Daily Family Worship

Numbers 18: The Priests’ and Levites’ Duties

by | May 9, 2022

numbers 18

At the end of chapter 17, the people of Israel spoke of the difficulty and peril in drawing near to God. Here, in the beginning of this chapter, God caused them to understand that He had appointed the priests to come near to Him on their behalf. However, Aaron certainly had no reason to be proud of his advanced position when he considered the great care and charge that was hereby laid upon him. The greater the trust of work and power that is committed to us, the greater danger there is of betraying that trust. This is a good reason why we should not envy others’ honors, nor desire high places for ourselves. The Lord here reminded Aaron of the dangers that attended his special office. His own priestly family, as well as the Levites, would be held responsible for “the iniquity of the sanctuary.” This meant that if the sanctuary was profaned by the intrusion of persons who were not supposed to be there, Aaron’s family and the Levites would bear the blame of not keeping them away. Also, the priests and Levites were to “bear the iniquity of the priesthood” – meaning that they would be guilty indeed if they neglected any part of their holy duties, or allowed other persons to usurp their office. 

In what we read here of Aaron and his family, let us briefly pause to behold Jesus’ unequalled Person represented. He alone has sustained the dreadful pressure of sin and transgression. To Him alone, Jehovah could say, “Thou shalt bear the iniquity of the sanctuary, and the iniquity of the priesthood” (verse 1); for when neither the blood of bulls nor of goats could take away sin, then our Savior came forward to pay the ransom-price for our souls!

As for the duties of the priests, they were to serve the Lord by ministering inside the Tabernacle itself – inside the room where the golden showbread table, the golden lampstand, and the golden incense altar stood. Into this room, none except the priests were allowed to enter. The Levites were to be assistants to Aaron and the rest of the priests by doing things such as helping to kill the animals that were to be offered on the brass sacrifice altar in the Tabernacle courtyard. And both the priests and the Levites were responsible for ensuring that nothing in connection with the sanctuary was profaned or defiled. 

The priests were employed in very important work, and they were well-provided for and well-paid. All true believers are spiritual priests before God, and He has promised to take care of them. And from this plentiful provision that was here made for the priests, the Apostle inferred that it is the duty of Christian churches to support their ministers comfortably; those who preach the Gospel should live upon the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:13, 14). Much of the provision that the priests were to receive was to come from the sacrifices that they themselves offered. They were to receive the skins of most of the animals that were offered, which they could sell for a profit; and they had a considerable share of the grain offerings, sin offerings, and so forth. The Lord also arranged that they should receive the food products that the Israelites would bring in as the offerings of their firstfruits. In addition, they would also receive hard cash in the form of the redemption-money (about $92 per person*) for the firstborn in Israel.

Some of the food products that the priests received were only to be eaten by the priests themselves, and only in the court of the Tabernacle (verses 9 and 10, for example). However, other food products that were given to them were permitted to be eaten by the priest’s whole families, as long as they were not ceremonially unclean (such as in verses 11, 13, and 19). Thus we see that the priests were provided for in such a way that it left them completely disentangled from the affairs of this life. And therefore, they were to be entirely devoted to their ministry, and not diverted from it or disturbed in it by worldly cares or business. In addition, this arrangement caused them to be examples of living by faith – not only in God’s Providence, but also in His ordinances.

As Israel was a people that was to be separated among the nations; so also, Levi was a tribe that was to be distinguished from the rest of the Israelites. They were set apart as helpers to the priests. The Levites were not to receive any land of inheritance when the nation took over the Promised Land; they were given cities to live in, but no land to inherit. This was because the Lord was to be their portion and their inheritance, and those who have God for their portion and inheritance forever ought to look with holy contempt and indifference upon the possessions of this world. Nevertheless, the Levites (just like the priests) were still to be comfortably provided for, as a just compensation for their service to God’s sanctuary – even though they did not have farms or land of their own to make a living from. To this end, the Lord appointed that the tithes which were to be offered by the Israelites should be given to the Levites for their support.

The Levites were to offer to God a tenth of what they received from the people’s tithes. When the people settled in the land of Canaan, it is possible that this “tithe of the tithes” was to be used for the support of the many priests who were employed in the countryside as teachers of the law of God; for the priests who were constantly employed at the Tabernacle were supported by the sacrifices and firstfruits, as mentioned above. Or it is possible that the Levites’ tithe was used for the support of the high priest himself, for we have not read of any particular provision being made for him.

Lord Jesus, You are the Almighty Aaron of the Gospel! We thank You that in Your own precious body on the tree, You carried the burden of the sins of Your people. Amen.

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photo by Kara Gebhardt  |  Lightstock.com

*based on the current value of silver on May 8, 2022