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Duties of Levites

18 So the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s household (family) with you shall bear the guilt in connection with the sanctuary [that is, through your service as priests you will atone for the offenses which the people unknowingly commit when brought into contact with the manifestations of God’s presence]; and you and your sons with you shall bear the guilt in connection with your priesthood [that is, your own unintentional offenses]. But bring with you also your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father (ancestor), so that they may join with you and serve you [as assistants], while you and your sons with you are before the Tent of the Testimony [the Holy Place where only priests may go, and the Most Holy Place which only the high priest may enter]. And the Levites shall attend to your duty [as assistants] and to the duties of all the tent (tabernacle); only they shall not approach the articles of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die. They shall join you and attend to the duties of the Tent of Meeting—all the service of the tent—and no stranger [no layman, anyone who is not a Levite] may approach you [and your sons]. So you shall attend to the duties of the sanctuary and the duties of the altar [of burnt offering and the altar of incense], so that there will no longer be wrath on the Israelites [as with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram].(A) Behold, I Myself have taken your fellow Levites from among the sons of Israel; they are a gift to you, given (dedicated) to the Lord, to do the service for the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle). Therefore you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar [of burnt offering and the altar of incense] and [of the Holy of Holies] within the veil, and you are to serve. I am giving you the priesthood as a bestowed service, but the stranger (outsider, layman) who approaches shall be put to death.”(B)

The Priests’ Portion

Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Now behold, I [the Lord] have entrusted you with My heave offerings, even all the holy gifts of the Israelites, I have given them to you as a portion, and to your sons as a continual allotment.(C) This shall be yours of the most holy things, [reserved] from the fire: every offering of the people, every grain offering and sin offering and guilt offering, which they shall render (give) to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons. 10 You shall eat it as the most holy thing; every male [of your family] shall eat it. It shall be holy to you.(D) 11 This also is yours: the heave offering of their gift, including all the wave offerings of the Israelites. I have given them to you and to your sons and to your daughters with you as a continual allotment; everyone in your household who is [ceremonially] clean may eat it. 12 All the best of the fresh [olive] oil, and all the best of the new 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 the land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; everyone in your household who is [ceremonially] clean may eat it. 14 Every devoted thing in Israel [everything that has been promised to the Lord with an oath] shall be yours. 15 Every firstborn of the womb of all flesh, whether it is man or animal, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall most certainly redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 And their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem, according to your [a]valuation, for the [fixed] price of five shekels in silver, in accordance with the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 But the firstborn of a cow or of a sheep or of a goat you shall not redeem; they are holy [and belong to the Lord]. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall offer up their fat in smoke as an offering by fire, for a sweet and soothing aroma to the Lord. 18 Their meat shall be yours, like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh. 19 All the offerings of the holy things, which the Israelites offer to the Lord I have given to you and to your sons and your daughters with you as a continual allotment. It is an everlasting covenant of [b]salt [that cannot be dissolved or violated] before the Lord to you and to your descendants with you.” 20 Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in the land [of the Israelites], nor have any portion [of land] among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.

21 “Behold, I have given the Levites all the tithe in Israel as an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle). 22 The Israelites shall never again approach the Tent of Meeting [the covered sanctuary, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies], or they [who do] will incur sin and die. 23 Only the Levites shall perform the service of the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle), and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that the Levites shall have no inheritance [of land] among the children of Israel. 24 But the tithe of the Israelites, which they present as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘They shall [c]have no inheritance among the children of Israel.’”

25 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, ‘When you take from the Israelites the tithe which I have given to you from them as your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe [paid by the people]. 27 Your offering shall be credited to you as the grain from the threshing floor or as the full produce from the wine vat. 28 Likewise you shall also present an offering to the Lord from all your tithes, which you receive from the Israelites; 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 it, even the sacred part from them.’ 30 Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered the best from it, then the rest shall be credited 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 [the members of] your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle). 32 You will bear no sin because of it when you have offered the best of it; but you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the children of Israel, or you will die [because of it].’”

Ordinance of the Red Heifer

19 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “This is the statute of the law which the Lord has commanded: ‘Tell the Israelites to bring you an unblemished red heifer in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence. Next Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle some of it toward the front of the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle) seven times. Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight; its skin, its flesh, its blood, and its waste, shall be burned (reduced to ash). The priest shall take cedar wood and [d]hyssop and scarlet [material] and cast them into the midst of the burning heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water; and afterward come into the camp, but he shall be [ceremonially] unclean until evening. The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and shall be unclean until evening. Now a man who is [ceremonially] clean shall collect the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, and the congregation of the Israelites shall keep it for [e]water to remove impurity; it is [to be used for] purification from sin. 10 The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. This shall be a perpetual statute to the Israelites and to the stranger who lives as a resident alien among them.

11 ‘The one who touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean for seven days. 12 That one shall purify himself from uncleanness with the water [made with the ashes of the burned heifer] on the third day and on the seventh day, and then he will be clean; but if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. 13 Whoever touches a corpse, the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from Israel [that is, excluded from the atonement made for them]. Because the water for impurity was not sprinkled on him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him.

14 ‘This is the law when a man dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be [ceremonially] unclean for seven days. 15 Every open container [in the tent], which has no covering tied down on it, is unclean. 16 Also, anyone in the open field who touches one who has been killed with a sword or who has died [of natural causes], or a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days. 17 Then for the unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for the purification from sin, and running water shall be added to them in a container. 18 A clean person shall take [f]hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the people who were there, and on the one who touched the bone or the one who was killed or the one who died [naturally] or the grave. 19 Then the clean person shall sprinkle [the water for purification] on the unclean person on the third day and on the seventh day, and on the seventh day the unclean man shall purify himself, and wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and shall be [ceremonially] clean at evening.

20 ‘But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water for purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean. 21 So it shall be a perpetual statute to them. He who sprinkles the water for impurity [on another] shall wash his clothes, and he who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. 22 Furthermore, anything the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be [ceremonially] unclean until evening.’”

Death of Miriam

20 Then the Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month [in the fortieth year after leaving Egypt]. And the people lived in Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.

Now there was no water for the congregation, and they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. The people contended with Moses, and said, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished [in the plague] before the Lord!(E) Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness to die here, we and our livestock? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or of figs or of vines or of pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle) and fell on their faces [before the Lord in prayer]. Then the glory and brilliance of the Lord appeared to them; and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

The Water of Meribah

“Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock [g]in front of them, so that it will pour out its water. In this way you shall bring water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their livestock drink [fresh water].”

So Moses took the rod from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; 10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. Moses said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand [in anger] and with his rod he struck the rock twice [instead of speaking to the rock as the Lord had commanded]. And the water poured out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank [fresh water]. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed (trusted) Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, you therefore [h]shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”(F) 13 These are the waters of Meribah (contention, strife), where the sons of Israel contended with the Lord, and He showed Himself holy among them.

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of [i]Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel, ‘You know all the hardship that has come upon us [as a nation]; 15 that our fathers (ancestors) went down to Egypt, and we lived there for a long time, and the Egyptians treated [both] us and our fathers badly. 16 But when we cried out to the Lord [for help], He heard us and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. Now look, we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through a field or through a vineyard; we will not even drink water from a well. We will go along the [j]king’s highway, not turning [off-course] to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.’”

18 But [the king of] Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through my territory, or I will come out against you with the sword.” 19 Again, the Israelites said to him, “We will go by the highway [trade route], and if I and my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it. Only let me pass through on foot, nothing else.” 20 But the king of Edom said, “You shall not pass through [my territory].” And Edom came out against Israel with many people and a strong hand. 21 Thus [the king of] Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.

22 Now when they set out from Kadesh, the Israelites, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor.

Death of Aaron

23 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, by the border of the land of Edom, saying, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people [in death]; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you [both] rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah.(G) 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor; 26 and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. So Aaron will be gathered to his fathers, and will die there.” 27 So Moses did just as the Lord had commanded; and they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 After Moses stripped Aaron of his [priestly] garments and put them on Eleazar his son, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept (mourned) for him thirty days.

Footnotes

  1. Numbers 18:16 Since the price is set at five shekels, this term is not to be understood here as an ordinary appraisal (which could vary), but probably refers to the priest’s estimation of whether the item qualifies for redemption.
  2. Numbers 18:19 Salt was symbolic of preservation, and here permanence.
  3. Numbers 18:24 They would have homes, cities, and pasture land to use, but not to possess as a personal inheritance.
  4. Numbers 19:6 I.e. an aromatic plant.
  5. Numbers 19:9 The purpose of the ash mixed with water was to remove the contamination from those defiled because of contact with a dead body.
  6. Numbers 19:18 I.e. an aromatic plant used in bunches for sprinkling rites.
  7. Numbers 20:8 Lit before their eyes.
  8. Numbers 20:12 Moses apparently allowed his anger and frustration with the Israelites to blind him to the significance of what God had instructed. Although thoroughly exasperated by the Israelites, Moses was still held accountable for his behavior.
  9. Numbers 20:14 The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s (Israel’s) twin brother.
  10. Numbers 20:17 This major trade route extended from the Gulf of Aqabah (south) to Damascus (north).

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