Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
After a brief notice of Solomon’s coronation in the old age of David, the chronicler passes to the main subject of 1 Chronicles 23-26, viz., David’s organisation of the Priests and Levites. The chapter before us presents (1) a summary account of the number and several duties of the Levites (1Chronicles 23:2-5); and (2) the father-houses or clans of the Levites, with an appendix of remarks about their duties from this time forward (1Chronicles 23:6-32).
So when David was old and full of days, he made Solomon his son king over Israel.(1) So when David was old and full of days.—Literally, Now David had become old and satisfied with days. (See Genesis 35:29; Job 42:17; where both terms, which are verbs here, appear as adjectives.) Perhaps our pointing is wrong. The expression “satisfied with days” reminds us of Horace, who describes the philosopher as departing this life like a satisfied guest (ut conviva satur, etc.).
He made Solomon his son king.—Heb., and he made, &c. This short statement is all that the chronicler has chosen to repeat from 1 Kings 1, a narrative intimately connected with David’s family affairs, with which he is not concerned to deal. (Comp. 1 Chronicles 20, introductory remarks.)
And he gathered together all the princes of Israel, with the priests and the Levites.(2-5) The numbering of the Levites and their appointments.
(2) And he gathered together all the princes of Israel.—The form of the verb (the imperfect with waw conversive) implies that this was done in connection with the transfer of the kingdom to Solomon. The following chapters, therefore, relate to arrangements made by David towards the close of his life. (Comp. 1Chronicles 26:30, “the fortieth year of the reign of David.”)
The princes of Israel.—Comp. 1Chronicles 13:1; 1Chronicles 15:25; 1Chronicles 22:17. “The princes and the priests and the Levites” together constituted, in the conception of the chronicler, the three estates of the realm: the representatives of all spiritual and temporal authority. David consults with the national assembly in a matter of national concern.
Now the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and upward: and their number by their polls, man by man, was thirty and eight thousand.(3) Now . . . and—i.e., after the council had agreed upon it.
The Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and upward.—A census like that which Moses instituted (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30, &c.), of all Levites “from thirty years old and upward unto fifty years,” for the work of the Tabernacle.
By their polls, man by man.—Lit., As to their skulls, as to men. The second phrase defines the first, and excludes women and children.
Of which, twenty and four thousand were to set forward the work of the house of the LORD; and six thousand were officers and judges:(4) Of which, twenty and four thousand were to set forward.—It is clear from 1Chronicles 23:5 that David himself is supposed to utter both verses, thus personally assigning their commission to the Levites. The Hebrew here is peculiar. We may render: “Of these let there be for superintending the work of the house of Jehovah twenty-four thousand, and scribes and judges six thousand.”
To set forward.—An infinitive, as at 1Chronicles 22:12. The verb is that of which the participle often occurs in the titles of the Psalms. (Authorised “Version, “chief musician.”) It means “to lead,” or “superintend.” The Levites had a share in prisoners of war, according to Numbers 31:30. These they could employ in the more menial work of the sanctuary. The Gibeonites were spared on condition of becoming “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” i.e., Levitical bondsmen; and other whole cities may have received the same terms (Joshua 9:23; Joshua 9:27). We have details of the functions of these superintending Levites in 1Chronicles 23:28-32, below.
And six thousand were officers and judges.—See above. “Officers” (shōtĕrîm) are first mentioned in Exodus 5:6 (see Note there; and comp. Deuteronomy 16:18). The word means writers (comp. Assyrian sadhāru, to write). The progress of the entire people in power and civilisation elevated the Levites also; and from a warlike troop of defenders of the sanctuary, they became peaceful guardians of the great Temple at Jerusalem and its treasures, musicians and artists in its service, instructors and judges scattered throughout the whole country (Ewald).
Moreover four thousand were porters; and four thousand praised the LORD with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith.(5) Moreover four thousand were porters.—Literally, and four thousand (are to be) warders. (Comp. 1Chronicles 9:21-27.) Reuss thinks 4,000 warders too many; but the different clans went on duty in turn.
And four thousand praised the Lord . . .—Rather, and four thousand (are to be) praising the Lord with the instruments that I have made for praising. (On “praising,” see 1Chronicles 16:4.) We have here an interesting reference to the fact that David was not only a minstrel and inspired psalmist, but also an inventor of stringed instruments. So the prophet Amos (1Chronicles 6:5) speaks of the effeminate nobles of Israel, “who prattle on the mouth of the nebel, that invent themselves instruments of music, like David.” The reference is repeated in Nehemiah 12:36.
Which I have made.—This expression proves that 1Chronicles 23:4-5 should be within inverted commas, as representing a spoken decree of David. Ewald thinks that the narrative is interrupted in 1Chronicles 23:5 by a fragmentary quotation from an ancient poet who speaks in the name of Jehovah, characterising the musicians as “those whom I have formed to sing my praise.” (But see 2Chronicles 7:6.)
And David divided them into courses among the sons of Levi, namely, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.(6-23) The twenty-four houses of the Levites.
(6) And David divided them into courses.—Heb., he divided him them (reflexive form of verb, with suffix) into divisions. (Comp. 1Chronicles 24:3, and Genesis 14:15.) Others read the simple voice of the verb here, as at 1Chronicles 24:4-5, 2Chronicles 23:18, Nehemiah 9:22; others, again, the intensive voice, as at 1Chronicles 16:3 (only). It is a question of pointing, the consonants remaining the same in each form. “David divided them,” i.e., the 2,400 superintendents (1Chronicles 23:4; comp. 1Chronicles 23:24). Many of the names here enumerated recur in 1Chronicles 24:20-31; 1Chronicles 26:20-28; whereas the names of the courses of musicians (1Chronicles 25:1-31), warders (1Chronicles 26:1-19), and scribes and judges (1Chronicles 26:29-32), are totally different.
Among the sons of Levi.—Rather, according to the sons of Levi, viz., according to Gershon, &c.: that is, according to the three great sub-divisions of the tribe (1Chronicles 6:1; 1Chronicles 6:16). Notice the correct spelling, “Gershon” (not Gershom).
Of the Gershonites were, Laadan, and Shimei.(7) Of the Gershonites.—1Chronicles 23:7-11 give the names of nine Gershonite houses, or guilds. David’s “courses” of Levites were formed according to the natural divisions already existing: i.e., they coincided with the father-houses. They were doubtless twenty-four in number, like those of their brethren the musicians (1Chronicles 25:31), and like the priestly classes (1Chronicles 24:4). So states Josephus (Ant. vii. 14, 7).
Laadan, and Shimei.—See 1Chronicles 6:2, where the two principal branches of the Gershonites are called “Libni” and Shimei. “Laadan” is hardly the same as Libni, but a branch prominent in the time of David.
The sons of Laadan; the chief was Jehiel, and Zetham, and Joel, three.(8) The sons of Laadan.—These are named in two groups: viz., first, the three mentioned in this verse; secondly, the three named in 1Chronicles 23:9, and called “sons of Shimei.” This Shimei is not the same as the Shimei of 1Chronicles 23:7, whose sub-divisions are not given till 1Chronicles 23:10.
The sons of Shimei; Shelomith, and Haziel, and Haran, three. These were the chief of the fathers of Laadan.(9) These were the chief of the fathers of Laadan.—Rather, heads of the father-houses to Laadan. The names seem to be at once those of the clans, or guilds, and of their existing chiefs. But perhaps we should render, These are the chief father-houses. To Laadan, then, pertained six houses, viz., Jehiel, Zetham, Joel, Shelomith, Haziel, and Haran.
And the sons of Shimei were, Jahath, Zina, and Jeush, and Beriah. These four were the sons of Shimei.(10) And the sons of Shimei.—That is, of Shimei the “brother” of Laadan (1Chronicles 23:7). The bnê Shimei formed four houses, but were reckoned as three, because the two last-named, Jeush and Beriah, were numerically weak, and therefore counted as a single house and class (1Chronicles 23:11).
Zina.—1Chronicles 23:11 reads “Zizah” for this name, which is thus spelt quite differently in two consecutive verses. “Zizah” is probably right. (Comp. 1Chronicles 4:37; 2Chronicles 11:20.) So the LXX. and Vulg.; Syriac and Arabic read “Zabda.”
And Jahath was the chief, and Zizah the second: but Jeush and Beriah had not many sons; therefore they were in one reckoning, according to their father's house.(11) But Jeush and Beriah had not many sons.—Now Jeush and Beriah had not multiplied sons; so they became (one) father-home (bêth-âb), one class (or muster—pĕquddāh). Altogether, then, there were nine Gershonite clans: viz., six of the sons of Laadan, and three of the sons of Shimei, among the 24,000 Levites of 1Chronicles 23:4.
The sons of Kohath; Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, four.(12) The sons of Kohath.—1Chronicles 23:12-20 give the names of nine Kohathite houses, “Amram, Izhar,” &c. (Comp. 1Chronicles 6:2; 1Chronicles 6:18.)
The sons of Amram; Aaron and Moses: and Aaron was separated, that he should sanctify the most holy things, he and his sons for ever, to burn incense before the LORD, to minister unto him, and to bless in his name for ever.(13) And Aaron was separated.—Aaron and his sons, as priests, are thus excluded from present consideration. They form the proper subject of 1Chronicles 25:1-19, and are only mentioned here for the sake of completeness in the reckoning.
That he should sanctify the most holy-things.—Rather, to hallow (or consecrate) him as most holy; literally, holy of holies (qôdesh qŏdāshîm), an expression not applied to Aaron in any other passage of Scripture. The meaning is that the priests represented a higher grade of holiness, a more thorough consecration, than the mere Levites, because they were called to the discharge of a higher and holier ministry.
He and his sons.—All the priests are included with Aaron.
To burn incense.—The Hebrew term means to burn victims as well as incense.
To minister unto him, and to bless in his name—The same words occur (Deuteronomy 10:8) with reference to the purpose for which the tribe of Levi was “separated.” The tribe obviously includes the Aaronite clan. (Comp. also Deuteronomy 21:5.)
And to bless in his name.—This appears right from Numbers 6:23. Others render, and to bless His name.
Now concerning Moses the man of God, his sons were named of the tribe of Levi.(14) Now concerning Moses the man of God.—Rather, Now Moses, the man of God.
His sons were named (or should be named) of the tribe of Levi.—See Genesis 48:6 for the phrase “to be called after” (niqrâ’ ‘al). Aaron’s sons were priests; but the sons of Moses, his brother, were reckoned as simple Levites, and therefore their houses are here enumerated (1Chronicles 23:15-17).
The man of God.—See Deuteronomy 33:1; Psalms 90; Joshua 14:6. David is so called (2Chronicles 8:14; Nehemiah 12:24). The meaning of the title is one charged with a Divine mission. Hence the prophets were so called in the times of the kings; and St. Paul applies the title to Timothy (1Timothy 6:11).
The sons of Moses were, Gershom, and Eliezer.(15) The sons of Moses.—See Exodus 2:22 for “Gershom,” Exodus 18:3-4 for both. Gershom means “expulsion” (comp Genesis 3:24), and is a variant form of Gcrshon. What is said in Exodus 2:22 is an allusive play on the name, not a derivation of it. “Eliezer,” God is help, a distinct name from “Eleazar” (1Chronicles 23:22), God hath helped, or, is a helper.
Of the sons of Gershom, Shebuel was the chief.(16) The sons of Gershom, Shebuel was the chief (Heb., head).—The statement that “Shebuel was the chief” implies that Gershom had other sons not mentioned here, as being reckoned members of the clan the sons of Gershom. Shebuel is called Shubael in 1Chronicles 24:20.
And the sons of Eliezer were, Rehabiah the chief. And Eliezer had none other sons; but the sons of Rehabiah were very many.(17) And the sons of Eliezer were, Rehabiah the chief.—The word “were” (became) ought not to be in italics in the text, as it is expressed in the Hebrew.
The chief (head) means founder and eponym of the clan the sons of Rehabiah.
And Eliezer had none other sons.—Literally, And there became not to Eliezer ether sons, and the sons of Rehabiah had multiplied exceedingly (unto height, 1Chronicles 22:5). The clan Rehabiah was very populous.
Thus (1Chronicles 23:16-17) the descendants of Moses were comprised in two father-houses, or clans, viz., Shebuel and Rehabiah.
Of the sons of Izhar; Shelomith the chief.(18) The sons of Izhar.—Second son of Kohath. The sons of Izhar made one clan, that of Shelōmith (or Shelōmōth, 1Chronicles 24:22). The same variation occurred in the Hebrew of 1Chronicles 23:9, above.
Of the sons of Hebron; Jeriah the first, Amariah the second, Jahaziel the third, and Jekameam the fourth.(19) The sons of Hebron.—“Of” is wanting in the Hebrew here, as well as in 1Chronicles 23:16; 1Chronicles 23:18; 1Chronicles 23:20. The sons of Hebron comprised four houses, clans, or classes. Their names recur in 1Chronicles 24:23.
Of the sons of Uzziel; Michah the first, and Jesiah the second.(20) The sons of Uzziel constituted two houses and classes. The nine clans of Kohathite Levites are again rehearsed at 1Chronicles 24:20-25.
The sons of Merari; Mahli, and Mushi. The sons of Mahli; Eleazar, and Kish.(21) The sons of Merari; Mahli, and Mushi.—See Exodus 6:19, and Numbers 3:33, and 1Chronicles 6:19.
And Eleazar died, and had no sons, but daughters: and their brethren the sons of Kish took them.(22) And Eleazar died, and had no sons.—Thus his house merged in that of the sons of Kish, who married his daughters according to the Law (Numbers 36:6-9). The sons of Mahli, then, were represented in David’s day by the house of Kish. (See 1Chronicles 24:29.)
The sons of Mushi; Mahli, and Eder, and Jeremoth, three.(23) The sons of Mushi; Mahli, and Eder, and Jeremoth, three.—These, with the sons of Kish. make only four Merarite houses, whereas six are required to make up a total of twenty-four Levitical houses. But 1Chronicles 24:26-27 shows that the chronicler’s registers named a third son of Merari, viz., Jaaziah, whose descendents constituted the three houses of Shoham, Zaccur, and Ibri, in the time of David. Adding these, we get seven clans, one too many for our purpose.
Perhaps the Mahli of 1Chronicles 23:23 is a mistaken repetition from 1Chronicles 23:21, due to some ancient scribe. The word “three” at the end of the verse would be added after the mistake had become fixed. It is wanting in 1Chronicles 24:30, which otherwise repeats 1Chronicles 23:23. Excluding this second Mahli as spurious, we get six clans of Merarites; and thus, altogether, twenty-four classes of Levitical overseers of the work of the sanctuary (1Chronicles 23:4), consisting of nine Gershonite, nine Kohathite, and six Merarite houses. This number of classes or guilds tallies exactly with the total of 24,000 Levites (1Chronicles 23:4), for it allows a thousand to the class (or clan). See on 1Chronicles 13:1.
It is right to remark (1) that the passage 1Chronicles 24:26-27, itself needs emendation (see Notes there); (2) that the old versions—viz., the LXX., Vulg., Syriac, and Arabic—have the reading of our present text in 1Chronicles 23:21-23, so that the assumed omission of Jaaziah and his sons must be very ancient, and is probably due to an oversight of an early editor, if not of the chronicler himself; (3) in the two other passages of the Old Testament where the sons of Merari are named, only two—viz., Mahli and Mushi—appear; and (4) that the recurrence of the name Mahli in our 1Chronicles 23:23 as a son of Mushi is easily paralleled: e.g., in 1Chronicles 23:9-10 (“ Shimei” twice). But it is easier to suppose an omission here than an interpolation of unknown names at 1Chronicles 24:26-27. And the correspondence of the present list up to this point with that of 1 Chronicles 24 favours the assumption of an unintentional omission in 1Chronicles 23:21.
These were the sons of Levi after the house of their fathers; even the chief of the fathers, as they were counted by number of names by their polls, that did the work for the service of the house of the LORD, from the age of twenty years and upward.(24) These were the sons of Levi after the house of their fathers.—Rather, These were the sons of Levi, according to their father-houses (clans), heads of the houses (fathers, i.e., father-houses), to those mustered of them, in an enumeration of names according to their polls. This is the subscription to the foregoing list of names of the Levitical houses, as entered in the muster-rolls of David.
That did the work for the service of the house of the Lord.—This description identifies these Levites with the 24,000 mentioned in 1Chronicles 23:4.
That did the work.—Literally, doing. This participle has the form of the singular here and elsewhere in the Chronicles, though the sense demands a plural. It is probably meant as plural, being a variant spelling. (Comp. 2Chronicles 24:12; 2Chronicles 34:10; 2Chronicles 34:13; Ezra 3:9; Nehemiah 2:16.)
From the age of twenty years and upward.—1Chronicles 23:3 states that the Levites were numbered “from the age of thirty and upward.” Some would banish discrepancy by the assumption that “thirty” is an ancient error of transcription; others imagine that the chronicler has simply incorporated two divergent statements, as he found them in his authorities. According to Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30; Numbers 4:35; Numbers 4:43; Numbers 4:47, the Levites were bound to serve “from thirty years old and upward” to fifty years of age; whereas Numbers 8:24-25, fixes the age “from twenty and five years old and upward” to fifty; and this, according to Ewald, is the more exact account. It appears from 2Chronicles 31:17, that the later practice, at all events, was for the Levites to enter on their sacred functions at the age of twenty. Accordingly, the older commentators have supposed that David twice numbered the Levites: first, as the Law required, from the age of thirty (1Chronicles 23:3); and again, towards the close of his reign (1Chronicles 23:27), from the age of twenty, because he perceived that the duties had become less onerous, and might therefore be borne by younger men. (Comp. however, Numbers 1:3, from which it appears that the military age, i.e., the age of full virile strength, was reckoned “from twenty years old and upward.’)
For David said, The LORD God of Israel hath given rest unto his people, that they may dwell in Jerusalem for ever:(25) For David said.—This verse seems to assign a reason for the extension of the Levitical census.
The Lord . . . hath given rest unto his people.—So that they no longer wander from pasture to pasture in the wilderness, nor are any more oppressed by foreign tyrants as in the days of the judges.
That they may dwell.—Rather, And He (the Lord) hath settled in Jerusalem for ever. (Comp. 1Chronicles 17:5, “I have gone from tent to tent.”) Now Jehovah has chosen Zion to be His eternal dwelling-place (Psalm 132:13.)
And also unto the Levites; they shall no more carry the tabernacle, nor any vessels of it for the service thereof.(26) And also unto the Levites; they shall no more carry . . .—Rather, And the Levites also have not (now) to carry the dwelling and all its vessels for its service, as they had to do in the wanderings of Israel in the desert. The sacred dwelling-place (mishkān) had long been fixed at Gibeon; and the service of the Levites was so much the lighter, as in the olden time they not only had to carry about from place to place, but also to guard the holy tent and its belongings against the attacks of marauders. The inference is that as the duties had become so much less arduous, they might well be undertaken at an earlier age than the ancient custom permitted.
They shall no more carry.—Comp. the same infinitival construction in 2Chronicles 5:11.
For by the last words of David the Levites were numbered from twenty years old and above:(27) For by the last words of David.—That is, owing to his last commands. So Vulg. (juxta praecepta David novissima) and Syriac.
The Levites were numbered.—Literally, these (are), i.e., according to the later idiom, this (is) the enumeration of the sons of Levi, from twenty years old and upward. The verse seems to mean that David towards the end of his reign instituted a census of Levites from twenty instead of thirty years old. Thus, the Authorised Version gives the sense. Others render, For in the Last words (i.e., records) of David is the number of the sons of Levi from twenty, &c., as if the chronicler were referring to some historical work in which this special census was recorded. (Comp. 1Chronicles 29:29. ) The verse is a parenthetic remark of the chronicler, interrupting the speech of David, which, however, is resumed in 1Chronicles 23:28, and continued to the end of the chapter.
Because their office was to wait on the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the LORD, in the courts, and in the chambers, and in the purifying of all holy things, and the work of the service of the house of God;(28) Because their office was to wait on the sons of Aaron.—For their appointment (or station) is at the side of the sons of Aaron (i.e., the priests). The Levites had no longer to carry the sacred dwelling and its vessels, but to minister, in subordination to the priesthood, in the permanent sanctuary.
In the courts.—Over (i.e., in charge of) the courts, and over the cells, or chambers built around the courts, in which were kept stores and treasures (1Chronicles 9:26), and in which priests and Levites lived.
And in (over) the purifying of all holy things.—2Chronicles 30:19. They had to cleanse the sacred vessels and the sanctuary itself.
Both for the shewbread, and for the fine flour for meat offering, and for the unleavened cakes, and for that which is baked in the pan, and for that which is fried, and for all manner of measure and size;(29) Both for the shewbread, and for the fine flour.—Rather, And over the shewbread, and over, &c. “For” (lĕ) continues the sense of “over” (‘al). The Levitical assistants of the priests had to see to the preparation of the things here enumerated.
And for that which is baked in the pan.—Literally, and over the pan (Leviticus 2:5).
And for that which is fried.—Rather, and over that which is soaked in oil (a kind of cake, Leviticus 7:12).
And for all manner of measure and size.—The flour and wine and oil, which were the complements of every sacrifice, were measured by the Levites in standard vessels, of which they had the keeping. Exodus 29:40 shows that the proportions were fixed for each kind of offering. “Measure” (mĕsûrāh), a rare word, implies measure of capacity; “size” (middāh), measure of length (Rashi).
And to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD, and likewise at even;(30) To thank and praise the Lord.—This refers to the special function of the 4,000 musicians (1Chronicles 23:5). (Comp. 1Chronicles 16:4.) Those who slew and flayed the victims could hardly have taken part in the service of song.
And to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the LORD in the sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commanded unto them, continually before the LORD:(31) And to offer all burnt sacrifices.—Rather, And over all offering of burnt offerings. The Levites had to select and prepare the victims, the priests offered them, when ready, upon the altar. The Levites had to do this “by number,” i.e., according to the several numbers prescribed by the Law for each occasion. (See Numbers 28)
According to the order commanded unto them.—According to the rule concerning them: i.e., concerning the sacrifices.
Continually.—Heb., tamîd, the technical term in connection with the burnt offerings, which regularly recurred at stated times, e.g., a lamb was offered morning and evening. (Comp. Numbers 28:6.)
And that they should keep the charge of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the holy place, and the charge of the sons of Aaron their brethren, in the service of the house of the LORD.(32) And that they should keep.—This verse sums up the functions of the Levites under three general heads: “And let them keep the charge of the tent of meeting.” The words are evidently based upon Numbers 18:3-5.
And the charge of the sons of Aaron.—That is, all that the priests committed to them, and required of them (1Chronicles 23:28) as their appointed assistants. The word rendered “charge” literally means keeping, guard, watch.
In the service.—For the service.
ADDITIONAL NOTE on 1Chronicles 23:28; 1Chronicles 23:32. The law respecting the sacred tent was naturally applied to the future Temple. It is hardly fair to say, with Reuss, that “in the perspective of the author the Tabernacle of David and the Temple of Solomon were confounded with each other.” In 1Chronicles 16:37-39, the chronicler has clearly distinguished two sacred tents: that of the Ark on Mount Zion, and the ancient sanctuary at Gibeon. Throughout that lengthy narrative of the transfer of the Ark, the Temple is not mentioned at all. And if in 1Chronicles 23:28 David speaks of “courts” and “chambers,” that only shows that the king meant his assignation of the duties of the Levites to be permanent. Nor will it make much difference if we allow that the writer, in speaking of David’s tent, has used language more applicable to the Temple of Solomon. The functions of the Levites in both would be essentially the same. The great historian Ewald believed the whole section, 1Chronicles 23:24 to 1Chronicles 24:31 to be an authentic extract from “the Book of Origins,” which he refers to the early years of Solomon’s reign.