Book of Numbers Chapter Eighteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The Way Of Ministry
Verse 1: "So 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.'" Aaron, the older brother of Moses, was a very real flesh and blood human being, and he was the first high priest of Israel, an office that would belong to his descendants through the generations. They would be responsible to bring the guilt of themselves and the nation before the Lord, but as to each man, they would not be able to continue in office. Hebrews 7:23 states, "there were many priests because they were prevented by death from continuing." Aaron, his office, and the men who succeeded him, were people who eventually died, and also they were parables, an earthly picture of our great High Priest who is at the right hand of the Father in eternity. The Lord Jesus, "because He lives forever, has an unchangeable priesthood" (Hebrews 7:24). The sacrifices presented by Aaron and his sons are no longer necessary because Jesus Christ did it "once for all when He offered up Himself" (Hebrews 7:27). He bore our sin and guilt, as pictured by the guilt borne by the Aaron of these verses. Through faith in the Lord, we are the people of God, and we like Aaron, are God's parables to and for this world.
The priesthood was being established through Aaron, including the function of interceding for Israel at the altar of the Lord. Notice in Hebrews 7:25, that Jesus Christ "ever lives to make intercession for (us)." Every moment of each day, our Savior is praying. He knows your name, your situation, and He, Himself God, is praying to the Father for you. Aaron and his sons were men who could do only so much, and so their cousins (called "brothers" here), the Levites, were called to assist in maintaining the Tent of the Lord. Verses 2-4: "But 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. 3 And 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. 4 They 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." These other sons of the Tribe of Levi were to be servants with limited assignments—only the priests could touch the holy objects. Others in Israel, collectively called "outsider(s)," were more limited still. But amazingly, through faith, we who were outsiders can "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and grace..." (Hebrews 5:16).
The Lord continued giving instructions to Aaron the high priest, in Verses 5-7: "So 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. 6 Behold, 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. 7 But 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.'" It's amazing that one person can be God's gift to another. Moses was apparently not included here, though he may have been nearby, as intimated by Verse 25. it's time us, by the way, to pray for hearts that "hear"—for just like God spoke to Aaron, He is speaking to us, in His Word, through the Holy Spirit and in parables presented through other people. The priesthood was given to Aaron, the Levites could not touch objects inside the veil, and others would die if they even came near. When we are called to minister before the Lord, we should act with holy fear, with joyful hearts, and also it is important to notice and accept the limitations the Lord has placed upon us as His ministers.
Verses 8-11: "Then 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. 9 This 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. 10 As the most holy gifts you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. 11 This 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." We can't see the future, but God can. He is not only in the past and present, but also in the future. When He calls you to a ministry, He has present and future provision for you. Aaron would have serious responsibilities. As stated in Verse 1, he was to be continually involved with the guilt of Israel's people, who had already been told to bring sacrificial offerings to the Tent of the Lord. The priests and their families were to be sustained by those gifts. "When God guides, God provides," and He does.
Verses 12-15: "All 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. 13 The 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. 14 Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours." It wasn't just necessities that were to be given to Aaron and his family out of the tithes of Israel, it was the best that could be obtained in that time and place, including oil, wine and bread—all that was needed—the best of everything. And as it was then, it is now. God provides for those He calls, and for their families.
Verses 15-19: "Every 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. 16 As 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. 17 But 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. 18 Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh. 19 All 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.'" The firstborn, the eldest were given to Aaron and his descendants as an everlasting covenant from the Lord. It was important for them, as representatives of the Lord before Israel, to recognize this gift that remembered God's rescue of Israel from the slavery of Egypt—His final act that persuaded Pharaoh to release the people, was the destruction of Egypt's firstborn and the salvation of the firstborn of Israel, as seen in Exodus 12. The survival of the eldest in Israeli families was on the basis of the sacrifice of a spotless lamb in each household. Human firstborns were here assigned a monetary value. Our Firstborn is Jesus Christ, called "the firstborn from the dead" in Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5. He is indeed the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). "Salt" as seen here in Verse 19, has been the chief food preservative for mankind throughout history. It was a symbol of God's "covenant" of peace toward His people, and in Mark 9:50, Jesus urged us all to: "...Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
Verses 20-24: "Then 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. 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. 22 The sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die. 23 Only 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. 24 For 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.'" The priest, the minister, the called of God—when we say "yes" to the Lord, we essentially give up whatever control we might think we have over tomorrow. We no longer rely on the physical skills we were born with and are trained to use. Though not all in ministry are poor, we essentially take a "vow of poverty," surrendering our future to Him. We recognize that we truly do not know what's coming next, placing an end to our manipulation of it. He is our source and our strength. And he is the One who defines the extent of the ministry we are assigned to. Like the priests who would have no share as a tribe in the land of Israel, and Levites who had less than the priests, we are to accept what God has given us, for these words are from the Lord to you and me—"I am your portion and your inheritance."
The Lord now spoke directly to Moses in Verses 25-32, who likely was nearby during the words spoken earlier to Aaron: "Then 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. 27 Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. 28 So 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. 29 Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the Lord, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.' 30 You 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. 31 You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. 32 You 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.'" The Levites, the descendants of Levi, son of Jacob, also called Israel, who weren't priests, were to receive offerings from the people of Israel. Then they were to tithe, to give a measured portion of what was received to the priests, the descendants of Aaron. The Levites were compensated amply for what they did, and their duties were God's gift to them, just as much as what they received. Ministry is a blessing and what we are assigned to do has limitations. God who loves us, knows our limits and in Christ Jesus, we have—everything we could ever need—and infinitely more. It's the way of ministry.
Father, I am Yours. Whatever ministry I am called to perform, I say "yes" to Your purposes in my life. Help me to not act in my strength, but instead choose to let YOUR strength fulfill my purpose in Your kingdom. I am Yours, Lord. I surrender all. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.