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Numbers 4:4-20

Context
4:4 This is the service of the Kohathites in the tent of meeting, relating to the most holy things. 1  4:5 When it is time for the camp to journey, 2  Aaron and his sons must come and take down the screening curtain and cover the ark of the testimony with it. 4:6 Then they must put over it a covering of fine leather 3  and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue, and then they must insert its poles.

4:7 “On the table of the presence 4  they must spread a blue 5  cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring, and the Bread of the Presence must be on it continually. 4:8 They must spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of fine leather; and they must insert its poles.

4:9 “They must take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. 4:10 Then they must put it with all its utensils in a covering of fine leather, and put it on a carrying beam. 6 

4:11 “They must spread a blue cloth on the gold altar, and cover it with a covering of fine leather; and they must insert its poles. 4:12 Then they must take all the utensils of the service, with which they serve in the sanctuary, put them in a blue cloth, cover them with a covering of fine leather, and put them on a carrying beam. 4:13 Also, they must take away the ashes from the altar 7  and spread a purple cloth over it. 4:14 Then they must place on it all its implements with which they serve there – the trays, the meat forks, the shovels, the basins, and all the utensils of the altar – and they must spread on it a covering of fine leather, and then insert its poles. 8 

4:15 “When Aaron and his sons have finished 9  covering 10  the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is ready to journey, then 11  the Kohathites will come to carry them; 12  but they must not touch 13  any 14  holy thing, or they will die. 15  These are the responsibilities 16  of the Kohathites with the tent of meeting.

4:16 “The appointed responsibility of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest is for the oil for the light, and the spiced incense, and the daily grain offering, and the anointing oil; he also has 17  the appointed responsibility over all the tabernacle with 18  all that is in it, over the sanctuary and over all its furnishings.” 19 

4:17 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 4:18 “Do not allow the tribe of the families of the Kohathites to be cut off 20  from among the Levites; 4:19 but in order that they will live 21  and not die when they approach the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons will go in and appoint 22  each man 23  to his service and his responsibility. 4:20 But the Kohathites 24  are not to go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, or they will die.”

1 tn The Hebrew text simply has “the holy of holies,” or “the holy of the holy things” (קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים, qodesh haqqodashim). The context indicates that this refers to all the sacred furnishings.

2 tn The Hebrew text uses the infinitive construct in an adverbial clause of time; literally it says “in the journeying of the camp.” The genitive in such constructions is usually the subject. Here the implication is that people would be preparing to transport the camp and its equipment.

3 tn The exact meaning of the Hebrew word here is difficult to determine. The term תַּחַשׁ (takhash) has been translated “badgers’ [skins]” by KJV. ASV has “sealskin” while RSV uses “goatskin”; NEB and NASB have “porpoise skin,” and NIV has “hides of sea cows.” This is close to “porpoise,” and seems influenced by the Arabic. The evidence is not strong for any of these meanings, and some of the suggestions would be problematic. It is possible the word is simply used for “fine leather,” based on the Egyptian ths. This has been followed by NRSV (“fine leather”) and NLT (“fine goatskin leather”) along with the present translation. See further HALOT 1720-21 s.v. תַּחַשׁ.

4 sn The Hebrew actually has the “table of faces,” and this has been traditionally rendered “table of shewbread.”

5 tn The Greek has “violet” instead of blue. This is also the case in vv. 8, 10, and 14.

6 tn The “pole” or “bar” (מוֹט, mot) is of a different style than the poles used for transporting the ark. It seems to be a flexible bar carried by two men with the implements being transported tied to the bar. The NEB suggests the items were put in a bag and slung over the bar, but there is no indication of the manner.

7 tc The Greek text has “and he must place the cover upon the altar” instead of “and they must take away the ashes from the altar.” The verb is the Piel form; its nuance seems to be privative, i.e., stating that the object is deprived of the material – the ashes are removed. This is the main altar in the courtyard.

8 tc For this passage the Greek and Smr have a substantial addition concerning the purple cloth for the laver and its base, and a further covering of skin (see D. W. Gooding, “On the Use of the LXX for Dating Midrashic Elements in the Targums,” JTS 25 [1974]: 1-11).

9 tn The verb form is the Piel perfect with a vav (ו) consecutive; it continues the future sequence, but in this verse forms a subordinate clause to the parallel sequential verb to follow.

10 tn The Piel infinitive construct with the preposition serves as the direct object of the preceding verbal form, answering the question of what it was that they finished.

11 tn Heb “after this.”

12 tn The form is the Qal infinitive construct from נָשָׂא (nasa’, “to lift, carry”); here it indicates the purpose clause after the verb “come.”

13 tn The imperfect tense may be given the nuance of negated instruction (“they are not to”) or negated obligation (“they must not”).

14 tn Here the article expresses the generic idea of any holy thing (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, §92).

15 tn The verb is the perfect tense with a vav (ו) consecutive, following the imperfect tense warning against touching the holy thing. The form shows the consequence of touching the holy thing, and so could be translated “or they will die” or “lest they die.” The first is stronger.

16 tn The word מַשָּׂא (massa’) is normally rendered “burden,” especially in prophetic literature. It indicates the load that one must carry, whether an oracle, or here the physical responsibility.

17 tn This is supplied to the line to clarify “appointed.”

18 tn Heb “and.”

19 sn One would assume that he would prepare and wrap these items, but that the Kohathites would carry them to the next place.

20 sn The verb is simply the Qal, “do not cut off.” The context calls for a permissive nuance – “do not let them be cut off.” It was a difficult task to be handling the holy things correctly; Moses and Aaron were to see to it that they did it right and did not handle the objects, that is, Moses and Aaron were to safeguard their lives by making certain that proper procedures were followed.

21 tn The word order is different in the Hebrew text: Do this…and they will live. Consequently, the verb “and they will live” is a perfect tense with a vav (ו) consecutive to express the future consequence of “doing this” for them.

22 tn The perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive continues the instruction for Aaron.

23 tn The distributive sense is obtained by the repetition, “a man” and “a man.”

24 tn In the Hebrew text the verse has as the subject “they,” but to avoid confusion the antecedent has been clarified in the translation.



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