Adonai said to Moshe in the Sinai Desert, “Take a census of the tribe of Levi by clans and families. Count every male a month old or over.”-Numbers 3:14-15
There is a major difference between the census commanded in chapter 1 of all Israel and the one we’re studying here in chapter 3 (of Numbers).
The difference is that in chapter one all males from the age of 20 were to be counted but in this census all males from the age of one-month are to be counted.
Why the difference?
The difference is because the census in Numbers chapter one was strictly for military purposes.
Age 20 was deemed to be the age when men were mature enough both physically and mentally to engage in the rigors of combat.
On the other hand, the census here in Numbers chapter 3 is about counting the number of Levites and the firstborn because the Levites were going to replace the firstborn as the priests of Israel.
One thing you have to remember is that the term “firstborn” NEVER applies to females.
Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as a “firstborn daughter“.
Here’s what you have to know about what the Bible means when it says “firstborn“.
The “firstborn” is referring more to an official “office” than the order of birth.
In other words, the “office of firstborn” conferred upon its receiver certain duties, privileges and obligations.
While the child who received the office of firstborn was usually the biological firstborn, there were quite a few times in Scripture when this was NOT the case.
Here are three specific instances when a son who was NOT the literal or biological firstborn had the office of firstborn conferred upon him.
Abraham had two children: Ishmael and Isaac.
Although Ishmael was the biological firstborn, it was Isaac who received the office of firstborn.
Isaac had two children: Esau and Jacob.
Although Esau was the biological firstborn, it was Jacob who received the office of firstborn (though this happened through trickery).
Jacob had 12 children: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin
Although Reuben was the biological firstborn, it was Judah who received the office of firstborn.
Now why is the age marker in this census in chapter 3 from one month old?
This might seem a bit shocking but according to Jewish law, if a male baby is less than 30 days old, he is not considered a person.
The reason is because according to Torah, a male child has to be at least one month old before it can be redeemed.
See, ONLY a redeemed person can be substituted for another redeemed person.
In this case, we’re talking about a Levite (a redeemed person) replacing an Israelite firstborn male (another redeemed person).
According to orthodox Jewish law, if a new born baby happens to die before becoming one-month old, he will not be given a normal funeral.
Or if we have the tragic incident where an infant under one-month old was accidentally killed, the compensation due his parents would be much smaller had the baby been over a month old.
Once a male infant has reached one-month in age, this is the benchmark for the age of compensation and indicates that the male child has become a “person“.
Another point to consider is that the circumcision rite didn’t take place until the male infant was 8 days old.
Circumcision was important because it placed a male child under the covenant of Abraham and without that he could not be considered an official member of Israel.