Chapters 3 and 4 of Numbers concern the setting apart and organization of the Levites. They were selected to be the LORD’s possession, redeeming the firstborn of Israel. Each family was given the responsibility of taking care of various parts of the tabernacle and its furnishings.
The Levitical families were instructed to camp in a square immediately surrounding the tabernacle. This allowed them to serve as a buffer between God’s dwelling place and the rest of His people—the twelve tribes and their armies. This buffer served as both a protection of God’s holiness and a protection of the people from certain death if they tried to get too near to the tabernacle.
Numbers 3 can be outlined as follows:
- Verses 1 – 4 introduce the section of Numbers that concerns the appointment of the Levites to serve in the tabernacle and introduces their duties in that service. They also reaffirm that Aaron and his sons are priests before the LORD.
- The LORD now described the role of the Levites outside of Aaron’s line. They were to minister for the people outside the tabernacle, as well as maintain the components of the tabernacle itself and its furnishings.
- The LORD declared that the Levites were to be set apart to become His possession instead of the firstborn.
- The next set of instructions from the LORD involved numbering and placing the Levites.
- The families of Gershon are listed: their numbers, their placement in the camp, their appointed leader, and their duties in service to the priests and the tabernacle.
- The next group considered was the family of Kohath, Levi’s second son. Recorded here are their numbers, their placement in the camp, their appointed leader, and their duties in service to the priests and the tabernacle.
- The family of Merari, the thirdborn son of Levi, is numbered, placed, and given duties in service to the priests and the tabernacle.
- Moses and Aaron and his sons are to camp on the east side of the tabernacle. This is symbolic of Christ to come.
- The LORD declared that the Levites were to replace the firstborn as the LORD’s possession.