The Sons of Aaron
1#sn For significant literature for this chapter, see M. Aberbach and L. Smolar, “Aaron, Jeroboam, and their Golden Calves,” JBL 86 (1967): 129-40; G. Brin, “The First-born in Israel in the Biblical Period” (Ph.D. diss., University of Tel Aviv, 1971); S. H. Hooke, “Theory and Practice of Substitution,” VT 2 (1952): 2-17; and J. Morgenstern, “A Chapter in the History of the High Priesthood,” AJSL 55 (1938): 1-24. Now these are the records#tn The construction is וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת (vÿ’elleh tolÿdot), which was traditionally translated “now these are the generations,” much as it was translated throughout the book of Genesis. The noun can refer to records, stories, genealogies, names, and accounts of people. Here it is the recorded genealogical list with assigned posts included. Like Genesis, it is a heading of a section, and not a colophon as some have suggested. It is here similar to Exodus: “these are the names of.” R. K. Harrison, Numbers (WEC), 62, insists that it is a colophon and should end chapter 2, but if that is followed in the Pentateuch, it creates difficulty throughout the narratives. See the discussion by A. P. Ross, Creation and Blessing, 69-74. of Aaron and Moses when#tn The expression in the Hebrew text (“in the day of”) is idiomatic for “when.” the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. 2 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 anointed#tn The verb מָשַׁח (mashakh) means “to anoint”; here the form modifies the “priests.” The service of consecration was carried out with anointing oil (Exod 30:30). The verb is used for the anointing of kings as well as priests in the OT, and so out of that derived the technical title “Messiah” for the coming ideal king – the “Anointed One.” priests, whom he consecrated#tn In this verse the expression is in a relative clause: “who he filled their hand” means “whose hands he filled,” or “whom he consecrated.” The idiomatic expression used here is from Lev 8; it literally is “he filled their hand” (מִלֵּא יָדָם, mille’ yadam). In the ordination service Moses placed some of the meat from the sacrifice in the hand of the ordinand, and this signified what he was going to be about – having his hand full, or being consecrated to the priesthood. There is some evidence that this practice or expression was also known in Mesopotamia. In modern ordination services a NT or a Bible may be placed in the ordinand’s hand – it is what the ministry will be about. to minister as priests.#tn The form is an infinitival construction for the word for the priest, showing the purpose for the filling of the hands.
4 Nadab and Abihu died#tn The verb form is the preterite with vav (ו) consecutive, literally “and Nadab died.” Some commentators wish to make the verb a past perfect, rendering it “and Nadab had died,” but this is not necessary. In tracing through the line from Aaron it simply reports that the first two sons died. The reference is to the event recorded in Lev 10 where the sons brought “strange” or foreign” fire to the sanctuary. before the Lord#tc This initial clause is omitted in one Hebrew ms, Smr, and the Vulgate. when they offered#tn The form בְּהַקְרִבָם (bÿhaqrivam) is the Hiphil infinitive construct functioning as a temporal clause: “when they brought near,” meaning, “when they offered.” The verb קָרַב (qarav) is familiar to students of the NT because of “corban” in Mark 7:11. strange#tn Or “prohibited.” See HALOT 279 s.v. זָר 3. fire#tn The expression אֵשׁ זָרָה (’esh zarah, “strange fire”) seems imprecise and has been interpreted numerous ways (see the helpful summary in J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC 4], 132-33). The infraction may have involved any of the following or a combination thereof: (1) using coals from some place other than the burnt offering altar (i.e., “unauthorized coals” according to J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:598; cf. Lev 16:12 and cf. “unauthorized person” [אִישׁ זָר, ’ish zar] in Num 16:40 [17:5 HT], NASB “layman”), (2) using the wrong kind of incense (cf. the Exod 30:9 regulation against “strange incense” [קְטֹרֶת זָרָה, qÿtoret zarah] on the incense altar and the possible connection to Exod 30:34-38), (3) performing an incense offering at an unprescribed time (B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 59), or (4) entering the Holy of Holies at an inappropriate time (Lev 16:1-2).sn This event is narrated in Lev 10:1-7. before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children.#sn The two young priests had been cut down before they had children; the ranks of the family of Aaron were thereby cut in half in one judgment from God. The significance of the act of judgment was to show that the priests had to sanctify the Lord before the people – they were to be examples that the sanctuary and its contents were distinct. So Eleazar and Ithamar ministered as priests#tn The verb is the Piel preterite from the root כָּהַן (kahan): “to function as a priest” or “to minister.” in the presence of#tn The expression “in the presence of” can also mean “during the lifetime of” (see Gen 11:28; see also BDB 818 s.v. פָּנֶה II.7.a; cf. NASB, NIV, NCV, NRSV, TEV). Aaron their father.
The Assignment of the Levites
5 The Lord spoke to Moses: 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near,#sn The use of the verb קָרַב (qarav) forms an interesting wordplay in the passage. The act of making an offering is described by this verb, as was the reference to the priests’ offering of strange fire. Now the ceremonial presentation of the priests is expressed by the same word – they are being offered to God. and present#tn The verb literally means “make it [the tribe] stand” (וְהַעֲמַדְתָּ אֹתוֹ, vÿha’amadta ’oto). The verb is the Hiphil perfect with a vav (ו) consecutive; it will take the same imperative nuance as the form before it, but follow in sequence (“and then”). This refers to the ceremonial presentation in which the tribe would take its place before Aaron, that is, stand before him and await their assignments. The Levites will function more like a sacred guard than anything else, for they had to protect and care for the sanctuary when it was erected and when it was transported (see J. Milgrom, Studies in Levitical Terminology, 8-10). them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him.#tn The verb וְשֵׁרְתוּ (vÿsherÿtu) is the Piel perfect with a vav (ו) consecutive; it carries the same volitional force as the preceding verb forms, but may here be subordinated in the sequence to express the purpose or result of the preceding action. 7 They are responsible for his needs#tn The Hebrew text uses the perfect tense of שָׁמַר(shamar) with a vav (ו) consecutive to continue the instruction of the preceding verse. It may be translated “and they shall keep” or “they must/are to keep,” but in this context it refers to their appointed duties. The verb is followed by its cognate accusative – “they are to keep his keeping,” or as it is often translated, “his charge.” This would mean whatever Aaron needed them to do. But the noun is also used for the people in the next phrase, and so “charge” cannot be the meaning here. The verse is explaining that the Levites will have duties to perform to meet the needs of Aaron and the congregation. and the needs of the whole community before the tent of meeting, by attending#tn The form is the Qal infinitive construct from עָבַד (’avad, “to serve, to work”); it is taken here as a verbal noun and means “by (or in) serving” (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 36, §195). This explains the verb “keep [his charge].” Here too the form is followed by a cognate accusative; they will be there to “serve the service” or “work the work.” to the service of the tabernacle. 8 And they are responsible for all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and for the needs of the Israelites, as they serve#tn The construction uses the infinitive construct (epexegetically) followed by its cognate accusative. It would convey “to serve the service of the tabernacle,” but more simply it may be rendered as “serving.” Their spiritual and practical service is to serve.sn The Levites had the duty of taking care of all the tabernacle and its furnishings, especially in times when it was to be moved. But they were also appointed to be gate-keepers (2 Kgs 22:4; 1 Chr 9:19) in order to safeguard the purity of the place and the activities that went on there. Their offices seem to have then become hereditary in time (1 Sam 1:3); they even took on more priestly functions, such as pronouncing the benediction (Deut 10:8). See further R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 348-49. in the tabernacle. 9 You are to assign#tn The verb וְנָתַתָּה (vÿnatattah) is normally “give.” Here, though, the context refers to the assignment of the Levites to the priests for their duties. The form is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive, continuing the sequence for the imperfect of instruction. the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they will be assigned exclusively#tn This emphasis is derived from the simple repetition of the passive participle, נְתוּנִם נְתוּנִם (nÿtunim nÿtunim). See GKC 396 §123.e. The forms serve as the predicate with the subject pronoun. to him out of all#tn The Hebrew text simply has the preposition, “from the Israelites.” the Israelites. 10 So you are to appoint Aaron and his sons, and they will be responsible for their priesthood;#tc The LXX includes the following words here: “and all things pertaining to the altar and within the veil.” Cf. Num 18:7. but the unauthorized person#tn The word is זָר (zar), usually rendered “stranger, foreigner, pagan.” But in this context it simply refers to anyone who is not a Levite or a priest, an unauthorized person or intruder in the tabernacle. That person would be put to death. who comes near must be put to death.”
11 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 12 “Look,#tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) here carries its deictic force, calling attention to the fact that is being declared. It is underscoring the fact that the Lord himself chose Levi. I myself have taken the Levites from among the Israelites instead of#tn Literally “in the place of.” every firstborn who opens the womb among the Israelites. So the Levites belong to me, 13 because all the firstborn are mine. When I destroyed#tn The form הַכֹּתִי (hakkoti) is the Hiphil infinitive construct of the verb נָכָה (nakhah, “to strike, smite, attack”). Here, after the idiomatic “in the day of,” the form functions in an adverbial clause of time – “when I destroyed.” all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They belong to me. I am the Lord.”#sn In the Exodus event of the Passover night the principle of substitution was presented. The firstborn child was redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and so belonged to God, but then God chose the Levites to serve in the place of the firstborn. The ritual of consecrating the firstborn son to the Lord was nevertheless carried out, even with Jesus, the firstborn son of Mary (Luke 2:22-23).
The Numbering of the Levites
14 Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai: 15 “Number the Levites by their clans#tn Heb “the house of their fathers.” So also in v. 20. and their families; every male from a month old and upward you are to number.”#tn Heb “you are to/shall number them.” 16 So Moses numbered them according to the word#tn Heb “at the mouth of the Lord.” of the Lord, just as he had been commanded.#tn The Pual perfect may be given the past perfect translation in this sentence because the act of commanding preceded the act of numbering.
The Summary of Families
17 These were the sons#tn The word “sons of” does at the outset refer to the sons of Levi. But as the listing continues the expression refers more to the family groups of the various descendants. of Levi by their names: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
18 These are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families: Libni and Shimei. 19 The sons of Kohath by their families were: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 20 The sons of Merari by their families were Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites by their clans.
The Numbering of the Gershonites
21 From Gershon came the family of the Libnites and the family of the Shimeites; these were the families of the Gershonites. 22 Those of them who were numbered, counting every male from a month old and upward, were 7,500. 23 The families of the Gershonites were to camp behind the tabernacle toward the west. 24 Now the leader#tn The vav (ו) disjunctive on the noun at the beginning of the verse here signals a greater emphasis on the individual rather than another item in the numbering of the clans. of the clan#tn Heb “a father’s house.” So also in vv. 30,35. of the Gershonites was Eliasaph son of Lael.
25 And#tn The disjunctive vav (ו) here introduces a new section, listing the various duties of the clan in the sanctuary. The Gershonites had a long tradition of service here. In the days of David Asaph and his family were prominent as musicians. Others in the clan controlled the Temple treasuries. But in the wilderness they had specific oversight concerning the tent structure, which included the holy place and the holy of holies. the responsibilities of the Gershonites in the tent of meeting included the tabernacle, the tent with its covering, the curtain at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 26 the hangings of the courtyard,#tc The phrases in this verse seem to be direct objects without verbs. BHS suggests deleting the sign of the accusative (for which see P. P. Saydon, “Meanings and Uses of the Particle אֵת,” VT 14 : 263-75). the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard that surrounded the tabernacle and the altar, and their ropes, plus all the service connected with these things.#tn Heb “for all the service of it [them].”
The Numbering of the Kohathites
27 From Kohath came the family of the Amramites, the family of the Izharites, the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites; these were the families of the Kohathites.#sn Both Moses and Aaron came from this line (6:16-20). During the Hebrew monarchy this branch of the line of Levi was exemplary in music (1 Chr 6:33-48). They were also helpful to Hezekiah in his reforms (1 Chr 29:12-14). 28 Counting every male from a month old and upward, there were 8,600. They were responsible for the care#tn The construction here is a little different. The Hebrew text uses the participle in construct plural: שֹׁמְרֵי (shomÿrey, literally “keepers of”). The form specifies the duties of the 8,600 Kohathites. The genitive that follows this participle is the cognate מִשְׁמֶרֶת (mishmeret) that has been used before. So the expression indicates that they were responsible for the care of this part of the cult center. There is no reason to delete one of the forms (as does J. A. Paterson, Numbers, 42), for the repetition stresses the central importance of their work. of the sanctuary. 29 The families of the Kohathites were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. 30 Now the leader of the clan of the families of the Kohathites was Elizaphan son of Uzziel.
31 Their responsibilities included the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the utensils of the sanctuary with which they ministered,#tn The verb is יְשָׁרְתוּ (yÿsharÿtu, “they will serve/minister”). The imperfect tense in this place, however, probably describes what the priests would do, what they used to do. The verb is in a relative clause: “which they would serve with them,” which should be changed to read “with which they would serve.” the curtain, and all their service.#tn The word is literally “its [their] service.” It describes all the implements that were there for the maintenance of these things. 32 Now the head of all the Levitical leaders#tn The Hebrew construction has “the leader of the leaders of” (וּנְשִׂיא נְשִׂיאֵי, unÿsi’ nÿsi’ey). was Eleazar son of Aaron the priest. He was appointed over those who were responsible#tn Heb “the keepers of the responsibility” (שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁמֶרֶת, shomÿrey mishmeret). The participle is a genitive specifying the duty to which he was appointed (thing possessed); its cognate genitive emphasizes that their responsibility was over the holy place. for the sanctuary.
The Numbering of Merari
33 From Merari came the family of the Mahlites and the family of the Mushites; these were#tn The Hebrew text has “these they the families of Merari.” The independent personal pronoun has an anaphoric use, somewhat equivalent to the copula “and” (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 23, §115). the families of Merari. 34 Those of them who were numbered, counting every male from a month old and upward, were 6,200. 35 Now the leader of the clan of the families of Merari was Zuriel son of Abihail. These were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle.
36 The appointed responsibilities of the Merarites included the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, its posts, its sockets, its utensils, plus all the service connected with these things,#tn Heb “and all their service.” This could possibly be a hendiadys: “and all their working tools.” However, the parallel with v. 26 suggests this is a separate phrase. 37 and the pillars of the courtyard all around, with their sockets, their pegs, and their ropes.
38 But those who were to camp in front of the tabernacle on the east, in front of the tent of meeting, were Moses, Aaron,#tc In some Hebrew mss and Smr “and Aaron” is not in the verse. The omission arose probably by scribal error with such repetitious material that could easily give rise to variant traditions. and his sons. They were responsible for the needs#tn Here again the verb and its cognate noun are used: keeping the keep, or keeping charge over, or taking responsibility for the care of, or the like. of the sanctuary and for the needs of the Israelites, but the unauthorized person who approached was to be put to death. 39 All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered by the word#tn Here again the Hebrew has “at the mouth of,” meaning in accordance with what the Lord said. So also in v. 51. of the Lord, according to their families, every male from a month old and upward, were 22,000.#tn The total is a rounded off number; it does not duplicate the precise total of 22,300. Some modern scholars try to explain it by positing an error in v. 28, suggesting that “six” should be read as “three” (שֵׁשׁ [shesh] as שָׁלֹשׁ [shalosh]).
The Substitution for the Firstborn
40 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Number all the firstborn males of the Israelites from a month old and upward, and take#tn The verb נָשָׂא (nasa’, “take”) has here the sense of collect, take a census, or register the names. the number of their names. 41 And take#tn The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it carries forward the instructions from the preceding verse. The verb “take” now has the sense of appointing or designating the Levites. the Levites for me – I am the Lord – instead of all the firstborn males among the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites instead of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites.” 42 So Moses numbered all the firstborn males among the Israelites, as the Lord had commanded him. 43 And all the firstborn males, by the number of the names from a month old and upward, totaled 22,273.
44 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 45 “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn males among the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock. And the Levites will be mine. I am the Lord. 46 And for the redemption of the 273 firstborn males of the Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, 47 collect#tn The verb again is the perfect tense in sequence; the meaning of “take” may be interpreted here with the sense of “collect.” five shekels for each#tn The idea is expressed simply by repetition: “take five, five, shekels according to the skull.” They were to collect five shekels for each individual. one individually; you are to collect#tn The verb form now is the imperfect of instruction or legislation. this amount#tn Heb “them,” referring to the five shekels. in the currency of the sanctuary shekel (this shekel is twenty gerahs).#sn The sanctuary shekel was first mentioned in Exod 30:13. The half-shekel of Exod 38:26 would then be 10 gerahs. Consequently, the calculations would indicate that five shekels was about two ounces of silver for each person. See R. B. Y. Scott, “Weights and Measures of the Bible,” BA 22 (1951): 22-40, and “The Scale-Weights from Ophel, 1963-1964,” PEQ 97 (1965): 128-39. 48 And give the money for the redemption of the excess number of them to Aaron and his sons.”
49 So Moses took the redemption money#sn The word used is “silver.” Coins were not in existence until after 700 b.c. (starting with Lydia). from those who were in excess of those redeemed by the Levites. 50 From the firstborn males of the Israelites he collected the money, 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. 51 Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses.