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(MT versing)
Duties of Levites Duties of Priests and Levites The Responsibility of Aaronic Priests and Other Levites Duties of Priests and Levites Expiation: The Function of the Priesthood
18:1-7 18:1-7 18:1-7 18:1-7 17:27-18:7
The Priest's Portion Offerings for Support of the Priests The Share of the Priests The Priest's Portion
18:8-20 18:8-20 18:8-20 18:8-11 18:8-10
18:19 The Levites' Portion
18:20 18:20
Tithes for Support of the Levites The Share of the Levites
18:21-24 18:21-24 18:21-24 18:21-24 18:21-24
The Tithes of the Levites The Levites' Tithe Tithes
18:25-32 18:25-32 18:25-32 18:25-32 18:25-29

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. In the context of the conflict between Aaron and Korah, the place of the families of the tribe of Levi is spelled out specifically.

  2. The Oxford Study Bible (NRSV) suggests that most of the information contained in this chapter is a repeat of earlier revelation.
    1. Num. 18:1-7 ‒ Num. 3:5-10
    2. Num. 18:8-10 ‒ Leviticus 1-7
    3. Num. 18:15 ‒ Exod. 13:11-13
    4. Num. 18:16 ‒ Num. 3:44-48
    5. Num. 18:17 ‒ Lev. 27:9-10, 26-27
    6. Num. 18:18 ‒ Lev. 7:28-36
    7. Num. 18:19 ‒ Lev. 2:13
    8. Num. 18:21 ‒ Lev. 27:30-33

  3. There is always some confusion about the details of these laws which are recorded in different books of the Pentateuch. There has been some updating and editorial revision within the community of Israel.
    1. Tabernacle of the wilderness
    2. Temple of Solomon


1So the Lord said to Aaron, "You and your sons and your father's household with you shall bear the guilt in connection with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the guilt in connection with your priesthood. 2But bring with you also your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may be joined with you and serve you, while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3And they shall thus attend to your obligation and the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die. 4They shall be joined with you and attend to the obligations of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; but an outsider may not come near you. 5So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel. 6Behold, I Myself have taken your fellow Levites from among the sons of Israel; they are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord, to perform the service for the tent of meeting. 7But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform service. I am giving you the priesthood as a bestowed service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death."

18:1 "the Lord said to Aaron" Usually YHWH speaks to Moses, but here, like Lev. 10:8, He addresses Aaron (and his family).

NASB, JPSOA, Peshitta  "bear the guilt"
NKJV  "bear the iniquity"
NRSV  "bear responsibility"
NJB  "answerable for"
REB  "fully answerable"
LXX  "bear the sins of. . ."

The VERB (BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERFECT [Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT in v. 22]) normally means

  1. to lift a burden (i.e., carry)
  2. to lift
    1. a hand
    2. an eye
    3. one's face
    4. a lament
    5. a name
    6. a prayer
    7. one's self
  3. to bear guilt or punishment (i.e., Ezek. 14:10; 44:12)
  4. carry off
    1. literal
    2. figurative

There are two possibilities here.

  1. if they obey YHWH's guidelines they will not die (i.e., v. 23; Exod. 28:43; 30:32; Leviticus 10; 16:2; 21:23; Num. 1:51; 3:10; 9:13; 17:12-13)
  2. they are to atone for this guilt of Israel by the altar (i.e., Exod. 28:38)

Number 1 fits this context best! Some priests did die (cf. Leviticus 10).

18:2 YHWH provides for the needs of both the priests and the Levites.

  1. priests are sustained by the gifts to the altar
  2. Levites are sustained by the tithes of the people

Neither group of the tribe of Levi has a land inheritance in Canaan because YHWH, Himself, is their inheritance (cf. Num. 18:20, 24; Deut. 10:9; 12:12; 14:27, 29).

▣ "Bring with you also your brothers" This is a Hiphil IMPERATIVE (BDB 897, KB 1132). It is followed by two IMPERFECTS used as JUSSIVES.

  1. joined with you ‒ BDB 530, KB 522
  2. serve you ‒ BDB 1058, KB 1661

The Levites have a part but a lesser, limited part. They are to serve YHWH by serving the priests and the Tabernacle (i.e., the sacrificial system of atonement).

NASB  "attend to your obligation"
NKJV  "attend to your needs"
NRSV  "perform duties"
TEV, REB  "to fulfill their duties"
NJB  "at the service"
JPSOA  "discharge their duties"
LXX  "keep your guard duties"
Peshitta  "keep your charge"

The MT has the VERB (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal PERFECT with waw; used in vv. 3, 4, 5, 7), which can mean "keep," "guard," or "preserve." BDB suggests here it has the connotation of "discharge the duties of the office" (i.e., Num. 1:53; 3:7, 8, 10, 28, 32, 38; Lev. 5:35). They will have specific assigned tasks in serving the priests and the Tabernacle. They must do these and only these or death will occur. There are degrees of holiness.

  1. High Priest ‒ Leviticus 16
  2. priests
  3. Levites

18:4 The term "outsider" is literally "stranger" (BDB 266 I, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE). The Levites are to

  1. guard the Tabernacle from all but the priests (cf. v. 22)
  2. guard the Tabernacle from non-Israelites (see full note at Num. 3:10)

Here, #1 fits best (cf. vv. 7,22). The Levites are stationed by family around the inner circle of the Tabernacle. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CHART OF THE TABERNACLE.

Israel functioned on a "holy-profane" or "clean-unclean" worldview. The tribe of Levi was involved in

  1. protecting the Tabernacle from non-Israelites/priests
  2. protecting it from disqualified Levites/priests
  3. protecting the levels of holiness between the holy place and the holy of holies

At each level some were excluded. If there was a violation of YHWH's rules in this area, then death resulted.

This same worldview distinction also guided "who" could eat "what" and "where."

18:5 The purpose of the Tabernacle is that Israel's sin is dealt with and there needed to be no more divine plagues. This may be the contextual reason for the expressed fear of Num. 17:12-13. An example of this intercession is seen in

  1. Moses' prayers
  2. Aaron's censer of Num. 16:46

18:6 The Levites were a "gift" (BDB 682 I, cf. Num. 3:9; 8:16,19; here) to the priests to help them in serving the needs of the sacrificial system (i.e., the Tabernacle and all its movement and functioning).

18:7 The priests were responsible for

  1. everything related to the sacrificial altar (see SPECIAL TOPIC: ALTAR OF SACRIFICE)
  2. everything inside the shrine (i.e., holy place and holy of holies)


8Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, "Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment. 9This shall be yours from the most holy gifts, reserved from the fire; every offering of theirs, even every grain offering and every sin offering and every guilt offering, which they shall render to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons. 10As the most holy gifts you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. 11This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. 12All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the Lord, I give them to you. 13The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord shall be yours; everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. 14Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17But the firstborn of an ox or the firstborn of a sheep or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall offer up their fat in smoke as an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the Lord. 18Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh. 19All the offerings of the holy gifts, which the sons of Israel offer to the Lord, I have given to you and your sons and your daughters with you, as a perpetual allotment. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord to you and your descendants with you." 20Then the Lord said to Aaron, "You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel.

18:8-20 YHWH, Himself, communicates this information to Aaron. This revelation is characterized as

  1. a portion
  2. a perpetual allotment

The priests shall be sustained by part of (not fat or internal organs):

  1. grain offering, Num. 18:9, 12; cf. Leviticus 2
  2. sin offering, Num. 18:8, cf. Leviticus 4
  3. guilt offering, Num. 18:9; cf. Leviticus 5
  4. all wave offerings, Num. 18:11, 18
  5. all fresh oil offerings, Num. 18:12
  6. all fresh wine offerings, Num. 18:12
  7. all first fruits, Num. 18:12
  8. all the redemption money paid by families for their first child (and first of the domestic animals), Num. 18:15-18
NASB, NKJV, NJB  "a portion"
NRSV  "a priestly portion"
TEV  "the part assigned to you"
JPSOA  "a prerequisite"
REB  "allotted portion"
LXX  "honor"
Peshitta  "by reason of the anointing"

The MT has a NOUN (BDB 603), which is used only here but is related to the root "anointed" (BDB 603, KB 644 I, cf. Exod. 29:29; 40:15). KB (KB 644 II) defines it as "share" or "allotment," from a similar root in Lev. 7:35 (different vowels).

In several places it is in the same context as "perpetual allotment" (cf. Exod. 29:28-29; Lev. 6:11).

18:9 "reserved from the fire" Some sacrifices were completely burned (i.e., burnt offerings, Leviticus 1), but for all others only a small portion was burned on the altar of sacrifice. The rest was to be eaten by different groups.

  1. priests only
  2. priest and Levite families
  3. the offerer and friends

The fat of the internal organs and the blood always belonged to YHWH.

  1. fat burned completely
  2. the part of the blood not put on the horns of the altar was poured out at the base of the altar (cf. Num. 18:17)

18:9,16 "most holy" This category of food is restricted to the priests alone and must be eaten in the Tabernacle (cf. Lev. 6:1-7:10). It got this designation by being connected to things that enter the inner shrine.

"Holy" food is allowed to be eaten by the priests' families at home.


NASB, NKJV, NRSV  "devoted thing"
TEV  "unconditionally dedicated"
NJB  "under the curse"
JPSOA  "proscribed"
REB  "devoted to God"
LXX  "anathematized"
Peshitta  "dedicated"

The MT has herem (BDB 356 I), which can mean

  1. something devoted, given to the sanctuary ‒ Lev. 27:28; Ezek. 44:29 (i.e., priests can eat it)
  2. Jericho totally given to YHWH for destruction (i.e., holy war) and, therefore, no spoils ‒ Joshua 6-7
  3. YHWH's judgment
    1. on a person ‒ 1 Kgs. 20:42
    2. on a nation
      (1) Edom ‒ Isa. 34:5
      (2) Israel ‒ Isa. 43:28
  4. a curse ‒ Zech. 14:16; Mal. 4:6


18:15 "firstborn" The concept of a part of something belonging to the Lord is a way of asserting His ownership of the thing!

  1. Sabbath ‒ all days/time
  2. tithe ‒ all wealth/property
  3. first fruit ‒ all the crops
  4. firstborn ‒ all the family or all the herd

Possibly #4 could be Israel as YHWH's ownership of all nations. See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN.

▣ "redeem" This VERB is used four times in Num. 18:15-17. The first use is the intensified form (i.e., an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and the IMPERFECT VERB from the same root, BDB 804, KB 911). Israel's firstborn children are surely to be redeemed (no human sacrifice). See SPECIAL TOPIC: RANSOM/REDEEM, I. A. #2.


▣ "gerahs" This term (BDB 176 II) occurs in the OT only five times (i.e., Exod. 30:13; Lev. 27:25; Num. 3:47; 18:16; and Ezek. 45:12) and always in connection to a shekel.

18:17 "blood" See SPECIAL TOPIC: BLOOD.

▣ "a soothing aroma" See SPECIAL TOPIC: A SOOTHING AROMA.

18:19-20 These verses serve as a summary of Num. 18:8-18.

18:19 "an everlasting covenant of salt" This concept is referred to in several places (i.e., Lev. 2:13; 2 Chr. 13:5; Ezek. 43:24). See Special Topics:

  1. FOREVER ('olam)
  3. SALT

It is surely possible that this phrase is linked to the fact that a fellowship meal was accompanied by salt (although it is not mentioned specifically in Gen. 31:54; Exod. 24:5-11; Ps. 50:5). Salt could represent:

  1. a binding oath
  2. a curse symbol (cf. Jdgs. 9:45; Jer. 48:9; Zeph. 2:9)
  3. a part of a fellowship meal
  4. a symbol of permanence (i.e., salted food; see NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 750)

21"To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. 22The sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die. 23Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, 'They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.'"

18:21-32 These two paragraphs deal with YHWH's provision for the Levites. They will receive the tithes of Israel (cf. Lev. 27:30-33; see SPECIAL TOPIC: TITHING IN THE MOSAIC LEGISLATION).

Exactly how this is related to a special third-year tithe is uncertain (cf. Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12). Possibly it is for Levites only and not those associated with the Tabernacle.

The New Century Bible, Leviticus and Numbers, p. 165, has an explanation of the different texts on tithing. It asserts that

  1. Deut. 14:22-23, Israelites ate the tithe at the central sanctuary but every third year it went uniquely to the poor (cf. Deut. 26:12)
  2. Numbers 18, written later, had all the tithes go to the Levites
  3. even later, Lev. 27:30-33; 2 Chr. 31:6, the tithe included animals

My problem with this is the assumption that we moderns know the dating of different texts in the OT. The J.E.D.P. theory is just that and worse, it is based on a western literary model, not ANE. See SPECIAL TOPIC: PENTATEUCH SOURCE CRITICISM.

18:21 "in return for" This root (BDB 322 II) is used only here and in v. 31 in this sense. The root normally means "to pass on," "pass away," or "pass through." This is a good place to remind all of us that words have meaning only in sentences. Sentences have meaning only in paragraphs (i.e., literary contexts). Dictionaries and lexicons only follow usages, they do not define terms! See BIBLE INTERPRETATION SEMINAR.

25Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 26"Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, 'When you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the Lord a tithe of the tithe. 27Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. 28So you shall also present an offering to the Lord from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the Lord's offering to Aaron the priest. 29Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the Lord, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.' 30You shall say to them, 'When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat. 31You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. 32You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, or you will die.'"

18:26 The Levites must tithe their tithe (cf. Neh. 10:38-39). This was mostly agricultural items or animals from the herd (cf. Lev. 27:30-33). AB, vol. 4, p. 451, says that animals were excluded from the Levites' tithe of the time.

▣ "you shall present an offering from it to the Lord" The grammatical form of the VERB is PERFECT with waw, which usually denotes an ongoing sense. This is the usual intention of the waw with a PERFECT (i.e., Num. 18:31). See SPECIAL TOPIC: HEBREW GRAMMAR, II, D (i.e., waw conversive/consecutive).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. What does the phrase, "you shall bear the guilt," mean? (Num. 18:1, 22)
  2. What does "come near" (Num. 18:3) refer to?
  3. Define "outsider." (Num. 18:4)
  4. What is the difference between that which is "holy" versus "most holy"?
  5. What does the phrase, "an everlasting covenant of salt" mean?
  6. Why did the tribe of Levi have no land inheritance? How did they support themselves in an agricultural, pastoral culture?

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