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Numbers 8

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Lighting the Lamps

8:1 1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 8:2 “Speak to Aaron and tell him, ‘When you set up 2  the lamps, the seven lamps are to give light 3  in front of the lampstand.’”

8:3 And Aaron did so; he set up the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the Lord commanded Moses. 8:4 This is how the lampstand was made: 4  It was beaten work in gold; 5  from its shaft to its flowers it was beaten work. According to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.

The Separation of the Levites

8:5 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 8:6 “Take the Levites from among the Israelites and purify 6  them. 8:7 And do this 7  to them to purify them: Sprinkle water of purification 8  on them; then have them shave 9  all their body 10  and wash 11  their clothes, and so purify themselves. 12  8:8 Then they are to take a young bull with its grain offering of fine flour mixed with olive oil; and you are to take a second young bull for a purification offering. 13  8:9 You are to bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the entire community of the Israelites. 8:10 Then you are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on the Levites; 14  8:11 and Aaron is to offer 15  the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, that they may do the work 16  of the Lord. 8:12 When 17  the Levites lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, offer 18  the one for a purification offering and the other for a whole burnt offering to the Lord, 19  to make atonement for the Levites. 8:13 You are to have the Levites stand before Aaron 20  and his sons, and then offer them as a wave offering to the Lord. 8:14 And so 21  you are to separate the Levites from among the Israelites, and the Levites will be mine.

8:15 “After this, the Levites will go in 22  to do the work 23  of the tent of meeting. So you must cleanse them 24  and offer them like a wave offering. 25  8:16 For they are entirely given 26  to me from among the Israelites. I have taken them for myself instead of 27  all who open the womb, the firstborn sons of all the Israelites. 8:17 For all the firstborn males among the Israelites are mine, both humans and animals; when I destroyed 28  all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I set them apart for myself. 8:18 So I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn sons among the Israelites. 8:19 I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the Israelites, to do the work for the Israelites in the tent of meeting, and to make atonement for the Israelites, so there will be no plague among the Israelites when the Israelites come near the sanctuary.” 29 

8:20 So Moses and Aaron and the entire community of the Israelites did this with the Levites. According to all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites, this is what the Israelites did with them. 8:21 The Levites purified themselves 30  and washed their clothing; then Aaron presented them like a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to purify them. 8:22 After this, the Levites went in to do their work in the tent of meeting before Aaron and before his sons. As the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did.

The Work of the Levites

8:23 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 8:24 “This is what pertains to the Levites: 31  At the age of twenty-five years 32  and upward one may begin to join the company 33  in the work of the tent of meeting, 8:25 and at the age of fifty years they must retire from performing the work and may no longer work. 8:26 They may assist 34  their colleagues 35  in the tent of meeting, to attend to needs, but they must do no work. This is the way you must establish 36  the Levites regarding their duties.”

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1 sn This chapter has three main sections to it: the lighting of the lamps (vv. 1-4), the separation of the Levites (vv. 5-22), and the work of the Levites (vv. 23-26). Many modern scholars assume that the chapter belongs to P and was added late. But the chapter reiterates some of the Mosaic material concerning the work of the Levites in the new sanctuary. For the chapter to make sense the historical setting must be accepted; if the historical setting is accepted, the chapter is necessary as part of that early legislation. For more reading, see M. Haran, “The Nature of the’ohel mo‘edh in the Pentateuchal Sources,” JSS 5 (1960): 50-65, and “The Priestly Image of the Tabernacle,” HUCA 36 (1965): 191-226; and C. L. Meyers, The Tabernacle Menorah.

2 tn The verb is עָלָה (’alah). The Hiphil infinitive construct functions in a temporal clause. The idea of arranging the lamps on the lampstand certainly involved raising the lamps and placing them on the tops of each shaft and branch. Some have taken the idea to mean cause the flame to go up, or light the lamps.

3 tn The imperfect tense forms part of the instruction, and so the translation has to indicate that. The instruction would seem obvious, but the light was to shine in the area immediately in front of the lampstand, so that it would illumine the way and illumine the table that was across the room (hence, “in front of”).

4 tn The Hebrew text literally has “and this is the work of the lampstand,” but that rendering does not convey the sense that it is describing how it was made.

5 sn The idea is that it was all hammered from a single plate of gold.

6 tn The verb טָהַר (tahar) means that Moses was “to purify” or “to make ceremonially clean” the Levites so that they could enter the sanctuary and do the work prescribed for them. Whatever is “unclean” is not permitted in the sanctuary at all.

7 tn Or, more literally, “and thus you shall do.” The verb is the imperfect tense of instruction or legislation. Here it introduces the procedures to be followed.

8 tn The genitive in this expression indicates the purpose of the water – it is for their purification. The expression is literally “the waters of sin.” The word “purification” is the same as for the “sin/purification offering” – חַטָּאת (khattaat). This water seems to have been taken from the main laver and is contrasted with the complete washing of the priests in Lev 8:6.

9 tn The verb is the Hiphil perfect with a vav (ו) of sequence. This verb, and those to follow, has the force of a jussive since it comes after the imperative. Here the instruction is for them to remove the hair from their bodies (“flesh”). There is no indication that this was repeated (as the Egyptian priests did every few days). It seems to have been for this special occasion only. A similar requirement was for the leper (Lev 14:7-9).

10 tn Heb “flesh.”

11 tn Or “let/have them wash”; the priests were given new clothes (Lev 8:13), but the Levites simply washed their own.

12 tn The verb is a reflexive (or possibly passive) in this verse, indicating the summary of the process. The ritual steps that have been prescribed will lead to this conclusion. The verb could be treated as a final imperfect (being a perfect with vav [ו] consecutive), and so translated “that they may….” The major difference here is that the ritual made the Levites “clean,” whereas the ritual for the priests made them “holy” or “sanctified” (Lev 8:12).

13 sn The first sacrifice was for the purification of the Levites. The second animal, which Moses was to take, would be used for the purification of the tabernacle from all pollution.

14 sn The consecration ceremony was to be done in full view of the assembled people. In all probability the laying on of the hands was done through representatives of the tribes, and not all the people. This ritual of the imposition of hands showed that the people were taking part in the consecration, and that the Levites represented them in the service of the Lord.

15 tn The Hebrew text actually has “wave the Levites as a wave offering.” The wave offering was part of the ritual of the peace offering and indicated the priest’s portion being presented to God in a lifted, waving motion for all to see. The Levites were going to be in the sanctuary to serve the Lord and assist the priests. It is unclear how Moses would have presented them as wave offerings, but the intent is that they would be living sacrifices, as Paul would later say in Rom 12:1 for all Christians.

16 tn The construction emphasizes the spiritual service of the Levites, using the infinitive construct of עָבַד (’avad) followed by its cognate accusative.

17 tn The clause begins with a vav (ו) on the noun “the Levites,” indicating a disjunctive clause. Here it is clearly a subordinate clause prior to the instruction for Moses, and so translated as a circumstantial clause of time.

18 tn The imperative is from the verb “to do; to make,” but in the sentence it clearly means to sacrifice the animals.

19 sn The “purification offering” cleansed the tabernacle from impurity, and the burnt offering atoned by nullifying and removing the effects of sin in the Levites.

20 tc The Greek text adds the Lord here: “before the Lord, before Aaron.”

21 tn The vav (ו) consecutive on the perfect tense not only carries the nuance of instruction forward to this clause, but also marks this clause out as a summary of what has taken place, i.e., by doing all this ritual Moses will have separated the Levites from the people for God’s own possession.

22 tn The imperfect tense could also be given the nuance of the imperfect of permission: “the Levites may go in.”

23 tn Heb “to serve.”

24 tn The two verbs in the rest of this verse are perfect tenses with vav (ו) consecutive constructions, making them equal to the imperfect. Some commentators try to get around the difficulty of repetition by making these future perfects, “and you will have cleansed,” as opposed to a summary statement, “for thus you will cleanse….”

25 tc The Greek text adds “before the Lord.”

26 tn As before, the emphasis is obtained by repeating the passive participle: “given, given to me.”

27 tn Or “as substitutes” for all the firstborn of the Israelites.

28 tn The idiomatic “on the day of” precedes the infinitive construct of נָכָה (nakhah) to form the temporal clause: “in the day of my striking…” becomes “when I struck.”

29 sn The firstborn were those that were essentially redeemed from death in Egypt when the blood was put on the doors. So in the very real sense they belonged to God (Exod 13:2,12). The firstborn was one who stood in special relationship to the father, being the successive offspring. Here, the Levites would stand in for the firstborn in that special role and special relationship. God also made it clear that the nation of Israel was his firstborn son (Exod 4:22-23), and so they stood in that relationship before all the nations. The tribe of Reuben was to have been the firstborn tribe, but in view of the presumptuous attempt to take over the leadership through pagan methods (Gen 35:22; 49:3-4), was passed over. The tribes of Levi and Simeon were also put down for their ancestors’ activities, but sanctuary service was still given to Levi.

30 tn The verb is the Hitpael of חָטָּא (khatta’). In this stem the meaning of the root “to sin” is likely to be connected to the noun “sin/purification” offering in a denominative sense, although some would take it as a privative usage, “to remove sin.” The idea is clear enough: They performed all the ritual in order to purify themselves ceremonially.

31 tn The Hebrew text has “this [is that] which [pertains] to the Levites.” “This is what concerns the Levites, meaning, the following rulings are for them.

32 tc The age of twenty-five indicated in v. 24 should be compared with the age of thirty indicated in Num 4:3,23,30. In order to harmonize the numbers given in chapter 4 with the number given in Num 8:24 the LXX (and perhaps its Hebrew Vorlage) has thirty in all of these references. See further G. J. Wenham, Numbers (TOTC 4), 97-98.

33 tn The infinitive is לִצְבֹא (litsvo’), related to the word for “host, army, company,” and so “to serve as a company.” The meaning is strengthened by the cognate accusative following it.

34 tn The verb is the Piel perfect of שָׁרַת (sharat, “to serve, minister”). Here the form has the vav (ו) consecutive, and so is equal to the imperfect tense stressing permission. After the Levites reached the age of retirement, they were permitted to assist the others, but were not permitted to do the work themselves.

35 tn Heb “brothers,” but the meaning in this context is “fellow Levites.”

36 tn Heb “you shall do, make.”



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