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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 8

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



This chapter is introduced by brief directions respecting the lighting of the lamps and the manner of placing them, (1-4;) then follows the separation, cleansing, and consecration of the Levites, (5-22,) and the age-limits of their service, (23-26.)

Verse 2

THE LAMPS, Numbers 8:1-4.

2. The seven lamps shall give light over against the candlestick R.V., “in front of.” The Hebrew here is very explicit, yet it is difficult to imagine how the lamps on the candlestick are to give light over against its face or front. This face was the front shown by the seven arms, as they formed a straight line. Since the chandelier stood on the south side of the holy place, the face or front would be northward toward the table of show-bread, and not eastward toward the door of the tabernacle, so that more light was cast northward than eastward, inasmuch as a priest entering in would see the lamps all in a line as one light. The south side of the chandelier could not be called the front, because the lamps were not symmetrically constructed, the wick not being in the middle, but at the edge, so that the light was thrown upon one side, illumining this front space more than that behind. Throughout the Scriptures oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit by which believers are filled with light and life. Zechariah 4:2-12; Matthew 25:1-13; Acts 10:38; Hebrews 1:9; 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27. The show-bread typifies Christ, the Bread of life. The chandelier pouring its full blaze northward upon the showbread beautifully sets forth the great office of the Spirit in the “holy place” of the sanctified heart. “He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine and show it unto you.” John 16:14, note.

Verses 5-22


Already have Aaron and his sons, the purely sacerdotal family of the tribe of Levi, been anointed and inducted into their sacred office. It remains now to set apart the rest of the tribe to their calling as the bearers and custodians of the tabernacle and its furniture. They had recently been presented to Aaron, and by him charged with the duties to which they were to be set apart as substitutes for the firstborn males. Numbers 3:5-13, notes. Thus was fulfilled with singular precision the prophecy of Jacob, Genesis 49:5-7. Up to the time of these ordinations the Israelites had worshipped the God of their fathers after their fathers’ manner, the firstborn being priests, the eldest son of each house inheriting the priestly office. Exodus 24:5. The first step toward a change was made in the institution of an hereditary priesthood in the family of Aaron, during the first retirement of Moses to the solitudes of Sinai. Exodus 28:1. The next extension of the priestly order grew out of the terrible crisis of Exodus 32:0. The first, and awful self-consecration of the Levites, was when they rallied at the call of Moses, every man against his idolatrous brother-Hebrew, and thus stemmed the progress of the evil. From this hour the tribe stood forth apart, recognizing in this bloody vindication of Jehovah the spiritual as higher in value than the natural, and therefore they were counted worthy to be henceforth what Ewald styles “an Israel within an Israel.”

Verse 6

6. Take the Levites Separation must precede consecration. Exodus 33:16; 2 Corinthians 6:17.

Cleanse them This was done by three rites sprinkling, shaving, and washing the clothes. This ceremonial purification of their bodies not only taught the necessity of spiritual sanctification, but to devout believers it had a tendency to this high end. Faith in God evinced by obedience is purifying.

Verse 7

7. Water of purifying Literally, sin-water, or water sin-purging. The Hebrew word for sin or sin offering is involved in this term. This water is nowhere explained. It must not be confounded with the water prescribed for the cleansing of the leper, (Leviticus 14:5;) and, also, it must be distinguished from the water of separation for purifying both persons and houses defiled by a corpse. Numbers 19:9. It cannot be simply clean water that is denominated “sin-water,” but water specially provided in the tabernacle for the cleansing of the priests for their duties.

Shave all their flesh Literally, cause a razor to pass over all their flesh. Cutting the hair in the regular way of adorning the body is all that is enjoined. A different word is used for shaving to baldness.

Wash their clothes This was generally enjoined as a preparation for worship, (Genesis 35:2; Exodus 19:10,) but was not required of the priests, because they received holy vestments. The Levites were not commanded to wash their bodies, because they were not leprous nor corpse-defiled. The priests washed themselves often because they handled the most holy things. Since robes symbolize character, (Jude 1:23,) their cleansing is emblematic of heart-purification. See Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:14.

Verse 8

8. Sin offering See Leviticus iv, notes. This occurrence of the sin-offering, in all consecratory as well as expiatory rites, impressively teaches the widespread pollution of sin either inadvertent and involuntary or wilful and known.

Verses 9-10

9, 10. The whole assembly Representatively, through the elders and principal persons of the several tribes. See Numbers 1:18; Numbers 14:2; Numbers 14:7, notes. Moreover, it would be impossible for all the children of Israel to put their hands upon the Levites. This is a natural form by which benediction has been expressed in all ages and among all people. It is usually the act of one superior in age or official position. Neither Moses nor Aaron monopolizes this ceremony, because the aim of this symbolic act is not to confer authority, but to transfer to the Levites the national obligation to serve Jehovah in the person of the firstborn of Israel. Hence the rite is performed by the tribe-princes in behalf of all the people, “as a sign that they released them from the possession of the nation, and assigned and handed them over to Jehovah” (Knobel) as perpetual substitutes for the firstborn. The authority came solely from him. No man, no body of men can make a true minister in holy things of one whom God has not qualified and called.

Verse 11

11. Aaron shall offer the Levites Literally, wave the Levites. In the wave offering portions of the victims were waved to and fro at the altar, (Leviticus 7:30, note,) but in the case of men they no doubt were solemnly led backward and forward before the altar.

Verse 12

12. The Levites shall lay their hands This imposition of hands differs from that in Numbers 8:10, inasmuch as it symbolically transfers guilt, (see Leviticus 1:4, note,) which is implied in an atonement. See Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 16:10-34, notes. Even those whom God has accepted as a gift must be atoned for before they can begin to serve around the sanctuary. But there are in the Pentateuch no precepts regulating the personal conduct and life of the Levites as are there given for the priests, Leviticus 21:0.

Verse 16

16. Wholly given The Hebrew nethunim, nethunim, given, given, is emphatic by repetition. (See Numbers 3:9, note.) At first they were the only attendants of the priests, and performed all the menial service.

Subsequently they were re-enforced by three hundred and twenty captive Midianites, (Numbers 31:47,) and still later by the condemned Gibeonites. Joshua 9:27, note. When the service became more stately and onerous David and the princes further strengthened the Levites by the gift of the Nethinim, either prisoners of war or a remnant of the Canaanites, to live within the enclosure of the temple and to do its rougher work. Ezra 8:20. Two hundred and twenty of these were enrolled by Ezra among the Levites to supply their lack of service through a decline of their zeal for Jehovah.

Verse 19

19. To make an atonement This looks toward priestly functions to be discharged by the Levites. Though it is not probable that they alone ever sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices, which is a purely sacerdotal act, yet they assisted the priests who sprinkled the blood “which they received of the hand of the Levites,” (2 Chronicles 30:16,) and were drawn more and more clearly to the priests by being released from menial service through the substitution of the Nethinim. Hence they soon became teachers, interpreters, chanters of Hebrew psalmody, and special guardians of the sanctity of the sabbath. Nehemiah 13:22. The last prophet of the Old Testament predicts that in the latter days the Lord “shall purify the sons of Levi.”

That there be no plague The inner sanctuaries of the tabernacle, the apartment of the priests, and the holy of holies were inaccessible to strangers, that is, non-Levites. Hence the appointment of the Levites to be guardians of the tabernacle and safeguards of the people lest they be smitten by the stroke of Jehovah’s wrath. See Numbers 1:51; Numbers 1:53, notes.

Verse 21

21. Aaron offered them As a wave offering, by marching them to and fro before the altar.

Verses 23-26


There is great propriety in fixing the limits of active service in the case of all who are set apart to an office for life. Yet the priests for some reason were not restricted in this respect. The office of the sons of Aaron did not require the same degree of physical strength as that of the Levites; whereas, the service of the latter being more severe, especially until the tabernacle was permanently located, it was more necessary that they should be protected by the law. See Numbers 4:3. For the discrepancy between twenty-five years, the lower limit in this chapter, and thirty years, as prescribed in chapter iv, see General Remarks, (2,) at the end of the latter chapter. “In Moses’s time the Levites from the age of twenty-five were employed in the lighter kinds of service, while, for the transportation of the heavier materials of the tabernacle, when the Israelites were on the march, men older and stronger were required. After the temple was built, its much less onerous service permitted the standard of age to be lowered to twenty years. After the age of fifty the Levites were simply to keep the charge, or guard, in the tabernacle, but were exempted from all laborious duties.” Haley.

Verse 24

24. Wait upon the service Literally, war the warfare. This is often referred to by St. Paul. 1 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Timothy 1:18; 1Ti 6:12 ; 2 Timothy 2:3-5. It signifies service involving strenuous efforts and hardships. The widespread establishment of synagogues in later ages afforded to both priests and Levites a broad field of labour. For though they were not required to teach in the synagogue, yet whenever they were present precedence was given to them. The Levites seldom appear in the New Testament except as the type of a formal worship without sympathy and without love. They had ceased “to war a good warfare.” See Luke 10:32.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 8". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-8.html. 1874-1909.
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