Levites to Be Priesthood
1Now these are the records of the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day when the Lord spoke [by special revelation] with Moses on Mount Sinai. 2 These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests who were anointed, whom Aaron [a]consecrated and ordained to minister in the priest’s office. 4 But Nadab and Abihu died in the presence of the Lord when they offered strange (unholy, unacceptable, inappropriate) fire before the Lord in the Wilderness of Sinai; and they had no sons. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests [b]in the presence and under the supervision of Aaron their father.
5 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near and present them before Aaron the priest, so that they may serve him. 7 They shall carry out the duties for him and for the whole congregation before the Tent of Meeting, doing the service of the tabernacle. 8 They shall also take care of all the furnishings and utensils of the Tent of Meeting, and [attend to] the duties of the Israelites, doing the service of the tabernacle. 9 You shall give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons [as servants and helpers]; they are to be given wholly to him from among the Israelites. 10 So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall observe and attend to their priesthood; but the layman (non-Levite) who approaches [the holy things] shall be put to death.”
11 Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of and as a substitute for every firstborn, that is, the first that opens the womb among the Israelites. So the Levites shall be Mine, 13 for all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and animal. They shall be mine; I am the Lord.”
14 Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, saying, 15 “Number the sons of Levi by their fathers’ households, by their families (clans). You shall number every male from a month old and upward.” 16 So Moses numbered them just as he was commanded by the word (mouth) of the Lord. 17 These are the [three] sons of Levi by their names: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 18 These are the names of the [two] sons of Gershon by their families: Libni and Shimei; 19 and the [four] sons of Kohath by their families: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel; 20 and the [two] sons of Merari by their families: Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites by their fathers’ households.
21 Of Gershon were the families of the Libnites and of the Shimeites. These are the families of the Gershonites. 22 The males who were numbered, every male from a month old and upward totaled 7,500. 23 The families of the Gershonites were to camp behind the tabernacle on the west, 24 and the leader of the fathers’ households of the Gershonites was Eliasaph the son of Lael.
Duties of the Levites
25 Now the responsibilities of the sons of Gershon in the Tent of Meeting involved the tabernacle and the tent, its covering, and the curtain for the doorway of the Tent of Meeting, 26 and the hangings of the courtyard, the curtain for the doorway of the courtyard which is around the tabernacle and the altar, its tent ropes, and all the service [c]concerning them.
27 Of Kohath were the families of the Amramites, the Izharites, the Hebronites, and the Uzzielites; these are the families of the Kohathites. 28 The males who were numbered, every male from a month old and upward totaled [d]8,600, attending to the duties of the sanctuary. 29 The families of the sons of Kohath were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle, 30 and the leader of the fathers’ households of the families of the Kohathites was Elizaphan the son of Uzziel. 31 Now their responsibilities involved the ark, the table [on which the bread of the Presence was placed], the lampstand, the altars, the utensils of the sanctuary with which the priests minister, and the curtain, and all the service concerning them. 32 Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, was chief of the leaders of the Levites; he supervised those who performed the duties of the sanctuary.
33 Of Merari were the families of the Mahlites and the Mushites; these are the families of Merari. 34 The males who were numbered, every male from a month old and upward totaled 6,200. 35 The leader of the fathers’ households of the families of Merari was Zuriel the son of Abihail. The Merarites were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. 36 Now the appointed responsibilities of the sons of Merari involved the frames of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets or bases, and all the equipment, and all the service concerning them, 37 and the pillars around the courtyard with their bases and their pegs and their cords (tent ropes).
38 Now those to camp before the tabernacle toward the east, before the Tent of Meeting, toward the sunrise, were to be Moses, and Aaron and his sons, performing the duties of the sanctuary for whatever was required of the Israelites; and the [e]layman (non-Levite) who approached [the sanctuary] was to be put to death. 39 All the men of the Levites whom Moses and Aaron numbered at the [f]command of the Lord, by their families, every male from a month old and upward, were 22,000.
40 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Number every firstborn male of the Israelites from a month old and upward, and [g]make a list of their names. 41 You shall take the Levites for Me instead of and as a substitute for all the firstborn among the Israelites. I am the Lord; and you shall take the cattle of the Levites instead of and as a substitute for all the firstborn among the cattle of the Israelites.” 42 So Moses numbered all the firstborn among the Israelites, just as the Lord had commanded him; 43 and all the firstborn males from a month old and upward as numbered were 22,273 [273 more than the Levites].
44 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Take the Levites [for Me] instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. And the Levites shall be Mine. I am the Lord. 46 For the ransom (redemption price) of the 273 of the firstborn of the Israelites who outnumber the Levites, 47 you shall take five shekels apiece, per head, you shall take them in terms of the sanctuary shekel (the shekel is twenty gerahs), 48 and give the money, the ransom (redemption price) of those who outnumber the Levites to Aaron and to his sons.” 49 So Moses took the ransom (redemption) money from those who were in excess, beyond those ransomed by the Levites; 50 from the firstborn of the Israelites he took the money in terms of the sanctuary shekel, 1,365 shekels. 51 Then Moses gave the ransom money to Aaron and to his sons at the command of the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
- Numbers 3:3 Lit filled their hand.
- Numbers 3:4 Lit before the face.
- Numbers 3:26 Lit of it.
- Numbers 3:28 Some suspect that this count should be 8,300 which, when added to the 7,500 of v 22 and the 6,200 of v 34 gives the total of 22,000 in v 39. Unless the figure there was rounded, the number here may have been a copyist’s error (omitting just one letter between two that are the same in Hebrew).
- Numbers 3:38 This ban against “the layman” or “the unauthorized” from coming near the sanctuary (the sacred tent, the tabernacle proper) should not be construed as discrimination against people who were not Israelites. It included everyone except the ordained descendants of Levi of the house of Aaron. The tabernacle proper was made up of two small rooms which no one except the priest or priests who had the assignment was ever to enter. The congregation entered the outside enclosure (the courtyard) only. This was true also of the later temples. Neither Jesus nor any of his disciples or Paul ever entered the sanctuary. When Jesus “taught in the temple” or “entered into the temple,” the Greek word invariably indicates that He was in the temple enclosure (hieron) and not in the sanctuary (naos). A violation of this ban is recorded in 2 Chr 26:16-21. King Uzziah attempted to enter the sanctuary to burn incense. While he was being confronted and restrained by Azariah the priest and eighty others he broke out in leprosy. He remained a leper for the rest of his life.
- Numbers 3:39 Lit mouth.
- Numbers 3:40 Lit take the number of.