Chapter 3


Aaron’s Sons and the Levites

    • The following are the family records of Aaron and Moses at the time that the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai:

      • The names of Aaron’s sons from oldest to youngest were: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. They were anointed and ordained as priests, but Nadab and Abihu died when they presented unauthorized fire before the Lord while they were still in the Wilderness of Sinai. They had no sons, so this left Eleazar and Ithamar to serve as priests with their father Aaron.”

      • The Lord told Moses to bring the tribe of Levi forward and present them to Aaron as his assistants. The Levites would serve Aaron and the Israelite community by performing sacred duties in and around the Tabernacle for the priest and for the Israelite community and maintaining the furnishings in the tent. Aaron and his sons were to perform the duties of the priesthood and any unauthorized person who went too close to the sanctuary had to be killed.

        • Guzik writes, “It is important to realize that the priests were only one small family among the Levites; to be a priest and a Levite were not the same thing at all. Only those who were descendants of Aaron could be priests…If a Levite grew jealous, and decided they wanted to do the work of a priest, it was strictly forbidden – it was an affront to God’s order and organization.”

      • The Lord told Moses, “I have chosen the Levites from out of all the Israelites to be substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. They belong to Me because all firstborn belong to Me. On the same day that I struck down the firstborn sons of Egypt, I set apart the firstborn sons of Israel for Myself- both people and animals. I am the Lord.”

        • Guzik notes, “The firstborn belonged to God; a firstborn lamb from a ewe would be given to the Lord. God didn’t want human sacrifice, so He took the tribe of Levi as Israel’s firstborn.”

The Levitical Census

    • While they were still in the Wilderness of Sinai, the Lord told Moses to register the Levites according to their families and clans- every male one month old and above was to be counted. Moses obeyed.

      • Levi’s sons were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Gershon’s sons were Libni and Shimei. Kohath’s sons were Amram, Izhar, and Hebron. Merari’s sons were Mahli and Mushi.

      • The total descendants of Gershon (the Libnite and the Shimeite clans) were 7,500. They were to camp on the west side of the Tabernacle and their leader was Eliasaph (Lael’s son.) The Gershonites were responsible for taking care of the tent, its covering, the curtain for the entrance to the Tabernacle, the hangings in the courtyard, the curtain for the courtyard entrance, the tent ropes, and all things related to their use.

        • The total descendants of Kohath (the Amramite clan, Izharite clan, Hebronite clan, and Uzzielite clan) were 8,600. They were to camp on the south side of the Tabernacle and their leader was Elizaphan (Uzziel’s son). The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the ark, the table, the lampstand, altars, sanctuary utensils, the inner curtain, and all things related to their use. The chief of the Levite leaders was Aaron’s son, Eleazar, and he was responsible for the oversight of the sanctuary responsibilities.

        • Note, the Septuagint (LXX) says the total Kohathites were 8,300. The NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The ‘six’ (Hebrew shsh) in 8,600 could result from a misreading of ‘three’ (Hebrew shlsh).”

      • The total descendants of Merari (the Mahlite and Mushite clans) were 6,200. They were to camp on the north side of the Tabernacle and their leader was Zuriel (Abihail’s son). The Meratite clans were responsible for the Tabernacle’s supports, crossbars, posts, bases, and all equipment related to these things.

      • Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons were to camp on the east side of the Tabernacle (in the front) and they performed the duties of the sanctuary on behalf of the people of Israel. Any unauthorized person who came too close to the sanctuary was to be killed.

      • The total number of all Levite males aged one month or older that Moses and Aaron registered by their clans was 22,000.

            • Note that the totals given for each of Levi’s sons (vv 22, 28, and 34) do not add up to the 22,000 figure given as the total for all in verse 39. Instead, the total is 22,300. This is likely due to the manuscript discrepancy noted in verse 28. The Septuagint, therefore, likely has the correct number of Kohathites at 8,300 rather than 8,600.

Redemption of the Firstborn

    • The Lord told Moses to register every firstborn male Israelite age one month old and above and list their names. The Levites were to be set apart as substitutes for the first born sons of Israel (this included the Levites’ livestock as well.)

    • Moses counted as he had been commanded and the total firstborn sons of Israel age one month and older totaled 22,273. The Lord then told Moses to substitute the Levites’ firstborn for the firstborn of all the Israelites (and their livestock). “The Levites belong to Me, I am the Lord.”

    • Since there were 273 more firstborn Israelites than Levites, a redemption price of 5 shekels for each additional person had to be paid to Aaron. Moses collected the money (1,365 shekels) and gave it to Aaron as the Lord had commanded.

      • Some note that the figure of 22,273 firstborn males for a population total of 603,550 is extremely low. This would mean that only 1 in every 27 sons born was a firstborn, which would mean that the average Israelite female would have to have 27 male children! This is not realistic. However, part E of this article clears up the issue:

      • The solution is really quite simple: The vast majority of the firstborn had already been redeemed with the Passover lamb blood that had been wiped on the doors as part of the 10th plague (Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 29). It is important to remember that if an Israelite failed to put blood on the door, only the first born would die, not everyone in the house. The firstborn in Egypt had already been redeemed when they stood at the foot of Sinai. This brings us to our text in Numbers 3:40-51. The firstborn who were born after the 10th plague and leaving Egypt were 22,273. The time it took to travel to Sinai was 45 days. They spent 11 months, 5 days at Sinai. We are told that the total time from leaving Egypt to the time the census was taken was 13 months (Numbers 1:1). The census of the first born excluded infants less than a month, so in 12 months 22,273 first born children were born.”