Commentary on Numbers 8:1-4

Notes (NET Translation)

1 The LORD spoke to Moses:

The placement of this passage in the present cycle sequence serves two purposes. (1) Since in chap. 7 the heads of the twelve tribes bring offerings for the tabernacle celebration, in chap. 8 the head of the tribe of Levi is provided instruction for the proper arrangement of and attendance to the lampstand, which enables the celebration to continue within the tabernacle enclosure. (2) It provides continuity and expansion of previous tabernacle and priestly related material.1

2 “Speak to Aaron and tell him, ‘When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps are to give light in front of the lampstand.'”

The instructions are for Aaron because only the high priest performed cultic service inside the tent. The lampstand, or menorah, “is shaped like a flowering tree with seven branches and symbolizes the life-giving power and light of God’s presence.”2 The number seven symbolizes completeness or perfection. Light is to be directed towards the front of the lampstand, where the altar of incense and table of the bread of presence are located. Such an arrangement portrays visually God’s intention that his people live continually in his presence.

3 And Aaron did so; he set up the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the LORD commanded Moses.

This passage stresses where the lamps faced and that the commandments were fulfilled.

4 This is how the lampstand was made: It was beaten work in gold; from its shaft to its flowers it was beaten work. According to the pattern which the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.

For more on the lampstand see Ex 25:31-40; 26:35; 27:20-21; 30:7-8; 37:17-24; 40:4; Lev 24:1-4.

Comment

Carol L. Meyers has demonstrated convincingly that the design of the Tabernacle menorah stems from the Mosaic, Late Bronze period. Her main evidence is the following:

  1. The six branches plus central axis configuration of the menorah is the form assumed by the stylized tree in the decorative motifs that predominate in the Mesopotamian, Aegean, and Syro-Palestinian regions during the Late Bronze Age.

  2. It would have been constructed according to artistic procedures that prevailed in Syro-Palestine while under Egyptian hegemony during the Late Bronze Age. For example, the ring or series of rings found on lampstands from earliest times turns into a series of downward-turned floral capitals, a design first found on Palestinian pottery in the Late Bronze Age.

  3. The double bowl (or “cup and saucer”) lamp (gaviaʿ, Exod. 25:31) appears in Palestine from the end of the Late Bronze Age until it dies out in the sixth century.

  4. The thickened lower portion of the stem (yarekh, 8:4) is not attested past the Iron Age, when it begins to be replaced by a tripodal metal stand.

  5. Acacia wood used in the manufacture of the other Tabernacle sancta (e.g., the Ark, Exod. 25:11; the table of Presence, Exod. 25:24; the incense altar, Exod. 30:3; the pillars supporting the veil, Exod. 26:32–like the menorah plated with gold) was probably the material used for the menorah. Acacia wood is indigenous mainly to the desert areas south of Canaan where Israel was located during its wilderness sojourn.

  6. Vegetal motifs (kaneh, “reed”; meshukadim, “almond-shaped”; peraḥ, “lily”; kaftor, “apple or pear,” Exod. 25:33) are the trademarks of ancient Egyptian art that would have provided the artistic frame of reference for the Hebrew craftsmen.

  7. The objection that the Tabernacle menorah was too costly and intricate to have been conceived and executed by a seminomadic people in the wilderness is parried by the following considerations:

a. That Israel could not adjust to wilderness life but pined for the settled life of Egypt is a recurrent motif of the wilderness narratives (e.g., 11:4–5; 14:1–3). Israel, then, was much more at home in Egypt, whose civilization, especially its artistic development, was highly advanced.

b. Israel suffered no shortage of precious metals for the construction of the menorah: It had despoiled the Egyptians (Exod. 3:22; 12:35–36; and especially Ps. 105:37).

c. The Egyptian origin of the production techniques evidenced in the menorah is best explained by the apprenticeship of Israel’s artisans (Bezalel and his assistants, Exod. 35:30–36:6) to Egyptian craftsmen. Indeed, Aaron too is said to have fashioned the golden calf (Exod. 32:4). This situation contrasts sharply with the Solomonic period, when a foreign artisan (Hiram, 1 Kings 7:13) had to be imported for the construction of the Temple and its furnishings.

  1. Perhaps the most telling evidence of the antiquity of the menorah is its subsequent history. Whereas the Tabernacle menorah corresponds in detail to the lampstands of the Late Bronze Age, its successors in Solomon’s Temple and in later exemplars (e.g., Zech. 4:1–3, 11–14) are of an entirely different design and construction.3

Bibliography

Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Kindle Edition. The New American Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah. First Edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2001.

Levine, Baruch A. Numbers 1-20. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers. Kindle Edition. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2015.


  1. Cole 2000, Kindle Locations 4208-4212 
  2. Mays 2000, 171 
  3. Milgrom 1990, 367 
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