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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Numbers 7

Verse 1

And it came to pass on the day that Moses had fully set up the tabernacle, and had anointed it, and sanctified it, and all the instruments thereof, both the altar and all the vessels thereof, and had anointed them, and sanctified them;

The day that Moses had fully set up the tabernacle. Those who take the word "day" as literally pointing to the exact date of the completion of the tabernacle are under a necessity of considering the sacred narrative as disjointed, and this portion of the history, from the seventh to the eleventh chapters, as out of its place-the chronology requiring that it should have immediately followed the fortieth chapter of Exodus, which relates that the tabernacle was reared on the first day of the first month of the second year. But that the term "day" is used in a loose and indeterminate sense, as synonymous with time, is evident from the fact that not one day but several days were occupied with the transactions about to be described.

So that this chapter stands in its proper place in the order of the history;-after the tabernacle and its instruments, the altar and its vessels, had been anointed (Leviticus 8:10), the Levites separated to the sacred, service-the numbering of the people, and the disposal of the tribes about the tabernacle, in a certain order, which was observed by the princes in the presentation of their offerings. This would fix the period of the imposing ceremonial described in this chapter about a month after the completion of the tabernacle.

Verses 2-3

That the princes of Israel, heads of the house of their fathers, who were the princes of the tribes, and were over them that were numbered, offered:

The princes of Israel ... brought their offering before the Lord. The finishing of the sacred edifice would, it may well be imagined, be hailed as an auspicious occasion, diffusing great joy and thankfulness throughout the whole population of Israel. But the leading men, not content with participating in the general expression of satisfaction, distinguished themselves by a movement, which, while purely spontaneous, was at the same time so appropriate in the circumstances, and so equal in character, as indicates it to have been the result of concert and previous arrangement. It was an offer of the means of carriage, suitable to the migratory state of the nation in the wilderness, for transporting the tabernacle from place to place.

In the pattern of that sacred tent exhibited on the mount, and to which its symbolic and typical character required a faithful adherence, no provision had been made for its removal in the frequent journeyings of the Israelites. That not being essential to the plan of the divine architect, was left to be accomplished by voluntary liberality; and whether we look to the judicious character of the gifts, or to the public manner in which they were presented, we have unmistakeable evidence of the pious and patriotic feelings from which they emanated, and the extensive interest the occasion produced. The offerers were "the princes of Israel, heads of the house of their fathers," and the offering consisted of six covered wagons or litter cars, and twelve oxen, two of the princes being partners in a wagon, and each furnishing an ox.

Verses 4-5

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

The Lord spake ... Take it of them. They exhibited a beautiful example to all who are great in dignity and in wealth to be foremost in contributing to the support, and in promoting the interests, of religion. The strictness of the injunctions Moses had received, to adhere with scrupulous fidelity to the divine model of the tabernacle, probably led him to doubt whether he was at liberty to act in this matter without orders. God, however, relieved him by declaring His acceptance of the free-will offerings, as well as by giving instructions as to the mode of their distribution among the Levites. It is probable that in doing so He merely sanctioned the object for which they were offered, and that the practical wisdom of the offerers had previously determined that they should be distributed "unto the Levites, to every man according to his service" [ 'iysh (H376) kªpiy (H6310) `ªabodaatow (H5656); Septuagint, hekastoo kata teen autou leitourgian] - i:e., more or fewer were assigned to each of the Levitical divisions as their department of duty seemed to require.

This divine sanction it is of great importance to notice, as establishing the principle that, while in the great matters of divine worship and church-government we are to adhere faithfully to the revealed rule of faith and duty, minor arrangements respecting them may be lawfully made, according to the means and convenience of God's people in different places. 'There is a great deal left to human regulation-appendages of undoubted convenience, and which it were as absurd to resist on the ground that an express warrant cannot be produced for them, as to protest against the convening of the people to divine service, because there is no Scripture for the erection and ringing of a church bell' (Chalmers).

Verses 6-9

And Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them unto the Levites.

Moses took the wagons and the oxen. The [ haa`ªgaalot (H5699)] word seems to be fairly rendered by the word "wagons." Wheel carriages of some kind are certainly intended (cf. Genesis 45:19; 1 Samuel 6:7; 2 Samuel 6:3; Isaiah 5:18; Amos 2:13), and as they were covered, the best idea we can form of them is, that they bore some resemblance to our tilted wagons. [ `aab (H5645) added to `ªgaalot (H5699) shows that they were litter-wagons. Septuagint hamaxai lampeenikai, from lampeenee, palanquin (1 Kin. 26:5 ).] That wheel carriages were anciently used in Egypt, and in what is now Asiatic Turkey, is attested, not only by history, but by existing sculptures and paintings. Some of these the Israelites might have brought with them at their departure; and others, the skillful artisans, who did the mechanical work of the tabernacle, could easily have constructed, according to models with which they had been familiar. Each wagon was drawn by two oxen, and a greater number does not seem to have been employed on any of the different occasions mentioned in Scripture. Oxen seem to have been generally used for draught in ancient times among other nations as well as the Hebrews; and they continue still to be employed in dragging the few carts which are in use in some parts of Western Asia (Kitto).

Gave them unto the Levites. The principle of distribution was natural and judicious-the Merarites having twice the number of wagons and oxen appropriated to them that the Gershonites had; obviously because, while the latter had charge only of the coverings and hangings-the light but precious and richly embroidered drapery-the former were appointed to transport all the heavy and bulky materials-the boards, bars, pillars, and sockets-in short, all the larger articles of furniture. Whoever thinks only of the enormous weight of metal, the gold, silver, brass, etc., that were on the bases, chapiters, and pillars, etc., will probably come to the conclusion that four wagons and eight oxen were not nearly sufficient for the conveyance of so vast a load. Besides, the Merarites were not very numerous, since they only amounted to 3,200 men from 30 years of age and upward; and, therefore, there is reason to suppose that a much greater number of wagons would afterward be found necessary, and be furnished than were given on this occasion (Calmet).

Others, who consider the full number of wagons and oxen to be stated in the sacred record, suppose that the Merarites may have carried many of the smaller things in their hands-the sockets, for instance, which being each a talent weight, was one man's burden (2 Kings 5:23). The Kohathites had neither wheeled vehicles nor beasts of burden assigned them, because, being charged with the transport of the furniture belonging to the holy place, the sacred worth and character of the vessels entrusted to them (see the note at Numbers 4:15), demanded a more honourable mode of conveyance. They were carried by those Levites shoulder-high. Even in this minute arrangement every reflecting reader will perceive the evidence of divine wisdom and holiness; and a deviation from the prescribed rule of duty led, in one recorded instance, to a manifestation of holy displeasure calculated to make a salutary and solemn impression (2 Samuel 6:6-13).

Verses 10-11

And the princes offered for dedicating of the altar in the day that it was anointed, even the princes offered their offering before the altar.

The princes offered ..., [ hamizbeeach (H4196)]. "Altar" is here used in the singular for the plural; because it is evident, from the kind of offerings, that the altars of burnt offering and incense are both referred to. This was not the first or proper dedication of those altars, which had been made by Moses and Aaron some time before. But it might be considered an additional dedication-those offerings being the first that were made for particular persons or tribes.

They shall offer ... Eastern princes were accustomed anciently, as they are in Persia still, on a certain yearly festival, to sit upon their thrones in great state, when the princes and nobles, from all parts of their dominions, appear before them with tributary presents, which form a large proportion of their royal revenue. And in the offering of all gifts or presents to great personages every article is presented singly and with ostentatious display. The tabernacle being the palace of their king, as well as the sanctuary of their God, the princes of Israel may be viewed, on the occasion under notice, as presenting their tributary offerings, and in the same manner of successive detail which accords with the immemorial usages of the East. A day was set apart for each, as much for the imposing solemnity and splendour of the ceremony as for the prevention of disorder and hurry; and it is observable that, in the order of offering, regard was paid to priority, not of birth, but of rank and dignity, as they were ranged in the camp-beginning at the east, proceeding to the south, then to the west, and closing with the north according to the course of the sun.

Verses 12-17

And he that offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah:

And he that offered his offering the first day was Nabshon. Judah having had the precedence assigned to it, the prince or head of that tribe was the first admitted to offer as its representative; and his offering, as well as that of the others, is thought, from its costliness, to have been furnished, not from his own private means, but from the general contributions of each tribe. Some parts of the offering, as the animals for sacrifice, were for the ritual service of the day, the peace offerings being by much the most numerous, since the princes and some of the people joined with the priests afterward in celebrating the occasion with festive rejoicing. Hence, the feast of dedication afterward became an anniversary festival.

Other parts of the offering were intended for permanent use, as utensils necessary in the service of the sanctuary, namely, an immense platter and bowl (Exodus 25:29), which, being of silver, were to be employed at the altar of burnt offering, or in the court, not in the Holy place, all the furniture of which was of solid or plated gold; and a golden spoon, the contents of which show its destination to have been the altar of incense. [ Kap (H3709), the word rendered "spoon," means a hollow cup, in the shape of a hand, with which the priests on ordinary occasions might lift a quantity from the incense box to throw on the altar fire, or into the censers; but on the ceremonial on the day of the annual atonement no instrument was allowed but the high priest's own hands (Leviticus 16:12).] Those vessels were not improbably of the same shape and description as the chargers, bowls, and spoons which are portrayed, with an account of the number and value of each, on the walls of the temple of Karnac in which they were presented as gifts.

Four kinds of offerings are described as being made by the princes; first, the gift of silver and gold, of flour and incense; secondly, a burnt offering; thirdly, a sin-offering; and fourthly, a peace offering. This account is repeated twelve times, with pretty nearly the same circumstances, and at any rate in the same order. Now, it surely does not seem reasonable to suppose that these four should all have the same meaning, or why are they so accurately distinguished the one from the other? I believe it will be found, on a careful perusal of the Levitical parts of the Old Testament, that after the times of Moses, whenever a detailed account is given of a sacrifice, it is always offered in more than one mode. In some instances, as in the present, all four kinds are specified; in most others there are three (Leviticus 9:0; Leviticus 14:1-32; 42:13; 43:18-27; 44:29; 46 ), and in others only two (Exodus 32:6; Leviticus 12:1; Ezra 8:35; Ezekiel 40:39). It is quite evident that each kind of sacrifice was meant to denote some different state or action of the worshipper ('Israel after the Flesh,' p. 38).

Verse 16. One kid of the goats for a sin offering, [ sª`iyr (H8163) `iziym (H5795)] - (see the notes at Leviticus 4:23-24; Leviticus 16:9.) From the garments manufactured of the long shaggy hair of this species of goat, worn by mourners, penitents, and prophets, who inculcated the duty of repentance (2 Kings 1:8; Isaiah 20:2; Zechariah 13:4), there was a significance and propriety in the selection of such animals in cases that related to sin. The distinction was especially necessary when the sin offerings were accompanied with others, such as peace offerings or thank offerings, when the goats used were a different species [the `atuwdiym (H6260)].

Verse 18

On the second day Nethaneel the son of Zuar, prince of Issachar, did offer:

On the second day Nethaneel ... prince of Issachar. This tribe being stationed on the right side of Judah, offered next through its representative; then Zebulun, which was on the left side; and so on in orderly succession, every tribe making the same kind of offering, and to the same amount, to show that, as each was under equal obligation, each rendered an equal tribute. Although each offering made was the same in quantity as well as quality, a separate notice is given of each, as a separate day was appointed for the presentation, that equal honour might be conferred upon each, and none appear to be overlooked or slighted. And since the sacred books were frequently read in public, posterity, in each successive age, would feel a livelier interest in the national worship, from the permanent recognition of the offerings made by the ancestors of the respective tribes. But while this was done in one respect as subjects offering tribute to their king, it was in another respect a purely religious act. The vessels offered were for a sacrificial use-the animals brought were clean and fit for sacrifice, both symbolically denoting that, while God was to dwell among them as their Sovereign, they were a holy people, who by this offering dedicated themselves to God.

Verses 19-47

He offered for his offering one silver charger, the weight whereof was an hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 48

On the seventh day Elishama the son of Ammihud, prince of the children of Ephraim, offered:

On the seventh day. Surprise has been expressed by some that this work of presentation was continued on the Sabbath. But assuming that the seventh day referred to was a Sabbath (which is uncertain), the work was of a directly religious character, and perfectly in accordance with the design of the sacred day.

Verses 49-83

His offering was one silver charger, the weight whereof was an hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 84-88

This was the dedication of the altar, in the day when it was anointed, by the princes of Israel: twelve chargers of silver, twelve silver bowls, twelve spoons of gold:

This was the dedication of the altar. The inspired historian here sums up the separate items detailed in the preceding narrative, and the aggregate amount is as follows: 121 silver chargers, each weighing 130 shekels = 1,560; 12 silver bowls, each 70 shekels = 840, total weight. A silver charger at 130 shekels, reduced to Troy weight, makes 75 oz. 9 dwts. 16 3/31 gr.; and a silver bowl at 70 shekels amounts to 40 oz. 12 dwts. 21:21/31 gr. The total weight of the 12 chargers is therefore 905 oz. 16 dwts. 3 3/11 gr., and that of the 12 bowls 487 oz. 14 dwts. 20 4/31 gr.; making the total weight of silver vessels 1,393 oz. 10 dwts. 23 7/21 gr.; which, at 5s. per oz., is equal to 383, 1s. 8 1/2d. The twelve golden spoons, allowing each to be 5 oz. 16 dwts. 3 3/31 gr., amount to 69 oz. 3 dwts. 13 5/31 gr., which, at 4 per oz., is equal to 320, 14s. 10 1/2d., and added to the amount of the silver, makes a total of 703:16s. 6 1/2d. Besides these, the offerings comprised 12 bullock, 12 rams, 12 lambs, 24 goats, 60 rams, 60 he-goats, 60 lambs-amounting in all to 240.

So large a collection of cattle offered for sacrifice on one occasion proves both the large flocks of the Israelites and the abundance of pastures which were then, and still are, found in the valleys that lie between the Sinaitic mountains. All travelers attest the luxuriant verdure of those extensive wadys; and that they were equally or still more rich in pasturage anciently, is confirmed by the numerous flocks of the Amalekites, as well as of Nabal, which were fed in the wilderness of Paran (1 Samuel 15:9).

Verse 89

And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with him, then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubims: and he spake unto him.

And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation. Since a king gives private audience to his minister, so special license was granted to Moses, who, though not a priest, was admitted into the sanctuary to receive instructions from his Heavenly King as occasion demanded.

Then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him. The sound issued from above the propitiatory, which was over the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubim. Though standing on the outer side of the veil, he could distinctly hear it; and the mention of this circumstance is important as the fulfillment, at the dedication of the tabernacle, of a special promise made by the Lord-Christ Himself, the Angel of the Covenant, commanding its erection (Exodus 25:22). It was the reward of Moses' zeal and obedience; and, in like manner, to all who love Him and keep His commandments, He will manifest Himself (John 14:21). On consulting the record, we find that such oracular communications were sometimes made without any accompanying personal phenomena (Henderson on 'Inspiration,' p. 72: see the note at 1 Kings 6:16).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 7". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/numbers-7.html. 1871-8.