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Numbers 3:5-43

Context
The Assignment of the Levites

3:5 The Lord spoke to Moses: 3:6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near, 1  and present 2  them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. 3  3:7 They are responsible for his needs 4  and the needs of the whole community before the tent of meeting, by attending 5  to the service of the tabernacle. 3:8 And they are responsible for all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and for the needs of the Israelites, as they serve 6  in the tabernacle. 3:9 You are to assign 7  the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they will be assigned exclusively 8  to him out of all 9  the Israelites. 3:10 So you are to appoint Aaron and his sons, and they will be responsible for their priesthood; 10  but the unauthorized person 11  who comes near must be put to death.”

3:11 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 3:12 “Look, 12  I myself have taken the Levites from among the Israelites instead of 13  every firstborn who opens the womb among the Israelites. So the Levites belong to me, 3:13 because all the firstborn are mine. When I destroyed 14  all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They belong to me. I am the Lord.” 15 

The Numbering of the Levites

3:14 Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai: 3:15 “Number the Levites by their clans 16  and their families; every male from a month old and upward you are to number.” 17  3:16 So Moses numbered them according to the word 18  of the Lord, just as he had been commanded. 19 

The Summary of Families

3:17 These were the sons 20  of Levi by their names: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

3:18 These are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families: Libni and Shimei. 3:19 The sons of Kohath by their families were: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 3:20 The sons of Merari by their families were Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites by their clans.

The Numbering of the Gershonites

3:21 From Gershon came the family of the Libnites and the family of the Shimeites; these were the families of the Gershonites. 3:22 Those of them who were numbered, counting every male from a month old and upward, were 7,500. 3:23 The families of the Gershonites were to camp behind the tabernacle toward the west. 3:24 Now the leader 21  of the clan 22  of the Gershonites was Eliasaph son of Lael.

3:25 And 23  the responsibilities of the Gershonites in the tent of meeting included the tabernacle, the tent with its covering, the curtain at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 3:26 the hangings of the courtyard, 24  the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard that surrounded the tabernacle and the altar, and their ropes, plus all the service connected with these things. 25 

The Numbering of the Kohathites

3:27 From Kohath came the family of the Amramites, the family of the Izharites, the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites; these were the families of the Kohathites. 26  3:28 Counting every male from a month old and upward, there were 8,600. They were responsible for the care 27  of the sanctuary. 3:29 The families of the Kohathites were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. 3:30 Now the leader of the clan of the families of the Kohathites was Elizaphan son of Uzziel.

3:31 Their responsibilities included the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the utensils of the sanctuary with which they ministered, 28  the curtain, and all their service. 29  3:32 Now the head of all the Levitical leaders 30  was Eleazar son of Aaron the priest. He was appointed over those who were responsible 31  for the sanctuary.

The Numbering of Merari

3:33 From Merari came the family of the Mahlites and the family of the Mushites; these were 32  the families of Merari. 3:34 Those of them who were numbered, counting every male from a month old and upward, were 6,200. 3:35 Now the leader of the clan of the families of Merari was Zuriel son of Abihail. These were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle.

3:36 The appointed responsibilities of the Merarites included the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, its posts, its sockets, its utensils, plus all the service connected with these things, 33  3:37 and the pillars of the courtyard all around, with their sockets, their pegs, and their ropes.

3:38 But those who were to camp in front of the tabernacle on the east, in front of the tent of meeting, were Moses, Aaron, 34  and his sons. They were responsible for the needs 35  of the sanctuary and for the needs of the Israelites, but the unauthorized person who approached was to be put to death. 3:39 All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered by the word 36  of the Lord, according to their families, every male from a month old and upward, were 22,000. 37 

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 38  the number of their names. 3:41 And take 39  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.

1 sn The use of the verb קָרַב (qarav) forms an interesting wordplay in the passage. The act of making an offering is described by this verb, as was the reference to the priests’ offering of strange fire. Now the ceremonial presentation of the priests is expressed by the same word – they are being offered to God.

2 tn The verb literally means “make it [the tribe] stand” (וְהַעֲמַדְתָּ אֹתוֹ, vÿhaamadtaoto). The verb is the Hiphil perfect with a vav (ו) consecutive; it will take the same imperative nuance as the form before it, but follow in sequence (“and then”). This refers to the ceremonial presentation in which the tribe would take its place before Aaron, that is, stand before him and await their assignments. The Levites will function more like a sacred guard than anything else, for they had to protect and care for the sanctuary when it was erected and when it was transported (see J. Milgrom, Studies in Levitical Terminology, 8-10).

3 tn The verb וְשֵׁרְתוּ (vÿsherÿtu) is the Piel perfect with a vav (ו) consecutive; it carries the same volitional force as the preceding verb forms, but may here be subordinated in the sequence to express the purpose or result of the preceding action.

4 tn The Hebrew text uses the perfect tense of שָׁמַר(shamar) with a vav (ו) consecutive to continue the instruction of the preceding verse. It may be translated “and they shall keep” or “they must/are to keep,” but in this context it refers to their appointed duties. The verb is followed by its cognate accusative – “they are to keep his keeping,” or as it is often translated, “his charge.” This would mean whatever Aaron needed them to do. But the noun is also used for the people in the next phrase, and so “charge” cannot be the meaning here. The verse is explaining that the Levites will have duties to perform to meet the needs of Aaron and the congregation.

5 tn The form is the Qal infinitive construct from עָבַד (’avad, “to serve, to work”); it is taken here as a verbal noun and means “by (or in) serving” (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 36, §195). This explains the verb “keep [his charge].” Here too the form is followed by a cognate accusative; they will be there to “serve the service” or “work the work.”

6 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct (epexegetically) followed by its cognate accusative. It would convey “to serve the service of the tabernacle,” but more simply it may be rendered as “serving.” Their spiritual and practical service is to serve.

sn The Levites had the duty of taking care of all the tabernacle and its furnishings, especially in times when it was to be moved. But they were also appointed to be gate-keepers (2 Kgs 22:4; 1 Chr 9:19) in order to safeguard the purity of the place and the activities that went on there. Their offices seem to have then become hereditary in time (1 Sam 1:3); they even took on more priestly functions, such as pronouncing the benediction (Deut 10:8). See further R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 348-49.

7 tn The verb וְנָתַתָּה (vÿnatattah) is normally “give.” Here, though, the context refers to the assignment of the Levites to the priests for their duties. The form is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive, continuing the sequence for the imperfect of instruction.

8 tn This emphasis is derived from the simple repetition of the passive participle, נְתוּנִם נְתוּנִם (nÿtunim nÿtunim). See GKC 396 §123.e. The forms serve as the predicate with the subject pronoun.

9 tn The Hebrew text simply has the preposition, “from the Israelites.”

10 tc The LXX includes the following words here: “and all things pertaining to the altar and within the veil.” Cf. Num 18:7.

11 tn The word is זָר (zar), usually rendered “stranger, foreigner, pagan.” But in this context it simply refers to anyone who is not a Levite or a priest, an unauthorized person or intruder in the tabernacle. That person would be put to death.

12 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) here carries its deictic force, calling attention to the fact that is being declared. It is underscoring the fact that the Lord himself chose Levi.

13 tn Literally “in the place of.”

14 tn The form הַכֹּתִי (hakkoti) is the Hiphil infinitive construct of the verb נָכָה (nakhah, “to strike, smite, attack”). Here, after the idiomatic “in the day of,” the form functions in an adverbial clause of time – “when I destroyed.”

15 sn In the Exodus event of the Passover night the principle of substitution was presented. The firstborn child was redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and so belonged to God, but then God chose the Levites to serve in the place of the firstborn. The ritual of consecrating the firstborn son to the Lord was nevertheless carried out, even with Jesus, the firstborn son of Mary (Luke 2:22-23).

16 tn Heb “the house of their fathers.” So also in v. 20.

17 tn Heb “you are to/shall number them.”

18 tn Heb “at the mouth of the Lord.”

19 tn The Pual perfect may be given the past perfect translation in this sentence because the act of commanding preceded the act of numbering.

20 tn The word “sons of” does at the outset refer to the sons of Levi. But as the listing continues the expression refers more to the family groups of the various descendants.

21 tn The vav (ו) disjunctive on the noun at the beginning of the verse here signals a greater emphasis on the individual rather than another item in the numbering of the clans.

22 tn Heb “a father’s house.” So also in vv. 30,35.

23 tn The disjunctive vav (ו) here introduces a new section, listing the various duties of the clan in the sanctuary. The Gershonites had a long tradition of service here. In the days of David Asaph and his family were prominent as musicians. Others in the clan controlled the Temple treasuries. But in the wilderness they had specific oversight concerning the tent structure, which included the holy place and the holy of holies.

24 tc The phrases in this verse seem to be direct objects without verbs. BHS suggests deleting the sign of the accusative (for which see P. P. Saydon, “Meanings and Uses of the Particle אֵת,” VT 14 [1964]: 263-75).

25 tn Heb “for all the service of it [them].”

26 sn Both Moses and Aaron came from this line (6:16-20). During the Hebrew monarchy this branch of the line of Levi was exemplary in music (1 Chr 6:33-48). They were also helpful to Hezekiah in his reforms (1 Chr 29:12-14).

27 tn The construction here is a little different. The Hebrew text uses the participle in construct plural: שֹׁמְרֵי (shomÿrey, literally “keepers of”). The form specifies the duties of the 8,600 Kohathites. The genitive that follows this participle is the cognate מִשְׁמֶרֶת (mishmeret) that has been used before. So the expression indicates that they were responsible for the care of this part of the cult center. There is no reason to delete one of the forms (as does J. A. Paterson, Numbers, 42), for the repetition stresses the central importance of their work.

28 tn The verb is יְשָׁרְתוּ (yÿsharÿtu, “they will serve/minister”). The imperfect tense in this place, however, probably describes what the priests would do, what they used to do. The verb is in a relative clause: “which they would serve with them,” which should be changed to read “with which they would serve.”

29 tn The word is literally “its [their] service.” It describes all the implements that were there for the maintenance of these things.

30 tn The Hebrew construction has “the leader of the leaders of” (וּנְשִׂיא נְשִׂיאֵי, unÿsinÿsiey).

31 tn Heb “the keepers of the responsibility” (שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁמֶרֶת, shomÿrey mishmeret). The participle is a genitive specifying the duty to which he was appointed (thing possessed); its cognate genitive emphasizes that their responsibility was over the holy place.

32 tn The Hebrew text has “these they the families of Merari.” The independent personal pronoun has an anaphoric use, somewhat equivalent to the copula “and” (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 23, §115).

33 tn Heb “and all their service.” This could possibly be a hendiadys: “and all their working tools.” However, the parallel with v. 26 suggests this is a separate phrase.

34 tc In some Hebrew mss and Smr “and Aaron” is not in the verse. The omission arose probably by scribal error with such repetitious material that could easily give rise to variant traditions.

35 tn Here again the verb and its cognate noun are used: keeping the keep, or keeping charge over, or taking responsibility for the care of, or the like.

36 tn Here again the Hebrew has “at the mouth of,” meaning in accordance with what the Lord said. So also in v. 51.

37 tn The total is a rounded off number; it does not duplicate the precise total of 22,300. Some modern scholars try to explain it by positing an error in v. 28, suggesting that “six” should be read as “three” (שֵׁשׁ [shesh] as שָׁלֹשׁ [shalosh]).

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

39 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.



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