King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Numbers 3

The sons of Aaron, The Levites taken instead of the first-born. (1-13) The Levites numbered by their families, Their duties. (14-39) The first-born are numbered. (40-51)

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The sons of Aaron, The Levites taken instead of the first-born

1 These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the LORD spake with Moses in mount Sinai.

2 And these are the names of the sons of Aaron; Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.

3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest’s office.

4 And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children: and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest’s office in the sight of Aaron their father.

5 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

6 Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him.

7 And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle.

8 And they shall keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle.

9 And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel.

10 And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest’s office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

11 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

12 And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine;

13 Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the LORD.

The Levites numbered by their families, Their duties

14 And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying,

15 Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them.

16 And Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded.

17 And these were the sons of Levi by their names; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari.

18 And these are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families; Libni, and Shimei.

19 And the sons of Kohath by their families; Amram, and Izehar, Hebron, and Uzziel.

20 And the sons of Merari by their families; Mahli, and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites according to the house of their fathers.

21 Of Gershon was the family of the Libnites, and the family of the Shimites: these are the families of the Gershonites.

22 Those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, even those that were numbered of them were seven thousand and five hundred.

23 The families of the Gershonites shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward.

24 And the chief of the house of the father of the Gershonites shall be Eliasaph the son of Lael.

25 And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation shall be the tabernacle, and the tent, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,

26 And the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords of it for all the service thereof.

27 And of Kohath was the family of the Amramites, and the family of the Izeharites, and the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites: these are the families of the Kohathites.

28 In the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were eight thousand and six hundred, keeping the charge of the sanctuary.

29 The families of the sons of Kohath shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle southward.

30 And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.

31 And their charge shall be the ark, and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister, and the hanging, and all the service thereof.

32 And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be chief over the chief of the Levites, and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary.

33 Of Merari was the family of the Mahlites, and the family of the Mushites: these are the families of Merari.

34 And those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, were six thousand and two hundred.

35 And the chief of the house of the father of the families of Merari was Zuriel the son of Abihail: these shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle northward.

36 And under the custody and charge of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and the sockets thereof, and all the vessels thereof, and all that serveth thereto,

37 And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords.

38 But those that encamp before the tabernacle toward the east, even before the tabernacle of the congregation eastward, shall be Moses, and Aaron and his sons, keeping the charge of the sanctuary for the charge of the children of Israel; and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

39 All that were numbered of the Levites, which Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the LORD, throughout their families, all the males from a month old and upward, were twenty and two thousand.

The first-born are numbered

40 And the LORD said unto Moses, Number all the firstborn of the males of the children of Israel from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names.

41 And thou shalt take the Levites for me (I am the LORD) instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel; and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstlings among the cattle of the children of Israel.

42 And Moses numbered, as the LORD commanded him, all the firstborn among the children of Israel.

43 And all the firstborn males by the number of names, from a month old and upward, of those that were numbered of them, were twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen.

44 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

45 Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the LORD.

46 And for those that are to be redeemed of the two hundred and threescore and thirteen of the firstborn of the children of Israel, which are more than the Levites;

47 Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:)

48 And thou shalt give the money, wherewith the odd number of them is to be redeemed, unto Aaron and to his sons.

49 And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them that were redeemed by the Levites:

50 Of the firstborn of the children of Israel took he the money; a thousand three hundred and threescore and five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary:

51 And Moses gave the money of them that were redeemed unto Aaron and to his sons, according to the word of the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Generations; descendants of Aaron, whose names are specified; and of Moses, whose children are left unnoticed among the rest of the Levites, v. 27. This enhances the merit of the Jewish legislator, and shews his modesty and disinterestedness. H.

Ver. 4. Presence; or as it is expressed, (1 Par. xxiv. 9,) under the hand of Aaron, by his direction, and in quality of his assistant, (C.) while he lived. Eleazar succeeded him in the high priesthood; (Jos. xxiv. 33,) and his children possessed that dignity, till the posterity of Ithamar came in under Heli. C. xxv. 3. H.

Ver. 6. To him, and to the other priests, who had to perform the higher offices. The Levites did not approach near the altar, except when they had to carry it and the tabernacle. C.

Ver. 7. And. Heb. “They shall watch over him, and over all the congregation,” to assist the priests in their sacred office, and to take care that the people behave respectfully. H. — All were bound to prevent any sacrilegious abuse. M.

Ver. 10. To whom. Sam. and Sept. “to me.” They must serve God in the persons of his priests. They are called a gift, people bestowed, as the Nothnim, to serve in the meanest functions; and hence the Nathineans take their name. The Gabaonites were employed by Josue in this quality. Jos. ix. 23. — Over. Heb. “they shall retain,” &c. They shall permit no stranger to interfere. Cuneus (Rep ii. 11,) observes, that if a Levite undertook to do the office allotted to another, he was to be slain, after sentence had been passed by the judge. C.

Ver. 12. Mine. God claimed the first-born, on account of having spared them. Ex. xii. 23. He requires that all males shall be redeemed, except those of the tribe of Levi, whom he claims as his peculiar portion, as the price of the redemption of those who were living in Egypt, when the destroying angel passed by. This honour was wholly gratuitous, though the Levites deserved to obtain a confirmation of it by their zeal. Ex. xxxii. 29. Deut. xxxiii. 9. God seems to have revealed to Moses the destination of Aaron’s family, long before they were appointed to exercise the functions of the priesthood. Ex. xix. 22. 24. xxiv. 1. C.

Ver. 15. Month; at which time the first-born were to be redeemed. C. xviii. 16. M. — If only those of 20 years of age had been counted, they could not have amounted to nearly an equal number with the first-born of all the other tribes. C.

Ver. 17. Names. These had been long ago dead. M.

Ver. 22. Five hundred, expressed by the letter c, has, according to Kennicott been put for 200, which the Hebrews denote by a similar letter, r. See 2 K. xxiii. 8. and 1 Par. xi. 11, for other mistakes. H.

Ver. 26. Thereof. The Gersonites had the care of the veils around the court, and of the cords and gates. The priests guarded the tabernacle, v. 32. The sons of Caath carried the altars, (v. 31,) and the Merarites took care of the cords, which were attached to the pillars of the court, v. 37. Hebrew may be translated “(among the vessels of) the tabernacle, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the sanctuary, (or tabernacle of the congregation) and the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is beside the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords belonging to the service of the tabernacle.” C. — Whatsoever, in the Vulg. must only be referred to the curtains.

Ver. 28. Sanctuary, with respect to the things mentioned, v. 31. M. — The Samaritan copy observes, that they also carried the brazen laver, as we find they did, C. iv. 14. All these things were folded up in the violet curtains of the sanctuary, while the ark was covered with the veil which hung before it. C. iv. 5. Some pretend that the number here specified ought to be 830, to obviate a difficulty, v. 39. But this amendment has no solid foundation. C.

Ver. 32. Eleazar had authority over the Levites, as his father had over the priests also. Thus we find princes of the priests, different from the sovereign pontiff. Matt. ii. 4. xvi. 21. Lu. iii. 2. Eleazar had also a particular charge of the Caathites, (C. iv. 16,) and was to take care that they handled the sacred vessels with due respect. C.

Ver. 38. Sons, the children of Aaron. Those of Moses were among the Levites. 1 Par. xxiii. 13. They did not remain with their father. — In the, &c. Heb. “to guard the,” &c. in order to supply for the rest of the Israelites, v. 9. S. Aug. q. 4.

Ver. 39. And Aaron; a word omitted in the Sam. and Syriac, and in the oldest Heb. MS. and marked in the printed copies as dubious. Kennicott. — Thousand. If we collect the different sums, we shall find other 300; so that the Levites would be 27 more than the first-born of the other tribes, though Moses says (ver. 43-6,) that they were fewer by 273. Some say that the 28th verse has been corrupted, (C.) or the 22nd, where we read 500 instead of 200. H. — Others observe, that in the 22,000, the first-born of the Levites and the priests of Aaron’s family are not included, and these might amount to 300 men. Lyran. — But Bonfrere rightly observes that this number is too small, as only one is allowed for 74 people. He thinks that the first-born, who were heads of families, are omitted, and those also who were born before the angel destroyed the Egyptians. On this supposition, however, 22,000 will appear too great a number to be produced by the Levites in the space of a year, when some were too young, and others too old, to have children, and others had children already before that event. We may, therefore, either admit the solution of Lyranus, or confess that some fault has crept into the number, though this must be very difficult, since Moses argues in the sequel on the supposition of its certainty. C. — S. Jerom hence infers, that these numbers are full of mystery; Origen (hom. 4,) says, that the exact number, 22,000, may signify the perfection which God requires from those whom the takes into his service, as there are just 22 Hebrew letters, and 22 patriarchs, from Adam to Jacob, the father of the Israelites. W. — The 22,000 might be accepted by God, instead of so many Israelites; and the 300 other Levites might be due to him on their own account, being the first-born since the Hebrews left Egypt. T. D.

Ver. 41. Cattle. These were kept by the Levites, and were not intended for sacrifice. M.

Ver. 46. Levites, omitting the 300, as v. 39. For each of these 273, five sicles were to be paid, the price of the redemption of a child who had been vowed. Lev. xxvii. 6. The money was to be paid either by those who were counted last, or by a tax laid upon all the people, or it was determined by lot who should pay it. The Scripture is silent on this head. C.