In our study of Numbers chapter 3, we’re going to be starting from verse 14 today.
Recall that the contents of this chapter occur in two different locations.
All the events from verses 1-13 take place at Mount Sinai while all the events from verse 14 onwards take place in the Sinai Desert.
Now I want to share something really interesting about the way the census here in Numbers Chapter 3 was done.
In order to get my point across, let’s take a look at a couple of different Bible translation renderings of Numbers 3:15-16 and pay attention to the parts I colored red and bolded and underlined.
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.” Moshe counted them in the manner Adonai had said, as he had been ordered. (From the Complete Jewish Bible)
“Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. And Moses numbered them according to the word of the Lord, as he was commanded.” (From the King James Version)
“Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more.” So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.” (From the NIV)
Okay, out of all these three versions, I must say the King James version does the best job in communicating what the original Hebrew actually says.
Note that the King James version says “Moses numbered them according to the word of the Lord“.
Here’s the thing.
Neither Moses nor any other human being for that matter counted the Levites and the firstborn during this census.
It was God Himself who did the counting and then gave the figure to Moses who recorded it.
This is totally different than the census conducted in chapter one which was done by humans.
The Hebrew word from which “numbered” or “counted” came from is PAQAD.
However, in this context PAQAD should NOT be translated as “numbered” or “counted“.
In this context, it should be translated as “recorded“.
Having said that, PAQAD can also mean “to number” or “to count” but in this context it’s not a good translation.
Next, let’s look at the original Hebrew for “the word of the Lord“
The original Hebrew here is AL PI or עַל פִּי.
While a concordance will tell us this means “according to” or “in accordance with“, this kind of misses the mark.
The idea being communicated is that the WORD being communicated was a very special and divine proclamation.
It was an oracle from the mouth of God Himself!
There was no way God was going to trust Moses or any other flesh to participate in the counting of the Levites.
The reason is because we’re dealing with redemption here and this is something that God alone takes full responsibility for.
The same goes for salvation as well.
God is not going leave something as important as salvation up to man.
Salvation is all on God.
So if I was to make just a slight improvement to the already very good King James rendering, I would say the following:
“And Moses recorded the number of Levites according to the word of the Lord.” (Rich Oka Version)
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear not therefore:
ye are of more value than many sparrows.”