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Adam Clarke Commentary

Numbers 4

Introduction

Moses is commanded to take the sum of the sons of Kohath from thirty years old and upward, Numbers 4:1 -4. The service which they had to perform, Numbers 4:5 -15. The office of Eleazar, Numbers 4:16 . The family of Kohath to be continued among the Levites, Numbers 4:17 -19. They are not to go into the holy of holies, Numbers 4:20 . The sum of the sons of Gershon, Numbers 4:21 -23. The service they had to perform, Numbers 4:24 -27. They are to be under Ithamar, Numbers 4:28 . The sum of the sons of Merari, Numbers 4:29 , Numbers 4:30 . The service they had to perform, Numbers 4:31 -33. The sum of all the families of Kohath, 2,750, Numbers 4:34 -37. The sum of the families of Gershon, 2,630, Numbers 4:38 -41. The sum of the families of Merari, 3,200, Numbers 4:42 -45. The sum total of the families of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, 8,580, Numbers 4:46 -49.

Verse 3

From thirty years old - In Numbers 8:24 , the Levites are ordered to enter on the service of the tabernacle at the age of twenty-five years; and in 1 Chronicles 23:24 , they were ordered to commence that work at twenty years of age. How can these different times be reconciled?1. At the time of which Moses speaks here, the Levitical service was exceedingly severe, and consequently required men full grown, strong, and stout, to perform it; the age therefore of thirty years was appointed as the period for commencing this service, the weightier part of which is probably here intended.2. In Numbers 8:24 , Moses seems to speak of the service in a general way; the severe, which was to be performed by the full-grown Levites, and the less laborious work which younger men might assist in: hence the age of twenty-five is fixed.3. In David's time and afterwards, in the fixed tabernacle and temple, the laboriousness of the service no longer existed, and hence twenty years was the age fixed on for all Levites to enter into the work of the sanctuary. The rabbins say that the Levites began to learn to do the service at twenty-five, and that having been instructed five years, they began the public service at thirty, and thus they reconcile the two periods referred to above. We may well suppose that the sons of the prophets continued a considerable time under instructions before they were called fully to exercise themselves in the prophetic office.Until fifty years old - This was allowing twenty years for public severe service; a very considerate and merciful ordinance. A preacher who devotes his whole time and strength to the service of the Church of God from twenty to fifty or sixty years of age, should be then excused from his severer labor, and maintained at the charge of the sanctuary. This would not only be a great comfort to a worn-out servant of God, but also of great use to the work of the ministry, which, to be faithfully and effectually performed, requires all the powers of the body and mind of man. Old faithful ministers are to be highly respected for their work's sake, and to be supplied with all the necessaries and comforts of life; but how little can they do in the public ministry of the word, however willing to work, when their eye waxes dim and their bodily strength fails! See Numbers 8:25 . Both for their own sakes, and for the good of the Church, they should be excused from a labor to which they must be almost every way inadequate. But notwithstanding this comparative inactivity, their counsels, advice, and experience will always be considered as a treasure to the Church of Christ

Verse 20

When the holy things are covered - Literally, כבלע keballa, when they are swallowed down; which shows the promptitude with which every thing belonging to the holy of holies was put out of sight, for these mysteries must ever be treated with the deepest reverence; and indeed without this they could not have been to them the representatives of heavenly realities. See the concluding note Numbers 4:36 (note).

Verse 36

Those that were numbered - In Numbers 3:27 , etc., we have an account of the whole number of the Levites, and here of those only who were able to serve the Lord in the sanctuary. By comparing the two places we find the numbers to stand thus: - LeviteFamily AbleMen UnableMen Total Kohathites 2,750 5,850 8,600 Gershonites 2,630 4,870 7,500 Merarites 3,200 3,000 6,200 Thus we find that the whole number of the Levites amounted to 22,300, of whom 3,580 were fit for service, and 13,720 unfit, being either too old or too young. What an astonishing number of men, all properly ecclesiastics; all performing some service by which God was glorified, and the congregation at large benefited! See Ainsworth.From this and the preceding chapter we see the very severe labor which the Levites were obliged to perform while the journeyings of the Israelites lasted. When we consider that there was not less than 10 tons 13 cwt. 24 lb. 14 oz., i. e., almost ten tons and fourteen hundred pounds' weight of metal employed in the tabernacle, (see the notes on Exodus 38 (note)), besides the immense weight of the skins, hangings, cords, boards, and posts, we shall find it was no very easy matter to transport this movable temple from place to place.The Gershonites, who were 7,500 men in the service, had to carry the tent, coverings, veils, hangings of the court, etc., etc., Numbers 3:25 , Numbers 3:26 .The Kohathites, who were 8,600 men, had to carry the ark, table, candlestick, altars, and instruments of the sanctuary, Numbers 3:31 .The Merarites, who were 6,200 men, had to carry the boards, bars, pillars, sockets, and all matters connected with these belonging to the tabernacle, with the pillars of the court, their sockets, pins, and cords, Numbers 3:36 , Numbers 3:37 .The tabernacle was an epitome of the temple: the temple and tabernacle were representatives of the Church of the living God, and of the humanity of our blessed Lord. As God dwelt in the tabernacle and temple, so his fullness dwelt in the man Christ Jesus. These again were types of the Christian Church, which is termed the body of Christ, Ephesians 1:23 , where he dwells in the plenitude of the graces of his Spirit.Mr. Ainsworth has a very useful note on the Numbers 4:20 verse of this chapter, the most edifying part of which I shall here lay before the reader. He considers the tabernacle and temple, not only as pointing out the old dispensation, the annulling of which was typified by their destruction, but he considers also the former as emblematical of the body of man.1. The holy things were first covered and taken away, (see Numbers 4:20 , so the soul and its powers are first withdrawn from the body by death.2. As the curtains and coverings were taken off and folded up, so the skin and flesh of our bodies are pulled off and consumed.3. As the boards of the tabernacle were disjointed and pulled asunder, so shall our bones and sinews: compare Job's description of the formation of man, Numbers 10:8 -12; and Solomon's account of his dissolution, Ecclesiastes 12:3 , Ecclesiastes 12:4 .4. As the disjointed and dissolved tabernacle was afterwards set up again, Numbers 10:21 , so shall our bodies in the day of the resurrection; see 1 Corinthians 15:51 -54.

Numbers 4


  1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
  2 Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, after their families, by the house of their fathers,
  3 From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.
  4 This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things:
  5 And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering veil, and cover the ark of testimony with it:
  6 And shall put thereon the covering of badgers' skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.
  7 And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon:
  8 And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put in the staves thereof.
  9 And they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick of the light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuffdishes, and all the oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it:
  10 And they shall put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put it upon a bar.
  11 And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put to the staves thereof:
  12 And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put them on a bar:
  13 And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon:
  14 And they shall put upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even the censers, the fleshhooks, and the shovels, and the basins, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of badgers' skins, and put to the staves of it.
  15 And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation.
  16 And to the office of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the daily meat offering, and the anointing oil, and the oversight of all the tabernacle, and of all that therein is, in the sanctuary, and in the vessels thereof.
  17 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
  18 Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites:
  19 But thus do unto them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach unto the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden:
  20 But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die.
  21 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
  22 Take also the sum of the sons of Gershon, throughout the houses of their fathers, by their families;
  23 From thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them; all that enter in to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.
  24 This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for burdens:
  25 And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the badgers' skins that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,
  26 And the hangings of the court, and the hanging for the door of the gate of the court, which is by the tabernacle and by the altar round about, and their cords, and all the instruments of their service, and all that is made for them: so shall they serve.
  27 At the appointment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burdens, and in all their service: and ye shall appoint unto them in charge all their burdens.
  28 This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation: and their charge shall be under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
  29 As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them after their families, by the house of their fathers;
  30 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth into the service, to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation.
  31 And this is the charge of their burden, according to all their service in the tabernacle of the congregation; the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and sockets thereof,
  32 And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords, with all their instruments, and with all their service: and by name ye shall reckon the instruments of the charge of their burden.
  33 This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service, in the tabernacle of the congregation, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
  34 And Moses and Aaron and the chief of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites after their families, and after the house of their fathers,
  35 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation:
  36 And those that were numbered of them by their families were two thousand seven hundred and fifty.
  37 These were they that were numbered of the families of the Kohathites, all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, which Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
  38 And those that were numbered of the sons of Gershon, throughout their families, and by the house of their fathers,
  39 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,
  40 Even those that were numbered of them, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers, were two thousand and six hundred and thirty.
  41 These are they that were numbered of the families of the sons of Gershon, of all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, whom Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the LORD.
  42 And those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers,
  43 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,
  44 Even those that were numbered of them after their families, were three thousand and two hundred.
  45 These be those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
  46 All those that were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chief of Israel numbered, after their families, and after the house of their fathers,
  47 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation,
  48 Even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore.
  49 According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses.

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