Numbers 4 – Family Tree
I’m sure it makes sense to you that in order to understand the fourth chapter of Numbers, one must understand the third. I’m not going to review chapter three, but I do want to connect it to chapter four by providing a simple three-point outline.
- In chapter three God commands Moses and Aaron to number the male Levites from one month old and up. You’ll remember the other tribes were numbered starting at age twenty. Why the difference? The purpose for the census of the other tribes was to identify warriors who could fight. In contrast, the purpose of numbering the Levites at the top of chapter four was not so they could go to war, but rather so God could take them as a substitute for all of the firstborn of all the tribes (which I covered in a previous post). Simply put, all the Levites belonged to YHWH.
- Next in chapter three we see God giving instructions as to where the Levites were to camp relative to the tabernacle.
- Finally, in chapter three, God assigns tabernacle duties to each of the clans of the Levites.
Chapters three and four are about the family lines of the sons of Levi, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Here’s a brief outline of chapter four.
- In chapter four God commands Moses and Aaron to take a Census (for tabernacle service) from 30 to 50 years old.
- God assigns service/journey duties (including what they each were to carry) by the families Gershon, Kohath, Merari.
- Census results.
In studying through chapter four, some interesting details came to light. Look at how the chapter begins.
4:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:
2 “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ house,
3 from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting.
From what I am able to ascertain Gershon was Aaron’s firstborn, but God doesn’t begin with instructions for the families of Gershon. He begins with the Kohathites. Why? I believe it is because the service YHWH required of the family of the Kohathites was the most prestigious and dangerous.
4 “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things:
Numbers 4:5-14 list all of the things for which the Kohathites were responsible. However, they could not touch any of it (Numbers 4:15) or they would die. The Kohathites couldn’t even watch as Aaron and his two sons packed it all up getting it ready to ship or they would die.
17 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:
18 “Do not cut off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites;
19 but do this in regard to them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint each of them to his service and his task.
20 But they shall not go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, lest they die.”
Of the families of Levites (Gershon, Kohath, Merari) given duties in Numbers chapter four, only Kohath had a serious warning issued from God.
The Levitical family of Kohath was responsible for both the Holy and Most Holy places. If you consult the image I’ve provided of Aaron’s family lineage, you’ll notice something fascinating. Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons were Kohathites! Only Kohathites, under threat of death, ministered in, took care of, and carried the Holy and Most Holy places! As a matter of fact, Aaron’s oldest two sons (Nadab and Abihu) did lose their lives because they violated YHWH’s instructions offering “strange fire”.
Moses was God’s prophet and servant, Aaron was God’s High Priest, and Aaron’s sons (Eleazar and Ithamar) were God’s Priests in the presence of Aaron.
Consider our Heavenly Priest, Jesus.
5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
6 As He also says in another place:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”;
Incidentally, remember Numbers 4:3? If Jesus was a Priest after the order of Levi instead of Melchizedek, He would have been compelled to serve in the temple instead of beginning His earthly ministry! Additionally, as a Levite Jesus could not have been the perfect sacrifice for sin because lambs were sacrificed not Levitical Priests! God is in the details!
All Scripture quotations from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.