Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Numbers 8:5-19, 23-26
5. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
5. Loquutusque est praeterea Jehova ipsi Mosi, dicendo:
6. Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them.
6. Cape Levitas e medio filiorum Israel, et purifices illos.
7. And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.
7. Sic autem facies illis ut purifices illos: sparge super eos aquam purificationis, et transire faciant novaculam super totam carnem suam, laventque vestimenta sua, et purificentur.
8. Then let them take a young bullock with his meat offering, even. fine flour mingled with oil, and another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin offering.
8. Postea capient juvencum filium bovis, et minham ejus similam conspersam oleo: et juvencum alterura filium bovis capies in sacrificium pro peccato.
9. And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together.
9. Tunc offeres Levitas coram tabernaculo conventionis: et congregabis omnem coetum filiorum Israel.
10. And thou shalt bring the Levites before the LORD: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites:
10. Offeres inquam Levitas eoram Jehova, et conjungent filii Israel marius suas super Levitas.
11. And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the LORD.
11. Offeretque Aharon Levitas in oblationem coram Jehova a filiis Israel, et ministrabunt in ministerio Jehovae.
12. And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and thou shalt offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, unto the LORD, to make an atonement for the Levites.
12. Levitae autem conjungent manus suas super caput juvencorum: postea facies unum pro peccato, et alterum in holocaustum Jehovae ad expiandum Levitas.
13. And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the LORD.
13. Statuesque Levitas coram Aharon et coram fillis ejus, et offeres illos oblationem Jehovae.
14. Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine.
14. Ac segregabis Levitas e medio filiorum Israel: erunt mei Levitae.
15. And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for an offering.
15. Posted autem venient Levitae ad ministrandum in tabernaculo conventionis, et expiabis illos, offeresque cos oblationem.
16. For they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel; instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn of all the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me.
16. Quid dati, dati inquam sunt mihi e medio filiorum Israel pro aperiente omnem vulvam, pro primogenito filiorum Israel accepi cos mihi.
17. For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself.
17. Meus est enim omnis primogenitus in filiis Israel tam hominum quam jumentorum: a die quo percussi omne primogenitum in terra AEgypti, sanctificavi illa mihi.
18. And I have taken the Levites for all the firstborn of the children of Israel.
18. Cepi autem Levitas pro onmi primogenito in filiis Israel.
19. And 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 tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an 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.
19. Et dedi Levitas dono datos Aharoni et filiis eius e medio filiorum Israeli, ut fungantur officio filiorum Israel in tabernaculo conventionis, et expient filios Israel: neque sit in filiis Israel plaga, quum ipsi appropinquaverint sanctuario.
23. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
23. Loquutns est autem Jehova ad Mosen, dicendo:
24. This is it that belongeth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the tabernacle of the congregation:
24. Hoc quoque est quod ad Levitas pertinet, vicesimo quinto anno et supra ingredientur militare militiara in cultu tabernaculi conventionis.
25. And from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more:
25. A quinquagesimo autem anno revertetur a militia cultus, nec ministrabit ultra:
26. But shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of the congregation, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their charge.
26. Sed ministrabit cum fratribus suis in tabernaculo conventionis, ut munere suo illi fungantur et ministerium non administrabit: sic facies de Levitis in custodiis eorum.
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. 177
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, 178 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; 179 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.
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.
This last sentence omitted in Fr.
Vide Nu 3:43-51.
“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.