Numbers 3

1 This is the family of Aaron and Moses at the time the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai.
2 Aaron had four sons: Nadab, the oldest, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 1
3 They were anointed and ordained as priests,
4 but Nadab and Abihu were killed when they offered unholy fire to the Lord in the Sinai Desert. They had no children, so Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during Aaron's lifetime. 2
5 The Lord said to Moses,
6 "Bring forward the tribe of Levi and appoint them as servants of Aaron the priest.
7 They shall do the work required for the Tent of my presence and perform duties for the priests and for the whole community.
8 They shall take charge of all the equipment of the Tent and perform the duties for the rest of the Israelites.
9 The only responsibility the Levites have is to serve Aaron and his sons.
10 You shall appoint Aaron and his sons to carry out the duties of the priesthood; anyone else who tries to do so shall be put to death."
11 The Lord said to Moses,
12 "The Levites are now to be mine. When I killed all the first-born of the Egyptians, I consecrated as my own the oldest son of each Israelite family and the first-born of every animal. Now, instead of having the first-born sons of Israel as my own, I have the Levites; they will belong to me. I am the Lord." 3
14 In the Sinai Desert the Lord commanded Moses
15 to register the Levites by clans and families, enrolling every male a month old or older,
16 and Moses did so.
17 Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, who were the ancestors of the clans that bear their names. Gershon had two sons: Libni and Shimei; Kohath had four sons: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel; and Merari had two sons: Mahli and Mushi. They were the ancestors of the families that bear their names.
21 The clan of Gershon was composed of the families of Libni and Shimei.
22 The total number of males one month old or older that were enrolled was 7,500.
23 This clan was to camp on the west behind the Tent,
24 with Eliasaph son of Lael as chief of the clan.
25 They were responsible for the Tent, its inner cover, its outer cover, the curtain for the entrance,
26 the curtains for the court which is around the Tent and the altar, and the curtain for the entrance of the court. They were responsible for all the service connected with these items.
27 The clan of Kohath was composed of the families of Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel.
28 The total number of males one month old or older that were enrolled was 8,600.
29 This clan was to camp on the south side of the Tent,
30 with Elizaphan son of Uzziel as chief of the clan.
31 They were responsible for the Covenant Box, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the utensils the priests use in the Holy Place, and the curtain at the entrance to the Most Holy Place. They were responsible for all the service connected with these items.
32 The chief of the Levites was Eleazar son of Aaron the priest. He was in charge of those who carried out the duties in the Holy Place.
33 The clan of Merari was composed of the families of Mahli and Mushi.
34 The total number of males one month old or older that were enrolled was 6,200.
35 This clan was to camp on the north side of the Tent, with Zuriel son of Abihail as chief of the clan.
36 They were assigned responsibility for the frames for the Tent, its bars, posts, bases, and all its fittings. They were responsible for all the service connected with these items.
37 They were also responsible for the posts, bases, pegs, and ropes for the outer court.
38 Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp in front of the Tent on the east. They were responsible for carrying out the services performed in the Holy Place for the people of Israel. Anyone else who tried to do so was to be put to death.
39 The total number of all the Levite males one month old or older that Moses enrolled by clans at the command of the Lord, was 22,000.
40 The Lord said to Moses, "All of Israel's first-born sons belong to me. So register by name every first-born male Israelite, one month old or older. But in place of them I claim all the Levites as mine! I am the Lord! I also claim the livestock of the Levites in place of all the first-born of the livestock."
42 Moses obeyed, and registered all the first-born males
43 one month old or older; the total was 22,273.
44 The Lord said to Moses,
45 "Now dedicate the Levites as mine in place of all the first-born Israelite sons, and dedicate the livestock of the Levites in place of the first-born of the Israelites' livestock.
46 Since the first-born Israelite sons outnumber the Levites by 273, you must buy back the extra sons.
47 For each one pay five pieces of silver, according to the official standard,
48 and give this money to Aaron and his sons."
49 Moses obeyed and took
50 the 1,365 pieces of silver
51 and gave them to Aaron and his sons.

Numbers 3 Commentary

Chapter 3

The sons of Aaron, The Levites taken instead of the first-born. (1-13) The Levites numbered by their families, Their duties. (14-39) The first-born are numbered. (40-51)

Verses 1-13 There was much work belonging to the priests' office, and there were now only Aaron and his two sons to do it; God appoints the Levites to attend them. Those whom God finds work for, he will find help for. The Levites were taken instead of the first-born. When He that made us, saves us, as the first-born of Israel were saved, we are laid under further obligations to serve him faithfully. God's right to us by redemption, confirms the right he has to us by creation.

Verses 14-39 The Levites were in three classes, according to the sons of Levi; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari; and these were subdivided into families. The posterity of Moses were not at all honoured or privileged, but stood upon the level with other Levites; thus it was plain, that Moses did not seek the advancement of his own family, or to secure any honours to it. The tribe of Levi was by much the least of all the tribes. God's chosen are but a little flock in comparison with the world.

Verses 40-51 The number of the first-born, and that of the Levites, came near to each other. Known unto God are all his works beforehand; there is an exact proportion between them, and so it will appear, when they are compared together. The small number of first-born, over and above the number of the Levites, were to be redeemed, and the redemption-money given to Aaron. The church is called the church of the first-born, which is redeemed, not as they were, with silver and gold; but, being devoted by sin to the justice of God, is ransomed with the precious blood of the Son of God. All men are the Lord's by creation, and all true christians are his by redemption. Each should know his own post and duty; nor can any service required by such a Master be rightly accounted mean or hard.

Cross References 3

  • 1. 3.2Numbers 26.60.
  • 2. 3.4Leviticus 10.1, 2;Numbers 26.61.
  • 3. 3.13Exodus 13.2.

Chapter Summary


In this chapter an account is given of the genealogy of the priests and Levites, and of the gift of the Levites to the priests, of the numbering of them, and the service they were to perform; and first of the priests, the sons of Aaron, Nu 3:1-4; and then of the Levites, as given unto them, to wait upon them, and assist them, Nu 3:5-10; and these were taken instead of the firstborn, Nu 3:11-13; and ordered to be numbered, which was done accordingly by their families, Nu 3:14-20; and the sum of each is given, and the particular work assigned to them; of the Gershonites, Nu 3:21-26; of the Kohathites, Nu 3:27-32; of the Merarites, Nu 3:33-38; the sum total of them is given, Nu 3:39; then the firstborn of the children of Israel, from a month old are ordered to be numbered, and were, Nu 3:40-43; and these appearing to be more in number than the Levites, by two hundred seventy three a direction is given that the two hundred seventy three should be redeemed at the rate of five, shekels apiece, and the money paid to Aaron and his sons, Nu 3:44-48; which was accordingly done, Nu 3:49-51.

Numbers 3 Commentaries

Scripture taken from the Good News Translation - Second Edition, Copyright 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.