Chapter 1: The Census of Fighting Age Men.
Census in the wilderness of Sinai of fighting age men (20 years old and above - Excludes the Levites):
- Reuben: 46,500 - leader was Elizur which means "God is a Rock."
- Simeon: 59,300 - leader was Shelumiel meaning "at peace with
- Gad: 45,650 - leader was Eliasaph, meaning "God has added."
- Judah: 74,600 - leader was Nahshon which means "a diviner."
- Issachar: 54,400 - leader was Nethanel, meaning "the gift of
- Zebulun: 57,400 - leader was Eliab, meaning "God is a Father."
- Ephraim: 40,500 - leader was Elishama, meaning "God has heard."
- Manasseh: 32,200 - leader was Gamaliel, meaning "God is a Rewarder."
- Benjamin: 35,400 - leader was Benjamin, meaning "My father is
- Dan: 62,700 - leader was Ahiezer, meaning "brother of help."
Genesis 49:17, "Dan will be a snake beside
the road, a poisonous viper along the path that bites the horse’s
hooves so its rider is thrown off."
- Asher: 41,500 - leader was Pagiel, which means "event of God."
- Naphtali: 53,400 - leader was Ahira, meaning "brother of evil."
- TOTAL: 603,550 (same number as in Exodus 38:26)
The Levites are counted in chapter 3, but not here. The tribes are to pitch their tents by their tribes. Chapter 2 specifies how the camp is to be arranged and how they to be arranged when on the march.
Notice that instead of the tribes of Levi and Joseph being named and counted, the sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, are named and counted as the 12. Joseph was given the "double portion":
1 Chronicles 5:1-2: The oldest son of Israel was Reuben. But since he dishonored his father by sleeping with one of his father’s concubines, his birthright was given to the sons of his brother Joseph. For this reason, Reuben is not listed in the genealogical records as the firstborn son. The descendants of Judah became the most powerful tribe and provided a ruler for the nation, but the birthright belonged to Joseph.
Chapter 2: The Order of Encampment and Marching.
This chapter prescribes how the camp was to be arranged
and the order in which the tribes were to march. Surrounding the tabernacle
are the Levites: their arrangement is more closely described in chapter
3. They guarded the sanctuary from intrusions by unauthorized laypeople.
Beyond the Levites, the lay tribes are encamped.
The 12 tribes were divided
into four groups of three:
- In premier position, east of the tabernacle
camp, were Judah with Issachar and Zebulun (2:2–9).
- Next in rank
came the tribes camping to the south of the tabernacle, Reuben with Gad
and Simeon (2:10–16).
- After them on the west came Ephraim with Benjamin
and Manasseh (2:18–24).
- Finally, on the northern side of the tabernacle
camp were Dan with Asher and Naphtali (2:25–34).
The same sequence
was to be maintained on the march. The Judah group headed the march, followed
by the Reuben group. Then followed the Levites carrying the tabernacle.
After them came the Ephraim group of tribes, and the Dan group brought
up the rear (verse 31). It is not known what Israel's tribal banners and
standards looked like. A gap had to be kept between the lay tribes and
the tabernacle. From the English Standard Version Study Bible.
According to Rabbinical tradition, each had its own
standard with the crests of its ancestors:
- On the east, above the tent of Nahshon, there shone
a standard of green, because it was on an emerald (the
green stone) that the name of Judah was engraved upon the breastplate
of the high priest. Upon this standard was a lion,
according to the words of Jacob, "Judah is a lion's whelp."
- Towards the south, above the tent of Elizur, the
son of Reuben, there floated a red
standard, the color of the Sardius, the stone upon which Reuben's name
was written. Upon his standard was a human head, because
Reuben was the head of the family. And Reuben means, as we saw in Exodus,
"Behold a son," typical of Him who became the Son of man.
- On the west, above the tent of Elishama, the son
of Ephraim, there was a golden flag
on which was the head of a calf, because it was through
the vision of the calves or oxen that Joseph had predicted and provided
for the famine in Egypt; and hence Moses, when blessing the tribe of
Joseph (Deuteronomy 33:17) said, "Joseph has the majesty of
a young bull..."
- Towards the north, above the tent of Ahiezer, the
son of Dan, there floated a motley standard of red
and white, like the jasper, in which the name of Dan was engraven
upon the breastplate. In his standard was an eagle,
the great foe of serpents, because Jacob had compared Dan to a serpent. But Ahiezer had substituted the eagle.
Arrangement of the tribes:
- The tabernacle and its attendants were in the center.
- On the East side were Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The standard of
Judah was always in the lead when the tribes set out to march.
- On the South side were Reuben, Simeon, and Gad.
- On the West side were Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin.
- On the North side were Dan, Asher, and Naphtali.
- Each tribe had its own standard and leader, or prince.
The Lord arranged the camp, with Judah facing
towards the sunrise; this indicates the promised goal and also
reminds us of the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, the coming of the
Lord, when the wanderings of His people will end. And Yahweh
was in the midst of His people to guide and protect them, to
supply their needs.
Chapter 3: Two Censuses of the Levites & Chapter 4: Duties.
The two censuses in chapter 3 count two different groups
of Levites: the first (3:1–51) counts every male Levite over one
month old, whereas the second (4:1–49) counts those between 30 and
50 years of age. The male Levites took the place of the firstborn males
of the other tribes in order to serve the Lord, so the first census ensures
that the number of the former matches the number of the latter. Transporting
the tabernacle requires strength, so the second census aims to find if
there are enough able-bodied male Levites for this task.
Luke 3:23: Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry...
John 8:57: The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?
Numbers 3:1–4 The Sons of Aaron. This census begins
with the priests, the most holy family of the Levites. The priests
were descended from Aaron, who belonged to the Kohathite clan within the
tribe of Levi (Exodus 6:16–25). Because of their high status,
they camped to the east of the tabernacle, guarding its entrance (Numbers
3:38); the tribe of Judah camped farther out (2:3). Despite their privileges,
two sons of Aaron (Nadba and Abihu) died as a result of giving an unauthorized
incense offering (3:4; see Leviticus 10:1–20). The remaining sons
of Aaron (Eleazar and Ithamar) served as priests of the Lord.
1 Chronicles 6:1: The sons of Levi were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
Numbers 3:11–13 Reason for the Levitical Census. In the last plague, every firstborn male Egyptian and every firstborn of their cattle died, but the Israelite boys and cattle were spared. So after this, all Israelite firstborn boys and cattle were dedicated to God. That meant the cattle were sacrificed and the boys should have served God in the sanctuary (Exodus 11:4–13:15). But after the golden calf incident, the Levites took the place of the firstborn boys (Exodus 32:25–29).
Numbers 3:14–39 The Clans' Numbers, Positions, and Responsibilities. The census results are listed by clan, specifying which parts of the tabernacle each clan was responsible for carrying and which side they had to guard:
- Moses and the priests camped on the east, guarding the tabernacle sanctuary and protecting Israel.
- Most privileged were the Kohathites (8,600), camping on the south side and responsible for guarding, carrying and placing the Ark of the Covenant, the Veil, the Golden Incense Altar, the Lampstand, the Showbread Table, the Laver and the Burnt Offering Altar, together with all the utensils these required (Numbers 3:31).
- Next in privilege were the Gershonites (7,500), camping on the west side and responsible for carrying and setting up the curtains of the Outer Court, the Coverings of the Tabernacle, the curtain Door to the Sanctuary, the curtain Door to the Outer Court, together with all the ropes and fixings required for securing these curtains (Numbers 3:25-26)
- Finally came the Merarites (6,200), camping on the north side and responsible for carrying and setting up the Boards, the Bars and the Pillars and Sockets of the Outer Court (Numbers 3:36-37)
The Kohathites were entrusted with carrying the furnishings of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. While the Israelites were encamped, the Kohathites would encamp to the south of the Tabernacle, except for Moses, Aaron, and their households, who would encamp directly to the east.
The Gershoniteswere to take care of the outer coverings of the tabernacle and the curtains that marked the outer court and the altar (Numbers 3:25-26). Gershon is called Gershom in 1 Chronicles 6:16. The name means "exile".
The Merarites were charged with the care of the boards of the tabernacle & related items as well as the pillars of the court all around & related components. Merari means sad/bitter.
1 Chronicles 6:49-50: Only Aaron and his descendants served as priests. They presented the offerings on the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense, and they performed all the other duties related to the Most Holy Place. They made atonement for Israel by doing everything that Moses, the servant of God, had commanded them. The descendants of Aaron were Eleazar, Phinehas, Abishua,
The total number of Levites (verse 39) is 22,000. The location of the priests at the east side of the tabernacle guarding its entrance (verse 38) may anticipate the role of Jesus as high priest, giving his people access to God's presence in heaven (Hebrews 9–10).
Numbers 3:40–51 Redemption of the Firstborn. The census showed there were 273 fewer Levites than firstborn males in the other tribes. To redeem these 273 Israelites who had no Levite to take their place, five shekels (verse 47) per person had to be paid. This is the tariff prescribed in Leviticus 27:6 for boys under five. Five shekels would have been about a year's pay for a herdsman.
Numbers 3:43 all the firstborn males . . . were 22,273. If the total population was over 2 million, as some hold, then this number would only represent the number of firstborn males born since the exodus. Other interpreters understand this figure as the total of all firstborn in Israel, which would then indicate a much smaller total population.
Who were the Levites? Levites are the descendants
of Levi. The term is generally used, from the perspective of
The Bible, to identify the part of the tribe that was set apart for the
secondary duties of the sanctuary service (1 Kings 8:4, Ezra 2:70), as
assistants to the priests, who were also Levites. Although all priests
were Levites, not all Levites were priests. There were three divisions
of the Levites, names for Levi's three sons, Gershon, Kohath and Merari.
Gershon had two sons, Kohath four, and Marari two.
Prior to the Exodus, when the Israelites escaped the slavery of the Pharaoh of Egypt (see Who Was The Exodus Pharaoh?), the ancient way of worship was yet observed, with the firstborn son of each household inheriting the priest's office. That was changed at Sinai when an hereditary priesthood from the family of Aaron was established (Exodus 28:1). The Levites were formally set apart after the now-infamous incident with the golden calf idol that the Israelites made while Moses was away receiving The Ten Commandments from The Lord (Exodus chapter 32). The Levites did not take part in the idolatry, and actually killed 3,000 of those who did, as ordered by Moses (Exodus 32:25-29). After the incident was over, Moses said of the Levites, "Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.”" (Exodus 32:29). The Levites were natural allies of Moses because Moses himself was of the tribe of Levi (Exodus 2:1-2,10). Levi had 3 sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. From those branches of the family, the Levites were organized into 3 levels of service:
- The first level was composed of Aaron and his offspring, who were descended from Levi's son Kohath. They formed the priesthood.
- The second level was made up of all of the other descendants of Kohath who were not descendants of Aaron. They were in charge of the most sacred parts of the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:27-32, 4:4-15, 7:9).
- The third level consisted of all of the descendants of Gershon and Merari, who were given lesser duties (Numbers 3:21-26,33-37).
The Levites served at the Tabernacle from age 30 to 50 (Numbers 4:3,23,30). They were not counted for military service in the armies of Israel, but were set apart for service to God (Numbers 1:45-50, 2:33, 26:62).
According to Numbers 20:28, the office of the high priest was transmitted upon death to the oldest living son of the high priest: "Moses removed Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain." And according to Numbers 25:10-13, God made a covenant with Phinehas, the eldest son of Eleazar, which guaranteed a lasting priesthood with the Aaronic line.
With their consecration to The Lord's service, the Levites were allotted no territorial inheritance of their own at the Division Of The Land; God was their inheritance (Numbers 18:20, 26:62, Deuteronomy 10:9). Once established in the Promised Land, they were supported, in the agricultural economy of the time, by the tithes of the produce of the land paid to The Lord by the other tribes.
The Levites were assigned towns to live in from the inheritance of the other tribes - forty-eight cities, thirteen of which were for the priests along with their other inhabitants (Numbers 35:2-5). Nine of these cities were in Judah, three in Naphtali, and four in each of the other tribes (Joshua chapter 21). Six of the Levitical cities were designated as Cities Of Refuge.
In Joshua, as in Numbers, the Levites consist of the clans of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari, and to each clan a large number of cities is assigned (Joshua 21). The Levites, as the servants of the Temple, appear next in I Chronicles, where David is represented as dividing them into "courses" to wait on the sons of Aaron by doing the menial work of the Temple because they were no longer needed to carry the Tabernacle (I Chronicles 23, especially verses 26-28). He also appointed some to be doorkeepers of the Temple, some to have charge of its treasure, and some to be singers (I Chronicles 25-26).
Chapter 4: Census and Duties of the Kohathite, Gershonite and Merarite clans.
Preparation of the tabernacle for travel:
- Aaron and his sons take down the veil and cover the ark (no one else allowed to look at or touch these items).
Eleazar (Aaron's son) had charge of the fragrant incense, the grain offering, the anointing oil and had oversight of the whole tabernacle.
The immediate consequence of touching any of these objects out-of-turn, especially the ark of the covenant, was death.
The Kohathites were to carry these items:
- The ark is then covered first by the veil, then by a covering of goatskin and then a blue cloth. Then the carrying poles were inserted.
- The table of the bread of the presence is covered with a blue cloth, then the plates, etc and showbread are placed on it, the entire thing is covered with scarlet cloth and the goatskin and the carrying poles inserted.
- The lampstand and its vessels are covered with a blue cloth and then covered with goatskin and put on a carrying frame.
- The golden altar was covered with a blue cloth and then goats skin and then its carrying poles inserted.
- The ashes from the altar are covered with a blue cloth and then all the utensils are put on it. Then it is all covered with goatskin and put in its poles.
- The curtains of the tabernacle with its covering and the covering of goatskin and the screen for the entrance of the tabernacle and of the court gate (on two oxcarts per 7:7).
- The Kohathites between 30 and 50 years old numbered 2,750.
The Gershonites between 30 and 50 years old numbered 2,630.
The Merarites between 30 and 50 years old numbered 3,200.
- Total was 8,580.
Kohathites: While the Israelites were on the march, the Kohathites would march between the second and third ranks of the tribes and carry the ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, the seven-branched lampstand, the various altars, and the vessels of the Holy Place (Numbers 3:29-31). They needed to take care not to touch any of those articles until Aaron and his sons had prepared them properly for transport. The immediate consequence of touching any of these objects out-of-turn, especially the ark of the covenant, was death. (Numbers 4:15,17-20). Kohath's descendants included some of the most famous of the Israelites, and also some of the most infamous. Moses and Aaron were, of course, two of Kohath's grandsons. From Aaron came a line of high priests that continued nearly unbroken through the ages of the Judges, the United Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Judah, the Babylonian Captivity, and the Restoration. Judge Samuel was another famous Kohathite. Yet another grandson of Kohath, Korah, led a mutiny against Moses; for that he was executed directly by God Himself. Two of the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, died after they offered "strange fire" to God (in the Holy of Holies itself, the most serious breach of duty and discipline of which they were capable). Jonathan, a great-grandson of Kohath, established an illegal priestly line for the Danites that lasted until the land was captured by Tiglath-pileser III (Judges 17-18). The meaning of Kohath's name is unknown, although it may be related to an Aramaic word meaning "obey".
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation of the Bible.
- An Argument of the Book of Numbers: www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=960
- Bible Commentaries: http://www.biblecentre.org/commentaries/index_ot.htm
- Bible Dictionary: www.stempublishing.com/dictionary/574_600.html
- BibleGateway - Numbers 1: www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm?num1.htm
- Blue Letter Bible - Chuck Smith Commentary on Numbers 1-10: www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?AuthorID=1&contentID=6753&commInfo=25&topic=Numbers
- Book of Numbers - Preparing for the Lord's Battle: http://www.foundationsforfreedom.net/References/OT/Pentateuch/Numbers/Numbers00.html
- Chuck Missler - Numbers: www.blueletterbible.org/audio_video/comm_topic.cfm?AuthorID=21&commInfo=53&GroupID=4
- Clarke's Commentary - Numbers 1: www.godrules.net/library/clarke/clarkenum1.htm
- Commentary on Numbers 1 -10: uk.geocities.com/jonpartin/numbers1.html
- Crosswalk: http://bible.crosswalk.com
- David Guzik's Commentary on Numbers: www.enduringword.com/commentaries/04.htm
- Levites by Wayne Blank: http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/levites.htm
- Numbers: www.bibleexplained.com/moses/Numb/Num.htm
- Numbers 3 - The Census of the Levites: http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0403.htm
- Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary Numbers: www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc1.Num.html
- Net Bible: http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm
- Notes on Numbers: www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/numbers.pdf
- Numbers: The Incomplete Christian Life: www.pbc.org/messages/2987
by Arend Remmers: http://www.biblecentre.org/commentaries/ar_04_ot_overview_numbers.htm
- Summary of the Book of Numbers: http://www.bible-infonet.org/bin/outline/bible/old_test/Numbers.htm
- The Daily Bible Study by Wayne Blank: http://www.keyway.ca/
- The Gospel in Numbers: www.gracegems.org/Law2/Numbers.htm
- The Wilderness Wanderings: www.khouse.org/enews_article/2007/1102/
- Wikipedia - Numbers: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Numbers
Study Bible", NIV Version - Zondervan Publishing House
Complete Concordance" - Zondervan Publishing House
Hebrews" - John Phillips - Kregel Publications
Application Study Bible" - New Living Translation version -
Tyndale House Publishers
Companion Bible" by E. W. Bullinger - Zondervan Publishing
Defender's Study Bible" -World Bible Publishers
Bible Dictionary" - Merrill F. Unger - Thomas Nelson Publishers
Complete Expository Dictionary" - W. E. Vine - Thomas Nelson Publishers