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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
In this chapter we have the answer of the Lord to the cry of the people recorded at the close of the preceding chapter. And after the confirmation of the priesthood of Aaron and his family, these Divine directions as to the duties and emoluments of the Priests and Levites come in very appropriately. The greater part of these directions were addressed by the Lord directly to Aaron (Numbers 18:1-24). But the regulations as to the tithes to be paid by the Levites to the Priests were addressed to Moses, as the head of all Israel (Numbers 18:25-32).
Numbers 18:1. The iniquity of the sanctuary. “i.e., the guilt of the offences which an erring people would be continually committing against the majesty of God, when brought into contact, through the ordinances, with the manifestations of His presence. Cf. Exodus 28:38; also Numbers 8:19.”—Speaker’s Comm.
The iniquity of your priesthood, “As the priests themselves were but men, they could no more than others abide it, if God were extreme to mark what was done amiss. An atonement was consequently ordained for them (Leviticus 16:0); and they were strengthened to bear the iniquity of their own unintentional offences, by being entrusted with the ceremonial means of taking it away. The word ‘bear’ has, in the Old Testament, this double sense of ‘enduring’ and ‘removing;’ but in the person of Christ, who atoned by His own endurance, the two are in effect one.”—Ibid.
And thy father’s house with thee. “The father’s house of Aaron, i.e., the Levitical family of Kohath, was also to join in bearing the iniquity of the sanctuary, because the oversight of the holy vessels of the sanctuary devolved upon it (Numbers 4:4, sqq.).—Keil and Del.
Numbers 18:2. Thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi.… may be joined unto thee. “There is a fine paronomasia, or play upon words, in the original. Levi comes from the root lavah, to join to, couple, associate: hence Moses says, the Levites, yillavu, shall be joined or associated with the priests; they shall conjointly perform the whole of the sacred office, but the priests shall be principal, the Levites only their associates or assistants.”—Adam Clarke, LL.D.
Numbers 18:4. A stranger, i.e, everyone who was neither a priest nor a Levite. Comp. Numbers 1:53; Numbers 3:7.
Numbers 18:5. Ye shall keep, &c. Ye, viz., Aaron and his sons.
Numbers 18:7. I have given your priest’s office, &c. “This office, which brought them into the closest fellowship with the Lord, was a favour accorded to them by the grace of God. This is expressed in the words, ‘as a service of gift (a service with which I present you) I give you the priesthood.’ ”—Keil and Del.
Numbers 18:8. By reason of the anointing. Keil and Del. et al. translate, “for a portion.”
Numbers 18:10. In the most holy place, i.e., “in the court of the tabernacle (see Leviticus 6:9; Leviticus 6:19; Leviticus 7:6), which is called ‘most holy’ here, to lay a stronger emphasis upon the precept.”—Keil and Del.
Every male. Only the males of the priestly families could eat of the things mentioned in Numbers 18:9.
Numbers 18:11. To thy sons and to thy daughters. Both the males and females of the priestly families, provided they were legally clean, might eat of the things mentioned in this verse.
Numbers 18:15. Surely redeem.… redeem. “A stronger expression is intentionally used in reference to the redemption of the first-born of man than in reference to that of unclean beasts. For the rule as to the former admitted of no exception: the owner of the latter, if unwilling to redeem, might destroy the beasts (Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20). Usually, of course, he would redeem them, but in the case of a diseased or maimed animal he might well be excused from making a payment for that which, if redeemed, would be worthless. As to the mode of redemption of unclean beasts, it had been originally enjoined that the first-ling of an ass should be redeemed with a lamb. But the owner of the beast might not be always able to provide a lamb, especially in the wilderness, and the liability was accordingly commuted (Leviticus 27:27). Into all the details of this the present ordinances do not enter. Their object is not so much to prescribe accurately to the people what should be paid, as to assign to the priests their various revenues.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 18:19. A covenant of salt. “That is, an incorruptible everlasting covenant. As salt was added to different kinds of viands, not only to give them a relish, but to preserve them from putrefaction and decay, it became the emblem of incorruptibility and permanence. Hence, a covenant of salt signified an everlasting covenant. Among the Asiatics, eating together was considered a bond of perpetual friendship; and as salt was a common article in all their repasts, it may be in reference to this circumstance that a perpetual covenant is termed a covenant of salt; because the parties ate together of the sacrifice offered on the occasion, and the whole transaction was considered as a league of endless friendship. See Leviticus 2:13.”—A. Clarke, LL D.
Numbers 18:20. Comp. Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:1-2; Joshua 13:33. “No tract of land was peculiarly assigned to them, as were to the other tribes, as fields nor vineyards; they had fields appointed them, and they had houses and cities devoted to the Lord which fell to them, and others they had by gift or legacy, or by purchase, as had Jeremiah, the priest, and Barnabas, the Levite, Jeremiah 32:9; and Acts 4:36-37; but they had no share in the distribution of the land of Canaan at the time of the division of it among the tribes; no, not even in the spoil of the cities of the land of Canaan when they were conquered.”—Evang. Synopsis.
Numbers 18:21. Comp. Leviticus 27:31-33; Nehemiah 10:37; Nehemiah 12:44.
Numbers 18:22-23. Comp. Numbers 1:53 and Numbers 8:19.
Numbers 18:26. The Levites are here commanded to give to the priests, as an offering to the Lord, a tithe of the tithes which they received.
Numbers 18:27. Shall be reckoned, &c. “That is, it should be as acceptable to God as if they had fields and vineyards, threshing-floors and wine-presses, of their own, from whence corn and wine were taken.”—Dr. Gill.
Numbers 18:29. Of all the best thereof. Heb. as in margin, “Of all the fat”
Numbers 18:32. Neither shall ye pollute, &c. “Rather, ‘And by not polluting the holy things of the children of Israel, ye shall not die.’ ”—Speaker’s Comm.
A GRAVE PERIL AND A GRACIOUS PRECAUTION
Two preliminary points:
First: Here is the answer of the Lord to the cry of the people. The inquiry concerning the approach to the tabernacle of the Lord, with which the preceding chapter closes, receives a clear response in the paragraph now before us. Man may draw near to God, but it must be in the way which He has appointed. Micah 6:6-8; John 14:6.
Second: Here is a solemn reminder to Aaron that his great honours involved great responsibilities. The Lord had abundantly vindicated his priesthood, and now He reminds him of the serious responsibilities of his charge. “Thou and thy sons and thy father’s house with thee shall bear,” &c. (Numbers 18:1). “And ye shall keep the charge of the sanctuary,” &c. (Numbers 18:5). Wherefore let them “not be high-minded, but fear.” (See pp. 32, 33.) (a)
Let us now consider—
I. The grave peril referred to.
There was danger that the wrath of God might be again kindled against them by reason of—
1. Sin in relation to consecrated places and things. No one was to come nigh unto these except upon such occasions as were permitted by God, e.g., when bringing their sacrifices to the priests, &c. “A stranger shall not come nigh unto you.” “The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.” Korah and his company had sinned in this way, and they were consumed by “fire from the Lord.” Aaron and his sons, with the Levites as assistants, must bear the responsibility of the charge of the sacred places and things. As with the Israelites there was danger of sin by unwarranted approach to the tabernacle; so our best services are imperfect; even our worship is marred by wandering thoughts and lukewarm affections; our religious exercises need the merits of the gracious Saviour. (b)
2. Sin in consecrated persons. “The Lord said unto Aaron, … Thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood” (see Explanatory Notes on Numbers 18:1). The holiest of men in the holiest office is, in the present state, exposed to temptation, and liable to sin, and stands constantly in need of “the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (c)
Sin, whether in priests or in people, is a perilous thing; it issues in death (James 1:15); it kindles the wrath of God. “Sin and punishment,” says Trapp, “come under one name, as being tied together with chains of adamant: where the one dines the other will sup; where the one is in the saddle, the other will be upon the crupper. Nemo crimen gerit in pectore qui non idem Nemesin in tergo. Sin doth as naturally draw and suck judgments to it, as the loadstone doth iron, or turpentine fire.”
II. The gracious precaution against this peril.
By appointing the priests and Levites to the charge of the consecrated places and things; by appointing to them means of atonement for sin (Leviticus 16:0); and by solemnly warning the people against intruding into sacred places or intermeddling with sacred duties, the Lord endeavours to guard them against the perils to which they were exposed. But there are several particulars which call for notice:—
1. The Divine distribution of duty. To the priests and the Levites respectively certain duties were allotted (comp. chaps. 3, and 4, and see pp. 48, 49, 56, 57).
2. The Divine recognition of differences of rank amongst men. The Levites, though brethren to the priests, were to serve them. They shall “be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee.” Differences of rank are inevitable amongst men. (See pp. 12, 13.) The Church of Christ is no exception in this. (See p. 48.) As the Levites were to serve under Aaron, so Christians work under Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest. (d)
3. In the differences of rank the common brotherhood of all must not be lost sight of. Though servants to the priests, the Levites were their brethren. “Thy brethren” (Numbers 18:2); “your brethren the Levites” (Numbers 18:6). In the Christian Church differences of rank do not invalidate the brotherhood of all. The elders of the Church are not to be “lords over God’s heritage.” “One is your master, Christ; and all ye are brethren.” Even “HE is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (e)
4. Men of every rank are called to service. The priests must serve; so also must the Levites; and those who belonged to neither of these orders were called to serve in other departments of the national life. From the highest to the lowest no one was exempted from this obligation. (See pp. 13, 56, 57.)
5. Each must faithfully fulfil his own service, and abstain from intrusion into the province of others. The Levites were not to interfere with priestly duties: “They shall not come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor ye also, die.” They who were neither priests nor Levites were to abstain from all the sacred functions connected with the tabernacle. “A stranger shall not come nigh unto you.” “The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.” No one must intermeddle with duties which belonged not to him. An excellent rule for all times and places.
6. The faithful discharge of appointed duty promotes the safety of the entire people. “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.” The welfare of the whole community is affected beneficially or injuriously by the conduct of each member of it. The faithfulness of even the feeblest and most obscure member contributes to the security and prosperity of the entire commonwealth. (f)
(a) The greater the trust is of work and power that is committed to us the greater is our danger of contracting guilt, by falsifying and betraying that trust. This is a good reason why we should neither be envious at others’ honours nor ambitious ourselves of high places, because great dignity exposes us to great iniquity. Those that are entrusted with the charge of the sanctuary will have a great deal to answer for. Who would have the care of souls who considers the account that must be given of that care?—Matthew Henry.
(b) The temple itself is full of vacant worship. It resounds with rash vows and babbling voices. It is the house of God; but man has made it a nest of triflers, a fair of vanity, a den of thieves. Some come to it, as reckless and irreverent as if they were stepping into a neighbour’s house. Some come to it, and feel as if they had laid the most High under obligation, because they bring a sheaf of corn or a pair of pigeons; whilst they never listen to God’s Word, nor strive after that obedience which is better than sacrifice. Some come, and rattle over empty forms of devotion, as if they would be heard because of their muses speaking. And some, in a fit of fervour, utter vows which they forget to pay; and, when reminded of their promise by the “angel” of the church, they protest that there must be some mistake: they repudiate the vow, and say it was an error.—James Hamilton, D.D.
(c) As a man who in the morning washeth his hands, and goes abroad about his business and affairs in the world, though he doth not puddle in the mire, or rake among dunghills, yet when he returns home again to dinner, or at night, if he wash, he finds that he hath contracted some uncleanness and that his hands are foul: we cannot converse in an unclean and dirty world with our bodies, but some uncleanness will fasten upon them. So it is with the soul; the souls of the best, of the purest, of the holiest, though they do not rake in the dunghill, and wallow in the mire of sin basely and filthily, yet they do from day to day, yea from moment to moment, contract some filth and uncleanness. And in this sense it is that “there is no man that liveth and sinneth not.” Every man hath a “fountain of uncleanness” in him; and there will be ever some sin, some filthiness bubbling and boiling up, if not flowing forth.—Caryl,
(d) The Levites were to serve under Aaron, the head of the priestly house. This teaches us a fine lesson, and one much needed by Christians at the present moment. We all want to bear in mind that service, to be intelligent and acceptable, must be rendered in subjection to priestly authority and guidance. The whole tribe of workers were associated with and subject to the high priest. All was under his immediate control and guidance. So must it be now in reference to all God’s workers. All Christian service must be rendered in fellowship with our Great High Priest, and in holy subjection to His authority. It is of no value otherwise. There may be a great deal of work done, there may be a great deal of activity; but if Christ be not the immediate object before the heart, if His guidance and authority be not fully owned, the work must go for nothing. But, on the other hand, the smallest act of service, the meanest work done under the eye of Christ, done with direct reference to Him, has its value in God’s estimation, and shall most assuredly receive its due reward. This is truly encouraging, and consolatory to the heart of every earnest worker. The Levites had to work under Aaron. Christians have to work under Christ. We are responsible to Him.—Anon.
(e) You recognise in every nation, in every tribe, your fellow men, your brethren. Go to Egypt, and stand among the Sphinxes, the Pyramids, the old and wondrous temples, and you are a stranger in a strange land, and it seems scarcely less than a ghastly dream. Go farther East, behold the ruined architecture, revive the manners and customs of the Syrian and Babylonian empires, and you seem still among a strange people. If they should rise and speak to you, their tongues would be as strange to you as yours would be to them. But let a maiden speak her love, and instantly you know that voice. The works that their hands wrought are wondrous. The affections that throb in their hearts are familiar. The things that they lived for outwardly—see how widely you are separated from these. How different are their laws, their institutions, and their methods of commerce from ours! How strange to us are their political economy and their ecclesiastical system! Touch that which man fashioned and formed, and man is disjointed, and split apart by rivers, and mountains, and times, and ages; but touch the human heart, and let that speak, and all men rise up and say, “That voice is my voice.” Reach but the feeling of love, and every human being says, “It is my brother; it is my sister.” Strike those cords that bring out the experience of grief, and every man wails with the hoary wailers of antiquity. Man is not a unit by virtue of the fruits of his intellect and the works of his hand, but by virtue of those eternal identities of sentiment and affection which are common to all men in all nations and ages.—H. W. Beecher.
(f) No man has a right to say he can do nothing for the benefit of mankind, who are less benefited by ambitious projects than by the sober fulfilment of each man’s proper duties. By doing the proper duty in the proper place, a man may make the world his debtor. The results of “patient continuance in well-doing” are never to be measured by the weakness of the instrument, but by the omnipotence of Him who blesseth the sincere efforts of obedient faith alike in the prince and in the cottager.—H. Thompson.
THE FIDELITY OF ONE, THE SAFETY OF MANY
I. To ministers of the Gospel, who are—
1. To preach the whole truth.
2. To guard the ordinances of religion.
3. To urge the performance of duty, that the people of their charge may be saved from sin and wrath.
II. To civil rulers,
Who are to make and enforce laws to maintain and increase the tone of public morality.
III. To heads of families,
Who, by example and precept, should seek to form good characters and correct evil habits in their children and servants.
An illustration of fidelity.—The fidelity of the keepers of the lighthouse once on Minet’s Ledge, near Boston, may well be imitated. In the terrible April gale of 1851, this beautiful structure was destroyed. Two men were in it at the time; and a vast multitude were gathered upon the shore, waiting, in anxious distress, for the expected catastrophe. Every hour, however, the bell tolled the time, and ever the light pierced the dark raging storm, and bid the sailor beware. No howling blast could silence the one, or rising wave extinguish the other. At last, one giant wave, mightier than the rest, rose up and threw its arms around the tower, and laid it low in the waves. Then alone was the bell silent; then alone did the light cease to shine.—J. M. Reid.—Biblical Museum.
THE DIVINE PROVISION FOR THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES, AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE MAINTENANCE OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
The main subject of this portion of the history has already engaged our attention (see pp. 84–86); but there are additional matters brought before us here which demand notice.
The Redemption of the Firstborn (Numbers 18:15-16) has also been already noticed by us (see pp. 59, 60).
“These regulations concerning the revenues of the priests and Levites were in perfect accordance with the true idea of the Israelitish Kingdom of God. Whereas in heathen states, where there was an hereditary priestly caste, that caste was generally a rich one, and held a firm possession in the soil (in Egypt, for example; see at Genesis 47:22), the Levites received no hereditary landed property in the land of Israel, but only towns to dwell in among the other tribes, with pasturage for their cattle (chap. 35), because Jehovah, the God of Israel, would be their inheritance. In this way their earthly existence was based upon the spiritual ground and soil of faith, in accordance with the calling assigned them, to be the guardians and promoters of the commandments, statutes, and rights of Jehovah; and their authority and influence among the people were bound up with their unreserved surrender of themselves to the Lord, and their firm reliance upon the possession of their God. Now, whilst this position was to be a constant incitement to the Levites to surrender themselves entirely to the Lord and His service, it was also to become to the whole nation a constant admonition, inasmuch as it was a prerogative conferred upon them by the Lord, to seek the highest of all good it the possession of the Lord, as its portion and inheritance.”—Keil and Del.
The following observations are suggested—
I. That the maintenance of the Christian ministry devolves upon the Christian Church.
This nation of Israelites was separated unto the Lord, and is thus an illustration of the Church. God ordained that the priests and Levites should be supported by the nation; the Christian ministry should be supported by the Christian Church.
1. This is righteous. The priests and Levites were required to renounce the paths of worldly ambition and profit; they had no share in the inheritance of the children of Israel (Numbers 18:20; Numbers 18:24); they were to devote themselves unreservedly to the promotion of the religious interests of the people. Inasmuch as they gave their time, their strength, &c., to serve the people, the people could not neglect to provide for them without dishonesty. The Christian minister has a right to a liberal maintenance from the church which he serves. What the Lord said to the Levites might be said to ministers to day respecting the provision made for them, “It is your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation” (Numbers 18:31). (a)
2. This is advantageous. It promotes the prosperity of the Church. (See pp. 85, 86.)
3. This is scriptural. Matthew 10:9-10; Luke 10:7; 1 Corinthians 9:7-14; Galatians 6:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9; 1 Timothy 5:17-18.
II. That Christian ministers of every grade who are devoted to the service of the Church have a right to support from the Church.
God gives directions for the worthy support of the high priest, the priests, and their servants, the Levites, also. The claims of the poor, hard working curate upon the Church for a respectable maintenance are, in the sight of God, as binding as those of the wealthy and lordly bishop. The claims of many of the most faithful and useful ministers, who are working in inconspicuous spheres, are most sadly and sinfully overlooked by the Christian Church. (b)
III. That the Christian ministry should be supported liberally by the Church.
“The revenue which the Lord assigned to the Levites and priests, as His servants, consisting of the tenths and firstfruits, as well as certain portions of the different sacrificial gifts that were offered to Him, appears to have been a very considerable one, especially if we adopt the computation of J. D. Michaelis (Mos. Recht. i. § 52) with reference to the tithes. ‘A. tribe,’ he says, ‘which had only 22,000 males in it (23,000 afterwards), and therefore could hardly have numbered more than 12,000 grown up men, received the tithes of 600,000 Israelites; consequently one single Levite, without the slightest necessity for sowing, and without any of the expenses of agriculture, reaped or received from the produce of the flocks and herds as much as five of the other Israelites.’ But this leaves out of sight the fact that tithes are never paid so exactly as this, and that no doubt there was as little conscientiousness in the matter then as there is at the present day, when those who are entitled to receive a tenth often receive even less than a twentieth. Moreover, the revenue of the tribe which the Lord had chosen as His own peculiar possession, was not intended to be a miserable and beggarly one; but it was hardly equal, at any time, to the revenues which the priestly castes of other nations derived from their endowments.”—Keil and Del. It is deplorable that the Christian Church, with its richer spiritual heritage, should fall so far below the Jewish Church in this respect.
IV. That all the members of the Church should contribute to the maintenance of the ministry.
Every one who brought a sacrifice contributed a portion of the same to the priests, and those who had children or cattle contributed the firstborn, and those who cultivated the soil presented the choicest of their productions and the firstfruits, and to the Levites all the tithes were given. So that, in one way or another, all contributed to the support of the priests and Levites. And surely the principle is just that all who receive the services of the Christian ministry should contribute to its support. (c)
V. That all should contribute proportionally to the maintenance of the ministry.
Every Israelite contributed a tenth of his possessions to the cause of God. The rule for the Christian should be, “Every man according to his ability” “As God hath prospered him.” “Freely ye have received, freely give.” (d)
VI. That out of their maintenance Christian ministers should offer a portion to the Lord. (Numbers 18:25-29.)
“The Levites had to give up the tenth of all the tithes they received to the priests; and the priests were to offer to Jehovah upon the altar a portion of the firstfruits, heave-offerings, and wave offerings that were assigned to them. Consequently, as the whole nation was to make a practical acknowledgment, in the presentation of the tithe and firstfruits, that it had received its hereditary property as a fief from the Lord its God, so the Levites, by their payment of the tenth to the priests, and the priests, by presenting a portion of their revenues upon the altar, were to make a practical confession that they had received all their revenues from the Lord their God, and owed Him praise and adoration in return (see Bähr, Symbolik, ii. pp. 43 sqq.).—Keil and Del. And the Christian minister, being liberally maintained by the Church, should be an example of liberality, honouring God and doing good to men with his temporal goods.
1. Let the Church recognise and do its duty in relation to the ministry; and do it as unto the Lord, and then it will become a privilege.
2. Let ministers be faithful and diligent in the discharge of their duties, &c.
(a) You listen to a minister suspiciously because he is paid for preaching. Very good. I only insist upon your being consistent throughout; then what will happen? When you are drowning, you will ask the life-boat men whether they are paid for their services, and on being told that they live by their occupation, you will nobly perish in the deep. When your house is in flames, you will demand, notwithstanding the stifling smoke and cracking timbers, whether the fire-escape men are paid for their work, and on learning that they have a pound a week, you will embrace the flames with a martyr’s rapture. Of course you will do so. But let me tell you that men who try to save life never can be paid! A man may pay for his coat, but he can never pay for the services which, by the blessing of God, redeem and sanctify his nature.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) All in the ministry, whatsoever their gifts be, are to be accepted; yea, though their gifts oftentimes be small and slender. True it is, they must all have some gifts to fit them to teach the people, but howsoever they be inferior to many others, yet for their office sake they must be regarded. I do not say, the people should depend upon them that are utterly ignorant and unlearned, but if meanly gifted in comparison of others, the people must not forsake them, neither wander from one Levite to another. Mark, therefore, that ministers endued with a small, and yet a competent measure of gifts, may, notwithstanding, do unto God good service in the Church, and gain glory to His Name. He putteth His rich treasures in vessels, not of silver and gold, but of earth. Among the Apostles, it is to be thought that some had greater gifts than others; some were “the sons of thunder,” and some “laboured more abundantly than others,” no doubt according to the gifts they had received, yet all profitable to the Church. There is “a difference of gifts by the same Spirit,” nevertheless all “given to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). And Paul saith, he spake with tongues more than others (1 Corinthians 14:18). Experience teacheth this among ourselves, that many of mean gifts and little human learning, yet have been profitable teachers, and powerful instruments of much good in the Church of God, and gaining many to Him.—W. Attersoll.
(c) As the great principle of love to Christ will not allow the more opulent to give scantily, so neither will it permit the poorest to come before Him empty. It was one of the Divine enactments even of the legal dispensation—None shall come before Me empty. But that which was matter of law with the Israelite, the Christian will seize as a golden opportunity for evincing his love to Christ; and will bring, though it be only a grain of incense for an offering, or a leaf for that wreath of praise and honour which the Church delights to lay at the feet of Christ. Whatever Scripture example others may profess to copy, he will select the example of the benevolent widow; and, while others content themselves with only admiring it, he will often reflect on its imitableness. Nor will the language of the Apostle be ever heard by him but as an address to himself,—“Let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” “These hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to those that are with me. I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Agreeably with these sentiments, the man who, at one time, imagined that his poverty quite exempted him from the obligations of charity, and only rendered him an object of it, is no sooner made the partaker of grace, than he feels himself impelled to place some offering on the altar of Christian benevolence; and, with the ready eye and hand of affection, he soon detects, for this end, some small superfluity which can be retrenched, or some leisure time which can be profitably employed. And when his mite like offerings, the fruit of hard self-denial, or of the sweat of his brow, is presented, nothing could inflict on his grateful heart a deeper wound than to see that offering rejected on the ground of its comparative insignificance, or of his supposed inability to give it. It is the offering of a sinner’s gratitude to a Saviour’s love, and heaven rejoices over the oblation.—John Harris, D D.
(d) It is observable that Abraham and Jacob, on particular occasions, voluntarily devoted to God—what afterwards became a Divine law for the Jewish nation—a tenth of their property. Without implying that their example has any obligation on as, we may venture to say that one tenth of our whole income is an approved proportion for charity, for those who, with so doing, are able to support themselves and families. For the more opulent, and especially for those who have no families, a larger proportion would be equally easy. For some, one half would be too little; while, for others, a twentieth, or even a fiftieth, would require the nicest frugality and care. Indeed, of many among the poor it may be said, that if they give anything they give their share, they cast in more than all their brethren.
But in determining the proportion to be made sacred to God, the Christian would surely rather exceed than fall short of the exact amount. With whom is he stipulating? For whom is he preparing the offering? Well may the recollection put every covetous thought to instant flight tinging his cheek with shame at the bare possibility of ingratitude; and impelling him to lay his all at the feet of Christ. Only let him think of the great love wherewith Christ hath loved him, only let him pass by the cross on his way to the altar of oblation, and his richest offering will appear totally unworthy of Divine acceptance. When Christ is the object to be honoured, the affection of the pardoned penitent cannot stop to calculate the value of its alabaster box of precious ointment—that is an act to which a Judas only can stoop—its chief and sole regret is that the unction has not a richer perfume and a higher value.—Ibid.
THE SUPREME CLAIMS OF GOD
“All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine and of the wheat, the first-fruits of them they shall offer unto the Lord.”
God claims that the first and the best of man’s possessions shall be devoted unto Him.
I. Let us illustrate this claim.
1. It applies to ourselves.
(1) He claims the best of our persons. He asks for our supreme love. “My son give Me thine heart.” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” &c.
(2) He claims the best of our life. Youth, with its freshness and enthusiasm and hope, is His. “They that seek Me early, shall find Me.” “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” Manhood, with its maturity and strength and firmness and wisdom, is His. He summons men to His service,—“Son, go work to-day in my vineyard.” He condescends by His Apostle to entreat men to comply with His demands. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies,” &c. He will not be satisfied with the dregs of life, or with the fragments of life; He demands its first, and best, and all.
2. It applies to our possessions.
(1) Our time He claims: not the remnant, after the claims of business and pleasure have all been met. He will be served in all. His demand must be met first, or it is slighted.
(2) Our treasures also He claims. Man of wealth! God lays His hand upon thy property, and calls it His own. Man of genius! God calls thee to lay thine eloquence and logic, thy poetry and philosophy, upon His altar. Consecrate thy gifts to Him. Even the friend or relative who is more dear than life to us, He asserts His claim upon, and we are bound to submit. He demanded the first-born of Israel as peculiarly His; and He may claim that our first-born, or our Benjamin, shall be entirely surrendered to His service here, or He may call them away to serve Him in higher spheres. The choicest of our possessions and of ourselves; all that we have and all that we are, He asserts His right to.
II. Let us enforce this claim.
We may do this on the following grounds:
1. He has given to us whatever of good we possess. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” &c. “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” “He giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” He gives to us not absolutely, but as to stewards. &c. (a)
2. He gave His BEST to us. How dear is His Son to Him! “Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth.” “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Yet He gave Him to us. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” &c. And He gave Him to humiliation and want, to suffering and sorrow, to shame and death. “He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” Having given His Best so freely to us—and such a Best! He surely has an indisputable right to our best. (b)
3. If we have complied with His great demand, and given ourselves to Him, we shall not hesitate to give Him the best of our possessions. If we have given our hearts fully to Him, we shall not keep back anything which He requires of us. (c)
(a) Think of the right which He has in all you possess. There is a sense in which no man can be said to possess an exclusive and irresponsible right in property, even in relation to his fellow-creatures. The land which he calls his own, is still guarded and watched over by a public law which would hold him responsible for its destruction. But if man thus claims a common interest in the most independent description of property, how much more does God bold a right in your possessions? He created them at first; and hence He has an original and supreme property in them. The world is His, and the fulness thereof. He continues them in existence every moment; and is thus every moment asserting afresh His original rights and establishing a new title to dominion over them. You have not brought into existence a single mite; all that you have done is to collect together what He had made ready to your hands. And whence did you derive the skill and ability to do this? “Thou must remember the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” Hence He cautions you against the sin of “saying in your heart, my power, and the might of mine own hand, hath gotten me this wealth,” lest you should fall into the consequent sin of forgetting that He is still the supreme Proprietor of all you possess. And hence too He solemnly reminds you that your enjoyments are His gifts, only in the sense that you had nothing wherewith to purchase them, and not in the sense that He has given away His right in them: that they are deposited with you as His steward, not alienated from Him and vested in you as their master; that both they and you are His to do with as seemeth good in His sight.
The moment you lose sight, therefore, of His absolute right to all you possess, you are embezzling your Lord’s property, and realizing the character of the unjust steward. Ton are provoking God to resume His own, and to transfer it to more faithful hands.… Then hasten to His throne and acknowledge His right. Take all that you have into His presence, and dedicate it afresh to His service. Inscribe His blessed name on all your possessions.—John Harris, D.D.
(b) “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” “Herein is love!” The universe is crowded with proofs of His beneficence; but here is a proof which outweighs them all. How much He loved us we can never compute; we have no line with which to fathom, no standard with which to compare it, but He so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son to be the propitiation for our sins. “Herein is love!” “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”.…
Nor is this all: He invites you to advance from the altar of sacrifice to the holiest of all within the veil;—in other words, He bath given you Christ that He may give you Himself. It was by wandering from Him that man first became selfish and unhappy. It was by losing Him that man was reduced to the necessity of looking for happiness in the creature. And, because no single kind of created good can satisfy the soul, man sought to accumulate all kinds, to monopolize every thing—he became selfish. But the blessed God, by offering to bring you back again to Himself, is offering to make you independent of all inferior things; to put you in possession of a good which shall enable you to look down with disdain on those things about which others are selfish; to lead you to an infinite good; a good, therefore, about which you need not be selfish, for were all the universe to share and enjoy it with you, it would still be an unexhausted infinite fulness of happiness.
Now let the most miserly individual come suddenly into the possession of great wealth, he would be conscious, at least for a short time, of kind and generous emotions. What then should be your emotions at discovering that, through Christ, you have found a God? And think, what a God He is! Enumerate His perfections; call up in your mind His exalted attributes; recollect some of the displays of His glory, the splendours of His throne, the amplitude of His dominions, the angelic orders of His kingdom, the richness of His gifts, the untouched ocean of happiness yet in reserve for His people—and when your mind is filled, repeat to yourself the wondrous truth, “This God is my God for ever and ever.” And, then, think what it is to have Him for your God: it is to have a real, participating, eternal interest in all that He is; to have Him for your “all in all”; to be “filled with all the fulness of God.” Christian, are you aware of your wealth? have you yet awoke to a conscious possession of your infinite wealth? Do you not feel that you could give away the world itself as a trifle, while you stand and gaze at these infinite riches? All who have truly and fully returned to God have felt thus. They gazed on this glory and the world was eclipsed; they thought of it, and their heart became too large for earth; they reached after it, and the world fell from their hands, from their hearts. Having found the true source of happiness, they would fain have had all mankind to come and share it with them. And when He commanded them to call the world to come to Him and be happy, they gave away everything, even life itself, in the noble employ, and from love to His name.—Ibid.
(c) It is related in Roman history, that when the people of Collatia stipulated about their surrender to the authority and protection of Rome, the question asked was, “Do you deliver up yourselves, the Collatine people, your city, your fields, your water, your bounds, your temples, your utensils, all things that are yours, both human and divine, into the hands of the people of Rome?” And on their replying, “We deliver up all,” they were received. The voluntary surrender which you, Christian, have made to Christ, though not so detailed and specific as this formula, is equally comprehensive. And do you not account these your best moments when you feel constrained to lament that your surrender comprehends no more? Can you recall to mind the way in which He has redeemed you, the misery from which He has snatched you, and the blessedness to which He is conducting you, without feeling that He has bought you a thousand times over? that you are His by the tenderest, weightiest obligations? And when you feel thus, how utterly impossible would it be for you at such a moment to stipulate for an exception in favour of your property!—to harbour a mental reservation in favour of that!
Can you think of the blessedness attending the act itself of dedication to God,—that you are wedding yourself to infinite riches, uniting yourself to infinite beauty, allying yourself to infinite excellence; giving yourself to God, and receiving God in return, so that henceforth all His infinite resources, His providence, His Son, His Spirit, His heaven, He Himself, all become yours, to the utmost degree in which you can enjoy them,—can you think of this without often repeating the act? without feeling that bad you all the excellencies of a myriad of angels, His love would deserve the eternal devotion of the whole? Realize to your own mind the nature of Christian dedication, and the claims of Him who calls for it, and so far from giving penuriously to His cause, you will take every increase of your substance into His presence and devote it to His praise; you will regard every appeal which is made to your Christian benevolence as an appeal to that solemn treaty which made you His, and you will honour it accordingly; you will deeply feel the penury of all riches as an expression of your love to Him; Lebanon would not be sufficient to burn, or the beasts thereof an offering large enough to satisfy the cravings of your love.—Ibid.
THE SUPREME PORTION OF MAN
“The Lord spake unto Aaron;.… I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.”
“The possession of the priests and Levites did not consist in the revenues assigned to them by God, but in the possession of Jehovah, the God of Israel. In the same sense in which the tribe of Levi was the peculiar possession of Jehovah out of the whole of the people of possession, was Jehovah also the peculiar possession of Levi; and just as the other tribes were to live upon what was afforded by the land assigned them as a possession, Levi was to live upon what Jehovah bestowed upon it. And inasmuch as not only the whole land of the twelve tribes, with which Jehovah had enfeoffed them, but the whole earth belonged to Jehovah (Exodus 19:5), He was necessarily to be regarded as the greatest possession of all, beyond which nothing greater is conceivable, and in comparison with which every other possession is to be regarded as nothing. Hence it was evidently the greatest privilege and highest honour to have Him for a portion and possession (Bähr, Symbolik, 2 p. 44). “For truly,” as Masius writes (Com. on Josh.) “he who possesses God possesses all things; and the worship (cultus) of Him is infinitely fuller of delight, and far more productive, than the cultivation (cultus) of any soil.”—Keil and Del.
God is revealed in His Word as the portion of all godly souls (see Psalms 16:5; Psalms 73:26; Psalms 119:57; Lamentations 3:24). This is the pre-eminent portion; no inheritance can be compared with this.
I. This portion is all-sufficient
God is the portion of His people inasmuch as they possess His mind; He has revealed to them His thoughts and will concerning them. They possess His heart; He is profoundly and affectionately interested in their welfare; He loves them with an infinite love. Our position is that having Him they have all-sufficiency,—they have—
1. His wisdom for their direction. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye.”
2. His power for their protection. “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress,” &c. (Psalms 91:2-13). “He will not suffer thy foot to be moved,” &c. (Psalms 121:3-8).
3. Hit providence for their supply. “No good will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.” “My God shall supply all your need,” &c.
4. His grace for their spiritual support. “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” “God is able to make all grace abound toward you,” &c. (2 Corinthians 9:8).
5. His Heaven for their home. “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” &c. (John 14:2-3). He has begotten them “to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled,” &c. (1 Peter 3:5). “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them,” &c. (Revelation 21:3-4).
Well did Savonarola enquire, “What must not he possess who possesses the Possessor of all?” (a)
II. This portion is joy-inspiring.
In the realization of the presence and love of God there is the highest, holiest joy. “In Thy presence there is fulness of joy,” &c. The perfection of the blessedness of heaven is in the full manifestation of His gracious presence. Possessing Him,—
1. The joy of satisfied affections is ours. “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” The heart loves God, and rejoices in being loved by Him who is infinitely true and beautiful and good, who changeth not, and who abideth for ever.
2. The joy of sweet and sanctified fellowship is ours. “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” The influence of this fellowship was well expressed by the two disciples at Emmaus,—“Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us?” &c.
3. The joy of true progress is ours. Under the influence of His blessed presence all the capacities and faculties of our being are quickened into holy activity, and sustained in continuous progress. Realizing His presence and fellowship our being grows into likeness to Him; are such growth is unspeakably joyous. Thus the conscious possession of God as our “part and inheritance” is the highest blessedness. (b)
“O this is life, and peace, and Joy,
My God, to find Thee so—
Thy face to see, Thy voice to hear
And all Thy love to know.”—Bubier.
III. This portion is inalienable.
Where shall we find a secure and lasting inheritance. Not in this world; not in anything material, or temporal. Riches are not inalienable; they “certainly make themselves wings; they fly away,” &c. “Trust not in uncertain riches.” Pleasures are not inalienable. The pleasures of this world can only be enjoyed for a season, and that a brief one. Honours are of very uncertain tenure; the hero of one day is frequently execrated the next. Friends are not abiding; sometimes they are lost to us by in faithfulness; sometimes they are removed from us by death. Our bodily health is precarious. Even our mental sanity and strength we cannot claim as unchangeably, and for ever ours. There is but one immutable and inalienable “part and inheritance,” that is GOD. He changes not; “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” “With Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” He abideth for ever; He loveth for ever. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Even death cannot deprive us of this inheritance. “My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” Death rather makes our inheritance more fully and perfectly ours; it introduces us to a more complete and constant realization of His presence. After death “we shall see Him as He is.” “So shall we ever be with the Lord.” (c)
Is this “part and inheritance” ours?
(a) We have a right, each of us—if we are in Christ—we have a right to expect this sufficiency, because it is promised in the Bible. We gather it from the declarations of Scripture. Listen to them, they are yours. “Thus saith the Lord who created thee. O Jacob, who formed thee, O Israel, Fear not, I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name” What a beautiful thought that is! Just get the meaning and beauty out of it. How many thousands of believers, thousands upon thousands of believers, have there been in the world from the beginning of its history until now—thousands in the patriarchal ages who looked through the glass, and who saw, dimly, the streak of the morning in the distance, and, even with that streak of light, were glad—thousands, in the prophetical times, who discerned it in the brightness of a nearer vision—thousands who looked in its full-orbed lustre, when Christ came into the world—thousands upon thousands, since that time, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb—thousands who are now upon the earth, working out their salvation with fear and trembling—thousands upon thousands that shall come into the Church in the time of its millenial glory, when the gates of it shall not be shut day nor night, because the porter shall have no chance of shutting them, the people crowd in so fast. Now, get all that mass of believers, past, present, and future, a company that no man can number; and to each of them God comes in this promise, and says, “I have called thee by thy name, I know all about thee,”—that is, I have not a merely vague, indefinite knowledge of thee; as an individual believer I know thy name, I could single thee out of millions, I could tell the world all thy solicitudes, and all thy apprehensions, and all thy hopes, and all thy sorrows—“I have called thee by thy name.” Oh, precious promise! Take it to your hearts, “I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine; when thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers”—deeper than the waters—“they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee.”—Listen again. “The Lord God is a sun and shield”—light and protection; that nearly embraces all our wants—“He will give grace and glory.” Is there anything left out? And if there are any of you so perversely clever and so mischievously ingenious in multiplying arguments in favour of your own despair, that you can conceive of some rare and precious blessing that is not wrapped up either in grace or glory—“No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God.” “Cast all thy care” “Nay,” the rebel heart says, “there is some little of it I must bear myself; something that has reference to the heart’s bitterness, that it alone knoweth; or to the heart’s deep, dark sorrow, with which no stranger intermeddles—that I must bear myself.” “Cast all thy care upon Me, for I care for thee.” What! distrustful still? Can you not take God at His word? Hark! He condescends to expostulate with you upon your unbelief; “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, my way is hid from the Lord”—how often have you said that in the time of your sorrow! you know you have—“My way is hid from the Lord, my judgment is passed over from my God. Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of His understanding. He giveth power to the faint.” He does not merely take his swoon away and leave him weakly; He makes him strong. “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength”.… Brethren, are you in Christ? Then all that belongs to the covenant is yours. Yours is the present heritage, yours is the future recompense of reward.—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.
(b) Haws, that are for hogs, grow upon every hedge; but roses, that are for men, only grow in pleasant gardens. Though many have counterfeit jewels, yet there are but a few that have the true diamond; though many have their earthly portions, yet there are but a few that have God for their portion.… Why have the saints in heaven more joy and delight than the saints on earth, but because they have a clearer and a fuller knowledge of their interest and propriety in God than the others have? The knowledge of a man’s propriety in God is the comfort of comforts. Propriety makes every comfort a pleasurable comfort, a delightful comfort. When a man walks in a fair meadow, and can write mine upon it, and into a pleasant garden, and can write mine upon it, and into a fruitful cornfield, and can write mine upon it, and into a stately habitation, and can write mine upon it, and into a rich mine, and can write mine upon it; oh! how doth it please him? how doth it delight him? how doth it joy and rejoice him? Of all words, this word meum is the sweetest and the comfortablest. Ah! when a man can look upon God and write meum; when he can look upon God, and say, “This God is my portion;” when he can look upon God and say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), how will all the springs of joy rise in his soul! Oh, who can but joy to be owner of that God who fills heaven and earth with His fulness? who can but rejoice to have Him for his portion, in having Whom he hath all things, in having Whom he can want nothing? the serious thoughts of our propriety in God will add much sweet to all our sweets; yea, it will make every bitter sweet.”—Brooks.
(c) None of your dearest and most cherished loves are at all worthy to sit upon the throne of your heart—far down in the scale must they be placed, when the God who gave them to you is brought into comparison. That broad bosom of your beloved husband beats fondly and faithfully, but when death lays it low, as ere long it must, how wretched will be your condition if you have not an everlasting Comforter upon whose breast to lean! Those dear little sparkling eyes, which are like stars in the heaven of your social joy, if these be the gods of your idolatry, how wretched will you be when their brightness is dim, and the mother’s joy is mouldering back to dust! Happy is he who hath an everlasting joy and an undying comfort; and there is none in this respect like unto the God of Jeshurun. There would be fewer broken hearts if hearts were more completely the Lord’s. We should have no rebellious spirits if, when we had our joys, we used them lawfully, and did not too much build our hopes upon them. All beneath the moon will wane. Everything on these shores ebbs and flows like the sea. Everything beneath the sun will be eclipsed. You will not find in time that which is only to be discovered in eternity, namely an immutable and unfailing source of comfort.—C. H. Spurgeon.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany