We are told that all the Levites were to lay their hands on the two bulls for their atonement and in a recent census the Levites numbered around 22 000

Numbers 8:12 NASB

12 Now the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls; then offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the Lord, to make atonement for the Levites.

How were they able to lay their hands on these bullocks,did they take turns to lay hands or their representatives were the ones who actually laid their hands on them

How can we understand the above text?

2 Answers 2


That is a good question and one that had never occurred to me before. I am not sure I have an answer to your question as to precisely how so many would be able to lay their hands on the head of the bulls. I would however, like to address one point you made as to the numbering of the Levites which may help you put this is a more manageable perspective.

In the numbering of the tribe of Levi in chapter 2, only the males were numbered from one month of age and upward. The total of the three Levitical families are recorded as follows. The number of the sons of Gershon “of every male from a month old and upward…, 7,500.” The number of the sons of Kohath “of every male from a month old and upward…, were 8,600.” The number of the sons of Merari “of every male from a month old and upward…, 6,200.” The total number of the Levite male population according to verse 39, was 22,000 from one month old and upward. The total number of the firstborn males among Israel was 22,273.

There is apparently, some discrepancy with the number of Levites given from the three Levite families. This is probably the result of some textual error in one or more of the numbers representing the three separate family lines. 2:39 has the total number at 22,000 which is correct but, 7,500 + 8,600 + 6,200 is not 22,000, it is 22,300, in which case, the Levites would have outnumbered the first-born of Israel.

Verse 46 says the excess of the firstborn of Israel was 273. Each person over and above the Levites was to pay a five shekels ransom. Verse 50 says the total ransom collected was 1,365 Shekels; So, 1,365 divided by 5 is 273 which means that the total in verse 39 is correct. The error then, is somewhere in the recorded number of one or perhaps all the three Levite family lines.

There where qualifications that had to be met for a Levite to enter into the service of the tabernacle. They could not be blind, lame, dwarfed, or bald. They could not have crippled limbs, or crushed testicles. They could not be married to a woman who had been a prostitute or to one who had been divorced. They could not be younger than 30 or older than 50. This means that the number of serving Levites would be considerably less than then the 22,000. In the numbering in chapter four, only the qualified males from age 30-50 were numbered and that number totaled 8,580. Even still, it would have been a daunting task for 8,580 Levites to lay their hands on the heads of the two bulls.


Robert G. Boling in his commentary on Judges (Anchor Bible) posed an explanation that helped me to understand a whole lot about biblical numbering: "The word (thousand) is entymologically connected with "head of cattle", like the letter aleph, implying that the term was originally applied to the village or population unit in a pastoral-agricultural society. From that it came to mean the quota supplied by one village or "clan" for the military muster... Originally the contingent was quite small, five to fourteen men in the quota lists of Num 1 and 26, as shown conclusively by Mendenhall, JBL 77 (1958) [Note - I checked this out too. Good article, but I don't have it on hand at the moment.] Finally the word became a technical term for a military unit of considerable size, which together with the use of the same word for the number "1,000" has tended to obscure its broader semantic range." (p. 54-55 of 1975 edition)

So to answer your question, the problem in picture it is not in the laying on of hands, it's in the 22,000 - actually 22 representatives of units. It would be a much shorter process, to be sure, than 22,000 people lining up to touch the bulls!

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