In What Sense was it Feasible, or not Feasible, to Assemble the Whole Congregation Before the Door of the Tent of Meeting (Lev. 8:4)?
When this question is asked we may need first to go into its validity. A question as this should have a simple answer to one of God’s children. We should look at the passage and have the attitude and action of Moses: “And the LORD spake … And gather thou all the congregation together … And Moses did as the LORD commanded him; …” (Lev. 8:1-4).1 God spoke, Moses obeyed – and so the simple answer is found. We, as Moses did, should answer that it is always feasible (and required) to do as God commands.
God has commanded Moses to bring “all the congregation” together at “the door of the tabernacle.” Now we have found the bone of contention that many skeptics have – how is it feasible to gather the entire congregation of Israel at the door of the tabernacle. Let us look at the argument they place forward.
First the population of Israel was in excess of 600,000 men of war (those men age 20 and over). This number did not include women, children, or the tribe of Levi. Statistics show this would have produced a total male population in excess of 1,000,000. Once females are added, the population would have easily reached 2,000,000.2
Second, the size of the tabernacle was not large enough. We know from the activities and commands of God that the activities of Leviticus 8 took place in the courtyard of the tabernacle (though Moses did have to enter the holy place to anoint the contents per command). The activities consisted of washing, anointing and sacrifice in order to sanctify and consecrate the priests for service unto God. Even if one were to allocate the entirety of the courtyard (some 16,200 square feet of space) it would not be enough space to accommodate the 600,000 men – much less the 2,000,000 that would make up the Israelite nation at this point.3
The door of the tabernacle (taken as the gate of the courtyard) would likewise be no better. Under the argument the congregation if fully assembled would stretch a minimum of 4 miles back, to a maximum of 20 miles back from the tabernacle.4 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown give an effective answer to this argument and its full reading is encouraged. Some excerpts are given here to assist in defining where events are taking place:
These extraordinary conclusions are grounded on two false assumptions in relation both to the door of the tabernacle and to the actual scene of the inauguration service. It is assumed that the service was to be performed within the tabernacle… None but the priests and some of the Levites on certain occasions were admitted into any part of the sanctuary, while all others designated “strangers” were prohibited under penalty of death (Num. iii. 10; iv. 18, 19). It is especially observable that Aaron and his sons could not enter on the day of consecration without washing their feet (Exod. xi. 30-32);… It is said (ch. ix. 5) that they stood “before the Lord,” … is evidently to be taken in the widest sense, as denoting not the sanctuary merely, but also the court belonging to it – as in Exod. xxxi. 7-9 the altar of burnt offering and the laver, neither of which were stationed in the sanctuary, are included amongst the contents of the tabernacle.5
As we see the action taking place within the courtyard, then the most likely place for the observers (the congregation) would have been the gate of the courtyard. This is acceptable within the language of the Scriptures, as the tabernacle was not just the sanctuary (containing the holy Place and most holy place), but rather the entire structure – courtyard and its implements as well as the sanctuary and its implements. This lends itself to agreement with the thought of many commentators that the congregation was gathered representatively in the elders.6, 7, 8, 9
Constable provides some additional notes on the meaning of “congregation” within his commentary:
The meaning of “congregation” is somewhat obscure. Sometimes the whole nation seems to be in view (e.g., Exod. 12:3, 6; 17:1; Num. 20:1-2). If this is the meaning in verses 13-21, as seems to be the case, the “congregation” is synonymous with the “assembly.” However in other passages “congregation” seems to describe a representative group within the nation (e.g., Exod. 16:1-2, 9; Num. 8:20; 15:33-36; 27:2: 35:12, 24-25). The context helps determine the meaning.10
Evidently a representative group of the Israelite congregation, likely the elders, responded to Moses’ summons to witness Aaron’s ordination in the tabernacle courtyard.11
The natural conclusion is that it would not have been feasible for the entire nation of Israel, some two million in number, to attend the event directly. In fact even today, without it being a long parade or use of mass communication, we still do not have a facility large enough to have such a large group gather in one place. However, it is feasible and acceptable within the Scriptures and practice to have a representative population, as in Exodus 24, come before the Lord as the nation.
The benefits to us of studying these hard passages are worth the effort and time it takes to complete the study. Applying sound reasoning and proper study techniques allows us to fulfill the commands we find within the Scriptures: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). We should be as the Bereans were, receiving “…the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). May we all find the time and willingness to study God’s Word.
1 All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.
2 Keil and Delitzsch, Kiel and Delitzsch Commentaryon the Old Testament, Taken from e-Sword computer program.
3 Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Taken from e-Sword computer program.
6 Keil and Delitzsch, Kiel and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, Taken from e-Sword computer program.
7 J. F. Walvoord, R. B. Zuck, & Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary an Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985). 1:186.
8 W. W. Wiersbe, Be Holy (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1994). Le 8:1.
9 M. Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991). Le 8:1.
10 Thomas Constable, Notes on Leviticus: 2003 Edition (Sonic Light Publisher, 2003), p. 17.
11 Ibid, p. 27.