The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Numbers 4

Num 4:1

Num 4: "Previously the Levites were counted from a month old and upwards because they were to replace the firstborn of the other tribes. However, now they are to be numbered for service, and accordingly the count is to be from thirty years and upward. This denotes a measure of maturity, and whilst it is not obligatory on Christ's followers that they should await the age of thirty before ministering before him, it does show that maturity is required of all his followers. The duties of the various families of Levites are set forth in proper order, revealing that each has his work to do in the "ecclesia in the wilderness" in a co-operative service. Hence, as each group arrived at a new site the tabernacle was reared up in a regular and orderly fashion with the least trouble. Co-operation and order are the keynotes of effective ecclesial service today as well" (Expos).

Num 4:3

The age of priests when beginning service seems to have declined from 30 to 25 to 20 (cp Num 8:24,25; 1Ch 23:24-27). Poss reason: Less strength and more numbers required as duties became fixed and expanded in temple (Temple 95).

Num 4:5

AARON AND HIS SONS ARE TO GO IN AND TAKE DOWN THE SHIELDING CURTAIN AND COVER THE ARK OF THE TESTIMONY WITH IT: Even when it traveled, the Ark was to be separated from the common by a "veil" or "wall". That which was holy to the LORD was to be maintained pure and separate from everything worldly and unclean.

Num 4:6

SEA COWS: Heb "tachashim". Translated, variously, "sea cows" (NIV; WEB); "dugongs" (mg); "porpoises" (NASB); "seals" (JPS); or "badgers" (KJV; Roth). The general scholarly consensus on the word is that it is Egyptian in origin. The Arabic word "duhas" refers to a dolphin. They are common in the Red Sea; their skins are used for clothing by the Bedouin. The word has also been connected to an Egyptian word for "leather" (BDB). This is followed by NRSV and NET ("fine leather").

Num 4:8

SEA COWS: See Num 4:6n.

Num 4:10

SEA COWS: See Num 4:6n.

Num 4:11

SEA COWS: See Num 4:6n.

Num 4:12

SEA COWS: See Num 4:6n.

Num 4:13

THEY ARE TO REMOVE THE ASHES FROM THE BRONZE ALTAR AND SPREAD A PURPLE CLOTH OVER IT: Is this pattern intended to point to Christ? Jesus is our altar (Heb 13:10), and he was arrayed just before his death in a purple robe with his crown of thorns (John 19:2,5). By contrast, all the other items seem to be covered in blue or scarlet or badgers' skins, but this one alone in purple.

Num 4:14

SEA COWS: See Num 4:6n.

Num 4:23

TO SERVE: Or "to perform the service" (AV). This Heb phrase is, lit, "war the warfare" (cp RV and AV mg). Cp 1Ti 1:18: "fighting the good fight" of faith; life in Christ as a "warfare", just as much as a priestly service to God!

Num 4:25

SEA COWS: See Num 4:6n.

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