Numbers 4


Moses is commanded to take the sum of the sons of Kohath from

thirty years old and upward, 1-4.

The service which they had to perform, 5-15.

The office of Eleazar, 16.

The family of Kohath to be continued among the Levites, 17-19.

They are not to go into the holy of holies, 20.

The sum of the sons of Gershon, 21-23.

The service they had to perform, 24-27.

They are to be under Ithamar, 28.

The sum of the sons of Merari, 29, 30.

The service they had to perform, 31-33.

The sum of all the families of Kohath, 2,750, ver. 34-37.

The sum of the families of Gershon, 2,630, ver. 38-41.

The sum of the families of Merari, 3,200, ver. 42-45.

The sum total of the families of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari,

8,580, ver. 46-49.


Verse 3. From thirty years old] In Nu 8:24, the Levites

are ordered to enter on the service of the tabernacle at the age

of twenty-five years; and in 1Ch 23:24, they were ordered to

commence that work at twenty years of age. How can these

different times be reconciled? 1. At the time of which Moses

speaks here, the Levitical service was exceedingly severe, and

consequently required men full grown, strong, and stout, to

perform it; the age therefore of thirty years was appointed as

the period for commencing this service, the weightier part of

which is probably here intended. 2. In Nu 8:24, Moses seems

to speak of the service in a general way; the severe, which was

to be performed by the full-grown Levites, and the less laborious

work which younger men might assist in: hence the age of

twenty-five is fixed. 3. In David's time and afterwards, in the

fixed tabernacle and temple, the laboriousness of the service no

longer existed, and hence twenty years was the age fixed on for

all Levites to enter into the work of the sanctuary. The rabbins

say that the Levites began to learn to do the service at

twenty-five, and that having been instructed five years, they

began the public service at thirty, and thus they reconcile the

two periods referred to above. We may well suppose that the sons

of the prophets continued a considerable time under instructions

before they were called fully to exercise themselves in the

prophetic office.

Until fifty years old] This was allowing twenty years for

public severe service; a very considerate and merciful ordinance.

A preacher who devotes his whole time and strength to the service

of the Church of God from twenty to fifty or sixty years of age,

should be then excused from his severer labour, and maintained at

the charge of the sanctuary. This would not only be a great

comfort to a worn-out servant of God, but also of great use to the

work of the ministry, which, to be faithfully and effectually

performed, requires all the powers of the body and mind of man.

Old faithful ministers are to be highly respected for their work's

sake, and to be supplied with all the necessaries and comforts of

life; but how little can they do in the public ministry of the

word, however willing to work, when their eye waxes dim and their

bodily strength fails! See "Nu 8:25". Both for their own sakes,

and for the good of the Church, they should be excused from a

labour to which they must be almost every way inadequate. But

notwithstanding this comparative inactivity, their counsels,

advice, and experience will always be considered as a treasure to

the Church of Christ.

Verse 20. When the holy things are covered] Literally,

keballa, when they are swallowed down; which shows the promptitude

with which every thing belonging to the holy of holies was put out

of sight, for these mysteries must ever be treated with the

deepest reverence; and indeed without this they could not have

been to them the representatives of heavenly realities. See the

concluding note.

Verse 36. Those that were numbered] In Nu 3:27, &c., we

have an account of the whole number of the Levites, and here of

those only who were able to serve the Lord in the sanctuary. By

comparing the two places we find the numbers to stand thus:-

| Able men 2,750

KOHATHITES | Unable 5,850


Total 8,600

| Able men 2,630

GERSHONITES | Unable 4,870


Total 7,500

| Able men 3,200

MERARITES | Unable 3,000


Total 6,200

Thus we find that the whole number of the Levites amounted to

22,300, of whom 3,580 were fit for service, and 13.720 unfit,

being either too old or too young. What an astonishing number of

men, all properly eccleslastics; all performing some service by

which God was glorified, and the congregation at large benefited!

See Ainsworth.

FROM this and the preceding chapter we see the very severe

labour which the Levites were obliged to perform while the

journeyings of the Israelites lasted. When we consider that there

was not less than 10 tons 13 cwt. 24 lb. 14 oz., i. e.,

almost ten tons and fourteen hundred pounds' weight of metal

employed in the tabernacle, (see the notes on Exod. xxxviii.,)

besides the immense weight of the skins, hangings, cords, boards, and

posts, we shall find it was no very easy matter to transport this

movable temple from place to place.

The Gershonites, who were 7,500 men in the service, had to carry

the tent, coverings, veils, hangings of the court, &c., &c.,

Nu 3:25, 26.

The Kohathites, who were 8,600 men, had to carry the ark, table,

candlestick, altars, and instruments of the sanctuary,

Nu 3:31.

The Merarites, who were 6,200 men, had to carry the boards,

bars, pillars, sockets, and all matters connected with these

belonging to the tabernacle, with the pillars of the court, their

sockets, pins, and cords, Nu 3:36, 37.

The tabernacle was an epitome of the temple: the temple and

tabernacle were representatives of the Church of the living God,

and of the humanity of our blessed Lord. As God dwelt in the

tabernacle and temple, so his fulness dwelt in the man Christ

Jesus. These again were types of the Christian Church, which is

termed the body of Christ, Eph 1:23, where he dwells in the

plenitude of the graces of his Spirit.

Mr. Ainsworth has a very useful note on the 20th verse of this

chapter, the most edifying part of which I shall here lay before

the reader. He considers the tabernacle and temple, not only as

pointing out the old dispensation, the annulling of which was

typified by their destruction, but he considers also the former as

emblematical of the body of man.

"The apostle," says he, "treating of the death of the saints,

uses this similitude: 'If our earthly house of this tabernacle

were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with

hands, eternal in the heavens. For we that are in THIS TABERNACLE

do groan, being burdened, not for that we would be unclothed, but

clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life;'

2Co 5:1-4.

So Peter calls his death the putting off of his TABERNACLE,

2Pe 1:14. And this similitude is very fit; for, as here, in the

tabernacle of Moses, the holy things were first covered and taken

away, (see Nu 4:20,) so the soul and its powers are first

withdrawn from the body by death. 2. As the curtains and

coverings were taken off and folded up, so the skin and flesh of

our bodies are pulled off and consumed. 3. As the boards of the

tabernacle were disjointed and pulled asunder, so shall our bones

and sinews: compare Job's description of the formation of man,

Nu 10:8-12; and Solomon's account of his dissolution,

Ec 12:3,4. 4. As the disjointed and dissolved tabernacle was

afterwards set up again, Nu 10:21,

so shall our bodies in the day of the resurrection;

see 1Co 15:51-54."

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