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The Kohathites

 4

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2Take a census of the Kohathites separate from the other Levites, by their clans and their ancestral houses, 3from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who qualify to do work relating to the tent of meeting. 4The service of the Kohathites relating to the tent of meeting concerns the most holy things.

5 When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the screening curtain, and cover the ark of the covenant with it; 6then they shall put on it a covering of fine leather, and spread over that a cloth all of blue, and shall put its poles in place. 7Over the table of the bread of the Presence they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the plates, the dishes for incense, the bowls, and the flagons for the drink offering; the regular bread also shall be on it; 8then they shall spread over them a crimson cloth, and cover it with a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place. 9They shall take a blue cloth, and cover the lampstand for the light, with its lamps, its snuffers, its trays, and all the vessels for oil with which it is supplied; 10and they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of fine leather, and put it on the carrying frame. 11Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place; 12and they shall take all the utensils of the service that are used in the sanctuary, and put them in a blue cloth, and cover them with a covering of fine leather, and put them on the carrying frame. 13They shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it; 14and they shall put on it all the utensils of the altar, which are used for the service there, the firepans, the forks, the shovels, and the basins, all the utensils of the altar; and they shall spread on it a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place. 15When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the Kohathites shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, or they will die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the Kohathites are to carry.

16 Eleazar son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, the oversight of all the tabernacle and all that is in it, in the sanctuary and in its utensils.

17 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 18You must not let the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites. 19This is how you must deal with them in order that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and assign each to a particular task or burden. 20But the Kohathites must not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment; otherwise they will die.

The Gershonites and Merarites

21 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 22Take a census of the Gershonites also, by their ancestral houses and by their clans; 23from thirty years old up to fifty years old you shall enroll them, all who qualify to do work in the tent of meeting. 24This is the service of the clans of the Gershonites, in serving and bearing burdens: 25They shall carry the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tent of meeting with its covering, and the outer covering of fine leather that is on top of it, and the screen for the entrance of the tent of meeting, 26and the hangings of the court, and the screen for the entrance of the gate of the court that is around the tabernacle and the altar, and their cords, and all the equipment for their service; and they shall do all that needs to be done with regard to them. 27All the service of the Gershonites shall be at the command of Aaron and his sons, in all that they are to carry, and in all that they have to do; and you shall assign to their charge all that they are to carry. 28This is the service of the clans of the Gershonites relating to the tent of meeting, and their responsibilities are to be under the oversight of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.

29 As for the Merarites, you shall enroll them by their clans and their ancestral houses; 30from thirty years old up to fifty years old you shall enroll them, everyone who qualifies to do the work of the tent of meeting. 31This is what they are charged to carry, as the whole of their service in the tent of meeting: the frames of the tabernacle, with its bars, pillars, and bases, 32and the pillars of the court all around with their bases, pegs, and cords, with all their equipment and all their related service; and you shall assign by name the objects that they are required to carry. 33This is the service of the clans of the Merarites, the whole of their service relating to the tent of meeting, under the hand of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.

Census of the Levites

34 So Moses and Aaron and the leaders of the congregation enrolled the Kohathites, by their clans and their ancestral houses, 35from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who qualified for work relating to the tent of meeting; 36and their enrollment by clans was two thousand seven hundred fifty. 37This was the enrollment of the clans of the Kohathites, all who served at the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron enrolled according to the commandment of the Lord by Moses.

38 The enrollment of the Gershonites, by their clans and their ancestral houses, 39from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who qualified for work relating to the tent of meeting— 40their enrollment by their clans and their ancestral houses was two thousand six hundred thirty. 41This was the enrollment of the clans of the Gershonites, all who served at the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron enrolled according to the commandment of the Lord.

42 The enrollment of the clans of the Merarites, by their clans and their ancestral houses, 43from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who qualified for work relating to the tent of meeting— 44their enrollment by their clans was three thousand two hundred. 45This is the enrollment of the clans of the Merarites, whom Moses and Aaron enrolled according to the commandment of the Lord by Moses.

46 All those who were enrolled of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the leaders of Israel enrolled, by their clans and their ancestral houses, 47from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who qualified to do the work of service and the work of bearing burdens relating to the tent of meeting, 48their enrollment was eight thousand five hundred eighty. 49According to the commandment of the Lord through Moses they were appointed to their several tasks of serving or carrying; thus they were enrolled by him, as the Lord commanded Moses.


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1. And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron This census had a different object from the former one, which we have just been considering, viz., that an equal distribution of the charges should be made in proportion to the number of the individuals. First, as regarded age, a distinction must be observed between this tribe and the others; for we have already seen that all the Israelites above twenty years of age were numbered, because they were then fit to bear arms. But it was not without reason that a more mature age was required in the case of the Levites, so that they should not begin to discharge their ministry before their thirtieth year. For not only is strength and rigor of body requisite for spiritual warfare, but seriousness and gravity also. If they had been admitted in their youth, their levity might have detracted from the reverence due to sacred things, since the young are often led to act intemperately by their fervor and licentiousness. Access to the sanctuary, therefore, was not permitted them till they had grown up to be men; for by their thirtieth year men ought to have become so staid, as that it shall be base and inexcusable for them to give way to the wantonness of youth.

From their fiftieth year they were released from their duties; since sloth and inactivity generally accompany old age. The case is different as to war, because we find many who are vigorous after their fiftieth year. Furthermore, since religion is more precious than all earthly affairs, diligent care was to be taken lest it should fall into disesteem on account of the idleness and somnolency of its ministers.

4. This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath. He assigns their various offices to the Levites: firstly, lest their promiscuous sedulity should beget confusion; secondly, lest ambition should stimulate certain of them, 203203     “D’ s’avancer, ou ingerer:” to put themselves forward, or to interfere. — Fr. from whence disputes and contentions might arise. We know how confusedly men work unless a certain rule is prescribed to them, lest they should run about in an aimless hurry; and whilst each individual desires to anticipate others, an unworthy emulation ensues, which afterwards vents itself in quarrels. If, therefore, this had not been prevented, the Levites would soon have made disturbances in their duty, and contentions would have taken place between them. God, then, comes forward, and by His own authority confines them all within their proper bounds, and restrains their foolish passions. That a more honorable office is assigned to the sons of Kohath than to the others, proceeds from God’s gratuitous favor; and thus all pride was suppressed, lest any should boast of his dexterity, or industry, or other gifts. The charge of the Holy of holies is, therefore, entrusted to the sons of Kohath; not that they should handle any part of it, but only that they should carry on the march its vessels, when packed by the priests; for God commands the sons of Aaron to come and take down the sanctuary, and carefully cover the veil, the altar, and other sacred vessels with their proper covers, before the sons of Kohath laid a finger upon them, that thus the reverence of the people for holy things might be increased; and besides, that when the other tribes should see even the Levites forbidden from touching the sanctuary, they might be reminded of their unworthiness and humbled the more. Moreover, all cause of envy was removed when the other Levites heard that a perilous duty was entrusted to the sons of Kohath, for God threatens them with death if they touch any forbidden thing: and lastly, admonishes the priests, the sons of Aaron, lest by their carelessness they should destroy their brethren; for, if they should leave anything uncovered, they would be the cause of their destruction.

24. This is the service of the families of the Gershonites. The tasks which He enjoins upon the sons of Gershon, as well as the sons of Merari, are apparently mean and laborious, for it was a hard and also a servile work to carry the curtains and the tabernacle, together with its coverings, the boards, too, and the bars, and the pillars. But hence we learn that in God’s service nothing is to be despised, but that each and every part of our duty should be cheerfully performed, inasmuch as it ought abundantly to satisfy us, that God should have deigned to choose us as ministers of His sanctuary, so that neither weariness nor pride should ever hinder us in our duty.

34. And Moses and Aaron and the chief of the congregation Another exception is subjoined, viz., that none should be received unless they were free from all defect and blemish; for we have seen elsewhere that those, who were blind and lame, or defective in any part of their body, were excluded from the tabernacle, lest their disfigurement should produce contempt; and also that they might be admonished by this external sign, to preserve themselves more diligently from all spiritual defilement. Therefore, those are said to enter into the sanctuary who are fit to exercise the priesthood; and hence the expression, “for the service,” 426426     “For the work.” — A. V. Ver. 35. is added.

Inasmuch as the inequality (of their charges) might have been the source of envy, God’s authority is asserted at the end of the chapter, where Moses records that he was only acting ministerially, and that he distributed the offices among them according to God’s command.




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