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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 18

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-7

God evidently gave these instructions to Aaron (Numbers 18:1). They deal with the boundary lines between Israelites who were not Levites, Levites, and priests.

The priestly office carried great responsibility as well as great privilege. The priests bore the guilt of what all the Israelites did as well as what they themselves did. The sacrifices, of course, covered this guilt.

God gave the Levites to the priests as their assistants to help them with certain aspects of the work of the sanctuary (Numbers 18:6). Outsiders, non-priests, and Levites could not intrude on the priestly office or they would die (Numbers 18:7).

"The study of the cultic use of qrb/ngs demonstrates that its meaning goes beyond simple, physical approach to the more abstract amplifications: ’have access to,’ ’be admitted to,’ ’be associated with.’ In prohibitions . . . it means ’encroach.’" [Note: Jacob Milgrom, "The Cultic Use of qrb/ngs," in Proceedings of the Fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1:84.]

"A key phrase of this chapter is ’I give you’ (Numbers 18:7; cf. Numbers 18:12; Numbers 18:19; Numbers 18:26, etc.). God takes care of His own." [Note: Jensen, p. 77.]

Verses 1-32

The service and income of the priests and Levites ch. 18

A complete and comprehensive explanation of the official duties and revenues of the priests and Levites appropriately follows the confirmation of Aaron’s priesthood. This was God’s reply to the frightened cries of the people in Numbers 17:12-13.

". . . the modern reader comes to chapters 18-19 with a sense of foreboding; what, we may wonder, is in these chapters for me? The answer to that question is fivefold:

"1. The reader of Scripture needs to have general knowledge about the major institutions of the biblical period just for Scripture to make sense.

"2. Our understanding of the true worship of God begins with the sense that he controls and directs true worship; who the priests are and how they function are first his concerns. This means that worship is not a game where we may make up the rules as we play.

"3. A general knowledge of the work of the priests in the Hebrew Bible gives many insights to the modern reader as to the interests of God in our own worship. Often we think of worship in terms of what we like and appreciate. This misses the mark; worship is principally for God’s pleasure.

"4. A general knowledge of the work of priests in the time of Hebrew worship gives the Christian reader significant insights into the priestly work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Book of Hebrews has an intense priestly orientation in its presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ, priest of God in the manner of Melchizedek.

"5. In contrast with the highly regulated, highly strictured patterns demanded of the priests of the Hebrew economy, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ today has a direct access to God through the Savior that is nearly unbelievable. We are all priests; we can come near the presence of the Lord without an intermediary. Yet our privilege as believer-priests can only really be appreciated against the background of priests in the biblical period." [Note: Allen, p. 850.]

Verses 8-13

God gave Aaron these instructions too (Numbers 18:8). The priests received all the heave offerings that the Israelites brought to the tabernacle. These were all the gifts that the people presented to God (Numbers 18:8-9; cf. Numbers 5:9). They included parts of the meal, sin, and trespass offerings (Numbers 18:9-10). The skin of some burnt offerings became the priests’ too, but Moses did not mention this, probably because its value was negligible. These were "most holy" offerings (Numbers 18:9). The priest also received what the offerer waved before the Lord in the peace offering (Numbers 18:11) and the gifts of first-fruits that the people offered each year (Numbers 18:12; cf. 2 Chronicles 31:5; Nehemiah 10:36; Nehemiah 10:38).

Verses 14-19

Everything placed under the ban (Numbers 18:14), and the first-born of man and beast that the people redeemed or offered (Numbers 18:15-18), were "holy" offerings (Numbers 18:10; Numbers 18:19). The "everlasting covenant of salt" (Numbers 18:19) was an indestructible covenant similar to salt (cf. 2 Chronicles 13:5). The ancients used salt in the ritual of making some covenants in the Near East.

"At a meal in which a covenant between two parties was sealed, people in ancient times occasionally used salt to signify the incorruptible, firm, and lasting quality of the agreement." [Note: Maarsingh, p. 65.]

"The meaning appears to have been that the salt, with its power to strengthen food and keep it from decay, symbolized the unbending truthfulness of that self-surrender to the Lord embodied in the sacrifice, by which all impurity and hypocrisy were repelled." [Note: Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 1957 ed., s.v. "Covenant of Salt."]

God gave the priests five gifts: their office, a spirit of responsibility, helpers, every provision for earthly needs, and Himself. [Note: Jensen, pp. 78-79.]

Verse 20

Aaron, the high priest, received a special portion.

Verses 21-24

The tithes of the Israelites became the Levites’ possession (Numbers 18:21-24; cf. Leviticus 27:30-33). God gave the instructions for receiving the tithes to Moses (Numbers 18:25).

Verses 25-32

The Levites were to give a tithe of the tithe they received from the people to the priests. This tithe was to include the best of what the other Israelites gave to them (Numbers 18:30; Numbers 18:32).

"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 Gen. xlvii. 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. xxxv.), because Jehovah, the God of Israel, would be their inheritance." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:119.]

Had the Israelites been faithful in their tithing the Levites would have received about five times as much as ordinary Israelites (cf. Genesis 43:34). Unfortunately the Jews were not completely obedient to these laws.

"What is to be made of the writer’s exclusion of Moses in these matters that relate so closely to the duties of the priests? Why is Moses so conspicuously left out of the picture [until Numbers 18:25]? The answer perhaps lies in the author’s desire to tell us something about the role of Moses as leader of God’s people. His role is not limited to the work of a priest. Aaron is shown here assuming most of that responsibility. In the view of the writer, then, it appears that the role of Moses was becoming more distinct from the office of priest. Thus the writer attempts to show that Moses’ role as mediator of the covenant, already well established throughout these narratives, was not merely a priestly one. There is a concern to show that he also functioned in the role of prophet as well as king, two themes that will receive further development in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 33:5). Hence as the picture of Moses develops within the Pentateuch, it more closely resembles the future messianic ruler, who is anticipated already in the Pentateuch as a prophet, a priest, and a king." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 393.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/numbers-18.html. 2012.
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