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Num 3:1 Now this is the history of the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that Yahweh spoke with Moses in Mount Sinai.

Num 3:2 These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
Num 3:3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests who were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest’s office.
Num 3:4 Nadab and Abihu died before Yahweh, when they offered strange fire before Yahweh in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children. Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest’s office in the presence of Aaron their father-
That is, no children who ministered as priests. Ultimately, from the perspective of the Kingdom, if our children don’t serve God it will be as if we have no children. Hence the need in this life to train them up to be God’s servants.


Num 3:5 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 3:6 Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him-
This meant that Moses’ sons were Levites and not priests, and were given to serve Aaron’s sons. Yet Moses time and again is revealed as the undoubted leader of the people, and more spiritually mature and committed than Aaron. Verse 38 could imply that Moses even camped separately to his children. There were no special privileges for the children of the leader, and Moses’ humility would have been exercised by seeing his sons serve Aaron’s sons. If all we want to see is God’s work go forward, we will likewise not become resentful of such things as they work out in church life today.


Num 3:7 They shall keep his requirements, and the requirements of the whole congregation before the Tent of Meeting, to do the service of the tabernacle.
Num 3:8 They shall keep all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting, and the obligations of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle.
Num 3:9 You shall give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons. They are wholly given to him on the behalf of the children of Israel-
See on Jn. 17:6. "The men which You gave me out of the (Jewish) world... they have kept Your word" (Jn. 17:6) compares with the Levites being "given" to Aaron / the priesthood out of Israel (Num. 3:9; 8:19; 18:6); at the time of the golden calf they "observed thy word, and kept thy covenant" (Dt. 33:9), as did the disciples. The relationship between Moses and the Levites was therefore that between Christ and the disciples- a sense of thankfulness that at least a minority were faithful.


Num 3:10 You shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall keep their ministry. The stranger who comes near shall be put to death-
The phrase "keep their minsitry" from the Septuagint version is quoted by Paul about our service of the ecclesia / church today (Rom. 12:7). Whatever day job or career we have in this world, our real work is our ministry to God’s people.


Num 3:11 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 3:12 Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn who open the womb among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be mine-
 
- see on Jn. 17:9


Num 3:13 for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I made holy to me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and animal. They shall be mine. I am Yahweh-
Those who had been spared from death by the blood of the lamb on Passover night weren’t just free to do as they wished with their saved lives, but were to be devoted to God. We are those who have likewise been spared from eternal death by Christ’s blood, and we are therefore not to see ourselves as having merely escaped eternal death but must go further to perceive ourselves as thereby dedicated to God’s service. Hence the Christian community is called “the church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23)- we are all as it were the firstborn who were saved by grace on Passover night, because we are in Christ, the firstborn (Col. 1:18).


Num 3:14 Yahweh spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying,
Num 3:15 Count the children of Levi by their fathers’ families, by their families. You shall count every male from a month old and upward.
Num 3:16 Moses numbered them according to the word of Yahweh, as he was commanded.
Num 3:17 These were the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari-

"Gershon" means 'expelled', maybe meaning that like Reuben he was expelled from the role of firstborn [he is mentioned first as if he was the firstborn]. This is a theme of the Genesis record. But perhaps because of these weaknesses, the line to the high priest ran through Kohath.


Num 3:18 These are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families: Libni and Shimei-
We note that both Moses and Aaron had sons called Gershon (Ex. 2:22). Such repetition of names within families and in the same generation was quite common, and is one thing which makes the study of the genealogies difficult in places.


Num 3:19 The sons of Kohath by their families: Amram, and Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel-
We note the lack of emphasis upon the children of Moses and Miriam, the great wilderness leaders of Israel. There was to be no cult of personality nor nepotism, no riding on the name of a forefather in order to be a leader of God's people. Spiritual leadership in the Bible was intended to be based upon spiritual qualification.

 


Num 3:20 The sons of Merari by their families: Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites according to their fathers’ families-
"Mahli" and "Mushi" mean 'sickly' and 'sensitive' respectively.  This confirms the suggestion I have often made, that names were given in response to later character and life experience. Sometimes in these genealogies we read the birth names, at others, the names they were given later in life. And therefore the same person can have more than one name.


Num 3:21 Of Gershon was the family of the Libnites, and the family of the Shimeites: these are the families of the Gershonites-
 
:21-39 See on Num. 1:1

Number of Levites at the first Census (Numbers 3:21-39) 
(The numbers below refer to the number of Levite males over 1 month old) 

              Numbers if | Numbers if 'elep = families |   males
Tribe       'elep = 1000 | # of families  | # of males | per family
Gershon         7,500           7             500           71 
Kohath          8,600           8             600           75 
Merari          6,200           6             200           33 
Total          22,300          21            1300           48 
Note; In verse 3:39 the Levites in most translations are listed as 22,000 and 300 seem to be missing. Since the total of families is 21, this 22,000 represents 21 families and 1000 males. In the Talmud and also The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1985, Victor Books, p. 220, it is pointed out that the 300 were the firstborn Levites and who could not serve to redeem the firstborn males of Israel. This number of 300 firstborn of the tribe of Levi also indicates that there could not be a total of 22,300 since this would mean that only about one in 74 would be firstborn ! But, 300 firstborn for a total of 1300 would be about one in 4.3, a very reasonable number !

 


Num 3:22 Those who were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, even those who were numbered of them were seven thousand five hundred.
Num 3:23 The families of the Gershonites shall encamp behind the tabernacle westward.
Num 3:24 The prince of the fathers’ house of the Gershonites shall be Eliasaph the son of Lael.
Num 3:25 The duty of the sons of Gershon in the Tent of Meeting shall be the tabernacle, and the tent, its covering, and the screen for the door of the Tent of Meeting,
Num 3:26 and the hangings of the court, and the screen for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and around the altar, and its cords for all of its service.
Num 3:27 Of Kohath was the family of the Amramites, and the family of the Izharites, and the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites: these are the families of the Kohathites.
Num 3:28 According to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, there were eight thousand six hundred, keeping the requirements of the sanctuary-
Some original manuscripts read 8,300. This could solve the apparent discrepancies in the numbers later on. The difference between the Hebrew letters for 8,300 and 8,600 is miniscule. Although the word of God itself is inspired and infallible, this isn’t to say that there aren’t minor errors of copyists as the manuscripts were passed on over the generations.


Num 3:29 The families of the sons of Kohath shall encamp on the south side of the tabernacle.
Num 3:30 The prince of the fathers’ house of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.
Num 3:31 Their duty shall be the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the vessels of the sanctuary with which they minister, and the screen, and all its service.
Num 3:32 Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be prince of the princes of the Levites, with the oversight of those who keep the requirements of the sanctuary.
Num 3:33 Of Merari was the family of the Mahlites, and the family of the Mushites. These are the families of Merari.
Num 3:34 Those who were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were six thousand two hundred.
Num 3:35 The prince of the fathers’ house of the families of Merari was Zuriel the son of Abihail. They shall encamp on the north side of the tabernacle.
Num 3:36 The appointed duty of the sons of Merari shall be the tabernacle’s boards, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, all its instruments, all its service,
Num 3:37 the pillars of the court around it, their sockets, their pins, and their cords.
Num 3:38 Those who encamp before the tabernacle eastward, in front of the Tent of Meeting toward the sunrise, shall be Moses and Aaron and his sons, keeping the requirements of the sanctuary for the duty of the children of Israel. The stranger who comes near shall be put to death-
See on :6.


Num 3:39 All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of Yahweh, by their families, all the males from a month old and upward, were twenty-two thousand-
 
38,000 Levites were numbered by David in 1 Chron. 23:3, although "thousand" may mean a division rather than a literal 1000. At the time of Num. 4:47,48 there were only 8,580. And Levite males from a month old were 22,000 in Num. 3:39 and 23,000 at the time of Num. 26:62. This suggests a great increase in the number of Levites by David's time; or perhaps he more generously counted who was a Levite, because he wanted to have as many as possible involved in his grandiose plans for the temple services. There was no need for such large numbers of Levites in order to serve God effectively, for there were far fewer Levites at the time of the figures given in the book of Numbers, and the sanctuary and Divine service still continued.



Num 3:40 Yahweh said to Moses, Number all the firstborn males of the children of Israel from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names.
Num 3:41 You shall take the Levites for Me (I am Yahweh) instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel; and the livestock of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the livestock of the children of Israel.
Num 3:42 Moses numbered, as Yahweh commanded him, all the firstborn among the children of Israel.
Num 3:43 All the firstborn males according to the number of names, from a month old and upward, of those who were numbered of them, were twenty-two thousand two hundred and seventy-three-

The number of firstborn males after Israel left Egypt was remarkably small (around 20,000, Num. 3:43). Women in most primitive societies have an average of 7 births. this would mean that given a total population of around 2,800,000 on leaving Egypt (Ex. 12:37), there should have been around 400,000 firstborn males. But instead, there is only a fraction of this number. Why? Did all Israel eat the Passover? Were many in fact slain. My suggestion- and this is well in the category of things you will never know for sure and can only ponder- is that many Hebrew firstborns died on Passover night. Israel were warned that if they did not properly keep the Passover, “the Destroyer” Angel would kill their firstborn (Ex. 12:23). “The Destroyer” is mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:10: “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the Destroyer” (olothreutes; this is a proper noun in the Greek). Who was the Destroyer? If Scripture interprets Scripture, it was the ‘Destroyer’ Angel of Passover night. In similar vein Heb. 11:28 speaks of “He (the Angel) that destroyed (Gk. olothreuo) the firstborn”. 

Levi was by far the smallest tribe- the numbers of the males over 20 in the other tribes (as recorded in Num. 1) is far larger than the number of males of the tribe of Levi. God uses as His special workers those who are weakest in human terms. It could be argued that Levi grew less in number than the other tribes because of some spiritual weakness- for at this time, Divine blessing was reckoned in terms of number of offspring. So perhaps spiritually as well as numerically they were the weakest, yet were chosen by God for His special work. God seems to love to work in this way.

 


Num 3:44 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 3:45 Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock; and the Levites shall be Mine. I am Yahweh-

The Levites were God's (Num. 3:12,13,45; 8:14), and the Lord alludes to this: "I pray not for the (Jewish) world, but for them (the disciples, cp. the Levites) which thou hast given me; for they are thine" (Jn. 17:9). The Levites represent us (Jn. 17:6 = Dt. 33:9); the relationship between Moses and the Levites represents that between Christ and us. Moses' thankfulness that they remained faithful during the golden calf crisis, that sense of being able to rely on them, will be reflected in the Lord's feelings toward the faithful.


Num 3:46 For the redemption of the two hundred and seventy-three of the firstborn of the children of Israel, who exceed the number of the Levites,
Num 3:47 you shall take five shekels for each one; after the shekel of the sanctuary you shall take them (the shekel is twenty gerahs):
Num 3:48 and you shall give the money, with which their remainder is redeemed, to Aaron and to his sons.
Num 3:49 Moses took the redemption money from those who exceeded the number of those who were redeemed by the Levites;
Num 3:50 from the firstborn of the children of Israel he took the money, one thousand three hundred and sixty-five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary:
Num 3:51 and Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and to his sons, according to the word of Yahweh, as Yahweh commanded Moses.