Bible Commentary: Numbers 8

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Numbers 8

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Separating the Levites for Tabernacle Duty 

The system of sacrifices and offerings in the Old Testament often seems too complicated for us to grasp. Yet in this chapter another dimension is added—we see the Levites themselves being offered to God by Aaron as a wave offering—as if he lifts them up to present them to God for His acceptance. Indeed, waving overhead was the typical way of presenting something to God, who dwells above in heaven (compare Exodus 29:24-27 Exodus 29:24-27 [24] And you shall put all in the hands of Aaron, and in the hands of his sons; and shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. [25] And you shall receive them of their hands, and burn them on the altar for a burnt offering, for a sweet smell before the LORD: it is an offering made by fire to the LORD. [26] And you shall take the breast of the ram of Aaron's consecration, and wave it for a wave offering before the LORD: and it shall be your part. [27] And you shall sanctify the breast of the wave offering, and the shoulder of the heave offering, which is waved, and which is heaved up, of the ram of the consecration, even of that which is for Aaron, and of that which is for his sons:
American King James Version×
; Leviticus 7:30 Leviticus 7:30His own hands shall bring the offerings of the LORD made by fire, the fat with the breast, it shall he bring, that the breast may be waved for a wave offering before the LORD.
American King James Version×
, Leviticus 7:34 Leviticus 7:34For the wave breast and the heave shoulder have I taken of the children of Israel from off the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons by a statute for ever from among the children of Israel.
American King James Version×
; Leviticus 8:27 Leviticus 8:27And he put all on Aaron's hands, and on his sons' hands, and waved them for a wave offering before the LORD.
American King James Version×
, Leviticus 8:29 Leviticus 8:29And Moses took the breast, and waved it for a wave offering before the LORD: for of the ram of consecration it was Moses' part; as the LORD commanded Moses.
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). We see that God does accept the Levites, stating that they are now His (Numbers 8:14 Numbers 8:14Thus shall you separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine.
American King James Version×
).

Interestingly, the High Priest today, Jesus Christ, also "lifts" His servants—His priesthood the Church (see 1 Peter 2:5 1 Peter 2:5You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
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, 1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 2:9But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
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)—to present them before God the Father as if a wave offering. We find this in Ephesians 2:4-7 Ephesians 2:4-7 [4] But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, [5] Even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved;) [6] And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: [7] That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×
: "God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together [out of spiritual death and into God's presence], and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (emphasis added).

Of course, "the ages to come" is what we are really waiting for, when we will be perfected and sinless and given God's Kingdom. But we are "raised up" and "waved" before God for Him to accept us right now. And He does—thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that covers our sins. We find this portrayed in the ceremony that took place in ancient Israel on the Feast of Pentecost, when two leavened loaves of the firstfruits of the wheat harvest were waved before God. These "wave loaves" represented God's converted followers of Old and New Testament times, the "firstfruits" in God's plan of salvation (compare Romans 8:23 Romans 8:23And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
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; James 1:18 James 1:18Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
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; Revelation 14:1-4 Revelation 14:1-4 [1] And I looked, and, see, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. [2] And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: [3] And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. [4] These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits to God and to the Lamb.
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; Hebrews 12:23 Hebrews 12:23To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
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). The leaven shows that these firstfruits are not yet perfect and still beset with sin (see Leviticus 2:11-12 Leviticus 2:11-12 [11] No meat offering, which you shall bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven: for you shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the LORD made by fire. [12] As for the oblation of the first fruits, you shall offer them to the LORD: but they shall not be burnt on the altar for a sweet smell.
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 [6] Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? [7] Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: [8] Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×
; and highlights covering the grain offering in Leviticus 2). Yet the loaves were accepted because a sin offering was waved with them (see Leviticus 23:16-20 Leviticus 23:16-20 [16] Even to the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meat offering to the LORD. [17] You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to the LORD. [18] And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering to the LORD, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet smell to the LORD. [19] Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. [20] And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.
American King James Version×
). The same is true today. When Christ presents His followers before the Father, His perfect sacrifice is presented with them—and they are accepted.

Returning to the Levites, there was a training period of five years, a sort of apprenticeship, for them before they assumed their full duties at age 30 (verse 24; 4:3). After age 50, it seems they went into a kind of semi-retirement with limited duties (Numbers 8:25-26 Numbers 8:25-26 [25] And from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting on the service thereof, and shall serve no more: [26] But shall minister with their brothers in the tabernacle of the congregation, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites touching their charge.
American King James Version×
; Numbers 4:3 Numbers 4:3From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.
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).

The purpose of the laying on of hands, mentioned here, is to set someone apart for a specific purpose such as in ordinations and healings. The first mention of laying on of hands in the Scriptures is when Israel (Jacob) placed his blessing and name on Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:13 Genesis 48:13And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near to him.
American King James Version×
). In this case of the Levites, we see representatives of all Israel laying on their hands to set the Levites apart for the special service of the tabernacle (verse 10). The laying on of hands, according to the book of Hebrews, is one of the basic doctrines of the Bible (Hebrews 6:1-2 Hebrews 6:1-2 [1] Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, [2] Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
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).