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Numbers 4:3

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

From thirty years old - In Numbers 8:24, the Levites are ordered to enter on the service of the tabernacle at the age of twenty-five years; and in 1 Chronicles 23:24, they were ordered to commence that work at twenty years of age. How can these different times be reconciled?

  1. At the time of which Moses speaks here, the Levitical service was exceedingly severe, and consequently required men full grown, strong, and stout, to perform it; the age therefore of thirty years was appointed as the period for commencing this service, the weightier part of which is probably here intended.
  • In Numbers 8:24, Moses seems to speak of the service in a general way; the severe, which was to be performed by the full-grown Levites, and the less laborious work which younger men might assist in: hence the age of twenty-five is fixed.
  • In David's time and afterwards, in the fixed tabernacle and temple, the laboriousness of the service no longer existed, and hence twenty years was the age fixed on for all Levites to enter into the work of the sanctuary. The rabbins say that the Levites began to learn to do the service at twenty-five, and that having been instructed five years, they began the public service at thirty, and thus they reconcile the two periods referred to above. We may well suppose that the sons of the prophets continued a considerable time under instructions before they were called fully to exercise themselves in the prophetic office.
  • Until fifty years old -

    This was allowing twenty years for public severe service; a very considerate and merciful ordinance. A preacher who devotes his whole time and strength to the service of the Church of God from twenty to fifty or sixty years of age, should be then excused from his severer labor, and maintained at the charge of the sanctuary. This would not only be a great comfort to a worn-out servant of God, but also of great use to the work of the ministry, which, to be faithfully and effectually performed, requires all the powers of the body and mind of man. Old faithful ministers are to be highly respected for their work's sake, and to be supplied with all the necessaries and comforts of life; but how little can they do in the public ministry of the word, however willing to work, when their eye waxes dim and their bodily strength fails! See Numbers 8:25. Both for their own sakes, and for the good of the Church, they should be excused from a labor to which they must be almost every way inadequate. But notwithstanding this comparative inactivity, their counsels, advice, and experience will always be considered as a treasure to the Church of Christ

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    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.
    Ellen G. White
    Patriarchs and Prophets, 374-5

    The building of the tabernacle was not begun for some time after Israel arrived at Sinai; and the sacred structure was first set up at the opening of the second year from the Exodus. This was followed by the consecration of the priests, the celebration of the Passover, the numbering of the people, and the completion of various arrangements essential to their civil or religious system, so that nearly a year was spent in the encampment at Sinai. Here their worship had taken a more definite form, the laws had been given for the government of the nation, and a more efficient organization had been effected preparatory to their entrance into the land of Canaan. PP 374.1

    The government of Israel was characterized by the most thorough organization, wonderful alike for its completeness and its simplicity. The order so strikingly displayed in the perfection and arrangement of all God's created works was manifest in the Hebrew economy. God was the center of authority and government, the sovereign of Israel. Moses stood as their visible leader, by God's appointment, to administer the laws in His name. From the elders of the tribes a council of seventy was afterward chosen to assist Moses in the general affairs of the nation. Next came the priests, who consulted the Lord in the sanctuary. Chiefs, or princes, ruled over the tribes. Under these were “captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens,” and, lastly, officers who might be employed for special duties. Deuteronomy 1:15. PP 374.2

    The Hebrew camp was arranged in exact order. It was separated into three great divisions, each having its appointed position in the encampment. In the center was the tabernacle, the abiding place of the invisible King. Around it were stationed the priests and Levites. Beyond these were encamped all the other tribes. PP 374.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4a, 28

    They reasoned that, being descendants from the eldest sons of Jacob, the chief authority which Moses usurped belonged to them, and, with Korah, they were resolved to obtain the office of the priesthood. These three became very zealous in an evil work. They influenced two hundred and fifty men of renown to join them, who were also determined to have a share in the priesthood and government. God had honored the Levites to do service in the tabernacle, because they took no part in making and worshiping the golden calf, and because of their faithfulness in executing the order of God upon the idolaters. 4aSG 28.1

    To the Levites was assigned the office of erecting the tabernacle, and encamping around about it, while the hosts of Israel pitched their tents at a distance from the tabernacle. And when they journeyed the Levites took down the tabernacle, and bore it, and the ark, and the candlestick, and the other sacred articles of furniture. Because God thus honored the Levites, they became ambitious for still higher office, that they might obtain greater influence with the congregation. “And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” 4aSG 28.2

    Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and two hundred and fifty princes who had joined them, first became jealous, then envious, and next rebellious. They had talked in regard to Moses’ position as ruler of the people, until they imagined that it was a very enviable position, which any of them could fill as well as Moses. And they gave themselves up to discontent, until they really deceived themselves, and one another, in thinking that Moses and Aaron had placed themselves in the position which they occupied to Israel. They said that Moses and Aaron exalted themselves above the congregation of the Lord, in taking upon them the priesthood and government, and that this office should not be conferred on their house alone. They said that it was sufficient for them if they were on a level with their brethren; for they were no more holy than the people, who were equally favored with God's peculiar presence and protection. 4aSG 28.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 652

    The Lord designated a special family of the tribe of Levi to bear the ark; and others of the Levites were specially appointed of God to bear the tabernacle and all its furniture, and to perform the work of setting up and taking down the tabernacle. And if any man from curiosity or from lack of order got out of his place and touched any part of the sanctuary or furniture, or even came near any of the workmen, he was to be put to death. God did not leave His holy tabernacle to be borne, erected, and taken down, indiscriminately, by any tribe who might choose the office; but persons were chosen who could appreciate the sacredness of the work in which they were engaged. These men appointed of God were directed to impress upon the people the special sacredness of the ark and all that appertained thereunto, lest they should look upon these things without realizing their holiness and should be cut off from Israel. All things pertaining to the most holy place were to be looked upon with reverence. 1T 652.1

    The travels of the children of Israel are faithfully described; the deliverance which the Lord wrought for them, their perfect organization and special order, their sin in murmuring against Moses and thus against God, their transgressions, their rebellions, their punishments, their carcasses strewn in the wilderness because of their unwillingness to submit to God's wise arrangements—this faithful picture is hung up before us as a warning lest we follow their example of disobedience and fall like them. 1T 652.2

    “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Has God changed from a God of order? No; He is the same in the present dispensation as in the former. Paul says: “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” He is as particular now as then. And He designs that we should learn lessons of order and organization from the perfect order instituted in the days of Moses for the benefit of the children of Israel. 1T 652.3

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