Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 1st, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 8

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-26

Numbers 8:7 . Water of purifying, or the water of sin, made with the ashes of the red heifer. Numbers 19:9.

Numbers 8:19 . To do the service. The great and awful work of expiation belongs solely to the priests; but the levites, exempt from military duty, did all the laborious work, and aided the priests no doubt in carrying forth the ashes from under the altar. They had an arduous duty also in assembling the congregation of the Lord. Besides this they kept the gates of the sanctuary, and watched in courses by night. In the temple an officer went round at pleasure, to see that every levite was awake and doing his duty. If he found a man asleep he opened his lantern, and set fire to his clothes, striking him at the same time a severe blow with his staff, lest he should be burnt to death. A further punishment followed from the ridicule of his companions. One would ask, what is that cry? And another would answer, It is the cry of a beaten levite, whose coat is burnt. This custom assigns a reason for that singular expression in the Revelation: Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments: Revelation 16:15.

Numbers 8:26 . To keep the charge, and do no service. Aged ministers, cool, wise, and experienced in the work of the Lord, were to maintain truth, and give paternal checks to the novelties and untried ardours of youth.


When Aaron had lighted the seven lamps, the dark tabernacle exhibited a scene of illumination and joy becoming the presence and glorious pavilion of the Most High. So in the spiritual sanctuary, the Lord God and the Lamb are the light of the place; and all his ministers and saints shine by reflection, in the glory of righteousness and truth. The body of this candlestick was one piece of beaten gold, to show that the churches and their ministers are one body, and one spirit in the Lord; and that living in him, they every moment receive light and heat from the source of all good. The bowls, knops and flowers, seem to shadow forth the adornings of God our Saviour in the gifts and graces of his Holy Spirit.

We have next the separation and cleansing of the levites, which was virtually the same as the priests. They were sprinkled with the water of separation they washed and shaved their flesh they put on clean raiment they were purified with the blood of bullocks slain for sin. The congregation of the elders lay their hands upon their heads, ordaining them a sort of perpetual deacons unto God, and as a nation of firstborn sons to his glory. A heave-offering of thanksgiving was swung round, to mark the extent of their ministry, east, west, north and south; and in this they were a true figure of the ministers of Jesus Christ, sent to preach the gospel to every creature. Lastly, they began their ministry with humility, being probationers from the age of twenty five to thirty. And what, on the one hand, could excite men to purity of heart more than all these ceremonial cleansings; and what on the other, could expose them to greater contempt among the people than to see them after all, habituated to drunkenness, to covetousness, and other corrupt affections? To men so degenerate our Saviour said, Woe unto you scribes and pharisees, hypocrites; for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within ye are full of bribery and excess. Let all christian ministers hear this sentence, and be sanctified to God.

It is somewhat remarkable that the service of the levites, should here be called a military service in the work of the tabernacle. It surely taught them the great exertions they should use against idolatry and vice; and the watchings and zeal they should show by day and by night for the advancement and glory of the true religion. In this view we seem to hear St. Paul saying to all preachers, as to Timothy, War a good warfare; fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life. Unless we fight out of the pulpit, as well as preach in it against the vices of the age, we shall not succeed in the arduous conflict.

The Lord graciously provided that the worn out levite should retire from hard labour at the age of fifty, or at least that he should not be required to do any thing unsuited to his strength; nor was his portion of the tenths taken away. Let all christians learn hence, that their aged ministers are not to want bread. If they cry under the pressure of hunger or cold, the Lord will surely make their quarrel his own, and avenge their wrongs.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 8". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/numbers-8.html. 1835.
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