Numbers 4 – Levite Duties


Numbers 4


The duties of the three sub-tribes of the Levites are listed.


This section foreshadows dangerous jealousies that will develop later in the Book of Numbers. Duties are assigned to the various Levites according to their ancestry from Levi’s three sons, Kohath, Gershon and Merari. 

The Kohathites were responsible for transporting the holy articles in the tabernacle: the ark of the covenant, the golden lampstand, the incense altar, the tables for showbread and all the utensils for tabernacle service. The instructions in this section warn that the Kohathites face particular danger because of the extreme holiness of the articles that they will carry. Aaron and the priests were to cover everything before the Kohathites had a chance to see it. The text specifically warns that the Kohathites could be wiped out if they are not protected from the holy things – which is what almost happens in Numbers 16. 

The Gershonites were charged with carrying the various fabrics of the tabernacle and the curtain wall that surrounded them. The Merarites were charged with carrying the supporting hardware for the tents and curtain wall – the posts and bases. These two subtribes would receive oxcarts from the general offering to help them transport their responsibilities (Numbers 7:7-8). The Kohathites, however, carried everything by hand.