This is another one of those passages that makes the most sense when you recall that this was compiled in exile. It outlines the different clans of the tribes of Levi and what they’re responsible for taking care of with the tabernacle. Presumably these responsibilities transferred over to the temple, which they wanted to rebuild. It was vital to record which clans were responsible for what so that everything could be run properly once they returned to their land.
There are still Levites around today, of course – they and Judah are the only tribes that weren’t “lost.” If someone has the last name “Levy,” “Levitt,” or “Levine,” there’s a strong chance (though not a guarantee) that they’re Levite. But there isn’t a temple any more, so the responsibilities of the priests (kohanim) have been reduced to saying some prayers and blessings. They’re far less important than rabbis.
The Levites are counted here, though with a different system since it’s for a different reason. The other tribes only counted the men who were fit for combat. The Levites count all the men over one month old, since they are exempt from fighting. The total is 22,000, which would make about 44,000 total once you include women, a tiny number compared to the others reported.
They also count just the firstborn men and come up with 22,273. Yes, it’s that exact. I tried to see if it was evenly divided into the other totals, and it comes close at about 1/27. Which I guess means that families had an average of 27 sons??
I said before in Genesis that you could figure out that the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally by reading it with a calculator, and that definitely is the case here. In fact, the 22,273 is so specific I almost wonder if there isn’t some coded message in it that I’m missing.
The Japanese: genshu suru “to observe strictly” (v 10), seigo “post-natal, since birth” (v 22), kui “stake, picket” (v 37), chouka suru “to be more than, to be in excess of,” choushuu suru “to collect, to levy” (v 49).