Numbers 3 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Numbers 3)

Verse 1

[1] These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the LORD spake with Moses in mount Sinai.

These — Which follow in this chapter.

The generations — The kindred or family. Moses his family and children are here included under the general name of the Amramites, Numbers 3:27, which includes all the children and grand-children of Amram, the persons only of Aaron and Moses being excepted. And the generations of Moses are thus obscurely mentioned, because they were but common Levites, the priesthood being given solely to Aaron's posterity, whence Aaron is here put before Moses, who elsewhere is commonly named after him.

In Sinai — Nadab and Abihu, were then alive, though dead at the time of taking this account.

Verse 4

[4] And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children: and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest's office in the sight of Aaron their father.

In the sight of Aaron — Under his inspection and direction, and as their father's servants or ministers in the priest's office.

Verse 6

[6] Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him.

Present them — Offer them to the Lord for his special service. This was promised to them before, and now actually conferred.

Verse 7

[7] And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle.

His charge — That is, Aaron's, or those things which are committed principally to Aaron's care and oversight.

Of the congregation — That is, of all the sacrifices and services which are due to the Lord from all the people, because the people might not perform them, in their own persons, therefore they were to be performed by some particular persons in their stead; formerly by the first-born, Numbers 8:16, and now by the Levites.

Before the tabernacle — Not within the tabernacle, for the care of the things within the holy place was appropriated to the priests, as the care of the most holy place was to the high-priest.

Verse 8

[8] And they shall keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle.

Of the children of Israel — Those things which all the children of Israel are in their several places and stations obliged to take care of, though not in their persons, yet by others in their stead.

Verse 9

[9] And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel.

Given to him — To attend upon him and observe his orders, and ease him of his burden.

Verse 10

[10] And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

The stranger — That is, every one who is of another family than Aaron's; yea, though he be a Levite.

That cometh nigh — To execute any part of the priest's office.

Verse 12

[12] And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine;

The first-born — Who were God's property, Exodus 13:12, and to whom the administration of holy things was formerly committed, which now was taken away from them, either because they had forfeited this privilege by joining with the rest of their brethren in the idolatrous worship of the calf, or because they were to be mainly concerned in the distribution and management of the inheritances which now they were going to possess, and therefore could not be at leisure to attend upon the service of the sanctuary: and God would not commit it to some other persons in each tribe, which might be an occasion of idolatry, confusion, division, and contempt of sacred things, but to one distinct tribe, which might be entirely devoted to that service, and particularly to the tribe of Levi; partly out of his respect to Moses and Aaron, branches of this tribe; partly as a recompence of their zeal for God against idolaters, and partly because it was the smallest of the tribes, and therefore most likely to find both employment in, and maintenance for the work.

Verse 15

[15] Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them.

From a month old — Because at that time the first-born, in whose stead the Levites came, were offered to God. And from that time the Levites were consecrated to God, and were, as soon as capable, instructed in their work. Elsewhere they are numbered from twenty-five years old, when they were entered as novices into part of their work, Numbers 8:24, and from thirty years old, when they were admitted to their whole office.

Verse 25

[25] And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation shall be the tabernacle, and the tent, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,

The tabernacle — Not the boards, which belonged to Merari, Numbers 3:36, but the ten curtains.

The tent — The curtains of goats hair.

The coverings — That is, the coverings of rams-skins and badgers-skins.

Verse 26

[26] And the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords of it for all the service thereof.

The cords — By which the tabernacle was fastened to the pins, and stretched out, Exodus 35:18.

Verse 27

[27] And of Kohath was the family of the Amramites, and the family of the Izeharites, and the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites: these are the families of the Kohathites.

Of Kohath — This family had many privileges above the others: of that were Moses and Aaron, and all the priests: they had the chief place about the tabernacle, and the care of the most holy things here, and in the land of Canaan they had twenty three cities, which were almost as many as both their brethren received. Yet the posterity of Moses were not at all dignified or distinguished from other Levites. So far was he from seeking any advantage or honour for his own family.

Verse 28

[28] In the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were eight thousand and six hundred, keeping the charge of the sanctuary.

Keeping — That is, appointed for that work, as soon as they were capable of it.

Of the sanctuary — That is, of the holy things contained in or belonging to the sanctuary.

Verse 31

[31] And their charge shall be the ark, and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister, and the hanging, and all the service thereof.

The hanging — Which covered the most holy place, for all other hangings belonged to the Gershonites.

The service — That is, all the other furniture belonging to it.

Verse 32

[32] And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be chief over the chief of the Levites, and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary.

Chief — Next under the high-priest; whence he is called the second priest, 2 Kings 25:18, and in case of the high-priest's absence by sickness or other necessary occasions, he was to perform his work, and he had a superiority over all the rest of the priests and Levites.

The chief of the Levites — That is, over those three persons, who were each the chief of their several families, Numbers 3:24,31,34.

Verse 38

[38] But those that encamp before the tabernacle toward the east, even before the tabernacle of the congregation eastward, shall be Moses, and Aaron and his sons, keeping the charge of the sanctuary for the charge of the children of Israel; and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

For the charge — Either in their stead, that charge which they were obliged to keep, if God had not committed it to those: or for their benefit; for their preservation, as the word may be rendered.

Verse 39

[39] All that were numbered of the Levites, which Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the LORD, throughout their families, all the males from a month old and upward, were twenty and two thousand.

Two and twenty thousand — If the particular numbers mentioned Numbers 3:22,28,34, be put together, they make 22,300. But the odd 300 are omitted here, either according to the use of the holy scripture, where in so great numbers small sums are commonly neglected, or, because they were the first-born of the Levites, and therefore belonged to God already, and so could not be given to him again instead of the other first-born. If this number of first-born seem small to come from 22,000 Levites, it must be considered, that only such first-born are here named as were males, and such as continued in their parents families, not such as had erected new families of their own. Add to this, that God so ordered things by his wise providence for divers weighty reasons, that this tribe should be much the least of all the tribes, as is evident by comparing the numbers of the other tribes, from twenty years old, Numbers 1:3-49, with the number of this from a month old; and therefore it is not strange if the number of their first-born be less than in other tribes.

Verse 41

[41] And thou shalt take the Levites for me (I am the LORD) instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel; and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstlings among the cattle of the children of Israel.

Instead of the first-born — Such as are now alive of them, but those which should be born of them hereafter are otherwise disposed.

Of the Levites — Not that they were to be taken from the Levites, or to be sacrificed to God, any more than the Levites themselves were; but they together with the Levites were to be presented before the Lord by way of acknowledgment, that the Levites might be set apart for God's service, and their cattle for themselves as God's ministers, and for their support in God's work.

Verse 46

[46] And for those that are to be redeemed of the two hundred and threescore and thirteen of the firstborn of the children of Israel, which are more than the Levites;

For those that are to be redeemed — 'Tis probable, in the exchange they began with the eldest of the first-born, and so downwards, so that those were to be redeemed, who were the two hundred, seventy three youngest of them.

Verse 47

[47] Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:)

Five shekels — Which was the price paid for the redemption of a first-born a month old.