Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Presentation of Dedicatory Gifts by the Princes of the Tribes. - Num 7:1. This presentation took place at the time (יום) when Moses, after having completed the erection of the tabernacle, anointed and sanctified the dwelling and the altar, together with their furniture (Lev 8:10-11). Chronologically considered, this ought to have been noticed after Lev 8:10. But in order to avoid interrupting the connection of the Sinaitic laws, it is introduced for the first time at this point, and placed at the head of the events which immediately preceded the departure of the people from Sinai, because these gifts consisted in part of materials that were indispensably necessary for the transport of the tabernacle during the march through the desert. Moreover, there was only an interval of at the most forty days between the anointing of the tabernacle, which commenced after the first day of the first month (cf. Exo 40:16 and Lev 8:10), and lasted eight days, and the departure from Sinai, on the twentieth day of the second month (Num 10:11), and from this we have to deduct six days for the Passover, which took place before their departure (Num 9:1.); and it was within this period that the laws and ordinances from Lev 11 to Num 6 had to be published, and the dedicatory offerings to be presented. Now, as the presentation itself was distributed, according to Num 7:11., over twelve or thirteen days, we may very well assume that it did not entirely precede the publication of the laws referred to, but was carried on in part contemporaneously with it. The presentation of the dedicatory gifts of one tribe-prince might possibly occupy only a few hours of the day appointed for the purpose; and the rest of the day, therefore, might very conveniently be made use of by Moses for publishing the laws. In this case the short space of a month and a few days would be amply sufficient for everything that took place.
The presentation of six waggons and twelve oxen for the carriage of the materials of the tabernacle is mentioned first, and was no doubt the first thing that took place. The princes of Israel, viz., the heads of the tribe-houses (fathers' houses), or princes of the tribes (see Num 1:4.), "those who stood over those that were numbered," i.e., who were their leaders or rulers, offered as their sacrificial gift six covered waggons and twelve oxen, one ox for each prince, and a waggon for every two. צב עגלת, ἁμάξας λαμπηνίκας (lxx), i.e., according to Euseb. Emis., two-wheeled vehicles, though the Greek scholiasts explain λαμπήνη as signifying ἅμαξα περιφανής, βασιλικὴ and ῥέδιον περιφανὲς ὁ ἐστὶν ἅρμα σκεπαστόν (cf. Schleussner, Lex. in lxx s.v.), and Aquila, ἅμαξαι σκεπασταί, i.e., plaustra tecta (Vulg. and Rabb.). The meaning "litters," which Gesenius and De Wette support, can neither be defended etymologically, nor based upon צבּים in Isa 66:20.
At the command of God, Moses received them to apply them to the purposes of the tabernacle, and handed them over to the Levites, "to every one according to the measure of his service," i.e., to the different classes of Levites, according to the requirements of their respective duties.
He gave two waggons and four oxen to the Gershonites, and four waggons and eight oxen to the Merarites, as the former had less weight to carry, in the coverings and curtains of the dwelling and the hangings of the court, than the latter, who had to take charge of the beams and pillars (Num 4:24., Num 4:31.). "Under the hand of Ithamar" (Num 7:8); as in Num 4:28, Num 4:33. The Kohathites received no waggon, because it was their place to attend to "the sanctuary" (the holy), i.e., the holy things, which had to be conveyed upon their shoulders, and were provided with poles for the purpose (Num 4:4.).
Presentation of dedicatory gifts for the altar. - Num 7:10. Every prince offered "the dedication of the altar," i.e., what served for the dedication of the altar, equivalent to his sacrificial gift for the consecration of the altar, "on the day," i.e., at the time, "that they anointed it." "Day:" as in Gen 2:4. Moses was directed by God to receive the gifts from the princes on separate days, one after another; so that the presentation extended over twelve days. The reason for this regulation was not to make a greater display, as Knobel supposes, or to avoid cutting short the important ceremony of consecration, but was involved in the very nature of the gifts presented. Each prince, for example, offered, (1) a silver dish (kearah, Exo 25:29) of 130 sacred shekels weight, i.e., about 4 1/2 lbs.; (2) a silver bowl (mizrak, a sacrificial bowl, not a sacrificial can, or wine-can, as in Exo 27:3) of 70 shekels weight, both filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meat-offering; (3) a golden spoon (caph, as in Exo 25:29) filled with incense for an incense-offering; (4) a bullock, a ram, and a sheep of a year old for a burnt-offering; (5) a shaggy goat for a sin-offering; (5) two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five sheep of a year old for a peace-offering. Out of these gifts the fine flour, the incense, and the sacrificial animals were intended for sacrificing upon the altar, and that not as a provision for a lengthened period, but for immediate use in the way prescribed. This could not have been carried out if more than one prince had presented his gifts, and brought them to be sacrificed on any one day. For the limited space in the court of the tabernacle would not have allowed of 252 animals being received, slaughtered, and prepared for sacrificing all at once, or on the same day; and it would have been also impossible to burn 36 whole animals (oxen, rams, and sheep), and the fat portions of 216 animals, upon the altar.
All the princes brought the same gifts. The order in which the twelve princes, whose names have already been given at Num 1:5-15, made their presentation, corresponded to the order of the tribes in the camp (ch. 2), the tribe-prince of Judah taking the lead, and the prince of Naphtali coming last. In the statements as to the weight of the silver kearoth and the golden cappoth, the word shekel is invariably omitted, as in Gen 20:16, etc. - In Num 7:84-86, the dedication gifts are summed up, and the total weight given, viz., twelve silver dishes and twelve silver bowls, weighing together 2400 shekels, and twelve golden spoons, weighing 120 shekels in all. On the sacred shekel, see at Exo 30:13; and on the probable value of the shekel of gold, at Exo 38:24-25. The sacrificial animals are added together in the same way in Num 7:87, Num 7:88.
Whilst the tribe-princes had thus given to the altar the consecration of a sanctuary of their God, through their sacrificial gifts, Jehovah acknowledged it as His sanctuary, by causing Moses, when he went into the tabernacle to speak to Him, and to present his own entreaties and those of the people, to hear the voice of Him that spake to him from between the two cherubim upon the ark of the covenant. The suffix in אתּו points back to the name Jehovah, which, though not expressly mentioned before, is contained implicite in ohel mod, "the tent of meeting." For the holy tent became an ohel mod first of all, from the fact that it was there that Jehovah appeared to Moses, or met with him (נועד, Exo 25:22). מדּבּר, part. Hithpael, to hold conversation. On the fact itself, see the explanation in Exo 25:20, Exo 25:22. "This voice from the inmost sanctuary of Moses, the representative of Israel, was Jehovah's reply to the joyfulness and readiness with which the princes of Israel responded to Him, and made the tent, so far as they were concerned, a place of holy meeting"' (Baumg.). This was the reason for connecting the remark in Num 7:89 with the account of the dedicatory gifts.