Aaron’s Offspring.[a] 1 These are the descendants of Aaron and Moses on the day that the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. 2 These are the names of the sons of Aaron: the oldest was Nadab, and then there were Abihu and Eleazar and Ithamar. 3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests who were anointed and consecrated to minister in the priesthood. 4 Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord when they offered unclean fire to the Lord in the Sinai Desert. They had no children. Eleazar and Ithamar ministered as priests in the presence of their father Aaron.
The Tribe of Levi. 5 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Gather the tribe of Levi and have them stand before Aaron the priest so that they can minister to him. 7 They will serve him and serve the whole assembly standing before the tent of meeting, ministering to the needs of the tabernacle. 8 They will take care of all of the furnishings of the tent of meeting and attend to the needs of the people of Israel as they minister in the tabernacle. 9 You will give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are dedicated to him from among the people of Israel. 10 You will appoint Aaron and his sons, and they will serve as priests. Anyone else who draws near is to be put to death.”
11 [b]The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel as a substitute for the firstborn of the people of Israel, those who opened the womb. The Levites will be my own, 13 for every firstborn has belonged to me from the day that I slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. I have set apart all the firstborn as my own in Israel, both human and animal. They will be mine. I am the Lord.”
14 Counting the Levites. The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, saying, 15 “Count the sons of Levi by clan, by family. Count every male one month old and older.”
16 So Moses counted them, as the word of the Lord had commanded[c] him. 17 These are the names of the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari.[d] 18 These are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families: Libni and Shimei. 19 The sons of Kohath by their families were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 20 The sons of Merari by the families were Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites according to their clan.
21 From Gershon came the family of the Libnites and the family of the Shimeites. These are the families of the Gershonites. 22 They counted them, all males one month old and older, and they numbered seven thousand, five hundred. 23 The clan of the Gershonites were to camp behind the tabernacle to the west. 24 Eliasaph, the son of Lael, was the leader of the clan of the Gershonites. 25 In the tent of meeting the sons of Gershon had responsibility for the care of the tabernacle, the tent with its covering, the screen for the entrance to the tent of meeting, 26 the curtains for the courtyard, the screen for the entrance to the courtyard that surrounds the tabernacle and the altar, its cords, and everything that had to be done with these.
27 From Kohath came the family of the Amramites, the family of the Izharites, the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites. These are the families of the Kohathites. 28 They counted them, all males one month old and older, and they numbered eight thousand, three hundred, ministering to the needs of the sanctuary. 29 The clan of the Kohathites were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. 30 Elizaphan, the son of Uzziel, was the leader of the clan of the Kohathites. 31 Their responsibility was for the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the vessels of the sanctuary, the screen, and everything that had to be done with these.
32 Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, was to be the supervisor of the leaders of the Levites. He was to oversee those who had the responsibility to care for the needs of the sanctuary.
33 From Merari came the family of the Mahlites, and the family of the Mushites. These are the families of Merari. 34 They counted them, all males one month old and older, and they numbered six thousand, two hundred. 35 Zuriel, the son of Abihail, was the leader of the clan of Merari. They were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. 36 Their responsibility was for the boards of the tabernacle, and its bars, its pillars, its sockets and all of their parts, 37 the pillars around the courtyard, and their pins, and their cords.
38 Finally, Moses, Aaron and his sons camped in front of the tabernacle on its east side, in front of the tent of meeting and eastward. They kept watch over the sanctuary, keeping the people of Israel and any other person from coming near, under penalty of death.
39 The total number of the Levites who were counted by Moses and Aaron at the command of the Lord, everyone in their families who was one month old and older, was twenty-two thousand.
40 Redemption of the Firstborn. The Lord said to Moses, “Count all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, those one month old and older, and make a list of their names. 41 The Levites will be a substitute for me in place of the firstborn of the people of Israel. I am the Lord. The cattle of the Levites will be a substitute for the firstborn of the cattle of the people of Israel.”
42 Moses counted all of the firstborn of the people of Israel as the Lord had commanded him 43 and he listed all the firstborn males by name, those one month old and older. They numbered twenty-two thousand, two hundred seventy-three.
44 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Take the Levites as a substitute for all the firstborn of the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites as a substitute for their cattle. The Levites are mine. I am the Lord.”
46 Those who were to be redeemed among the firstborn of the people of Israel, not counting the Levites, numbered two hundred seventy-three. 47 “You will take five shekels for each person according to the shekel of the sanctuary, that is, twenty gerahs for each shekel 48 and give the money to Aaron and his sons to redeem those who are in excess among them.”
49 Moses took the redemption money for those who were in excess, above the number of those redeemed by the Levites. 50 He received the money for the firstborn of the people of Israel, one thousand three hundred and sixty-five shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 51 Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons as the Lord had commanded Moses by the word of the Lord.
- Numbers 3:1 In the tribe of Levi, which is to be at the spiritual service of the community, a distinction exists between the priests, whose office it is to offer sacrifice, and the “Levites,” who are to provide material services. Historically, however, this distinction dates only from the time of King Josiah (640–609 B.C.) and would become definitive only after the return from the Exile.
- Numbers 3:11 The Levites, being consecrated to the service of God, take the place of the firstborn of the entire people, those who have belonged to God ever since the Passover when the people were delivered from Egypt and the destroying angel spared their firstborn from slaughter (Ex 12:23).
- Numbers 3:16 As the word of the Lord had commanded: Moses’ commitment to the Lord is firm and without exception.
- Numbers 3:17 See Ex 6:16-25. By omitting mention of Aaron and his family, the editor, a priest, means to underscore the superiority of the priests, who are not to be numbered among the simple Levites.