Duties of Priests and Levites
18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2 Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law. 3 They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar. Otherwise both they and you will die. 4 They are to join you and be responsible for the care of the tent of meeting—all the work at the tent—and no one else may come near where you are.
The people had complained about the difficulty and danger there was in drawing near to God. They were very worried about the tabernacle being in their midst. Instead of being their joy and glory, it had become their terror and ruin. Of course, this was directly related to their disobedience and disrespect. In response to their complaints, God makes them understand that Aaron and the priests are their representatives and would come near to God in their place. They were to keep their distance without fear of death and their communication with God would be through the priests.
5 “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. 6 I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. 7 But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”
It was a great deal of honor that God had been giving to Aaron lately, his staff had budded and blossomed when the other leaders had stayed dead. But, just in case he gets too prideful of his favor, God comes to remind him of his burden and duty to the people. His position is not one of rulership, but rather one of servanthood to the people. He was given the priesthood to care for the holy things so the people would not anger God again. If anyone else tried, they would be responsible.
Offerings for Priests and Levites
8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, “I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion, your perpetual share. 9 You are to have the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire. From all the gifts they bring me as most holy offerings, whether grain or sin[a] or guilt offerings, that part belongs to you and your sons. 10 Eat it as something most holy; every male shall eat it. You must regard it as holy.
11 “This also is yours: whatever is set aside from the gifts of all the wave offerings of the Israelites. I give this to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.
12 “I give you all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain they give the Lord as the firstfruits of their harvest. 13 All the land’s firstfruits that they bring to the Lord will be yours. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.
God provides for those who he calls. Since a priest has a high responsibility he is given the best. In God’s service they must follow very strict instructions and they are held to a very high accountability. The high cost comes with a high blessing. We see here that God repeats the instructions that he gave in Leviticus. All those who are ceremoniously clean in the household are able to share in the blessings of the priests and their service. They are only allowed to keep for themselves what does not already belong to the Lord.
14 “Everything in Israel that is devoted[b] to the Lord is yours. 15 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the Lord is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. 16 When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels[c] of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.
17 “But you must not redeem the firstborn of a cow, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Splash their blood against the altar and burn their fat as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 18 Their meat is to be yours, just as the breast of the wave offering and the right thigh are yours. 19 Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.”
20 The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.
Here we see once again how God wants his chosen and those who serve him to trust him completely. He gives the Levites no inheritance except for what he has given them. They are not to rely on physical means of wealth or physical means of sustenance and trust God explicitly. The Levites are to live on the tithes alone.
21 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. 22 From now on the Israelites must not go near the tent of meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. 23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting and bear the responsibility for any offenses they commit against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’”
25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the Lord from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord’s portion to Aaron the priest. 29 You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’
Even as the Levites receive the tithes from the people and live on it as God instructs, they are still subject to tithe themselves. Theirs is paid to Aaron and his family as his wages and his inheritance. Just as the best of each portion is given to God, the best portion is given to Aaron as the Lords portion.
30 “Say to the Levites: ‘When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. 31 You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the tent of meeting. 32 By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.’”
This chapter finishes with a warning not to rob God of the tithes and of the consequences if they do. If they did not tithe they would not only rob God but also rob the Levites of their sustenance, of their livelihood, and of their inheritance. Since the Levites were the people who were standing in the gap for them and their sins, it would be very unwise of them to rob them of their livelihood. These were the people who were responsible to present offerings and sacrifices to God in their place. They literally stood between the people and death.
- Numbers 18:9 Or purification
- Numbers 18:14 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord.
- Numbers 18:16 That is, about 2 ounces or about 58 grams