Today the Lord organizes the campgrounds for the children of Israel around the tabernacle. He breaks the twelve tribes into four groups and positions them in the order in which they will march, with Judah’s group leading the march:
East side – Judah, Issachar, Zebulun
South side – Reuben, Gad, Simeon
West side – Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh
North side – Dan, Asher, Naphtali
The Lord tells Moses to “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him.” The Levites are responsible for guarding the tabernacle and performing the work of the ministry at the tabernacle. “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine, because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the Lord.’” God is substituting the Levites to Himself instead of all the firstborn, similar to the Lord substituting a lamb instead of the firstborn during the Passover at the Exodus of Egypt. Both substitutions point to the substitutionary work that will be performed by the ultimate High Priest and final Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
Then the Lord instructs Moses to count the male Levites one month and older for the substitution of the firstborn of all the Israelites, and organize them by clans; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The Lord positions the Levites closest to the tabernacle and assigns specific duties to each clan:
South side – Kohathites who guard and carry items inside the sanctuary. “Their duty included the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the utensils of the sanctuary with which they ministered, the screen, and all the work relating to them.”
West side – Gershonites who guard and carry the tabernacle coverings, hangings, and screens for the doors.
North side – Merarites who guard and carry the tabernacle bars, pillars, sockets, utensils, pegs, and cords.
East side – Moses and the priests who guard the tabernacle sanctuary and meet the needs of the Israelite people. Only the descendants of Aaron are priests, but the entire tribe of Levi are to serve the priests.
We end the reading with the Lord redeeming the firstborn sons of Israel. Moses compares the count of all the firstborn males, one month and older, from the children of Israel to the number of Levites. There are 273 less Levite males leaving 273 Israelites without a Levite to take their place. So the Lord assigns a monetary value for the 273 additional firstborn males to be paid to Aaron the priest. “And Moses gave their redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Tomorrow we will learn more about the responsibilities assigned to the Levites, and Moses will take a second census of the Levites to identify the men eligible for the work of the tabernacle, so keep reading. (Numbers 2:1-3:51)