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Numbers 8:1-14

Context
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.

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.



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