Numbers 3:21-26

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Numbers 3:21
  • Numbers 3:22
  • Numbers 3:23
  • Numbers 3:24
  • Numbers 3:25
  • Numbers 3:26

The book of Numbers is the fourth of the five books of Moses that comprise the Torah, which means “Law.” It gets its English name from the Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint (or LXX). The LXX named this book, “Arithmoi,” meaning “Numbers.” Its Hebrew name means “in the desert” or “in the wilderness.” Both names are appropriate. The Hebrew name is appropriate because Numbers covers the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness (or “desert”) from Sinai to the plains of Moab. The Greek name is also appropriate because of the many lists, and the numbers within those lists.

At the beginning of the book, the Israelites had been camped at Mount Sinai for about a year. The book of Exodus covered their escape from Egypt and their journey to Sinai. The LORD commanded Moses to organize the people in preparation to leave Sinai and go to the Promised Land. The book covers around 38 years of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, and describes many of Israel’s failures, including mutinies against Moses and outright disobedience to the word of the LORD. In Numbers, the LORD declares that the generation that left Egypt would die in the wilderness due to their disobedience. Only two, Joshua and Caleb, were allowed to enter the Promised Land, due to their faithfulness. Even Moses died without entering the Land due to disobedience.

The book of Numbers can be outlined in many ways. The most general outline involves the generation that leaves Egypt and the one after it, as seen below:
• Events Involving the Exodus Generation (Num. 1 – 25)
• Events Involving the Second Generation (Num. 26 – 36)

Another outline sees the book having three major divisions based on the major encampments of the Israelites:
• Israel at Sinai (Num. 1:1 – 10:10)
• Israel at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 10:11 – 19:22)
• Israel on the Plains of Moab (Num. 20:1 – 36:13)

Still another outline (the one followed here) is as follows:
• The Exodus Generation in the Wilderness (chaps. 1 – 25)
◦ The Israelites Prepare to Leave Mount Sinai (1:1 – 10:10)
◦ The Israelites Depart to Kadesh Barnea (10:11 – 14:45)
◦ The Israelites Journey to the Plains of Moab (15:1 – 22:1)
◦ The Israelites Are Confronted by Balaam the Prophet (22:2 – 25:18)
• The Second Generation Prepares to Enter the Promised Land (26:1 – 36:13)
◦ The Rules Concerning Inheritance (Num. 26:1 – 27:11)
◦ The Provision for Moses’ Successor (Num. 27:12 – 23)
◦ The Laws Concerning Offerings (Num. 28:1 – 29:40)
◦ The Laws Concerning Vows (Num. 30:1 –16)
◦ The LORD’s Judgment Against the Midianites (Num. 31:1 – 54)
◦ The Inheritance of the Eastern Tribes (Num. 32:1 – 42)
◦ The Review of the Journey to Canaan (Num. 33:1 – 56)
◦ The LORD’s Instructions Before Conquering Canaan (Num. 33:50 – 36:13)

There are two themes that flow from the book of Numbers. The first concerns the LORD’s infinite grace in light of the people’s many failures and transgressions. There is hardly a book in the Bible where the LORD had to exercise His grace to His people more often than this one. The book of Numbers contains a record of Israel’s failure after failure and the LORD’s gracious forgiveness after forgiveness. Even when He judged them, there was grace.

Second, and related to the first, the book stresses the importance of obedience. God chose the Israelites unconditionally; they were the LORD’s chosen people regardless of their behavior. However, He demanded obedience to show His people that their obedience results in blessing. God set forth a way of life for His people in the covenant He and the people entered into at Sinai (Exodus 19:5-8). The Ten Commandments made it clear that God would make the law, and that the pinnacle requirement of His law was for the people to respect and serve one another. The strong were to serve the weak. This was in stark contrast to the surrounding cultures, which centered around the strong exploiting the weak (Leviticus 18). God’s judgment brought discipline upon Israel in order to shepherd them toward living in harmony and service to one another.

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:

  • The Family of Aaron and Moses (3:1 – 4)
  • The Levites Presented to Aaron (3:5 – 10)
  • The Levites Set Apart to the LORD (3:11 – 13)
  • The Census and Placement of the Levite Families (3:14 – 39)
    • The Families Summarized (3:14 – 20)
    • The Family of Gershon (3:21 – 26)
    • The Family of Kohath (3:27 – 32)
    • The Family of Merari (3:33 – 37)
    • The Family of Moses and Aaron (3:38)
    • The Final Count (3:39)
  • The Ransom of the Firstborn (3:39 – 51)
    • The Census Taken (3:40 – 43)
    • The Ransom Taken (3:44 – 51)

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.

Verses 21 – 39 give the details about the numbers and responsibilities of families of the sons of Levi. This section (verses 21 – 26) concentrates on the family of Gershon. Gershon was the first born son of Levi. In his line, there were two families, descended from the two named sons of Gershon: the family of the Libnites and the family of the Shimeites. The statement that these were the families of the Gershonites might imply that Libni and Shemei were the only two sons of Gershon.

The total number of qualified males in the two families, based on the numbering of every male from a month old and upward, was 7,500. This count of 7500 compares to the census of 108,100 men of fighting age in the camp of Ephraim (Numbers 2:24).

According to the LORD’s will, the families of the Gershonites were to camp behind the tabernacle westward. They would, therefore, provide a buffer between the tabernacle and the camp of Ephraim. The camp of Ephraim was made up of the three tribes assigned to camp on the west side of the tabernacle, being Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. The Gershonites would be the Levites on the western side.

In verse 24, the LORD appointed the leader of the fathers’ households of the Gershonites. His name was Eliasaph the son of Lael. Eliasaph means “my God has added” and Lael means “[belonging] to God.”

Verses 25 and 26 list the duties of the sons of Gershon in the tent of meeting. They were the Levites assigned the maintenance of

The tabernacle and the tent, which refers to the main structure of the tent that was the tabernacle,

Its covering, which would include the drapes of linen and goat hair that made up the tabernacle (Exodus 26)

The screen for the doorway of the tent of meeting, which was a woven linen screen to cover the door of the tent (Exodus 26).

The hangings of the court, which would include the drapes creating the outer courtyard enclosing the tabernacle, made of twisted linen, which likely meant it would be an off-white natural color (Exodus 27).

The screen for the doorway of the court which is around the tabernacle, which would be a linen woven cloth of blue, purple, and scarlet (Exodus 27:16).

The altar, for the sacrifices. The altar was made of bronze, and was located just in front of the doorway of the tabernacle (Exodus 27).

Its cords which likely refers to the ropes used to secure the tent (Exodus 35:18)

This was done according to all the service concerning them. This service involved the transport, setup, and maintenance of the items listed above. All were part of the reverence and worship of God, their King with whom they had made a covenant.

Biblical Text

21 Of Gershon was the family of the Libnites and the family of the Shimeites; these were the families of the Gershonites. 22 Their numbered men, in the numbering of every male from a month old and upward, even their numbered men were 7,500. 23 The families of the Gershonites were to camp behind the tabernacle westward, 24 and the leader of the fathers’ households of the Gershonites was Eliasaph the son of Lael. 25 Now the duties of the sons of Gershon in the tent of meeting involved the tabernacle and the tent, its covering, and the screen for the doorway of the tent of meeting, 26 and the hangings of the court, and the screen for the doorway of the court which is around the tabernacle and the altar, and its cords, according to all the service concerning them.

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