Chapter three is the Levite version of chapter two, explaining how the Levites camped and moved. Levi himself had three sons – Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. These became the three sub-tribes of Levi. The Gershonites were responsible for the curtains of the tabernacle and camped on the west side of the tabernacle, between the tabernacle itself and Ephraim’s group. The Merarites were responsible for the tabernacle frame, boards, and structure. They camped on the north side near Dan’s group. The Kohathites were the tribe Moses and Aaron came from. They were responsible for the tabernacle furniture, including the ark of the covenant. The camped on the south side near Reuben. Moses and his family and Aaron and his family (the actual priests) camped between the tabernacle and Judah on the east side.
Two smaller censuses were taken at this time. The first was from the Levites. Rather than counting army-capable males, all males at least one month old were counted, with a result of 22,000. The second count was all other males in Israel, older than one month but younger than 20 years. This number was 22,273, slightly larger than the Levites. During the Passover in Egypt, God declared that he dedicated to himself all of the Israelite firstborn (Exodus 13:1). At this point, he substituted the tribe of Levi for the rest of the nation. Although all firstborn were still dedicated to him, the Levites would stand in their place in the tabernacle ministry. The difference in the numbers caused a collection to be taken from the people to redeem the lives of the firstborn not covered by male Levites.