Numbers 4:1-2. And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, after their families, by the house of their fathers,—
There were three families, those of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari, and to each of these families a different service was allotted. First, they were to be numbered. “The Lord knoweth them that are his,” and he takes count of all his people.
Numbers 4:3. From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.
They were to take up this work as a warfare; for, though it was a peaceful work, yet it is described as being a warfare: and he who serves the Lord, though that service be perfect peace, will not serve him without finding it to be also a warfare.
Numbers 4:4. This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things:
They were to have to do with the most holy place, to carry it, and to carry the vessels of it, a very honourable position.
Numbers 4:5-6. And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it: and shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.
These Kohathites might not so take the ark as to handle it, much less might they ever look at it. But the priests, and the sons of Aaron, went in first, and after carefully covering the holy place, they covered up the sacred ark with a cloth of blue. Blue was the token of holiness, — of separation. Hence, every Israelite wore a border of blue upon his garment, but this, which was the symbol of the divine presence, was “all of blue.” It is all holiness. We wear, alas! but a border of blue, but this holy thing was “all of blue.”
Numbers 4:7. And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon:
When they moved the sacred table, the bread was always there; twelve cakes for the twelve tribes, for the bread of God’s house is never lacking.
Numbers 4:8-10. And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof. And they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick of the light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuff dishes, and all the oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it: and they shall put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers’ skins and shall put it upon a bar.
There were means for handling these vessels without touching them. I mean, the ark had staves, and the vessels were put upon a bar for carrying them.
Numbers 4:11. And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put to the staves thereof:
A type of the holiness veiled in our Lord’s humanity, the badger skin made apparent the simplicity, the poverty, the humility of our Lord, covering evermore that wondrous cloth of blue.
Numbers 4:12-13. And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers’ skins and shall put them on a bar: and they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon:
A royal altar is this, always grand and glorious in our eyes, covered with a purple cloth.
Numbers 4:14-20. And they shall put upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even the censers, the flesh-hooks, and the shovels, and the basons, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of badgers’ skins, and put to the staves of it. And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to the office of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the daily meat offering, and the anointing oil, and the oversight of all the tabernacle, and of all that therein is, in the sanctuary, and in the vessels thereof. And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites: but thus do unto them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach unto the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and anoint them every one to his service and to his burden: but they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die.
This is a very awful thing; I mean, something which should produce a great awe and solemnity in our hearts. These men were chosen to carry the vessels of the most holy place, yet they must never see them. They must be covered up by the hands of the priest, and they must never touch them. They must bear them by their staves, or upon the bar upon which they were placed. Oh, how terrible a thing it is to draw near to God. The Lord our God is a jealous God. He will be served with holy reverence; or not at all. Hence he says to Moses and Aaron, “Take care that you do not lead these men into any mistake. You go in first, and point out to each man what he is to carry. See that all is covered up, for if you do not, they may die in their work. Do not be accessories to their act, and bring upon them this terrible judgment.” I often wish that God’s people would be careful not to cause sin in any of his servants when they are engaged in the divine ministry. Perhaps in preaching, or otherwise, there may be something done which vexes the Holy Spirit, and causes trouble and sin. And, oh! he who stands in the holy place, and bears the holiest of the vessels, needs to fear and tremble before God; and he needs to ask his brethren to see that they do nothing which might inadvertently cause him to sin.
Numbers 4:21-24. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take also the sum of the sons of Gershon, throughout the houses of their fathers, by their families, from thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them; all that enter in to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation. This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for burdens:
They were to bear the external coverings of the holy place. The most holy place was in the custody of the Kohathites; but the Gershonites were to carry as follows,
Numbers 4:25-28. And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the badgers’ skins that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the hangings of the court, and the hanging for the door of the gate of the court, which is by the tabernacle and by the altar round about, and their cords, and all the instruments of their service, and all that is made for them: so shall they serve. At the appointment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burdens, and in all their service: and ye shall appoint unto them in charge all their burdens. This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation: and their charge shall be under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
There was a wise decision of labour. I wish we had the same kind of thing in every church, and that every member occupied himself in that to which God has appointed him. But there are some who want to do what they cannot do, and who do not care to do what they can do.
Numbers 4:29-32. As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them after their families, by the house of their fathers; from thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth into the service, to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation. And this is the charge of their burden, according to all their service in the tabernacle of the congregation, the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and sockets thereof, and the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords, with all their instruments, and with all their service: and by name ye shall reckon the instruments of the charge of their burden.
They had the heaviest load to carry, but they were the more numerous. They carried the solid columns upon which the covering of the tabernacle rested. And notice that they had also to carry the pins. Sometimes, God’s servants dislike carrying pins. They feel themselves too big, but blessed is that servant who, in his place, can be content to carry “their sockets, and their pins, and their cords, with all their instruments.”
Numbers 4:33. This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service, in the tabernacle of the congregation, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.