Numbers 3


The generations of Aaron and Moses, 1-4.

The tribe of Levi to minister to the Lord under Aaron and his

sons, 5-10.

They are taken in the place of the first-born, 11-13.

Moses is commanded to number them, 14-16.

Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the names of the three heads of

families of the Levites, 17.

Of Gershon and his family, 18-21.

Their number, 7,500, ver. 22.

Their place behind the tabernacle, westward, 23.

Their chief, Eliasaph, 24.

Their charge, 25, 26.

Of Kohath and his family, 27.

Their number, 8,600, ver. 28.

Their place, beside the tabernacle, southward, 29.

Their chief, Elizaphan, 30.

Their charge, 31.

The chief of the Levites, Eleazar, son of Aaron, 32.

Of Merari and his family, 33.

Their number, 6,200, ver. 34.

Their chief, Zuriel, they shall pitch beside the tabernacle,

northward, 35.

Their charge, 35-37.

MOSES and AARON to encamp before the tabernacle, eastward, 38.

The amount of all the males among the Levites from a month old

and upwards, 22,000, ver. 39.

Moses is commanded to number the first-born, 40;

and to take the Levites and their cattle, instead of the

first-born of man and beast among the Israelites, 41.

Moses numbers the first-born, who amount to 22,273, ver. 43.

As the first-born were 273 more than the Levites, Moses is

commanded to take from the people five shekels apiece for

them, 44-47,

which is to be given to Aaron and his sons, 48.

Moses does accordingly, and finds the amount of the money to be

1,365 shekels, 49, 50,

which is given to Aaron and his sons, 51.


Verse 1. The generations of Aaron and Moses] Though Aaron and

Moses are both mentioned here, yet the family of Aaron alone

appears in the list: hence some have thought that the word Moses

was not originally in the text. Others think that the words

veelleh toledoth, these are the generations, should be

rendered these are the acts, or transactions, or the history of

the lives, as the same phrase may be understood in Ge 2:4; 6:9.

However this may be, it is evident that in this genealogy the

family of Aaron are alone mentioned, probably because these

belonged to the priesthood. Moses passes by his own family, or

immediate descendants; he gave no rank or privilege to them during

his life, and left nothing to them at his death. They became

incorporated with the Levites, from or amongst whom they are never

distinguished. What a strong proof is this of the celestial

origin of his religion! Had it been of man, it must have had the

gratification of some impure passion for its object; lust,

ambition, or avarice: but none of these ever appear during the

whole of his administration amongst the Israelites, though he had

it constantly in his power to have gratified each. What an

essential difference between the religion of the Pentateuch and

that of the Koran! The former is God's workmanship; the latter is

a motley mixture of all bad crafts, with here and there a portion

of heavenly fire, stolen from the Divine altar in the Old and New

Testaments, to give some vitality to the otherwise inert mass.

Verse 4. Nadab and Abihu died] See the notes on Le 10:1-5.

Verse 6. Bring the tribe of Levi near] The original word

hakreb is properly a sacrificial word, and signifies the

presenting of a sacrifice or offering to the Lord. As an

offering, the tribe of Levi was given up entirely to the service

of the sanctuary, to be no longer their own, but the Lord's


Verse 7. The charge of the whole congregation] They shall work

for the whole congregation; and instead of the first-born.

Verse 8. All the instruments] The tabernacle itself and all

its contents: see all described, Nu 3:25, 26, 31, 36, 37. The

Levites were to perform the most common and laborious offices. It

was their business to take down, put up, and carry the tabernacle

and its utensils; for it was the object of their peculiar care.

In a word, they were the servants of the priests.

Verse 10. Aaron and his sons-shall wait on their priest's

office] It was the business of the priests to offer the different

sacrifices to God; to consecrate the shew-bread, pour out the

libations, burn the incense, sprinkle the blood of the victims,

and bless the people. In a word, they were the servants of God


Verse 12. I have taken the Levites-instead of all the

first-born] The Levites are taken for the service of the

sanctuary in place of the first-born. The first-born were

dedicated to God in commemoration of his slaying the first-born of

the Egyptians, and preserving those of the Israelites. Even the

cattle of the Levites were taken in place of the first-born of the

cattle of the rest of the tribes. See Nu 3:45.

Several reasons have been assigned why God should give this

honour to the tribe of Levi in preference to all the others, but

they do not seem to me to be conclusive. Their zeal in destroying

those who had corrupted the worship of God in the business of the

golden calf, Ex 32:28, has been thought a sufficient reason. A

better reason is, that this was the smallest tribe, and they were

quite enough for the service. To have had a more numerous tribe

at this time would have been very inconvenient.

Aaron, says Mr. Ainsworth, being in his priesthood a type of

Christ, all these rites are fulfilled in him. For unto Christ God

gave children, Heb 2:13.

And they are a congregation of first-born, whose names are written

in heaven, Heb 12:23,

being of God's own will begotten by the word of truth, that they

should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures, Jas 1:18, to

whom he also gives the first-fruits of his Spirit, Ro 8:23.

These wait on and follow the Lamb, being first-fruits unto God and

to the Lamb, Re 14:4;

and Christ hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father,

that we may serve him day and night in his temple, Re 1:6; 7:15.

Verse 15. A month old and upward] The males of all the other

tribes were numbered, from twenty years and upward; had the

Levites been numbered in this way, they would not have been nearly

equal in number to the firstborn of the twelve tribes. Add to

this, that as there must have been first-born of all ages in the

other tribes, it was necessary that the Levites, who were to be

their substitutes, should be also of all ages; and it appears to

have been on this ground, at least partly, that the Levites were

numbered from four weeks old and upward.

Verse 16. Moses numbered them] Though Moses and Aaron

conjointly numbered the twelve tribes, yet Moses alone numbered

the Levites; "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, Nu 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 authorized to take that number

himself."-Dodd, from Bishop Kidder.

Verse 22. Seven thousand and five hundred] Perhaps

originally resh, 200, instead of caph, 500; see the

following note.

Verse 39. Which Moses and Aaron numbered] The word

veaharon, "and Aaron." has a point over each of its letters,

probably designed as a mark of spuriousness. The word is wanting

in the Samaritan, Syriac, and Coptic; it is wanting also in eight

of Dr. Kennicott's MSS., and in four of De Rossi's. Moses alone,

as Houbigant observes, is commanded to take the number of the

Levites; see Nu 3:5, 11, 40, 44, 51.

All the males-were twenty and two thousand.] This total does

not agree with the particulars; for the Gershonites were 7,500,

the Kohathites 8,600, the Merarites 6,200, total 22,300. Several

methods of solving this difficulty have been proposed by learned

men; Dr. Kennicott's is the most simple. Formerly the numbers in

the Hebrew Bible were expressed by letters, and not by words at

full length; and if two nearly similar letters were mistaken for

each other, many errors in the numbers must be the consequence.

Now it is probable that an error has crept into the number of the

Gershonites, Nu 3:22, where, instead of 7,500, we should read

7,200, as caph, 500, might have been easily mistaken for

resh, 200, especially if the down stroke of the caph had been a

little shorter than ordinary, which is often the case in MSS. The

extra 300 being taken off, the total is just 22,000, as mentioned

in the 39th verse.

Verse 43. All the first-born males-were twenty and two thousand

two hundred and threescore and thirteen.] Thus we find there were

273 first-born beyond the number of the Levites. These are

ordered, Nu 3:46,

to be redeemed; and the redemption price is to be five shekels each,

Nu 3:47,

about 15s. And this money, amounting to 1,365 shekels, equal to

204 15s. English, he took of the first-born of Israel,

Nu 3:50. But how was this collected among 22,273 persons?

Rabbi Solomon Jarchi says, "to prevent contention, Moses took

22,000 slips of parchment, and wrote on each a son of Levi, and 273

others, on which he wrote five shekels; then he mixed them in a basket,

and each man took out one; those who drew the slips on which five

shekels were written, paid the money; the others went free." This

is a most stupid and silly tale, for such a mode of settlement

never could have been resorted to by an intelligent people. It

would have been much more simple to have paid it out of a general

fund; and it is very likely that in this way the expense was


This species of redeeming of men is referred to by St. Peter,

1Pe 1:18,19: "Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible

things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation, received

by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious (τιμιω

αιματι, valuable) blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish

and without spot," &c. And it is not the first-born only which

are thus redeemed, for he, by the grace of God, tasted death for

EVERY man; Heb 2:9. Reader, give glory to God that such a ransom

has been paid for thy soul, and see that, redeemed from thy vain

conversation, thy empty, fruitless, and graceless observances, on

which thou hast built thy hopes of salvation, thou walk in newness

of life, giving thy whole soul with thankfulness unto the Father

who hath translated thee from darkness, and placed thee in the

kingdom of his beloved Son. To Him be glory and dominion for ever

and ever! Amen.

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