“Adonai said to Moshe, “Register all the firstborn males of the people of Israel a month old and over, and determine how many there are. Then you are to take the Levites for me, Adonai, in place of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites in place of the firstborn of the cattle belonging to the people of Israel.” Moshe counted, as Adonai had ordered him, all the firstborn among the people of Israel. The total number of firstborn males registered, a month old and over, of those who were counted, was 22,273.”-Numbers 3:40-43
From verse 40 we are introduced to a new census counting all males from the age of one month and over.
This new census is conducted in the same way as was done with the Levites.
However, after this new census is done, it is discovered that there are 273 more Israelite firstborns than Levite males.
Interestingly, also notice that the firstborn of the cattle were also to be included in this census.
The Hebrew word being used for cattle here is BEHEMAH which if you recall refers only to the domesticated farm animals.
Again, understand what’s happening here is that God is replacing all the firstborn males from a month old and over with the Levites and it just so turns out that the number of firstborns is higher than the number of Levites by a count of 273 souls.
So what to do about this discrepancy?
Well, the solution is the same that is used to solve many of the problems in the world today: MONEY.
The value for the firstborns a month or more older was to be set at five shekels per person.
Keep in mind that at this time, a shekel was NOT an official currency.
A shekel wasn’t treated as a coin carrying a monetary value, it was just a unit of weight like we have grams and ounces today.
So how was it decided which of all the Israelite firstborns would be part of the 273 to be redeemed by money?
That decision was determined by lot and each firstborn chosen had to come up with five shekels to be given to Moses who would then give it to the Levitical Priesthood.
Okay, let’s make sure we understand what’s going on here.
The total number of Levites came to 22,000 souls.
The total number of common Israelite firstborns came to 22,273.
Thus, 273 Israelites had to each be redeemed for 5 shekels each totaling 1,365 shekels which went to directly to the priesthood.
Once this transaction was done, the redemption of the firstborn was complete!
The firstborn lost their historical special status of being the household family priests and would no longer be automatically devoted to the service of the Lord.
Having said that, understand that the many of the other firstborn traditions concerning wealth and family authority etcetera remained intact, but they were no longer priests.
The Levites were now God’s specially chosen servants to be dedicated to Him by serving at His Holy Tabernacle.