Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Generations; descendants of Aaron, whose names are specified; and of Moses, whose children are left unnoticed among the rest of the Levites, ver. 27. This enhances the merit of the Jewish legislator[Moses], and shews his modesty and disinterestedness. (Haydock)
Ver. 4. Presence; or as it is expressed, (1 Paralipomenon xxiv. 9,) under the hand of Aaron, by his direction, and in quality of his assistant, (Calmet) while he lived, Eleazar succeeded him in the high priesthood; (Josue xxiv. 33,) and his children possessed that dignity, till the posterity of Ithamar came in under Heli, chap. xxv. 13. (Haydock)
Ver. 6. To him, and to the other priests, who had to perform the higher offices. The Levites did not approach near the altar, except when they had to carry it and the tabernacle. (Calmet)
Ver. 7. And. Hebrew, “They shall watch over him, and over all the congregation,” to assist the priests in their sacred office, and to take care that the people behave respectfully. (Haydock) — All were bound to prevent any sacrilegious abuse. (Menochius)
Ver. 10. To whom. Samaritan and Septuagint, “to me.” They must serve God in the persons of his priests. They are called a gift, people bestowed, as the Nothnim, to serve in the meanest functions; and hence the Nathineans take their name. The Gabaonites were employed by Josue in this quality, Josue ix. 23. — Over. Hebrew, “they shall retain,” &c. They shall permit no stranger to interfere. Cuneus (Rep. ii. 11,) observes, that if a Levite undertook to do the office allotted to another, he was to be slain, after sentence had been passed by the judge. (Calmet)
Ver. 12. Mine. God claimed the first-born, on account of having spared them, Exodus xii. 23. He requires that all the males shall be redeemed, except those of the tribe of Levi, whom he claims as his peculiar portion, as the price of the redemption of those who were living in Egypt, when the destroying angel passed by. This honour was wholly gratuitous, though the Levites deserved to obtain a confirmation of it by their zeal, Exodus xxxii. 29 and Deuteronomy xxxiii. 9. God seems to have revealed to Moses the destination of Aaron’s family, long before they were appointed to exercise the functions of the priesthood, Exodus xix. 22, 24, and xxiv. 1. (Calmet)
Ver. 15. Month; at which time the first-born were to be redeemed, chap xviii. 16. (Menochius) — If only those of 20 years of age had been counted, they could not have amounted to nearly an equal number with the first-born of all the other tribes. (Calmet)
Ver. 17. Names. These had been long ago dead. (Menochius)
Ver. 22. Five hundred, expressed by the letter c, has, according to Kennicott, been put for 200, which the Hebrews denote by a similar letter, r. See 2 Kings xxiii. 8 and 1 Paralipomenon xi. 11, for other mistakes. (Haydock)
Ver. 26. Thereof. The Gersonites had the care of the veils round the court, and of the cords and gates. The priests guarded the tabernacle, ver. 32. The sons of Caath carried the altars, (ver. 31,) and the Merarites took care of the cords, which were attached to the pillars of the court, ver. 37. Hebrew may be translated “(among the vessels of) the tabernacle, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the sanctuary, (or tabernacle of the congregation) and the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is beside the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords belonging to the service of the tabernacle.” (Calmet) — Whatsoever, in the Vulgate, must only be referred to the curtains.
Ver. 28. Sanctuary, with respect to the things mentioned, ver. 31. (Menochius) — The Samaritan copy observes, that they also carried the brazen laver, as we find they did, chap. iv. 14. All these things were folded up in the violet curtains of the sanctuary, while the ark was covered with the veil which hung before it, chap. iv. 5. Some pretend that the number here specified ought to be 830, to obviate a difficulty [in] ver. 39. But this amendment has no solid foundation. (Calmet)
Ver. 32. Eleazar had authority over the Levites, as his father had over the priests also. Thus we find princes of the priests, different from the sovereign pontiff. (Matthew ii. 4 and xvi. 21 and Luke iii. 2.) Eleazar had also a particular charge of the Caathites, (chap. iv. 16,) and was to take care that they handled the sacred vessels with due respect. (Calmet)
Ver. 38. Sons, the children of Aaron. Those of Moses were among the Levites, 1 Paralipomenon xxiii. 13. They did not remain with their father. — In the, &c. Hebrew, “to guard the,” &c., in order to supply for the rest of the Israelites, ver. 9. (St. Augustine, q. 4.)
Ver. 39. And Aaron; a word omitted in the Samaritan and Syriac, and in the oldest Hebrew manuscript, and marked in the printed copies as dubious. (Kennicott) — Thousand. If we collect the different sums, we shall find other 300; so that the Levites would be 27 more than the first-born of the other tribes, though Moses says (ver. 43-46) that they were fewer by 273. Some say that the 28th verse has been corrupted, (Calmet) or the 22nd, where we read 500 instead of 200. (Haydock) — Others observe, that in the 22,000, the first-born of the Levites and the priests of Aaron’s family are not included, and these might amount to 300 men. (Lyranus) — But Bonfrere rightly observes that this number is too small, as only one is allowed for 74 people. He thinks that the first-born, who were heads of families, are omitted, and those also who were born before the angel destroyed the Egyptians. On this supposition, however, 22,000 will appear too great a number to be produced by the Levites in the space of a year, when some were too young, and others too old, to have children, and others had children already before that event. We may, therefore, either admit the solution of Lyranus, or confess that some fault has crept into the number, though this must be very difficult, since Moses argues in the sequel on the supposition of its certainty. (Calmet) — St. Jerome hence infers, that these numbers are full of mystery; Origen (hom. 4,) says, that the exact number, 22,000, may signify the perfection which God requires from those whom he takes into his service, as there are just 22 Hebrew letters, and 22 patriarchs, from Adam to Jacob, the father of the Israelites. (Worthington) — The 22,000 might be accepted by God, instead of so many Israelites; and the 300 other Levites might be due to him on their own account, being the first-born since the Hebrews left Egypt. (Tirinus) (Du Hamel)
Ver. 41. Cattle. These were kept by the Levites, and were not intended for sacrifice. (Menochius)
Ver. 46. Levites, omitting the 300, as [in] ver. 39. For each of these 273, five sicles were to be paid, the price of the redemption of a child who had been vowed, Leviticus xxvii. 6. The money was to be paid either by those who were counted last, or by a tax laid upon all the people, or it was determined by lot who should pay it. The Scripture is silent on this head. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The Levites are numbered, and their offices distinguished. They are taken in the place of the first-born of the children of Israel.
1 These are the generations of Aaron and Moses, in the day that the Lord spoke to Moses in Mount Sinai.
2 *And these the names of the sons of Aaron: his first-born Nadab, then Abiu, and Eleazar, and Ithamar.
3 These the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests that were anointed, and whose hands were filled and consecrated, to do the functions of priesthood.
4 *Now Nadab and Abiu died without children, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, in the desert of Sinai: and Eleazar and Ithamar performed the priestly office, in the presence of Aaron, their father.
5 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
6 Bring the tribe of Levi, and make them stand in the sight of Aaron the priest, to minister to him, and let them watch,
7 And observe whatsoever appertaineth to the service of the multitude, before the tabernacle of the testimony,
8 And let them keep the vessels of the tabernacle, serving in the ministry thereof.
9 And thou shalt give the Levites for a gift,
10 To Aaron and to his sons, to whom they are delivered by the children of Israel. But thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons over the service of priesthood. The stranger that approacheth to minister, shall be put to death.
11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying :
12 I have taken the Levites from the children of Israel, for every first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine.
13 *For every first-born is mine: since I struck the first-born in the land of Egypt: I have sanctified to myself whatsoever is first-born in Israel, both of man and beast, they are mine: I am the Lord.
14 And the Lord spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai, saying:
15 Number the sons of Levi by the houses of their fathers and their families, every male from one month and upward.
16 Moses numbered them as the Lord had commanded.
17 *And there were found sons of Levi, by their names, Gerson and Caath, and Merari.
18 The sons of Gerson: Lebni and Semei.
19 The sons of Caath: Amram and Jesaar, Hebron and Oziel:
20 The sons of Merari: Moholi and Musi.
21 Of Gerson were two families, the Lebnites, and the Semeites:
22 Of which were numbered, people of the male sex from one month and upward, seven thousand five hundred.
23 These shall pitch behind the tabernacle on the west,
24 Under their prince Eliasaph, the son of Lael.
25 And their charge shall be in the tabernacle of the covenant:
26 The tabernacle itself and the cover thereof, the hanging that is drawn before the doors of the tabernacle of the covenant, and the curtains of the court: the hanging also that is hanged in the entry of the court of the tabernacle, and whatsoever belongeth to the rite of the altar, the cords of the tabernacle, and all the furniture thereof.
27 Of the kindred of Caath, come the families of the Amramites and Jesaarites, and Hebronites and Ozielites. These are the families of the Caathites, reckoned up by their names:
28 All of the male sex from one month and upward, eight thousand six hundred: they shall have the guard of the sanctuary,
29 And shall camp on the south side.
30 And their prince shall be Elisaphan, the son of Oziel:
31 And they shall keep the ark, and the table and the candlestick, the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary, wherewith they minister, and the veil, and all the furniture of this kind.
32 And the prince of the princes of the Levites, Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, shall be over them that watch for the guard of the sanctuary.
33 And of Merari are the families of the Moholites, and Musites, reckoned up by their names :
34 All of the male kind from one month and upward, six thousand two hundred.
35 Their prince Suriel, the son of Abihaiel: they shall camp on the north side.
36 Under their custody shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars, and the pillars and their sockets, and all things that pertain to this kind of service:
37 And the pillars of the court round about with their sockets, and the pins with their cords.
38 Before the tabernacle of the covenant, that is to say, on the east side, shall Moses and Aaron camp, with their sons, having the custody of the sanctuary, in the midst of the children of Israel. What stranger soever cometh unto it, shall be put to death.
39 All the Levites that Moses and Aaron numbered *according to the precept of the Lord, by their families, of the male kind, from one month and upward, were twenty-two thousand.
40 And the Lord said to Moses: Number the first-born of the male sex of the children of Israel, from one month and upward, and thou shalt take the sum of them.
41 And thou shalt take the Levites to me for all the first-born of the children of Israel, I am the Lord: and their cattle for all the first-born of the cattle of the children of Israel:
42 Moses reckoned up, as the Lord had commanded, the first-born of the children of Israel:
43 And the males by their names, from one month and upward, were twenty-two thousand two hundred and seventy-three.
44 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
45 Take the Levites for the first-born of the children of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites for their cattle, and the Levites shall be mine. I am the Lord.
46 But for the price of the two hundred and seventy-three, of the first-born of the children of Israel, that exceed the number of the Levites,
47 Thou shalt take five sicles for every head, according to the weight of the sanctuary. *A sicle hath twenty obols.
48 And thou shalt give the money to Aaron and his sons, the price of them that are above.
49 Moses therefore took the money of them that were above, and whom they had redeemed from the Levites,
50 For the first-born of the children of Israel, one thousand three hundred and sixty-five sicles, according to the weight of the sanctuary,
51 And gave it to Aaron and his sons, according to the word that the Lord had commanded him.
2: Exodus vi. 23.
4: Leviticus x. 1. and 2.; 1 Paralipomenon xxiv. 2.
13: Exodus. xiii. 2.; Numbers viii. 16.
17: Exodus vi. 16.
39: Year of the World 2514, Year before Christ 1490.
47: Exodus xxx. 13.; Leviticus xxvii. 25.; Numbers xviii. 16.; Ezechiel xlv. 12.