Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 3. Thirty. Moses speaks of those who had to carry the sacred vessels. Those of 25 years old might perform some offices; (chap. viii. 24,) and even at 20, they began to serve the tabernacle, in the reign of David, (1 Paralipomenon xxiii. 24,) the fatigue being then diminished, and the splendour of religion increasing. The Septuagint read 25 instead of 30, in this and all other places, and some think that the Hebrew should be so too. The time for the admission of priests to their more august functions is not specified, but was determined by themselves to be at least 20 years of age. (Outram, Sacrif. i. 7.) — To stand. This was the ordinary posture of the priests in the temple. The king alone was allowed to sit. (Maimonides) — Hebrew, “all that enter into the host, or army, to do the work in the tabernacle of the assembly,” shall be of a competent age and strength. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Sons. Necessity excused them on this occasion. Out of respect for the ark, the Levites were not allowed to behold or touch it uncovered. (Calmet) — That hangeth before the door. Hebrew, “the covering veil, and shall,” &c. (Haydock)
Ver. 6. Put in the bars. Hebrew, “place the bars,” upon the shoulders of the Levites; for they were never taken out of the sides of the ark, Exodus xxv. 15. Other bars, like hand-barrows, were used to carry the ark and the other different vessels, after they were folded up. Two Levites bore them on their shoulders. (Calmet) — Perhaps the bars of the ark, after it was enveloped with the three curtains, might project, so that the bearers might take hold of them. (Menochius)
Ver. 7. Loaves. Some imagine this precept was not observed in the desert, as the people fed on manna. But might not they procure some flour of the neighbouring nations? and do not the princes offer flour, chap. vii.? See Deuteronomy xii. 7. (Calmet)
Ver. 10. The bars, which were not attached to it, Exodus xxv. 37. Hebrew and Septuagint, “They shall place it upon the bars.” Mot, signifies a stick, upon which two people may carry burdens, chap. xiii. 24. It might be put through the foldings, ver. 12.
Ver. 13. Ashes, which might be upon the grate of the altar, where the sacred fire had been burning. This shews that the precept was already observed. The Septuagint do not mention the ashes. But some copies, with Origen, (hom. iv.) and the Samaritan Pentateuch, insert some words at the end of ver. 14, which Grotius believes have been omitted by the Massorets, in the present Hebrew Bibles. “They shall take a purple veil, and fold up the laver and its foot, and put them in a covering of violet skins, and place them upon the bars.” (Calmet) — The children of Caath were the most honoured among the Levites, as Moses and Aaron sprung from the same family, Eleazar, the future pontiff, presided over them in a particular manner, while his younger brother Ithamar, directed the rest. (Haydock)
Ver. 15. Vessels of, &c. Some say, not even their coverings. God threatens to punish all idle curiosity or negligence, particularly with respect to the ark, which the Caathites had to carry, till the priests became sufficiently numerous to perform that office, as they generally did, Deuteronomy xxxi. 9. (Calmet)
Ver. 16. Over them. The sons of Caath, to whose care the more sacred things were entrusted; or Hebrew, “over the oil,” &c. — Sacrifice of flour, wine, &c. These always accompanied the morning and evening holocaust. It hence appears that this law was already in force, and probably all such precepts were observed as were not incompatible with the wandering state of the Hebrews. (Calmet)
Ver. 20. Curiosity. Septuagint, “suddenly.” Let them not rush in before all the vessels be properly covered. The priests folded them up with all haste, that they might see them as little as possible themselves. (Calmet)
Ver. 23. Thirty. Septuagint, “25,” as ver. 3. (Calmet) — They began to be taught how to act, at 25; but did not officiate till 30. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 26. All things. Hebrew, “veils round the altar” of holocausts in the court. (Calmet)
Ver. 27. Assigned. Hebrew, “you shall count over to them what they have to carry.” Septuagint, “you shall call (the Levites) by name, and all that shall be intrusted to them,” ver. 32. (Calmet) — From the different offices of the priests and Levites in the old law, Innocent III takes occasion to shew the distinction of the orders in the Christian Church. (De S. Altar. 2. ad 7.)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The age and time of the Levites’ service: their offices and burdens.
1 And the Lord spoke *to Moses and Aaron, saying:
2 Take the sum of the sons of Caath from the midst of the Levites, by their houses and families,
3 From thirty years old and upward, to fifty years old, of all that go in to stand and to minister in the tabernacle of the covenant.
4 This is the service of the sons of Caath:
5 When the camp is to set forward, Aaron and his sons shall go into the tabernacle of the covenant, and the holy of holies, and shall take down the veil that hangeth before the door, and shall wrap up the ark of the testimony in it,
6 And shall cover it again with a cover of violet skins, and shall spread over it a cloth all of violet, and shall put in the bars.
7 They shall wrap up also the table of proposition in a cloth of violet, and shall put with it the censers and little mortars, the cups and bowls to pour out the libations: the loaves shall be always on it:
8 And they shall spread over it a cloth of scarlet, which again they shall cover with a covering of violet skins, and shall put in the bars.
9 They shall take also a cloth of violet, wherewith they shall cover the candlestick with the lamps and tongs thereof, and the snuffers, and all the oil vessels, which are necessary for the dressing of the lamps :
10 And over all they shall put a cover of violet skins, and put in the bars.
11 And they shall wrap up the golden altar also in a cloth of violet, and shall spread over it a cover of violet skins, and put in the bars.
12 All the vessels wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, they shall wrap up in a cloth of violet, and shall spread over it a cover of violet skins, and put in the bars.
13 They shall cleanse the altar also from the ashes, and shall wrap it up in a purple cloth,
14 And shall put it with all the vessels that they use in the ministry thereof, that is to say, fire-pans, flesh-hooks and forks, pot-hooks and shovels. They shall cover all the vessels of the altar together with a covering of violet skins, and shall put in the bars.
15 And when Aaron and his sons have wrapped up the sanctuary and the vessels thereof at the removing of the camp, then shall the *sons of Caath enter in to carry the things wrapped up: and they shall not touch the vessels of the sanctuary, lest they die. These are the burdens of the sons of Caath: in the tabernacle of the covenant.
16 And over them shall be Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, to whose charge pertaineth the oil to dress the lamps, and the sweet incense, and the sacrifice, that is always offered, and the oil of unction, and whatsoever pertaineth to the service of the tabernacle, and of all the vessels that are in the sanctuary.
17 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:
18 Destroy not the people of Caath from the midst of the Levites:
19 But do this to them, that they may live, and not die, by touching the holies of holies. Aaron and his sons shall go in, and they shall appoint every man his work, and shall divide the burdens that every man is to carry.
20 Let not others, by any curiosity, see the things that are in the sanctuary before they be wrapped up, otherwise they shall die.
21 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
22 Take the sum of the sons of Gerson also, by their houses, and families, and kindreds,
23 From thirty years old and upward, unto fifty years old. Number them all that go in and minister in the tabernacle of the covenant.
24 This is the office of the family of the Gersonites :
25 To carry the curtains of the tabernacle, and the roof of the covenant, the other covering, and the violet covering over all, and the hanging that hangeth in the entry of the tabernacle of the covenant,
26 The curtains of the court, and the veil in the entry that is before the tabernacle. All things that pertain to the altar, the cords, and the vessels of the ministry,
27 The sons of Gerson shall carry, by the commandment of Aaron and his sons: and each man shall know to what burden he must be assigned.
28 This is the service of the family of the Gersonites, in the tabernacle of the covenant, and they shall be under the hand of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the priest.
29 Thou shalt reckon up the sons of Merari also, by the families and houses of their fathers,
30 From thirty years old and upward, unto fifty years old, all that go in to the office of their ministry, and to the service of the covenant of the testimony.
31 These are their burdens: They shall carry the boards of the tabernacle and the bars thereof, the pillars and their sockets,
32 The pillars also of the court round about, with their sockets and pins and cords. They shall receive by account all the vessels and furniture, and so shall carry them.
33 This is the office of the family of the Merarites, and their ministry in the tabernacle of the covenant: and they shall be under the hand of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the priest.
34 So Moses and Aaron and the princes of the synagogue, reckoned up the sons of Caath, by their kindreds and the houses of their fathers,
35 From thirty years old and upward, unto fifty years old, all that go in to the ministry of the tabernacle of the covenant:
36 And they were found two thousand seven hundred and fifty.
37 This is the number of the people of Caath, that go in to the tabernacle of the covenant: these did Moses and Aaron number according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.
38 The sons of Gerson also were numbered by the kindreds and houses of their fathers,
39 From thirty years old and upward, unto fifty years old, all that go in to minister in the tabernacle of the covenant:
40 And they were found two thousand six hundred and thirty.
41 This is the people of the Gersonites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the word of the Lord.
42 The sons of Merari also were numbered by the kindreds and houses of their fathers,
43 From thirty years old and upward, unto fifty years old, all that go in to fulfil the rites of the tabernacle of the covenant:
44 And they were found three thousand two hundred.
45 This is the number of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron reckoned up, according to the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses.
46 All that were reckoned up of the Levites, and whom Moses and Aaron and the princes of Israel took by name, by the kindreds and houses of their fathers,
47 From thirty years old and upward, unto fifty years old, that go in to the ministry of the tabernacle, and to carry the burdens,
48 Were in all eight thousand five hundred and eighty.
49 Moses reckoned them up according to the word of the Lord, every one according to their office and burdens, as the Lord had commanded him.
1: Year of the World 2514.
15: 1 Paralipomenon xv. 15.