King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Numbers 4

The Levites’ service. (1-3) The duties of the Kohathites. (4-20) The duties of the Gershonites and Merarites. (21-33) The numbers of the serviceable Levites. (34-49)

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The Levites’ service

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

2 Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, after their families, by the house of their fathers,

3 From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.

The duties of the Kohathites

4 This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things:

5 And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it:

6 And shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.

7 And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon:

8 And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof.

9 And they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick of the light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuffdishes, and all the oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it:

10 And they shall put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put it upon a bar.

11 And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put to the staves thereof:

12 And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put them on a bar:

13 And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon:

14 And they shall put upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even the censers, the fleshhooks, and the shovels, and the basons, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of badgers’ skins, and put to the staves of it.

15 And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation.

16 And to the office of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the daily meat offering, and the anointing oil, and the oversight of all the tabernacle, and of all that therein is, in the sanctuary, and in the vessels thereof.

17 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron saying,

18 Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites:

19 But thus do unto them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach unto the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden:

20 But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die.

The duties of the Gershonites and Merarites

21 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

22 Take also the sum of the sons of Gershon, throughout the houses of their fathers, by their families;

23 From thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them; all that enter in to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.

24 This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for burdens:

25 And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the badgers’ skins that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,

26 And the hangings of the court, and the hanging for the door of the gate of the court, which is by the tabernacle and by the altar round about, and their cords, and all the instruments of their service, and all that is made for them: so shall they serve.

27 At the appointment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burdens, and in all their service: and ye shall appoint unto them in charge all their burdens.

28 This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation: and their charge shall be under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

29 As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them after their families, by the house of their fathers;

30 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth into the service, to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation.

31 And this is the charge of their burden, according to all their service in the tabernacle of the congregation; the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and sockets thereof,

32 And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords, with all their instruments, and with all their service: and by name ye shall reckon the instruments of the charge of their burden.

33 This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service, in the tabernacle of the congregation, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

The numbers of the serviceable Levites

34 And Moses and Aaron and the chief of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites after their families, and after the house of their fathers,

35 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation:

36 And those that were numbered of them by their families were two thousand seven hundred and fifty.

37 These were they that were numbered of the families of the Kohathites, all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, which Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.

38 And those that were numbered of the sons of Gershon, throughout their families, and by the house of their fathers,

39 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,

40 Even those that were numbered of them, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers, were two thousand and six hundred and thirty.

41 These are they that were numbered of the families of the sons of Gershon, of all that might do service in the tabernacle of the congregation, whom Moses and Aaron did number according to the commandment of the LORD.

42 And those that were numbered of the families of the sons of Merari, throughout their families, by the house of their fathers,

43 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,

44 Even those that were numbered of them after their families, were three thousand and two hundred.

45 These be those that 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.

46 All those that were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chief of Israel numbered, after their families, and after the house of their fathers,

47 From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation.

48 Even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore,

49 According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 3. Thirty. Moses speaks of those who had to carry the sacred vessels. Those of 25 years old might perform some offices; (C. viii. 24,) and even at 20, they began to serve the tabernacle, in the reign of David, (1 Par. xxiii. 24,) the fatigue being then diminished, and the splendour of religion increasing. The Sept. read 25 instead of 30, in this and all other places, and some think that the Hebrew should be so too. The time for the admission of priests to their more august functions is not specified, but was determined by themselves to be at least 20 years of age. Outram, Sacrif. i. 7. — To stand. This was the ordinary posture of the priests in the temple. The king alone was allowed to sit. Maimonides. — Heb. “all that enter into the host, or army, to do the work in the tabernacle of the assembly,” shall be of a competent age and strength. H.

Ver. 5. Sons. Necessity excused them on this occasion. Out of respect for the ark, the Levites were not allowed to behold or touch it uncovered. C. — That hangeth before the door. Heb. “the covering veil, and shall,” &c. H.

Ver. 6. Put in the bars. Heb. “place the bars,” upon the shoulders of the Levites; for they were never taken out of the sides of the ark. Ex. xxv. 15. Other bars, like hand-barrows, were used to carry the ark and the other different vessels, after they were folded up. Two Levites bore them on their shoulders. C. — Perhaps the bars of the ark, after it was enveloped with the three curtains, might project, so that the bearers might take hold of them. M.

Ver. 7. Loaves. Some imagine this precept was not observed in the desert, as the people fed on manna. But might not they procure some flour of the neighbouring nations? and do not the princes offer flour. C. vii.? See Deut. xii. 7. C.

Ver. 10. The bars, which were not attached to it. Ex. xxv. 37. Heb. and Sept. “They shall place it upon the bars.” Mot, signifies a stick, upon which two people may carry burdens. C. xiii. 24. It might be put through the foldings, v. 12.

Ver. 13. Ashes, which might be upon the grate of the altar, where the sacred fire had been burning. This shews that the precept was already observed. The Sept. do not mention the ashes. But some copies, with Origen, (hom. iv.) and the Samar. Pentateuch, insert some words at the end of v. 14, which Grotius believes have been omitted by the Massorets, in the present Hebrew Bibles. “They shall take a purple veil, and fold up the laver and its foot, and put them in a covering of violet skins, and place them upon the bars.” C. — The children of Caath were the most honoured among the Levites, as Moses and Aaron sprung from the same family, Eleazar, the future pontiff, presided over them in a particular manner, while his younger brother Ithamar, directed the rest. H.

Ver. 15. Vessels of, &c. Some say, not even their coverings. God threatens to punish all idle curiosity or negligence, particularly with respect to the ark, which the Caathites had to carry, till the priests became sufficiently numerous to perform that office, as they generally did. Deut. xxxi. 9. C.

Ver. 16. Over them. The sons of Caath, to whose care the more sacred things were entrusted; or Heb. “over the oil,” &c. — Sacrifice of flour, wine, &c. These always accompanied the morning and evening holocaust. It hence appears that this law was already in force, and probably all such precepts were observed as were not incompatible with the wandering state of the Hebrews. C.

Ver. 20. Curiosity. Sept. “suddenly.” Let them not rush in before all the vessels be properly covered. The priests folded them up with all haste, that they might see them as little as possible themselves. C.

Ver. 23. Thirty. Sept. “25,” as v. 3. C. — They began to be taught how to act, at 25; but did not officiate till 30. D.

Ver. 26. All things. Heb. “veils round the altar” of holocausts in the court. C.

Ver. 27. Assigned. Heb. “you shall count over to them what they have to carry.” Sept. “you shall call (the Levites) by name, and all that shall be intrusted to them,” v. 32. C. — From the different offices of the priests and Levites in the old law, Innocent III. takes occasion to shew the distinction of the orders in the Christian Church. De S. Altar. 2. ad 7.