Numbers 8:19
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 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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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.

Numbers 8:19. To do the service of Israel — To serve God in their stead; to do what otherwise they would have been obliged to do in their own persons. To make an atonement — Not by offering sacrifices, which the priests alone might do, but by assisting the priest in that expiatory work, and by a diligent performance of all the parts of their office, whereby God was pleased both with them and with the people. That there be no plague — This is added as a reason why God appointed them to serve in the tabernacle, that they might guard it, and not suffer any of the people to come near it, or meddle with holy things; which if they did, it would certainly bring a plague upon them.

8:5-26 Here we have directions for the solemn ordination of the Levites. All Israel must know that they took not this honour to themselves, but were called of God to it; nor was it enough that they were distinguished from others. All who are employed for God, must be dedicated to him, according to the employment. Christians must be baptized, ministers must be ordained; we must first give ourselves unto the Lord, and then our services. The Levites must be cleansed. They must be clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Moses must sprinkle the water of purifying upon them. This signifies the application of the blood of Christ to our souls by faith, that we may be fit to serve the living God. God declares his acceptance of them. All who expect to share in the privileges of the tabernacle, must resolve to do the service of the tabernacle. As, on the one hand, none of God's creatures are his necessary servants, he needs not the service of any of them; so none are merely honorary servants, to do nothing. All whom God owns, he employs; angels themselves have their services.Make an atonement for the children of Israel - i. e. by performing those services which were due from the children of Israel; the omission of which by the children of Israel would, but for the interposition of the Levites, have called down "wrath" from God, or Numbers 1:53 "plague." The institution of the Levites was an extension of that mediatorial system which the people themselves, terrified at the direct manifestations to them of the divine presence, desired; see Deuteronomy 5:25. Further, it is suggested to us here as an act of mercy on the part of God; yet even the priests and Levites themselves were not always sufficiently heedful and reverent. Compare Numbers 17:10; Leviticus 10:1 ff; 2 Samuel 6:6 following.19. to make an atonement for the children of Israel, &c.—to aid the priests in that expiatory work; or, as the words may be rendered, "to make redemption for" the Levites being exchanged or substituted for the first-born for this important end, that there might be a sanctified body of men appointed to guard the sanctuary, and the people not allowed to approach or presumptuously meddle with holy things, which would expose them to the angry judgments of Heaven. The service of the children of Israel, i.e. to serve God in their stead and behalf, to do what otherwise they had been obliged to do in their own persons.

In the tabernacle: how in it, See Poole "Numbers 8:15".

To make an atonement for the children of Israel; not by offering sacrifices, which the priests alone might do, but by assisting the priests in that expiatory work, and by a diligent performance of all the parts of their office, whereby God was pleased both with them and with the people. That there be no plague: this is added as a reason why God appointed them to serve in or about the tabernacle, that they might watch and guard it, and not suffer any of the people to come near it, or meddle with holy things, which if they did, it would certainly bring a plague upon them.

And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons, from among the children of Israel,.... Or I have given the Levites that were given; that is, the Lord gave to Aaron and his sons the Levites, that were first given to him; as they were, when brought before him, and the children of Israel laid hands on them, and they were offered before the Lord, Numbers 8:10,

to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation; to do what otherwise they must have done, watch and guard the tabernacle, carry the sacrifices to the priests, assist them at the altar, take down and set up the tabernacle, and carry it, and the vessels of it, from place to place:

and to make an atonement for the children of Israel; not by offering sacrifices for them, which was the work of the priests, but by being now offered themselves, Numbers 8:10; that they themselves might be the atonement of their souls as Aben Ezra expresses it, as well as they were by their service hereafter a means of preserving the Israelites from death; which may be interpreted of making an atonement, which Phinehas is said to do by his deed, though no sacrifice was offered, Numbers 25:7; which sense seems to be confirmed by what follows:

that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh to the sanctuary; by approaching nearer than they should, touching what they ought not, intruding themselves into service they were not called to, or doing it amiss, not being instructed in it, or inured to it as the Levites were. The phrase, "the children of Israel", is five times used in this verse, to denote the love of God to them, as Jarchi observes.

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 {g} 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 {h} sanctuary.

(g) Which the Israelites should do.

(h) Because the levites go into the sanctuary in their name.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
19. as a gift] lit. ‘given [persons].’ See on Numbers 3:9.

19. the service of the children of Israel] i.e. the service which Jehovah requires from them. They perform it in the person of their representatives, who are now the Levites instead of the first-born.

atonement] Not in this case propitiation for past sins, but the averting of God’s anger by preventing sin from being committed. The sin would be two-fold—the non-performance of the rightful worship, and, as the following words (which should be rendered as in R.V. marg.) shew, the too near approach of the laity to the holy things. The Levites are both substitutes for the laity, and at the same time a cordon to keep them at a distance.

that there be no plague] Cf. Numbers 1:53.

Verse 19b. - To make an atonement for the children of Israel. This is a remarkable expression, and throws light upon the nature of atonement. It is usually confined to purely sacerdotal ministrations, but it clearly has a somewhat different scope here. The idea that the Levites "made an atonement" by assisting the priests in the subordinate details of sacrifice hardly needs refutation: as well might the Gibeonites be said to "make an atonement" because they supplied the altar fire with wood. The real parallel to this is to be found in the case of Phinehas, of whom God testified that "he hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel," and "made an atonement for the children of Israel" (Numbers 25:11, 13). It is evident that Phinehas turned away the wrath of God not by offering any sacrifices, but by making the sin which aroused that wrath to cease: he made an atonement for the people by discharging for them that holy and bounden duty (of putting away sin) which the rest of them failed to perform. Similarly the Levites made an atonement not by offering sacrifice (which they could no more do than the children of Judah), but by rendering unto God those personal duties of attendance and service in his courts which all the people ought to have rendered had they only been fit. That there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary. See Numbers 1:53. The children of Israel were in this strait. As "an holy nation," they were all bound, and their first-born as redeemed from the destroyer were specially bound, to render certain religious duties to God. But if they had attempted to render them they would have erred through ignorance and foolishness, and so have incurred Divine wrath and punishment, when they came nigh unto the sanctuary. From this strait the substitution of the Levites delivered them. Numbers 8:19The Levites were then to close this transfer of themselves to the Lord with a sin-offering and burnt-offering, in which they laid their hands upon the sacrificial animals. By this imposition of hands they made the sacrificial animals their representatives, in which they presented their own bodies to the Lord as a living sacrifice well-pleasing to Him. The signification of the dedication of the Levites, as here enjoined, is still further explained in Numbers 8:13-19. The meaning of Numbers 8:13. is this: According to the command already given (in Numbers 8:6-12), thou shalt place the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and wave them as a wave-offering before the Lord, and so separate them from the midst of the children of Israel, that they may be Mine. They shall then come to serve the tabernacle. So shalt thou cleanse them and wave them. The same reason is assigned for this in Numbers 8:16, Numbers 8:17, as in Numbers 3:11-13 (כּל בּכור for כּל־בּכור, cf. Numbers 3:13); and in Numbers 8:18 and Numbers 8:19, what was commanded in Numbers 3:6-9 is described as having been carried out. On Numbers 8:19 see Numbers 1:53.
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