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Numbers 3:6-16

Context
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 

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.



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