Okay, now it's time for some nitty gritty about the Levites—those descendants of Levi who are responsible for maintaining the tabernacle. Why a whole chapter? They're kind of a big deal.
But let's start at the beginning. Moses's brother Aaron had four sons—Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. If you remember, Nadab and Abihu died back in Leviticus when they royally screwed up some stuff in the tabernacle. Come on guys, it's not like God didn't give you super specific instructions.
So, now, only Eleazar and Ithamar are left to serve as priests. And they manage to get the job done without mishandling sacred stuff and getting struck down by the Almighty. Nice going, gents.
Basically, God says the descendants of Aaron will serve as priests and the Levites will work as their priestly assistants. So far so good.
Fillin' In For The Firstborn
Okay, a little more backstory. Remember in Exodus, when God didn't kill all the firstborn sons of Israel? That was pretty swell, right?
Well, God also decided that, in payment for his über niceness, all the firstborn sons of Israel would belong to him.
Now, being the super laid back deity he is, God has generously decided to let the Levites stand in for the firstborn sons of Israel.
They'll be devoting their lives to the service of God, while everyone else goes about their daily routines. Sounds like a square deal.
So God decides to do a little census of the Levites. He counts all the males over one month old. Since Levi had three sons, his descendants are broken into three groups and given special places to live and specific tabernacle duties.
The Sons Of Levi
The descendants of Gershon live on the west side of the tabernacle and take care of various fabrics associated with this divine site.
The offspring of Kohath live on the south side and they take care of all the super special holy goodies inside the tabernacle, like the Ark of the Covenant, the altar, the candlesticks, and all that good stuff.
Merari's boys sleep on the north side and take charge of all the structural components of the tabernacle. Tent poles, pillars, and all that jazz.
On the east side of the tabernacle, where the entrance is (and the best spot in the whole camp), Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's sons stay.
Basically, they're in charge of the whole kit and caboodle.
When God's done doing his count, the male Levites total up to 22,000.
Then God tells Moses to count the firstborn sons of Israel—he gets 22,273. Yikes. We never knew the Bible used so much math.
Again, God repeats his order to go ahead and do the swap—the Levites will stand in for the firstborns, who, by rights, are God's. He'll also take their livestock, too, so that the Israelites don't have to give up their firstborn oxen all the time.
However, since they are getting off on a divine debt, each firstborn Israelite male has to pay five shekels for the Levites's service. Hey, it really is the least they could do.
This money goes directly to Aaron and sons.
Again, everyone goes along with this, even though it means parting with hard-earned shekels, and God is pleased as punch. Seriously, the Israelites are killing it when it comes to obeying God in this book.