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4. Levite Clans

And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, 2Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, after their families, by the 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 tabernacle of the congregation. 4This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things:

5And 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: 6And 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. 7And 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: 8And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof. 9And they shall take a cloth of blue, 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 badgers’ skins, and shall put it upon a bar. 11And 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: 12And 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: 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 censers, the fleshhooks, and the shovels, and the basons, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of badgers' 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 any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation.

16And 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.

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 when the holy things are covered, lest they die.

21And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 22Take also the sum of the sons of Gershon, throughout the houses of their fathers, by their families; 23From thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them; all that enter in to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation. 24This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for burdens: 25And 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, 26And 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. 27At the appointment 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 appoint unto them in charge all their burdens. 28This 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.

29As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them after their families, by the house of their fathers; 30From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth into the service, to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation. 31And 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, 32And 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. 33This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service, in the tabernacle of the congregation, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

34And Moses and Aaron and the chief of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites after their families, and after the 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 tabernacle of the congregation: 36And those that were numbered of them by their families were two thousand seven hundred and fifty. 37These were they that were numbered of the families of the Kohathites, all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, which Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses. 38And those that were numbered of the sons of Gershon, throughout their families, and by the 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 tabernacle of the congregation, 40Even those that were numbered of them, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers, were two thousand and six hundred and thirty. 41These are they that were numbered of the families of the sons of Gershon, of all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, whom Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the Lord.

42And those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, throughout their families, by the 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 tabernacle of the congregation, 44Even those that were numbered of them after their families, were three thousand and two hundred. 45These be those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses. 46All those that were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chief of Israel numbered, after their families, and after the 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 tabernacle of the congregation, 48Even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore. 49According to the commandment of the Lord they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the Lord commanded Moses.

1. And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron This census had a different object from the former one, which we have just been considering, viz., that an equal distribution of the charges should be made in proportion to the number of the individuals. First, as regarded age, a distinction must be observed between this tribe and the others; for we have already seen that all the Israelites above twenty years of age were numbered, because they were then fit to bear arms. But it was not without reason that a more mature age was required in the case of the Levites, so that they should not begin to discharge their ministry before their thirtieth year. For not only is strength and rigor of body requisite for spiritual warfare, but seriousness and gravity also. If they had been admitted in their youth, their levity might have detracted from the reverence due to sacred things, since the young are often led to act intemperately by their fervor and licentiousness. Access to the sanctuary, therefore, was not permitted them till they had grown up to be men; for by their thirtieth year men ought to have become so staid, as that it shall be base and inexcusable for them to give way to the wantonness of youth.

From their fiftieth year they were released from their duties; since sloth and inactivity generally accompany old age. The case is different as to war, because we find many who are vigorous after their fiftieth year. Furthermore, since religion is more precious than all earthly affairs, diligent care was to be taken lest it should fall into disesteem on account of the idleness and somnolency of its ministers.

4. This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath. He assigns their various offices to the Levites: firstly, lest their promiscuous sedulity should beget confusion; secondly, lest ambition should stimulate certain of them, 203203     “D’ s’avancer, ou ingerer:” to put themselves forward, or to interfere. — Fr. from whence disputes and contentions might arise. We know how confusedly men work unless a certain rule is prescribed to them, lest they should run about in an aimless hurry; and whilst each individual desires to anticipate others, an unworthy emulation ensues, which afterwards vents itself in quarrels. If, therefore, this had not been prevented, the Levites would soon have made disturbances in their duty, and contentions would have taken place between them. God, then, comes forward, and by His own authority confines them all within their proper bounds, and restrains their foolish passions. That a more honorable office is assigned to the sons of Kohath than to the others, proceeds from God’s gratuitous favor; and thus all pride was suppressed, lest any should boast of his dexterity, or industry, or other gifts. The charge of the Holy of holies is, therefore, entrusted to the sons of Kohath; not that they should handle any part of it, but only that they should carry on the march its vessels, when packed by the priests; for God commands the sons of Aaron to come and take down the sanctuary, and carefully cover the veil, the altar, and other sacred vessels with their proper covers, before the sons of Kohath laid a finger upon them, that thus the reverence of the people for holy things might be increased; and besides, that when the other tribes should see even the Levites forbidden from touching the sanctuary, they might be reminded of their unworthiness and humbled the more. Moreover, all cause of envy was removed when the other Levites heard that a perilous duty was entrusted to the sons of Kohath, for God threatens them with death if they touch any forbidden thing: and lastly, admonishes the priests, the sons of Aaron, lest by their carelessness they should destroy their brethren; for, if they should leave anything uncovered, they would be the cause of their destruction.

24. This is the service of the families of the Gershonites. The tasks which He enjoins upon the sons of Gershon, as well as the sons of Merari, are apparently mean and laborious, for it was a hard and also a servile work to carry the curtains and the tabernacle, together with its coverings, the boards, too, and the bars, and the pillars. But hence we learn that in God’s service nothing is to be despised, but that each and every part of our duty should be cheerfully performed, inasmuch as it ought abundantly to satisfy us, that God should have deigned to choose us as ministers of His sanctuary, so that neither weariness nor pride should ever hinder us in our duty.

34. And Moses and Aaron and the chief of the congregation Another exception is subjoined, viz., that none should be received unless they were free from all defect and blemish; for we have seen elsewhere that those, who were blind and lame, or defective in any part of their body, were excluded from the tabernacle, lest their disfigurement should produce contempt; and also that they might be admonished by this external sign, to preserve themselves more diligently from all spiritual defilement. Therefore, those are said to enter into the sanctuary who are fit to exercise the priesthood; and hence the expression, “for the service,” 426426     “For the work.” — A. V. Ver. 35. is added.

Inasmuch as the inequality (of their charges) might have been the source of envy, God’s authority is asserted at the end of the chapter, where Moses records that he was only acting ministerially, and that he distributed the offices among them according to God’s command.


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