1 - 4 Service of the Kohathites
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “Take a census of the descendants of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ households, 3 from thirty years and upward, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tent of meeting. 4 This is the work of the descendants of Kohath in the tent of meeting, [concerning] the most holy things.
The first of whom the task is specified are the descendants of Kohath. They have the most important task: the care for the objects in the holy and the holy of holies. In order to perform their task, they must be between 30 and 50 years old. For us these ages are not literally, but spiritually applicable. It is the period of power. Caring for the holy things requires spiritual strength. We must give the Lord the best years of our lives. We can also make the application here that there are tasks in the church that a newly converted cannot fulfil (1Tim 3:6).
There are also other ages in connection with the Levites’ service:
1. They may already perform certain activities from the age of 25 (Num 8:24).
2. Later, in the time of David, they may begin already at the age of 20 (1Chr 23:24; Ezra 3:8).
To transport the objects of the tabernacle, they must be packed in ‘travel clothing’. The objects are successively covered by the following different coverings:
Over the ark (verses 5-6):
1. the veil – 2. covering of porpoise skin – 3. cloth of pure blue.
Over the table (verses 7-8):
1. cloth of pure blue – 2. cloth of scarlet [material] – 3. covering of porpoise skin.
Over the lampstand (verses 9-10):
1. cloth of pure blue – 2. covering of porpoise skin.
Over the golden altar (verses 11-12):
1. cloth of pure blue –2. covering of porpoise skin.
Over the bronze altar (verses 13-14):
1. purple cloth – 2. covering of porpoise skin.
5 - 6 Covering over the Ark
5 “When the camp sets out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and they shall take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it; 6 and they shall lay a covering of porpoise skin on it, and shall spread over [it] a cloth of pure blue, and shall insert its poles.
Before the Kohathites can perform their task, the priests must first take action. First of all, the care for the ark is mentioned. The ark is for God the most important. The priests cover the ark with the veil, on top of which they lay a covering of porpoise skin and on top of it, finally, a cloth of pure blue. The latter is seen when the ark is being carried by its poles through the wilderness.
In all this we see a beautiful spiritual meaning for us. The ark represents the Lord Jesus as God (gold) and Man (wood), Who accomplished the work of reconciliation (mercy seat) by which He met all the holy demands of God (cherubs). Before we as Kohathites can carry the truth of the Lord Jesus through the wilderness, before we pass it on to others, we must first have been busy with it as priests. We must first bring a truth in worship to God before we can show it to others and thus pass it on to others. Only then can we call a truth our spiritual property. It is not about taking a truth in our understanding, but in our heart.
The truths of the Lord Jesus and the church cannot be shown openly and naked to the world. If this happens, what the Lord Jesus warns about: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Mt 7:6a). Dogs and pigs are unclean animals. These truths must be carried through the world with appropriate covering.
The ark is first covered with the veil, which represents the Lord Jesus in His flesh, His body (Heb 10:20). People in the world have seen Him as Man. But they saw nothing attractive in Him: “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no [stately] form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa 53:2-3). This is represented in the covering of porpoise skin.
This covering is also a protection against all kinds of weather influences, so they will not get a grip on the ark. In the same way the Lord Jesus was in His life on earth not harmed by anything from outside (Jn 14:30).
The outer covering is a cloth of pure blue. Everything with the Lord Jesus on earth speaks of heaven. Nicodemus speaks for his unbelieving colleagues when he says: “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God” (Jn 3:2). His heavenly origins cannot be denied. Thus we give our testimony concerning Him in this world.
7 - 8 Covering over the Table of the Bread of the Presence
7 Over the table of the bread of the Presence they shall also spread a cloth of blue and put on it the dishes and the pans and the sacrificial bowls and the jars for the drink offering, and the continual bread shall be on it. 8 They shall spread over them a cloth of scarlet [material], and cover the same with a covering of porpoise skin, and they shall insert its poles.
The priests then occupy themselves with the table of the breads. First a cloth of blue is put over it. On top of that the objects and the continual bread are laid. A cloth of scarlet material is spread over it. The whole is covered with a covering of porpoise skin. Then the poles can be inserted to carry the table through the wilderness to the next place where the people will camp.
The table, made of wood and gold, also speaks of the Lord Jesus, but then connected with the church that is presented in the twelve breads of the Presence. Also with the table we see a cloth of blue that is first spread over the table, which in turn represents the heavenly origin of the Lord Jesus. The fact that the bread must be laid on it indicates the close connection of the church with the Lord Jesus. The church is also heavenly in origin.
Just as the table carries the breads through the wilderness, the Lord Jesus carries His church through the world. Through His gifts to the church – of which the various objects on the table are a picture – he ensures that the order of the church is preserved. The order of the church is perceived by the environment, also the world (Col 2:5).
To the origins of the church suffering is linked. This is represented in the cloth of scarlet material. The Lord Jesus suffered and gave His blood to make the church come into being (Acts 20:28b). Paul suffered to proclaim the truth of the church (Col 1:24). What the world sees of it is depicted in the covering that is spread over the whole, a covering of porpoise skin. In the carrying by the poles of the table with the breads through the world we can see a picture of the proclamation of the truth of Christ and the church. This truth has no attraction to the world.
9 - 10 Covering over the Lampstand
9 Then they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand for the light, along with its lamps and its snuffers, and its trays and all its oil vessels, by which they serve it; 10 and they shall put it and all its utensils in a covering of porpoise skin, and shall put it on the carrying bars.
Two coverings must be spread over the lampstand. The lampstand gives light in the sanctuary. The sanctuary speaks of the heavenly places and the objects in the sanctuary speak of the heavenly things, they are “copies of the things in the heavens” (Heb 9:23). To know heavenly truths, we need the light of heaven, which is given to us by the Holy Spirit. We see that represented in the lampstand that is first covered with a blue cloth. The covering of porpoise skin is visible to the world. This indicates that the light that we spread and that should be heavenly in character is not attractive to the world.
11 - 12 Covering over the Golden Altar
11 Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth and cover it with a covering of porpoise skin, and shall insert its poles; 12 and they shall take all the utensils of service, with which they serve in the sanctuary, and put them in a blue cloth and cover them with a covering of porpoise skin, and put them on the carrying bars.
The golden altar of incense is first covered with a blue cloth. The prayers and adoration reminiscent of this altar (Psa 141:2; Rev 5:8b), are necessary for the church, that they may preserve their heavenly character during their journey through the wilderness. The tarpaulin of sea cowhides symbolically expresses the fact that these kinds of activities are unattractive to the world. The heavenly value of it has been hidden from the world.
So it is with all the service that happens in the sanctuary: it is heavenly in character, far-sighted for the world, and what she sees of it is unattractive to her.
13 - 14 Covering over the Bronze Altar
13 Then they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it. 14 They shall also put on it all its utensils by which they serve in connection with it: the firepans, the forks and shovels and the basins, all the utensils of the altar; and they shall spread a cover of porpoise skin over it and insert its poles.
The bronze altar is also part of the service of the Kohathites, because, as with the golden vessels, it represents a revelation of God. This altar speaks of the work of Christ for the sinner, in which God invites the sinner to come to Him.
The bronze altar is not covered by a blue cloth, because it is not meant to express a heavenly character, but the work done on earth. The purple speaks of the royal dignity of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus will reign as King on the basis of His work. He is now glorified after suffering (Heb 2:9). This glory will be visible to all in the kingdom of peace. Suffering and glory thereafter belong together (1Pet 1:11). This truth also has no attraction for the world. This is expressed in the outer garment, the covering of porpoise skin.
All that has been entrusted to the Kohathites must be carried with their hands, either with poles or on a carrier (verses 6,8,10,11,12,14). None of it should come into contact with the sand of the wilderness.
15 What the Kohathites Should Carry
15 When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy [objects] and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is to set out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry [them], so that they will not touch the holy [objects] and die. These are the things in the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.
Here we see once again that God establishes a sharp separation between the ministry of the priests and that of the Levites. The Levites are not allowed to touch anything of the holy objects under penalty of death. Only the priests are allowed to touch “the holy [objects]”. As an application, it can be said that no one should think that, by virtue of his gift, he can occupy himself with heavenly things, while others would not have that right. Whoever thinks so assumes something that does not come from God. This error gave rise to the reprehensible distinction between clergy and laity.
Being occupied with the holy things is the privilege of every child of God. Explaining the truths of God’s Word is another matter. Then God makes use of gifts He Himself has given through His Spirit.
16 The Task of Eleazar
16 “The responsibility of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest is the oil for the light and the fragrant incense and the continual grain offering and the anointing oil—the responsibility of all the tabernacle and of all that is in it, with the sanctuary and its furnishings.”
Eleazar is the third son of Aaron. He is connected with the land to which the people are travelling. There he will also be a high priest instead of his father Aaron. But already now he has a special relationship with the Kohathites and the holy things (Num 3:32).
In order to perform our service as Kohathites well, we need a heavenly high priest. The Lord Jesus is that perfect heavenly High Priest. He knows perfectly how everything functions to the glory of God. He knows the value of the oil for light: the power of the Holy Spirit needed to learn to know heavenly things. He knows the value for God of the fragrant incense: He adds it to the prayers of the saints (Rev 8:3). He knows how the grain offering is a daily pleasure for God: the memory of the Lord Jesus in His life on earth. He knows the value of the anointing oil: the Holy Spirit, through whom only the whole service to God is pleasing to God.
Everything in the tabernacle is under the supervision of Eleazar. There is no other way. It is no different in the church. There everything is under the supervision of the Lord Jesus. It is His church. He knows how everything in it must function to the glory of God. If we, as true Kohathites, submit to Him, make ourselves available to Him, our service will be pleasing to God.
17 - 20 The Kohathites Shall Continue to Exist
17 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 18 “Do not let the tribe of the families of the Kohathites be cut off from among the Levites. 19 But do this to them that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy [objects]: Aaron and his sons shall go in and assign each of them to his work and to his load; 20 but they shall not go in to see the holy [objects] even for a moment, or they will die.”
The family of the Kohathites must always be preserved. They must “live and not die” to perform their service. Their lives depend on the way they deal with the holy things. It is therefore vital that they follow the instructions of Aaron and his sons closely.
It speaks of believers to submit to the Lord Jesus in their service and that they also keep an eye on their service as priests. Servants should always be aware that their service is meaningful to God only if it is done in obedience to the Lord Jesus and guided by priestly feelings. That will make clear to everyone what he has to do or to carry. He who does not perform his priestly service well will not perform his Levite service well either.
The danger to the Levites that they believe they have the right to enter the holy place solely on the grounds that they are servants is also pointed out. Such pride cannot be allowed by God and will be punished by Him with death.
21 - 28 Service of the Gershonites
21 Then the LORD to Moses, saying, 22 “Take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ households, by their families; 23 from thirty years and upward to fifty years old, you shall number them; all who enter to perform the service to do the work in the tent of meeting. 24 This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, in serving and in carrying: 25 they shall carry the curtains of the tabernacle and the tent of meeting [with] its covering and the covering of porpoise skin that is on top of it, and the screen for the doorway of the tent of meeting, 26 and the hangings of the court, and the screen for the doorway of the gate of the court which is around the tabernacle and the altar, and their cords and all the equipment for their service; and all that is to be done, they shall perform. 27 All the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their loads and in all their work, shall be [performed] at the command of Aaron and his sons; and you shall assign to them as a duty all their loads. 28 This is the service of the families of the sons of the Gershonites in the tent of meeting, and their duties [shall be] under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
The age limits for the Gershonites are the same as for the Kohathites. They have to carry all the curtains and coverings of the tent, with the accompanying cords and equipment. Their job is to ensure that the curtains and coverings are taken off, transported and hung or placed again in the right place and in the right way.
The coverings speak of our behavior, our habits, what people see of us. The Lord gives servants who take special care to ensure that believers behave in accordance with their position as members of the church of God. They will help the believers to live for the Lord’s honor. Their service is aimed at ensuring that believers display the features of the Lord Jesus in their lives.
The coverings that are under the care of the Gershonites also speak of separation. They shield the tabernacle from the environment. However, it is not only about separation from, but also about separation to, which means to God. The whole tabernacle is dedicated to God. The same applies to the church, which should be separate from the world and entirely dedicated to God.
29 - 33 Service of the Merarites
29 “[As for] the sons of Merari, you shall number them by their families, by their fathers’ households; 30 from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, you shall number them, everyone who enters the service to do the work of the tent of meeting. 31 Now this is the duty of their loads, for all their service in the tent of meeting: the boards of the tabernacle and its bars and its pillars and its sockets, 32 and the pillars around the court and their sockets and their pegs and their cords, with all their equipment and with all their service; and you shall assign [each man] by name the items he is to carry. 33 This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service in the tent of meeting, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.”
After the service of the Gershonites, who are among other things responsible for separation, follows the service of the Merarites, who are designed for unity. For the Merarites the same age limits apply as for the Kohathites and the Gershonites. They care for the boards and pillars, which give stability to the building.
Boards are a picture of the believers. Bars and pillars are a picture of servants who confirm the believers in the truth (cf. Gal 2:9). The purpose of their teaching is that they should “no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14). They ensure that the believers are firm in their faith and “all agree … made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1Cor 1:10b; Col 2:5). Then in their lives they will learn to see things as God sees them. It will also prevent them from drifting away (Heb 2:1).
34 - 48 Numbered Men per Family and Total
34 So Moses and Aaron and the leaders of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites by their families and by their fathers’ households, 35 from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tent of meeting. 36 Their numbered men by their families were 2,750. 37 These are the numbered men of the Kohathite families, everyone who was serving in the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses. 38 The numbered men of the sons of Gershon by their families and by their fathers’ households, 39 from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tent of meeting. 40 Their numbered men by their families, by their fathers’ households, were 2,630. 41 These are the numbered men of the families of the sons of Gershon, everyone who was serving in the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of the LORD. 42 The numbered men of the families of the sons of Merari by their families, by their fathers’ households, 43 from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tent of meeting. 44 Their numbered men by their families were 3,200. 45 These are the numbered men of the families of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses. 46 All the numbered men of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the leaders of Israel numbered, by their families and by their fathers’ households, 47 from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who could enter to do the work of service and the work of carrying in the tent of meeting. 48 Their numbered men were 8,580.
After the division of tasks, the numbering per family and the total follow. The total number of 22,000 Levites from one month (Num 3:39) is large in proportion to the dimensions of the tabernacle. Those who actually serve, i.e. those who are between 30 and 50 years old, are 8,580. If every Levite faithfully does his job, he will be able to do his job well, for they are with many, whereas the work to be done is comparatively small.
Nor has the Lord Jesus laid upon His servants today any heavy and difficult burdens, for His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light” (Mt 11:30; cf. Mt 23:4). According to the Lord’s purpose, no servant need be overloaded. With so many servants you can relieve each other in time. Unfortunately, many of today’s Levites do not perform their task (cf. Neh 3:5). The Lord Himself speaks of it when He says: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Mt 9:37). The result is that often too much has to be done by too few.
49 Numbered for Service Purposes
49 According to the commandment of the LORD through Moses, they were numbered, everyone by his serving or carrying; thus [these were] his numbered men, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Each one numbered has his own task. In this way, every member of the church has his own function in the body, which no other member can take over. “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (1Cor 12:18). No one has the freedom to change function or think he doesn’t matter (1Cor 12:14-21).