Verses 47-54 (Numbers 1:47-54)

Care is here taken to distinguish from the rest of the tribes the tribe of Levi, which, in the matter of the golden calf, had distinguished itself, Exod. 32:26. Note, Singular services shall be recompensed with singular honours. Now,

I. It was the honour of the Levites that they were made guardians of the spiritualities; to them was committed the care of the tabernacle and the treasures thereof, both in their camps and in their marches. 1. When they moved the Levites were to take down the tabernacle, to carry it and all that belonged to it, and then to set it up again in the place appointed, Num. 1:50, 51. It was for the honour of the holy things that none should be permitted to see them, or touch them, but those only who were called of God to the service. Thus we all are unfit and unworthy to have fellowship with God until we are first called by his grace into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and so, being the spiritual seed of that great high priest, are made priests to our God; and it is promised that God would take Levites to himself, even from the Gentiles, Isa. 66:21. 2. When they rested the Levites were to encamp round about the tabernacle (Num. 1:50, 53), that they might be near their work, and resident upon their charge, always ready to attend, and that they might be a guard upon the tabernacle, to preserve it from being either plundered or profaned. They must pitch round about the tabernacle, that there be no wrath upon the congregation, as there would be if the tabernacle and the charge of it were neglected, or those crowded upon it that were not allowed to come near. Note, Great care must be taken to prevent sin, because the preventing of sin is the preventing of wrath.

II. It was their further honour that as Israel, being a holy people, was not reckoned among the nations, so they, being a holy tribe, were not reckoned among other Israelites, but numbered afterwards by themselves, Num. 1:49. The service which the Levites were to do about the sanctuary is called (as we render it in the margin) a warfare, Num. 4:23. And, being engaged in that warfare, they were discharged from military services, and therefore not numbered with those that were to go out to war. Note, Those that minister about holy things should neither entangle themselves, nor be entangled, in secular affairs. The ministry is itself work enough for a whole man, and all little enough to be employed in it. It is an admonition to ministers to distinguish themselves by their exemplary conversation from common Israelites, not affecting to seem greater, but aiming to be really better, every way better than others.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary