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The Sons of Aaron

When the Lord talked with Moses on Mount Sinai, Aaron’s four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, were the ones to be ordained as priests. But the Lord killed Nadab and Abihu in the Sinai Desert when they used fire that was unacceptable[a] in their offering to the Lord.[b] And because Nadab and Abihu had no sons, only Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests with their father Aaron.

The Duties of the Levites

The Lord said to Moses:

Assign the Levi tribe to Aaron the priest. They will be his assistants and will work at the sacred tent for him and for all the Israelites. The Levites will serve the community by being responsible for the furnishings of the tent. They are assigned to help Aaron and his sons, 10 who have been appointed to be priests. Anyone else who tries to perform the duties of a priest must be put to death.

11-13 Moses, I have chosen these Levites from all Israel, and they will belong to me in a special way. When I killed the first-born sons of the Egyptians, I decided that the first-born sons in every Israelite family and the first-born males of their flocks and herds would be mine.[c] But now I accept these Levites in place of the first-born sons of the Israelites.

The Levites Are Counted

14 In the Sinai Desert the Lord said to Moses, 15 “Now I want you to count the men and boys in the Levi tribe by families and by clans. Include every one at least a month old.” 16 So Moses obeyed and counted them.

17 Levi’s three sons, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, had become the heads of their own clans. 18 Gershon’s sons were Libni and Shimei. 19 Kohath’s sons were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 20 And Merari’s sons were Mahli and Mushi. These were the sons and grandsons of Levi, and they had become the leaders of the Levite clans.

21 The two Gershon clans were the Libnites and Shimeites, 22 and they had seven thousand five hundred men and boys at least one month old. 23 The Gershonites were to camp on the west side of the sacred tent, 24 under the leadership of Eliasaph son of Lael. 25 Their duties at the tent included taking care of the tent itself, along with its outer covering, the curtain for the entrance, 26 the curtains hanging inside the courtyard around the tent, as well as the curtain and ropes for the entrance to the courtyard and its altar. The Gershonites were responsible for setting these things up and taking them down.

27 The four Kohath clans were the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites, and the Uzzielites, 28 and they had eight thousand six hundred[d] men and boys at least one month old. 29 The Kohathites were to camp on the south side of the sacred tent, 30 under the leadership of Elizaphan son of Uzziel. 31 Their duties at the tent included taking care of the sacred chest, the table for the sacred bread, the lampstand, the altars, the objects used for worship, and the curtain in front of the most holy place. The Kohathites were responsible for setting these things up and taking them down.

32 Eleazar son of Aaron was the head of the Levite leaders, and he made sure that the work at the sacred tent was done.

33 The two Merari clans were the Mahlites and the Mushites, 34 and they had six thousand two hundred men and boys at least one month old. 35 The Merarites were to camp on the north side of the sacred tent, under the leadership of Zuriel son of Abihail. 36-37 Their duties included taking care of the tent frames and the pieces that held the tent up: the bars, the posts, the stands, and its other equipment. They were also in charge of the posts that supported the courtyard, as well as their stands, tent pegs, and ropes. The Merari clans were responsible for setting these things up and taking them down.

38 Moses, Aaron, and his sons were to camp in front of the sacred tent, on the east side, and to make sure that the Israelites worshiped in the proper way. Anyone else who tried to do the work of Moses and Aaron was to be put to death.

39 So Moses and Aaron obeyed the Lord and counted the Levites by their clans. The total number of Levites at least one month old was twenty-two thousand.

The Levites Are Accepted as Substitutes for the First-Born Sons

40 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a list and count the first-born sons at least one month old in each of the Israelite families. 41 They belong to me, but I will accept the Levites as substitutes for them, and I will accept the Levites' livestock as substitutes for the Israelites' first-born livestock.”

42 Moses obeyed the Lord and counted the first-born sons; 43 there were 22,273 of them.

44 Then the Lord said, 45 “The Levites will belong to me and will take the place of the first-born sons; their livestock will take the place of the Israelites' first-born livestock. 46 But since there are more first-born sons than Levites, the extra two hundred seventy-three men and boys must be bought back from me. 47 For each one, you are to collect five pieces of silver, weighed according to the official standards. 48 This money must then be given to Aaron and his sons.”

49 Moses collected the silver from the extra two hundred seventy-three first-born men and boys, 50 and it amounted to one thousand three hundred sixty-five pieces of silver, weighed according to the official standards. 51 Then he gave it to Aaron and his sons, just as the Lord had commanded.

The Duties of the Kohathite Clans

The Lord told Moses and Aaron:

2-3 Find out how many men between the ages of thirty and fifty are in the four Levite clans of Kohath. Count only those who are able to work at the sacred tent.

The Kohathites will be responsible for carrying the sacred objects used in worship at the sacred tent. When the Israelites are ready to move their camp, Aaron and his sons will enter the tent and take down the curtain that separates the sacred chest from the rest of the tent. They will cover the chest with this curtain, and then with a piece of fine leather, and cover it all with a solid blue cloth. After this they will put the carrying poles in place.

Next, Aaron and his sons will use another blue cloth to cover the table for the sacred bread.[e] On the cloth they will place the dishes, the bowls for incense, the cups, the jugs for wine, as well as the bread itself. They are to cover all of this with a bright red cloth, and then with a piece of fine leather, before putting the carrying poles in place.

With another blue cloth they will cover the lampstand, along with the lamps, the lamp snuffers, the fire pans, and the jars of oil for the lamps. 10 All of this will then be covered with a piece of fine leather and placed on a carrying frame.

11 The gold incense altar[f] is to be covered with a blue cloth, and then with a piece of fine leather, before its carrying poles are put in place.

12 Next, Aaron and his sons will take blue cloth and wrap all the objects used in worship at the sacred tent. These will need to be covered with a piece of fine leather, then placed on a carrying frame.

13 They are to remove the ashes from the bronze altar and cover it with a purple cloth. 14 On that cloth will be placed the utensils used at the altar, including the fire pans, the meat forks, the shovels, and the sprinkling bowls. All of this will then be covered with a piece of fine leather, before the carrying poles are put in place.

15 When the camp is ready to be moved, the Kohathites will be responsible for carrying the sacred objects and the furnishings of the sacred tent. But Aaron and his sons must have already covered those things so the Kohathites won’t touch them and die.

16 Eleazar son of Aaron the priest will be in charge of the oil for the lamps, the sweet-smelling incense, the grain for the sacrifices, and the olive oil used for dedications and ordinations. Eleazar is responsible for seeing that the sacred tent, its furnishings, and the sacred objects are taken care of.

17-20 The Kohathites must not go near or even look at the sacred objects until Aaron and his sons have covered those objects. If they do, their entire clan will be wiped out. So make sure that Aaron and his sons go into the tent with them and tell them what to carry.

The Duties of the Gershonite Clans

21 The Lord said to Moses:

22-23 Find out how many men between the ages of thirty and fifty are in the two Levite clans of Gershon. Count only those who are able to work at the sacred tent.

24 The Gershonites will be responsible 25 for carrying the curtains of the sacred tent, its two outer coverings,[g] the curtain for the entrance to the tent, 26 the curtains hanging around the courtyard of the tent, and the curtain and ropes for the entrance to the courtyard. The Gershonites are to do whatever needs to be done to take care of these things, 27 and they will carry them wherever Aaron and his sons tell them to. 28 These are the duties of the Gershonites at the sacred tent, and Ithamar son of Aaron will make sure they do their work.

The Duties of the Merarite Clans

29-30 The Lord said:

Moses, find out how many men between thirty and fifty are in the two Levite clans of Merari, but count only those who are able to work at the sacred tent.

31 The Merarites will be responsible for carrying the frames of the tent and its other pieces, including the bars, the posts, the stands, 32 as well as the posts that support the courtyard, together with their stands, tent pegs, and ropes. The Merarites are to be told exactly what objects they are to carry, 33 and Ithamar son of Aaron will make sure they do their work.

The Levites Are Counted Again

34-49 Moses, Aaron, and the other Israelite leaders obeyed the Lord and counted the Levi tribe by families and clans, to find out how many men there were between the ages of thirty and fifty who could work at the sacred tent. There were two thousand seven hundred fifty Kohathites, two thousand six hundred thirty Gershonites, and three thousand two hundred Merarites, making a total of eight thousand five hundred eighty. Then they were all assigned their duties.

Footnotes

  1. 3.4 fire that was unacceptable: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  2. 3.4 the Lord killed Nadab and Abihu. . . to the Lord: See Leviticus 10.1,2.
  3. 3.11-13 When I killed. . . mine: See Exodus 13.1,2,11-16.
  4. 3.28 eight thousand six hundred: Hebrew; some manuscripts of one ancient translation “eight thousand three hundred.”
  5. 4.7 sacred bread: This bread was offered to the Lord and was a symbol of his presence in the sacred tent. It was put out on a special table and was replaced with fresh bread each Sabbath (Leviticus 24.5-9).
  6. 4.11 gold incense altar: This altar for offering incense was inside the sacred tent; it was made of acacia wood covered with gold. A large altar for offering sacrifices was in front of the entrance to the tent; it was made of acacia wood covered with bronze (see verse 13).
  7. 4.25 two outer coverings: See Exodus 26.14.

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