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Numbers 18-20 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

The Work of the Priests and Levites

18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons, and all the people in your father’s family must bear the responsibility for any wrong that is done against the holy place or against the priests. To prevent that from happening, you must bring the rest of the men from the tribe of Levi to join you. These Levites will help you and your sons do your work in the Tent of the Agreement. These Levites will be under your control. They will do all the work that needs to be done in the Tent. But they must not go near the things in the Holy Place or the altar. If they do, they will die—and you also will die. They will join you and work with you. They will be responsible for caring for the Meeting Tent. All the work that must be done in the Tent will be done by them. No one else may come near the place where you are.

“You are responsible for caring for the holy place and the altar. I don’t want to become angry with the Israelites again. I myself chose the Levites from among all the Israelites. They are as a gift to you. I gave them to you to serve the Lord and work in the Meeting Tent. But, Aaron, only you and your sons may serve as priests. You are the only ones who can go near the altar or behind the curtain into the Most Holy Place. I am giving you a gift—your service as a priest. Anyone else who tries to come too close must be killed.”

Then the Lord said to Aaron, “I myself gave you responsibility over all the special gifts people give to me. All the holy gifts that the Israelites give to me, I give to you. You and your sons can share in these gifts. They will always belong to you. The people will bring gifts, grain offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. These offerings are most holy. Your share in the most holy offerings will come from the parts that are not burned. All these things will be for you and your sons. 10 Eat these things only in a very holy place. Every male in your family may eat them, but you must remember that these offerings are holy.

11 “The Israelites will bring special gifts that you will lift up to me. I give these gifts to you and your sons and daughters. That is your share. Everyone in your family who is clean will be able to eat it.

12 “And I give you all the best olive oil and all the best new wine and grain. These are the things that the Israelites give to me, the Lord. These are the first things that they gather in their harvest. 13 When the people gather a harvest, they bring all the first things to the Lord. So these things I will give to you. And everyone in your family who is clean may eat it.

14 “Anything in Israel that is a special gift to God[a] is yours.

15 “A woman’s first baby and an animal’s first baby must be given to the Lord. That baby will belong to you. If the firstborn animal is unclean, then it must be bought back. If the baby is a child, that child must be bought back. 16 They must make the payment when the baby is one month old. The cost will be 5 shekels[b] of silver. You must use the official measure to weigh this silver. A shekel by the official measure is 20 gerahs.[c]

17 “But you must not make a payment for the firstborn cow, sheep, or goat. These animals are holy. Sprinkle their blood on the altar and burn their fat as a sweet-smelling gift to the Lord. 18 But the meat from these animals will be yours. And also the breast that was lifted up to the Lord will be yours. And the right thigh from other offerings will be yours. 19 I, the Lord, give you everything that the people offer as holy gifts. This is your share. I give it to you and your sons and daughters. This law will continue forever. It is an agreement with the Lord that cannot be broken.[d] I make this promise to you and to your descendants.”

20 The Lord also said to Aaron, “You will not get any of the land. And you will not own anything that the other people own. I myself will be yours. The Israelites will get the land that I promised, but I am my gift to you.

21 “The Israelites will give one-tenth of everything they have. So I give that one-tenth to the Levites. This is their payment for the work that they do while they serve at the Meeting Tent. 22 But the other Israelites must never go near that Meeting Tent. If they do, they must be put to death! 23 The Levites will do the work of caring for the Meeting Tent. They must bear the responsibility for anything done against it. This is a law that will continue forever. The Levites will not get any of the land that I promised to the other Israelites. 24 But the Israelites will give one-tenth of everything they have to the Lord, and I will give that one-tenth to the Levites. That is why I said these words about the Levites: They will not get the land that I promised the Israelites.”

25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and tell them: The Israelites will give one-tenth of everything they own to the Lord. That one-tenth will belong to the Levites. But you must give one-tenth of that to the Lord as your offering. 27 That tenth will be your offering to the Lord. It will be like grain from your own threshing floor or wine from your own winepress. 28 In this way you will also give an offering to the Lord just as the other Israelites do. You will get the one-tenth that the Israelites give to the Lord, and then you will give one-tenth of that to Aaron the priest. 29 When the Israelites give you one-tenth of everything that they own, then you must give the best and the holiest part of these things as your gift to the Lord.

30 “Moses, tell this to the Levites: When you give the best part of what you receive to the Lord, it will be the same as grain from your own threshing floor and wine from your own winepress. 31 You and your families can eat all that is left. This is your payment for the work you do in the Meeting Tent. 32 And if you always give the best part of it to the Lord, you will never be guilty. You will always remember that these gifts are the holy offerings from the Israelites. And you will not die.”

The Ashes of the Red Cow

19 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said, “These are the laws from the teachings that the Lord gave to the Israelites. Get a red cow that has nothing wrong with it. That cow must not have any bruises. And it must never have worn a yoke. Give that cow to Eleazar, and he will take it outside the camp and kill it there. Then Eleazar the priest must put some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle some of the blood toward the Holy Tent. He must do this seven times. Then the whole cow must be burned in front of him; the skin, the meat, the blood, and the intestines must all be burned. Then the priest must take a cedar stick, a hyssop branch, and some red string. He must throw these things into the fire where the cow is burning. Then the priest must wash himself and his clothes with water. Then he must come back into the camp. He will be unclean until evening. The man who burns that cow must wash himself and his clothes in water. He will be unclean until evening.

“Then someone who is clean will collect the ashes from the cow and put them in a clean place outside the camp. These ashes will be used when someone must keep a special ceremony to become clean. These ashes will also be used to remove a person’s sins.

10 “The man who collected the cow’s ashes must wash his clothes. He will be unclean until evening.

“This rule will continue forever. This rule is for the citizens of Israel and for the foreigners living with you. 11 Those who touch a dead body will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must wash themselves with the special water on the third day and again on the seventh day. If they don’t do this, they will remain unclean. 13 Those who touch the body of someone who has died are unclean. If they stay unclean and then go to the Lord’s Holy Tent, they make it unclean. So they must be separated from the Israelites. Because the special water was not thrown on them, they remain unclean.

14 “This is the rule about those who die in their tents: If someone dies in the tent, everyone in the tent will be unclean for seven days. 15 And every jar or pot without a lid becomes unclean. 16 If there is a dead body out in a field, whether the person died in battle or for some other reason, whoever touches that dead body, or its bones, or even its grave will be unclean for seven days.

17 “If you have become unclean, someone must use the ashes from the burned cow to make you clean again. They must pour fresh water[e] over the ashes into a jar. 18 That clean person must take a hyssop branch and dip it into the water. The clean person must sprinkle it over the tent, the dishes, and any people who were in the tent. That clean person must do this for anyone who touches a dead body, its bones, or even a grave.

19 “Then that clean person must sprinkle this water on you on the third day and again on the seventh day. On the seventh day you will become clean. You must wash your clothes in water and you will become clean in the evening.

20 “Whoever becomes unclean and does not become clean must be separated from the community. If an unclean person is not sprinkled with that special water and does not become clean, that person might make the Lord’s Holy Tent unclean. 21 This rule will be for you forever. And whoever sprinkled the special water must wash their clothes because they will be unclean until evening. 22 And whoever an unclean person touches will be unclean until evening.”

Miriam Dies

20 The Israelites arrived at the desert of Zin in the first month of the year. The people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died and was buried there.

Moses Makes a Mistake

There was not enough water for the people at that place. So the people met together to complain against Moses and Aaron. The people argued with Moses and said, “Maybe we should have died in front of the Lord like our brothers did. Why did you bring the Lord’s people into this desert? Do you want us and our animals to die here? Why did you bring us from Egypt? Why did you bring us to this bad place? There is no grain. There are no figs, grapes, or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”

So Moses and Aaron left the crowd of people and went to the entrance of the Meeting Tent. They bowed down to the ground, and the Glory of the Lord appeared to them.

The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “Get the special walking stick. Take your brother Aaron and the crowd of people and go to that rock. Speak to the rock in front of the people. Then water will flow from the rock, and you can give that water to the people and to their animals.”

The walking stick was in the Holy Tent, in front of the Lord. Moses took the walking stick as the Lord said. 10 Moses and Aaron told the people to meet together in front of the rock. Then Moses said, “You people are always complaining. Now listen to me. I will cause water to flow from this rock.” 11 Moses lifted his arm and hit the rock twice. Water began flowing from the rock, and the people and their animals drank that water.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “You did not trust me enough to honor me and show the people that I am holy. You did not show the Israelites that the power to make the water came from me. So you will not lead the people into the land that I have given them.”

13 This place was called the waters of Meribah.[f] This is where the Israelites argued with the Lord and where he showed them that he was holy.

Edom Will Not Let Israel Pass

14 While Moses was at Kadesh, he sent some men with a message to the king of Edom. The message said,

“This is what your brothers, the Israelites, say to you: You know about all the troubles we have had. 15 Many years ago our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there for many years. The people of Egypt were cruel to us. 16 But we asked the Lord for help, and he heard us and sent an angel to help us. The Lord has brought us out of Egypt.

“Now we are here at Kadesh, where your land begins. 17 Please let us travel through your country. We will not travel through any fields or vineyards. We will not drink water from any of your wells. We will travel only along King’s Road. We will not leave that road to the right or to the left. We will stay on the road until we have traveled through your country.”

18 But the king of Edom answered, “You may not travel through our land. If you try to travel through our land, we will come and fight you with swords.”

19 The Israelites answered, “We will travel along the main road. If our animals drink any of your water, we will pay you for it. We only want to walk through your country. We don’t want to take it for ourselves.”

20 But again the king of Edom answered, “We will not allow you to come through our country.”

Then the king of Edom gathered a large and powerful army and went out to fight against the Israelites. 21 The king of Edom refused to let the Israelites travel through his country, so the Israelites turned around and went another way.

Aaron Dies

22 All the Israelites traveled from Kadesh to Mount Hor. 23 Mount Hor was near the border of Edom. The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 24 “It is time for Aaron to die and go to be with his ancestors. Aaron will not enter the land that I promised to the Israelites. Moses, I say this to you because both you and Aaron did not fully obey the command I gave you at the waters of Meribah.

25 “Now, bring Aaron and his son Eleazar up to Mount Hor. 26 Take Aaron’s special clothes from him and put these clothes on his son Eleazar. Aaron will die there on the mountain. And he will go to be with his ancestors.”

27 Moses obeyed the Lord’s command. Moses, Aaron, and Eleazar went up on Mount Hor. All the Israelites watched them go. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s special clothes and put them on Aaron’s son Eleazar. Then Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Moses and Eleazar came back down the mountain. 29 All the Israelites learned that Aaron was dead. So everyone in Israel mourned for 30 days.


  1. Numbers 18:14 special gift to God Anything offered to God that could not be bought back. See Lev. 27:28-29.
  2. Numbers 18:16 5 shekels 2 ounces (57.5 g).
  3. Numbers 18:16 20 gerahs 2/5 of an ounce (11.5 g).
  4. Numbers 18:19 It is an agreement … broken Literally, “It is an eternal, salt agreement before the Lord.”
  5. Numbers 19:17 fresh water Literally, “living water.” This means fresh, flowing water.
  6. Numbers 20:13 Meribah This name means “argument” or “rebellion.”
Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International

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