*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.
To keep the charge, and shall do no service - They shall no longer be obliged to perform any laborious service, but act as general directors and counsellors; therefore they were to be near the camp, sing praises to God, and see that no stranger or unclean person was permitted to enter. So the Jews and many other persons have understood this place.
1. If it required so much legal purity to fit the Levites for their work in the tabernacle, can we suppose that it requires less spiritual purity to fit ministers of the Gospel to proclaim the righteousness of the Most High, and administer the sacred ordinances of Christianity to the flock of Christ? If these must be without spot, as the priests before without blemish, and these were only typical men, we may rest assured that a Christian minister requires no ordinary measures of holiness to prepare him for an acceptable and profitable discharge of his office.
2. If the Christian ministry be established to prepare men for the kingdom of God, of the holiness of which the purity of the camp was but a faint emblem, how can any man expect to enter that place of blessedness, who has not his heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and his body washed with pure water; his life and conversation agreeable to the sacred precepts laid down in the Gospel of Christ? If the law of Moses were more read in reference to the Gospel, the Gospel itself and its requisitions would be much better understood.
Reader, however it may be with thee, Antinomianism is more general among religious people than is usually imagined. What multitudes of all denominations are expecting to enter into the kingdom of God without any proper preparation for the place! Without holiness none shall see the Lord; and from this decision of the Divine justice there shall never be any appeal.
But shall minister (l) with their brethren in the tabernacle of the congregation, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their charge.
(l) In singing Psalm, instructing, counselling and keeping the things in order.
But shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of the congregation,.... By giving advice, instructing younger Levites, and doing lighter service. Jarchi says, they shall return to shutting of doors, singing and loading wagons; but the last especially seems too burdensome: the ministry of such is explained by the next clause:
to keep the charge; of the tabernacle, to watch and observe that no stranger or unclean person enter into it; and this they were capable of when at the age of fifty, and upwards:
and shall do no service; heavy and laborious:
thus thou shall do unto the Levites touching their charge; dismiss them from service when at such an age, or however make their service easier; for this respects ancient men, as Aben Ezra notes; though it may include both their entrance on their work, and their cessation from it.
But shall minister with their brethren--in the performance of easier and higher duties, instructing and directing the young, or superintending important trusts. "They also serve who only wait" [MILTON].
"So shalt thou do to the Levites (i.e., proceed with them) in their services." משׁמרת from משׁמרת, attendance upon an official post. Both the heading and final clause, by which this law relating to the Levites' period of service is bounded, and its position immediately after the induction of the Levites into their office, show unmistakeably that this law was binding for all time, and was intended to apply to the standing service of the Levites at the sanctuary; and consequently that it was not at variance with the instructions in ch. 4, to muster the Levites between thirty and fifty years of age, and organize them for the transport of the tabernacle on the journey through the wilderness (Numbers 4:3-49). The transport of the tabernacle required the strength of a full-grown man, and therefore the more advanced age of thirty years; whereas the duties connected with the tabernacle when standing were of a lighter description, and could easily be performed from the twenty-fifth year (see Hengstenberg's Dissertations, vol. ii. pp. 321ff.). At a later period, when the sanctuary was permanently established on Mount Zion, David employed the Levites from their twentieth year (1-Chronicles 23:24-25), and expressly stated that he did so because the Levites had no longer to carry the dwelling and its furniture; and this regulation continued in force from that time forward (cf. 2-Chronicles 31:17; Ezra 3:8). But if the supposed discrepancy between the verses before us and Numbers 4:3, Numbers 4:47, is removed by this distinction, which is gathered in the most simple manner from the context, there is no ground whatever for critics to deny that the regulation before us could have proceeded from the pen of the Elohist.
In the tabernacle - By way of advice, and assistance in lesser and easier works.
*More commentary available at chapter level.