Numbers 4:3
From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old.—The previous census of the Levites was from a month old. The present census was with a view to the discharge of duties requiring a considerable amount of physical strength, and hence the prescribed age for entering upon these duties was fixed at this time at thirty, and limited to fifty. It has been supposed by some that five years were spent in preparation for the service, and that it is in this way that the apparent discrepancy between this verse and Numbers 8:24, where the age for entering upon the service is fixed at twenty-five, is to be reconciled. (See Note on Numbers 8:24.) In Eastern countries the strength fails at an earlier period than in colder and more temperate climates. Thirty was the age at which John the Baptist and our Lord entered upon their public ministry.

All that enter into the host.—Or, every one who enters upon the service. The word zaba, commonly rendered host, and used elsewhere to denote military service, is here used to denote the service of the sanctuary.

Numbers 4:3. From thirty — This age was prescribed, as the age of full strength of body, and therefore most proper for their laborious work of carrying the parts and vessels of the tabernacle, and of maturity of judgment, which is necessary for the right management of holy services. Whence even John and Christ entered not upon their ministry till that age. Indeed, their first entrance upon their work was at their twenty-fifth year, when they began as learners, and acted under the inspection and direction of their brethren; but in their thirtieth year they were completely admitted to a full discharge of their whole office. But David, being a prophet, and particularly directed by God in the affairs of the temple, made a change in this matter, because the magnificence of the temple, and the great multitude of the sacred utensils and sacrifices, required a greater number of attendants than formerly was necessary. Until fifty — When they were exempted from the toilsome work of carrying burdens, but not discharged from the honourable and easy work done within the tabernacle. Numbers 8:26. All that enter — That is, that do and may enter, having no defect, nor other impediment.4:1-3 The middle-aged men of the tribe of Levi, all from thirty years old to fifty, were to be employed in the service of the tabernacle. The service of God requires the best of our strength, and the prime portion of our time, which cannot be better spent than to the honour of Him who is the First and Best. And the service of God should be done when we are most lively and active. Those do not consider this who put off repentance to old age, and so leave the best work to be done in the worst time.This redemption money (see the marginal references) would perhaps be exacted from the parents of the "youngest" children of the 22,273 Numbers 3:43. The cattle of the Levites was doubtless taken in the gross as an equivalent for the first-born cattle of the other tribes, which of course, no less than the first-born of men, belonged to the Lord; and in future would have to be redeemed Numbers 18:15; Deuteronomy 15:19. 2, 3. sons of Kohath, from thirty years old and upward—This age was specifically fixed (see on [56]Nu 8:24) as the full maturity of bodily energy to perform the laborious duties assigned them in the wilderness, as well as of mental activity to assist in the management of the sacred services. And it was the period of life at which John the Baptist and Christ entered on their respective ministries.

even unto fifty—The term prescribed for active duty was a period of twenty years, at the end of which they were exempted from the physical labors of the office, though still expected to attend in the tabernacle (Nu 8:26).

all that enter into the host—so called from their number, the order and discipline maintained through their ranks, and their special duty as guards of the tabernacle. The Hebrew word, however, signifies also a station or office; and hence the passage may be rendered, "All that enter into the sacerdotal office" (Nu 4:23).

From thirty years old: this age was prescribed, as the age of full strength of body, and therefore most proper for their present laborious work of carrying the parts and vessels of the tabernacle; and of maturity of judgment, which is necessary for the right management of holy services; whence even John and Christ entered not upon their ministry till that age. And it may still seem to be the fittest season for men’s undertaking the ministry of the gospel, except in case of extraordinary abilities, or the church’s pressing necessity.

Object. They might enter upon this work at their twenty-fifth year, Numbers 8:24, and in David’s time and afterward at their twentieth year.

Answ. 1. Their first entrance upon their work was at their twenty-fifth year, when they began as learners, and acted only under the inspection and direction of their brethren; but in their thirtieth year they were completely admitted to a full discharge of their whole office.

2. David, being a prophet, and particularly directed by God in the affairs of the temple, might and did make a change in this matter, which he might the better do, both because it was but a change in a circumstance, and because the magnificence of the temple, and the great multitude of sacred utensils and sacrifices, required a greater number of attendants than formerly was necessary.

Until fifty years old, when they were exempted from the toilsome work of carrying burdens, but not discharged from the honourable and easy work done within the tabernacle, Numbers 8:26.

All that enter, i.e. that do and may enter, having no defect, Leviticus 21:17, nor other impediment. The society of sacred ministers he calls a host, because of that excellent order which was among them, as to persons, place, time, the matter and manner of their services. From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old,.... This is the full time of the Levites service, and the prime season of man's life for business; at thirty years of age he is at his full strength, and when fifty it begins to decline: it is said in the Misnah (x),"a son of thirty years for strength,''upon which one of the commentators (y) makes this remark, that the Levites set up the tabernacle and took it down, and loaded the wagons, and carried on their shoulders from thirty years and upwards: thus both John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and Christ himself, entered into their ministry at this age:

all that enter into the host; army or warfare; for though the Levites were exempted from going forth to war, yet their service was a sort of warfare; they were a camp of themselves about the tabernacle, and part of their work was to watch and guard it, that it was neither defiled nor robbed; in allusion to this, the ministry of the word is called a warfare, and ministers of the Gospel good soldiers of Christ, and their doctrines weapons of warfare, 1 Timothy 1:18; some interpret this of the troop, company, or congregation of the Levites, which a man of thirty years of age was admitted into for business:

to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation; not in the sanctuary, either in the holy place or in the most holy place, where they were never allowed to enter, or do any business in, such as sacrificing, burning incense, &c. but in that part of it which was called "the tabernacle of the congregation", or where the people assembled on occasion, and that was the court, which was so called, as Jarchi observes on Exodus 29:32.

(x) Pirke Abot, c. 5. sect. 21. (y) Bartenora in Pirke Abot, c. 5. sect. 21.

From {a} thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.

(a) The Levites were counted at three times, first at a month old when they were consecrated to the Lord, next at 25 years old when they were appointed to serve in the tabernacle, and 30 years old to bear the burdens of the tabernacle.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. The period of active service for the Levites is here laid down as between 30–50 years of age. But in Numbers 8:23-26 it is between 25–50, though certain duties might be performed after that age. And in 1 Chronicles 23:24; 1 Chronicles 23:27, 2 Chronicles 31:17, Ezra 3:8 it begins at 20, and there is no upward limit of age. The statements appear to represent the customs that were current at three different periods.

the service] This unusual meaning of the word which generally denotes ‘warfare’ or ‘host’ (R.V. marg.) is found again five times in this chapter (Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30; Numbers 4:35; Numbers 4:39; Numbers 4:43), and elsewhere only in Numbers 8:24 f., and of women in two very late passages, Exodus 38:8, 1 Samuel 2:22. It perhaps implies that the Levites formed an organized body appointed for God’s work under the command of superior officials, as were the rest of Israel who were numbered for war.Verse 3. - From thirty years old and upward. The age at which they became liable for service was shortly after reduced to twenty-five (Numbers 8:24), and at a later period to twenty (1 Chronicles 23:27). In the wilderness a larger number of the men might be required to attend to their own camps, and their own families; but the explanation may probably be found in the unusually large proportion who were at this time between the ages of thirty and fifty. The Septuagint has altered thirty into twenty-five to make it agree with Numbers 8:24. Thirty years became among the Jews the perfect age at which a man attained to full maturity, and entered upon all his fights and duties (cf. Luke 3:23). Into the host. Not the military ranks, but the militia sacra of the Lord. To do the work. Literally, "to war the warfare." After this, Moses numbered the first-born of the children of Israel, to exchange them for the Levites according to the command of God, which is repeated in Numbers 3:41 and Numbers 3:44-45 from Numbers 3:11-13, and to adopt the latter in their stead for the service at the sanctuary (on Numbers 3:41 and Numbers 3:45, cf. Numbers 3:11-13). The number of the first-born of the twelve tribes amounted to 22,273 of a month old and upwards (Numbers 3:43). Of this number 22,000 were exchanged for the 22,000 Levites, and the cattle of the Levites were also set against the first-born of the cattle of the tribes of Israel, though without their being numbered and exchanged head for head. In Numbers 3:44 and Numbers 3:45 the command of God concerning the adoption of the Levites is repeated, for the purpose of adding the further instructions with regard to the 273, the number by which the first-born of the tribes exceeded those of the Levites. "And as for the redemption of the 273 (lit., the 273 to be redeemed) of the first-born of the children of Israel which were more than the Levites, thou shalt take five shekels a head," etc. This was the general price established by the law for the redemption of the first-born of men (see Numbers 18:16). On the sacred shekel, see at Exodus 30:13. The redemption money for 273 first-born, in all 1365 shekels, was to be paid to Aaron and his sons as compensation for the persons who properly belonged to Jehovah, and had been appointed as first-born for the service of the priests.
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