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Numbers 3:40-51

Context
The Substitution for the Firstborn

3:40 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Number all the firstborn males of the Israelites from a month old and upward, and take 1  the number of their names. 3:41 And take 2  the Levites for me – I am the Lord – instead of all the firstborn males among the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites instead of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites.” 3:42 So Moses numbered all the firstborn males among the Israelites, as the Lord had commanded him. 3:43 And all the firstborn males, by the number of the names from a month old and upward, totaled 22,273.

3:44 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 3:45 “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn males among the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock. And the Levites will be mine. I am the Lord. 3:46 And for the redemption of the 273 firstborn males of the Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, 3:47 collect 3  five shekels for each 4  one individually; you are to collect 5  this amount 6  in the currency of the sanctuary shekel (this shekel is twenty gerahs). 7  3:48 And give the money for the redemption of the excess number of them to Aaron and his sons.”

3:49 So Moses took the redemption money 8  from those who were in excess of those redeemed by the Levites. 3:50 From the firstborn males of the Israelites he collected the money, 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. 3:51 Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

1 tn The verb נָשָׂא (nasa, “take”) has here the sense of collect, take a census, or register the names.

2 tn The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it carries forward the instructions from the preceding verse. The verb “take” now has the sense of appointing or designating the Levites.

3 tn The verb again is the perfect tense in sequence; the meaning of “take” may be interpreted here with the sense of “collect.”

4 tn The idea is expressed simply by repetition: “take five, five, shekels according to the skull.” They were to collect five shekels for each individual.

5 tn The verb form now is the imperfect of instruction or legislation.

6 tn Heb “them,” referring to the five shekels.

7 sn The sanctuary shekel was first mentioned in Exod 30:13. The half-shekel of Exod 38:26 would then be 10 gerahs. Consequently, the calculations would indicate that five shekels was about two ounces of silver for each person. See R. B. Y. Scott, “Weights and Measures of the Bible,” BA 22 (1951): 22-40, and “The Scale-Weights from Ophel, 1963-1964,” PEQ 97 (1965): 128-39.

8 sn The word used is “silver.” Coins were not in existence until after 700 b.c. (starting with Lydia).



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