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THE PRIESTS' PORTIONS.
After the law of the guilt-offering follows a section (vi. 8-vii. 38) with regard to the offerings previously treated, but addressed especially to the priests, as the foregoing were specially directed to the people. Much of the contents of this section has already passed before us, in anticipation of its order in the book, as this has seemed necessary in order to a complete exposition of the several offerings. An important part of the section, however, relating to the portion of the offerings which was appointed for the priests, has been passed by until now, and must claim our brief attention.
In the verses indicated above, it is ordered that of the meal-offerings, the sin-offerings, and the guilt-offerings, all that was not burnt, as also the wave-breast and the heave-shoulder of the peace-offerings, should be for Aaron and his sons. In particular, it is directed that the priest's portion of the sin-offering and the guilt-offering shall be eaten by "the priest that maketh atonement therewith" (vii. 7); and that of the meal-offerings prepared in the oven, the frying-pan, or the baking-pan, all that is not burned upon the altar, according to the law of chap. ii., shall be eaten by "the priest that offereth it;" and that of every meal-offering mingled with oil, or dry, the same part "shall all the sons of Aaron have, one as well as another" (vii. 9, 10). Of the burnt-offering, all the flesh being burned, the hide alone fell to the officiating priest as his perquisite (vii. 8).
These regulations are explained in the concluding verses of the section (vii. 35, 36) as follows, "This is the anointing-portion of Aaron, and the anointing-portion of his sons, out of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, in the day when he presented them to minister unto the Lord in the priest's office; which the Lord commanded to be given them of the children of Israel, in the day that he anointed them. It is a due for ever throughout their generations."
Hence, it is plain that this use which was to be made of certain parts of certain offerings does not touch the question of the consecration of the whole to God. The whole of each offering is none the less wholly accepted and appropriated by God, that He designates a part of it to the maintenance of the priesthood. That even as thus used by the priest it is used by him as something belonging to God, is indicated by the phrase used, "it is most holy" (vi. 17); expressive words, which in the law of the offerings always have a technical use, as denoting those things of which only the sons of Aaron might partake, and that only in the holy place. In the case of the meal-offering, its peculiarly sacred character as belonging, the whole of it, exclusively to God, is further marked by the additional injunctions that it should be "eaten without leaven in a holy place" (vi. 16); and that whosoever touched these offerings should be holy (vi. 18); that is, he should be as a man separated to God, under all the restrictions (doubtless, without the privileges,) which belonged to the priesthood, as men set apart for God's service. In the eating of their portion of the various offerings by the priests, we are to recognise no official act: we simply see the servants of God supported by the bread of His table.
This last thought, which is absent in the case of no one of the offerings,1212Even in the burnt-offering, the hide of the victim was assigned to the priest (vii. 8). is brought out with special clearness and fulness in the ceremonial connected with the peace-offerings (vii. 28-34). In this case, certain parts, the right thigh (or shoulder?) and the breast, are set apart as the due of the priest. The selection of these is determined by the principle which marks all the Levitical legislation: God and those who represent Him are to be honoured by the consecration of the best of everything. In the animals used upon the altar, these were regarded as the choice parts, and are indeed referred to as such in other Scriptures. But, in order that neither the priest nor the people may imagine that the priest receives these as a man from his fellow-men, but may understand that they are given to God, and that it is from God that the priest now receives them, as His servant, fed from His table; to this end, certain ceremonies were ordained to be used with these parts; the breast was to be "heaved," the thigh was to be "waved," before the Lord. What was the meaning of these actions?
The breast was to be "heaved;" that is, elevated heavenward. The symbolic meaning of this act can scarcely be missed. By it, the priest acknowledged his dependence upon God for the supply of this sacrificial food, and, again, by this act consecrated it anew to Him as the One that sitteth in the heavens.
But God is not only the One that "sitteth in the heavens;" He is the God who has condescended also to dwell among men, and especially in the tent of meeting in the midst of Israel. And thus, as by the elevation of the breast heavenward, God, the Giver, was recognised as the One enthroned in heaven, so by the "waving" of the thigh, which, as the rabbis tell us, was a movement backward and forward, to and from the altar, He was recognised also as Jehovah, who had condescended from heaven to dwell in the midst of His people. Like the "heaving," so the "waving," then, was an act of acknowledgment and consecration to God; the former, to God, as in heaven, the God of creation; the other, to God, as the God of the altar, the God of redemption. And that this is the true significance of these acts is illustrated by the fact that in the Pentateuch, in the account of the gold and silver brought by the people for the preparation of the tabernacle (Exod. xxxv. 22), the same word is used to describe the presentation of these offerings which is here used of the wave-offering.
And so in the peace-offering the principle is amply illustrated upon which the priests received their dues. The worshippers bring their offerings, and present them, not to the priest, but through him to God; who, then, having used such parts as He will in the service of the sanctuary, gives again such parts of them as He pleases to the priests.
The lesson of these arrangements lies immediately before us. They were intended to teach Israel, and, according to the New Testament, are also designed to teach us, that it is the will of God that those who give up secular occupations to devote themselves to the ministry of His house should be supported by the free-will offerings of God's people. Very strange indeed it is to hear a few small sects in our day denying this. For the Apostle Paul argues at length to this effect, and calls the attention of the Corinthians (1 Cor. ix. 13, 14) to the fact that the principle expressed in this ordinance of the law of Moses has not been set aside, but holds good in this dispensation. "Know ye not that they which ... wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar? Even so did the Lord ordain that they which proclaim the Gospel should live of the Gospel." The principle plainly covers the case of all such as give up secular callings to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word, whether to proclaim the Gospel in any of the great mission fields, or to exercise the pastorate of the local church. Such are ever to be supported out of the consecrated offerings of God's people.
To point in disparagement of modern "hireling" ministers and missionaries, as some have done, to the case of Paul, who laboured with his own hands, that he might not be chargeable to those to whom he ministered, is singularly inapt, seeing that in the chapter above referred to he expressly vindicates his right to receive of the Corinthians his support, and in this Second Epistle to them even seems to express a doubt (2 Cor. xii. 13) whether in refusing, as he did, to receive support from them, he had not done them a "wrong," making them thus "inferior to the rest of the churches," from whom, in fact, he did receive such material aid (Phil. iv. 10, 16).
And if ever claims of this kind upon our benevolence and liberality seem to be heavy, and if to nature the burden is sometimes irksome, we shall do well to remember that the requirement is not of man, and not of the Church, but of God. It comes to us with the double authority of the Old and New Testament, of the Law and the Gospel. And it will certainly help us all to give to these ends the more gladly, if we keep that in mind which the Levitical law so carefully kept before Israel, that the giving was to be regarded by them as not to the priesthood, but to the Lord, and that in our giving outwardly to support the ministry of God's Word, we give, really, to the Lord Himself. And it stands written (Matt. x. 42): "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, ... he shall in no wise lose his reward."
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