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B'Midbar/Numbers 8:11 And Aharon shall wave the Levites [as] a wave-offering before the L-rd
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At first glance, it seems as ifHaShem is granting supernatural strength to Aharon to enable him to physically lift the Levites and, holding them above his head, wave them before Adonai. Perhaps disappointingly, all the commentators reject this literal meaning and insist that this is a symbolic or metaphorical wave-offering. The verb - a Hif'il affix 3ms form of the root , lift up, wave, shake, sprinkle - is accompanied by the noun from the same root, which Davidson gives as "a waving of the priest in the presentation of offerings, a wave offering". Targum Onkelos goes as far as to change the verb from to - to be raised or lifted up, from which also comes the noun , a heave-offering - so that the Onkelos text reads - Aharon should raise the Levites as a heave-offering. Waist or chest high is not so far off the ground as over the head! The Septuagint goes even further1, producing - "Aharon shall set apart the Levites as a restitution" (NETS). Drazin and Wagner report that Ibn Kaspi suggests that the priest would wave his hand over the Levites, as Naaman expected the prophet Elisha to wave his hand to cure his tzara'at: "'I thought,' he said, 'he would surely come out to me, and would stand and invoke the L-RD his God by name, and would wave his hand toward the spot, and cure the affected part'" (2 Kings 5:11, JPS), and then comment that the verse may mean that the Levites were led around the Tabernacle. Such a manoeuvre might have been the first recorded example of a Mexican Wave2!
Rashi draws our attention to the fact that the instruction that the Levites should be a wave-offering is given three times in short succession: here, and verses 13 and 15. He suggests that this was for the three Levite clans: the sons of Kohath, Gershon and Merari, on account of the different functions that they performed in the life and service of the Tabernacle. Rabbi Hirsch, on the other hand, sees a three-fold presentation to dedicate the Levites. "Israel dedicates them to G-d, G-d presents them to Aharon and his sons, Aharon and his sons dedicate them to the service of the Sanctuary." This means, Hirsch adds, "that it is in the name of God, in the name of the nation and in the name of Aharon that the Levites take up their position and carry out their mission," representative of all three and serving all three.
There is an exact parallel for believers in Messiah Yeshua. We have been created and given life by Father G-d, we were redeemed and justified by Yeshua and we are filled with the Ruach HaKodesh, our earnest or down-payment (Ephesians 1:13-14). We belong to G-d three times over, because He created us at the beginning of our lives, in Messiah He paid the ransom for us and now He has invested His Spirit in us. We serve G-d in three ways: by worshipping and obeying Him, by our witness to the work of Yeshua and His death and resurrection, and by living Spirit-filled lives that point others to Him and bring Him glory.
What does it mean to be a wave-offering before G-d? Rav Sha'ul writes, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to G-d, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1, ESV), but what does a wave-offering look like? References in the Torah recount G-d telling Moshe, "You shall put all these on the palms of Aaron and on the palms of his sons, and wave them for a wave offering before the L-RD" (Shemot 29:24, ESV), so that "he put all these in the hands of Aharon and in the hands of his sons and waved them as a wave offering before the L-RD" (Vayikra 8:27, ESV). Sometimes the wave-offering is burnt on the altar, while sometimes it belongs to the priesthood as a whole and sometimes to the priest making the offering. Some wave-offerings are portions of sacrificial animals, others are the "memorial portion" of the accompanying grain offering. The offering process seems to be to take a portion of whatever is being offered, in the hands of the priest, who then waves it before the L-rd. The Talmud adds "Before the Lord, that is, on the east side of the altar." (b. Menachot 61a), but doesn't give any specific instructions about how the waving itself is to be done. A whole breast of an ox would be difficult to wave like a scarf over one's head, while cakes of fine flour fried in oil would be easy to place on one's palms and wave at arm's length, vertically or horizontally.
What does seem clear is that a wave-offering is only a token of the whole offering. What we give to the L-rd then, for example, by way of tithes and offerings, is a token of the whole which belongs to G-d. Let's say that again: the whole belongs to the L-rd, not just the part that is formally offered to Him. The portion that is offered belongs to the L-rd and is used by Him, not returned to the giver, although in the case of peace offerings, the rest of the offering is returned to and eaten by the giver and his family. As with other gifts, if something is a gift then it is a gift and the giver has no call or claim on the way that the recipient uses or disposes of the gift. It no longer belongs to the giver, who has surrendered all ownership claims or rights and it is the total possession of the recipient. The wave-offering, be that financial, temporal, material or personal, belongs to G-d and is used by Him or His agents as they see fit and at His convenience. To be a wave-offering, we therefore surrender the right to order our days and our affairs to Him, even if He graciously allows us stewardship over them on a temporary basis. Like the Levites, we must operate in His name, for His glory and serve His people as we serve Him.
Being a wave-offering also implies flexibility: being able to be waved. If the offering is too heavy or bulky then the priest will not be able to wave it properly; if the offering is not free and available, it cannot be waved; if the offering is still fixed to other things, then it cannot be lifted. To be a wave-offering, we must be available and unencumbered, we must be able to respond to the call of our High Priest Yeshua, we must allow Him to cut us down to the size that He needs. Like the Levites, we must be dedicated to Him, set apart for Him and available for Him.
1 - Perhaps looking at the text in verse 14, where the Hebrew text reads, "And you shall separate the Levites ..."
2 - An example of metachronal rhythm among spectators at mass events, so named because it was first seen internationally at the football World Cup held in Mexico City in 1986, although the phenomenon had been seen as early as the '60s elsewhere.
Further Study: Philippians 2:17; Hebrews 13:15-16
Application: Are you available today as a wave-offering before the L-rd? Whether Jew or Gentile, our High Priest's call is on our lives that we should be available to serve Him. Better get ready to wave!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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