Magistracy and ministry are two divine institutions of admirable use for the support and advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Laws concerning the former we had in the close of the foregoing chapter, directions are in this given concerning the latter. Land-marks are here set between the estates of the priests and those of the people.
I. Care is taken that the priests entangle not themselves with the affairs of this life, nor enrich themselves with the wealth of this world; they have better things to mind. They shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel, that is, no share either in the spoils taken in war or in the land that was to be divided by lot, Deut. 18:1. Their warfare and husbandry are both spiritual, and enough to fill their hands both with work and profit and to content them. The Lord is their inheritance, Deut. 18:2. Note, Those that have God for their inheritance, according to the new covenant, should not be greedy of great things in the world, neither gripe what they have nor grasp at more, but look upon all present things with the indifference which becomes those that believe God to be all-sufficient.
II. Care is likewise taken that they want not any of the comforts and conveniences of this life. Though God, who is a Spirit, is their inheritance, it does not therefore follow that they must live upon the air; no,
1. The people must provide for them. They must have their due from the people, Deut. 18:3. Their maintenance must not depend upon the generosity of the people, but they must be by law entitled to it. He that is taught in the word ought in justice to communicate to him that teaches him; and he that has the benefit of solemn religious assemblies ought to contribute to the comfortable support of those that preside in such assemblies. (1.) The priests who in their courses served at the altar had their share of the sacrifices, namely, the peace-offerings, that were brought while they were in waiting: besides the breast and shoulder, which were appointed them before (Lev. 7:32-34), the cheeks and maw are here ordered to be given them; so far was the law from diminishing what was already granted that it gave them an augmentation (2.) The first-fruits which arose within such a precinct were brought in, as it should seem, to the priests that resided among them, for their maintenance in the country; the first of their corn and wine for food, and the first of their fleece for clothing (Deut. 18:4); for the priests who were employed to teach others ought themselves to learn, having food and raiment, to be therewith content. The first-fruits were devoted to God, and he constituted the priests his receivers; and if God reckons what is, in general, given to the poor, lent to him, to be repaid with interest, much more what is, in particular, given to the poor, lent to him, to be repaid with interest, much more what is, in particular, given to poor ministers. There is a good reason given for this constant charge upon their estates (Deut. 18:5), because the Levites were chosen of God, and his choice must be owned and countenanced, and those honoured by us whom he honours; and because they stood to minister, and ought to be recompensed for their attendance and labour, especially since it was in the name of the Lord, by his warrant, in his service, and for his praise, and this charge entailed upon their seed for ever; those who were thus engaged and thus employed ought to have all due encouragement given them, as some of the most needful useful members of their commonwealth.
2. The priests must not themselves stand in one another’s light. If a priest that by the law was obliged to serve at the altar only in his turn, and was paid for that, should, out of his great affection to the sanctuary, devote himself to a constant attendance there, and quit the ease and pleasure of the city in which he had his lot for the satisfaction of serving the altar, the priests whose turn it was to attend must admit him both to join in the work and to share in the wages, and not grudge him either the honour of the one or the profit of the other, though it might seem to break in upon them, Deut. 18:6-8. Note, A hearty pious zeal to serve God and his church, though it may a little encroach upon a settled order, and there may be somewhat in it that looks irregular, yet ought to be gratified and not discouraged. He that appears to have a hearty affection to the sanctuary, and loves dearly to be employed in the service of it, in God’s name let him minister; he shall be as welcome to God as the Levites whose course it was to minister, and should be so to them. The settling of the courses was intended rather to secure those to the work that were not willing to do so much than to exclude any that were willing to do more. And he that thus serves as a volunteer shall have as good pay as the pressed men, besides that which comes of the sale of his patrimony. The church of Rome obliges those who leave their estates to go into a monastery to bring the produce of their estates with them into the common stock of the monastery, for gain is their godliness; but here it is ordered that the pious devotee should reserve to himself the produce of his patrimony, for religion and the ministry were never appointed of God, however they have been abused by men, to serve a secular interest.