Numbers 8

Lighting the Lamps

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

And Aaron did so; he set up the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the Lord commanded Moses. This is how the lampstand was made:
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.
It was beaten work in gold;
The idea is that it was all hammered from a single plate of gold.
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

Then the Lord spoke to Moses: “Take the Levites from among the Israelites and purify
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.
them.
And do this
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.
to them to purify them: Sprinkle water of purification
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.
on them; then have them shave
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).
all their body
Heb “flesh.”
and wash
Or “let/have them wash”; the priests were given new clothes (Lev 8:13), but the Levites simply washed their own.
their clothes, and so purify themselves.
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).
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.
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.
You are to bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the entire community of the Israelites. 10 Then you are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on the Levites;
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.
11 and Aaron is to offer
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.
the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, that they may do the work
The construction emphasizes the spiritual service of the Levites, using the infinitive construct of עָבַד (’avad) followed by its cognate accusative.
of the Lord.
12 When
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.
the Levites lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, offer
The imperative is from the verb “to do; to make,” but in the sentence it clearly means to sacrifice the animals.
the one for a purification offering and the other for a whole burnt offering to the Lord,
The “purification offering” cleansed the tabernacle from impurity, and the burnt offering atoned by nullifying and removing the effects of sin in the Levites.
to make atonement for the Levites.
13 You are to have the Levites stand before Aaron
The Greek text adds the Lord here: “before the Lord, before Aaron.”
and his sons, and then offer them as a wave offering to the Lord.
14 And so
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.
you are to separate the Levites from among the Israelites, and the Levites will be mine.

15  “After this, the Levites will go in
The imperfect tense could also be given the nuance of the imperfect of permission: “the Levites may go in.”
to do the work
Heb “to serve.”
of the tent of meeting. So you must cleanse them
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….”
and offer them like a wave offering.
The Greek text adds “before the Lord.”
16 For they are entirely given
As before, the emphasis is obtained by repeating the passive participle: “given, given to me.”
to me from among the Israelites. I have taken them for myself instead of
Or “as substitutes” for all the firstborn of the Israelites.
all who open the womb, the firstborn sons of all the Israelites.
17 For all the firstborn males among the Israelites are mine, both humans and animals; when I destroyed
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.”
all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I set them apart for myself.
18 So I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn sons among the Israelites. 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.”
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.


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. 21 The Levites purified themselves
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.
and washed their clothing; then Aaron presented them like a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to purify them.
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

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

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