Numbers 3:23
The families of the Gershonites shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward.
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(23) Behind the tabernacle westward.—As the position of the twelve tribes in respect of the tent of meeting had been already determined, so in this and the following verses the position of the priests and Levites is fixed. On the east side of the tent Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons were to encamp, on the south the Kohathites, on the west the Gershonites, on the north the Merarites.

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.The concluding words are better expressed thus: "Mine shall they be, Mine, the Lord's." On the subject of the firstborn see the notes at Numbers 3:43-51. 14-31. Number the children of Levi—They were numbered as well as the other tribes; but the enumeration was made on a different principle—for while in the other tribes the number of males was calculated from twenty years and upward [Nu 1:3], in that of Levi they were counted "from a month old and upward." The reason for the distinction is obvious. In the other tribes the survey was made for purposes of war [Nu 1:3], from which the Levites were totally exempt. But the Levites were appointed to a work on which they entered as soon as they were capable of instruction. They are mentioned under the names of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, sons of Levi, and chiefs or ancestral heads of three subdivisions into which this tribe was distributed. Their duties were to assist in the conveyance of the tabernacle when the people were removing the various encampments, and to form its guard while stationary—the Gershonites being stationed on the west, the Kohathites on the south, and the families of Merari on the north. The Kohathites had the principal place about the tabernacle, and charge of the most precious and sacred things—a distinction with which they were honored, probably, because the Aaronic family belonged to this division of the Levitical tribe. The Gershonites, being the oldest, had the next honorable post assigned them, while the burden of the drudgery was thrown on the division of Merari. No text from Poole on this verse.

The families of the Gershonites,.... The two before mentioned, the Libnites and Shimites:

shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward; this was their situation when encamped; they were placed in the rear of the camp of the Levites, between the tabernacle and the camp of Ephraim, which was westward also, Numbers 1:18.

The families of the Gershonites shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward.
23. behind] The usual expression for ‘westward,’ because the Hebrew faced eastward when thinking of the points of the compass; cf. Exodus 3:1, Deuteronomy 11:30, Jdg 18:12, Isaiah 9:12. With the characteristic tautology of the priestly style another word for ‘westward’ is added; cf. Numbers 3:38, Exodus 27:9. The latter denotes literally ‘towards the sea,’ shewing that the narrator was in Palestine when he wrote, the Mediterranean being the sea referred to.

Verse 23. - Shall pitch. These directions as to the position and duties of the Levitical families retain the form in which they were originally given. The way in which they are mixed up with direct narrative affords a striking proof of the inartificial character of these sacred writings. Behind the tabernacle westward. The tabernacle opened or looked eastward towards the sunrise. Numbers 3:23The Gershonites were divided into two families, containing 7500 males. They were to encamp under their chief Eliasaph, behind the tabernacle, i.e., on the western side (Numbers 3:23, Numbers 3:24), and were to take charge of the dwelling-place and the tent, the covering, the curtain at the entrance, the hangings round the court with the curtains at the door, and the cords of the tent, "in relation to all the service thereof" (Numbers 3:25.); that is to say, according to the more precise injunctions in Numbers 4:25-27, they were to carry the tapestry of the dwelling (the inner covering, Exodus 26:1.), and of the tent (i.e., the covering made of goats' hair, Exodus 26:7.), the covering thereof (i.e., the covering of rams' skins dyed red, and the covering of sea-cow skin upon the top of it, Exodus 27:16), the hangings of the court and the curtain at the entrance (Exodus 27:9, Exodus 27:16), which surrounded the altar (of burnt-offering) and the dwelling round about, and their cords, i.e., the cords of the tapestry, coverings, and curtains (Exodus 27:14), and all the instruments of their service, i.e., the things used in connection with their service (Exodus 27:19), and were to attend to everything that had to be done to them; in other words, to perform whatever was usually done with those portions of the sanctuary that are mentioned here, especially in setting up the tabernacle or taking it down. The suffix in מיתריו (Numbers 3:26) does not refer to the court mentioned immediately before; for, according to Numbers 3:37, the Merarites were to carry the cords of the hangings of the court, but to the "dwelling and tent," which stand farther off. In the same way the words, "for all the service thereof," refer to all those portions of the sanctuary that are mentioned, and mean "everything that had to be done or attended to in connection with these things."
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