Numbers 3:39
All that were numbered of the Levites, which Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the LORD, throughout their families, all the males from a month old and upward, were twenty and two thousand.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(39) And Aaron . . . —In the Hebrew text the word Aaron has certain marks over it, known as puncta extraordinaria, denoting that it is to be regarded as spurious or doubtful. It is omitted in the Samaritan and Syriac versions and in a few MSS. There appears. however, to be no sufficient reason for its rejection from the text.

Twenty and two thousand.—The total of the three several items—viz., 7,500, 8,600, and 6,200—amounts to 22,300. It appears, however, from Numbers 3:46 that the total is correctly given as 22,000, inasmuch as the number of the firstborn, 22,273, exceeded that of the Levites by 273. It has been suggested that in Numbers 3:28 we should read שלש (shalosh), three, for שׁש (shesh), six—i.e., 8,300 instead of 8,600; or, if the numbers were denoted, as it has been commonly supposed, by the letters of the alphabet, it is quite possible that one letter may have been substituted by the scribe for another. Some suppose that the three hundred were themselves firstborn sons, who had been born since the command to sanctify the firstborn, and that it is on this account that they were not included in the census. (See Bishop Wordsworth’s Notes in loc., where the reasons which may be assigned for the extreme paucity of this tribe, as compared with the other tribes, are discussed.) The later census, which also included the children from a month old and upwards, shows but a very small increase in the number of this tribe, the number on that occasion amounting only to 23,000 (Numbers 26:62).

Numbers 3:39. Two and twenty thousand — If the particular numbers mentioned (Numbers 3:22; Numbers 3:28; Numbers 3:34) be put together, they make twenty-two thousand three hundred. But the odd three hundred are omitted here, either according to the use of the Holy Scripture, where in so great numbers small ones are commonly neglected, or because they were the firstborn of the Levites, and therefore belonged to God already, and so could not be given to him again instead of the other firstborn. If this number of firstborn seem small to come from twenty-two thousand Levites, it must be considered, that only such firstborn are here named as were males, and such as continued in their parents’ families, not such as had erected new families of their own. Add to this, that God so ordered things by his wise providence, for divers weighty reasons, that this tribe should be much the least of all the tribes, as is evident by comparing the numbers of the other tribes, from twenty years old, (Numbers 1.,) with the number of this from a month old; and therefore it is not strange if the number of their firstborn be less than in other tribes.3:14-39 The Levites were in three classes, according to the sons of Levi; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari; and these were subdivided into families. The posterity of Moses were not at all honoured or privileged, but stood upon the level with other Levites; thus it was plain, that Moses did not seek the advancement of his own family, or to secure any honours to it. The tribe of Levi was by much the least of all the tribes. God's chosen are but a little flock in comparison with the world.twenty and two thousand - A number on which the commutation with the firstborn of the twelve tribes depends Numbers 3:43-46. The actual total of the male Levites is 22,300 (compare Numbers 3:22, Numbers 3:28, Numbers 3:34): and the extra 300 are considered by some to represent those who, being first-born themselves in the tribe of Levi, could not be available to redeem the first-born in other tribes. Others consider the difference due to an error in the Hebrew text.

The tribe of Levi is shown by this census to have been by far the smallest of the tribes.

39. twenty and two thousand—The result of this census, though made on conditions most advantageous to Levi, proved it to be by far the smallest in Israel. The separate numbers stated in Nu 3:22, 28, 34, when added together, amount to twenty-two thousand three hundred. The omission of the three hundred is variously accounted for—by some, because they might be first-born who were already devoted to God and could not be counted as substitutes; and by others, because in Scripture style, the sum is reckoned in round numbers. The most probable conjecture is, that as Hebrew letters are employed for figures, one letter was, in the course of transcription, taken for another of like form but smaller value. Object. But if the particular numbers, mentioned Numbers 3:22,28,34, be put together, they make exactly 22,300.

Answ. The odd 300 are omitted here, either according to the use of the Holy Scripture, which in so great numbers small sums are commonly neglected, or because they were the first-born of the Levites, and therefore belonged to God already, and so could not be given to him again instead of the other first-born. See Leviticus 27:26. If this number of first-born seem very small to come from 22,000 Levites, it must be considered, that only such first-born are here named as were males, and such as continued in their parents families, not such as had erected new families of their own. Add to this, that God so ordered things by his wise providence for divers weighty reasons, that this tribe should be much the least of all the tribes, as is evident by comparing the numbers of the other tribes from twenty years old, Num 1, with the number of this from a month old; and therefore it is not strange if the number of their first-born be less than in other tribes. Although if the other tribes had been computed from a month old, as this was, their number of 600,000 had probably been double or treble to that; and consequently the number of their first-born being 22,273 Numbers 3:43, would have been as unproportionable to their whole sum, as this of 300 first-born Levites seems to their whole number. And some add, that only those first-born are numbered, both in this and in the other tribes, which were born since they came out of Egypt, when God challenged all the first-born to be his. All that were numbered of the Levites, which Moses and Aaron,

numbered at the commandment of the Lord, throughout their families,.... Whence it appears, that Moses was not alone, but Aaron with him, in numbering the Levites, and that by the appointment of the Lord. The word "Aaron", in the Hebrew text, has a dot on every letter, for what reason it is not certain; the word itself is left out in the Samaritan and Syriac versions:

all the males, from a month old and upward, were twenty and two thousand; 22,000 men; but by putting the sums together they amount to three hundred more; for of the Gershonites there were 7,500, and of the Kohathites 8,600, and of the Merarites 6,200, in all 22,300; which difficulty some endeavour to remove by saying, as Aben Ezra observes, that the Scripture takes a short way, mentioning the thousands, and leaving out the hundreds but this, he says, is not right, nor is it the way of the Scripture in this chapter: and in an after account of the firstborn of the Israelites, not only the hundreds are mentioned, but the broken number of seventy three. Others think there is a corruption crept into the text somewhere in the particular numbers, through the inadvertency of some copyist; and suppose it to be in the number of the Kohathites, where they fancy six, is put instead of three: but there is no occasion to suppose either of these, for which there is no foundation, since the reason why three hundred are left out in the sum total may be, because there were so many firstborn among the Levites, and these could not be exchanged for the firstborn of the other tribes; they, as such, being the Lord's, and one firstborn could not redeem another; and so it is said in the Talmud (t), these three hundred were firstborn, and there is no firstborn redeems a firstborn, or frees from the redemption price of five shekels.

(t) T. Bab. Becoroth, fol. 5. 1.

All that were numbered of the Levites, which Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the LORD, throughout their families, all the males from a month old and upward, were twenty and two {o} thousand.

(o) So that the first born of the children of Israel were more by 273, as in Nu 3:43.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Verse 39. - Twenty and two thousand. It is obvious that there is a discrepancy between this total and its three component numbers, which make 22,300. It is so obvious that it must have been innocent; no one deliberately falsifying or forging would have left so palpable a discrepancy on the face of the narrative. It may, therefore, have arisen from an error in transcription (the alteration of a single letter would suffice); or it may be due to the fact that, for some reason not stated, 300 were struck off the Levitical total for the purpose of this census. Such a reason was found by the Hebrew expositors, and has been accepted by some moderns, in the fact that the Levites were taken and counted instead of the first-born, and that, therefore, their own first-born would have to he excluded. There is nothing to be said against this explanation, except that no trace of it appears in a narrative otherwise very full and minute. The first-born of the Levites may have been just 300 (although the number is singularly small), and they may have been considered ineligible for the purpose of redeeming other first-born; but if so, why did not the sacred writer say so, instead of silently reducing the total of "all that were numbered of the Levites"? The Merarites, who formed two families, comprising 6200 males, were to encamp on the north side of the tabernacle, under their prince Zuriel, and to observe the boards, bolts, pillars, and sockets of the dwelling-place (Exodus 26:15, Exodus 26:26, Exodus 26:32, Exodus 26:37), together with all the vessels thereof (the plugs and tools), and all that had to be done in connection therewith, also the pillars of the court with their sockets, the plugs and the cords (Exodus 27:10, Exodus 27:19; Exodus 35:18); that is to say, they were to take charge of these when the tabernacle was taken down, to carry them on the march, and to fix them when the tabernacle was set up again (Numbers 4:31-32).
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