Separation of Tribe of Levites
God Instructs Moses About Levite Duties
In the book of Numbers the numbering began in verse 1 with all males 20 years or older to include all men of age to go to war. The total was 603,550 men. The Levites were not included in the first census as God instructs Moses about the Levite duties to minister to religious affairs, and they are later counted separately in chapter 3.
In Numbers beginning in verse 1:47 God gives instructions to Moses with general orders detailed in verse 50 as follows:
But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof; and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle. Numbers 1:50 (KJV)
Verse 51 states that the penalty is death for the stranger, meaning anyone who was not appointed to minister or carry the tabernacle, if they come nigh to the tabernacle. The tabernacle was the holy habitation or dwelling place of God who arose in a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to lead Israel through the wilderness. The priests were the ministers and only ones sanctified to approach this holy place.
This penalty is repeated in Numbers verse 3:10 stating “…and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.”, again in verse 3:38, and then in 18:7 for a total of 4 times in the book of Numbers.
In a previous study of Leviticus 10:2 we learn about Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, who were struck dead with fire from God for violating rules for priests. Looking ahead in 1 Chronicles 13:9, the tribes are on the move and arriving at Chidon when another person is struck dead. Uzza, a driver of the cart carrying the tabernacle, notices the oxen stumble and reaches out holding on to the ark and immediately dies.
God makes the rules, and for modern mankind the importance of Bible study and knowing God’s expectations is that learning from Scripture allows us to separate the traditions of man to know God’s will.
Positions of Tribes When Encamped
Returning to Numbers chapter 1, the last few verses document the position of each tribe by their standard, meaning flag or ensign, when camped. Verse 50 above states the Levites shall encamp round about the tabernacle. The position of the tents for all other tribes begins in chapter 2 stating “afar off” with tents pitched by tribe in groups by standard. Afar off in this sense meant away, yet within viewing distance of the tabernacle which was surrounded by the tents of the priests in the very center.
To the east of the tabernacle, from left to center to right, were the tribes of Issachar, Judah, and Zebulon. To the south, and again left, center, and right, were the tribes of Simeon, Reuben, and Gad. Facing west and left to right were the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Benjamin. Finally, to the north were Asher, Dan, and Naphtali.
The positions of the Levites in the center and around the tabernacle were likewise ordered by God. The families of Moses, Aaron, and the priests were to the east, the Kohathites to the south, the Gershonites to the west, and the Merarites to the north. Note that the key leaders of Moses, Aaron and the priests, plus the line of Judah from which Christ the Messiah would come, were all positioned to the east.
The New Testament sign of the birth of Christ was a star in the east that the wise men followed to Bethlehem. There is significance in Bible facts when considered in total, and numbers carefully studied allows students to mark time by comparing genealogies and historical records to establish timelines for the entire Bible.
Significance in Numbering of the Levites
When the children of Israel were still in bondage in Egypt, the first Passover and 10th plague with the death of all the first born of Egypt provided the freedom for Israel and the beginning of the exodus. At that time, God claimed the first born of man and beast as His, and now in Numbers He claims the tribe of Levi as a replacement instead of the previous claim for all first born.
The sons and descendants of Levi were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari and their families. Numbers chapter 3 gives an accounting of their census beginning in verse 21 with a counting of all males one month old and upward, and the total is 22,000 as stated in verse 3:39. In verse 40 God commands a similar count be taken of the first born males of the children of Israel, and not all males as in the first numbering, but just the first born. This total was 22,273 for a difference of 273.
To reconcile the difference, Numbers 3:46 and 47 document God’s instructions that the children of Israel were to compensate 5 shekels per person for the 273 that all may be redeemed in this exchange, so 1,365 shekels were given as a token to Aaron and his sons. Why 5 each? In the Bible, the number 5 signifies divine grace.