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The Duties of the Priests and Levites

18 The Lord said to Aaron:

You, your sons, and the other Levites of the Kohath clan, are responsible for what happens at the sacred tent.[a] And you and your sons will be responsible for what the priests do. The Levites are your relatives and are here to help you in your service at the tent. You must see that they perform their duties. But if they go near any of the sacred objects or the altar, all of you will die. No one else is allowed to take care of the sacred tent or do anything connected with it. Follow these instructions, so I won't become angry and punish the Israelites ever again.

I alone chose the Levites from all the other tribes to belong to me, and I have given them to you as your helpers. But only you and your sons can serve as priests at the altar and in the most holy place. Your work as priests is a gift from me, and anyone else who tries to do that work must be put to death.

The Priests' Share of Offerings Given to the Lord

(Deuteronomy 18.1-8)

8-9 The Lord said to Aaron:

I have put you in charge of the sacred gifts and sacrifices that the Israelites bring to me. And from now on, you, your sons, and your descendants will receive part of the sacrifices for sin, as well as part of the grain sacrifices, and the sacrifices to make things right. Your share of these sacrifices will be the parts not burned on the altar. 10 Since these things are sacred, they must be eaten near the sacred tent, but only men are allowed to eat them.

11 You will also receive part of the special gifts and offerings that the Israelites bring to me. Any member of your family who is clean and acceptable for worship can eat these things. 12 For example, when the Israelites bring me the first batches of oil, wine, and grain, you can have the best parts of those gifts. 13 And the first part of the crops from their fields and vineyards also belongs to you. The people will offer this to me, then anyone in your family who is clean may have some of it.

14 (A) Everything in Israel that has been completely dedicated to me[b] will now belong to you.

15 The first-born son in every Israelite family, as well as the first-born males of their flocks and herds, belong to me. But every first-born son and first-born donkey[c] must be bought back from me. 16 The price for a first-born son who is at least one month old will be five pieces of silver, weighed according to the official standards. 17 However, all first-born cattle, sheep, and goats belong to me and cannot be bought back. Splatter their blood on the altar and send their fat up in smoke, so I can smell it and be pleased. 18 You are allowed to eat the meat of those animals, just as you can eat the choice ribs and the right hind leg of the special sacrifices.

19 From now on, the sacred offerings that the Israelites give to me will belong to you, your sons, and your daughters. This is my promise to you and your descendants, and it will never change.

20 You will not receive any land in Israel as your own. I am the Lord, and I will give you whatever you need.

What the Levites Receive

The Lord said to Aaron:

21 (B) Ten percent of the Israelites' crops and one out of every ten of their newborn animals belong to me. But I am giving all this to the Levites as their pay for the work they do at the sacred tent. 22-23 They are the only ones allowed to work at the tent, and they must not let anyone else come near it. Those who do come near must be put to death, and the Levites will also be punished. This law will never change.

Since the Levites won't be given any land in Israel as their own, 24 they will be given the crops and newborn animals that the Israelites offer to me.

What the Levites Must Give

25 The Lord told Moses 26 to say to the Levites:

When you receive from the people of Israel ten percent of their crops and newborn animals, you must offer a tenth of that to me. 27 Just as the Israelites give me part of their grain and wine, you must set aside part of what you receive 28 as an offering to me. That amount must then be given to Aaron, 29 so the best of what you receive will be mine.

30 After you have dedicated the best parts to me, you can eat the rest, just as the Israelites eat part of their grain and wine after offering them to me.[d] 31 Your share may be eaten anywhere by anyone in your family, because it is your pay for working at the sacred tent. 32 You won't be punished for eating it, as long as you have already offered the best parts to me.

The gifts and sacrifices brought by the people must remain sacred, and if you eat any part of them before they are offered to me, you will be put to death.

The Ceremony To Wash Away Sin

19 1-2 The Lord gave Moses and Aaron the following law:

The people of Israel must bring Moses a reddish-brown cow that has nothing wrong with it and that has never been used for plowing. Moses will give it to Eleazar the priest, then it will be led outside the camp and killed while Eleazar watches. He will dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times in the direction of the sacred tent. Then the whole cow, including its skin, meat, blood, and insides must be burned. A priest[e] is to throw a stick of cedar wood, a hyssop[f] branch, and a piece of red yarn into the fire.

After the ceremony, the priest is to take a bath and wash his clothes. Only then can he go back into the camp, but he remains unclean and unfit for worship until evening. The man who burned the cow must also wash his clothes and take a bath, but he is also unclean until evening.

(C) A man who isn't unclean must collect the ashes of the burnt cow and store them outside the camp in a clean place. The people of Israel can mix these ashes with the water used in the ceremony to wash away sin. 10 The man who collects the ashes must wash his clothes, but will remain unclean until evening. This law must always be obeyed by the people of Israel and the foreigners living among them.

What Must Be Done after Touching a Dead Body

The Lord said:

11 If you touch a dead body, you will be unclean for seven days. 12 But if you wash with the water mixed with the cow's ashes on the third day and again on the seventh day, you will be clean and acceptable for worship. You must wash yourself on those days; if you don't, you will remain unclean. 13 Suppose you touch a dead body, but refuse to be made clean by washing with the water mixed with ashes. You will be guilty of making my sacred tent unclean and will no longer belong to the people of Israel.

14 If someone dies in a tent while you are there, you will be unclean for seven days. And anyone who later enters the tent will also be unclean. 15 Any open jar in the tent is unclean.

16 If you touch the body of someone who died or was killed, or if you touch a human bone or a grave, you will be unclean for seven days.

17-18 Before you can be made clean, someone who is clean must take some of the ashes from the burnt cow and stir them into a pot of spring water. That same person must dip a hyssop branch in the water and ashes, then sprinkle it on the tent and everything in it, including everyone who was inside. If you have touched a human bone, a grave, or a dead body, you must be sprinkled with that water. 19 If this is done on the third day and on the seventh day, you will be clean. Then after you take a bath and wash your clothes, you can worship that evening.

20 If you are unclean and refuse to be made clean by washing with the water mixed with ashes, you will be guilty of making my sacred tent unclean, and you will no longer belong to the people of Israel. 21 These laws will never change.

The man who sprinkled the water and the ashes on you when you were unclean must also wash his clothes. And whoever touches this water is unclean until evening. 22 When you are unclean, everything you touch becomes unclean, and anyone who touches you will be unclean until evening.

Water from a Rock

20 The people of Israel arrived at the Zin Desert during the first month[g] and set up camp near the town of Kadesh. It was there that Miriam died and was buried.

(D) The Israelites had no water, so they went to Moses and Aaron and complained, “Moses, we'd be better off if we had died along with the others in front of the Lord's sacred tent.[h] You brought us into this desert, and now we and our livestock are going to die! Egypt was better than this horrible place. At least there we had grain and figs and grapevines and pomegranates.[i] But now we don't even have any water.”

Moses and Aaron went to the entrance to the sacred tent, where they bowed down. The Lord appeared to them in all of his glory 7-8 and said, “Moses, get your walking stick.[j] Then you and Aaron call the people together and command that rock to give you water. That's how you will provide water for the people of Israel and their livestock.”

Moses obeyed and took his stick from the sacred tent. 10 After he and Aaron had gathered the people around the rock, he said, “Look, you rebellious people, and you will see water flow from this rock!” 11 (E) He raised his stick in the air and struck the rock two times. At once, water gushed from the rock, and the people and their livestock had water to drink.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you refused to believe in my power, these people did not respect me. And so, you will not be the ones to lead them into the land I have promised.”

13 The Israelites had complained against the Lord, and he had shown them his holy power by giving them water to drink. So they named the place Meribah, which means “Complaining.”

Israel Isn't Allowed To Go through Edom

14 Moses sent messengers from Israel's camp near Kadesh with this message for the king of Edom:

We are Israelites, your own relatives, and we're sure you have heard the terrible things that have happened to us. 15 Our ancestors settled in Egypt and lived there a long time. But later the Egyptians were cruel to us, 16 and when we begged our Lord for help, he answered our prayer and brought us out of that land.

Now we are camped at the border of your territory, near the town of Kadesh. 17 Please let us go through your country. We won't go near your fields or vineyards, and we won't drink any water from your wells. We will stay on the main road[k] until we leave your territory.

18 But the king of Edom answered, “No, I won't let you go through our country! And if you try, we will attack you.”

19 Moses sent back this message: “We promise to stay on the main road, and if any of us or our livestock drink your water, we will pay for it. We just want to pass through.”

20 But the king insisted, “You can't go through our land!”

Then Edom sent out its strongest troops 21 to keep Israel from passing through its territory. So the Israelites had to go in another direction.

Aaron Dies

22 After the Israelites had left Kadesh and had gone as far as Mount Hor 23 on the Edomite border, the Lord said, 24 “Aaron, this is where you will die. You and Moses disobeyed me at Meribah, and so you will not enter the land I promised the Israelites. 25 Moses, go with Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of the mountain. 26 Then take Aaron's priestly robe from him and place it on Eleazar. Aaron will die there.”

27 Moses obeyed, and everyone watched as he and Aaron and Eleazar walked to the top of Mount Hor. 28 (F) Moses then took the priestly robe from Aaron and placed it on Eleazar. Aaron died there.

When Moses and Eleazar came down, 29 the people knew that Aaron had died, and they mourned his death for 30 days.


  1. 18.1 are responsible … sacred tent: Or “are to make sure that no one gets near the sacred tent.”
  2. 18.14 that has been completely dedicated to me: This translates a Hebrew word that describes property and things that were taken away from humans and given to God forever. Sometimes such things had to be completely destroyed (see Joshua 6.15-19).
  3. 18.15 donkey: The Hebrew text has “unclean animal,” which probably refers to a donkey (see Exodus 13.13; 34.20).
  4. 18.30 just as the Israelites … to me: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  5. 19.6 A priest: Or “Eleazar.”
  6. 19.6 hyssop: A plant with small clusters of blue flowers and sweet-smelling leaves.
  7. 20.1 first month: See the note at 9.3.
  8. 20.3 if we had died … sacred tent: See 16.41-49.
  9. 20.5 pomegranates: See the note at 13.23,24.
  10. 20.7,8 walking stick: A symbol of his authority.
  11. 20.17 the main road: The Hebrew text has “the King's Highway,” which was an important trade route through what is today the country of Jordan. It connected the city of Damascus in Syria with the Gulf of Aqaba in southern Jordan.

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