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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 8

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 1. THE PREPARATIONS TO GO FORWARD FROM SINAI WITH YAHWEH’S PROVISIONS RELATED THERETO (1:1-10:10).

The Mobilisation of the Army of Israel, and the Preparation of the Levites For Their Work of Bearing the Ark and Dwellingplace of Yahweh (1:1-4:49).

The first stage towards entry into the land had to be the mobilisation of the army of Israel, both of its fighting men, and of its ‘servants of the dwellingplace of Yahweh’. That is what is in mind in the first four chapters.

The description of this follows a general chiastic pattern indicated by the letters a to d and can be divided up as follows:

a The taking of the sum of the tribes and their responsibility (to war) (Numbers 1:1-46).

b The Levites’ responsibility for the Dwellingplace (Numbers 1:47-54).

c Positioning and arrangements for travel of the people (Numbers 2:1-32).

d The consecration of the priests to Yahweh (Numbers 3:1-4).

d The dedication of the Levites to the priests and to Yahweh (Numbers 3:5-13)

c Positioning and arrangements for travel of the Levites (Numbers 3:14-51).

b The priests’ responsibility for the Dwellingplace (Numbers 4:5-15).

a The taking of the sum of the Levites and their responsibilities (Numbers 4:1-4; Numbers 4:21-49).

Provision For The Purity of the Camp And Yahweh’s Own Provision For That Purity (5:1-9:14).

Vital if Yahweh was to dwell among His people, and speak to them, and shine His light on them, was that they be holy. The provision for the holiness of the camp can be divided between the responsibility of the people to seek holiness and purity (Numbers 5:1 to Numbers 7:88) and the response of Yahweh in providing them (Numbers 7:89 to Numbers 9:14).

1). The Responsibility Of The Whole People (5:1-7:88).

a First was the responsibility to keep the camp ritually clean and whole by expulsion of all that was unclean that would defile the camp (Numbers 5:1-4), dealing with moral offences that caused dissension and would defile the camp (Numbers 5:5-10), and the maintenance of marital relationships with the consequent removal of the defilement of secret adultery (Numbers 5:11-31).

b Second was the responsibility for the lay people to consider the opportunity for individual dedication of themselves as Nazirites to Yahweh (Numbers 6:1-21), at least for a time, putting themselves almost on a par with the priests from a point of view of consecration to God, although not enabling them to perform priestly functions. By this they could increase the holiness of the camp and contribute to it becoming ‘a kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6).

c Third was for the priests to dispense Yahweh’s blessing of His people with His Name (Numbers 6:22-27), establishing them as His holy people and ensuring the holiness of the camp.

d Fourth was for the princes to provide the gifts and offerings necessary for the dedication of the altar and for the maintaining of the holiness of the Sanctuary on behalf of the whole of Israel (Numbers 7:1-88).

2). The Response of the Sanctuary (7:89-9:14).

d In response the Voice of Yahweh would speak to Moses from the Mercy Seat (Numbers 7:89). The King would make His response to the offerings of the princes by acting as their Guide through the supreme leader.

c Second would come the lighting of the lamps in the Sanctuary, symbolising the light of Yahweh among His people, and as it shone on the show bread which represented His people, it indicated His blessing on them, and the light of His face shining on them. Through the lampstand, the light of His face was revealed as shining permanently on His people (Numbers 8:1-4 compare Numbers 6:25; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

b Third would come the compulsory dedication of the Levites to the service of Yahweh (Numbers 8:5-26). This on the Godward side parallels the dedication of the Nazirites among the people, contributing to the holiness of the camp.

a And fourthly would come the compulsory keeping of the Passover of deliverance by all who were clean (Numbers 9:1-14). Having cleansed the camp (Numbers 5:1-31) they were in a position to enjoy the Passover. This glad feast reminded them of how Yahweh watched over them and protected them, because they were atoned for by the shedding of blood in accordance with His commandment. And as their deliverance had begun with the Passover, so would their going forward now begin with the Passover, a reminder that the Yahweh Who had revealed His power in Egypt was still with them.

Note the parallels. The cleansing of the camp (Numbers 5:1-31) results in their being able to celebrate the Passover of deliverance as a ‘clean’ people (Numbers 9:1-14), The dedication of the people as Nazirites, increasing the holiness of the camp (Numbers 6:1-21), is paralleled by the permanent dedication of the Levites as holy on their behalf (Numbers 8:5-26). The blessing of the priests and their desire for the light of His countenance to shine on Israel (Numbers 6:22-27) is paralleled by the shining of the lamp in the Dwellingplace on the showbread which represented Israel, depicting a greater reality (Numbers 8:1-4). While the submission of the princes and their dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:1-88) is responded to by the Voice of Yahweh from between the Cherubim speaking to their supreme leader (Numbers 7:89).

The Response of the Sanctuary (Numbers 7:89 to Numbers 9:14).

To the dedication of the people in all the respects described from Numbers 5:1 onwards now came the response of Yahweh their King. Firstly in the speaking of His Voice, secondly in the shining of His light, thirdly in the service of the Levites on behalf of the people (having replaced their firstborn sons), and fourthly in the Passover celebration which reminded them of, and renewed to them, the wonder of their deliverance from Egypt and His watch over them ever since.

In the first case it was with respect to Moses, in the second to the priests, in the third to the dedicated ones (the Levites), and in the fourth to the people. This is the exact reversal of the order in the previous three chapters.

Thus we have:

d The Voice of Yahweh the King speaking to Moses from the Mercy Seat (Numbers 7:89). This was a response to the dedication of the altar and the tribute of the princes (Numbers 7:2-88), both on behalf of the people, and its original anointing and sanctification (Numbers 7:1).

c The lighting of the lamps in the Sanctuary by Aaron and his sons symbolising the light of Yahweh shining on His people (Numbers 8:1-4). This was a response to the priests’ blessing (Numbers 6:22-27).

b The compulsory dedication of the Levites to the service of Yahweh as Yahweh’s guarantee of the maintenance of the cult (Numbers 8:5-26). This paralleled the dedication of the Nazirites (Numbers 6:1-21). It was Yahweh’s response to the dedication of the people.

a The compulsory keeping of the Passover of deliverance by the people, by all who were clean (Numbers 9:1-14) ensuring their continual deliverance by Yahweh. As their deliverance had begun with the Passover, so would their going forward begin with it, a reminder that Yahweh was continually with them. This was Yahweh’s response to their cleansing of the camp (Numbers 5). Because they were clean they could partake in His Passover with all that it signified.

Chapter 8 Yahweh’s Further Response.

The One represented by the Voice now set aside three things in order to manifest Himself to His people, the lampstand, the Levites and the Passover. The lampstand would manifest His glory, a permanent reminder that while they were faithful His light would shine on them continually, the Levites would be a permanent living reminder of His activity on their behalf, the Passover a permanent annual reminder that He was the Great Deliverer.

Analysis.

· The lamps on the lampstand were to be lit in order to give light in front of the lampstand (Numbers 8:1-2).

· Aaron did this. He did exactly as Yahweh commanded Moses. He lighted the lamps to give light in front of the lampstand (Numbers 8:3).

· The description of the lampstand (Numbers 8:4 a).

· The lampstand was made in accordance with the pattern shown in the Mount (Numbers 8:4 b).


Verses 1-4

Chapter 8 Yahweh’s Further Response.

The One represented by the Voice now set aside three things in order to manifest Himself to His people, the lampstand, the Levites and the Passover. The lampstand would manifest His glory, a permanent reminder that while they were faithful His light would shine on them continually, the Levites would be a permanent living reminder of His activity on their behalf, the Passover a permanent annual reminder that He was the Great Deliverer.

Analysis.

· The lamps on the lampstand were to be lit in order to give light in front of the lampstand (Numbers 8:1-2).

· Aaron did this. He did exactly as Yahweh commanded Moses. He lighted the lamps to give light in front of the lampstand (Numbers 8:3).

· The description of the lampstand (Numbers 8:4 a).

· The lampstand was made in accordance with the pattern shown in the Mount (Numbers 8:4 b).

Numbers 8:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Again we have reference to the fact that we have here the words of Yahweh spoken through Moses, but here with the added significance that it is made clear that they came through the Voice.

Numbers 8:2

‘Speak to Aaron, and say to him, “When you light (or ‘set up’) the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” ’

When Aaron lit or set up the lamps in the evening (Exodus 30:7-8) he was to ensure that they gave light in front of the lampstand. This was so as to ensure that it shone on the table of showbread which represented Israel in the Dwellingplace. The light of His face was to shine on them (Numbers 6:25), His glory was to rise upon them (Isaiah 60:1). They could ever be aware of His watch over them (Exodus 13:21), and His desire to bless them. As the pillar of fire had gone with them, so would His fire burn continually in the Sanctuary. Yahweh was ever their light when they would receive it, watching over them, shining on them, pouring out blessing on them, and revealing to them the truth through His prophets and through His word directly into their hearts (Psalms 119:105; Psalms 119:130).

The thought of Yahweh as the light of His people is a constant one in Scripture. He is the light that leads them and illuminates them (Exodus 13:21); He is the light which brings them salvation (Psalms 27:1); through that light they see light for He is the fountain of life (Psalms 36:9); it is His light and His truth that leads men (Psalms 43:3); it is the light of His countenance shining on them that will give them the land (Psalms 44:3), and illuminate them in their walk (Psalms 89:15), and reveal their secret sins (Psalms 90:8). His light will ensure their holiness. Thus His people are to walk in that light (Isaiah 2:5), and when He comes to them they will see great light (Isaiah 9:2); it will shine on them and reveal to them the glory of God (Isaiah 60:1).

But the lamp on the lampstand was a burning flame. Thus the light was a symbol of what they had seen on Mount Sinai when the mountain had appeared to be on fire as the glory of Yahweh was revealed on it (Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 5:4; Deuteronomy 5:23; Deuteronomy 9:15 etc.). It was a light that revealed the holiness and glory of Yahweh. For God is often pictured as a burning fire (Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 33:14; Ezekiel 1:27-28; Ezekiel 8:2; Malachi 3:2).

It is interesting that the light follows the voice here. First the voice, then the light. The same is made clear in John’s Gospel. First John the Baptiser, the voice crying in the wilderness, and then the Word. Finally the Word was revealed, the creative Word Who gave life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:1-4). For He was the light coming into the world that the world might believe through Him. As His only Son He revealed God’s glory, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He came as the light of the world, God’s lampstand among men, giving true light (John 8:12), that men might not walk in darkness but have the light of life (John 8:12; John 12:46). He is the sevenfold lampstand, and that is why His people in whom He lives are also called on to be His sevenfold lampstands as representing Him (Revelation 1:13; Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1).

Numbers 8:3

‘And Aaron did so. He lighted its lamps so as to give light in front of the lampstand, as Yahweh commanded Moses.’

And Aaron did as he was commanded. Daily he trimmed the lamps so as to shine in front of the lampstand illuminating what symbolised His people. Thereby they could know that the light of His face shone on them. It was the sign of the fulfilment of the priests’ blessing on Israel (Numbers 6:22-27). By His light shining on them He was putting His name on them and blessing them (Numbers 6:27).

For two things were to be kept burning continually, and to be fed daily by the priests, the fire from the lampstand (Leviticus 24:2-4) and the fire of the altar (Leviticus 6:8-13), for both spoke of the permanent presence of Yahweh, the one giving continual blessing and the other continual atonement.

Numbers 8:4

‘And this was the working of the lampstand, beaten work of gold. To its base, and to its flowers, it was beaten work, according to the pattern which Yahweh had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.’

The lamp was now described. It was made of gold, cleverly hammered out and fashioned, in accordance with God’s pattern shown to Moses in the Mount (compare Exodus 25:31-40). Like a flowering tree it symbolised life and fruitfulness, the very life-giving power of Yahweh. In shape it corresponded to late bronze age lamps of 15th to 13th centuries BC


Verse 5-6

The Dedication of the Levites (Numbers 8:5-26).

The voice has spoken to Moses, Yahweh’s chosen; the light, lit by Aaron and his sons, Yahweh’s chosen, shines on the bread that symbolises Yahweh’s people; and now Yahweh comes to the third of the trio of His chosen ones, those whom He has set apart for Himself to serve instead of the firstborn of Israel. He has provided them that the firstborn of Israel may no longer be bound to Tabernacle service. They are holy to Him, made holy through the night of the Passover which will be dealt with subsequently. In the Passover He will then welcome all who are clean.

In Numbers 3 the Levites have been numbered, in Numbers 4 they have been assigned their responsibilities, in Numbers 7 they have been given the means of fulfilling those responsibilities, and now they are to be dedicated to their work.

We have here the regular chiastic pattern:

a The command to take and cleanse the Levites (Numbers 8:5-6).

b The purifying, washing and preparation for the making of atonement (Numbers 8:7-8).

c The whole congregation assembled to do the will of Yahweh (Numbers 8:9)

d Presentation of the Levites before Yahweh at the Tent of meeting and offered as a waveoffering, with threefold repetition to stress the completeness of the offering (Numbers 8:10-15).

e The Levites wholly given to Yahweh instead of the firstborn (Numbers 8:16).

f All the firstborn were Yahweh’s because He delivered them at the Passover (Numbers 8:17).

e The Levites taken instead of all the firstborn (Numbers 8:18).

d The Levites given as a gift to Aaron, Yahweh’s representative, to do the service of the Tent of meeting (Numbers 8:19).

c All the congregation do the will of Yahweh (Numbers 8:20).

b The purifying, washing and making of atonement (Numbers 8:21).

a Yahweh’s command obeyed (Numbers 8:22).

Central to the pattern is the fact the firstborn belonged to Yahweh because of the deliverance from Egypt, and around that is built the fact that the Levites are being taken as substitutes and prepared accordingly. Added as a kind of postscript is the information concerning the ages of commencement and retirement.

a From twenty five and upwards the Levites to war the warfare in the work of the Tent of meeting (Numbers 8:24).

b At the age of fifty they cease to work and serve no more (Numbers 8:25).

a The retired to minister with their brethren in the Tent of meeting to guard and protect it but serve no more (Numbers 8:26).

The Command to Take and Cleanse the Levites (Numbers 8:5-6).

Numbers 8:5

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

The voice had spoken to Moses, it had called on him to tell Aaron to light the lamp, now it called on him to separate out the Levites.

Numbers 8:6

Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them.”

They were to be taken out from among the children of Israel and specially cleansed. We are not told when this happened, but it was clearly before the numbering, or they would have been numbered with Israel. This cleansing was to set them apart to the holy service of Yahweh, for they had to guard the Sanctuary, dismantle it and carry it, erect it, and repair it. This was their holy service. They would keep the Sanctuary holy, but in a subsidiary position to the priests. Only the priests could lay the sacrifices on the altar, apply the blood, enter the Holy Place, light the lamps and offer incense. But the Levites must see to the heavy duties outside the Holy Place.


Verse 7-8

The Method of Cleansing. The Purifying, Washing of Clothes and Preparation For The Making of Atonement (Numbers 8:7-8).

Numbers 8:7

And thus shall you do to them, to cleanse them. Sprinkle the water of sin on them, and let them cause a razor to pass over all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and cleanse themselves.”

The only water ever described as sprinkled was the ‘water of uncleanness’ described in Numbers 19:9; Numbers 19:17-19. This was water which had been purified by the use of the ashes of the red heifer. It is probable therefore that we are to see this as ‘the water of sin (or ‘of the purification for sin offering)’ which was to be sprinkled on them, for the ashes are described as a ‘purification for sin offering’ (same word as for ‘sin’ - 19:9). The water would therefore be ‘the water of the purification for sin offering’. The second thing required was that they were to shave themselves all over, and the third that they washed their clothes. But there is no suggestion that they wash themselves. The sprinkled sacrificial water would make atonement, and purify them from any taint of death, the shaving was for the removal of uncleanness, and the washing of clothes was for the removal of earthiness. All symbolised a setting apart from the earth to be holy to Yahweh.

The ceremony was dissimilar to all others. In the case of the priests they were washed with water by Moses, but they did not shave themselves all over, nor wash their clothes. The lack of the latter may, however, have been because they wore special garments for entry into the Sanctuary. In the case of the skin diseased they shaved themselves fully, washed their clothes and bathed themselves (Leviticus 14:4), possibly because they had been living outside the camp, and were now entering its special holiness. Those who had been in contact with the dead had only to wash their clothes and bathe themselves (19:19).

The washing of clothes was thus a regular feature for the removal of external earthiness preparatory to meeting with God or entering a holy place, but the shaving of themselves all over seems to indicate a more in depth removal of uncleanness, a moving up a stage in removing every last taint of uncleanness.

Numbers 8:8

Then let them take a young bull ox, and its grain offering, milled wheat grain mingled with oil; and another young bull ox shall you take for a purification for sin offering.”

As always the shedding of blood was required. A bull ox was required to cover the many (Leviticus 4:13-14). One was to be a whole burnt offering (verse 12; compare Leviticus 1:3), and would be accompanied by a grain offering, the other was to be a purification for sin offering. The Levites were being both dedicated and purified.


Verse 9

The Whole Congregation Assembled To Do the Will of Yahweh (Numbers 8:9).

Numbers 8:9

And you shall present the Levites before the tent of meeting. And you shall assemble the whole congregation of the children of Israel,”

This is not in chronological order, but introduces the gathering of the people where it is convenient. Much would be taking place at the same time. The people would thus have already gathered first prior to the presentation. The writer’s point is that they had been gathered prior to the ceremony. It is the presenting of the Levites ‘before the Tent of meeting’, as an official presentation, that follows chronologically after the taking of the ox bulls, the former at least following the assembling of the congregation. As always chronology is unimportant.


Verses 10-16

The Threefold Offering of the Levites As A Wave-offering to Yahweh (Numbers 8:10-15).

Numbers 8:10-11

And you shall present the Levites before Yahweh. And the children of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, and Aaron shall offer the Levites before Yahweh for a waveoffering, on the behalf of the children of Israel, that it may be theirs to do the service of Yahweh.”

It is repeated that the Levites were to be presented, but this time more directly as ‘before Yahweh’ (being ‘presented before the Tent of meeting’ usually means precisely this). Then representatives of the people would come forward, probably the princes, and on behalf of all the people lay their hands on the Levites, identifying the people with them. The Levites were being offered to perform service on their behalf. The Levites were then officially ‘waved’ (specially presented) before Yahweh by Aaron, clothed in all his High Priestly regalia, acting again on behalf of the people. The wave offering is offered or described three times, once by Aaron (verse 11), and twice by Moses (Numbers 8:13 & Numbers 8:15), emphasising its completeness. The purpose was that from then on they would ‘do the service of Yahweh’. While journeying it would be an arduous service with the constant dismantling and erecting of the Dwellingplace, packing it on the carts and taking it off, and the bearing of the furniture through the wilderness, to say nothing of the constant guard duty when the camp was at rest, together with other duties.

Numbers 8:12

And the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bullocks, and you must offer the one for a purification for sin offering, and the other for a whole burnt offering, to Yahweh, to make atonement for the Levites.”

The Levites would then identify themselves with the offerings by laying their hands on them. These offerings would result in their dedication and purification, but most of all they would make them at one with God, ‘covered’ before God. They would be atoned for.

Numbers 8:13

And you shall set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for a waveoffering to Yahweh.”

Either this is a different waveoffering, an offering repeated threefold (ceremonies can be very repetitive in order to bring out different points) or verse 11 had simply mentioned this in a preparatory fashion, and this was now its fulfilment. But it may well be that there were three such presentations (Numbers 8:11; Numbers 8:13; Numbers 8:15). Such threefold presentations often occur in ceremonies. Then the purpose of this one would have been to present them on behalf of Aaron and his sons. Thus first they had been offered as an offering of the children of Israel (Numbers 8:11), here they are offered on behalf of Aaron and his sons, and in Numbers 8:15 they are offered wholly to Yahweh in order to replace the firstborn.

Numbers 8:14

Thus shall you separate the Levites from among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be mine.”

And this was how the Levites would be separated off from the children of Israel and become Yahweh’s. From then on they would belong to Yahweh. They would be wholly set apart to His service.

Numbers 8:15 a

“And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tent of meeting.”

Once that had occurred they could perform their service for the Tent of meeting. From this point on it would be their responsibility to generally maintain and care for the accoutrements for the worship of the Sanctuary as far as it was allowed.

The Levites Wholly Given to Yahweh Instead of the Firstborn of Israel (Numbers 8:16).

Numbers 8:15-16 (15b-16)

“And you shall cleanse them, and offer them for a waveoffering, for they are wholly given to me from among the children of Israel; instead of all that opens the womb, even the first-born of all the children of Israel, have I taken them to me.”

This now gives another reason why they needed to be cleansed, and offered as a waveoffering. It was because they were being offered as substitutes for the male firstborn of the children of Israel. They were being taken instead of them (compare 3:45-51). This is a further explanation of why Moses had to offer them, and may indicate a third step in the ceremony.


Verse 17-18

All the Firstborn Were Yahweh’s Because He Had Delivered Them at the Passover (Numbers 8:17).

Numbers 8:17-18

For all the first-born among the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast.”

This leads up to the central fact, that the firstborn among the children of Israel were Yahweh’s, whether man or beast (Numbers 3:13; Numbers 8:17; Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:12; Exodus 22:29-30; Exodus 34:19). This specific fact is emphasised and is central to the passage (see analysis above). It was therefore no light thing that they were being replaced by the Levites. Here in the Levites were the representatives of every Israelite family, replacing their sons as representatives. That was why the people owed such a debt to the Levites, and were never to forget them (Deuteronomy 12:19).

So the dedicated Levites represented their dedicated firstborn, as the Nazirites represented their dedication as a people. Each was to be seen as indicating their responsibility towards Yahweh.

The Levites Taken Instead of All the Firstborn (Numbers 8:18).

Numbers 18:18

On the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself, and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel.”

The firstborn were Yahweh’s because He had spared them when He smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt (Exodus 11-13). As a result He had sanctified them for Himself for they had been under His special protection. Theirs was to be the privilege of serving His Sanctuary. But now these firstborn sons were released from their solemn privilege because Yahweh had chosen to take the Levites in their place. This was no doubt partly because of the recognition from experience of the untrustworthiness of the firstborn at times of crisis, in contrast with the trustworthiness of the Levites. But it was still a significant exchange.


Verse 19

The Levites Given As a Gift to Aaron, Yahweh’s Representative, To Do the Service of the Tent of Meeting (Numbers 8:19).

Numbers 18:19

And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tent of meeting, and to make atonement for the children of Israel; that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh to the sanctuary.”

And having taken the Levites He has given them as a gift to Aaron and his sons. This was done for two reasons. Firstly that they might do the service in the Tent of meeting which otherwise the firstborn of Israel would have to do. And secondly in order that, by replacing the firstborn, they might make atonement for the children of Israel so that when the people of Israel approached Yahweh, they would not have to be punished with the plague because their firstborn had not been given to the Sanctuary.


Verse 20

Moses, Aaron and All the Congregation Do The Will of Yahweh (Numbers 8:20).

Numbers 8:20

‘Thus did Moses, and Aaron, and all the congregation of the children of Israel, to the Levites. According to all that Yahweh commanded Moses touching the Levites, so did the children of Israel to them.’

It is now stressed that both Moses and Aaron, and the whole people, obeyed Yahweh fully. They did to the Levites what Yahweh had commanded. From now on the Levites would see to the Dwellingplace, acting on behalf of the people and instead of their sons, and in return the people would ensure the liberal support of the Levites.

In Numbers 8:8 the whole congregation had been assembled for this purpose. Now they saw to its fulfilment.


Verse 21

The Carrying Out of the Purifying, Washing of Clothes And Making of Atonement for the Levites Is Summarised (Numbers 8:21).

Numbers 8:21

‘And the Levites purified themselves from sin, and they washed their clothes, and Aaron offered them for a waveoffering before Yahweh; and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them.’

Compare verses 7-8. In accordance with Yahweh’s requirements, the Levites purified themselves from sin by means of the water of the purification for sin offering, shaved their bodies and washed their clothes. Then Aaron offered the Levites as a ‘waveoffering’ before Yahweh, presenting them to Him, and through the offerings made atonement for them to cleanse them.


Verse 22

Yahweh’s Original Command Obeyed (Numbers 8:22).

Numbers 8:22

‘And after that went the Levites in to do their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron, and before his sons, as Yahweh had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so did they to them.’

Once this was accomplished the Levites went in to do their service in the Dwellingplace. This would include ‘policing’ the courtyard of the Dwellingplace, assisting some who brought offerings with the slaughter of their sacrifices, generally ministering around inside the courtyard and out, general maintenance of its fabric and appurtenances, preventing those from approaching the Dwellingplace who should not, and being responsible for the Dwellingplace in all its movements.

And all this was done as Yahweh had commanded Moses (see Numbers 8:5-6).

A number of lessons arise for us out of these verses. Firstly the need to be as concerned about minor ministries among God’s people as well as the more prominent ones. Secondly a recognition that God is equally concerned about them. Thirdly the need for unity among God’s people in making such appointments within the will of God. Fourthly that all, whatever their ministry, regularly need purifying by the blood of Jesus in their ministry and especially at its commencement. It is also a reminder of the need for substitutionary atonement, as the Levites took the place of the firstborn. But how we should rejoice that our substitute before the throne is not the Levites, but our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Making us sufficient to approach God without fear.


Verses 23-26

Limits on Levite Ministry (Numbers 8:23-26).

The soldiers of Israel commenced their responsibilities at twenty years old, but the work of the Levites was so sacred that they had to be more mature before they entered on it, and had to have a five year apprenticeship before they could fully participate. This would bring home to them the seriousness of their responsibilities. Here the age at which they were to commence that apprenticeship is described.

Analysis.

a From twenty five and upwards the Levites were to ‘war the warfare’ in the work of the Tent of meeting (Numbers 8:24).

b At the age of fifty they were to cease to perform the laborious work and serve no more (Numbers 8:25).

a The retired were to minister with their brethren in the Tent of meeting to guard and protect it but were to serve no more (Numbers 8:26).

Numbers 8:23

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

This phrase cuts this section off from the last. It indicates a new revelation, but again stresses that it was Yahweh’s word through Moses. The constant stress on this brings out that Joshua, or Eleazar, or whoever was responsible wanted it known that what he recorded were the words of Moses, spoken by the Voice, and of no one else.

Numbers 8:24-26

“This is what belongs to the Levites. From twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to war the warfare in the work of the tent of meeting, and from the age of fifty years they shall return from the warfare of the work, and shall serve no more, but shall minister with their brethren in the tent of meeting, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites touching their charges.”

Those who were numbered for the work of dismantling, bearing and erecting the dwellingplace and looking after its contents were those Levites who were thirty years to fifty years old (Numbers 3:3; Numbers 3:22-23; Numbers 3:29-30; Numbers 3:34-35; Numbers 3:38-39; Numbers 3:42-43; Numbers 3:46-47). They were the ones mobilised for the purpose. However, for such sacred work we would expect a period of preparation. To move from no involvement to such important work at one step would have prevented the building up of an awareness of the holiness of the task, and would have encouraged carelessness.

A five year breaking in period was clearly recommended. Thus the Levite would commence his part in the holy service of Yahweh, being trained in lesser tasks, from the age of twenty five. The young hotheads had to be broken in before having a part in the holiest of tasks. The same was probably true for the priesthood.

Note how militant terms are used for their service. It was to be recognised that their service equalled that of the trained soldiers of the other tribes, and that while their warfare was of a different kind it was nonetheless real.

But once the Levites became fifty they were to cease to be mobilised for the movement of the dwelling place, being instead given policing duties, ‘keeping the charge’, watching over what the Levites had been charged with.

It is always possible that the original charge was commencement at thirty, and that it became recognised for one reason or another more hands were needed so that Moses later dropped the age limit to twenty five. The chiastic structure might be seen as supporting that this was an additional note. But our view is that it is what we would expect, for we would actually expect a breaking in and training period for such a sacred duty, and that is what this provides. It would seem to us therefore that our interpretation presents the most likely scenario.

It should be noted what problems there would be for Levite parents, even granted their separate camp, in that in the other tribes the young men began service at twenty while the Levites had to wait until they were older. The younger Levites would no doubt feel the restraint and be eager to begin doing something. To wait ten years with little to do would have been unbearable. It is unlikely that the restraint was one of shortage of strength. It was rather one that had in mind the holiness of the task.

A lesson for the church today is the danger of men being ‘called to the ministry’ too young. This suggests that training for the ministry should not begin until at least twenty five years old. It would ensure that ministers had experience of life before they began their training, and that they had really had time to consider the seriousness of what they were taking on.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/numbers-8.html. 2013.

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