Numbers 4 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Numbers 4)

Verse 3

[3] From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.

From thirty — This age was prescribed, as the age of full strength of body, and therefore most proper for their laborious work of carrying the parts and vessels of the tabernacle, and of maturity of judgment, which is necessary for the right management of holy services. Whence even John and Christ entered not upon their ministry till that age. Indeed their first entrance upon their work was at their 25th year, when they began as learners, and acted under the inspection and direction of their brethren; but in their 30th year they were compleatly admitted to a full discharge of their whole office. But David, being a prophet, and particularly directed by God in the affairs of the temple, made a change in this matter, because the magnificence of the temple, and the great multitude of sacred utensils and sacrifices, required a greater number of attendants than formerly was necessary.

Until fifty — When they were exempted from the toilsome work of carrying burdens, but not discharged from the honourable and easy work done within the tabernacle, Numbers 8:26.

All that enter — That is, that do and may enter, having no defect, nor other impediment.

Verse 5

[5] And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it:

They shall take down — For upon this necessary occasion the inferior priests are allowed to come into the holy of holies, which otherwise was peculiar to the high-priest.

The covering veil — The second veil, wherewith the ark was covered while the tabernacle stood, Exodus 40:3.

Cover the ark — Because the Levites, who were to carry the ark, might neither see, nor immediately touch it.

Verse 6

[6] And shall put thereon the covering of badgers' skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.

Badgers-skins — Whereby the ark was secured from the injuries of the weather.

Verse 7

[7] And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon:

The dishes — Upon which the shew-bread was put.

Continual bread — So called because it was continually to be there, even in the wilderness; where though they had only manna for themselves, yet they reserved corn for the weekly making of these loaves, which they might with no great difficulty procure from some of the people bordering upon the wilderness.

Verse 11

[11] And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put to the staves thereof:

The golden altar — All covered with plates of gold.

Verse 12

[12] And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put them on a bar:

The instruments of ministry — The sacred garments used by the priests in their holy ministrations.

Cover them — All these coverings were designed, 1. For safety, that these holy things might not be filled by rain, or tarnished by the sun. 2. For decency, most of them had a cloth of blue, or purple, or scarlet over them; the ark, a cloth wholly of blue, perhaps an emblem of the azure skies, which are spread between us and the Majesty on high; 3. For concealment. It was a fit sign of the darkness of that dispensation. The holy things were then covered. But Christ hath now destroyed the face of the covering.

Verse 13

[13] And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon:

The altar — Hence we may conclude, that they did offer sacrifices at other times, though not so constantly and diligently, as they did in Canaan. Moreover the taking away of the ashes only doth sufficiently imply that the fire was preserved, which as it came down from heaven, Leviticus 9:24. So it was by God's command to be continually fed, and kept burning, and therefore doubtless was put into some vessel, which might be either fastened to the altar and put within this covering, or carried by some person appointed thereunto.

Verse 15

[15] And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation.

Bear it — Upon their shoulders. Afterward the priests themselves, being multiplied, carried these things, though the Levites also were not excluded.

They shall not touch — Before they are covered.

Verse 16

[16] And to the office of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the daily meat offering, and the anointing oil, and the oversight of all the tabernacle, and of all that therein is, in the sanctuary, and in the vessels thereof.

Eleazar — He himself is to carry these things, and not to commit them to the sons of Kohath.

The oversight — The care that all the things above mentioned be carried by the persons and in the manner expressed.

Verse 18

[18] Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites:

Cut not off — Do not by your neglect provoke God to cut them off for touching the holy things.

Verse 19

[19] But thus do unto them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach unto the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden:

To his service — To that which is peculiarly allotted to him, the services, and burdens being equally distributed among them.

Verse 25

[25] And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the badgers' skins that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,

The curtains — The curtains or covering of goats-hair.

The tabernacle — The ten curtains which covered the boards of the tabernacle; for the boards themselves were carried by the Merarites.

His covering — The covering of rams-skins which was put next over those ten curtains.

Verse 26

[26] And the hangings of the court, and the hanging for the door of the gate of the court, which is by the tabernacle and by the altar round about, and their cords, and all the instruments of their service, and all that is made for them: so shall they serve.

Which is round about — Which court compassed both the tabernacle and the altar.

Verse 28

[28] This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation: and their charge shall be under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

Under the hand — Under his conduct and direction.

Verse 31

[31] And this is the charge of their burden, according to all their service in the tabernacle of the congregation; the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and sockets thereof,

The sockets — Which were as the feet upon which the pillars stood.

Verse 32

[32] And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords, with all their instruments, and with all their service: and by name ye shall reckon the instruments of the charge of their burden.

Ye shall reckon — Every part and parcel shall be put in an inventory; which is required here rather than in the fore-going particulars; because these were much more numerous than the former; because being meaner things, they might otherwise have been neglected; and also to teach us, that God esteems nothing small in his service, and that he expects his will should be observed in the minutest circumstances. The death of the saints is represented us the taking down of the tabernacle. The immortal soul, like the most holy things, is first covered and taken away, carried by angels unseen, and care is taken also of the body, the skin and flesh, which are as the curtains, the bones and sinews, which are as the bars and pillars. None of these shall be lost. Commandment is given concerning the bones, a covenant made with the dust. They are in safe custody, and shall be produced in the great day, when this tabernacle shall be set up again, and these vile bodies made like the glorious body of Jesus Christ.

Verse 44

[44] Even those that were numbered of them after their families, were three thousand and two hundred.

Three thousand — Here appears the wisdom of Divine Providence, that whereas in the Kohathites and Gershonites, whose burdens were fewer and easier, there were but about a third part of them fit for service; the Merarites, whose burdens were more and heavier, had above half of them fit for this work.