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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 3

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



The separation and service of the tribe of Levi; who are numbered; as well as the first-born; in whose stead they are appointed to minister at the tabernacle.

Before Christ 1490.

Verse 1

Numbers 3:1. These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses As the posterity of Aaron only is mentioned, some have thought that generations here signifies, not only posterity, but acts, passages of their history, or what happened to them; as the word is used, Genesis 2:4; Genesis 6:9. Le Clerc is of opinion, that Aaron is mentioned first, as being the elder brother, and on that account having the priesthood attached to his posterity; whereas the posterity of Moses were numbered only among the common Levites: and he thinks that one reason for excluding the sons of Moses from the priesthood, was their not being born of an Israelitish mother; see Exodus 2:21. The words, "In the day that the Lord spake with Moses in mount Sinai," seem to be added, because at that time Nadab and Abihu were both alive, though now dead at this numbering of the Levites. The disinterestedness of Moses, in making no provision for his own immediate descendants, is an evident proof of the Divinity of his mission.

Verse 4

Numbers 3:4. Eleazar and Ithamar ministered—in the sight of Aaron their father See Numbers 3:38. In the sight of their father, means, most probably, together with their father.

Verse 6

Numbers 3:6. Bring the tribe of Levi near God orders the tribe of Levi to be offered in a solemn manner to his service, and to the ministration of the tabernacle, under the priests; into whose peculiar office they were by no means to intrude, (Numbers 3:10.) but were to perform the more servile offices of the tabernacle in the wilderness; guarding it, taking it down, carrying it, and setting it up again; and, when settled in the land of Canaan, were still employed in different functions about the temple; for the more regular performance of which they were distributed into different classes or courses; see more respecting them, 1 Chronicles 23:0 and following chapters.

Verse 7

Numbers 3:7. They shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation This verse is better rendered in our old version, and they shall take the charge with him, even the charge of the whole congregation, before the tabernacle of the congregation, &c.

Verses 12-13

Numbers 3:12-13. I have taken the Levites—instead of all the first-born Some have thought that the Levites were chosen to this office, rather than any other of the tribes, because of the zeal for the true religion which they shewed in the affair of the golden calf; see Exo 32:28 and some have thought, that the words of Moses, Deu 33:8-9 are confirmative of this opinion.

REFLECTIONS.—The family of Aaron being appointed to the priests office, we have,

1. A particular account of them. Nadab and Abihu perished childless for their disobedience: Eleazar and Ithamar remained. Made cautious by the warning given them, they ministered under Aaron's eye. 'Tis good to be under the direction of the elder and more experienced. They alone were permitted to enter the holy place, and it was death for any other to come there. Note; Intruders into the office of the Gospel-ministry, who have no DIVINE call, will one day be met, with a terrible inquiry, "Friend, how camest thou in hither?"

2. As there was much work in the tabernacle, and so few to minister, the tribe of Levi are given to Aaron, as his assistants. They were taken of God instead of the first-born, who were consecrated to him in return for their deliverance in Egypt, when God spared them and slew the Egyptians. The lives which God preserves by his providence, he has a double right to expect should be employed in his service: and how much more the souls redeemed by the death of his own Son!

Verses 14-15

Numbers 3:14-15. And the Lord spake unto Moses Bishop Kidder remarks here, very judiciously, that though the number of the Israelites was to be taken by Aaron as well as by Moses (chap. Numbers 1:3.); the precept to number the Levites is directed to, and executed only by Moses, Numbers 3:16. In like manner we find that Moses only was concerned in numbering the first-born of Israel, Numbers 3:40-42. For, as the money with which the first-born of Israel who exceeded the number of Levites were redeemed, was to be paid to Aaron and his sons, Numbers 3:48, it was decent that he, whose advantage it was that the number of the first-born of Israel should exceed, should not be authorised to take that number himself. We may observe too, that the Levites being numbered to know how many there were in all, (not how many were able to bear arms, chap. Numbers 1:3.) that so there might be an exchange of them for an equal number of the first-born; it was proper that they should he all numbered without distinction; even from a month old; the age at which the firstling males were appointed to be redeemed.

Verse 23

Numbers 3:23. The families of the Gershonites The camp of the priests and Levites is appointed to be of a square form, like that of the other Israelites. The description in the following verses is very full and plain.

Verse 32

Numbers 3:32. And Eleazar, the son of Aaron,—shall be chief There was an officer in chief set over each of these families, Numbers 32:24; Numbers 32:30; Num 32:35 and over all these chiefs a supreme inspector was appointed. The excellent order and regularity observable through this whole disposition of the camp, the services of the Levites, &c. is striking.

Verse 39

Numbers 3:39. All that were numbered, &c.— See on Numbers 3:43, The words and Aaron, in this verse, Houbigant remarks, are not found in the Arabic and Syriac; in which omission they agree with the 5th verse, wherein Moses, not Aaron, is commanded to take the number of the tribe of Levi; and also with the 11th, 40th, and 44th verses, in which God speaks to Moses alone; and, lastly, with the 51st verse, which see, with the note on the 14th and 15th verses: and it is observable in the Hebrew copies, that ן ר ואה veaheron, is marked with dots at the top, which is generally supposed to be an index of a false reading; and is one proof of the care of the Jewish transcribers. Kennicott observes, that the word is omitted in the most ancient Hebrew manuscript in the Bodleian library: there are fifteen of these words in the printed Hebrew Bibles which have a dot over every letter; see Kennicott's Dissertation, p. 411. It is said at the close of the verse, that the number of the Levites was 22,000; but the sum total of the preceding numbers, instead of being really 22,000 will be found, upon calling them up, to be 22,300. Dr.

Kennicott solves this difficulty, by observing, that in Num 3:22 where the sum of the Gershonites is given, the Hebrew letter ר, 200, should be read, instead of the letter ד, 500. According to this criticism, the sum total of the three numbers exactly answers to what it is said to be in this verse, 22,000: and it is certain that the Hebrew numbers were formerly expressed by letters.

Twenty and two thousand If the particular numbers mentioned Numbers 3:22; Numbers 3:28; Num 3:34 be put together, they make 22,300. But the odd 300 are omitted here, either according to the use of the Holy Scripture, where 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.

Verse 41

Numbers 3:41. And thou shalt take the Levites for me, &c.— The Levites were now to be exchanged for the first-born males of the whole nation, man for man; and the cattle of that whole tribe, instead of the firstling male cattle of the whole nation; that so the Levites and their cattle, instead of the Israelites first-born men and cattle, might be given unto Aaron and the priests, to minister unto them, Numbers 3:45. This was for the first-born males of man and beast, which the Israelites now had. All the first-born that came after this, were to be redeemed, or given to the priests.

Verse 43

Numbers 3:43. All the first-born males, &c.— All the males of the tribe of Levi are said to be twenty and two thousand, Num 3:39 but if we put together the particular sums mentioned Numbers 3:22; Numbers 3:28; Num 3:34 they amount to 300 more; which Patrick, Le Clerc, and others think to be omitted, because they were the first-born of the Levites themselves, and on that account belonged to God already. But we have shewn in the note on Num 3:39 how this difficulty may be otherwise solved. The number of the first-born exceeded that of the Israelites by 273, and for these it is enjoined, Num 3:47 that they should be redeemed at the rate of five shekels, i.e. about 12s. a head; see Leviticus 27:6. Numbers 18:16. It has been asked, who was to pay this money? for every Israelite would think he had an equal right to be redeemed by a Levite. The Jews tell us, as Bishop Patrick remarks, that it was done by drawing lots thus: Moses took 22,000 scrolls of parchment, on which he wrote a son of Levi, and 273 more, whereon he wrote five shekels; and then, putting all the lots into an urn, that every first-born might draw, he that drew one of the former lots was redeemed, and he that drew one of the latter paid his price. It has appeared surprising to same, that from above 600,000 full grown men, there should not be more first-born sons: but it is to be considered, that so many had been born since the slaughter of the Egyptian first-born; from which time and event only the first-born were to be consecrated to God; see Exodus 13:2.

Verse 48

Numbers 3:48. And thou shalt give the money, &c.— The original rendered money, is ףּכס ceseph, silver, and so it certainly should have been rendered here. Note; Though silver or gold could ransom these first-born, nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ could redeem those firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/numbers-3.html. 1801-1803.
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