The Levites substitution for the firstborn

You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. (Abraham Lincoln)


Moses, Aaron, and his sons were to make sure that the Israelites worshiped in the proper way (vv. 38-41). So they obeyed the LORD and counted the Levites by their clans. Here are the requirements made of the Levites for the first-born:

  1. The first-born were numbered from a month old (vv. 42-43). Those certainly were not recognized who, though first-born, had become heads of families themselves, but those only that were born since their coming out of Egypt, when the first-born were sanctified (Ex. 13:2). If there were 22,000 first-born males, we may suppose as many females, and all these brought forth in the first year after they came out of Egypt when there were abundance of marriages made among the Israelites. They were not discouraged by the present distress, but married in faith, expecting that God would shortly visit them with mercy, and that their children, though born in bondage, should live in liberty and honor.
  2. The number of the first-born, and that of the Levites, by special providence, were similar; thus, when he divided the nations, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel (Deut. 32:8). Known unto God are all his works beforehand, and there is an exact proportion between them, and so it will appear when they come to be compared. The Levites’ cattle are said to be taken instead of the firstlings of the cattle of the children of Israel, with all their possessions.
  3. The small number of first-born which exceeded the number of the Levites (273 in all) were to be redeemed, at five shekels apiece, and the redemption-money given to Aaron; for it would not do well to have them added to the Levites. It is probable that in the exchange they began counting with the eldest of the first-born, and so downward, so that those who were to be redeemed with money were the 273 youngest of the first-born. This process was more likely than to think it was determined by lot or that the money was paid out of a public fund.


I am not the first-born in my family but this does not excuse me from having a responsibility to those who are new in the faith. I need to always have someone who is discipling me and I always need to be discipling someone else.

Numbers 3:38-51 (English Standard Version)

Those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, guarding the sanctuary itself, to protect the people of Israel. And any outsider who came near was to be put to death. All those listed among the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the LORD, by clans, all the males from a month old and upward, were 22,000. And the LORD said to Moses, "List all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, from a month old and upward, taking the number of their names. And you shall take the Levites for me--I am the LORD--instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the people of Israel." So Moses listed all the firstborn among the people of Israel, as the LORD commanded him. And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as listed were 22,273. And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the LORD. And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekels per head; you shall take them according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel of twenty gerahs), and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over." So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites. From the firstborn of the people of Israel he took the money, 1,365 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. And Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses.

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