Numbers 18

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD spoke to Aaron and said, “You and your sons and your close relatives will share the responsibility for dealing with offenses against the sanctuary, but only you and your sons will be responsible for handling crimes against the priesthood. 2So gather your fellow Levites with you as you go about your priestly duties in front of the meeting tent and the sanctuary. 3They will serve you and the tent, but they are not allowed to handle any of the accoutrements of the sanctuary or the altar, or they will die, and so will you. 4They are assigned to you so they can take care of the meeting tent and the activities connected with it. No one else is allowed to even come near. 5You yourselves, of course, are to perform all the duties associated with the sanctuary and the altar so that destruction may never come upon the Israelites again. 6I have separated your Levite relatives for your service, as a gift to you, and they are dedicated to the LORD to take care of the meeting tent. 7But only you and your sons shall perform the duties of priests; everything that has to do with the altar or the area behind the curtain. The priesthood is my gift to you. Anyone else who comes close shall be executed.”

8The LORD continued; “Aaron, you are in charge of the offerings and sacred items the people might give to me. I pass them along to you and your sons from now on as your remuneration. 9All the things offered but not burned on the altar belong to you; every offering they bring as a sacred gift, whether it be grain, or a guilt offering, or an offering of reconciliation, are yours and your sons’. 10Remember when you eat it that it is sacred; only you and the men of your family may eat it. 11Also, I give to you and your sons and daughters whatever is set aside from all the gifts brought as thanksgiving offerings raised up to the LORD. Everyone in your household who is not under restraint because of impurity may eat it. 12The best of the oil and wine and grain that they bring to the LORD I give to you. 13The first produce harvested from the crops in their land which they bring to the LORD you may eat – everyone in your house who is not under restraint. 14Everything in Israel set apart to me is yours – 15that includes the firstborn animals and the firstborn children; but the firstborn children you must buy back and the firstborn among the animals that are not acceptable to sacrifice you must buy back. 16When they are a month old you must buy them back for five silver shekels.

17“However, you may not buy back the firstborn ox, sheep or goat, for they are sacred. They must be sacrificed, and their blood sprinkled on the altar and their fat portions burned on the altar as an offering, a smell that pleases the LORD. 18But their meat belongs to you just as the breast and right thigh that are raised to the LORD. 19Whatever is set aside from the sacred offerings the Israelites bring to the LORD, the LORD gives to you and your sons and daughters. It is your share, an on-going promise of subsistence from the LORD for you and your descendants.”

20The LORD told Aaron, “You will not be given any land among the people, nor have any claim from them. I am your compensation. I am your inheritance among the Israelites.

21“When the Israelites bring their tithe it will belong to the Levites for the services they provide the people at the meeting tent. 22From now on the Israelites must not approach the meeting tent on pain of death. 23Only the Levites are to serve at the meeting tent, and they will be held responsible for their own misdeeds. This is a permanent rule. They have no inheritance among the people of Israel, 24so I give the Levites the tithes the Israelites bring to the LORD. That is why they have no inheritance among the Israelites.”

25Then the LORD said to Moses, 26“Tell the Levites that when they receive the tithes from the Israelites, they must set apart a tenth of the tithes to the LORD. 27Their offerings will be credited to them like grain or wine from the people, 28and that is how the Levites will participate in giving an offering, by giving their share to Aaron the priest. 29They must give as the LORD’s portion the best of everything given to them.

30“Tell them that what they give will count as much as grain from the threshing flour or wine from the wine press, 31and they and their households may eat it anywhere they wish; it is their payment for serving in the care of the meeting tent. 32There is no blame passed to them for doing this when they have offered the best they have been given, and the offerings brought by the Israelites will be honored, and the Levites will not die.”

Commentary

1-7: Surprisingly enough, to this point the LORD has spoken to Aaron directly only twice: to order him to go into the wilderness to meet Moses (Exodus 4:27); and to instruct him, following the death of Nadab and Abihu, that strong drink and holy service don’t mix (Leviticus 10:8).  Here in chapter 18 God speaks directly to Aaron 3 times (1, 8, 20), and verse 20 is the last time God will speak directly and only to him. Significantly, these instructions to Aaron come immediately after the latest attempt at rebellion which specifically targeted the priests. First, Aaron is to take further action to ensure the security of the priesthood for his descendants. The Levites (Aaron’s tribe) are given to Aaron as servants, but only Aaron and his sons and their descendants can attend the altar or the sanctuary. Violation of this restriction is a capital offense.

8-19: Second, God spells out in detail the way in which offerings of grain and wine and oil and meat are to be considered. The priests (Aaron and his descendants) are given this as food to compensate them for their service. This is a repetition and summary of laws already given.

20: Third, the priests are not allowed to own land (although clearly later on they will).

21-24: The Levites receive as their wages the tithes that the people bring to the tent of meeting. The people may not approach the tabernacle, only the Levites. The Levites are to serve as a buffer between God and the people.

25-32: Interestingly, in this section the LORD addresses Moses instead of Aaron. The law here sets the compensation for the priests, and it is to be a tithe of the tithe the Levites receive. In other words, the Levites receive a tithe from the people, and they in turn set aside a tithe of their income for the priests (who are also Levites, but specifically descendants of Aaron). Thus a “hierarchy of holiness” is established: people, Levites, priests, God. The text does not specify this, but it is clear that Moses fits in there between the priests and God.

Takeaway

Remember, all these rules and regulations pertaining to the priesthood and sacrifices, etc. are put in place to keep the people ever mindful of God’s presence among them. I doubt the LORD ever needed things to be sacrificed, but the people did need it.