Separating the Levites for Tabernacle Duty (Numbers 8)
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 addedwe see the Levites themselves being offered to God by Aaron as a wave offeringas 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, 26, 27; Leviticus 7:30, 34; 8:27, 29). We see that God does accept the Levites, stating that they are now His (Numbers 8:14).
Interestingly, the High Priest today, Jesus Christ, also "lifts" His servantsHis priesthood the Church (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9)to present them before God the Father as if a wave offering. We find this in Ephesians 2:4-7: "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 doesthanks 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; James 1:18; Revelation 14:1-4; Hebrews 12:23). The leaven shows that these firstfruits are not yet perfect and still beset with sin (see Leviticus 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 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). The same is true today. When Christ presents His followers before the Father, His perfect sacrifice is presented with themand 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 (8:25-26; 4:3).
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). 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 (6:1-2).