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Num 4:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying-
Kohath wasn’t the firstborn nor the senior born amongst the three sons listed here, but the Kohathites are numbered first and had the greatest responsibility. Again we see how God prefers to work not with the humanly best, strongest or most senior.



Num 4:2 Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ families,
Num 4:3 from thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all who enter into the service, to do the work in the Tent of Meeting-
 
David numbered the Levites from 30 years old (1 Chron. 23:3), in accordance with the law which said Levites were to serve between the ages of 30 and 50 (Num. 4:3,23,35,39). But in 1 Chron. 23:24 we are told that David numbered the Levites from 20 years old. We note in Num. 8:23 that there appeared some flexibility within the Mosaic law; the Levites could be numbered from 25 years old. This is one of many examples of how the Mosaic law was not set in stone. It was principle and spirit rather than letter of the law, and within it there are examples of where one law overrode another, or one principle overrode letter of the law. The law was not designed as a simple test of obedience, for it was far more detailed than that. It was designed to inculcate a spirit of living which looked forward to the spirit of the Lord Jesus. And so David felt free to number the Levites from 20 years old, even though we also read that he numbered 'the Levites from 30 years old', suggesting that this was a technical term rather than a literal description. This would go toward explaining why 38,000 Levites were numbered by David, although "thousand" may mean a division rather than a literal 1000. At the time of Num. 4:47,48 there were only 8,580.


Num 4:4 This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the Tent of Meeting, in the most holy things-
“Enter into the service” in Hebrew has a military connotation. Whatever our occupation in this world, we are to see ourselves as soldiers fighting for the only truly good and worthy cause on earth. There should therefore be in our lives an element of discipline, regimentation and focus on specific objectives. The New Testament is full of military metaphors (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:4).

 


Num 4:5 When the camp moves forward, Aaron shall go in, and his sons, and they shall take down the veil of the screen, and cover the ark of the Testimony with it-
The taking down of the tabernacle is turned by Paul and Peter into a metaphor for our death (2 Cor. 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:14). The implication is that all the valuable things within the tabernacle through which God was manifest can on one level be interpreted as our lives. In this metaphor alone we see the immense value and meaning of human life if it is lived in God’s service.


Num 4:6 and shall put a covering of sealskin on it, and shall spread over it a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles-
The continual mention of rings and poles is because all the tabernacle had to be portable, as Israel were constantly on the move. This is proof enough that much of the "law of Moses" was only relevant to the wilderness generation. God's desire to be continually on the move, dwelling in a tent, was still evident at the time when Israel settled in the land. For He told David that He didn't want a temple because He was dynamic, always moving on. But the way of religion is to have a permanent, stable closed system, rather than the dynamic way of the Spirit and true spirituality. "Rings" in Hebrew is literally 'that which sinks in', and refers to a signet ring. If a literal ring was solely in view, a different word would have been used. It was as if this mobile, ever moving onwards style of the tabernacle was the signature or hallmark of God. 


Num 4:7 On the table of show bread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the spoons, the bowls, and the cups with which to pour out; and the continual bread shall be on it.
Num 4:8 They shall spread on them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of sealskin, and shall put in its poles-
Sealskins were presumably taken by the Israelites from the shores of the Red Sea? Whatever we pick up along the wilderness journey of life we are to give to God’s service.

 


Num 4:9 They shall take a blue cloth, and cover the lampstand of the light, and its lamps, and its snuffers, and its snuff dishes, and all its oil vessels, with which they minister to it.
Num 4:10 They shall put it and all its vessels within a covering of sealskin, and shall put it on the frame.
Num 4:11 On the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of sealskin, and shall put in its poles-
"Pole" is s.w. "strength". There is again a juxtaposition of ideas- the weak acacia wood, which is no more than a thorn bush, was to be turned into God's strength through being overlaid with precious metal.


Num 4:12 They shall take all the vessels of ministry, with which they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a blue cloth, and cover them with a covering of sealskin, and shall put them on the frame.
Num 4:13 They shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth on it.
Num 4:14 They shall put on it all its vessels, with which they minister for it, the fire pans, the flesh hooks, the shovels, and the basins; all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread on it a covering of sealskin, and put in its poles.
Num 4:15 When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary, and all the furniture of the sanctuary, as the camp moves forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to carry it: but they shall not touch the sanctuary, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the Tent of Meeting-
In 2 Sam. 6:8, God slew Uzzah because he touched the ark when David brought it back to Jerusalem on a cart. Yet the Law clearly stated that the ark was to be carried only by the Levites, and was to be carried on poles rather than on a cart. Throughout Ps. 119, David declares how he loves God’s law and studies and recites it by day and night. That surely included this passage in Numbers 4. But we have a tendency to read God’s word, to know it well, speaking of it to others- and yet somehow assume that it doesn’t apply to us personally, and we can take shortcuts as convenient to us. If righteous David did this, how much more should we be aware of our temptation to fail in the same way.

There were very specific laws about the transportation of the ark, which David disobeyed in 2 Sam. 6:2-5. It was to be carried on poles on the shoulders of not just Levites but specifically the sons of Kohath (Num. 4:15); and Abinadab's family were not the right people to carry it. David claims in Ps. 119 to have studied God's law all the day whilst on the run from Saul, reciting it to himself. Perhaps he forgot these details in Numbers 4. But I suggest because he came to see that God wanted the spirit and not letter of the law to be followed, he came to totally place himself above Divine law. We face the same temptation. And it was this which led David into his sin with Bathsheb. Shaving off bits and pieces of God's laws and principles, on the basis that we are above His law, leads to the final catastrophe of David's sin with Bathsheba. Instead of following God's laws about the transportation of the ark, it seems David instead followed the pattern of the Philistines, who also transported the captured ark on a cart (s.w. 1 Sam. 6:10,11). And considered that having built a new cart, never used before, he was in his own way showing respect to it.


Num 4:16 The duty of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be the oil for the light, the sweet incense, the continual grain offering, and the anointing oil, the requirements of all the tabernacle, and of all that is in it, the sanctuary, and its furnishings.
Num 4:17 Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,
Num 4:18 Don’t cut off the clan of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites-
By Moses’ inattention, a whole group of people could have died. Our sensitivity, or lack of it, to others’ likely failings can lead to their losing their part amongst the family of the redeemed. We can’t reason that human failure is simply their fault; we also bear some responsibility if we don’t do what we can to mitigate against it.

 

Num 4:19 but thus do to them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them each one to his service and to his burden-
Not touching holy things connects with the command not to touch the forbidden fruit of Eden (Gen. 3:3). Time and again, Adam’s sin is presented (by way of such allusions) as the sin of everyman; elements of it are to be found in all human sin, and therefore we can never blame Adam as the source of our present discomfort under the curse; for we would have done the same. In this sense, all humanity sinned as it were in Adam (Rom. 5:12 Gk.). It’s no bad exercise to analyze our own sins in the light of Adam’s failure and see wherein are the essential similarities.


Num 4:20 but they shall not go in to see the sanctuary even for a moment, lest they die-
This law was applied even to Gentiles who looked into the ark (1 Sam. 6:19). God still feels sin as a committed offence against Him personally, even when it’s performed by those not responsible to His law. It must be hard being God, seeing and feeling so much offence against Him every moment. In this we see not only His sensitivity to sin, but His grace in allowing the whole of human society to exist in its disobedient, sinful state, minute by minute. And thereby we can appreciate more fully the way that He delays judging this world and ending sin, all because He is so earnest that we and others might come to repentance and salvation (2 Pet. 3:9).

 



Num 4:21 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 4:22 Take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ families, by their families;
Num 4:23 you shall count them from thirty years old and upward until fifty years old; all who enter in to wait on the service, to do the work in the Tent of Meeting.
Num 4:24 This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, in serving and in bearing burdens:
Num 4:25 they shall carry the curtains of the tabernacle, and the Tent of Meeting, its covering, and the covering of sealskin that is above it, and the screen for the door of the Tent of Meeting,
Num 4:26 and the hangings of the court, and the screen for the door of the gate of the court, which is by the tabernacle and around the altar, and their cords, and all the instruments of their service, and whatever shall be done with them. In this will be their service.
Num 4:27 At the commandment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burden, and in all their service; and you shall appoint their duty to them in all their responsibilities.
Num 4:28 This is the service of the families of the sons of the Gershonites in the Tent of Meeting: and their duty shall be under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

Num 4:29 As for the sons of Merari, you shall number them by their families, by their fathers’ families;
Num 4:30 you shall count them from thirty years old and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who enters on the service, to do the work of the Tent of Meeting.
Num 4:31 This is the duty of their burden, according to all their service in the Tent of Meeting: the tabernacle’s boards, its bars, its pillars, its sockets,
Num 4:32 and the pillars of the court around it, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords, with all their instruments, and with all their service: and by name you shall appoint the instruments of the duty of their burden.
Num 4:33 This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service, in the Tent of Meeting, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

Num 4:34 Moses and Aaron and the princes of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites by their families, and by their fathers’ families,
Num 4:35 from thirty years old and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered into the service, for work in the Tent of Meeting.
Num 4:36 Those who were numbered of them by their families were two thousand seven hundred and fifty.
Num 4:37 These are those who were numbered of the families of the Kohathites, all who served in the Tent of Meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of Yahweh by Moses.
Num 4:38 Those who were numbered of the sons of Gershon, by their families, and by their fathers’ families,
Num 4:39 from thirty years old and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered into the service, for work in the Tent of Meeting,
Num 4:40 even those who were numbered of them, by their families, by their fathers’ families, were two thousand six hundred and thirty.
Num 4:41 These are those who were numbered of the families of the sons of Gershon, all who served in the Tent of Meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of Yahweh.
Num 4:42 Those who were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, by their families, by their fathers’ families,
Num 4:43 from thirty years old and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered into the service, to do work in the Tent of Meeting,
Num 4:44 even those who were numbered of them by their families, were three thousand two hundred-
The Merarites had 3200 workers out of a total of 6200. Although they were the smallest of the three families, they had the most number of workers (Gershon had 2630 out of 7500; Kohath 2750 out of 8600). This may have been for various reasons, but it’s also a fact that the smaller the group, the higher percentage are willing to work. God doesn’t need great numbers to do His work.

 


Num 4:45 These are those who were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of Yahweh by Moses.
Num 4:46 All those who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the princes of Israel numbered, by their families, and by their fathers’ families,
Num 4:47 from thirty years old and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered in to do the work of service, and the work of bearing burdens in the Tent of Meeting,-
 
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 4:48 even those who were numbered of them, were eight thousand five hundred and eighty.
Num 4:49 According to the commandment of Yahweh they were numbered by Moses, everyone according to his service, and according to his burden. Thus were they numbered by him, as Yahweh commanded Moses-
Each man having his own burden to bear is an idea picked up in the New Testament (Gal. 6:5). We are each asked to carry the cross of Christ, and yet that cross is articulated in unique ways for each of us.