Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentNUMBERS 7
This remarkable chapter is not "the longest chapter in the Bible,"F1 because it is far exceeded in length by Ps. 119. However, it is the longest in the Pentateuch, having 89 verses.
Critical comments focus upon the first verse which has, "It came to pass on the day that Moses made an end of setting up the tabernacle ... etc." The problem with this is alleged to be the "inaccuracy" of that date, but the critics have simply misunderstood the meaning of "on that day," which has simply the meaning of "in that period of time." Exactly the same thing is observable in Gen. 2:4. "In the day that God made earth and heaven." "Day" in that passage, as also in this one, refers merely to a connection with that period of history and should not be understood as a "day" chronologically pinpointed. There was not "one day" in creation; there were six! Many discerning scholars have commented on this.
This is not a specific day. The meaning is simply that after Moses had completed the setting up, and anointing, etc., then the princes offered their offerings (Numbers 7:88).F2 "Day," here, must be taken in a general sense, meaning "about that time."F3 The majority of commentators today read "day" here as in Gen. 2:4, as meaning "at that time."F4
Only those commentators trying to find a "contradiction" in the sacred text have trouble understanding what is meant here. The Mosaic authorship is NOT here compromised in any manner. Not only certain words (as in Num. 7:10), but the exceedingly tedious repetition are all marks of the period about 1460 B.C., being altogether atypical of anything that could have been produced by a post-exilic priesthood.
The master theme of this chapter is that of the gifts of the princes of Israel for the dedication of the holy altar. They also provided the covered wagons that would be needed momentarily in the departure of Israel from Sinai. In fact, it appears that that impending departure might have been the very occasion, as well as the motivation, for the contribution of the wagons that would be needed in moving the heavier elements of the tabernacle.
And it came to pass on the day that Moses had made an end of setting up the tabernacle, and had anointed it and sanctified it, and all the furniture thereof, and the altar and all the vessels thereof, and had anointed them and sanctified them; that the princes of Israel, the heads of their fathers' houses, offered. These were the princes of the tribes, these are they that were over them that were numbered: and they brought their oblation before Jehovah, six covered wagons, and twelve oxen; a wagon for every two of the princes, and for each one an ox: and they presented them before the tabernacle.
The notion that all that Moses is said to have done in Num. 7:1 took place on a single day is an error. "Day" here does not mean to imply that all of that procedure was a one-day affair. (See the chapter introduction.)
That the exact time of the events of this chapter was a few days later, even than the numbering (Num. 1), is proved by these princes being mentioned in Num. 7:2 as precisely the ones who had participated in the numbering. Likewise, in the later Num. 7:12-82, the princes appeared with their gifts in the exact order of their marching formation given in Num. 2. Despite all this, the total time elapsed between the events of Sinai and the departure of Israel was only a matter of about six weeks, and there is nothing very remarkable in the speaking of that whole period as "the day."
And they brought their oblation before Jehovah
This was a free-will thing on their part, no commandment to this effect having been given. It appears likely that these leaders of Israel, anticipating the march into the land of Canaan, expected to be beginning soon, decided to expedite the transfer of the tabernacle by these contributions of wagons and oxen.
Some recent translations reject this rendition, but the rendition here still is preferable. Gesenius and DeWette translate `litter wagons,' but this cannot be defended etymologically, nor based on Isa. 66:20.F5
"`Covered wagons' has good authority. R. K. Harrison noted that ox-drawn wagons were used regularly in Syria by the Pharaohs from the times of Tuthmosis III (1470 B.C.) onwards for several centuries. (See R. K. Harrison's Introduction to the O.T., p. 263)."F6
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Take it of them, that they may be [used] in doing the service of the tent of meeting; and thou shalt give them unto the Levites, to every man according to his service. And Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them unto the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave unto the sons of Gershon, according to their service: and four wagons and eight oxen he gave unto the sons of Merari, according unto their service, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none, because the service of the sanctuary belonged unto them; they bare it upon their shoulders. And the princes offered for the dedication of the altar in the day that it was anointed, even the princes offered their oblation before the altar. And Jehovah said unto Moses, They shall offer their oblation, each prince on his day, for the dedication of the altar.
Jehovah spake unto Moses
(Numbers 7:4). Apparently, Moses was at first reluctant to accept these magnificent gifts of wagons, since no commandment had been given for such gifts and there was the problem of what to do with them. God promptly supplied the answer, and Moses appointed these gifts to the Levites to be utilized in the transport of the tabernacle.
Princes offered for the dedication of the altar. in that day ..
This again is not a definite time limitation as to when the gifts were offered. They were apparently promised on a given day, but the handling of so vast a contribution would have been near to impossible if they had all been tendered at once. God at once specified that the gifts should come over a period of 12 days.
Dedication of the altar
(Numbers 7:10). The word from which dedication is translated is alleged by some critics to have been unknown by the Hebrews until the times of Maccabean triumph that led to the rededication of the temple.F7 Such a critical position is absurd. The root of this word is ancient,F8 the name Enoch being derived from it (Genesis 4:17), and also other words in Gen. 14:14; 25:4; and Gen. 46:9.F9 The late-daters of the Pentateuch will have to find some better excuse than this one!
This is an appropriate place to note also that in addition to the very ancient words that keep cropping up in the Pentateuch, there is the occasional extravaganza of these elaborate repetitions, an outstanding example of which lies in the very next seventy-two verses of this chapter. (See my discussion of this in the chapter introduction to Exo. 35 in this series, such repetitions being, without doubt, identifiable with the literary customs of the mid-fifteenth century B.C.!)
They shall offer their oblation, each prince on his day
(Numbers 7:11). This means that all of an entire day would be used for the reception and registration of the gifts of each one of the twelve princes, thus requiring a total of twelve days for the tendering of these gifts. Here is the account of Nahshon's gifts:
And he that offered his oblation the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah: and his oblation was one silver platter, the weight whereof was a hundred and thirty [shekels], one silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meal-offering; one golden spoon of ten [shekels], full of incense; one young bullock, one ram, one he-lamb a year old, for a burnt-offering; one male of the goats for a sin-offering; and for the sacrifice of peace-offerings, two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, five he-lambs a year old: this was the oblation of Nahshon the son of Amminadab.
The next 66 verses of this chapter repeat verbatim, with only the most minuscule variations the gifts of exactly the same tally of gifts on the part of each of the remaining eleven princes of Israel. As we have done before, we shall resort to a tabular presentation of this instead of the very extensive repetitions of the prose given in the sacred text.
The account specifies that the gifts of silver vessels and gold spoons were filled with fine flour mingled with oil, and incense, respectively, and that the weight of these vessels, given in shekels, was after the "shekel of the sanctuary," representing that each shekel calculated was of the full 20 gerahs. Note also that there were three classes of offerings (a) meal; (b) sin; and (c) peace.
GIFTS OF THE PRINCES
Name Tribe Silver and Gold 1 bull, 2 oxen,
Vessels 6 rams, 6 goats
(full of flour, etc.) and 6 he-lambs.
NAHSHON JUDAH " "
NATHANEL ISSACHAR " "
ELIAB ZEBULUN " "
ELIZUR REUBEN " "
SHELUMIEL SIMEON " "
ELIASAPH GAD " "
ELISHAMA EPHRAIM " "
GAMALIEL MANASSEH " "
ABIDAN BENJAMIN " "
AHIEZER DAN " "
PAGIEL ASHER " "
AHIRA NAPHTALI " "
12 silver platters (130 shekels each) filled with flour
12 silver bowls, (70 shekels each)
12 gold spoons (10 shekels each), full of incense
12 bulls, 24 oxen, 72 rams, 72 goats, 72 he-lambs
(A total of 252 animals)
VALUE: 2,400 shekels of silver; 120 shekels of gold.
These totals and values are enumerated in Num. 7:84-88. This passage (Numbers 7:88) also has the words: "This was the dedication of the altar, after that it was anointed." This shows that "the day" of Num. 7:1 means "at about that time," rather than indicating that all of these events occurred that very day.
One may wonder why God so elaborately repeated the enumerations of all these gifts, and the answer appears to be that God always reckons good works upon the basis of what each individual did, rather than reckoning upon a collective, or community basis. In Jesus' parable of the talents, it will be recalled that the reckoning involved each one. Jesus did not say, "Well, you fellows have done pretty good; I gave you eight and you produced seven more!." No, he called unto him each one. It is not merely what a church or congregation is doing, but what each one is doing, that counts with God. Also, in the matter of God's love, it is the same way. The Scriptures do not declare that, "Jesus loved the Lazarus family," but that he loved Lazarus, and Martha, and Mary!
And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with him, then he heard the Voice speaking unto him from above the mercy-seat that was upon the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim: and he spake unto him.
Some are critical regarding the location of this verse, but it is not at all inconsistent with the context. Also, this event brings us very near the time of the departure of Israel from the vicinity of Sinai, and the appearance of this verse at this particular time seems to indicate the beginning of a new pattern that would be followed in the manner of God's speaking with Moses. Throughout the forty years to follow, this would be the normal manner of God's communicating his will to Moses.
Footnotes for Numbers 7
1: Lindsay B. Longacre, Abingdon Bible Commentary on the Old Testament (New York: Abingdon Press, 1929), p. 300.
2: Elmer Smick, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 121.
3: T. Carson, New Layman's Bible Commentary, Numbers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 249.
4: Thomas Whitelaw, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Numbers (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 58.
5: W. Harvey Jellie, The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 110.
6: T. Carson, op. cit., p. 249.
7: Elmer Smick, op. cit., p. 122.
8: George Buchanan Gray, International Critical Commentary, Numbers (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1903), p. 76.
9: Elmer Smick, op. cit., p. 122.