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8. Setting Apart of Levites
1And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, 2Speak unto Aaron, and say unto him, When thou lightest the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick. 3And Aaron did so; he lighted the lamps thereof so as to give light in front of the candlestick, as Jehovah commanded Moses. 4And this was the work of the candlestick, beaten work of gold; unto the base thereof, and unto the flowers thereof, it was beaten work: according unto the pattern which Jehovah had showed Moses, so he made the candlestick.
5And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, 6Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them. 7And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of expiation upon them, and let them cause a razor to pass over all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and cleanse themselves. 8Then let them take a young bullock, and its meal-offering, fine flour mingled with oil; and another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin-offering. 9And thou shalt present the Levites before the tent of meeting: and thou shalt assemble the whole congregation of the children of Israel: 10and thou shalt present the Levites before Jehovah. And the children of Israel shall lay their hands upon the Levites: 11and Aaron shall offer the Levites before Jehovah for a wave-offering, on the behalf of the children of Israel, that it may be theirs to do the service of Jehovah. 12And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and offer thou the one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering, unto Jehovah, to make atonement for the Levites. 13And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for a wave-offering unto Jehovah.
14Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be mine. 15And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tent of meeting: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for a wave-offering. 16For they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel; instead of all that openeth the womb, even the first-born of all the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me. 17For all the first-born among the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself. 18And I have taken the Levites instead of all the first-born among the children of Israel. 19And 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 nigh unto the sanctuary.
20Thus did Moses, and Aaron, and all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the Levites: according unto all that Jehovah commanded Moses touching the Levites, so did the children of Israel unto them. 21And the Levites purified themselves from sin, and they washed their clothes: and Aaron offered them for a wave-offering before Jehovah; and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them. 22And after that went the Levites in to do their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron, and before his sons: as Jehovah had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so did they unto them.
23And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, 24This is that which belongeth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service in the work of the tent of meeting: 25and from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the work, and shall serve no more, 26but shall minister with their brethren in the tent of meeting, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their charges.
89. And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle There seems at first sight to be a kind of contradiction between this passage and the other, in which we saw that a thick cloud stood in the door of the tabernacle, so that Moses could not enter it. It might, indeed, be answered that this only occurred once; but to me it appears more probable that, Moses sought the replies of God at the mercy-seat, until Aaron began to exercise the priesthood, and then abandoned his dignity, which was only temporary, as far as regarded the entering of the sanctuary. For we know that by the established Law of God the priesthood was distinct from the civil government; and therefore that he could not, except by special privilege, be at the same time the leader and the priest. 404404 This sentence is omitted in Fr. If this exposition be accepted, he does not here record in its proper place that answers were given to him by God from the mercy-seat; since it is by no means unusual that what has preceded in order of time should be annexed at the end of a narrative. His intention, indeed, was to declare to posterity that God had not promised in vain that the Israelites should experience the presence of His favor; because He had chosen His dwelling-place in the sanctuary, to sit between the cherubim. By this testimony, therefore, of God’s grace, the external anointing was ratified and confirmed, inasmuch as God appeared to Moses upon the Ark of the Covenant.
2 When thou lightest the lamps. This precept, like many others, is not inserted in its proper place. Moses again declares what was the use of the candlestick, and how the lamps should be arranged, so that their light might be spread through the sanctuary, and that the brightness of the gold might shine over against them; for this was the reason why God would have the lamps lighted against the face of, or opposite to, the candlestick, that the very stand of the light might retain its beauty. Moreover, it is expressly stated that Aaron obeyed God’s command, as if in no despicable matter, as he had received it from Moses. To this also refers what immediately follows, that it was made “according unto the pattern” which Moses had seen in the mount; and this was, as I have before explained it, that God is the Father of lights, who illuminates His Church by His Spirit, that it may not wander in darkness; and so, whilst darkness covers the whole earth, He is as an everlasting light to believers instead of the sun and moon, as says Isaiah 60:19
5. And the Lord spake unto Moses. Although the Levites were not allowed to go into the sanctuary, but were only the priests’ ministers, and chiefly employed in servile duties, yet, inasmuch as they carried the tabernacle and the sacred vessels, prepared the sacrifices, took away the ashes and other offscourings from the altar, God would have them consecrated to Himself by a solemn rite. For as all Israel, with respect to the Gentiles, was God’s peculiar people, so the house of Levi was chosen out of the people itself to be His own property, as it is here said. But, lest they should arrogate to themselves more than was right, God anticipates their presumption: first, by putting off their consecration for some time; secondly, by desiring that they should not be initiated by Moses, but by Aaron; and thirdly, by appointing a different ceremony for it. For, if they had been initiated at the same time as the priests, under this pretext they might have contended to be on an equality with them; therefore, although the priests were already separated from the common people, yet the Levites still remain unconsecrated, (privati,) in order that they may learn to reverence the priestly office. And again, since, if they had been dedicated likewise by Moses, there was a danger of their being puffed up with pride against all others, Aaron is appointed to preside over their consecration, that they may modestly submit themselves to his authority. Since, too, they were only purified by water, and sacrifice, and without the addition of anointing, the difference in the external rite reminded them that their degree of honor was not similar or the same.
6. Take the Levites from among. To take them from among the children of Israel, is equivalent to subtracting them from the number of the people, that they might not be included in the general census, and accounted to be one of the tribes. This separation, then, as he will more clearly express a little further on, devoted the Levites to God for the service of the sanctuary. That under this pretext the Papal clergy should claim immunity for themselves, so that they may live as they like in exemption from the laws, is not only an unsound deduction, but one full of impious mockery; for, since the ancient priesthood attained its end in Christ, the succession, which they allege, robs Christ of His right, as if the full truth had not been manifested in Him. Besides, inasmuch as all their privileges only depend on the primacy of the Pope, if they would have them ratified they must needs prove, first of all, that the Pope is appointed by God’s command to be the head of the whole Church, and therefore that he is the successor of Christ. As to Aaron, since he was the minister of their installation, in this way he was set over the Levites to rule them at his discretion. Meanwhile this ministry is thus entrusted to a man, in such a manner as not to stand in the way of God’s gratuitous good pleasure.
7. And thus shalt thou do unto them. Aaron is commanded first to sprinkle the water of purifying upon them, to cleanse them from their uncleanness; and not only so, but they are commanded to wash their clothes, that they may diligently beware of any impurity being anywhere about them, whereby their persons may be infected. Thirdly, they are commanded to shave their skin with a razor, that, putting off their flesh, they may begin to be new men. A sacrifice is afterwards added, and that twofold, to make an atonement for them. These things being completed, Aaron, in right and to the honor of the priesthood, is commanded to offer them just like the holy bread or incense. But the end of this was, that they might acknowledge that they were no longer their own masters, but devoted to God, that they might engage themselves in the service of the sanctuary. It was in testimony of alienation that some of the people were ordered at the same time to lay their hands upon them; as if by this ceremony all the tribes bore witness that with their consent the Levites passed over to be God’s peculiar property, that they might be a part or appendage of the sanctuary. For private individuals (as we shall see hereafter) were accustomed to lay their hands on their sacrifices, yet not with the same object as the priests. 177177 This last sentence omitted in Fr.
16. For they are wholly given. Lest the other tribes should complain that the number of the people was diminished, God declares that the Levites were alienated from the race of Abraham, since He had acquired them to Himself when He smote all the first-born of Egypt; for it is certain that the first-born of the people, as well as those of their animals, were miraculously rescued from the common destruction. Since, then, God delivered them by special privilege, He thus bound them to Himself by the blessing of their redemption. But this reason would seem no longer to hold good, when God, in demanding the price of redemption, set the first-born free, 178178 Vide Numbers 3:43-51. as was elsewhere stated; else He would require the same thing twice over, which would be unjust. The solution, however, of this is easy; when, in the first census, the first-born of the twelve tribes were counted, they were found to exceed the Levites in number. An exchange was then made, viz., that all the first-born of the twelve tribes, being 22,000 in number, should be free from the tribute, and that God should take the Levites in their place as His ministers. Only 273 were redeemed, because this was the excess of their number above that of the Levites. Thus was it brought to pass, that God was content with these just and equal terms, so as not to oppress the people by a heavy burden. But this compensation, which was only made on that one particular day, did not prevent the Israelites from owing their children, who were not then born, to God. Since, then, this obligation still lay upon them as regarded their posterity, the law was passed that they should redeem their first-born. If any should object that it was not fair for those who should be born of the Levites to be consecrated to God, — I reply, that on this point there was no unfairness, for of whatever tribe they might be descended, they were already His property, together with all their offspring; the condition of the people was not therefore made worse by the exchange; and hence, in all equity, God appointed for the future at what price the Israelites should redeem their first-born. In saying that they were “given” to Him, He means to assert that they were His by compact; 179179 “En disant qu’ils luy ont este donnez, il n’entend pas que ce soit de don gratuit, mais qu’ils luy appartienent comme de paction faite;” in saying that they were given to Him, He does not mean as a gratuitous gift, but that they belonged to Him as by agreement made. — Fr. and in this sense He declares that from the day in which He smote the first-born of Egypt, the first-born of Israel had become His; and then adds, that He then took the Levites; as much as to say, that He only dealt with his people with respect to the time past.
19. And I have given the Levites. He declares on what terms He desires to have them as His own, viz., that they may be directed by Aaron, and obey his commands; for by “a gift” is not to be understood such an act as that whereby a person resigns and cedes his own right to another; but, when He devotes them to the ministry of the sanctuary, He desires that they should have a leader and master. At the end of the verse, Moses teaches that this is done for the advantage and profit of the whole people: whence it follows, that there was no room for ill-will towards them, unless the people should perhaps be annoyed that God had taken measures for their welfare. A two-fold advantage is pointed out; first, because they were to be the intercessors or ministers of reconciliation, (for either sense would be appropriate;) secondly, because, whilst they would be the guardians of the sanctuary, they would prevent the Israelites from bringing destruction upon themselves, by their rash approach to it.
20. And Moses, and Aaron, and all the congregation The Levites also are now inaugurated for the performance of their duties, but in their proper order, because their condition was inferior. Here it must be noted that the sons of Moses and their descendants were placed in this lower rank, and excluded from all expectation of the priesthood. Hence the ingratitude of the whole people, and especially of the tribe of Levi, was all the more base, when they presumptuously sought the honor from which Moses had shut out his children for ever. It was then no ordinary act of obedience in him to execute what God had appointed respecting the Levites. Aaron is here mentioned, because he consecrated the Levites in right of his priesthood. As regards the people, their consent is merely commended, because they agreed to what was the pleasure of God. But this virtue in them only increased their ignominy afterwards, when they sought to overthrow that divine decree of which they had approved.
21. And the Levites were purified, and they washed their clothes We have already spoken of the washing, for since it was required of all private individuals, much less would it be allowable for the Levites to handle the sacred things, unless they were first purified. But what follows as to their presentation by the hands of Aaron, was a shadowing forth by symbol of the truth, which at length shone out at the coming of Christ; for it had been of old predicted by the Prophets, that, in the renovation of the Church, those who had hitherto been but of the multitude should become Levites. Therefore, by this figure, God would declare that none even of His elect servants would be approved of and accepted by Him, unless sanctified by the one Priest. 415415 Addition in Fr., “Auquel ceste dignita a este commise;” to whom this dignity has been entrusted. And thence an atonement is joined with their offering, in order that the Levites might be pure.
22. And after that went the Levites in to do their service In these words Moses signifies that, in the type, nothing was omitted relative to the ancient priesthood which pertains to the legitimate service of God, the main point in which is obedience, and thence the purity which flows from it. The Levites are said to have done their service before Aaron, because they humbly submitted themselves to the yoke, and allowed themselves to be controlled by the will of the priest, since God had so enjoined. But the progress of the history will presently shew how prone man’s nature is to rebellion. Hence it arises that the end does not always correspond with the beginning, but that sad and unhappy conclusions sometimes follow successful commencements.
24. This is it, that belongeth to the Levites. The age is here prescribed when the Levites should begin and end the execution of their office. God commands them to commence in their 25th year and grants them their dismissal in their 50th; and for both these provisions there is very good reason. For, if they had been admitted in early youth, their levity might have greatly detracted from the reverence due to sacred things: not only because those, whose manhood is not yet mature, are generally given to pleasure and intemperance, but because either by negligence, or levity, or want of thought, or ignorance and error, they might have made many grievous mistakes in the service of God; and, whilst they were by no means fitted to exercise their charge until they should have attained prudence and gravity, so also, lest they should fail from old age, it was right that they should be seasonably dismissed; for as we have before said, their duties were laborious, and such as demanded bodily strength. If, however, any should choose to make an application of this to the pastoral office, it should be generally remembered, that none should be chosen to it except such as have already given proofs of their moderation, and float those who diligently devote themselves to it should not be unreasonably pressed upon, nor should more be required of them than their ability can bear; for some foolishly count their years, as if it were a sin to choose a pastor before his 24th year, although he might be otherwise fully provided with the necessary qualifications.