New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Num 18:1 Yahweh said to Aaron, You and your sons and your fathers’ house with you shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary; and you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood-
We must bear one another's burden, as the priesthood bore the burden of Israel's iniquity (Num. 18:1,23). This is the meaning of priesthood. But here to bear iniquity seems to specifically mean to have responsibility for sin (as in Num. 30:15), if unqualified people were to enter the sanctuary or do the work of the priesthood. For that has been the theme of the last two chapters. It could be that Aaron and the priesthood had given in to the pressure of the rebellious Levites and allowed some of them to come near to the sanctuary, and they had to bear guilt for this sin (Num. 18:1). Hence the commandment at this point that now they should never again allow Levites to come into the sanctuary (Num. 18:3,5). This makes better sense of the "henceforth..." in Num. 18:22: "Henceforth the children of Israel shall not come near the Tent of Meeting, lest they bear sin, and die". This is clearly given in the context of the rebellions of Num. 16,17, where the Israelites had tried to do this. And indeed it seems they had come near the tent of meeting and touched the holy things, and it was of grace that more of them had not been slain for doing so. I suggest that the priests had allowed the Levites and Israelites to come close to the sanctuary; they were not to ever do so again, and I suggest the unique cleansing sacrifice of the red heifer in Num. 19 was in order to cleanse them from this sin. According to the repeated teaching in Num. 18, the entire priesthood were worthy of death because of allowing the non priests into the sanctuary. But the red heifer ritual cleansed them from this sin unto death, and therefore becomes a powerful type of the Lord's stoning sacrifice for us as condemned sinners.   

Num 18:2 Your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, bring near with you, that they may be joined to you, and minister to you; but you and your sons with you shall be before the tent of the testimony-
The last two chapters have recorded an attempted putsch by the Levites against the priests. Here the priests are being told to "bring near" and be "joined with" their Levite brethren, living up to the name of their tribe Levi, 'joined together'. It would have been a hard call to obey, given the behaviour of the Levites just recently, resulting in at least 15000 people being slain in the recent events recorded in Num. 16,17

Num 18:3 They shall keep your commands, and the duty of all the Tent; only they shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary and to the altar, that they not die, neither they, nor you-
The Levites would die for touching the vessels, and the priests for letting the Levites touch them. Num. 17:13 has just described the rebellious Levites still refusing to accept they couldn't be as the priests. They lamented: "Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of Yahweh, dies! Will we all perish?". LXX has "Who touches...". It would seem that they had touched the tabernacle or had attempted to "come near" to Yahweh as the priests alone were to "draw near" to Him. The subsequent warning in Num. 18:3 of death for doing this would imply that this was said by the Levites. It seems they still refused to accept they could not do the work of the priests, and therefore Num. 18 warns them yet again.

Num 18:4 They shall be joined to you, and keep the responsibility of the Tent of Meeting, for all the service of the Tent, and a stranger shall not come near to you-
Despite the very clear distinction of duties between priests and Levites, they were to be "joined", a play on the meaning of "Levi". And this is the same basic teaching of Paul about the nature of the body of the Lord Jesus in the New Testament. The clear distinction of duties and roles within the body was not at all to take away from the "joining" of unity between all the members.

Num 18:5 You shall perform the duty of the sanctuary, and the duty of the altar, that there be no more wrath on the children of Israel-
As explained on :1, if the priests allowed others to come into the sanctuary, then there was going to be wrath upon all Israel. The outcomes of others are to some extent delegated into the hands of third parties. This is the whole idea of God working through personal evangelism, and it is so that we all live life with a greater sense of responsibility. Eph. 4:16 may even allude here: "By him all the parts of the body fit and are knit [AV "joined"] together, with every joint supplying something according to its unique purpose, thus making the body grow as it builds up itself in love". For we are the new priesthood.

Num 18:6 I, behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the children of Israel. To you they are given as a gift, given to Yahweh, to do the service of the Tent of Meeting-
"The men which You gave me out of the (Jewish) world... they have kept Your word" (Jn. 17:6) compares with the Levites being "given" to Aaron / the priesthood out of Israel (Num. 3:9; 8:19; 18:6); at the time of the golden calf they "observed thy word, and kept thy covenant" (Dt. 33:9), as did the disciples. The relationship between Moses and the Levites was therefore that between Christ and the disciples- a sense of thankfulness that at least a minority were faithful. The Levites were given to God, through having been given to the priests. What we give to God’s people we give to God (see too on Num. 17:5). Constantly we are being taught to see God as manifest in His people, and to treat them appropriately.

Num 18:7 You and your sons with you shall keep your priesthood for everything of the altar, and for that within the veil; and you shall serve. I give you the priesthood as a gift, and the stranger who comes near shall be put to death-
Serving God is presented as an honour, a gift from God (see on Num. 16:9). Although the Levites had no physical land inheritance amongst the people of Israel, this was compensated for by being given the gift of serving God. Of course, this would only have been perceived as a gift by the more spiritually minded. We are to see service to God even in repetitive things as a gift we have been given to do.

Num 18:8 Yahweh spoke to Aaron, I, behold, I have given you the responsibility for My wave offerings, even all the holy things of the children of Israel. To you have I given them by reason of the anointing, and to your sons, as a portion forever-
For all offerings, "the front leg, the two jaw-bones, and the rough stomach of ruminants, in which the digestion is completed" was to be given to the priest (Dt. 18:3). These were thought to be the best parts of an animal; and additionally a leg (Lev. 7:32) and the breast (Lev. 7:31) of the offering were also to be given to the priest if it was a peace offering (Num. 18:11).

Num 18:9 This shall be yours of the most holy things from the fire: every offering of theirs, even every grain offering of theirs, and every sin offering of theirs, and every trespass offering of theirs, which they shall render to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons-
"The fire" refers to the fire of the altar which was ideally intended to be that kindled at the time of Lev. 9:24 when the tabernacle was consecrated. It was to be kept perpetually burning by the sacrifices being continually placed upon it, a lamb every morning and every evening. The fire which never went out or was 'quenched' (Lev. 6:13). is a double symbol. The phrase is used multiple times with reference to the wrath of God in condemning sinners; it is the basis of the idea of eternal fire which will not be quenched. Rather like the cup of wine from the Lord being a symbol of either condemnation or blessing. So we have a choice- be consumed by the eternal fire now as living sacrifices, or be consumed by it anyway at the last day. Once the fire had consumed the fat, which burnt before the meat, then the meat was to be the priest's.

Num 18:10 You shall eat of it like the most holy things. Every male shall eat of it. It shall be holy to you-
Lev. 7:6 says it should be eaten "in the holy place". But here, AV and LXX have "In the most holy place". And the Hebrew supports this. When eating these most holy things, the holy place became as it were the most holy. It was as if they were in the very presence of Yahweh. Likewise the breaking of bread meeting, which is the new covenant's equivalent of eating the holy things, gives us some special sense of God's presence. I suggest that may be behind the otherwise enigmatic reference to the presence of the Angels in 1 Cor. 11:10- a passage in the context of the breaking of bread meeting.

Num 18:11 This is yours, too: the wave offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the children of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and to your daughters with you, as a portion forever. Everyone who is clean in your house shall eat of it-
The theme of giving gifts continues; what was given as a gift to God, He gave as a gift to the priests. See on :6. The command that they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel is referring back to how the priests had no material inheritance but lived off the sacrifices (Num. 18:11). And for us, the honour and wonder of preaching Christ should mean that we keep a loose hold on the material things of this life. And as we are all priests, we are all preachers.

What is specifically in view here are the sacrifices of the people which were of a lower level of sanctity than those earlier described, which could only be eaten by the males in the holy place (:10).

Num 18:12 All the best of the oil and all the best of the vintage and of the grain, the first fruits of them which they give to Yahweh, to you have I given them-
It was not impossible for God to accept non-blood sacrifices (Num. 15:17-21; 18:12,13; Dt. 26:1-4). Cain was rejected not because of this, but because he refused to accept the principle of the blood being God's, and because he hated his brother. Cain, the epitome of 'the devil' (Jn. 8:44), was characterized by the attitude that he was not his brother's keeper (Gen. 4:9). But the Lord Jesus perhaps offered a commentary on the incident when he said that our offering can only be accepted if we are first reconciled to our brother (Mt. 5:24). Cain's insistent lack of responsibility for his brother was the real sin, and therefore his sacrifice wasn't accepted by God. He wanted to serve God his own way, disregard his brother, justify his disagreement with him... to be a private person. But this was the basis of his rejection.

Num 18:13 The first-ripe fruits of all that is in their land which they bring to Yahweh shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house shall eat of it-
There is no mention in Num. 18:12,13 of the first fleece being given to the priests. But it is mentioned in Dt. 18:4, and is an example of where Deuteronomy, 'the second law', is in places more demanding and in others more understanding. 

Num 18:14 Everything devoted in Israel shall be yours-
This refers to general freewill devotion of things to God (e.g. Lev. 27:21).

Num 18:15 Everything that opens the womb, of all flesh which they offer to Yahweh, both of man and animal shall be yours; nevertheless you shall surely redeem the firstborn of man, and you shall redeem the firstborn of unclean animals-
Num. 3:41 seems to have been given at a later point. There, the Levite's cattle were just accepted for those of the Israelites. Ex. 13:13 and Num. 18:17 taught that the firstborn of clean animals were to be sacrificed; although the firstborn of unclean donkeys were to be redeemed; a moderation of the command here that all unclean firstborn animals were to be redeemed. The teaching was that God's redeemed were as unclean donkeys. But the sacrificing of the firstborn of all clean animals may well have been now considered by God as too difficult for the Israelites. Their devotion to Him was sadly not to that standard. And so He upheld His basic principle but reduced the demand, by accepting the Levite's cattle at this point in place of the firstborn of the clean animals of the Israelites. We see here God's flexible attitude, because He so wanted to save His people and have relationship with them even on a lower level than ideal. And in Deuteronomy, the second law, we will see many examples of amelioration of the laws.  

Num 18:16 You shall redeem those who are to be redeemed of them from a month old, according to your estimation, for five shekels of money, after the shekel of the sanctuary (the same is twenty gerahs)-
This required the Levites to have money of their own. But it seems the tithes weren't paid, and so they didn't. And so as noted on :15, these laws were later ammended in accordance with the reality of Israel's effective spiritual situation.

Num 18:17 But you shall not redeem the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat. They are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar-
To sprinkle blood upon something didn't necessarily mean the object was forgiven. For an inanimate altar didn't need forgiving. The blood of the covenant was sprinkled (s.w.) upon the people as a sign of their involvement with the covenant process of salvation, rather than as a statement of their forgiveness (Ex. 24:8). Likewise with the sprinkling of the blood of the Passover lamb (2 Chron. 35:11). This was an act of identification rather than forgiveness of sin. The function of the altar was valid before God, or efficacious, because of its association with the blood of Christ; for the blood of the animals slain upon it couldn't bring salvation of itself, but only through God's way of looking at that blood is looking ahead to that of His Son (Heb. 10:4). And so the altar was associated with the blood which represented His blood.     

And shall burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh-
“A pleasant aroma” is a very common phrase. This concept is important to God. It first occurs in Gen. 8:21 where it means that God accepted Noah's sacrifice and vowed that the pole of saving mercy in His character was going to triumph over that of necessary judgment. Under the new covenant, it is persons and not sacrifices or incense which are accepted as a "pleasant aroma" (Ez. 20:41). The word for "pleasant" means strong delight; this is how God's heart can be touched by genuine sacrifice. Those pleasing offerings represented us, the living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). And so it is applied to us in 2 Cor. 2:15- if we are in Christ, we are counted as a pleasant aroma to God. The offering of ourselves to Him is nothing of itself, but because we are in Christ and counted as Him, we are a delight to God. Hence the colossal importance of being “in Christ”. "Aroma" or "smell" is a form of the Hebrew word ruach, the word for spirit or breath. God discerns the spirit of sacrifices, that was what pleased Him rather than the burning flesh of animals. Our attitude of mind in sacrifice can touch Him. Sacrifice is therefore accepted, Paul says, according to what a person has to give, but the essence is the attitude of mind behind it. We think of the two coins sacrificed by the widow.

Num 18:18 Their flesh shall be yours, as the wave offering breast and as the right thigh, it shall be yours-
The portion to be waved was placed on the priests hands (Ex. 29:25), and then 'waved' or 'swung' towards the altar and then back- not from right to left. The idea was that the offerings were first given to God, recognizing they should be consumed on the altar to God; but then given back to the priest by God. So they ate them having first recognized that their food was really God's, all was of Him, and He had given it back to them to eat. This should be our spirit in partaking of any food, as we are the new priesthood. Our prayers of thanks for daily food should include this feature. All things are God's and anything we 'offer' to Him is only giving Him what He has given to us (1 Chron. 29:14,16). 

Num 18:19 All the wave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel give to Yahweh, have I given you and your sons and your daughters with you as a portion forever. It is a covenant of salt forever before Yahweh to you and to your seed with you-
The altar was understood as the table of Yahweh, where He ate together with the offerer. To eat bread and salt was a sign of fellowship and acceptance in covenant, and the presence of salt in the sacrifices was therefore insisted upon (Lev. 2:13). A "covenant of salt" was an eternal covenant (Num. 18:19). The reminder therefore was that our relationship with God is eternal, not a passing phase in our lives, nor just a mere religious crutch to help us get through this life. For truly, God is man's friend and accepts us at His table. The salt represents gracious speech (Col. 4:6) and peace with one another (Mk. 9:50); without these things, no matter how great our sacrifice, it cannot be accepted by God. Hence Jesus taught that we should not offer our sacrifices to God until we have done what we can to get at peace with our brother (Mt. 5:24). Salt was a symbol of covenant relationship with God; yet in the NT this salt stands for love, peace and kind speaking the one to the other (Mk. 9:50; Col. 4:6). This is the result of true membership in covenant relationship; a true and abiding love for all others in covenant.

Num 18:20 Yahweh said to Aaron, You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel-
The Levites had no material inheritance because "the sacrifices of Yahweh the God of Israel... are his inheritance... Yahweh God of Israel was their inheritance" (Josh. 13:14,33; Num. 18:20; Dt. 10:9; 18:2). Notice how "Yahweh" is put for what is sacrificed to Him. His very existence is an imperative to sacrifice to Him, despising all material advantage in doing so. Job comments that to make gold our hope and wealth our confidence is to deny “the God that is above” (Job 31:24,28). To trust in material wealth is effectively to proclaim ourselves atheists. We are described as the new priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5), so all that was true for the Levites becomes true for us. We are not to seek material inheritance. God will provide for us in ways other than our possessing land and leaving an inheritance to our children. The wonder of serving Him is to more than compensate for this.

The Levites had no land nor great material wealth to leave to their children; but they had this unique relationship with God to pass on. Jeremiah in depression, having lost all he had, concludes that God is his portion (Lam. 3:24), clearly alluding to this verse. Even if materially we lose all we have- our relationship with God is our true portion and inheritance, which we will eternally receive in the Kingdom. The writers of the Psalms, some of whom like David weren’t Levites, could use the same Hebrew word to describe how God was their “portion” and inheritance (Ps. 16:5; 73:26; 119:57; 142:5). This should be our self-perception, whether or not we leave any material inheritance to anyone or not. Not for us the obsession with building up ownership of property, under the excuse we want to leave something to our children. Our service of God and His people is our inheritance, which we shall eternally receive back at the resurrection and the time of the Kingdom of God on earth. The priests and Levites were provided with enough to eat, but no great wealth. So it should be for all full time servants in God’s house. By contrast, the priests of the surrounding tribes were generally more wealthy than the other people, and owned land, which was seen as especially holy (see Gen. 47:22).

Num 18:21 To the children of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they serve, even the service of the Tent of Meeting-
But God's giving to the Levites depended upon Israel's giving to them. Israel didn't tithe, and so the Levites had no income and had to work in secular occupations. We think of the wandering Levites of the book of Judges, going around Israel looking for work. And so the Lord's promise that those who sacrifice to Him shall receive brothers, sisters and blessing in this life is dependent upon them finding this within the ecclesia. And because of human dysfunction, they may not always find it (Mk. 10:30).

Num 18:22 Henceforth the children of Israel shall not come near the Tent of Meeting, lest they bear sin, and die-
This is clearly given in the context of the rebellions of Num. 16,17, where the Israelites had tried to do this. And indeed it seems they had come near the tent of meeting and touched the holy things, and it was of grace that more of them had not been slain for doing so. I suggested on :1 that the priests had allowed the Levites and Israelites to come close to the sanctuary; they were not to ever do so again, and I suggest the unique cleansing sacrifice of the red heifer in Num. 19 was in order to cleanse them from this sin.

Num 18:23 But the Levites shall do the service of the Tent of Meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance-
The early church began by having all things common, in imitation of  how the priests had "like portions to eat" (Dt. 18:8). Notice the stress on the equality of the priests and the studied irrelevance of their personal wealth (1 Chron. 24:31; 25:8; 26:12). The Law was geared around the assumption that the priests would be so caught up in Yahweh's work that they would never be rich (consider Dt. 14:29), and the wonder of doing His work would compensate for their lack of physical possessions (Num. 18:23). Yet the early church couldn't sustain the intensity of their initial realization of these things.

Num 18:24 For the tithe of the children of Israel, which they offer as a wave offering to Yahweh, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance’-
The contrast is between having a land inheritance, which was intended to produce food, and receiving the tithes of the harvest from the rest of Israel. Including Levi, there were 13 tribes in Israel. Ten percent of all the harvests from the other 12 tribes would have amounted to more than ten percent of the total agricultural production. Although the Levites had to in turn give a tithe of that to the priests. Additionally, they were to have portions from the sacrifices and also the freewill offerings. We could see this as God's assumption that actually not strictly ten percent would be paid as tithe; or, as His desire to give the Levites more than average. Hence the constant emphasis that they were more than compensated for not having a land inheritance, remembering anyway that the land was ultimately Yahweh's and the other tribes only had it, as it were, on permanent leasehold. And there were to be super abundant harvests, if Israel were faithful to the covenant. The generosity to the Levites becomes even more marked when we recall that at this time they were the smallest of the tribes; there was to be a superabundance of provision per head of population within the tribe. See on :26.

Num 18:25 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
The Levites were to receive the tithe, but were not to assume that they were therefore not required to personally donate (:25). The need to give was required even of the recipients. And that is an abiding principle for all who receive support from others, in whatever form. For personal generosity out of what we have is to be a characteristic of all God's people.

Num 18:26 Moreover you shall speak to the Levites, and tell them, ‘When you take of the children of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall offer up a wave offering of it for Yahweh, a tithe of the tithe-
The Levites numbered 22,000 males over one month old (Num. 3:34); they were to receive the tithe of 600,000 grown men from the other tribes (Num. 1:46). This may appear to mean that the Levites were to be extremely well provided for. However it’s more likely that this is an example of where God foresaw the likely failure of His people to obey His Law fully, and built into that very Law some provision for this. In this we see His sensitivity to our human failure. See on :25.

Num 18:27 Your wave offering shall be reckoned to you, as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress-
The Septuagint uses the word translated “imputed” in the NT with regard to sacrifices [symbolic of Christ’s death on the cross] being “reckoned” to a person (Lev. 7:18; Num. 18:27,30); and of Shimei asking David not to “reckon” his guilt to him, to judge him not according to the obvious facts of the case (2 Sam. 19:20). The Old Testament is at pains to stress that Yahweh will not justify the guilty (Ex. 23:7; Is. 5:23; Prov. 17:15). This is where the unique significance of Jesus comes in. Because of Him, His death and our faith in it, our being in Him, God can justify the wicked in that they have died with Christ in baptism (Rom. 6:3-5), they are no longer, they are only “in Christ”, for them “to live is Christ”. They are counted as in Him, and in this way sinners end up justified.

Num 18:28 Thus you also shall offer a wave offering to Yahweh of all your tithes, which you receive of the children of Israel; and of it you shall give Yahweh’s wave offering to Aaron the priest-
The idea seems to be that the Levites tithed to the priests, who tithed to the High Priest.

Num 18:29 Out of all your gifts you shall offer every wave offering of Yahweh, of all its best, even the holy part of it out of it’-
"The best" is not defined. So much of the Mosaic legislation was an appeal to the conscience. What seems best and most desirable will differ between individuals, and over time. But we are to give what in our context is "the best" to Him. But "best" is s.w. "fat", and this may be a reference to the need never to take the fat for themselves but always to offer it to God.

Num 18:30 Therefore you shall tell them, ‘When you heave its best from it, then it shall be reckoned to the Levites as the increase of the threshing floor, and as the increase of the winepress-
The tithes were to be paid to the Levites, not the priests. The priests survived by eating the sacrifices made by Israel. It’s therefore incorrect for modern church leaders to demand a tithe be paid to them because they are equivalent of the priests. In any case, we are to be a community of priests (1 Pet. 2:5). The tithes were produce from the land, not money; although seeing money existed in some form, God could have commanded money to be given them. But the tithe was of agricultural produce, simply so that the Levites would have something to eat as they concentrated on God’s service- not in order to make them wealthy.

Num 18:31 You shall eat it in every place, you and your households; for it is your reward in return for your service in the Tent of Meeting-
"Reward for service" is the phrase used in Ez. 29:18 for how God considered that even Gentile Nebuchadnezzar was worthy of a reward / wage for his service for God against the king of Tyre. This sense of some immediate recompense for service rendered to God is a major theme. And yet in the Christian dispensation, the reward for service is not now but at the Lord's coming, indeed this is one reason why there will be a day of judgment (Rev. 22:12).   

Num 18:32 You shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have heaved from it the best of it, and you shall not profane the holy things of the children of Israel, that you not die’-
They were not to fear eating the tithe, and yet they were to ensure that the wrong people didn't eat holy things. Although the Hebrew word for "holy things" can equally mean the holy place. Or the reference may specifically be to the tithe of the tithe, which would be profaned if they kept it for themselves and didn't give it to the priests. The principle may be that we can only enjoy anything if we have first subjected it and our lives to the spirit of giving.