The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things. When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles. And over the table of the bread of the Presence…they shall take a cloth of blue and cover the lampstand for the light…over the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue and cover it with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles…all the vessels of the service that are used in the sanctuary and put them in a cloth of blue and cover them with a covering of goatskin and put them on the carrying frame.
And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.
“And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels.”
The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.”
…All those who were listed of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of Israel listed, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come to do the service of ministry and the service of bearing burdens in the tent of meeting, those listed were 8,580. According to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying. Thus they were listed by him, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 4:1-49 ESV)
God has Moses number the Levites by their three clans, those who are ages 30-50 and can serve to carry the tabernacle. They can only carry the parts and furniture of the tabernacle when Aaron and his sons have first wrapped them and put in the poles through the rings in the sides of the furniture. This is to prevent them from dying because Yahweh will not allow anyone but the priests to touch or see the holy articles.
The priests alone, also, can deal with the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil. What goes on in the tent portion of the tabernacle, the holy place segment and the most holy place segment, is hidden from view except to the priests alone. This guards the sanctity of the sanctuary and highlights once again the absolute holiness of God.
Israel is learning how essential it is to approach God as He commands. Later, when David tries to move the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and one of the men touches the ark as it slides off the cart (it is not being carried by the poles through its rings), the man is killed (2 Sam 6). Israel has forgotten.
We too might forget. Like David we might be carried away with desire to serve God and choose ways to do so that are not in agreement with His teachings and principles. It is worth examining all that we do as a church, a family, and an individual, that we deem service to God, to make sure that it is not being done according to the human-ingenuity way of doing things and God’s way. David was sincere but sincerely wrong in the way he did things and unnecessarily delayed what God in fact wanted him to do. He should have checked with the Lord.