Verses 20–32

Here is a further account of the provision that was made both for the Levites and for the priests, out of the country.

I. They must have no inheritance in the land; only cities to dwell in were afterwards allowed them, but no ground to occupy: Thou shalt not have any part among them, Num. 18:20. It is repeated again Num. 18:23; and again Num. 18:24; Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance, either by purchase or descent. God would have them comfortably provided for, but would not have their families over-rich, lest they should think themselves above that work which their wages supposed and obliged them constantly to attend upon. As Israel was a peculiar people, and not to be numbered among the nations, so Levi was a peculiar tribe, and not to be settled as the rest of the tribes, but in all respects distinguished from them. A good reason is given why they must have no inheritance in the land, for, says God, I am thy part, and thy inheritance. Note, Those that have God for their inheritance and their portion for ever ought to look with a holy contempt and indifference upon the inheritances of this world, and not covet their portion in it. “The Lord is my portion, therefore will I hope in him, and not depend upon any thing I have on this earth,” Lam. 3:24. The Levites shall have no inheritance, and yet they shall live very comfortably and plentifully—to teach us that Providence has various ways of supporting those that live in a dependence upon it; the fowls reap not, and yet are fed, the lilies spin not, and yet are clothed, the Levites have no inheritance in Israel, and yet live better than any other tribe. The repetition of that caution, that no Israelite should approach the tabernacle, comes in suitable, though somewhat abruptly, Num. 18:22. It seems set in opposition to that order concerning the priests and Levites that they should have no inheritance in Israel, to show how God dispenses his favours variously. The Levites have the honour of attending the tabernacle, which is denied the Israelites; but then the Israelites have the honour of inheritances in Canaan, which is denied the Levites; thus each is kept from either envying or despising the other, and both have reason to rejoice in their lot. The Israelites must not come nigh the tabernacle, but then the Levites must have no inheritance in the land; if ministers expect that people should keep in their sphere, and not intermeddle with sacred offices, let them keep in theirs, and not entangle themselves in secular affairs.

II. But they must both have tithes of the land. Besides the first-fruits which were appropriated to the priests, which, the Jews say, were to be a fiftieth part, or at least a sixtieth, the tithe also was appropriated. 1. The Levites had the tithes of the people’s increase (Num. 18:21): I have given (whose the whole is) all the tenths in Israel, of all the productions of the land, to the children of Levi, to be divided among them in just proportions, for their service which they serve. The Levites were the smallest tribe of the twelve, and yet, besides all other advantages, they had a tenth part of the yearly profits, without the trouble and expense of ploughing and sowing; such care did God take of those that were devoted to his service; not only that they might be well maintained, but that they might be honoured with a national acknowledgment of the good services they did to the public, and owned as God’s agents and receivers; for that which was a heave-offering, or an offering lifted heavenward unto the Lord, was by him consigned to the Levites. 2. The priests had the tenths of the Levites’ tithes settled upon them. The order for this Moses is directed to give to the Levites, whom God would have to pay it with cheerfulness, rather than the priests to demand it with authority: Speak to the Levites that it be offered by them, rather than levied upon them. Now observe, (1.) The Levites were to give God his dues out of their tithes, as well as the Israelites out of their increase. They were God’s tenants, and rent was expected from them, nor were they exempted by their office. Thus now, ministers must be charitable out of what they receive; and the more freely they have received the more freely they must give, and be examples of liberality. You shall offer a heave-offering to the Lord, Num. 18:26. Those that are employed to assist the devotions of others must be sure to pay their own, as a heave-offering to the Lord. Prayers and praises lifted up to God, or rather the heart lifted up in them, are now our heave-offerings. This (says God) shall be reckoned to you as though it were the corn of the threshing-floor; that is, though it was not the fruit of their ground, nor of their own labour, as the tithes of other Israelites were, yet being of such as they had it should be accepted, to the sanctifying of all the rest. (2.) This was to be given to Aaron the priest (Num. 18:28), and to his successors the high priests, to be divided and disposed of in such proportions as they should think fit among the inferior priests. Most of the profits of the priests’ office, which were appointed in the former part of the chapter, arising from the sacrifices, those priests had the benefit of who constantly attended at the altar; but, forasmuch as there were many priests employed in the country to teach and rule, those tithes taken by the Levites, it is probable, were directed by the high priest for their maintenance. It is the probable conjecture of the learned bishop Patrick that the tenth of this last tenth was reserved for the high priest himself, to support his state and dignity; for otherwise we read not of any peculiar provision made for him. (3.) When the Levites had thus paid the tenth of their income, as a heave-offering to the Lord, they had themselves the comfortable enjoyment of the other nine parts (Num. 18:30): “When you have thus heaved the best from it (for still God’s part must be the best) then you shall eat the rest, not as a holy thing, but with the same freedom that the other Israelites eat their part with, in every place, you and your households,” Num. 18:31. See here what is the way to have the comfort of all our worldly possessions so as to bear no sin by reason of them, as it follows, Num. 18:32. [1.] We must be sure that what we have be got honestly and in the service of God. It is your reward for your service; that meat is the best eating that is first earned; but, if any will not work, neither shall he eat, 2 Thess. 3:10. And that seems to be spoken of as having a particular comfort and satisfaction in it which is the reward of faithful service done in the tabernacle of the congregation. [2.] We must be sure that God has his dues out of it. Then we have the comfort of our substance when we have honoured the Lord with it. The you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have heaved the best from it. This intimates that we must never feed ourselves without fear, lest our table become a snare, and we bear sin by reason of it; and that therefore we are concerned to give alms of such things as we have, that all may be clean and comfortable to us.