Bible Commentaries
Numbers 4

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-49

Chapter 4

Now in chapter four we find that from the tribe of Kohath the men that were to actually do the service of carrying and all, of course they numbered them from a month old upwards. It's obvious that little kids couldn't carry these heavy boards and these things, so the men who were in charge and the older men without difficulty. So they chose those men from thirty years of age to begin the ministry at thirty years and they retired at fifty years and so the time of service was from thirty to fifty.

And when the camp is ready to move forward, Aaron and his sons are to come in, and they are to take down the covering veil, and cover the ark of the covenant with that covering veil. And then they are to put over it the badger skins, and shall spread over it a cloth of blue, and they'll put the golden staves and the rings that were on the ark of the covenant. And then they were to take the table of shewbread and put over it a cloth of blue, and put the dishes; and the spoons, and the bowls, and the covers on it: and the continual bread was to be left upon it: And they shall spread on them a cloth of scarlet, and then they are to cover that with badgers' skins ( Numbers 4:5-8 ).

So over the table of shewbread there was to be a blue cloth, a red cloth, the badgers' skin of the little dishes and the bread was to remain upon it. And they were to put the golden staves through it so that when the men from the tribe of Kohath came in, they would not see the Ark of the Covenant; they would not see the table of shewbread, they would not see the lamps, lest if they see them they die. Aaron and his sons were to cover all these things, wrap them up, get them ready to carry and then these fellas would come in and just pick up the sticks and would carry them as porters with these staves and not even touch the instruments themselves but carry them between the sticks. They weren't even to touch the Ark of the Covenant though it was covered and all with these skins, nor were they to look upon it.

And they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick, the light and the lamps, and the tongs, the snuffdishes, and all the oil vessels. And they should put all of the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers' skin, and put it on a bar. And the golden altar they shall spread over it a cloth of blue, and cover it with badgers' skins, and put it the staves: And all of the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, put them in a cloth of blue, cover them with covering for badgers' skins, and shall put them on a bar: And shall take away the ashes from the altar and so forth. And Kohath shall bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. [Verse fifteen, the latter portion] The things are the burden of the sons of Kohath the tabernacle of the congregation ( Numbers 4:9-13 , Numbers 4:15 ).

So, when they got up in the morning and the cloud had lifted and was moving, Aaron's son would have to hustle in. And they start taking the veil apart and with the veil they cover the Ark of the Covenant. And then they put over it the cloth of blue and then the badgers' skin and they wrap up all of these instruments that were there within the tabernacle, put the golden staves through and then the sons of Kohath would come in, take the staves and begin to carry them. That was the duty of the sons of Kohath whenever the call came to move.

Now in verse sixteen,

Eleazar who was the son of Aaron the priest concerning the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the daily meat offering, and the anointing oil, and the oversight of the tabernacle, and all that is in it, in the sanctuary, and the vessels of it. And the LORD spake to Moses and Aaron, saying, Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites: But thus do unto them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden: But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die ( Numbers 4:16-20 ).

So, they were not to look upon them but Eleazar was to take them in and say okay, you get on that, you get on that, and Eleazar was to direct them to pick up the staves and how to do it so that those men who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant would not die.

Now, we have an interesting case later on in history when the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the Philistines, and of course, it created a problem in every city where the Philistines took it. The men were breaking out with boils and horrible things and all wherever they'd take the Ark of the Covenant. So when they started bringing it to another city, the men met them at the gate and said no way you bringing that thing in here. Whatta you got against us? And so they decided that they would send it back to the children of Israel. Now they thought well, maybe it's just coincidence. So we'll put it on a cart and we'll let these oxen go and we'll see what direction they go. If they just roam around we know the whole thing is coincidence, but if they head back for Israel then we'll realize that this is what our problem is; that we've got this, this spiritual thing here and we don't know how to handle it.

So they put the ark on this cart and they put these oxen to it and the oxen headed right towards the camp of Israel just lowing all the way. They'd go moo, you know, as they're going along carrying the ark back towards Israel. Of course, when the Israelites saw the ark coming there was a great rejoicing and so David was extremely happy he's bringing the ark back to Israel. And so they were having this great ceremony and they were out there rejoicing and bringing the ark and they went over a bump and the ark started to fall and one of the fellas reached forth his hands to steady the ark and in touching it he was smitten dead.

Now this upset David. Wow, all of this happiness and rejoicing, all of sudden it's very somber and David said, "turn that thing in" and he went on home. He said, "I don't want anything to do with that". And, and he was really sort of angry with God for breaking up this happy celebration. But God then dealt with David and told him "Look, there's the right way to do the right thing. And you could be doing the right thing in a wrong way". And David was doing the right thing in a wrong way. And so, rather than on an ox cart like they had it, they were to carry it. And so after a time David went out, brought the priest, they did sacrifices before the Lord, they had the staves, they carried the thing in the way it should have been done and it was brought back and placed again there in the tabernacle in Jerusalem at the time of David.

And so, God was serious when he said, "Hey, don't let these guys look on it and don't let them touch it lest they die". And so it was a protection for those of the tribe of Kohath that had to handle these holy things that Aaron's sons do it up right so that it would protect the lives of these men who would be bearing these sacred instruments that had been created for the worship of God.

And now the tribe of Gershon in verse twenty-four,

This was the service of the family [not the tribe of Gershon but the family] of Gershon, [the tribe of Levi]; They shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and of the tabernacle of the congregation, the coverings, the coverings of the badgers' skins that are above it, the hangings of the door of the tabernacle. And the hangings of the court, and the hangings of the door of the gate of the court, which is by the tabernacle and the altar that is round about it, and their cords, and the instruments of their service, and all that is made for them: so shall they serve. And at the appointment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burdens, and in all their service: and ye shall appoint unto them the charge of their burdens. And this is the service of the family of the sons of Gershon ( Numbers 4:24-28 )

And so all of these curtains, and you remember there were actually four curtains over the top of the tabernacle, and the hangings over the door and this curtain that went all the way around the tabernacle; these were to be carried by the family of Gershon.

And then finally the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them from thirty years old and it is their charge to carry the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars, and the sockets, And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, their pins, and, and the silver sockets that they went into and all. And this was to be the burden of Merari ( Numbers 4:29-32 ).

So, actually this whole thing was quite portable. These guys can move in, collapse the whole thing and carry it off and then they could set the thing up again. When they came to the place where the cloud was resting, they would go ahead and set up the tabernacle where the cloud rested. And when the cloud moved, they moved, when the cloud set, they set. And so the family of Levi, the tribe of Levi by these families, each one had their own duty in the carrying of the tabernacle. And the number of the men that were involved in this task was eight thousand five hundred and eighty. So they had a pretty good crew working on the setting up of the tabernacle and the taking down of it and carrying it and so forth, whatever the case may be.


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Numbers 4". "Smith's Bible Commentary". 2014.