Numbers 18 Study Notes
18:1-6 The Aaronic priests were camped in front of the entrance to the tabernacle on the east side of the sanctuary. The three clans of the Levites—Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites—were camped on the other three sides. This arrangement provided a physical and spiritual barrier against violation of the holy place. The Levites performed various maintenance and transportation duties for the tabernacle, but only the priests could actually touch the holy furnishings.
18:7 The prohibition against violation of the sanctity of the tabernacle is expressed in vv. 3-5,7,22, along with the consequences of infringement. Trespassers and irreverent persons would be put to death, so God’s wrath might not bring widespread destruction on the nation.
18:8-13 The priests and Levites would not be given territory in the promised land like the other tribes, but their provisions were gifts of tithes and offerings from the people. Portions of all sacrifices but the burnt offerings, which were to be totally consumed by the fire on the altar, were dedicated to the Lord and then provided as gifts for the priests and Levites. Even the priests and Levites were required to tithe their gifts to the Lord (vv. 26-28). This section complements similar allocations described in chaps. 3; 4; 8; 35; and Lv 8-9.
18:14-20 Based on the principle of Ex 11:1-10 and 13:2-16, Israel was redeemed through the firstborn of Egypt, both human and animal. As the Levites provided redemption for the firstborn of Israel’s families (Nm 3:40-51), so the firstborn of every living thing was to be presented to the Levites as provisions for them and their families. Since unclean animals could not be consumed, their redemption price was paid in shekels.
18:19 Salt was associated with seasoning, preserving, and purifying. It was to accompany all the Levitical offerings, referred to as “the salt of the covenant with your God” (Lv 2:13; Ezr 6:9). It symbolized a permanent relationship with God (2Ch 13:5).
18:21-24 The gift of the tenth to the Levites was new legislation, whereas much of vv. 1-20 is a review of existing legislation. This highlights the role of the priests and Levites within the community after the threat to their positions in the Korah rebellion. Tithing one-tenth of one’s produce as a gift to the temple and its priesthood was a common practice among various cultures of the ancient Near East. These requirements are anticipatory in that they assumed God’s blessing in the land after the conquest.
18:25-32 The Levites in turn were required to present to the Lord a tenth of the tenth, and thus participate in the full cycle of blessings. The best part of the tenth, the highest quality from the produce of the flocks and fields, was to be presented to the Aaronic priesthood.
The cycle of blessing begins and ends with the Lord. (1) The Lord instructs his people in the proper sowing and reaping principles. (2) As the people obediently sow and reap, he blesses the community of faith with an abundant harvest of flocks and fields. (3) The firstborn, firstfruits, and first ripe produce are consumed by the priests after portions have been sacrificed to God. (4) Tithes and offerings are also presented to the holy and faithful Levites for their provision, as additional portions are rendered to God. (5) Then the Levites present a best-of-the-best tithe of their received tithes to support the Aaronic priesthood, who then offer additional portions to God in thanksgiving and praise.