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Scripture reading – Numbers 4-5

Our study in the Book of Numbers continues with the census in today’s Scripture reading. The number of men in three Levite families and their responsibilities regarding the Tabernacle and its vessels are the subjects.

Numbers 4 – The Levites, Their Number, and Responsibilities

The Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to take the sum of thirty to fifty-year-old males (4:2-3) of three Levite families and charge them with responsibilities relating to their ministries.

The Responsibilities of the Kohathites

The Kohathites (4:2-20), whose males numbered 2,750 men between thirty and fifty years old (4:34-35), were assigned the most honorable duty of the Levite tribes.  Their task was to transport the most holy items associated with the sacrifices and worship of the God of Israel. Before the Kohathites were allowed to carry holy and sanctified vessels, the priests were to cover and protect them from being looked upon or treated irreverently (4:5-6).

The Kohathites were charged with the care and transport of the veil of the Holy Place, the Ark of the Covenant (4:5), the table of shewbread (4:7) with its instruments and vessels (4:7-8), the golden lampstand, and its instruments (4:9-10), and the golden altar, its instruments, and vessels (4:11-15). Because those items represented the holiest tasks of the priests, none but Aaron and his sons could look upon them and not die (4:20).

The Responsibilities of the Gershonites

The males of Gershon, thirty to fifty years old, numbered 2,630 (4:38-41). Though their tasks were essential, their service to the Tabernacle was less honorable than the Kohathite. They were charged with the care and transport of the draperies, hangings, and badger skins that covered the Tabernacle (4:21-28).

The Responsibilities of the Merarites

The males of the Merarites numbered 3,200 men, between thirty and fifty years old (4:42-45). Their duty was to transport the wood that made up the frame of the sanctuary, the boards, bars, pillars, and sockets (4:29-33).

The earlier census of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Numbers 1-2) counted able-bodied men, twenty years old and older. In Numbers 4, Levite males, thirty to fifty years old, were numbered. The difference in the census age of the Twelve Tribes and the Levites was not explained.  I believe the LORD required wisdom of years and physical strength of those who served Him and assisted the priests in their duties.

Numbers 5 – Disease, Restitution, and Adultery

The Commandments of the LORD were given and recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Numbers 5 focused on specific steps for addressing leprosy, disease, restitution when one was harmed, and the sin of adultery (Exodus 20:14).

Leprosy and Disease (5:1-4)

God required His people to be clean, holy, and disease-free. Therefore, leprosy, oozing skin issues, and touching a dead body were deemed unclean and were put out of the camp until healing and cleansing occurred (5:1-4). This method of handling contagious skin sores, or being contaminated by disease from a dead body, kept illness from spreading through their families.

Fraud and Restitution (5:5-10)

Should a man or woman defraud another, restitution and an additional “fifth part” (20%) of the loss suffered was added (5:5-7). No sacrifice was acceptable to the LORD without first confessing one’s sin, restoring the damage the other had suffered, and only then could a man bring an offering to the altar (5:8; Matthew 5:23-25). In the case where a man had been harmed and died, and with no next of kin, the offender was to present the restitution of his wrong to the priest, which would be his to keep (5:9-10).

The Sin of Adultery (5:11-31)

Because God instituted marriage, a holy covenant between a man and woman, God’s people were to be intolerant of adultery in their midst (5:11-13). Should a woman be suspected of adultery, and there be no witnesses (5:13), a jealous husband was compelled to bring his wife to the priest, along with a “jealousy offering” (5:14-15).

The priest was charged with the responsibility of setting the accused woman “before the LORD” (5:16), and he questioned her guilt or innocence of adultery (5:17-21). Should the woman protest her innocence, the priest warned her with “an oath of cursing,” which was, in essence, reminding her that she would bring a curse upon herself should she be guilty.

The priest would then call for the LORD to “make [her] thigh to rot, and [her] belly to swell” (5:21b). The outward manifestation of abdominal distention was an evident sign she was guilty.  Likewise, if she was not guilty, she could drink the water, which would not affect her. However, should the LORD allow her belly to swell from its impurities, she would be “a curse among her people” (5:27), “and the priest [would] execute upon her all this law” (5:30b).

Closing thoughts:

How jealous was the LORD concerning the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman? “The adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).

Questions to Consider:

1) The census of the other tribes numbered men 20 years and older; however, the census of Levite men focused on 30 to 50-year-old males. Why do you suppose those ministering “to do the work in the Tabernacle” were to be older? (Leviticus 4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, 47)

2) Who was assigned to cover the vessels of the Tabernacle? (Leviticus 4:5-15)

3) What punishment was given for touching the vessels God declared holy? (Leviticus 4:15)

4) Why were lepers to be “put out, without the camp?” (Leviticus 5:3)

5) What was God’s judgment when restitution was commanded? (Leviticus 5:7)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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