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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 18

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-32

The more Definite Signification of the Priesthood and of the Services of the Levites. Rights and Duties

Numbers 18:1-32

1And the Lord said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy fathers’ house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood. 2And thy brethren also 1of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee: but thou and thy sons with thee 2 shall minister before the tabernacle of 3witness. 3And they shall keep thy charge, and the charge of all the tabernacle: only they shall not come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor ye also, die. 4And they shall be joined unto thee, and keep the charge of the 4tabernacle of the congregation, for all the service of the tabernacle: and a stranger shall not come nigh unto you. 5And ye shall keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar; that there be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel. 6And I, behold, I have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for the Lord, to do the service of the 5tabernacle of the congregation. 67Therefore thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest’s office for everything of the altar, and within the vail; and ye shall serve: I have given your priest’s office unto you as a service of 7gift: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

8And the Lord spake unto Aaron, Behold, I also have given thee the charge of mine heave offerings 8of all the hallowed things of the children of Israel; unto thee have I given them 9by reason of the anointing, and to thy sons, 10by an ordinance for eNum Numbers 18:9 This shall be thine of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every oblation of theirs, every 11 meat offering of theirs, and every sin offering of theirs, and every 12trespass offering of theirs, which they shall render unto me, shall be most holy for thee and for thy sons. 10In the most holy place shalt thou eat it; 11every male shall eat it: it shall be holy unto thee. And this is thine; the heave offering of their gift, with all the wave offerings of the children of Israel: I have given them unto thee, and to thy sons and to thy daughters with thee, iby a statute 12for ever: every one that is clean in thy house shall eat of it. All the 13best of the oil, and all the lbest of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which 13they 14shall offer unto the Lord, them have I given thee. 15 And whatsoever is first ripe in the land, which they shall bring unto the Lord, shall be thine; every one that is clean in thine house shall eat of it. 14Every thing devoted in Israel shall be thine. 15Every thing that openeth the matrix in all flesh, which they bring unto the Lord, whether it be of men or beasts, shall be thine: nevertheless the firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem. 1616And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation, for 17the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt burn their fat 18 for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the Lord. 18And the flesh of them shall be thine, as the wave breast and as the right shoulder 19are thine. 19All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the Lord, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, iby a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord unto thee and to thy seed with thee. 20And the Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.

21And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, 20for their service which they serve, even the service of the dtabernacle of the congregation. 2122Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come nigh the dtabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin, 22and die. 2323But the Levites shall do the service of the dtabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance. 24But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they 24offer as a heave offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.

25And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 25 26Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up a heave offering 27of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe. And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshing floor, and as the fulness of the winepress. 28Thus ye also shall voffer a heave offering unto the Lord of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the Lord’s heave offering to Aaron the priest. 29Out of all your gifts ye shall voffer every heave offering of the Lord, of all the 26best thereof, even the hallowed part thereof out of it. 30Therefore thou shalt say unto them, When ye 27have heaved the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted unto the Levites as the increase of the threshing floor, and as the increase of the winepress. 31And ye shall eat it in every place, ye and your households: for it is your reward for your service in the 28tabernacle of the congregation. 32And ye shall bear no sin by reason of it, when ye xhave heaved from it the best of it: neither shall ye pollute the holy things of the children of Israel 29lest ye die.


By the saving atonement that Aaron accomplished by his offering of incense as symbol of the sympathetic high-priestly intercession, and with which he stood between the living and the dead, and by the blossoming of Aaron’s rod alone effected thereby [!], the priesthood for the entire Old Testament is established as a fact; in other words, the centre of the host of God, as the sanctuary of the holy nation. From the great fact Moses now draws its ideal meaning, the idea of the priesthood, according to which it has by its sympathy to bear on its heart the iniquities of the nation, even the iniquities of the Levites, and the rights and special duties resulting to the priests and Levites from this fundamental obligation.
Our section accordingly subdivides into the following parts: 1) The entire priestly race—especially the high-priest and his sons as atoning mediators, with whom the Levites shall serve as assistants, Numbers 18:1-3 a. Numbers 18:2) The limits of the Levitical calling (which the rebellion of Korah would have broken down), especially the limits for the non-Levites, under threat of the divine wrath (death penalty), if they are not observed, Numbers 18:3-5Numbers 18:3-5Numbers 18:3-5. Numbers 18:3) The divine good-pleasure in discriminating between the Levites and priests. The Levites are made a gift to the Aaronites, to the Aaronites also the priesthood is presented. They all together constitute the personel of the sanctuary, into which no stranger (גֵּר. Leviticus 22:10), no one that is not a Levite, no layman, may presume to intrude without incurring the death-penalty. For the whole nation indeed is holy, only the priests are sanctified individually, even the Levites individually are only cleansed, conditionally clean are all that are not unclean, Numbers 18:6-7; Numbers 18:4) The priestly right of sustenance. It consists a. in the heave-offerings, of the sacrifices of Israel, of which only Aaron and his sons may eat, Numbers 18:8-10; b. in the heave-offerings of the wave-offerings (the levies of the taxes) which Aaron and his sons and daughters may eat together, the whole of the priestly families, on condition that the individuals are in a state of purity, Numbers 18:11. Numbers 18:5) Specification of the latter income: The first-fruits of oil, new wine, corn, and all fruits of the land: the vows (that devoted to God, חֶרֶם), the first-born, except that the first, born of men and of unclean beasts must be ransomed with five shekels, and that the blood and the fat of the sacrificial beasts must go to the altar; In addition the wave breast and the shoulder of the thank-offering. Thus it is established forever (a covenant of salt), Numbers 18:12 to Numbers 19:6) The last reward of the priests is conditioned on a divine renunciation, and is great for the individual priest in proportion as he exercises renunciation; he shall not possess a fixed inheritance in Israel; on the contrary, Jehovah Himself will be his inheritance (as vice versa he is to be the clerus of Jehovah in a particular sense), Numbers 18:20. Numbers 18:7) The revenues of the Levites. In return for their official service they shall receive the tithes that all Israelites are to pay. On the other hand they are in their service to join in bearing the guilt of Israel, and must make no claim to an inheritance of land. But beside, they must pay tithes to the priests of their tithes as a heave-offering to Jehovah, and indeed of all they must give the very best. There is a delicate distinction observed in that the words of Jehovah in Numbers 18:23 are addressed directly to Aaron, who, as mediator of Israel, does not in this business need the mediation of Moses, since it especially concerns his duty, and his rights were already established before; whereas to the Levites Jehovah speaks by Moses when He enjoins that they shall pay the tenth of the tithes to the priests. Moreover the considerate expression is employed: “Ye shall give it as a heave-offering for Jehovah to the priest Aaron,” Numbers 18:21-32.

Numbers 18:1-3 a. A discrimination is made between a wider and a narrower sphere of the priestly calling to make atonement. The guilt of the Sanctuary is the guilt that is brought on the Sanctuary; not merely offences against laws for the priests and against the sacred utensils (Knobel), nor even the uncleannesses and defects that attached to those that stood in the sanctuary and even to their gifts (for that there was the great Day of Atonement), but all assaults on the central Sanctuary, corruptions of worship, such as the murmuring congregation had given example of; while the high-priestly atonement of Aaron gave an example of bearing (atoning for) the guilt. To the wider sphere of those that make atonement all the Levites are to belong; they must all jointly feel with an interceding soul what is sinfully done against the priestly institution; but what is done sinfully within this institution Aaron and his sons are to take upon their hearts. Thus the sphere of high-priestly compassion concentrates toward the New Testament. Let thy brethren approach with thee in so far that they cleave to thee (יִלָּוֹוּ conformably to לֵוִי). They shall do service to thy service and to the service of the whole Tabernacle. This ordinance of the priestly atonement is the foundation of the whole section, Hebrews 5:1 sqq.

Numbers 18:3-5. The trespass of the Levites on the sacred utensils would bring mortal guilt not only on themselves, but also on the priests that suffered it.

Numbers 18:6-7. The bright side of the Levitical and Aaronic calling. The Levites are made a gift to the Aaronites, and likewise the priesthood is made a gift to them. Their priesthood therefore rests on a double gift of the free grace of God, and in them the Levites too receive a gift. On every hand original claims of right are excluded.

Numbers 18:8-10. First class of priestly revenues. Heave-offerings of all the hallowed things of the children of Israel.—Of the meal-offerings; of the small sin-offerings and guilt-offerings; of all the priests receive their definite portion; of the burnt-offerings of course only the hide. The heave-offerings fell to the priests as out of the fire, so to speak, sacrificial fire; therefore they were very holy, and might only be eaten in the (very holy) fore-court by the high-priest and his sons. The expression: I give to thee the charge, מִשְׁמֶרֶת, Numbers 18:8, is referred here to the notion מִשְׁחָה, part, portio. But any way, the high-priest was under obligation to maintain the right to the definite revenues.

Numbers 18:11-19. Second more general class of revenues (see Leviticus 7:33). The wave-breast and the heave-shoulder, and also the first-fruit of every sort (Deuteronomy 8:8; Deuteronomy 26:2, etc.). Every thing devoted by a vow (see Leviticus 27:28). The Cherem in the broader sense, what is consecrated to God.

Numbers 18:20. Between the renunciation of the inheritance in land, and the corresponding renunciation of the priests and Levites, and their immeasurable reward, there exists an intimate connection. The first particular is the condition of the second, not the second merely a consolation with reference to the first. Of late much has been said of the inferior support of the clergy, very little of the great spiritual indemnity. Of course Jehovah was also the inheritance of the priest and of the Levite only pre-eminently. The Levites receive no possession of land (Numbers 26:62; Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 14:27; Joshua 14:3). Their portion is Jehovah (Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:2 sqq.). In and with Jehovah they possess every thing. This fundamental law for all the pious is concentrated and illustrated by the priesthood.

Numbers 18:21-32. The tithes that the Levites receive must in turn be regarded as if they were their natural acquisition in fruits of the land, Numbers 18:27. In this sense they are to pay their dues to the priests, and that, too, the best of what they received. On the other hand, what they receive must be assured to them as much as if it were the yield of a harvest field belonging to them, Numbers 18:30. Therefore they may also take their food any place as they like. The heathen priests were many times better cared for, especially the Egyptian priests with their great landed possessions; on which subject see Keil, in loc. How fearfully the possession of land by a priestly class can burden a country and people is taught us by the Manus mortua of the Middle Ages. But now-a-days men have the assurance to say that the mediæval chief priest needs a whole territory in order to be able to take care of his office, whereas, now and then, he certainly takes care of it zealously in his fashion without territory.


Chap. 18. The faithful care and protection of the Sanctuary should guard against the judgments of God on the congregation of Israel. The revenues of the priestly race in their spiritual significance. The tithes to the Levites a fundamental form of Israelitish taxes, levies and collections. Hence not to be imposed again in a legal way on the Christian obligation to pay taxes.
The tenth of the tenth a heave-offering for the priests. Thus the members of the church that are most alive are the best supporters of the official pastorate. Care was thus taken that the priests did not receive these revenues directly from the people. Necessity for suitable forms of dues for the clergy.


[1]omit of.

[2]shall be.


[4]Tent of Meeting.

[5]Tent of Meeting.


[7](i.e. as an office presented to them by God).

[8]as for all the hallowed things, unto thee, etc.

[9]for a portion.

[10]for dues forever.



[13]Heb. fat.


[15]The first ripe fruits of all that is in their.

[16]And its ransom (as regards the ransom), from a month on (when it is a month old) thou shalt ransom, etc.

[17]five silver shekels.

[18]as a fire-sacrifice.

[19]it shall be.

[20]in return for.

[21]And no more shall (omit henceforth).

[22]Heb. to die.

[23]But the (tribe) Levi, he shall do, etc.


[25]And to the Levites thou shalt speak.

[26]Heb. fat.

[27]omit have.

[28]Tent of Meeting.

[29]nor die.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 18". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/numbers-18.html. 1857-84.
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