Numbers 7-8 – The Voice

When Moses finished setting up the congregation tent, sanctifying, anointing, and setting apart it and everything in it—its furnishings, altar, and sacred receptacles, as befits God’s holy dwelling place, then Israel’s tribe leaders, the heads of their extended families, the leaders of everyone who had been organized and counted, came forward to make an offering. In total, they presented to the Eternal in His tent six covered carts (one for every two leaders) and twelve oxen to pull them (one for each leader). Then the Eternal One responded to the offering.

Logistical concerns are paramount with this new reality of a traveling nation. With their large numbers and their countless livestock, moving this caravan is a logistical nightmare. Just moving the congregation tent is a challenge, involving a number of families and special carts to carry the tons of layers of the tent and the many utensils for worship. The most holy items are carried manually, but without physical contact. Thus God provides a system of carrying poles fed through loops so the holy item is not touched. The actual arrangement of the caravan is also specified, as well as the arrangement of the tribes in relation to the congregation tent.

Eternal One (to Moses): Accept these things, and give them to those Levites who need them to service the congregation tent.

Moses did just that, distributing the gifts based on the needs of the Levites’ respective tasks: the Gershonites got two ox-carts and four oxen to haul the tents’ many coverings; the Merarites got four ox-carts and eight oxen to haul the tents’ heavy frames and stands, and Ithamar (Priest Aaron’s son) supervised them. The Kohathites didn’t get any because the sacred things for which they were responsible were smaller furnishings and could be carried on the men’s own shoulders. As the altar was being properly anointed, the leaders came forward at its dedication with their offerings because the Eternal had directed Moses to oversee that one leader per day came forward with his offering for the altar’s dedication.

Nahshon (Amminadab’s son) of the Judah tribe was first. He brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds (to hold the blood of sacrifices as it was dashed on the altar), according to the sanctuary scales. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. These are the things Nahshon, Amminadab’s son, brought forward.

On the second day, Nethanel (son of Zuar), head of the Issachar tribe, came forward with their offering—the same as the Judah family’s from the day before— bringing one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. This is what Nethanel, Zuar’s son, brought for an offering.

Eliab (son of Helon), head of the Zebulunite tribe, brought the third day’s offering— one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. This is what Eliab, Helon’s son, brought as an offering.

On the fourth day, Elizur (son of Shedeur), head of the Reubenite tribe, presented the offering. He, too, brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. These things Elizur (Shedeur’s son) presented as an offering.

On the fifth day, Shelumiel (son of Zurishaddai), head of the Simeonite tribe, brought the offering. Like those preceding, he brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. This is what Shelumiel (Zurishaddai’s son) brought.

On the sixth day, Eliasaph (son of Deuel), head of the Gadite tribe, like those before him, brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. This is what Eliasaph (Deuel’s son) brought as an offering.

Elishama (son of Ammihud), head of the Ephraimite half-tribe, brought the seventh day’s offering. He also brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. These things Elishama (Ammihud’s son) offered.

Gamaliel (son of Pedahzur), head of the Manassehite half-tribe, brought the offering on the eighth day. He brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. So Gamaliel (Pedahzur’s son) brought the same offering as his Israelite brothers had on each of the days before.

On the ninth day, Abidan (son of Gideoni), head of the Benjaminite tribe, also brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. These things Abidan (Gideoni’s son) offered.

On the tenth day, Ahiezer (son of Ammishaddai), head of the Danite tribe, brought the same offering: He brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. This is what Ahiezer (Ammishaddai’s son) brought as an offering.

Pagiel (son of Ochran), head of the Asherite tribe, brought the eleventh day’s offering, which consisted of the same things: He brought one silver plate weighing three and one-quarter pounds and one silver bowl of one and three-quarter pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. This is what Pagiel (Ochran’s son) offered.

On the 12th day, Ahira (son of Enan), head of the Naphtalite tribe, brought one silver plate weighing 3¼ pounds and one silver bowl of 1¾ pounds, as the sanctuary weighs things. Both were filled with prime flour mixed with oil to compose a grain offering. He also brought one gold dish (four ounces in weight) filled with incense; and for a burnt offering, he brought a young bull, a ram, and a yearling male lamb. For a sin offering, he brought one male goat; and for a peace offering sacrifice, he brought two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling male lambs. Like those before him, Ahira (Enan’s son) brought these things to offer.

This is what the heads of the Israelite families offered up at the occasion of the altar’s dedication (when it was anointed): 12 silver plates, 12 silver bowls (to hold the blood of sacrifices as it was dashed on the altar), and 12 gold dishes. Because each plate weighed 3¼ pounds and each bowl weighed 1¾ pounds, the total silver was 60 pounds (based on the sanctuary standard); and the 12 gold, incense-filled dishes all together weighed three pounds; and for the burnt offering, there was a total of 12 bulls, 12 rams, 12 male yearling lambs, plus the grain offering and the 12 male goats for the sin offering. As for the peace offering, there were 24 oxen, 60 rams, 60 male goats, and 60 male yearling lambs. All of these were for the altar’s dedication after it was anointed.

So it was established. When Moses went into the congregation tent to speak to them, he could hear the voice of God speaking to him from between the winged guardians above the seat of mercy on the covenant chest. Thus the Eternal spoke to Moses.

The Eternal One told Moses,

Eternal One: Tell Aaron that when he sets up the seven lamps, they should illuminate the area in front of the lampstand.

Aaron did just that, arranging the lamps so that they shed light in front of the lampstand across from the presence table, exactly as the Eternal One had instructed Moses. The lampstand itself was made entirely out of hammered gold, its stem and all the petals, in keeping with the pattern the Eternal had given to Moses.

The Eternal One continued.

Eternal One (to Moses): Separate the Levites from the other Israelites, and make them ritually pure by sprinkling the cleansing water on them, making sure their entire bodies are clean-shaven and their clothes are washed. Then they’ll be appropriately pure. After that, tell them to select a bull-calf along with the prime flour-oil combination (the grain offering). You, too, select another bull-calf for use as a sin offering. Get the Levites to the congregation tent, and have them stand in front of it. Gather all the other Israelites, too, so that when you present the Levites before Me, the Israelites can lay hands on them to indicate that they are the substitutes for all Israel’s firstbornAt that point, Aaron shall present the Levites as an offering lifted up to Me, so that the Levites will work on behalf of all the Israelites in service to Me. Next, the Levites can lay their hands on the bulls’ heads, one of which is going to be a sin offering to Me, and the other will be a burnt offering to cover the Levites, hiding their sins and protecting them from My presenceFinally, make clear that the Levites are to assist Aaron and Aaron’s sons, lifting them up in front of and for Me to demonstrate that they are that kind of offering. In this way, you will show how the Levites are distinct from all other Israelites. They belong directly to Me.

After all of this, the purification and presentation as an uplifted offering, they will be ready to do congregation tent maintenance and work. Indeed, they are uniquely designated for Me among the Israelites. Those Levites substitute for the Israelites’ firstborn children and animals, which I am within My rights to demand since I killed all the Egyptian firstborn on My peoples’ behalf and so consecrated all Israelite firstborn as My own. But see, I am willing to accept this representative group—that the Levites, from among the Israelites, will be Mine, given to Aaron and his sons from the Israelite people to do whatever is required concerning the congregation tent: maintaining its service and covering Israel’s sins for them so they don’t make Me send a plague to them because they overstepped the bounds of My sanctuary.

Everyone did as ordered—Moses, Aaron, and all the Israelites gathered there—handling the Levites exactly as the Eternal One had instructed Moses to be sure was done: the Levites washed their clothes and purified themselves, Aaron presented them as an uplifted offering in front of the Eternal, and Aaron covered them in front of Him so they would look pure. From then on, they were all set to do what they were supposed to in maintenance and work on the congregation tent, under the direction and supervision of Aaron and his sons. Just as the Eternal had instructed Moses concerning the Levites, so it was done.

The Eternal One continued.

Just like in Leviticus 4:23, the language of 8:24 suggests that the priestly duty is associated not only with divine service but with divine war. Certain Levites of certain ages would maintain sacred space and behavior as Israel prepared to conquer the land.

Eternal One (to Moses): This is how it shall be for the Levites: Those who are 25 years or older shall do whatever is necessary for the congregation tent, but when they reach 50, they shall retire and leave the work to the younger ones. They can still help out in the fraternity of Levites occasionally, but they shouldn’t do any of the priestly work. This is the way you should handle the matter of the Levites and their role.

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