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Numbers 1:47-54

Context
The Exemption of the Levites

1:47 But 1  the Levites, according to the tribe of their fathers, 2  were not numbered 3  among them. 1:48 The Lord had said to Moses, 4  1:49 “Only the tribe of Levi 5  you must not number 6  or count 7  with 8  the other Israelites. 1:50 But appoint 9  the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, 10  over all its furnishings and over everything in it. They must carry 11  the tabernacle and all its furnishings; and they 12  must attend to it and camp around it. 13  1:51 Whenever the tabernacle is to move, 14  the Levites must take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be reassembled, 15  the Levites must set it up. 16  Any unauthorized person 17  who approaches it must be killed.

1:52 “The Israelites will camp according to their divisions, each man in his camp, and each man by his standard. 1:53 But the Levites must camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that the Lord’s anger 18  will not fall on the Israelite community. The Levites are responsible for the care 19  of the tabernacle of the testimony.”

1:54 The Israelites did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses 20  – that is what they did.

1 tn The vav (ו) on this word indicates a disjunction with the previous sequence of reports. It may be taken as a contrastive clause, translated “but” or “however.”

2 tn The construction is unexpected, for Levites would be from the tribe of Levi. The note seems more likely to express that all these people were organized by tribal lineage, and so too the Levites, according to the tribe of their fathers – individual families of Levites.

3 tc The form in the text is הָתְפָּקְדוּ (hotpaqÿdu); if this is correct, then it is an isolated instance of the reflexive of the Qal of פָּקַד (paqad). Some, however, explain the form as the Hitpael without the doubling of the middle letter and with a compensatory lengthening of the vowel before it (G. B. Gray, Numbers [ICC], 10).

4 tn Heb “had spoken to Moses, saying.” The infinitive construct of אָמַר (’amar), sometimes rendered “saying” in older English translations, does not need to be translated, but can be taken simply as the indicator of direct discourse. Most recent English translations, including the present one, leave the form untranslated for stylistic reasons to avoid redundancy.

5 sn From the giving of the Law on the priesthood comes the prerogative of the tribe of Levi. There were, however, members of other tribes who served as priests from time to time (see Judg 17:5).

6 tn The construction has literally, “only the tribe of Levi you shall not number.” The Greek text rendered the particle אַךְ (’akh) forcefully with “see to it that” or “take care that.” For the uses of this form, see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 65, §388-89.

7 tn Heb “lift up their head.”

8 tn Heb “in the midst of the sons of Israel.”

9 tn The same verb translated “number” (פָּקַד, paqad) is now used to mean “appoint” (הַפְקֵד, hafqed), which focuses more on the purpose of the verbal action of numbering people. Here the idea is that the Levites were appointed to take care of the tabernacle. On the use of this verb with the Levites’ appointment, see M. Gertner, “The Masorah and the Levites,” VT 10 (1960): 252.

10 tn The Hebrew name used here is מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת (mishkan haedut). The tabernacle or dwelling place of the Lord was given this name because it was here that the tablets of the Law were kept. The whole shrine was therefore a reminder (הָעֵדוּת, a “warning sign” or “testimony”) of the stipulations of the covenant. For the ancient Near Eastern customs of storing the code in the sanctuaries, see M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King, 14-19, and idem, The Structure of Biblical Authority, 35-36. Other items were in the ark in the beginning, but by the days of Solomon only the tablets were there (1 Kgs 8:9).

11 tn The imperfect tense here is an obligatory imperfect telling that they are bound to do this since they are appointed for this specific task.

12 tn The addition of the pronoun before the verb is emphatic – they are the ones who are to attend to the tabernacle. The verb used is שָׁרַת (sharat) in the Piel, indicating that they are to serve, minister to, attend to all the details about this shrine.

13 tn Heb “the tabernacle.” The pronoun (“it”) was used in the translation here for stylistic reasons.

14 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct with the temporal preposition; the “tabernacle” is then the following genitive. Literally it is “and in the moving of the tabernacle,” meaning, “when the tabernacle is supposed to be moved,” i.e., when people are supposed to move it. The verb נָסָע (nasa’) means “pull up the tent pegs and move,” or more simply, “journey.”

15 tn Here we have the parallel construction using the infinitive construct in a temporal adverbial clause.

16 tn Heb “raise it up.”

17 tn The word used here is זָר (zar), normally translated “stranger” or “outsider.” It is most often used for a foreigner, an outsider, who does not belong in Israel, or who, although allowed in the land, may be viewed with suspicion. But here it seems to include even Israelites other than the tribe of Levi.

18 tc Instead of “wrath” the Greek text has “sin,” focusing the emphasis on the human error and not on the wrath of God. This may have been a conscious change to explain the divine wrath.

tn Heb “so that there be no wrath on.” In context this is clearly the divine anger, so “the Lord’s” has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

19 tn The main verb of the clause is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive, וְשָׁמְרוּ (vÿshamÿru) meaning they “shall guard, protect, watch over, care for.” It may carry the same obligatory nuance as the preceding verbs because of the sequence. The object used with this is the cognate noun מִשְׁמֶרֶת (mishmeret): “The Levites must care for the care of the tabernacle.” The cognate intensifies the construction to stress that they are responsible for this care.

20 tc The LXX adds “and Aaron.”



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