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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Numbers 4

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Duties of the Priests

A. The duty of the Kohathites.

1. (Num 4:1-3) Those fit for service.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: "Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers' house, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting."

a. Take a census of the sons of Kohath: Among the males of the family of Kohath, only those between thirty and fifty were allowed to actually do the work of the sanctuary. In some ways, this was thought to be the "prime" of a man's life (combining both wisdom and physical strength) and God wanted the best from the family of Kohath.

2. (Num 4:4-14) The packing of the furniture and utensils of the tabernacle.

"This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things: When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles. On the table of showbread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring; and the showbread shall be on it. They shall spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. And they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. Then they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of badger skins, and put it on a carrying beam. Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. Then they shall take all the utensils of service with which they minister in the sanctuary, put them in a blue cloth, cover them with a covering of badger skins, and put them on a carrying beam. Also they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it. They shall put on it all its implements with which they minister there; the firepans, the forks, the shovels, the basins, and all the utensils of the altar; and they shall spread on it a covering of badger skins, and insert its poles."

a. When the camp prepares to journey: On the way to the Promised Land, the tabernacle furniture would have to travel and be carried great distances. But first, it must be packed properly to ensure its safe travel. Since the furniture itself was holy, it had to be covered and packed by Aaron and the priests before the sons of Kohath could get to it.

3. (Num 4:15-20) The moving of the furniture and utensils of the tabernacle.

"And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These are the things in the tabernacle of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry. The appointed duty of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest is the oil for the light, the sweet incense, the daily grain offering, the anointing oil, the oversight of all the tabernacle, of all that is in it, with the sanctuary and its furnishings." Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: "Do not cut off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites; but do this in regard to them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint each of them to his service and his task. But they shall not go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, lest they die."

a. When the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die: The Kohathites were forbidden to touch any of the tabernacle furniture; it was made with poles that one could use to carry the furniture without touching the item itself.

b. The appointed duty of Eleazar: Eleazar, the eldest surviving son of Aaron the high priest, supervised the work of the Kohathites.

B. The duty of the Gershonites.

1. (Num 4:21-23) Those fit for service.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "Also take a census of the sons of Gershon, by their fathers' house, by their families. From thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, you shall number them, all who enter to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting."

2. (Num 4:24-28) The duties of the Gershonites.

"This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, in serving and carrying: They shall carry the curtains of the tabernacle and the tabernacle of meeting with its covering, the covering of badger skins that is on it, the screen for the door of the tabernacle of meeting, the screen for the door of the gate of the court, the hangings of the court which are around the tabernacle and altar, and their cords, all the furnishings for their service and all that is made for these things: so shall they serve. Aaron and his sons shall assign all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, all their tasks and all their service. And you shall appoint to them all their tasks as their duty. This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of meeting. And their duties shall be under the authority of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest."

a. This is the service of the families of the Gershonites: They had oversight of the coverings of the tabernacle; the skins and artistically woven designs that made up the walls and the roof of the tent; they did this under the supervision of Aaron's son Ithamar.

C. The duty of the family of Merari.

1. (Num 4:29-30) Those fit for service.

"As for the sons of Merari, you shall number them by their families and by their fathers' house. From thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, you shall number them, everyone who enters the service to do the work of the tabernacle of meeting."

2. (Num 4:31-33) The duties of the family of Merari.

"And this is what they must carry as all their service for the tabernacle of meeting: the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, and the pillars around the court with their sockets, pegs, and cords, with all their furnishings and all their service; and you shall assign to each man by name the items he must carry. This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, as all their service for the tabernacle of meeting, under the authority of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest."

a. This is what they must carry as all their service for the tabernacle of meeting: They had the job of packing and transporting the boards and pillars of the tabernacle; this was important work, because of all the precious metals used, the weight of the tabernacle was some 19,000 pounds.

b. You shall assign to each man by name the items he must carry: This wasn't "volunteer" work. Moses and Aaron assigned to each man by name the items he must carry. With such valuable cargo, and such a long distance, it was an important job to do.

D. Summary of the census of the Levites.

1. (Num 4:34-48) The final count according to the families.

And Moses, Aaron, and the leaders of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites by their families and by their fathers' house, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tabernacle of meeting; and those who were numbered by their families were two thousand seven hundred and fifty. These were the ones who were numbered of the families of the Kohathites, all who might serve in the tabernacle of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses. And those who were numbered of the sons of Gershon, by their families and by their fathers' house, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tabernacle of meeting; those who were numbered by their families, by their fathers' house, were two thousand six hundred and thirty. These are the ones who were numbered of the families of the sons of Gershon, of all who might serve in the tabernacle of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of the LORD. Those of the families of the sons of Merari who were numbered, by their families, by their fathers' house, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tabernacle of meeting; those who were numbered by their families were three thousand two hundred. These are the ones who 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. All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses, Aaron, and the leaders of Israel numbered, by their families and by their fathers' houses, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, everyone who came to do the work of service and the work of bearing burdens in the tabernacle of meeting; those who were numbered were eight thousand five hundred and eighty.

2. (Num 4:49) The organization and order of the Levites.

According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, each according to his service and according to his task; thus were they numbered by him, as the LORD commanded Moses.

a. According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered: We remember that this census was commanded by God and had a definite purpose in His plan.

b. Each according to his service and according to his task: Each of these had a role to play in doing the work of tabernacle, and God made them all dependent on each other to do that work.

i. "It is worthy of note that these Levites, although they were all equally consecrated to God, had not all exactly the same work to perform. God is not the God of all uniformity. There is a wondrous unity of plan and design in all that he does, but there is also an equally marvelous variety." (Spurgeon)

ii. Paul says the church is to work like a body - many parts, looking different, doing different jobs, meeting different needs, some more visible, some less, but all essential - and all with the same DNA code.

iii. Much trouble is caused in the service of the LORD by those who desire a different calling than they have, or who are jealous of those who have a different calling, or by those who exalt one calling and abase another. Everyone has a place and a job, and all can set themselves to do it.

© 2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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