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Responsibility of Priests and Levites


The L ord said to Aaron: You and your sons and your ancestral house with you shall bear responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, while you and your sons alone shall bear responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2So bring with you also your brothers of the tribe of Levi, your ancestral tribe, in order that they may be joined to you, and serve you while you and your sons with you are in front of the tent of the covenant. 3They shall perform duties for you and for the whole tent. But they must not approach either the utensils of the sanctuary or the altar, otherwise both they and you will die. 4They are attached to you in order to perform the duties of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; no outsider shall approach you. 5You yourselves shall perform the duties of the sanctuary and the duties of the altar, so that wrath may never again come upon the Israelites. 6It is I who now take your brother Levites from among the Israelites; they are now yours as a gift, dedicated to the L ord, to perform the service of the tent of meeting. 7But you and your sons with you shall diligently perform your priestly duties in all that concerns the altar and the area behind the curtain. I give your priesthood as a gift; any outsider who approaches shall be put to death.

The Priests’ Portion

8 The L ord spoke to Aaron: I have given you charge of the offerings made to me, all the holy gifts of the Israelites; I have given them to you and your sons as a priestly portion due you in perpetuity. 9This shall be yours from the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs that they render to me as a most holy thing, whether grain offering, sin offering, or guilt offering, shall belong to you and your sons. 10As a most holy thing you shall eat it; every male may eat it; it shall be holy to you. 11This also is yours: I have given to you, together with your sons and daughters, as a perpetual due, whatever is set aside from the gifts of all the elevation offerings of the Israelites; everyone who is clean in your house may eat them. 12All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the choice produce that they give to the L ord, I have given to you. 13The first fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the L ord, shall be yours; everyone who is clean in your house may eat of it. 14Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15The first issue of the womb of all creatures, human and animal, which is offered to the L ord, shall be yours; but the firstborn of human beings you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16Their redemption price, reckoned from one month of age, you shall fix at five shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary (that is, twenty gerahs). 17But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall dash their blood on the altar, and shall turn their fat into smoke as an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to the L ord; 18but their flesh shall be yours, just as the breast that is elevated and as the right thigh are yours. 19All the holy offerings that the Israelites present to the L ord I have given to you, together with your sons and daughters, as a perpetual due; it is a covenant of salt forever before the L ord for you and your descendants as well. 20Then the L ord said to Aaron: You shall have no allotment in their land, nor shall you have any share among them; I am your share and your possession among the Israelites.

21 To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for a possession in return for the service that they perform, the service in the tent of meeting. 22From now on the Israelites shall no longer approach the tent of meeting, or else they will incur guilt and die. 23But the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear responsibility for their own offenses; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations. But among the Israelites they shall have no allotment, 24because I have given to the Levites as their portion the tithe of the Israelites, which they set apart as an offering to the L ord. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no allotment among the Israelites.

25 Then the L ord spoke to Moses, saying: 26You shall speak to the Levites, saying: When you receive from the Israelites the tithe that I have given you from them for your portion, you shall set apart an offering from it to the L ord, a tithe of the tithe. 27It shall be reckoned to you as your gift, the same as the grain of the threshing floor and the fullness of the wine press. 28Thus you also shall set apart an offering to the L ord from all the tithes that you receive from the Israelites; and from them you shall give the L ord’s offering to the priest Aaron. 29Out of all the gifts to you, you shall set apart every offering due to the L ord; the best of all of them is the part to be consecrated. 30Say also to them: When you have set apart the best of it, then the rest shall be reckoned to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the wine press. 31You may eat it in any place, you and your households; for it is your payment for your service in the tent of meeting. 32You shall incur no guilt by reason of it, when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy gifts of the Israelites, on pain of death.

20 And the Lord spake unto Aaron. This passage only refers in general to the payment of those tithes which were common to all the Levites. We shall soon afterwards see that the Levites, by God’s command, paid other tithes to the priest; and a third sort will be added, which were only offered every third year. As to the present passage, God requires tithes of the people for the maintenance of the tribe of Levi. It is indeed certain that the custom had existed of old among the ancient patriarchs before the Law, that they should vow or offer tithes to God, as appears from the example of Abraham and Jacob. Moreover, the Apostle infers that the priesthood of Melchisedec was superior to that of the Law, because, when Abraham paid him tithes, he also received tithes of Levi himself. (Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22; Hebrews 7:11.) But there were two different and special reasons for this payment of tithes, which God ordained by Moses. First, because the land had been promised to the seed of Abraham, the Levites were the legitimate inheritors of a twelfth part of it; but they were passed over, and the posterity of Joseph divided into two tribes: unless, therefore, they had been provided for in some other way, the distribution would have been unequal. Again, forasmuch as they were employed in the sanctuary, their labor was worthy of some remuneration, nor was it reasonable that they should be defrauded of their subsistence, when they were set apart for the performance of the sacred offices, and for the instruction of the people. Two reasons are consequently laid down why God would have them receive tithes from the rest of the people, viz., because they had no part in Israel, and because they were engaged in the service of the tabernacle. Besides, God, who as their King laid claim to the tithes as His own right, resigns them to the Levites, and appoints them to be as it were His representatives. To this the words, “I am thine inheritance,” refer.

The manner in which the tithes were employed will be seen afterwards in its proper place: it will be sufficient now to remember that the part which God had taken away from them and transferred to the sons of Joseph was thus compensated for; and since they were withdrawn from domestic cares, that in the name of all the people they might be more at liberty for, and more intent upon, sacred things, an income for their maintenance was thus given them. Wherefore the Papal priests draw a silly inference, when they claim the tithes for themselves, as if due to them in right of the priesthood; else must they needs prove that those, whom they call the laity, are their tenants, as if they were themselves the lords of the twelfth part of all landed property; and again, it would be sacrilege to appropriate the tithes to their own use, and to possess other lands of which they receive the rent. Nor does that expression of the Apostle, which they no less dishonestly than ignorantly allege, help them at all,

"The priesthood being changed, the right also is at the same time transferred.” (Hebrews 7:12.)

The Apostle there contends, that whatever the Law had conferred on the Levitical priests now belongs to Christ alone, since their dignity and office received its end in Him. These blockheads, just as if they had robbed Christ, appropriate to themselves the honor peculiar to Him. If they duly performed their duties, and, giving up all earthly business, devoted themselves altogether to the instruction of the people, and to the execution of all the other offices of good and faithful pastors, unquestionably they ought to be maintained by the public; as Paul correctly infers that a subsistence is now no less due to the ministers of the Gospel than of old to the priests who waited at the altar, (1 Corinthians 9:14;) but under this pretext they unjustly lay hands on the tithes, as if they were their owners, and with still greater impudence accumulate landed properties and other revenues.

It is probable that when the Roman Emperors 214214     “The common opinion is, that it was in the fourth century, when magistrates began to favor the Church, and the world was generally converted from heathenism. Some think Constantine settled them by law upon the Church, but there is no law of Constantine’s now extant that makes express mention of any such thing. — Before the end of the fourth century, as Mr. Selden not only confesses but proves out of Cassian, Eugippius, and others, tithes were paid to the Church.” — Bingham Antiq. B. 5, ch. 5, Section 3. first professed themselves Christians, either induced by just and proper feelings, or out of superstition, or impressed with a pious solicitude that the Church should not be without ministers, they gave the tithes for the maintenance of the clergy; for whilst the Roman State was kee, the people used to exact tithes from their tributary nations. And this was the case, too, where there were kings; for the Sicilians 215215     By the “Lex Hieronica,” referred to by Cicero in C. Verrem., lib. 2:13, and 3:6. paid tithes before the Romans obtained dominion over them. Moreover, if there was a scarcity of corn in the city, the senate demanded a second tithe of the provinces. Nay, we gather from 1 Samuel 8:15, that it was a most ancient custom for kings to receive tithes; so that we need not be surprised that the Romans should have imitated this example. Whence we may infer that, when the Emperors wished to bestow a maintenance on pastors out of the public stock, they rather chose a tenth than any other proportion, that they might imitate God. And in fact some traces of this still remain; for the tithes do not everywhere belong to the priests; and it is well known that a good part of them are swallowed up by monks and abbots, who were not formerly reckoned among the clergy. I need not say that some lands are tithe free. But how would the Pope have allowed them to be held by laymen, if, by divine right, (as they stupidly prate,) they had been the sacred inheritance of the clergy? In conclusion, inasmuch as titlies are to be counted amongst public imposts and tributes, let not private individuals refuse to pay them, unless they wish to destroy the political state and government of kingdoms; but let pious princes take care to correct abuses, so that idle bellies may not devour public revenues which are devoted to the Church.

I am thy part. I have just before explained the meaning of this clause, viz., that, because the Levites were excluded from the common inheritance, God compensates this loss out of what is His, as if they received it from His hand; as much as to say, that He in Himself afforded a supply abundantly sufficient for their remuneration. Meanwhile, they are commanded to be contented in Him alone. Nor can we doubt but that David alludes to this passage when he exclaims,

"The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance; the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places,” (Psalm 16:5;)

for he intimates not only that God is more to him than all earthly wealth, but that in comparison with Him all that others accounted to be most excellent and delectable was worthless. Since now we are all made priests in Christ, this condition is imposed upon us, that we should seek no other portion. Not that we are actually to renounce all earthly goods, but because our felicity is so securely based on Him, that, contented with Him, we should patiently endure the want of all things, whilst those who possess anything should be no less free and unentangled than as if they possessed nothing.

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