1 Chronicles 23 – New Duties for the Levites
A. The groupings of the Levites.
1. (1-2) David passes the kingdom to Solomon.
So when David was old and full of days, he made his son Solomon king over Israel. And he gathered together all the leaders of Israel, with the priests and the Levites.
a. When David was old and full of days, he made his son Solomon king over Israel: David had other sons who might also claim the throne of Israel after his death (especially Adonijah). 1 Kings 1:5, 31-40 describes in greater detail how David made sure that Solomon, and not Adonijah, took the throne after his death.
i. “Not that he did resign the kingdom to him, but that he declared his mind concerning his succession into the throne after his death.” (Poole)
b. He gathered together all the leaders of Israel: David gathered these for the purpose of organizing them to help Solomon with the work of building the temple and administering the affairs of the kingdom.
2. (3-6) The number and the main groupings of the Levites.
Now the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and above; and the number of individual males was thirty-eight thousand. Of these, twenty-four thousand were to look after the work of the house of the LORD, six thousand were officers and judges, four thousand were gatekeepers, and four thousand praised the LORD with musical instruments, “which I made,” said David, “for giving praise.” Also David separated them into divisions among the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
a. The Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and above: This was based on the ancient command found in Numbers 4:1-3, indicating that a Levite’s service began at 30 years of age.
b. The number of individual males was thirty-eight thousand: These 38,000 qualified Levites were divided into different duties.
i. To look after the work of the house of the LORD: The temple was a busy place constantly flowing with worshippers, sacrifice, and service to God. It took many skilled people to take care of all the practical matters behind this activity.
ii. Officers and judges: The Levites were also the civil servants for the kingdom of Israel. Governmental records, decisions, and administration were all in the hands of the Levites.
iii. Gatekeepers: These had the responsibility for security, both in a practical and spiritual sense. They made sure that only those who were ready to serve and worship God could come to the temple and its associated building.
iv. Four thousand praised the LORD: These Levites had the job of worshipping God both with their voices and musical instruments. They did this both to honor God directly and also to encourage others to worship God.
c. David separated them into divisions among the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari: These family groupings within the tribe of Levi were described hundreds of years before in Numbers 3 and 4.
i. Gershon: The Gershonites were to take care of the skins that covered the tabernacle itself.
ii. Kohath: The Kohathites were to take care of the furniture of the tabernacle including the ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, and so forth, under the direction of Eleazar the priest, son of Aaron.
iii. Merari: The family of Merari was to take care of the structural aspects of the tabernacle including the pillars, the boards, and so forth
3. (7-11) The Gershonites.
Of the Gershonites: Laadan and Shimei. The sons of Laadan: the first Jehiel, then Zetham and Joel; three in all. The sons of Shimei: Shelomith, Haziel, and Haran; three in all. These were the heads of the fathers’ houses of Laadan. And the sons of Shimei: Jahath, Zina, Jeush, and Beriah. These were the four sons of Shimei. Jahath was the first and Zizah the second. But Jeush and Beriah did not have many sons; therefore they were assigned as one father’s house.
4. (12-13) The Kohathites.
The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel; four in all. The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses; and Aaron was set apart, he and his sons forever, that he should sanctify the most holy things, to burn incense before the LORD, to minister to Him, and to give the blessing in His name forever.
a. And Aaron was set apart, he and his sons forever: Among the Levites, the descendants of Aaron were chosen for the priestly duties described in these verses. Being a member of the tribe of Levi was not enough to be a priest; one had to be a descendant of this particular family of Aaron.
b. That he should sanctify the most holy things, to burn incense before the LORD, to minister to Him, and to give the blessing in His name forever: This is a brief but powerful description of the duties of the priests of Israel.
· That he should sanctify the most holy things: The priest was to have an active concern for holiness, and to be able to discern between what was holy and what was not. This means that holiness had to touch the life of the priest; he had to represent God before the people.
· To burn incense before the LORD: Incense is a picture of intercessory prayer. The priest had to represent the people before the Lord. “The fragrant incense stealing heavenward is a beautiful emblem of intercessory prayer. Let us pray more, not for ourselves so much as for others. This is the sign of growth in grace, when our prayers are fragrant with the names of friend and foe, and mingled with the coals of the golden altar.” (Meyer)
· To minister to Him: The priest was busy with people and the work of ministry, but he must never forget his ministry to God Himself. He was to spend time in personal devotion, worship, and attention given to God in the secret place.
· To give the blessing in His name forever: The priest was blessed so that he could bless others. “It is not enough to linger in soft prayer within the vail, we must come forward to bless mankind. He who is nearest to God is closest to man.” (Meyer)
5. (14-20) The sons of Moses, of the family of Kohath.
Now the sons of Moses the man of God were reckoned to the tribe of Levi. The sons of Moses were Gershon and Eliezer. Of the sons of Gershon, Shebuel was the first. Of the descendants of Eliezer, Rehabiah was the first. And Eliezer had no other sons, but the sons of Rehabiah were very many. Of the sons of Izhar, Shelomith was the first. Of the sons of Hebron, Jeriah was the first, Amariah the second, Jahaziel the third, and Jekameam the fourth. Of the sons of Uzziel, Michah was the first and Jesshiah the second.
6. (21-23) The family of Merari.
The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi. The sons of Mahli were Eleazar and Kish. And Eleazar died, and had no sons, but only daughters; and their brethren, the sons of Kish, took them as wives. The sons of Mushi were Mahli, Eder, and Jeremoth; three in all.
B. David changes the duties of the Levites.
1. (24-26) The reason for the change of duty.
These were the sons of Levi by their fathers’ houses; the heads of the fathers’ houses as they were counted individually by the number of their names, who did the work for the service of the house of the LORD, from the age of twenty years and above. For David said, “The LORD God of Israel has given rest to His people, that they may dwell in Jerusalem forever”; and also to the Levites, “They shall no longer carry the tabernacle, or any of the articles for its service.”
a. From the age of twenty years and above: David first changed the year when service began for the Levites from 30 to 20.
i. One reason he did this was because the new temple would require more workers, and he wanted to keep the Levites busy. “Temple service will certainly have brought increased work, even though the occasional duty of transporting the ark was now to be abolished. In fact, the Levites and their duties had suffered from long-standing neglect.” (Selman)
b. The LORD God of Israel has given rest to His people: Now that the tabernacle and its furnishings would rest permanently at the temple David planned and Solomon would build, there could and should be a change in the duties of the Levites.
2. (27-32) The new duties of the Levites.
For by the last words of David the Levites were numbered from twenty years old and above; because their duty was to help the sons of Aaron in the service of the house of the LORD, in the courts and in the chambers, in the purifying of all holy things and the work of the service of the house of God, both with the showbread and the fine flour for the grain offering, with the unleavened cakes and what is baked in the pan, with what is mixed and with all kinds of measures and sizes; to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD, and likewise at evening; and at every presentation of a burnt offering to the LORD on the Sabbaths and on the New Moons and on the set feasts, by number according to the ordinance governing them, regularly before the LORD; and that they should attend to the needs of the tabernacle of meeting, the needs of the holy place, and the needs of the sons of Aaron their brethren in the work of the house of the LORD.
a. For by the last word of David the Levites were numbered: “Never was the true kingliness of David more manifest, than when he sought to make these arrangements for the consolidation around the Throne of God of that kingdom which he was so soon to leave.” (Morgan)
i. 2 Chronicles 29:25 tells us that David commanded these arrangements as he worked together with Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet. It also tells us that these arrangements were the commandment of the LORD by his prophets. This was Holy Spirit guided organization and administration.
ii. “Guided by the prophets (2 Chronicles 29:25), the king exercised his administrative genius to establish a system of procedures that helped maintain legitimate worship under his successors.” (Payne)
b. Because their duty was to help the sons of Aaron in the service of the house of the LORD: Since the tabernacle and its service was now to come to a place of permanent rest, the Levites who once had the responsibility to manage and move the mobile structure could now become the helpers of the priests, the sons of Aaron.
c. To stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD: The Chronicler mentioned many specific duties of the Levites (purifying all holy things…with the showbread…what is baked in the pan). Yet he included among them this most important duty: to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD. This was essential among the duties of the Levites and the priests, and could never be neglected.
i. “The specific work of the Levites is beautifully described by the chronicler in the closing verses of the chapter. They were the servants of the priest and of the house. They were also to stand at morning and evening to praise the Lord. High and holy calling, this.” (Morgan)
ii. “It was the priests’ business to kill, flay, and dress, as well as to offer, the victims; but being few, they were obliged to employ the Levites to flay those animals. The Levites were, properly speaking, servants to the priests, and were employed about the more servile part of divine worship.” (Clarke)
iii. “As assistants, they were active in side-rooms and courtyards rather than the main building, preparing food and offerings rather than actually offering sacrifices.” (Selman)