Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Order of Service and Order of March for the Levites
1AND the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, 2Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, 1after their families, by 2the house of their fathers, 3From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the 3tabernacle of the congregation. 4This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the ctabernacle of the congregation, 4 about the most holy things.
5And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the 5covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it: 6And shall put thereon the covering of 6badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of 7blue, and shall put in the staves thereof. 7And upon the table of shew-bread they shall spread a cloth of gblue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and 8covers to9 10cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon: 8And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of fbadgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof. 9And they shall take a cloth of gblue, and cover the candlestick of the light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuffdishes, and all the oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it: 10And they shall put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of fbadgers’ skins, and shall put it upon 11a bar. 11And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of gblue, and cover it with a covering of fbadgers’ skins, and shall put to the staves thereof: 12And they shall take all the 12instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of gblue, and cover them with a covering of fbadgers’ skins, and shall put them on ja bar. 13And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon: 14And they shall put upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even the 13censers, the flesh-hooks, and the shovels, and the 14basins, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of fbadgers’ skins, and put to the staves of it. 15And 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 15 any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the ctabernacle of the congregation.
16And 16to the office of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the 17daily meat-offering, and the anointing oil, and the noversight of all the tabernacle, and of all that therein is, in the sanctuary, and in the vessels thereof.
17And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, 18Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites: 19But 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: 20But they shall not go in to see 18when the holy things are covered, lest they die.
21And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 22Take also the sum of the sons of Gershon, athroughout bthe houses of their fathers, by their families; 23From thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou 19number them; all that enter in 20to perform the service, to do the work in the ctabernacle of the congregation. 24This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for 2122burden: 25And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the ctabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the bbadgers’ skins that is above upon it, and the 23hanging for the door of the ctabernacle of the congregation, 26And the hangings of the court, and the rhanging 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 kinstruments of their service, and all that is made for them: so shall they serve. 27At the 24appointment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burdens, and in all their service: and ye shall xappoint 28unto them in charge all their burdens. This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the ctabernacle of the congregation: and their charge shall be under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
29As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt xnumber them aafter their families, by bthe house of their fathers; 30From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou xnumber them, every one that entereth into the 25service, to do the work 31of the ctabernacle of the congregation. And this is the charge of their burden, according to all their service in the ctabernacle of the congregation; the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and sockets thereof, 32And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords, with all their kinstruments, and with all their service; and by name ye 33shall xreckon the kinstruments of the charge of their burden. This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service, in the ctabernacle of the congregation, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
34And Moses and Aaron and the 26chief of the congregation xnumbered the sons of the Kohathites aafter their families, and aafter bthe house of their fathers, 35From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the ctabernacle of the congregation: 36And those that were xnumbered of them by their families were two thousand seven hundred and 37fifty. These were they that were xnumbered of the families of the Kohathites, all that might do service in the ctabernacle of the congregation, which Moses and Aaron did xnumber according to the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses. 38And those that were xnumbered of the sons of Gershon, athroughout their families, and by bthe house of their fathers, 39From thirty years old and upward, even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the ctabernacle of the congregation, 40Even those that were xnumbered of them, athroughout their families, by bthe house of their fathers, were two thousand and 41six hundred and thirty. These are they that were xnumbered of the families of the sons of Gershon, of all that might do service in the ctabernacle of the congregation, whom Moses and Aaron did xnumber according to the commandment of the LORD.
42And those that were xnumbered of the families of the sons of Merari, athroughout their families, by bthe house of their fathers, 43From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the ctabernacle of the congregation. 44Even those that were xnumbered of them aafter their families, were three thousand and two hundred.
45These be those that were xnumbered of the families of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron xnumbered according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses. 46All those that were xnumbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the schief of Israel xnumbered, aafter their families, and aafter bthe house of their fathers, 47From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the ctabernacle of the congregation, 48Even those that were xnumbered of them were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore. 49According to the commandment of the LORD they were xnumbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: 27thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Num 4:1 sq. Next come the particular acts to be done at the breaking up of the camp and on the march by the different divisions of the Levites, and for whose discharge the priestly age, 80 years, is requisite.
(a) The Ark and the Holy Things of the Sanctuary.—The taking up of the tent for the march is performed in perfect accordance with the idea of a tent, beginning in the inside and working outward. Only Aaron and his son are called to this guardianship of the Holy of Holies. The care of the Ark of Testimony takes precedence. In order to prepare it for the march, Aaron and his sons must even go into the Holy of Holies; for the rule which forbids even the high priest to enter the Holy of Holies but once a year is suspended. From the eyes of the people, however, the Ark must be strictly concealed; it must be not only unapproachable, but also invisible. It is first enwrapped in the veil of the screen, then in a covering of tachash skins (see on Exod. 26), and over that is spread a cloth of hyacinth purple (distinguished by this color of Jehovah); and thereto the staves are again set, which had to be taken away during the covering. The second object of highest veneration is the Table of Shewbread. Upon its purple cover are laid the utensils belonging to it, the shewbread as well; and these in turn are covered with a scarlet cloth and with a cover of tachash skins; the staves are then set. After this comes the candlestick, enveloped in like manner; likewise the golden altar, or incense altar. The Altar of burnt offerings, however, is not covered with a purple cloth, but, together with its utensils, with a cloth of scarlet. [“It is remarkable that Moses says nothing in this connection respecting the Laver, which was one of the principal vessels. The omission is supplied by the LXX. at the end of this verse, and reads: ‘And they shall take a purple cloth and cover the Laver and its base (foot), and they shall put it into a blue cover of skin, and put it on bars.’ CAPELLUS, GROTIUS, HOUBIGANT suppose that this clause has slipped out of the Hebrew text, and with them ROSENMUELLER is disposed to agree. AINSWORTH suggests that the Laver is not mentioned because it was not to be covered.” BUSH in loc.; where see also AINSWORTH’S allegorical interpretation of his conjectured fact.—TR.] This packing is all done by the priests; but the transportation is performed by the Kohathites, who at the same time are most strictly forbidden to touch the holy things themselves. Here the authority of the Aaronitic Kohathite to attend to the Sanctuary (Num 4:16) and the competency of the Kohathites in general are sharply distinguished. Since they were the immediate assistants of Eleazar, they might most easily as Levites incur death by touching or beholding the Holy of Holies. [Instances of the actual infliction of this penalty are 1 Sam. 6:19; 2 Sam. 6:6, 7.—TR.]
(b) The employment of the Gershonites(Num 4:22–28). the Kohathites stand under the special superintendence of Eleazar, so do the Gershonites under that of Ithamar, second son of Aaron, who is also special supervisor of the services of the Merarites (Num 4:33). [Ithamar superintended the construction of the Tabernacle (Exod. 38:21). Thus the permanent offices of the leaders spring out of the duties that devolved on them during the first year of the Exodus. Num 4:23. To war the warfare.—This is military language. Ministerial service is a warfare for God, Num 8:24, 25.—TR.]
(c) The employment of the Merarites (Num 4:29–33). These have the heaviest portion of the Tabernacle to bear, while the Gershonites have the most difficult part to do; and the charge of the Kohathites is seen to be honorable, but in a special degree dangerous and full of care. These Merarites also stand under the direction of Ithamar.
(d) By the official count of the Levites capable of service there were numbered: of the Kohathites, 2,750; of the Gershonites, 2,630; of the Merarites, 3,200. [By this account it appears that out of the whole number of Levites, viz., 22,300, only 8,580 were fit for service. Moreover the family of Merari, though numerically the smallest family of Levi, had 3,200 fit for service, or more than half their number above a month old, and more than either of the two other families. The most natural inference from these data is, not that these numbers give the number of able-bodied men, but that they give only the number detailed for duty, and that this number was proportioned to the service to be performed. This explanation accords with the fact that the service of each family is first described and then the detail of men to do it is given. It seems also to be the plain meaning of Num 4:48, 49: “they were numbered according to their service and according to their burden.” It agrees also with what we have found to be the proper meaning of פָּקַד; see on 1:3. It applies to the marshalling and enrolling for duty.—TR.]
[Num 4:31, 32. The practical importance of detailing the burdens and bearers of all this variety of stuff may be illustrated by the feature common to all Arab decampment as thus described by E. H. PALMER, The Desert of Exodus, Chap. III. “The task of apportioning the loads is always a difficult one. The Arabs scream and struggle as though about to engage in a sanguinary fight; and each one, as he gets the opportunity, will seize upon the lightest things which he can find, and, if not immediately repressed, will hasten off to his camel with about a quarter of his proper load, leaving his comrades to fight over the heavier burdens.”
Of course there was a higher importance. God took the Tabernacle as His peculiar charge, and the Levites as His soldiers. Had the strictly military part of the expedition been administered with the same care, the host had been irresistible. God’s care in sacred things was an example to the princes in secular things.
Another higher importance was that all this precise arrangement was typical. It reveals God’s nature and ways. What He did in these matters He will do in others when like interests are involved. He will not overlook any of the details of salvation. The very tongs and ashes, the tent-pins and cords, will be attended to. See M. HENRY on 4:21–23. But in tracing this typical import, one must avoid attaching special significance to each minor detail. “A variety of details was necessary to express one simple truth.” “The simple idea expressed by such regulations, leaving no part or arrangement, however minute, to be formed according to the taste or judgment of human artificers, was that no human devices must mix in the service of God or in anything typical of the way of salvation.” MACDONALD, Introd. to the Pentateuch, Vol. II. p. 463.—TR.]
[Num 4:4. “Enter into the host—do the work in the Tent of Meeting. The ministry is: 1. A good work, 1 Tim. 3:1. Ministers are not ordained to honor only, but to labor; not to have the wages, but to do the work. 2. A good warfare, 1 Tim. 1:18. They that enter the ministry must look upon themselves as entered into the host, and approve themselves good soldiers, 2 Tim. 2:3.” M. HENRY.
Num 4:5–15. The covering of the holy things. The proper care of sacred things. “1. For safety. 2. For decency and ornament; “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour,” Tit. 2:10. “Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary,” Ps. 96:6. 3. For concealment. It signifies the darkness of that dispensation. They saw only the coverings, not the holy things themselves (Heb. 10:1); but now Christ has “destroyed the face of the covering,” Isa. 25:7. M. HENRY. And now, too, “we see through a glass darkly,” 1 Cor. 13:12.
Num 4:18. “Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites.” What, might have happened by Moses’ fault he would be said to do, and would bear the guilt. So God holds ministers accountable. This lays a charge on pastors in relation to all elders, deacons, Sabbath School teachers, leaders of prayer-meetings, who under their superintendence minister in the sacred things of the gospel.—TR.]
3Tent of Meeting.
5veil of the screen.
9Or, pour out withal.
10of the drink-offering.
16the charge of Eleazar, etc. is oil, etc.
17continual meal offering.
18even for an instant, om. are covered.
20Heb. to war the warfare.
27And this is his numbering (or mustering).
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,