Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto Aaron, and say unto him, When thou lightest the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light over against the candlestick.VIII.
(2) When thou lightest the lamps.—Better, When thou settest up the lamps. (Comp. Exodus 25:37.) The golden candlestick was placed against the south wall of the Tabernacle, opposite to the table of shewbread, so that its seven branches were parallel to that wall, with its branches east and west, and consequently the seven lamps, one of which rested upon each of the seven branches, threw their light in front of the candlestick, i.e., towards the north wall, by which arrangement the furniture of the holy place was more effectually lighted than it would have been had the candlestick been placed facing the entrance, with its branches north and south.
Over against.—Or, in front of.
And Aaron did so; he lighted the lamps thereof over against the candlestick, as the LORD commanded Moses.(3) He lighted.—Better, he set up.
And this work of the candlestick was of beaten gold, unto the shaft thereof, unto the flowers thereof, was beaten work: according unto the pattern which the LORD had shewed Moses, so he made the candlestick.(4) And this work of the candlestick . . . —Better, And this was the work of the candlestick, i.e., the material of which it was made.
Beaten gold.—Better, turned (or twisted) gold.
Unto the shaft thereof, unto the flowers thereof.—Literally, unto its base, unto its flower or blossom, i.e., the whole of the candlestick, from its base to its flowers. The several parts of the candlestick, beginning with the base and ending with the flowers, are enumerated in Exodus 25:31.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,(5) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—As Moses had already officiated in the consecration of the priests (Leviticus 8), so now, notwithstanding the fact that Aaron and his sons were already consecrated, he is commanded to officiate at the cleansing of the Levites.
And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.(7) Water of purifying.—Literally, water of sin, or, of sin-offering (Hebrew, hattath). As in the case of the holy water, to which reference is made in Numbers 6:17, so here also there is no explanation given of the particular water which was to be used in cleansing the Levites. The bullock which was appointed to be offered as a sin-offering at the consecration of Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:14; Leviticus 8:14) is described by the same word which is here employed (in the Authorised Version, sin-offering); and in Leviticus 4:14, the sacrifice which was appointed to be offered for the expiation of sin (in the Authorised Version, the sin) is also spoken of under the same name; so also is the sin-offering of the Levites in Numbers 8:8 of this chapter. The sin-water evidently denotes the water appointed to be used in the purification of sin; and the reference is probably (as in Numbers 6:17) to the water which was kept in the brazen laver in front of the Tabernacle. It is possible, however, that some direction which is not here recorded may have been given respecting putting the ashes of the sin-offering into water. (Comp. Numbers 19:9, where the water of purification is described under the same name: “it is a purification for sin.” Literally, it is hattath.) In this case, however, the sin-offering, which is not mentioned until Numbers 8:8, must have been sacrificed previously to the sprinkling.
Let them shave all their flesh.—Literally, cause the razor to pass over all their flesh. A different word is used in Leviticus 14:8-9 to denote the more complete removal of the hair which was enjoined at the cleansing of the leper.
And let them wash their clothes.—The bodies of the priests were washed at their consecration (Leviticus 14:8-9), and those of the lepers at their cleansing (Leviticus 8:6); but the Levites, who were not brought into such immediate contact with the holy things as the priests, were only required to wash their clothes, which was an ordinary preparation for Divine worship (Exodus 19:10; comp. Genesis 35:2).
And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together:(9) The whole assembly of the children of Israel—i.e., as elsewhere, the representatives of the people.
And thou shalt bring the Levites before the LORD: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites:(10) Shall put their hands upon the Levites.—The same phrase is here used as in Numbers 8:12, and elsewhere, of the offerer who was required to lay his hand upon the victim which he offered in sacrifice. By this symbolical act the obligation which rested upon the whole nation in regard to the dedication of the firstborn was transferred to the Levites, who were thenceforth to be dedicated to the service of the Lord, and given over to the priests as the representatives of the Lord.
And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the LORD.(11) And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering.—Literally, and Aaron shall wave the Levites as a wave-offering before the Lord. The manner in which the Levites were thus set apart to the Lord is not expressed. It may have been done by leading them backwards and forwards in front of the Tabernacle and in the presence of the people, or by the waving of Aaron’s hands. The same word is used elsewhere in reference to offerings of different kinds—as, e.g., of gold in Exodus 35:22. (Comp. Numbers 8:13; Numbers 8:15; Numbers 8:21 of this chapter.) The symbolical meaning of the ceremony is obvious from the concluding words of the verse, and is further explained in Numbers 8:13-14. (Comp. Leviticus 7:30 and Note.)
And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the LORD.(13) And offer them for an offering.—Literally, and wave them as a wave- offering, as in Numbers 8:11. So also in Numbers 8:15.
And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for an offering.(15) And after that shall the Levites go in . . . —i.e., into the court of the Tabernacle to keep watch there, and to assist the priests at the altar of burnt-offering, and to take down and set up the Tabernacle as occasion might require.
For they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel; instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn of all the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me.(16) Instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn of all the children of Israel.—It is difficult to determine whether the second clause is to be regarded as an exact equivalent, or as a limitation of the first. If an exact equivalent, a different meaning must be assigned to the firstborn from that which it commonly bears in the Pentateuch, where it appears to be restricted to the firstborn son on the father’s side. (Cf. Exodus 13:2.)
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 tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary.(19) As a gift.—Hebrew, given, as in Numbers 8:16.
That there be no plague among the children of Israel.—The appointment of the Levites in the place of the firstborn was calculated to insure the reverent and orderly discharge of the duties of the Sanctuary, and to operate as a safeguard against those sins of omission and commission into which the firstborn would have been more likely to be betrayed, and which would have provoked the Divine wrath against the Israelites generally.
This is it that belongeth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the tabernacle of the congregation:(24) From twenty and five years old and upward.—This regulation may be understood as referring to the age at which the Levites were to enter upon their duties after the people had taken possession of the land of Canaan, and it appears to have remained in force until the time of David, who substituted the age of twenty for that of twenty-five, because the necessity of carrying the Tabernacle and its furniture from place to place, which arose but seldom after the entrance into Canaan, finally ceased after the removal of the ark to Mount Zion. The time of service during the wanderings in the wilderness was from thirty to fifty (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30), during which time the constant removal of the Tabernacle required the services of men in the full vigour of life. The chronological order of events is not always observed in this book, and the directions contained in Numbers 8:23-26 may have been given at a later period, but inserted here in connection with the account of the appointment of the Levites to their office. On the other hand, it is quite possible that from the first the Levites entered upon the lighter parts of their office at the age of twenty-five years, but were not employed before they were thirty years of age in the more onerous duties of removing the Tabernacle, or in bearing on their shoulders the sacred vessels, as in the case of the Kohathites.
To wait upon the service.—Literally, to war the warfare, or to serve the (military) service. Similarly, in the following verse, he shall return from the warfare of the service.
But shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of the congregation, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their charge.(26) To keep the charge.—A clear distinction is here made between the service which involved heavy manual labour in carrying the furniture of the Tabernacle and in slaughtering the victims, and the charge or oversight of the furniture and the vessels of the Sanctuary.