Of the Levites' Service.
2, 3. sons of Kohath, from thirty years old and
upward—This age was specifically fixed (see on Nu 8:24) as the full maturity of bodily energy to perform
the laborious duties assigned them in the wilderness, as well as of
mental activity to assist in the management of the sacred services. And
it was the period of life at which John the Baptist and Christ entered
on their respective ministries.
even unto fifty—The term prescribed
for active duty was a period of twenty years, at the end of which they
were exempted from the physical labors of the office, though still
expected to attend in the tabernacle (Nu 8:26).
all that enter into the host—so called
from their number, the order and discipline maintained through their
ranks, and their special duty as guards of the tabernacle. The
Hebrew word, however, signifies also a station or office; and
hence the passage may be rendered, "All that enter into the sacerdotal
4-15. This shall be the service of the sons of
Kohath, &c.—They are mentioned first, from their close
connection with Aaron; and the special department of duty assigned to
them during the journeyings of Israel accorded with the charge they had
received of the precious contents of the tabernacle. But these were to
be previously covered by the common priests, who, as well as the high
priest, were admitted on such necessary occasions into the holy place.
This was an exception to the general rule, which prohibited the
entrance of any but the high priest. But when the cloud removed from
the tabernacle, the sanctuary might be entered by the common priests,
as to them was reserved the exclusive privilege of packing the sacred
utensils; and it was not till the holy things were thus ready for
carriage, that the Kohathites were allowed to approach.
5. covering veil—the inner veil, which
separated the holy from the most holy place. (See on Ex 36:35).
6. covering of badgers' skins—(See on Ex 25:5). The covering, however, referred to was not
that of the tabernacle, but one made for the special purpose of
protecting the ark.
put in the staves—These golden staves
were now taken out. (See on Ex 25:15, compared
8:8). The Hebrew word
rendered "put in," signifies also "dispose," and probably refers here
to their insertion through the openings in the coverings made for
receiving them, to preserve them from the touch of the carriers as well
as from the influence of the weather. It is worthy of notice that the
coverings did not consist of canvas or coarse tarpaulin, but of a kind
which united beauty with decency.
7. continual showbread—Though the people
were in the wilderness fed upon manna, the sacred loaves were
constantly made of corn, which was probably raised in small quantities
from the verdant patches of the desert.
10. a bar—or bier, formed of two poles
fastened by two cross pieces and borne by two men, after the fashion of
a sedan chair.
12. instruments of ministry—the official
dress of the priests (Ex 31:10).
13. shall take away the ashes from the altar,
&c.—The necessity of removing ashes from the altar plainly
implies that sacrifices were offered in the wilderness (compare Ex 18:12;
24:4), though that rebellious
race seems frequently to have neglected the duty (Am 5:25). No mention is made of the sacred fire;
but as, by divine command, it was to be kept constantly burning, it
must have been transferred to some pan or brazier under the covering,
and borne by the appointed carriers.
15. the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it, but
they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die—The mode
of transport was upon the shoulders of the Levites (see on Nu 7:9), although afterwards wheeled vehicles were
employed (2Sa 6:3; 1Ch 15:12). And it was allowed to touch the
covering, but not the things covered, on the penalty of death, which
was inflicted more than once (1Sa 6:19; 2Sa 6:6, 7). This stern denunciation was designed
to inspire a sentiment of deep and habitual reverence in the minds of
those who were officially engaged about holy things.
16. to the office of Eleazar … pertaineth
the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, &c.—He was
charged with the special duty of superintending the squadron who were
employed in the carrying of the sacred furniture; besides, to his
personal care were committed the materials requisite for the daily
service, and which it was necessary he should have easily at his
17-20. Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of
the Kohathites from among the Levites, &c.—a solemn
admonition to Moses and Aaron to beware, lest, by any negligence on
their part, disorder and improprieties should creep in, and to take the
greatest care that all the parts of this important service be
apportioned to the proper parties, lest the Kohathites should be
disqualified for their high and honorable duties. The guilt of their
death would be incurred by the superintending priest, if he failed to
give proper directions or allowed any irreverent familiarity with
24-28. This is the service of the families of the
Gershonites, &c.—They were appointed to carry "the
curtains of the tabernacle"—that is, the goats' hair covering of
the tent—the ten curious curtains and embroidered hangings at the
entrance, with their red morocco covering, &c.
28. their charge shall be under the hand of
Ithamar the son of Aaron, &c.—The Levites were generally
subject to the official command of the priests in doing the ordinary
work of the tabernacle. But during the journeyings Eleazar, who was
next in succession to his father, took the special charge of the
Kohathites [Nu 4:16],
while his brother Ithamar had the superintendence of the Gershonites
and Merarites [Nu 4:33].
29-33. As for the sons of Merari—They
carried the coarser and heavier appurtenances, which, however, were so
important and necessary, that an inventory was kept of them—not
only on account of their number and variety, but of their comparative
commonness and smallness, which might have led to their being lost or
missing through carelessness, inadvertency, or neglect. It was a useful
lesson, showing that God disregards nothing pertaining to His service,
and that even in the least and most trivial matters, He requires the
duty of faithful obedience.
34-49. Moses and Aaron and the chief of the
congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites,
&c.—This enumeration was made on a different principle from
that which is recorded in the preceding chapter [Nu 3:15]. That was confined to the males from a
month old and upward, while this was extended to all capable of service
in the three classes of the Levitical tribe. In considering their
relative numbers, the wisdom of Divine Providence appears in arranging
that, whereas in the Kohathites and Gershonites, whose burdens were few
and easier, there were but about a third part of them which were fit
for service; the Merarites, whose burdens were more and heavier, had
above one half of them fit for this work [Poole]. The small population of this tribe, so
inferior to that of the other tribes, is attempted to be explained (see
on Nu 3:39).