Monday, August 3, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 4

Chapter 4
Summary:God spoke with Moses and Aaron, telling them to take a census of the males thirty to fifty years of age, in the Kohath clan of the tribe of Levi, that are able to work in the tabernacle.

When the Israeli camp is traveling, Aaron and his sons shall remove the veil from the tabernacle and cover the ark of the covenant with it. Upon the veil, they shall cover it with badger's skins, shall spread over it a blue cloth, and put the carrying poles into the rings of the ark.

A blue cloth shall be spread upon the table on which the bread is displayed, and the dishes, spoons, bowls, cups, and the bread shall be placed upon it. A scarlet cloth is then to cover the table, and badger's skin upon the cloth, while the carrying poles are affixed to the table.

Next the lampstand, lamps, sconces, trays, and the reservoir of olive oil shall be covered with a blue cloth. These objects are to be covered again with badger's skins, and the bundle to be placed upon a carrying frame.

They must then spread a blue cloth over the gold altar, cover it with badger's skins, and insert the carrying poles into the altar. The remaining utensils are to be wrapped in blue cloth, covered in badger's skin, and placed on a carrying frame.

The ashes are to be removed from the altar, and a purple cloth it to spread upon the altar. All of the altar's utensils - the censers, fleshhooks, shovels, basins, and containers - are to be placed upon the purple cloth and covered in badger's skin, and the carrying poles are to be placed into the altar.

When Aaron and his sons have finished packing up the tabernacle, the clan of Kohath shall carry the items to wherever the camp is traveling to - but they are not to touch any of the "holy items", "lest they die" (they will be put to death). The moving of the items will be the duty of the Kohathites.

Aaron's son Eleazar will be responsible for the oil for the lamps, the incense, the daily grain offering, the anointing oil, and is to supervise all of the tabernacle and everything it contains.

God then tells Aaron and Moses not to cut off the families of the Kohathites from amongst the Levites. In order to prevent God from having to kill the Kohathites for entering the tabernacle, Aaron and his sons will have to go in with them and point out which items the Kohathites need to carry. The Kohathites are not to touch any of the items directly - they are to only use the carrying poles - "lest they die" (God will kill them for touching anything directly).

God then tells Moses to take census of the Gershonites, aged thirty to fifty who are eligible for working in the tabernacle. The Gershonites are to carry the curtains of the tabernacle, the tabernacle itself with its covering, the badger skin roofing, the entrance curtain, the drapes covering the courtyard fencing, the courtyard entrance curtain, the altar, the ropes, and all the instruments of their service. The Gershonites are to be appointed to their tasks by Aaron and his sons, but will be directly supervised by Aaron's son Ithamar.

God then tells Moses to take census of the Merarites, aged thirty to fifty who are eligible for working in the tabernacle. The Merarites are to carry the frames, bars, posts, cords, of both the tabernacle and the courtyard fencing, along with all of the tools necessary for their use and repair. Each man shall be assigned to his task by name, and shall also be supervised by Ithamar.

Moses and Aaron, along with the leaders of the tribes, took a census of the Kohathites of all of the men thirty to sixty, who were eligible for work in the tabernacle arriving at a total of 2,750. The same was done for the Gershonites, who totaled 2,630; and for the tribe of Merari, who totalled 3,200. The grand total of Levites eligible for working in the tabernacle was 8,580.
Thoughts:This chapter basically expands upon the previous chapter's division of responsibilities for the Levite tribe of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari. Among the men of the tribes aged thirty to fifty, they are assigned to the lucky job of hauling the tabernacle through the desert as the people of Israel move about through the desert towards the "promised land".

The Kohathites have the most dangerous job of moving the ark of the covenant, along with many of the "sacred holy objects" in the tabernacle. Ordinarily, this shouldn't be too dangerous, but when God adds the threat of death for anyone aside from Aaron and his sons entering the tabernacle or merely touching any of these objects by any means aside from the carrying poles, what was once a simple moving job now carries deadly risks. Because God seems not to be interested in intentions, the lives of children or mentally incompetent people are in grave danger if perhaps they unwittingly might brush up against any of these items. Even though only men of the ages of thirty to fifty are eligible to do these jobs, the possibility of a child or mentally incompetent adult family member straying into the area could end the lives of innocent people despite their ignorance.

Basically Aaron and his sons have to pack up the items themselves - with virtually everything having to be covered in first a blue cloth (except for a scarlet cloth is to be used to cover the table, and a purple cloth for covering the altar) and then some badger's skin - and then accompany and supervise the Kohathites in moving the items to ensure their safety against God's death threats. Aaron's son Eleazar is the head supervisor of the Kohathites responsibilities.

Next up, the Gershonites are assigned to packing up and moving the drapery, the tabernacle itself, the altar, and some ropes; while the Merarites are assigned to carry the frames, posts, cords, and courtyard fencing. Both groups are to be supervised by Aaron's other son, Ithamar.

The final tallies of numbers are somewhat interesting when we take into context the amount of men eligible - aged thirty to fifty - versus the grand total of males aged one month or older from the previous chapter. Below is a table illustrating the grand total of males from Numbers: Chapter 3, versus the number eligible males age 30 to 50 listed in this chapter:
Tribe:Population:Eligible for work:Percentage:
Kohath8,6002,750Approx 32%
Gershon7,5002,630Approx 35%
Merari6,2003,200Approx 52%
Interesting of note is that the tribe of Merari has the lowest population of males one month and older (6,200), yet has the highest amount of eligible workers (3,200) and the highest percentage of eligible workers amongst its population (about 52%); whereas both the Koathites and the Gershonites seem to have similar statistics (about 33-35% of their populations are eligible for work).

Once again, as with Moses' previous census counts, the abundance of round numbers puts the accuracy of these census counts into question as well.

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