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Deeper Commentary


Num 8:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
This commandment to the tribe of Levi follows straight on from the description in Num. 7 of the other tribes dedicating the altar. Now the tribe of Levi were to play their part.

Num 8:2 Speak to Aaron, and tell him, ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand’-
The lampstand faced towards the most holy place. There was no natural light in the tabernacle. The lampstand is used as a symbol of the church in Rev. 1:20. We are "the light of the world" in that we provide light which points men towards entrance into the holiest. Hence the lamps were to give light "in front of the lampstand", pointing toward the holiest and the veil which was later brought down at the Lord's death. Now the tabernacle had been set up, this command to light the lamps was equivalent to "Let there be light" at creation.

Num 8:3 Aaron did so. He lit its lamps to light the area in front of the lampstand, as Yahweh commanded Moses-
"The candlestick" or menorah is only ever spoken of in the law of Moses in the singular, but in 1 Chron. 28:15 David decided there were to be multiple such candlesticks. By doing so, he ignored the symbolism of the one candlestick, the one people of God; such was his obsession with mere religion. The lampstand represents God's people (Rev. 1:20), and it had seven lamps; the six branches and the central stem, upon which there was also a lamp. Seven is the number of wholeness and completion. Perhaps the idea is that there is to be a complete manifestation of God through the witness of His people, burning the oil of the Spirit. Each component member witnesses to Him in a slightly different way, not only in this life but throughout the generations of God's people. Likewise the body of Christ in the same way manifests Christ to the world. The menorah or "candlestick" is from a root meaning to yoke. In the Christian context, the yoke, the uniting power, is the Lord Jesus (Mt. 11:30). He is the unique power which binds together His otherwise disparate people into one candlestick. Thereby Christian unity becomes a witness to the world, at least that is the intention. All disunity between believers therefore causes the candlestick not to function, and the light of witness is thereby the less.

Num 8:4 This was the workmanship of the lampstand, beaten work of gold-
The candlestick represents the assembly of believers (Rev. 1:20). It was made of beaten work, representing how all those in the true church will be beaten into a shape through which they can be lights for God. "Hammered" or "beaten" suggests that through blow by blow on material heated in the furnace of affliction (Is. 48:10), God works out a place where His glory may be revealed. And that place is our lives.

From its base to its flowers, it was beaten work: according to the pattern which Yahweh had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand-
The lampstand represents God's people (Rev. 1:20), but it is presented here as a tree with branches, buds and blossoms (Ex. 25:33). In this sense the ecclesia, the community of believers, is to be as the tree of life to others by their words (Prov. 3:18; 11:30; 15:4).

The "flowers" were almonds (Ex. 25:33). The almond is the first tree in Palestine to bud, so it means literally the watching tree, as if it were alive and eager to come to life. So it is appropriate for the candlestick, which represented God's people. Jeremiah sees the branch of an almond tree and is comforted that "I watch over My word to perform it" (Jer. 1:11,12). The word translated 'hasten' or "watch over" is very similar to the word for 'almond'. Almonds are associated with God's eyes; the bowls of the lampstands were almonds (Ex. 25:33,34). Zech. 4:2 talks about these almond bowls on the candlestick, and Zech. 4:10 interprets them as the "eyes of the LORD which run to and fro through the whole earth". 2 Chron. 16:9 talks about the Angels in the same way; "the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him". Similarly in Rev. 4:5 the lamps in the bowls of almond are equated with the "seven spirits (or Angels) of God". Rev. 5:6 equates the seven eyes with the seven spirits. Thus the almond rod which Jeremiah saw represented God's eyes or Angels who would watch over the word of God which Jeremiah was to speak to perform it. And He does likewise with the witness of all those represented within the candlestick.

Num 8:5 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
This gives more detail about the dedication of the Levites in Num. 3:5-13.

Num 8:6 Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them-
The Levites and priests weren't part-timers. They gave their lives to God in recognition of the fact that God had saved the lives of the firstborn at the Passover and Red Sea deliverance (Num. 3:12). Our deliverance from the world at baptism was our Red Sea. We have been saved. Those firstborns represent us, the ecclesia of firstborns (Heb. 12:23 Gk.). We are now being led towards that glorious Kingdom, when by rights we ought to be lying dead in that dark Egyptian night. The wonder of it all demands that like the Levites, we give our lives back to God, in service towards His children.

Num 8:7 You shall do this to them, to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of cleansing on them, let them shave their whole bodies with a razor, and let them wash their clothes, and cleanse themselves-
Washing and becoming like new born children, with no body hair, looks forward to baptism. We’re not baptized just for the sake of it; we do this so that we may be made holy or separated unto the service of God. We are God’s, just as they were (:14).

The water of cleansing is literally "water of sin", i.e. ‘water that washes away sin’. We note that the Levites were only sprinkled, whereas the priests were completely washed (Ex. 29:4; Lev. 8:6). The idea may be that the more public was the ministry, the deeper sense of personal sin was required.

Num 8:8 Then let them take a young bull, and its grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil; and another young bull you shall take for a sin offering-
Just as the Nazirite had to make a sin offering at the end of his period of devotion (Num. 6:16), and the princes who offered voluntary offerings had to add a sin offering to them (Num. 7:16). The need for a sin offering at the end of special devotion was maybe to remind them that their extra special devotion didn’t take away the reality of sin and need for grace; for relationship with God depends upon this rather than upon our works and special efforts. Again, we can take that principle to ourselves in our age.

Num 8:9 You shall present the Levites before the Tent of Meeting. You shall assemble the whole congregation of the children of Israel-
Now that the tabernacle had been erected, the Levites were now to come out from the various other tribal encampments where they had been living (:6), and establish their tents around the newly erected tabernacle. But firstly they stood as a group before the tent.

Num 8:10 You shall present the Levites before Yahweh. The children of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites-
God intended Israel to be "a Kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6). “All the people of Israel” were the builders of the spiritual house of God, i.e. His people (Acts 4:10,11). All Israel were to lay their hands on the Levites to show that they were truly Israel’s representatives (Num. 8:10). When Israel were rejected, they were told that they as a nation could no longer be God’s priest (Hos. 4:6). By baptism, we become spiritual Israel; and this idea is relevant to us too. Peter picks up these words in Exodus and applies them to every one of us: "You also are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (1 Pet. 2:5,9).

"Come near before Yahweh" is usually translated "offer [sacrifice] before Yahweh", and is translated that way multiple times. Although rarely (Ex. 16:9; Lev. 9:5) it is used of the congregation coming near before Yahweh. But the congregation didn't generally want to come before Yahweh, and so He chose just the Levites to come before Yahweh (Num. 8:10; 16:9 s.w.). It was God's intention that all Israel should be His servants, a nation of priests. But He changed and ammended His approach, and chose just the Levites for this. We see here how open God is to change, so that by all means He may have relationship with His people. Under the new covenant, all believers are part of a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5) as He initially intended even under the old covenant. And yet there is always the tendency to leave the priestly work to specialists rather than perceiving our personal call to do it.

Num 8:11 and Aaron shall offer the Levites before Yahweh for a wave offering, on the behalf of the children of Israel, that it may be theirs to do the service of Yahweh-
The portion to be waved was placed on the priests hands (Ex. 29:25), and then 'waved' or 'swung' towards the altar and then back- not from right to left. The idea was that the offerings were first given to God, recognizing they should be consumed on the altar to God; but then given back to the priest by God. So they ate them having first recognized that their food was really God's, all was of Him, and He had given it back to them to eat. This should be our spirit in partaking of any food, as we are the new priesthood. Our prayers of thanks for daily food should include this feature. All things are God's and anything we 'offer' to Him is only giving Him what He has given to us (1 Chron. 29:14,16).

Num 8:12 The Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, and you shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering to Yahweh, to make atonement for the Levites-
The sin offering always preceded the burnt offering. Dedication to God, represented by the burnt offering, is on the basis of our recognizing first of all our sinfulness and need for His grace. This is why the sin offering always precedes the burnt offering in the Mosaic rituals. We too have been cleansed by the blood of Christ in order to serve Him and His Father (Heb. 9:14; 1 Thess. 1:9).

Num 8:13 You shall set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them as a wave offering to Yahweh-
The idea of all believers being a living sacrifice alludes here (Rom. 12:1,2). For we are all called to be the new priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5).

Num 8:14 Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine-
The Levites were God's (Num. 3:12,13,45; 8:14), and the Lord alludes to this: "I pray not for the (Jewish) world, but for them (the disciples, cp. the Levites) which thou hast given me; for they are thine" (Jn. 17:9). The Levites represent us (Jn. 17:6 = Dt. 33:9); the relationship between Moses and the Levites represents that between Christ and us. Moses' thankfulness that they remained faithful during the golden calf crisis, that sense of being able to rely on them, will be reflected in the Lord's feelings toward the faithful.

Num 8:15 After that, the Levites shall go in to do the service of the Tent of Meeting: and you shall cleanse them, and offer them as a wave offering-
Although the Levites had been set apart for Divine service immediately after God's meeting with Israel at Sinai, as outlined in Leviticus and Numbers, it seems that not until Aaron died at the end of the 40 years wandering did they actually in practice begin to serve as intended (Dt. 10:8). It could be that the reason was that the Levites were ever slow to accept their responsibilities. And they generally failed in their calling over Israel's history, climaxing in the priests arranging the murder of God's own Son. 

Num 8:16 For they are wholly given to Me from among the children of Israel; instead of all who open the womb, even the firstborn of all the children of Israel, I have taken them to Me-
The Levites were separated unto God’s service; it wasn’t so much that they were separate from others in a negative sense; rather they were positively separated unto God’s service. We shouldn’t see holiness as negative- that we can no longer do certain things; but instead focus on what positively we have been separated unto.

Num 8:17 For all the firstborn among the children of Israel are Mine, both man and animal. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified them for Myself-
It had been God's intention that the Levites were "His" from Passover night. But it was their actions at the time of the golden calf which as it were operationalized this, so that this intended "blessing" of being sanctified for God was realized in practice: "The sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. Moses said, Consecrate yourselves today to Yahweh, yes, every man against his son, and against his brother; that He may bestow on you a blessing this day" (Ex. 32:28,29). And this is how God works with us. A potential blessing and sanctification unto Himself is planned, but we have to consecrate ourselves in order to realize that potential. And so much potential is wasted and left unrealized. By so many people, and by us in so many aspects of our potential ministry.

Num 8:18 I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel-
"The men which You gave me out of the (Jewish) world... they have kept Your word" (Jn. 17:6) compares with the Levites being "given" to Aaron / the priesthood out of Israel (Num. 3:9; 8:19; 18:6); at the time of the golden calf they "observed thy word, and kept thy covenant" (Dt. 33:9), as did the disciples. The relationship between Moses and the Levites was therefore that between Christ and the disciples- a sense of thankfulness that at least a minority were faithful.

Num 8:19 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 Tent of Meeting, and to make atonement for the children of Israel that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come near to the sanctuary-
The spiritual and physical wellbeing of others can depend upon third parties, in this case the faithfulness of the Levites. Others can suffer because of our lack of diligence; it’s not that if we don’t do our part for them, then God will raise up others to do what we ought to have done. He may do this, as He was prepared to at the time of Esther, but He wishes us to see the eternal consequence of our actions upon others.

Num 8:20 Moses, and Aaron, and all the congregation of the children of Israel did so to the Levites. According to all that Yahweh commanded
Moses concerning the Levites, so the children of Israel did to them-
What Israel did to them is recorded in :10,11. They placed their hands upon the Levites as if they were their representative sacrifice.

Num 8:21 The Levites purified themselves from sin, and they washed their clothes; and Aaron offered them for a wave offering before Yahweh; and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them-
This reference to purification could refer to a ritual purification. But the word for "purified themselves" is used of actual rather than general sin (Lev. 19:22). I have noted earlier that the small size of the tribe of Levi is one of a number of indications that they were not spiritually strong at this time. Seeing that idolatry was rife in Israel at this time (Ez. 20:6-8; Acts 7:43), it could be that there is reference here to something more than a purification ritual- an actual separation from idolatry or other sin which required a personal atonement to be made for them. 

Num 8:22 After that, the Levites went in to do their service in the Tent of Meeting before Aaron, and before his sons, as Yahweh had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them-

"After that" connects with the repentance and forgiveness of the Levites in :21. it demonstrates that acceptable service to God is only possible once personal sin and failure has been faced and dealt with.

Num 8:23 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,-
David numbered the Levites from 30 years old (1 Chron. 23:3), in accordance with the law which said Levites were to serve between the ages of 30 and 50 (Num. 4:3,23,35,39). But in 1 Chron. 23:24 we are told that David numbered the Levites from 20 years old. We note in Num. 8:23 that there appeared some flexibility within the Mosaic law; the Levites could be numbered from 25 years old. This is one of many examples of how the Mosaic law was not set in stone. It was principle and spirit rather than letter of the law, and within it there are examples of where one law overrode another, or one principle overrode letter of the law. The law was not designed as a simple test of obedience, for it was far more detailed than that. It was designed to inculcate a spirit of living which looked forward to the spirit of the Lord Jesus. And so David felt free to number the Levites from 20 years old, even though we also read that he numbered 'the Levites from 30 years old', suggesting that this was a technical term rather than a literal description. This would go toward explaining why 38,000 Levites were numbered by David, although "thousand" may mean a division rather than a literal 1000. At the time of Num. 4:47,48 there were only 8,580.

Num 8:24 This is that which belongs to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall go in to serve in the service in the work of the Tent of Meeting-
"This is that which belongs to the Levites" is a reference to the fact the Levites had no possessions of land within Israel. What belonged to them was the honour of serving God; whether or not we own property in this present age, our eternal possession is the honour of being God’s servants. To be a servant, in a world where perceived ‘freedom’ is so cherished, is to be our greatest possession.

Num 8:25 and from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting on the work, and shall serve no more-
The Levites were counted as fit for service from 30 years old in Num. 4:3, here from 25 to 50, and later from 20 years old with no maximum age (1 Chron. 23:27). We see here how the law of Moses was not a set of statutes which were set in stone for all time. There was constant flexibility of the letter of the law, in harmony with the spirit of the law. All suggestions that God's statutes once given can never be changed are simply failing to actually read the law of Moses and spot the intentional conflicts between the letters of the law. God is not a legalist nor a literalist, and His law was open to interpretation and ammendment, as we see in the 'second law' given in Deuteronomy. This was because He wanted His people to thoughtfully reflect upon His statutes, and to see them not as chain or leash, but as a springboard to personal relationship with Him.  

Num 8:26 but shall minister with their brothers in the Tent of Meeting, to perform the duty, and shall do no service. You shall do thus to the Levites concerning their duties-
"Service" is the word for military service; as "To wait upon the service" (:24) is literally "to war the warfare". The Levites were to see themselves as on constant, active service for Yahweh in the endless battle against sin and the flesh- which with their help was to move constantly towards the ultimate victory in the Lord Jesus.