And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verse 1. - The Lord spake unto Moses. It does not appear when. The attempt of modern commentators to find a real connection between this section and the offering of the princes or the consecration of the Levites is simply futile. Such connection may be imagined, but the same ingenuity would obviously be equally successful if this section had been inserted in any other place from Exodus 37, to the end of this book. The more probable explanation will be given below.
Speak unto Aaron, and say unto him, When thou lightest the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light over against the candlestick.
Verse 2. - When thou lightest the lamps. The command to light the lamps had been given generally ("they shall light the lamps thereof") in Exodus 25:37, and the care of them had been specially confided to Aaron and his sons ("from evening to morning") in Exodus 27:21. The actual lighting of the lamps for the first time by Moses is recorded in Exodus 40:25. In the face of these passages it is incredible that the lamps had not been regularly lighted by Aaron for more than a month before the offering of the princes. The seven lamps shall give light over against the candlestick. It is somewhat uncertain what this expression, here repeated from Exodus 25:37, means. The Targums give no explanation of it; the Septuagint merely renders verbally, κατὰ πρόσωπον τῆς λυχνίας φωτιοῦσιν; the Jewish expositors seem to have thought that the light was to be thrown inward towards the central shaft; most modern commentators, with more probability, understand it to mean that the lamps were to be so placed as to throw their light across the tabernacle towards the north side.
And Aaron did so; he lighted the lamps thereof over against the candlestick, as the LORD commanded Moses.
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.
Verse 4. - And this work of the candlestick. For the meaning of the details here given see Exodus 25:31, sq. According unto the pattern which the Lord had shewed Moses, - viz., in the mount (see Exodus 25:40) so he made the candlestick. This has been recorded in Exodus 37:17. The repetition of the statement in this place seems to be conclusive that these verses are out of their historical position, and that their insertion here is due to some fact connected with the original records with which we are not acquainted. It may be simply this, that these verses originally followed verse 89 of the previous chapter, and followed it still when it was inserted, for reasons already suggested, after the narrative of the offerings of the princes. Why, or how, such an admission should discredit the sacred narrative or imperil the truth of its inspiration it would be hard to say. The only thing really likely to imperil the sacred narrative is to persistently deny the obvious literary conclusions which arise from an honest consideration of the text.
CHAPTER 8:5-26 THE HALLOWING OF THE LEVITES (verses 5-23).
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verse 5. - The Lord spake unto Moses. At some time subsequent to the command given in chapters Numbers 3:6-13, and no doubt before the passover.
Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them.
Verse 6. - And cleanse them. Before they actually entered upon their new duties they were to be solemnly hallowed. This hallowing, however, is not called קַדֵּשׁ, as is that of the priests (Exodus 29:1), but טַהֵר, cleansing. There was in their case no ceremonial washing, no vesting in sacred garments, no anointing with holy oil, or sprinkling with the blood of sacrifices. The Levites, in fact, remained simply representatives of the congregation, whereas the priests were representatives also of Christ.
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.
Verse 7. - Sprinkle water of purifying upon them. Rather, "water of sin," so called because it had to do with the removal of sin, just as "water of separation" (Numbers 19:9, 13) was that which delivered from the legal state of separation. It is not likely to have been prepared in the same manner as this latter (Numbers 19:9), both because of the great difference between the two cases, and because the ordinance of the red heifer belonged to a later period. Nor is it likely to have resembled that used for cleansing the leper, or the water of jealousy. But it is rash to conclude that, because we do not read any special directions for its preparation, it must, therefore, have been nothing trot water from the laver which stood in the outer court. That water appears, indeed, to be called "holy water" in Numbers 5:17, which is intelligible enough; but no probable reason can be shown why it should be called "sin water;" it would seem as reasonable to call the water which our Lord turned into wine "sill water," because it stood there "for the purifying of the Jews." It is better to say that we do not know, because it is not recorded, how this water was prepared, or how it corresponded to its name. The Levites who were to be sprinkled would seem to have included all the males, some twenty thousand in number; because it was all the males, and not only those between thirty and fifty, who were to be dedicated in place of the first-born. In any case it was, of course, impossible that Moses could have sprinkled them individually (see below on verse 11). Let them shave all their flesh. Literally, "let them cause the razor to pass over their whole body." Some distinguish between עָבַר תּעַר here and גִלַּה in Leviticus 14:8, 9, as though the latter meant a much more complete shaving off of the hair than the former; but this difference is doubtful; the fact that the whole body as well as the head was to be shaved implies that it was more than a mere cutting short of the hair. Let them wash their clothes. This was constantly enjoined on all the faithful as a preparation for any special religious service (see on Exodus 19:10). And so make themselves clean. The shaving and washing had, no doubt, a symbolic significance, but their primary object was simply and obviously personal cleanliness; it is the hair and the clothes that chiefly harbour impurities, especially in a hot climate.
Then let them take a young bullock with his meat offering, even fine flour mingled with oil, and another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin offering.
Verse 8. - Another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin offering. The ordinary sin offering was a shaggy one of the goats (see on chapter Numbers 7:16); but a bullock had been prescribed for the sin of the high priest, and for the sin of the congregation, in certain circumstances, and the analogy is followed here. It might seem as if the larger animal were meant to distinguish aggregate or collective guilt (see on Leviticus 4:3); but the scapegoat offered for the sin of the whole people makes against such a supposition.
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:
And thou shalt bring the Levites before the LORD: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites:
Verse 10. - Before the Lord. As in chapter Numbers 5:16, either near the brazen altar, or more probably before the entrance of the tabernacle. And the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites. Presumably by means of their representatives, probably the tribe princes. This laying on of hands signified that the obligation to assist personally in the service of the sanctuary was transferred from the whole congregation to the Levites.
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.
Verse 11. - And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering. Rather, "Aaron shall wave" them "for a wave offering" (Hebrew, nuph; see Exodus 29:24); and so in verses 13, 15, and 21. This injunction seems conclusive that the whole ceremonial was to be symbolically per. formed, for the Levites could not possibly be waved in any literal sense. Some have supposed that they were marched up and down before the altar, forgetting that the court would scarcely afford standing room for 1000 people, while the Levites between thirty and fifty numbered more than 8000. It is certain that the Levites could only be brought before the Lord, could only be waved (howsoever that was done), could only lay their hands upon the bullocks, by representation. If we suppose, e.g., that a hundred men of position and command among them entered the court as representatives of the tribe, then we can understand how the ceremonial here commanded might have been effectively carried out. That they may execute the service of the Lord. Literally, "that they may be to execute the service of the Lord." Their being waved made them over in a figure to the Lord to be wholly his, and to live only for his service, and at his command. But just as wave offerings were assigned by Divine permission to the use of the priests, so were the Levites given to Aaron and his sons for ever.
And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and thou shalt offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, unto the LORD, to make an atonement for the Levites.
Verse 12. - Shall lay their hands upon the beads of the bullocks. In token that they constituted these victims the ritual representatives and embodiments, the one of their sin, to be consumed and done away as by fire, the other of their life and strength, to be wholly offered unto God and accepted as by fire.
And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the LORD.
Verse 13. - And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron. This is not an additional command, but repeats in a slightly different form the previous orders. A similar repetition occurs in verse 15 b.
Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine.
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.
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.
Verse 16. - For they are wholly given unto me. See Numbers 3:5-13, the substance of which is emphatically repeated here.
For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself.
And I have taken the Levites for all the firstborn of the children of Israel.
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.
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.
And Moses, and Aaron, and all the congregation of the children of Israel, did to the Levites according unto all that the LORD commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so did the children of Israel unto them.
And the Levites were purified, and they washed their clothes; and Aaron offered them as an offering before the LORD; and Aaron made an atonement for them to cleanse them.
Verse 21. - Were purified, or "purified themselves." It refers not to the ceremonial sprinkling, but to the personal preparation prescribed.
And after that went the Levites in to do their service in the tabernacle of the congregation before Aaron, and before his sons: as the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so did they unto them.
Verse 22. - In the tabernacle of the congregation. This can only mean that they went in after the holy things had been packed up in order to take the fabric to pieces; no one but the priests went into the tabernacle for any other purpose, or at any other time.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
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:
Verse 24. - From twenty and five years old and upward. A short time before the minimum age had been fixed at thirty (Numbers 4:3). That direction, however, concerned the transport of the tabernacle and its belongings; this was a permanent regulation designed for the ordinary labours of the sanctuary at a time when the Levites would be scattered throughout their cities, and could only serve by courses. For the latter purpose many more would be required; and indeed they were found insufficient as it was in the latter days of David, when the wealth and devotion of the kingdom were fast increasing (see on 1 Chronicles 23:24-27). To wait upon the service. Literally, "to war the warfare;" the idea of the militia sacra is kept up.
And from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more:
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.
Verse 26. - Shall minister... to keep the charge, and shall do no service. The word "charge" (Hebrew, mishmereth) seems to signify the care of the furniture and belongings of the tabernacle, while "service" means the laborious work of transport, or of preparing sacrifice. The duties of the Levite over fifty were in fact honorary, given to him probably for his own sake, that he might have some place and post in the house of God. This careful provision for those who should attain the age of fifty shows that the commandment was designed for the promised land rather than for the wilderness.