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Friday, April 19th, 2024
the Third Week after Easter
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 8

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-4

Numbers 8:1-4

When thou lightest the lamps.

The golden candlestick an emblem of the Church of God

The preciousness and sacredness of the church of God.

The light of the church of God.

The ministers of the church of God, and their function.

The function of the church of God. “I would not give much for your religion,” says Spurgeon, “unless it can be seen. Lamps do not talk; but they do shine. A lighthouse sounds no drum, it beats no gong; and yet far over the waters its friendly spark is seen by the mariner. So let your actions shine out your religion. Let the main sermon of your life be illustrated by all your conduct, and it shall not fail to be illustrious.” Application:

1. To individuals. Are our lives luminous in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ?

2. To Churches. Are we making good our claim to a place in “the Church of the living God” by taking our part in performing the Divine function of that Church? Are we diffusing the light of God in Christ in this dark world? (W. Jones.)

Moulded and beaten work

(with Exodus 32:4):--I have chosen these two texts to point out an instructive lesson regardng the easiness of sin and the difficulty of holiness. The material of the golden calf which Aaron constructed was poured into a mould and shaped without trouble; the material of the seven-branched candlestick had to be beaten out carefully and slowly with much toil and pains.

The pattern of the calf was easily constructed; it required no originality, no effort of thought, only an exercise of memory; and Aaron cast their golden jewels into the familiar mould, and out of it came the familiar image. So easy, so natural, so inevitable was the process, that Aaron used language regarding it which seemed to imply that, when he lighted the furnace and poured into the mould the molten gold, the image of the calf came out of its own accord. It may be further remarked that, in order to get the image sharp and clear out of the mould, Aaron must have put into the gold an alloy of some inferior metal, or it was already in the ornaments of the Israelites. And is this not true of all sin? It has a mould prepared for it in a world lying in wickedness, and in the deceitful heart of man. The pattern of sin is as old as Adam. The first transgression was not only the root, but also the type of every transgression, just as the whole plant is a development and modification of the primitive leaf, and constructed after its pattern. Why is it that we think so little of articles cast in a mould, in comparison with those wrought by hand? Is it not because these moulded articles are easily made, involving the smallest expenditure of toil or time or thought? They can be manufactured and multiplied by the thousand with the greatest ease once the mould is formed. The maker puts as little as possible of himself into them. He is not an artist, but a mere mechanic. The essence of all sin is a desire to get things in the easiest way--to run things into moulds, rather than to hew or carve or build them with slow, patient toil and care. And hence when persons do not take thought or trouble to do what is right, they always blame circumstances and not themselves for the wrong. When they do not resist temptation they say that they could not help themselves. Sin is regarded as a misfortune demanding pity, and not a wilful act drawing down condemnation.

The material of the seven-branched golden candlestick was not run into a mould already prepared for it. It was all hand-made work. It was the most elaborate of all the vessels of the sanctuary, because it represented the result of what all the other vessels typified and led up to--the light of the world, and yet it was beaten out of one solid piece of gold. The workman who fashioned it must have pondered minutely over every part, and bestowed immense labour and skill upon all its details; the pattern and symmetry of the whole must have been clearly in his mind, while from one mass of metal he beat out each shaft and floral ornament. The whole idea of it implied personal thought and toil and care. While it is easy for man to sin, it is difficult for man to be holy. He finds moulds for his sin lying ready to his hand, without any trouble. But he has to fashion, as it were, by the toil of his hands and the sweat of his soul, with the Divine help, the means by which he may be rescued from his sin and folly. We can mould a false diamond in glass or paste in a few minutes; but nature requires ages of slow, patient workmanship to crystallise the real diamond from the dark charcoal. We can cover common deal wood with an exquisitely grained veneer of walnut or mahogany at a small expense and with little effort; but the grain of the walnut or mahogany represents many years of strain and struggle, during which the tree grew its beautiful markings. Thus in the human world we can make easy imitations of moral and spiritual qualities, which when genuine can only be produced by slow, patient self-discipline, by many prayers and tears and toils. The paste diamond of religion, that glitters so brightly and deceives so many, can be manufactured in the mould of easy compliance with outward church duties and rites; the veneer of godliness can be assumed by a profession which costs nothing, and makes no demand of self-sacrifice upon the inner nature. But the deliverance from sin and the formation of holiness, which the salvation of Christ implies and involves, can only be through toil and suffering. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

The littered lamp

Who must light the lamps? Aaron himself (Numbers 8:3). As the people’s representative to God, he thus did the office of a servant in God’s house, lighting his Master’s candle. As the representative of God to the people, he thus gave them the significations of God’s will and favour, which is thus expressed (Psalms 18:28). And thus Aaron himself was now lately directed to bless the people, “The Lord make His face to shine upon thee” (Numbers 6:25). The commandment is a lamp (Proverbs 6:23). The Scripture is a light shining in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19). And a dark place indeed even the Church would be without it, as the tabernacle without the lamps, for it had no window in it. Now the work of ministers is to light these lamps, by expounding and applying the Word of God. The priest lighted the middle lamp from the fire of the altar; and the rest of the lamps he lighted one from another : which signifieth that the fountain of all light and knowledge cometh from Christ, who has the seven spirits of God, figured by the seven lamps of fire (Revelation 4:5); but that in expounding of Scripture, one passage must borrow light from another. He also supposeth, that seven being a number of perfection, by the seven branches of the candlestick is showed the full perfection of the Scriptures, which are able to make us wise to salvation.

2. To what end the lamps were lighted; that they might give light over against the candlestick, i.e., to the part of the tabernacle where the table stood, with the shewbread upon it, over against the candlestick. They were not lighted like tapers in an urn, to burn to themselves, but to give light to the other side of the tabernacle, for therefore candles are lighted (Matthew 5:15). The lights of the world, the lights of the Church, must shine as lights. Therefore we have light, that we may give light. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

Men who would quench the light of truth

No light shone from the Ship Shoal Lighthouse, near Morgan City, U.S., on two consecutive nights in February. The unusual darkness at that point caused some surprise, but surprise was turned into indignation when the facts became known. One of the keepers had seen a man in a boat who needed assistance, his vessel being becalmed. The keeper kindly towed the boat to the lighthouse and treated the man hospitably. In the night the guest made a murderous attack on the two lighthouse-keepers, shooting both of them and inflicting dangerous wounds. He held possession of the lighthouse for forty-eight hours, during which he never lighted the lamps. Then, as he could not find food, he surrendered. A man more utterly depraved it is difficult to imagine. But there are many infidels who are trying to murder men’s souls and to quench the warning light of the Bible.

Luminous centres:--The globe of the earth is surrounded by a mass of atmosphere extending forty or fifty miles above the surface. Each particle of air is a luminous centre, receiving its light from the sun, and it radiates light in every direction. Were it not for this, the sun’s light could only penetrate those spaces which are directly accessible to his rays. Thus, the sun shining upon the window of an apartment would illuminate just so much of that apartment as would be exposed to his direct rays, the remainder being in darkness. But we find, on the contrary, that although that part of the room upon which the sun directly shines is more brilliantly illuminated than the surrounding parts, these latter are nevertheless strongly illuminated. In the social world, too, there are luminous centres. These are noble souls, who, being especially blessed themselves, diffuse in every direction some of the blessings which they have received. Were it not for them, and their power of spreading brightness, goodness, and joy, the world would be indeed rayless and cold. (Scientific Illustrations.)

Secondary graces to be kept burning

On a dark stormy night, when the waves rolled like mountains, and not a star was to be seen, a boat was rocking and plunging near the Cleveland harbour. “Are you sure this is Cleveland?” asked the captain, seeing only one light from the lighthouse. “Quite sure, sir,” replied the pilot. “Where are the lower lights?” “Gone out, sir.” “Can you make the harbour?” “We must, or perish, sir!” And with a strong hand and a brave heart the old pilot turned the wheel. But, alas I in the darkness he missed the channel, and with a crash upon the rocks the boat was shivered, and many a life lost in a watery grave. Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning!

Obligation to keep the light burning

It is one of the chief temptations of Christians, and not least of those whose candlestick is the lofty one of the pulpit, to think unduly of themselves. Our anxiety should be, not, What do you think of us? but, What do you think of our message? Not, Do you esteem the light-holder? but, Do you walk in the light? This truth has likewise its application, on the other hand, for the pew. You go away, and ask, How did you like the sermon? but go home to-day, and ask yourselves, How did you like the truth? You may be ever so well pleased with sermons, and be none the better; but, if you receive the truth, it will save your soul; if you light your candle at the fire of God’s altar, it will burn for ever. And while it shines for your own soul, it will shine through your life, as through lantern, for the good of others also. Only “let your light shine before men,” and they, “seeing your good works, will glorify your Father in heaven.” Let it! It is its property to shine, if it gets fair treatment. It is not a question of the numbers, or rank, or influence of those who shall see it. Eyes or no eyes, you have to shine. The gentian fringes the mountain glacier with its drapery of blue, though seldom a human eye may look upon it. The desert melon smells with a refreshing draught for the wayfarer, though not a human foot in half a century should pass that way. There God has placed it in readiness. If you help to light to heaven and happiness the humblest of God’s creatures, you have done a glorious work. The Admiralty order carries with it a lesson to the believer. “Light the lamps every evening at sunsetting, and keep them constantly burning, bright and clear, till sunrising.” There are no qualifications and no exceptions. If, in the world’s night, no lamp were dim, and no light kindled by God’s hand were shaded, it were happier for sinning and suffering humanity. It is only here we have the opportunity to shine in darkness. When the morning of the eternal day dawns upon us, our light shall be swallowed up in the surpassing glory, that needs no light from sun or moon. No bed or sofa is permitted in the watch-room of the lighthouse. None must be tempted to slumber at a post of so much responsibility. And, if such needful guarantees are taken for the safety of those who navigate our seas, is there less need for earnestness and watchfulness to remove peril from the way of those whose voyage must conduct either to glory or to ruin? No slumberous hours, no unguarded moments for those to whom the heavenly light has been entrusted. Nor must danger keep you back from duty. I have read of the keeper of an island lighthouse whose provisions were exhausted, whose frame was emaciated, and to whom the stormy sea for weeks suffered no access or relief, nightly lighting his lamp with an almost dying hand. Anything better than that no warning ray should stream across that perilous channel (R. H. Lundie, M. A,)

Importance of a small light

Once I was down a coalmine. The man who received me was black and grimy, but he had an honest heart, and his smile was like sunlight crossing the grime. Down in the bowels of the mountain, dark and cheerless, I noticed his little oil-lamp. I knew that there was a sun blazing away up in the solar universe, but what was that? What concerned me down in the pit was the miner’s little lamp, the wick so tiny, the oil so very scanty, the flicker of flame so little noticed, yet it was more precious to me at that time than the blazing sun. Oh believe me for effective work in the mass of a lost humanity, in the blackness and darkness of this fallen world, I believe Christ prizes more the little flicker of a humble Christian who will go and visit a sick one this Sabbath afternoon, than the blazing sun of this public assembly. Oh, you can cheer the heart of God by letting your light shine unnoticed by the world, but be assured that He notices it. (John Robertson.)

The glory of an unobtrusive light

The light of a true spiritual life must shine more or less conspicuously. From a gifted speaker or writer, it may stream out widely and afar, like the gleam of a beacon flaming from a mountain top. From an unendowed, retiring, obscure disciple, it may be only as the light of a lamp in a narrow room, noticed by few, yet not entirely lost to the view of men. A charming writer, speaking of such a modest soul, says: A tiny flitting bird of slight song may with careful scrutiny be seen twisting in and out of the drooping fir tassels. Many would pass it unnoticed, but the observant eye will detect the gleam of a gold circlet upon the tiny gold-crested wren. Thus men will pass unregarding many a noiseless, retired worker for God in some sphere of seclusion and shade. But they who watch and know will be aware at times of the light of a saint’s glory encircling the modest head.”

Liberality and service viewed in the light of the sanctuary

Having read, in chapter 7., the lengthened statement of the princes’ liberality, we, in our wisdom, might suppose that the next thing in order would be the consecration of the Levites, thus presenting, in unbroken connection, “our persons and offerings.” But no. The Spirit of God causes the light of the sanctuary to intervene, in order that we may learn in it the true object of all liberality and service in the wilderness. Is there not lovely and moral appropriateness in this? Why have we not the golden altar, with its cloud of incense, here? Why not the pure table, with its twelve loaves? Because neither of these would have the least moral connection with what goes before or what follows after; but the golden candlestick stands connected with both, inasmuch as it shows us that all liberality and all work must be viewed in the light of the sanctuary, in order to ascertain its real worth. Those “seven lamps” express the light of the Spirit in testimony. They were connected with the beaten shaft of the candlestick which typifies Christ, who, in His Person and work, is the foundation of the Spirit’s work in the Church. All depends upon Christ. Every ray of light in the Church, in the individual believer, or in Israel by and by, all flows from Christ. Nor is this all we learn from our type. “The seven lamps shall give light over against the candlestick.” Were we to clothe this figure in New Testament language, we should quote our Lord’s words when He says to us, “Let your light so shine before men,” &c. (Matthew 5:16). Wherever the true light of the Spirit shines it will always yield a clear testimony to Christ. It will call attention not to itself, but to Him; and this is the way to glorify God. This is a great practical truth for all Christians. The very finest evidence which can be afforded of true spiritual work is that it tends directly to exalt Christ. If attention be sought for the work or the workman, the light has become dim, and the Minister of the sanctuary must use the snuffers. It was Aaron’s province to light tile lamps; and he it was who trimmed them likewise. In other words, the light which, as Christians, we are responsible to yield, is not only founded upon Christ, but maintained by Him, from moment to moment, throughout the entire night. Apart from Him we can do nothing. (C. H. Mackintosh.)

Verses 5-7

Numbers 8:5-7

Take the Levites and cleanse them.

The Divine principle of cleansing

Here we have, in type, the only Divine principle of cleansing. It is the application of death to nature and all its habits. It is the word of God brought to bear upon the heart and conscience in a living way. Moses, as representing the claims of God, cleanses the Levites according to those claims; and they, being cleansed, are able to bring the sharp razor to bear upon all that was the mere growth of nature, and to wash their garments, which expresses, in typical form, the cleansing their habits according to the word of God. This was God’s way of meeting all that appertained to Levi’s natural state--the self-will, the fierceness, and the cruelty. The pure water and the sharp razor were called into action--the washing and shaving had to go on, ere Levi was fit to approach the vessels of the sanctuary. Thus it is in every case. There is, there can be, no allowance of nature among God’s workers. There never was a more fatal mistake than to attempt to enlist nature in the service of God. It matters not how you may endeavour to improve or regulate it. It is not improvement, but death that will avail. What is the meaning of the initiatory act of Christianity--the act of baptism? Does it not set forth the blessed fact that “our old man”--our fallen nature--is completely set aside, and that we are introduced into an entirely new position? Truly so. And how do we use the razor? By rigid self-judgment, day by day; by the stern disallowance of all that is of nature’s growth. This is the true path for all God’s workers in the wilderness. (C. H. Mackintosh.)

Verses 23-26

Numbers 8:23-26

The Levites; from twenty and five years.


. The service God demands of all levites.

1. Burden-bearing.

2. Singing.

3. Study of the law, “Search the Scriptures.”

4. Attendance on the ordinances of the sanctuary.

God demands the service in our prime. “From twenty and five.”

God demands this service when it can be most easily rendered. He suits the burden to the back. All He asks is, that we shall do what we can. (R. A. Griffin.)

The Divine Master and His human servants

The necessity of fitness for the divine service. In learning any handicraft or trade, years are spent under instructors; for the practice of law or medicine men must have special training; and is it not important that they who engage in religious services should be qualified for such services?

The variety of employment in the divine service.

1. An encouragement to persons of feeble powers and narrow opportunities to try to do good.

2. A rebuke to those who plead inability as an excuse for their indolence in religious service.

The care of the great master for his servants. Conclusion. This subject supplies--

1. Encouragement to enter into this service. “Come thou with us,” &c.

2. Encouragement to persevere in this service. A glorious reward awaits those who patiently continue in well-doing. (W. Jones.)

Age and youth in relation to service

1. They were to enter upon the service at twenty-five years old (Numbers 8:24). They were not charged with the carrying of the tabernacle and the utensils of it till they were thirty years old (Numbers 4:3). But they were entered to be otherwise serviceable at twenty-five years old--a very good age for ministers to begin their public work. The work then required that strength of body, and the work now requires that maturity of judgment and staidness of behaviour which men rarely arrive at till about that age : and novices are in danger of being lifted up with pride.

2. They were to have a writ of ease at fifty years old; then they were to return from the warfare, as the phrase is (Numbers 8:25), not cashiered with disgrace--but preferred rather to the rest, which their age required, to be loaded with the honours of their office, as hitherto they had been with the burdens of it. They shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle, to direct the junior Levites, and set them in; and they shall keep the charge, as guards upon the avenues of the tabernacle, to see that no stranger intruded, nor any person in his uncleanness; but they shall not be put upon any service which may be a fatigue to them. If God’s grace provide that men shall have ability according to their work, man’s prudence should take care that men have work but according to their ability. The aged are most fit for truths, and to keep the charge; the younger are most fit for work, and to do the service. “Those that have used the office of a servant well, purchase to themselves a good degree” (1 Timothy 3:13). Yet indeed gifts are not tied to ages (Job 32:9), but “all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit.” (Matthew Henry, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-8.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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