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Numbers 3:14-28

Context
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 1  and their families; every male from a month old and upward you are to number.” 2  3:16 So Moses numbered them according to the word 3  of the Lord, just as he had been commanded. 4 

The Summary of Families

3:17 These were the sons 5  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 6  of the clan 7  of the Gershonites was Eliasaph son of Lael.

3:25 And 8  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, 9  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. 10 

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. 11  3:28 Counting every male from a month old and upward, there were 8,600. They were responsible for the care 12  of the sanctuary.

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

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

3 tn Heb “at the mouth of the Lord.”

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

5 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.

6 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.

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

8 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.

9 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).

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

11 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).

12 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.



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