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3. The Levites

These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the Lord spake with Moses in mount Sinai. 2And these are the names of the sons of Aaron; Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 3These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest’s office. 4And 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.

5And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 6Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him. 7And 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. 8And 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. 9And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel. 10And 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. 11And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 12And 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; 13Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the Lord.

14And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, 15Number 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. 16And Moses numbered them according to the word of the Lord, as he was commanded. 17And these were the sons of Levi by their names; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari. 18And these are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families; Libni, and Shimei. 19And the sons of Kohath by their families; Amram, and Izehar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 20And the sons of Merari by their families; Mahli, and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites according to the house of their fathers. 21Of Gershon was the family of the Libnites, and the family of the Shimites: these are the families of the Gershonites. 22Those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, even those that were numbered of them were seven thousand and five hundred. 23The families of the Gershonites shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward. 24And the chief of the house of the father of the Gershonites shall be Eliasaph the son of Lael. 25And 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, 26And 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.

27And 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. 28In the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were eight thousand and six hundred, keeping the charge of the sanctuary. 29The families of the sons of Kohath shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle southward. 30And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel. 31And 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. 32And 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.

33Of Merari was the family of the Mahlites, and the family of the Mushites: these are the families of Merari. 34And those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were six thousand and two hundred. 35And the chief of the house of the father of the families of Merari was Zuriel the son of Abihail: these shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle northward. 36And under the custody and charge of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and the sockets thereof, and all the vessels thereof, and all that serveth thereto, 37And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords.

38But 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. 39All 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.

40And the Lord said unto Moses, Number all the firstborn of the males of the children of Israel from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names. 41And 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. 42And Moses numbered, as the Lord commanded him, all the firstborn among the children of Israel. 43And all the firstborn males by the number of names, from a month old and upward, of those that were numbered of them, were twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen.

44And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 45Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. 46And 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; 47Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:) 48And thou shalt give the money, wherewith the odd number of them is to be redeemed, unto Aaron and to his sons. 49And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them that were redeemed by the Levites: 50Of the firstborn of the children of Israel took he the money; a thousand three hundred and threescore and five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary: 51And Moses gave the money of them that were redeemed unto Aaron and to his sons, according to the word of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.

1. These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses He now separately enumerates the Levites; but, before he proceeds to state their number, he first shortly refers to what he had just before more fully narrated, that of the four sons of Aaron only two survived their father, inasmuch as Nadab and Abihu had suffered the penalty of their negligence in their defilement of the sacrifice. The six verses 423423     Viz., verses 5-10. See ante, vol. 2, p. 220. which Moses inserts respecting the office of the priests have been expounded in their proper place. The dignity of the tribe of Levi is here exalted, when God compares the Levites to the first-born; the distribution of their charges is also touched upon, 424424     “Quant a ce que Moyse touche ici des charges particulieres de chacune famille, combien que cela concerne le service duquel il a este traitte sur le Seconde Precepte, toutefois je n’ay peu aucunement faire, que de la mettre ici, afin que le fil de l’histoire ne fust point rompu;” with respect to the reference here made by Moses to the peculiar charge of each family, although it relates to the service which has been treated of under the Second Commandment, nevertheless I could not do otherwise than introduce it here, in order that the thread of the history might not be interrupted. — Fr. but, since these things are connected with the census of the people, and the mode of pitching the camp, I have thought it best to annex them to what has just preceded, inasmuch as otherwise the history would be interrupted. And, in fact, in the order that I have followed, the office of each family is only incidentally treated of, so that all might know their proper station.

5. And the Lord spake unto Moses. This passage contains two heads: first, That the Levites should be set apart for the ministry of the sanctuary and altar; and, secondly, That they should obey the chief priests of the family of Aaron, and do nothing except by their authority and command. But it has been already said, and we shall hereafter see again, that the tribe of Levi in general was divinely chosen to perform the sacred offices; so that the people might know that no one was worthy of so honorable a charge; but that it depended on the gratuitous calling of God, whose attribute it is to create all things out of nothing. In this way, not only was the temerity of those repressed who might be foolishly ambitious of the honor, but the whole Church was taught that, in order to worship God aright, there was need of extraneous aid. For, if the Levites had not stood between, the Law prohibited the rest of the people from having access to God, since it brought in the whole human race guilty of pollution. But, in order that they might be more certainly directed to the One Mediator, the high priesthood was exalted, and one priest was chosen to preside over all the rest: on this account God would have the Levites subject to the successors of Aaron. At the same time, He had regard to order, for a multitude, which is not governed by chiefs, will always be disorderly. Yet, it is unquestionable that the supreme power of Christ was represented in the person of Aaron; and hence the folly of the Papists is refuted, who transfer, or rather wrest, this example to the state of the Christian Church, 180180     “Lesquels partissent tellement l’ordre de leur Hierarchyie qu’en la fin ils parvienent a la primaute du Siege Romain;” who so divide the order of their Hierarchy, that at length they arrive at the primacy of the See of Rome — Fr. so as to set the bishops over the presbyters, and thus to fabricate the primacy of the Roman See. But if the true meaning of this figure be sought, it will be more appropriate to reason that, whatever ministers and pastors of the Church are now appointed, they are placed as it were under the hand of Christ, in order that they may usurp no dominion, but behave themselves modestly, as having to render an account to Him who is the Prince of pastors. (1 Peter 5:4.) Hence we conclude that the Papacy is only founded in wicked sacrilege; for Christ is unjustly deprived of His own, if any one else is feigned to be Aaron’s successor. Meanwhile, the political distinction of ranks is not to be repudiated, for natural reason itself dictates this in order to take away confusion; but that which shall have this object in view, will be so arranged that it may neither obscure Christ’s glory nor minister to ambition or tyranny, nor prevent all ministers from cultivating mutual fraternity with each other, with equal rights and liberties. Hence, too, was taken that declaration of the Apostle, that it is not lawful for any man to take this honor upon himself, but that they are the legitimate ministers of the Church who are “called” to be so. (Hebrews 5:4)

12. And I, behold, I have taken the Levites A little further on we shall see more clearly why God claims one tribe for Himself; He now only shews that the Levites rightfully belong to Him, because by special privilege the first-born of the people were preserved in the destruction of the Egyptians. God, therefore, declares that those, whose lives were thus gratuitously spared, were purchased to Himself. Since, then, He had the free option of devoting to Himself the first-born of every tribe, He was no less at liberty to take 425425     “Moins que la douzieme partie;” less than the twelfth part. — Fr. only the twelfth part of the people from one tribe. Thus He cuts off all handle for complaint, inasmuch as it would have been intolerable ingratitude to withdraw from His control those whom He had miraculously redeemed; therefore He says that they did not perish in the general slaughter, in order that tie might subject them to ttimself.

15. Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers The enumeration of the tribe now follows, commencing with the three sons of Levi, Kohath, Gershon, and Merari, from whom many families afterwards descended. It must, however, be observed, that all were numbered down to the youngest infants, whereas of the rest of the people only those who had passed their twentieth year were taken into account; whence it appeared that this was the smallest tribe; but by causing the infants to be reckoned, God intended to maintain a just proportion, as we shall see; for, if He had only taken them above their twentieth year, it would not have been known how many first-born there were, and thus the compensation to be made for them would have been uncertain. By this indulgence the people should have been induced to pay the tribute for the surplus with more readiness; for since, after the computation was made, it appeared how much their number came short of the required amount, God justly willed that those should be redeemed for money, who would else have been transferred to that tribe which represented the first-born, and it would have been an act of malignity to refuse God what he demanded, when He had spontaneously condescended to so just a compact. There was also another reason why the Levites were included in the census from their earliest childhood, rather than the others, viz., because it was not necessary that they should be fit for war, when God enrolled from the rest of the people soldiers for Himself who might afterwards bear arms.

17. And these were the sons of Levi by their names Hence it appears that the tribe of Levi, like the others, had made an astonishing progress from a small and contemptible beginning; for whereas he himself had only begotten three sons, Gershon and Merari only two each, and Kohath four; who would have expected such an increase, that twelve men in so short a time should have grown into so many thousands? But thus powerfully does God work under the semblance of weakness, that thus His glory may be the more conspicuous. But that He promoted the family of Kohath above the others, not only in the priesthood of Aaron, but also in their common ministry, proceeded from the same source of His gratuitous good pleasure, as the calling of Moses. He then, who had dignified also by so honorable an office, was, for his sake, gracious also to the family of Kohath. Neverthless, lost he should be suspected of ambition, or lest occasion of calumny should be given to the ungodly, God chose that the sons of Moses should remain in the ordinary station of the Levites.

45. Take the Levites instead of all the first-born The compensation of which I have spoken follows; for, since the complete portion of God was not found in the tribe of Levi, it must needs be supplied from elsewhere. Since, then, the Levites, infants as well as men, were less by two hundred and seventy-three than the first-born of the twelve tribes of Israel, God required that five shekels of the sanctuary should be paid for every head. We have elsewhere seen that the shekel of the sanctuary was double, amounting to two ordinary ones.


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