momentary, rising out of the earth, and sinking down into the earth again; their praise also is of men. It is the maintenance of true religion that maketh a people truly happy, and the means of spreading abroad true religion is the ministry of the Word. There is no way to know it and to practise it but by this.

3. Must the ministry be established among all people under heaven? Then let every one of us be careful for our parts to plant it among us, and to bring it home to the places of our abode.

4. Let the ministers be careful to discharge their calling, and to teach the people in season and out of season. They must be lights of the world, and as savoury salt to season them with wholesome doctrine.

5. Let the people carefully attend to the ministry of the Word, where it is settled and planted, with a good conscience, as to God’s holy ordinance vouchsafed unto them. Let them bring attention in hearing, diligence in marking, and obedience in practising. Let them not use any delays to shift off the performance of this duty. (W. Attersoll.)

Consecrated lives:

In the artist’s studio a fleck of paint lies upon the palette. It is so much colour and nothing more; till, taken up by the brush of the master and laid upon the canvas, it becomes a rosy flush on beauty’s cheek, or a lustrous cloud in a golden sunset. So has many a mean and common life been touched by the Master’s hand to higher uses; so has many an humble believer been caught up from the poverty of his earthly lot to be a glorious spirit before the throne of the “Eternal Light.”

Vocation is in a line with fitness

If we agree that the Christian ministry is a vocation for the teaching, in various forms, of Christian righteousness, the question next comes, What is meant by a “call” to it? Is this anything different from that inward impulse to a specific form of work which arises in a man from a consciousness of special gifts in that direction? In that sense a man may be said to be called to the work of a musician or artist. The parents of Mozart, when they found their son, at the age of seven, playing before the crowned heads of Europe, need have been in no doubt as to his life work. It was revealed in his gifts more plainly than it could have been by a voice from heaven. And when, on the other hand, Mozart’s own son, once asked whether he loved music, replied by flinging down some coins on the table and exclaiming, “That’s the only music I care for,” it was equally evident that whatever he came into the world to do, it was not to follow in the steps of his father. Vocation here undoubtedly is in a line with fitness. The tools are for him who can use them. (Christian World.)

God improves the life given to Him in service:

It is said of vapours, that rising out of the earth, the heavens return them again in pure water, much clearer, and more refined than they received them; or as it is said of the earth, that receiving the sea-water and puddle-water, it gives it better than it received it in the springs and fountains, for it strains the water and purifies it, that whereas when it came into the bowels of the earth it was muddy, salt, and brinish, it returns pure, clear, and fresh, as out of the well-head waters are well known to come. Thus, if men would but give up their heart’s desire, and the strength of their affections unto God, He would not only give them back again, but withal much better than when He received them, their affections should be more pure, their thoughts and all the faculties of soul and body should be renewed, cleansed, beautified, and put into a far better condition than formerly they were. (J. Spencer.)

Verses 15-22

Numbers 3:15-22

From a month old.

Dedication of infants to God

That He taketh them from a month old is a thing of good use, and we may note it, for it notably showeth that we may destinate our children to God before they be fit for any other course of life. In the Gospel, those parents that brought little children to Christ are chronicled up for an eternal praise of them, and for an example to all parents to the end of the world. Matthew calleth them “little children.” Luke calleth them “babes,” even such as yet hanged upon the breast, effectually noting how soon we should bring them to Christ. Satan’s envy even against these babes to be brought to Christ appeareth there, and our Saviour’s unspeakable good against that malice, commanding them to be brought unto Him, and not to be hindered, taking them in His arms, putting His hands upon them, blessing them, and graciously affirming, that “of such is the kingdom of God.” A natural parent wishes all good to his child, and as he is able, procureth it, even as the root spreadeth his sap to the branches without grudge or exception; and a religious parent, above all worldly good, careth for God’s holy fear to be planted in his child. For the effecting whereof soon he bringeth him unto Christ, knowing that the first liquor put into a vessel is of great force ever in the same. Alas, what will the whole world profit them, were we able to give it them, ii eternally they be damned--yea, they and we both, they for not knowing Christ, and we for not bringing them to Christ. Wherefore earnest is that commandment of the Holy Ghost, “Fathers, bring up your children in instruction and information of the Lord.” Abraham is registered up for this care; and whilst this Book of God remaineth it will be found written to their praise that Timothy’s grandmother and mother brought him up in the knowledge of the Scripture from a child. Honour may shine and glory may glitter, but how soon covered with a cloud. Beauty much wished, but permanent with neither wishes nor wisdom whatsoever. Only the good gotten by bringing children to Christ remaineth for ever in his reward. And therefore let religious parents have a care of it, even soon, soon, remembering this place, that the Levites, appointed for His service, He would have numbered from a month old. (Bp. Babington.)

Church membership of children:

What, then, is this infant membership? What conception can we take of it which will justify its Christian dignity? A great many persons who are very sharp at this kind of criticism appear to have never observed that creatures existing under conditions of growth allow no such terms of classification as those do which are dead and have no growth; such, for example, as stones, metals, and earths. They are certain that gold is not iron, and iron is not silver, and they suppose that they can class the growing and transitional creatures, that are separated by no absolute lines, in the same manner. They talk of colts and horses, lambs and sheep, and it possibly not once occurs to them that they can never tell when the colt becomes a horse, or the lamb a sheep; and that about the most definite thing they can say, when pressed with that question, is that the colt is potentially a horse, the lamb a sheep, even from the first, having in itself this definite futurition; and, therefore, that while horses and sheep are not all to be classed as colts and lambs, all colts and lambs may be classed as horses and sheep. And just so children are all men and women; and if there is the law of futurition in them to justify it, may be fitly classed as believing men and women. And all the sharp arguments that go to cover their membership as such in the Church with absurdity, or to turn it into derision, are just such arguments as the inventors could raise with equal point to ridicule the horsehood and sheephood of the young animals just referred to. The propriety of this membership does not lie in what those infants can or cannot believe, or do or do not believe, at some given time, as, for example, on the day of their baptism; but it lies in tile covenant of promise, which makes their parents parents in the Lord; their nurture a nurture of the Lord, and so constitutes a force of futurition by which they are to grow up imperceptibly into “faithfuls among faithfuls,” in Christ Jesus . . . The conception, then, of this membership is, that it is potentially a real one; that it stands, for the present, in the faith of the parents and the promise which is to them and to their children, and that on this ground they may well enough be accounted believers, just as they are accounted potentially men and women. Then, as they come forward into maturity, it is to be assumed that they will come forward into faith, being grown in the nurture of faith, and will claim for themselves the membership into which they were before inserted. Nor is this a case which has no analogies that it should be held up as a mark of derision. It is generally supposed that our common law has some basis of common sense. And yet this body of law makes every infant child a citizen; requiring, as a point of public order, the whole constabulary and even military force of the state to come to the rescue or the redress of his wrongs, when his person is seized or property invaded by conspiracy. This infant child can sue and be sued; for the Court of Chancery will appoint him a guardian, whose acts shall be the child’s acts; and it shall be as if he were answerable for his own education, dress, board, entertainments, and the damages done by his servants, precisely as if he were a man acting in his own cause. Doubtless it may sound very absurdly to call him a citizen. What can he do as a citizen? He cannot vote or bear arms; he does not even know what these things mean, and yet he is a citizen. In one view he votes, bears arms, legislates, even in his cradle; for the potentiality is in him, and the state takes him up in her arms, as it were, to own him as her citizen. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)

Verses 33-39

Numbers 3:33-39

These shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle.

The placing of the Levites throughout the host

In this division we see more particularly that which was in part noted before, namely, the several situations that these Levites had about the tabernacle, which they compassed round about that they might not be far from any of the people of God, but always resident among them. This teacheth us that God will have every part of His people taught. None are too high in regard of their great places; none are too low in regard of their obscure callings; none are too good to be taught, whatsoever their degrees be. This will be made plain by divers reasons.

1. Consider the titles that are given unto God in the Scriptures. He is worthily called the King of His Church, and the Lord and Master of His house. Is not He “the Shepherd of Israel that leadeth Josephlike sheep”? (Psalms 80:1). Will a shepherd that hath any care of his sheep, or any love unto them, look unto some of them and not to all? Will a king regard only the chief cities and most populous places of his kingdom, and suffer the rest to live as they list, without laws and good orders? Or will the master of a house look to some in his family, and not to all?

2. Such is the grace and goodness of God, that He would have all His people come to knowledge. Such as know not His will are none of His servants. If then He require the understanding of His ways, not only of rich men, of great men, of learned men, and of the ministers, but of all the people, we must hereof conclude that He hath ordained that all of them should have the means of knowledge and salvation offered unto them, and published among them.

3. The Word of God was penned for all estates, degrees, and conditions of men.

4. All persons, whatsoever they be, have souls to save: simple persons, small congregations, little assemblies, as well as others that ale many in number.


1. It is God’s ordinance that every congregation should have a learned minister to teach them the true religion and fear of God.

2. It is required of the ministers of the Gospel, whom the Holy Ghost hath made overseers of their several flocks, to look to their whole charge from one corner of it to another. They are to give an account for every soul that dies through their ignorance or through their negligence.

3. We have warrant from hence to desire most earnestly that the kingdom of God may flourish everywhere. Christ our Saviour teaches us to pray that His kingdom may come (Matthew 6:10), and so to be erected in the hearts of men.

4. This doctrine serveth as an instruction to all magistrates (as their places serve them) to further the preaching of the Word, and to furnish such places as belong unto them with able teachers. (W. Attersoll.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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