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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 18

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-32

Numbers 18:1 . Thou and thy sons shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary. You, and you only, shall be responsible for all breaches and errors in the holy pavilion: the levites might assist in labours, but not touch the holy things. We find old Eli and young Samuel watching by night. The sanctuary being a figure of heaven and all the offices of Christ, the hallowed types must not be marred by the touch of unhallowed hands. This however has nothing to do with the liberty of prophesying, which was left open to men of any tribe. Yet the pastors of the seven churches of Asia bore the iniquity of the people, and are blamed and menaced for all their faults. By consequence, no mere layman should give the Lord’s supper, neither should any canon compel a minister to give it to any man who lives in known and wilful sin.

Numbers 18:14 . Every thing devoted shall be thine; whether by blessing or cursing. The Lord having so amply provided for the priesthood, the sons of Aaron were not to follow secular trades of barter and gain, profit and loss. It is a pity to see a minister of religion working, except in the culture of his garden; because a man should “give himself wholly to the ministry.” And note well: he who detains a thing once devoted to the Lord, detains also the curse.

Numbers 18:17 . The firstling of a cow. שׁור shor, a bull or bullock, as it is translated in Deuteronomy 33:17. The Chaldee is תור tor or taur, agreeing with the Greek ταυρος , and the Latin taurus. The paucity of words in the Hebrew text does not always distinguish the species of the genus: “cow” is therefore the proper reading in this place.

Numbers 18:19 . A covenant of salt; that is, incorruptible; for the word of the Lord is clean, and abideth for ever. See on Lev 2:13 ; 2 Chronicles 13:5.


The Lord having prescribed the priests and the levites their several branches of duty, and having prohibited the approach of any stranger to his altar, thought proper to guard the ritual code by sentencing the invader to die. This he would not have done, had not the holy sanctuary been figurative of the heavenly glory. The violation of the first covenant was death; and the second death is denounced against all those who despise the gospel. Hence the Lord has awfully guarded the glory of his covenant and grace. Let every one therefore in the church of God be mindful of his salvation and his calling, for life and death are before him.

That Aaron and his household might be grateful, holy and diligent, the Lord most amply provided for his maintenance. The Levites gave him a tenth of all their tithes: and considering their number, it was a princely portion. Nehemiah 10:38-39. The free-will offerings, including those arising from vows, provided him and all the families with food. They had the redemption money of persons and of beasts, of the firstlings of the cattle. They had the appointed share in all the sin and trespass-offerings; but of these, whatever remained not eaten was burnt upon the altar. The skin of every burnt-offering was also the priest’s. Besides these they had cities to dwell in, and gardens to the extent of five hundred yards around, in the suburbs. The Lord satiated the soul of the priest with fatness, and delighted the people with his goodness. Jeremiah 31:14. What an account must those ministers give to God whom he has thus blessed with revenues, if they do not seek to be holy; to devote their time and talents to his service, and their superfluities to the poor. What an account must rich men give, if they suffer the families of diligent ministers to languish and want.

The levites, as well as the priests, being amply invested with the tenths, were commanded to give to the altar its just share. If the ministers of religion who preach devotion be not devout; if they who preach charity be not liberal, they must, according to the 1st and the 32nd verse, bear the iniquity of the sanctuary. And oh, how difficult are sins of this nature to be purged; yet hypocrisy in religion is a crime that men will scarcely ever forgive. Oh Lord, clothe thy priests with salvation; let the people around them share in the glory of righteousness, and may the beauty of holiness forever adorn thy courts.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 18". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/numbers-18.html. 1835.
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