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Numbers 3:1-4

Context
The Sons of Aaron

3:1 1 Now these are the records 2  of Aaron and Moses when 3  the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. 3:2 These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab, the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 3:3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed 4  priests, whom he consecrated 5  to minister as priests. 6 

3:4 Nadab and Abihu died 7  before the Lord 8  when they offered 9  strange 10  fire 11  before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children. 12  So Eleazar and Ithamar ministered as priests 13  in the presence of 14  Aaron their father.

1 sn For significant literature for this chapter, see M. Aberbach and L. Smolar, “Aaron, Jeroboam, and their Golden Calves,” JBL 86 (1967): 129-40; G. Brin, “The First-born in Israel in the Biblical Period” (Ph.D. diss., University of Tel Aviv, 1971); S. H. Hooke, “Theory and Practice of Substitution,” VT 2 (1952): 2-17; and J. Morgenstern, “A Chapter in the History of the High Priesthood,” AJSL 55 (1938): 1-24.

2 tn The construction is וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת (vÿelleh tolÿdot), which was traditionally translated “now these are the generations,” much as it was translated throughout the book of Genesis. The noun can refer to records, stories, genealogies, names, and accounts of people. Here it is the recorded genealogical list with assigned posts included. Like Genesis, it is a heading of a section, and not a colophon as some have suggested. It is here similar to Exodus: “these are the names of.” R. K. Harrison, Numbers (WEC), 62, insists that it is a colophon and should end chapter 2, but if that is followed in the Pentateuch, it creates difficulty throughout the narratives. See the discussion by A. P. Ross, Creation and Blessing, 69-74.

3 tn The expression in the Hebrew text (“in the day of”) is idiomatic for “when.”

4 tn The verb מָשַׁח (mashakh) means “to anoint”; here the form modifies the “priests.” The service of consecration was carried out with anointing oil (Exod 30:30). The verb is used for the anointing of kings as well as priests in the OT, and so out of that derived the technical title “Messiah” for the coming ideal king – the “Anointed One.”

5 tn In this verse the expression is in a relative clause: “who he filled their hand” means “whose hands he filled,” or “whom he consecrated.” The idiomatic expression used here is from Lev 8; it literally is “he filled their hand” (מִלֵּא יָדָם, milleyadam). In the ordination service Moses placed some of the meat from the sacrifice in the hand of the ordinand, and this signified what he was going to be about – having his hand full, or being consecrated to the priesthood. There is some evidence that this practice or expression was also known in Mesopotamia. In modern ordination services a NT or a Bible may be placed in the ordinand’s hand – it is what the ministry will be about.

6 tn The form is an infinitival construction for the word for the priest, showing the purpose for the filling of the hands.

7 tn The verb form is the preterite with vav (ו) consecutive, literally “and Nadab died.” Some commentators wish to make the verb a past perfect, rendering it “and Nadab had died,” but this is not necessary. In tracing through the line from Aaron it simply reports that the first two sons died. The reference is to the event recorded in Lev 10 where the sons brought “strange” or foreign” fire to the sanctuary.

8 tc This initial clause is omitted in one Hebrew ms, Smr, and the Vulgate.

9 tn The form בְּהַקְרִבָם (bÿhaqrivam) is the Hiphil infinitive construct functioning as a temporal clause: “when they brought near,” meaning, “when they offered.” The verb קָרַב (qarav) is familiar to students of the NT because of “corban” in Mark 7:11.

10 tn Or “prohibited.” See HALOT 279 s.v. זָר 3.

11 tn The expression אֵשׁ זָרָה (’esh zarah, “strange fire”) seems imprecise and has been interpreted numerous ways (see the helpful summary in J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC 4], 132-33). The infraction may have involved any of the following or a combination thereof: (1) using coals from some place other than the burnt offering altar (i.e., “unauthorized coals” according to J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:598; cf. Lev 16:12 and cf. “unauthorized person” [אִישׁ זָר, ’ish zar] in Num 16:40 [17:5 HT], NASB “layman”), (2) using the wrong kind of incense (cf. the Exod 30:9 regulation against “strange incense” [קְטֹרֶת זָרָה, qÿtoret zarah] on the incense altar and the possible connection to Exod 30:34-38), (3) performing an incense offering at an unprescribed time (B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 59), or (4) entering the Holy of Holies at an inappropriate time (Lev 16:1-2).

sn This event is narrated in Lev 10:1-7.

12 sn The two young priests had been cut down before they had children; the ranks of the family of Aaron were thereby cut in half in one judgment from God. The significance of the act of judgment was to show that the priests had to sanctify the Lord before the people – they were to be examples that the sanctuary and its contents were distinct.

13 tn The verb is the Piel preterite from the root כָּהַן (kahan): “to function as a priest” or “to minister.”

14 tn The expression “in the presence of” can also mean “during the lifetime of” (see Gen 11:28; see also BDB 818 s.v. פָּנֶה II.7.a; cf. NASB, NIV, NCV, NRSV, TEV).



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