Numbers 1:48
For the LORD had spoken unto Moses, saying,
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(48) For the Lord had spoken . . . —Better, And the Lord spake . . . (Numbers 3:1; Numbers 3:5-6; Numbers 3:14-15). It is true that the Levites were not included in the earlier numbering, and consequently that they must have been exempted by divine direction. It does not appear, however, that there is a reference to any previous command respecting the Levites, or that the specific destination of the Levites had been previously declared.

1:47-54 Care is here taken to distinguish the tribe of Levi, which, in the matter of the golden calf, had distinguished itself. Singular services shall be recompensed by singular honours. It was to the honour of the Levites, that to them was committed the care of the tabernacle and its treasures, in their camps and in their marches. It was for the honour of the holy things that none should see them, or touch them, but those who were called of God to the service. We all are unfit and unworthy to have fellowship with God, till called by his grace into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and so, being the spiritual seed of that great High Priest, we are made priests to our God. Great care must be taken to prevent sin, for preventing sin is preventing wrath. Being a holy tribe, they were not reckoned among other Israelites. They that minister about holy things, should neither entangle themselves, nor be entangled, in worldly affairs. And let every believer seek to do what the Lord has commanded.had spoken - Render spake. The formal appointment is only now made, in reward for their zeal Exodus 32:26-29, though reference to their future office appears previously in Leviticus 25:32 ff, and they had already acted as assistants to the priests (compare Exodus 38:21). 47-54. But the Levites … were not numbered among them—They were obliged to keep a register of their own. They were consecrated to the priestly office, which in all countries has been exempted customarily, and in Israel by the express authority of God, from military service. The custody of the things devoted to the divine service was assigned to them so exclusively, that "no stranger"—that is, no person, not even an Israelite of any other tribe, was allowed, under penalty of death, to approach these [Nu 16:40]. Hence they encamped round the tabernacle in order that there should be no manifestation of the divine displeasure among the people. Thus the numbering of the people was subservient to the separation of the Levites from those Israelites who were fit for military service, and to the practical introduction of the law respecting the first-born, for whom the tribe of Levi became a substitute [Ex 13:2; Nu 3:12]. No text from Poole on this verse.

For the Lord had spoken unto Moses,.... Not to number the Levites, when he gave him the orders to number the rest of the tribes: this is observed, lest it should be thought that this was what Moses did of himself, out of affection to the tribe he was of, and to spare it, that it might not be obliged to go forth to war when others did; not that they were forbid to engage in war, or that it was unlawful for them so to do, for when necessity required, and they were of themselves willing to engage in it, they might, as appears in the case of the Maccabees, but they might not be forced into it; they were, as Josephus (e) says, exempted from it; and so all concerned in religious service, both among Heathens and Christians, have always been excused bearing arms:

saying; as follows.

(e) Antiqu. l. 3. c. 12. sect. 4.

For the LORD had spoken unto Moses, saying,
48. For the Lord spake] And Jehovah spake. The rendering of the R.V., which is quite inadmissible, conceals the difficulty that the command not to number the Levites follows the statement that they were not numbered. Some transposition, the extent of which is uncertain, has taken place; or perhaps Numbers 1:47 is a gloss.

Verse 48. - Had spoken. Rather, "spake," and so Septuagint. This was the formal command to separate, although it had been anticipated to a considerable extent. The Levites had been marked out from the others

(1) as the tribesmen of Moses and Aaron,

(2) as the champions of Jehovah in the matter of the golden calf (Exodus 32:26, sq.); they had been already employed, or at least designated, for religious services; and the peculiarity of their future position in Israel had been recognized in the Divine legislation (Leviticus 25:32, sq.), and in their not being called upon to contribute to the capitation for the sanctuary. In a word, this ordinance, like so many others, did little more than give a formal and direct sanction to a state of things which had already come into play, partly through natural causes, partly through providential directions. Numbers 1:48Moses was not to muster the tribe of Levi along with the children of Israel, i.e., with the other tribes, or take their number, but to appoint the Levites for the service of the dwelling of the testimony (Exodus 38:21), i.e., of the tabernacle, that they might encamp around it, might take it down when the camp was broken up, and set it up when Israel encamped again, and that no stranger (zar, non-Levite, as in Leviticus 22:10) might come near it and be put to death (see Numbers 3:10). The rest of the tribes were to encamp every man in his place of encampment, and by his banner (see at Numbers 2:2), in their hosts (see Numbers 2), that wrath might not come upon the congregation, viz., through the approach of a stranger. קצף, the wrath of Jehovah, breaking in judgment upon the unholy who approached His sanctuary in opposition to His command (Numbers 8:19; Numbers 18:5, Numbers 18:22). On the expression "keep the charge" (shamar mishmereth), see at Genesis 26:5 and Leviticus 8:35.
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