Numbers 4

The Service of the Kohathites

The chapter has four main parts to it: Kohathites (1–20), Gershonites (21–28), Merarites (29–33) and the census of the Levites (34–49).
Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron:
“Take a census
Heb “lift up the head.” The form נָשֹׂא (naso’) is the Qal infinitive absolute functioning here as a pure verb form. This serves to emphasize the basic verbal root idea (see GKC 346 #113.bb).
The census of chapter 3 was to register all male Levites from a month old and up. It arranged the general duties of each of the tribes. The second census of Levites now will focus on those between 30 and 50 years of age, those who were actually in service. These are the working Levites. The duties here will be more specific for each of the families. The Kohathites, although part of the ordinary ministry of Levites, were a special group chosen to handle the most holy furnishings. J. Milgrom shows three aspects of their service: (1) skilled labor (מְלָאכָה, melakhah) or “work,” (2) physical labor (עֲבֹדָה, ‘avodah) or “service,” and (3) assisting the priests (שָׁרֵת, sharet) or “ministering” (see his Studies in Levitical Terminology, 1:60–70).
of the Kohathites from among the Levites, by their families and by their clans,
from thirty years old and upward to fifty years old, all who enter the company
The word “company” is literally “host, army” (צָבָא, tsava’). The repetition of similar expressions makes the translation difficult: Heb “all [who] come to the host to do work in the tent.”
to do the work in the tent of meeting.
This is the service of the Kohathites in the tent of meeting, relating to the most holy things.
The Hebrew text simply has “the holy of holies,” or “the holy of the holy things” (קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים, qodesh haqqodashim). The context indicates that this refers to all the sacred furnishings.
When it is time for the camp to journey,
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive construct in an adverbial clause of time; literally it says “in the journeying of the camp.” The genitive in such constructions is usually the subject. Here the implication is that people would be preparing to transport the camp and its equipment.
Aaron and his sons must come and take down the screening curtain and cover the ark of the testimony with it.
Then they must put over it a covering of fine leather
The exact meaning of the Hebrew word here is difficult to determine. The term תַּחַשׁ (takhash) has been translated “badgers’ [skins]” by KJV. ASV has “sealskin” while RSV uses “goatskin”; NEB and NASB have “porpoise skin,” and NIV has “hides of sea cows.” This is close to “porpoise,” and seems influenced by the Arabic. The evidence is not strong for any of these meanings, and some of the suggestions would be problematic. It is possible the word is simply used for “fine leather,” based on the Egyptian ths. This has been followed by NRSV (“fine leather”) and NLT (“fine goatskin leather”) along with the present translation. See further HALOT 1720-21 s.v. תַּחַשׁ.
and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue, and then they must insert its poles.

“On the table of the presence
The Hebrew actually has the “table of faces,” and this has been traditionally rendered “table of shewbread.”
they must spread a blue
The Greek has “violet” instead of blue. This is also the case in vv. 8, 10, and 14.
cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring, and the Bread of the Presence must be on it continually.
They must spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of fine leather; and they must insert its poles.

“They must take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. 10 Then they must put it with all its utensils in a covering of fine leather, and put it on a carrying beam.
The “pole” or “bar” (מוֹט, mot) is of a different style than the poles used for transporting the ark. It seems to be a flexible bar carried by two men with the implements being transported tied to the bar. The NEB suggests the items were put in a bag and slung over the bar, but there is no indication of the manner.


11  “They must spread a blue cloth on the gold altar, and cover it with a covering of fine leather; and they must insert its poles. 12 Then they must take all the utensils of the service, with which they serve in the sanctuary, put them in a blue cloth, cover them with a covering of fine leather, and put them on a carrying beam. 13 Also, they must take away the ashes from the altar
The Greek text has “and he must place the cover upon the altar” instead of “and they must take away the ashes from the altar.” The verb is the Piel form; its nuance seems to be privative, i.e., stating that the object is deprived of the material – the ashes are removed. This is the main altar in the courtyard.
and spread a purple cloth over it.
14 Then they must place on it all its implements with which they serve there – the trays, the meat forks, the shovels, the basins, and all the utensils of the altar – and they must spread on it a covering of fine leather, and then insert its poles.
For this passage the Greek and Smr have a substantial addition concerning the purple cloth for the laver and its base, and a further covering of skin (see D. W. Gooding, “On the Use of the LXX for Dating Midrashic Elements in the Targums,” JTS 25 [1974]: 1-11).


15  “When Aaron and his sons have finished
The verb form is the Piel perfect with a vav (ו) consecutive; it continues the future sequence, but in this verse forms a subordinate clause to the parallel sequential verb to follow.
covering
The Piel infinitive construct with the preposition serves as the direct object of the preceding verbal form, answering the question of what it was that they finished.
the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is ready to journey, then
Heb “after this.”
the Kohathites will come to carry them;
The form is the Qal infinitive construct from נָשָׂא (nasa’, “to lift, carry”); here it indicates the purpose clause after the verb “come.”
but they must not touch
The imperfect tense may be given the nuance of negated instruction (“they are not to”) or negated obligation (“they must not”).
any
Here the article expresses the generic idea of any holy thing (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, #92).
holy thing, or they will die.
The verb is the perfect tense with a vav (ו) consecutive, following the imperfect tense warning against touching the holy thing. The form shows the consequence of touching the holy thing, and so could be translated “or they will die” or “lest they die.” The first is stronger.
These are the responsibilities
The word מַשָּׂא (massa’) is normally rendered “burden,” especially in prophetic literature. It indicates the load that one must carry, whether an oracle, or here the physical responsibility.
of the Kohathites with the tent of meeting.

16  “The appointed responsibility of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest is for the oil for the light, and the spiced incense, and the daily grain offering, and the anointing oil; he also has
This is supplied to the line to clarify “appointed.”
the appointed responsibility over all the tabernacle with
Heb “and.”
all that is in it, over the sanctuary and over all its furnishings.”
One would assume that he would prepare and wrap these items, but that the Kohathites would carry them to the next place.


17  Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 18 “Do not allow the tribe of the families of the Kohathites to be cut off
The verb is simply the Qal, “do not cut off.” The context calls for a permissive nuance – “do not let them be cut off.” It was a difficult task to be handling the holy things correctly; Moses and Aaron were to see to it that they did it right and did not handle the objects, that is, Moses and Aaron were to safeguard their lives by making certain that proper procedures were followed.
from among the Levites;
19 but in order that they will live
The word order is different in the Hebrew text: Do this…and they will live. Consequently, the verb “and they will live” is a perfect tense with a vav (ו) consecutive to express the future consequence of “doing this” for them.
and not die when they approach the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons will go in and appoint
The perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive continues the instruction for Aaron.
each man
The distributive sense is obtained by the repetition, “a man” and “a man.”
to his service and his responsibility.
20 But the Kohathites
In the Hebrew text the verse has as the subject “they,” but to avoid confusion the antecedent has been clarified in the translation.
are not to go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, or they will die.”

The Service of the Gershonites

21  Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 22 “Also take a census of the Gershonites, by their clans and by their families. 23 You must number them from thirty years old and upward to fifty years old, all who enter the company to do the work of the tent of meeting. 24 This is the service of the families of Gershonites, as they serve
The two forms are the infinitive construct and then the noun: “to serve and for the burden.” They are to serve and they are to take the responsibility. The infinitive is explaining the verb.
and carry it.
25 They must carry the curtains for the tabernacle and the tent of meeting with its covering, the covering of fine leather that is over it, the curtains for the entrance of the tent of meeting, 26 the hangings for the courtyard, the curtain for the entrance of the gate of the court,
This whole clause is not in the Greek text; it is likely missing due to homoioteleuton.
which is around the tabernacle and the altar, and their ropes, along with all the furnishings for their service and everything that is made for them. So they are to serve.
The work of these people would have been very demanding, since the size and weight of the various curtains and courtyard hangings would have been great. For a detailed discussion of these, see the notes in the book of Exodus on the construction of the items.


27  “All the service of the Gershonites, whether
The term “whether” is supplied to introduce the enumerated parts of the explanatory phrase.
carrying loads
Here again is the use of the noun “burden” in the sense of the loads they were to carry (see the use of carts in Num 7:7).
or for any of their work, will be at the direction of
The expression is literally “upon/at the mouth of” (עַל־פִּי, ’al-pi); it means that the work of these men would be under the direct orders of Aaron and his sons.
Aaron and his sons. You will assign them all their tasks
Or “burden.”
as their responsibility.
28 This is the service of the families of the Gershonites concerning the tent of meeting. Their responsibilities will be under the authority
Or “the direction” (NASB, TEV); Heb “under/by the hand of.” The word “hand” is often used idiomatically for “power” or “authority.” So also in vv. 33, 37, 45, 48.
of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.
The material here suggests that Eleazar had heavier responsibilities than Ithamar, Aaron’s fourth and youngest son. It is the first indication that the Zadokite Levites would take precedence over the Ithamar Levites (see 1 Chr 24:3–6).


The Service of the Merarites

29  “As for the sons of Merari, you are to number them by their families and by their clans. 30 You must number them from thirty years old and upward to fifty years old, all who enter the company to do the work of the tent of meeting. 31 This is what they are responsible to carry as their entire service in the tent of meeting: the frames
More recent studies have concluded that these “boards” were made of two long uprights joined by cross-bars (like a ladder). They were frames rather than boards, meaning that the structure under the tent was not a solid building. It also meant that the “boards” would have been lighter to carry.
of the tabernacle, its crossbars, its posts, its sockets,
32 and the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their sockets, tent pegs, and ropes, along with all their furnishings and everything for their service. You are to assign by names the items that each man is responsible to carry.
Heb “you shall assign by names the vessels of the responsibility of their burden.”
33 This is the service of the families of the Merarites, their entire service concerning the tent of meeting, under the authority of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.”

Summary

34  So Moses and Aaron and the leaders of the community numbered the Kohathites by their families and by clans, 35 from thirty years old and upward to fifty years old, everyone who entered the company for the work in the tent of meeting; 36 and those of them numbered by their families were 2,750. 37 These were those numbered from the families of the Kohathites, everyone who served in the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the word of the Lord by the authority of Moses.

38  Those numbered from the Gershonites, by their families and by their clans, 39 from thirty years old and upward to fifty years old, everyone who entered the company for the work in the tent of meeting – 40 those of them numbered by their families, by their clans, were 2,630. 41 These were those numbered from the families of the Gershonites, everyone who served in the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the word of the Lord.

42  Those numbered from the families of the Merarites, by their families, by their clans, 43 from thirty years old and upward to fifty years old, everyone who entered the company for the work in the tent of meeting – 44 those of them numbered by their families were 3,200. 45 These are those numbered from the families of the Merarites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the word of the Lord by the authority of Moses.

46  All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses, Aaron, and the leaders of Israel numbered by their families and by their clans, 47 from thirty years old and upward to fifty years old, everyone who entered to do the work of service and the work of carrying
The text multiplies the vocabulary of service here in the summary. In the Hebrew text the line reads literally: “everyone who came to serve the service of serving, and the service of burden.” The Levites came into service in the shrine, and that involved working in the sanctuary as well as carrying it from one place to the next.
relating to the tent of meeting –
48 those of them numbered were 8,580. 49 According to the word of the Lord they were numbered,
The verb is the simple perfect tense – “he numbered them.” There is no expressed subject; therefore, the verb can be rendered as a passive.
by the authority of Moses, each according to his service and according to what he was to carry.
Or “his burden.”
Thus were they numbered by him,
The passive form simply reads “those numbered by him.” Because of the cryptic nature of the word, some suggest reading a preterite, “and they were numbered.” This is supported by the Greek, Syriac, Targum, and Vulgate. It would follow in the emendation that the relative pronoun be changed to “just as” (כַּאֲשֶׁר, kaasher). The MT is impossible the way it stands; it can only be rendered into smooth English by adding something that is missing.
as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Copyright information for NETfull