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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 18

 

 

Verses 1-7

Numbers 18:1-7. The Duties of the Levites.—The functions of the Levites are here defined in relation both to the priestly order and to the people. In respect of the priests, they are to act as their ministers, and to be responsible for the custody of the Tabernacle, but not for the care of its contents (with which they are forbidden to come in contact). In respect of the people, they are to constitute a fence, safeguarding the laity from the danger attending profanation of the holy things by a near approach to them. The general trend of the passage is in accord with Numbers 1:49-54, Numbers 3:5-10, Numbers 4:15.

Numbers 18:1. bear . . . priesthood: i.e. bear the consequences of guilt incurred in connexion with it.

Numbers 18:2. joined: there is a play on the meaning of Levi (see Genesis 29:34).

Numbers 18:4. a stranger: i.e. any non-Levite.


Verses 8-20

Numbers 18:8-20. The Dues to be Received by the Priests from the People.—These embrace all those portions of the things offered unto the Lord which are not required to be burnt; and in detail are (a) the meal offerings, less a handful or other small quantity (Leviticus 2:2 f., Leviticus 2:9 f., Leviticus 6:15 f.); (b) the sin offerings (except those for the high priest and the congregation), less the fat (Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35); (c) the guilt offerings, less the fat and certain other parts (Leviticus 7:3 f.); (d) the breast and the thigh of the "gift" (i.e the peace offerings, Leviticus 7:28 f.); (e) the best of the oil, wine, and corn (the amount not being defined); (f) the first-ripe fruits (of trees); (g) devoted things (i.e. probably things dedicated to Yahweh by individuals, Leviticus 27:28); (h) the flesh, less the fat, of the first-born of clean animals, and the redemption money (five shekels) for the first-born male of man, and the value (whatever it might be, Leviticus 27:12) of the firstlings of unclean animals. This list of prescribed emoluments is not exhaustive, for the priests were also (according to P) to receive a tithe of the tithes of corn, wine, and oil (see Numbers 18:25-32), the skin of the burnt offerings (Leviticus 7:8), the shewbread (Leviticus 24:5-9), portions of the offerings made by Nazirites (Numbers 6:19 f.), and the money payments required in various cases (Numbers 5:8, Leviticus 22:14); and, in addition, they would naturally participate in the 48 cities assigned to the tribe of Levi (Numbers 35:1-8). The share of the sacrifices here assigned by P to the priests brings into relief the incompatible character of many of the statements made in Nu., inasmuch as the only persons who in the time of Moses could profit by the offerings made by the vast numbers of people represented in Numbers 1:46, Were Aaron and his two surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar.

Numbers 18:8. the charge of mine heave offerings: better, "the reserved parts of the contributions made to me."—by reason of the anointing: better (mg.), "for a portion."

Numbers 18:10. as the most holy things: better, "in a holy place," i.e. in the court of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 6:16-26).

Numbers 18:11. the heave offering: better, "the contribution" the breast and the thigh, of which the former was specifically the wave offering, Numbers 18:18).

Numbers 18:12. the best: in Heb. (see mg.) "the fat," which was the best part of an animal sacrifice (and hence offered to Yahweh): the term was accordingly applied to the choicest of other things also (cf. Deuteronomy 32:14).

Numbers 18:13. the first-ripe fruit: the offering of such was a common practice among primitive peoples, for since the growth of vegetation was ordinarily regarded as due to the power of a local or tribal god, the earliest produce was naturally thought to embody the god's creative force in the most intense degree, and so to be dangerous for any but a sacred person to eat.

Numbers 18:15. redeem: better, "cause to be redeemed," and so in Numbers 18:16 f.

Numbers 18:16. and those, etc.: render (after LXX) as in mg.—shekel . . . sanctuary: see on Numbers 3:47.

Numbers 18:17. sprinkle: better, "pour"; the sprinkling enjoined in Numbers 19:4; Numbers 19:18 was a different process from that prescribed here.

Numbers 18:19. a covenant of salt: i.e. an inviolable covenant (based on the idea that the sharing of the same food, of which salt was an accompaniment, involved a bond of friendship); cf. Leviticus 21:3, 2 Chronicles 13:5. [But this "ordinance of salt" creates only a temporary bond (RS2, 270); and Trumbull has shown that salt is often a symbol for life, since it arrests decay. This explains, better than the usual view, how salt came to stand for perpetuity. See Salt in HSDB, and Trumbull's Covenant of Salt.—A. S. P.]


Verses 21-24

Numbers 18:21-24. The Dues to be Received by the Levites from the People.—These are here confined to the tithes (p. 99) of all vegetable produce: but in Leviticus 27:32 f. reference is also made to a tithe of cattle. The dedication of tithes (p. 99) to religious purposes was propably a more highly regulated form of the dedication on firstfruits, originating at a time when the organisation of religion became more costly. The principle of tithing was not confined to religious purposes, but was adopted in the contributions exacted from the people by their rulers (1 Samuel 8:15).


Verses 25-32

Numbers 18:25-32. The Dues to be Received by the Priests from the Levites.—These consisted of a tenth of the tithe paid to the Levites by the people.

Numbers 18:29. every heave offering: better, "the whole contribution." The tithe of the tithe is to be of the best.

Numbers 18:30. it shall be counted, etc.: the pronoun refers to the nine-tenths of the tithe which the Levites are to have for themselves. As soon as they have paid their sacred dues to the priests, they will be as free to enjoy the rest as the husbandmen are, who have discharged their obligations to them.

Numbers 18:32. ye shall not profane the holy things: the Levites, by possessing the tithes, will have no temptation to take, and so profane, the offerings which are reserved for the priests.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 18:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/numbers-18.html. 1919.

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