Duties of the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites
4 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things. When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles. And over the table of the bread of the Presence they shall spread a cloth of blue and put on it the plates, the dishes for incense, the bowls, and the flagons for the drink offering; the regular showbread also shall be on it. Then they shall spread over them a cloth of scarlet and cover the same with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. And they shall take a cloth of blue and cover the lampstand for the light, with its lamps, its tongs, its trays, and all the vessels for oil with which it is supplied. And they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of goatskin and put it on the carrying frame. And over the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue and cover it with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. And they shall take all the vessels of the service that are used in the sanctuary and put them in a cloth of blue and cover them with a covering of goatskin and put them on the carrying frame. And they shall take away the ashes from the altar and spread a purple cloth over it. And they shall put on it all the utensils of the altar, which are used for the service there, the fire pans, the forks, the shovels, and the basins, all the utensils of the altar; and they shall spread on it a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.
“And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels.”
The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.”
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ houses and by their clans. From thirty years old up to fifty years old, you shall list them, all who can come to do duty, to do service in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the clans of the Gershonites, in serving and bearing burdens: they shall carry the curtains of the tabernacle and the tent of meeting with its covering and the covering of goatskin that is on top of it and the screen for the entrance of the tent of meeting and the hangings of the court and the screen for the entrance of the gate of the court that is around the tabernacle and the altar, and their cords and all the equipment for their service. And they shall do all that needs to be done with regard to them. All the service of the sons of the Gershonites shall be at the command of Aaron and his sons, in all that they are to carry and in all that they have to do. And you shall assign to their charge all that they are to carry. This is the service of the clans of the sons of the Gershonites in the tent of meeting, and their guard duty is to be under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
“As for the sons of Merari, you shall list them by their clans and their fathers’ houses. From thirty years old up to fifty years old, you shall list them, everyone who can come on duty, to do the service of the tent of meeting. And this is what they are charged to carry, as the whole of their service in the tent of meeting: the frames of the tabernacle, with its bars, pillars, and bases, and the pillars around the court with their bases, pegs, and cords, with all their equipment and all their accessories. And you shall list by name the objects that they are required to carry. This is the service of the clans of the sons of Merari, the whole of their service in the tent of meeting, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.”
And Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of the congregation listed the sons of the Kohathites, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come on duty, for service in the tent of meeting; and those listed by clans were 2,750. This was the list of the clans of the Kohathites, all who served in the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron listed according to the commandment of the LORD by Moses.
Those listed of the sons of Gershon, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come on duty for service in the tent of meeting—those listed by their clans and their fathers’ houses were 2,630. This was the list of the clans of the sons of Gershon, all who served in the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron listed according to the commandment of the LORD.
Those listed of the clans of the sons of Merari, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come on duty, for service in the tent of meeting—those listed by clans were 3,200. This was the list of the clans of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron listed according to the commandment of the LORD by Moses.
All those who were listed of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of Israel listed, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come to do the service of ministry and the service of bearing burdens in the tent of meeting, those listed were 8,580. According to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying. Thus they were listed by him, as the LORD commanded Moses.
Numbers 4 Commentary
by Hank Workman
Volunteers. I can’t think of an organization that functions properly without them. We need those who are willing to become that ‘army’ of men and women to make things work. These are the ones where their presence and hands, wisdom and insight are necessary. They help things run smoothly and fill in the gaps. They are the ones who step to the plate and serve. These are the people who serve wherever they can. There cannot be enough thanks given to such who give of themselves so selflessly to the cause they believe in.
So, here’s what makes this chapter so interesting. On many levels, the list of names recorded had a job to do that was incredibly important work. However, unlike volunteering for these positions, under God’s direction Moses and Aaron assigned each tribe/man by name to help. This was by no means an easy task. They reckon that some of the precious metals used for the tabernacle would go above 19,000 pounds total. This important ‘cargo’ for the tabernacle sometimes would be trekked long distances.
You see, each of these persons had important roles to play, even if they were simply moving something. But also key is the fact that the rest of the ministry of the tabernacle was dependent on others doing that work.
Did you catch that? The ministry was dependent of others doing the work.
Hmm… why is it that most churches struggle to get volunteers and fill positions so their own ministries can go forward? Thrive? Develop and grow?
Paul pulled no bones about the Body of Christ functioning as a whole unit in 1 Corinthians 12. Using the human body as a comparison, each body part had a specific function necessary for the work to be done. Although the functioning parts of our bodies are different we need them. The same is true with the church. There is no body part more important than another.
Look, when one body part doesn’t pull it’s weight or function as it should, the entire body suffers.
Question – where are you giving of yourself? Question – where are you serving to make a difference for the ministry of the congregation you are part of? Question – where is that local congregation suffering possibly due to the fact you’re not giving of yourself?
Numbers 4 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
Numbers 1 dealt with numbering the tribes. Numbers 2 was all about the ordering of the camps. Numbers 3 introduced us to the duties of the priests and Levites. Now, in Numbers 4, it is time to dig deeper into those Levitical families. The Levites received their name from Levi and he had 3 sons as recorded in Genesis 46.
The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.Genesis 46:11 NASB
Through these sons came a number of families and God would begin assigning specific duties to each of them. They are listed in Genesis 46 in order from oldest to youngest. It was typical for the firstborn son to receive the greatest inheritance in the family, however, in this case, it would be Kohath who would take precedence over Gershon. I find this very interesting. In fact, we see this theme occur frequently in the Bible.
In Numbers 3, we studied the dedication of the firstborn son to the Lord and then the redemption of that son within 30 days. In addition to this, the birthright of the firstborn son included receiving a double portion of his father’s inheritance. But, as mentioned earlier, even though God gave the eldest son all of these privileges, He continually bypassed that honor and chose the younger or youngest son for some very critical duties.
God chose Abel over Cain. He chose Isaac over Ishmael. He allowed Jacob to take Esau’s birthright. He elevated Joseph and David above his brothers. We all remember the story of the prodigal where the carnal younger son was thrown a party when he arrived home to the jealousy of his older brother. And, on top of this, people forget that Aaron was 3 years older than Moses but God chose the latter to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
We also have Gideon, Solomon and Ephraim as well. They were all younger siblings of older brothers who were chosen by God. So the real question is… why?
Jews and Gentiles
I see a lot of parallels with the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were the “firstborn” nation chosen by God. They were given the “birthright” of a special inheritance, namely, direct blessings from God. As they grew up, they eventually rejected the plan that God had for them through Jesus Christ. Thus, the Gentiles (younger brother) were chosen to receive the fullness of God’s plan for Salvation.
Jesus continually spoke of the last being first in His Kingdom. The interesting fact to consider is that God had already been executing this principle throughout the Old Testament. We know that titles do not matter. Just because someone is younger does not mean God will choose them over the older. However, God despises the proud and it seems throughout Scripture that the “older siblings” continually wrestled with pride and entitlement.
Ultimately, this should bring us to a place of sincere gratitude for what God has allowed us to experience. It seems that in the history of God’s favor, He is most sensitive to those who are broken, humble, and teachable. He loves those who come with simple faith, knowing they do not deserve the incredible grace and mercy that’s freely offered. This should be the cry of our hearts. Lord, humble me to Your thoughts and Your ways. I submit to Your will!