Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The priests are to bear the iniquity of the sanctuary, Num 18:1. The Levites to minister to the priests, and have charge of the tabernacle, Num 18:2-4. The priests alone to have the charge of the sanctuary, etc., no stranger to come nigh on pain of death, Num 18:5-7 The portion allowed for their maintenance, Num 18:8. They shall have every meat-offering; and they shall eat them in the holy place, Num 18:9, Num 18:10. The wave-offerings, Num 18:11. The first-fruits of the oil, wine, and wheat, and whatever is first ripe, and every devoted thing, Num 18:12-14; also, all the first-born of men and beasts, Num 18:15-18; and heave-offerings, Num 18:19. The priests shall have no inheritance, Num 18:20. The Levites shall have no inheritance, but shall have the tenth of the produce in Israel, Num 18:21-24, of which they are to give a tenth to the priests, taken from the best parts, Num 18:25-30.
Thou and thy sons - shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary, etc. - That is, They must be answerable for its legal pollutions, and must make the necessary atonements and expiations. By this they must feel that though they had got a high and important office confirmed to them by a miraculous interference, yet it was a place of the highest responsibility; and that they must not be high-minded, but fear.
Thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi - may be joined unto thee - There is a fine paronomasia, or play upon words, in the original. לוי Levi comes from the root לוה lavah, to join to, couple, associate: hence Moses says, the Levites, ילוו yillavu, shall be joined, or associated with the priests; they shall conjointly perform the whole of the sacred office, but the priests shall be principal, the Levites only their associates or assistants.
The first-born of man - and the firstling of unclean beasts - Thus vain man is ranked with the beasts that perish; and with the worst kinds of them too, those deemed unclean.
Shalt thou redeem - for the money of five shekels - Redemption of the first-born is one of the rites which is still practiced among the Jews. According to Leo of Modena, it is performed in the following manner: -
When the child is thirty days old, the father sends for one of the descendants of Aaron: several persons being assembled on the occasion, the father brings a cup containing several pieces of gold and silver coin. The priest then takes the child into his arms, and addressing himself to the mother, says: Is this thy son?
Priest. Hast thou never had another child, male or female, a miscarriage or untimely birth?
Priest. This being the case, this child, as first-born, belongs to me.
Then, turning to the father, he says: If it be thy desire to have this child, thou must redeem it.
Father. I present thee with this gold and silver for this purpose.
Priest. Thou dost wish, therefore, to redeem the child?
Father. I do wish so to do.
The priest then, turning himself to the assembly, says: Very well; this child, as first-born, is mine, as it is written in Bemidbar, (Num 18:16), Thou shalt redeem the first-born of a month old for five shekels, but I shall content myself with this in exchange. He then takes two gold crowns, or thereabouts, and returns the child to his parents.
It is a covenant of salt - That is, an incorruptible, everlasting covenant. As salt was added to different kinds of viands, not only to give them a relish, but to preserve them from putrefaction and decay, it became the emblem of incorruptibility and permanence. Hence, a covenant of salt signified an everlasting covenant. We have already seen that, among the Asiatics, eating together was deemed a bond of perpetual friendship; and as salt was a common article in all their repasts, it may be in reference to this circumstance that a perpetual covenant is termed a covenant of salt; because the parties ate together of the sacrifice offered on the occasion, and the whole transaction was considered as a league of endless friendship. See the note on Lev 2:13.
I am thy part and thine inheritance - The principal part of what was offered to God was the portion of the priests, therefore they had no inheritance of land in Israel; independently of that they had a very ample provision for their support. The rabbins say twenty-four gifts were given to the priests, and they are all expressed in the law. Eight of those gifts the priests ate nowhere but in the sanctuary: these eight are the following: -
1. The flesh of the Sin-Offering, whether of beasts or fowls, Lev 6:25, Lev 6:26.
2. The flesh of the Trespass-Offering, Lev 7:1, Lev 7:6.
3. The Peace-Offerings of the congregation, Lev 23:19, Lev 23:20.
4. The remainder of the Omer or Sheaf, Lev 23:10, etc.
5. The remnants of the Meat-Offerings of the Israelites, Lev 6:16.
6. The two Loaves, Lev 23:17.
7. The Shew-Bread, Lev 24:9.
8. The Log of oil offered by the leper, Lev 14:10, etc.
Five of those gifts they ate only in Jerusalem: -
1. The breast and shoulder of the Peace-Offerings, Lev 7:31, Lev 7:34.
2. The Heave-Offering of the sacrifice of confession, Lev 7:12-14.
3. The Heave-Offering of the Nazarite's ram, Lev 6:17-20.
4. The Firstling of the clean beast, Num 18:15; Deu 15:19, Deu 15:20.
5. The First-Fruits, Num 18:13.
Five gifts were not due unto them by the law, but in the land of Israel only: -
1. The heave-offering or First-Fruits, Num 18:12.
2. The heave-offering of the Tithe, Num 18:28.
3. The Cake, Num 15:20.
These three were holy.
4. The first-fruits of the Fleece, Deu 18:4.
5. The Field of Possession, Numbers 35.
These two were common.
Five gifts were due unto them both within and without the land: -
1. The gifts of the Beasts Slain, Deu 18:3.
2. The redemption of the First-Born Son, Num 18:15.
3. The Lamb for the firstling of an ass, Exo 4:20; Numbers 18.
4. The restitution of that taken by violence from a stranger, Num 5:8.
5. All Devoted things, Num 18:14.
One gift was due unto them from the sanctuary: -
1. The skins of the burnt-offering, and all the skins of the other most holy things, Lev 7:8.
In all 24. See Ainsworth.
The gifts which the females of the priests' families had a part in were these: -
1. The heave-offering, or first-fruits.
2. The heave-offering of the tithe.
3. The cake.
4. The gifts of the beast, Deu 18:3.
5. The first of the fleece.
- See Mishna, Tract. Biccurim, and Ainsworth on the Pentateuch.
Besides all this the priests had the tribute money mentioned Num 31:28, Num 31:29.
Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth -
1. The Levites had the tenth of all the productions of the land.
2. They had forty-eight cities, each forming a square of 4,000 cubits.
3. They had 2,000 cubits of ground round each city. Total of the land they possessed, 53,000 acres.
4. They had the first-fruits and certain parts of all the animals killed in the land.
Canaan contained about 11,264,000 acres; therefore the portion possessed by the Levites was rather less than as one to two hundred and twelve; for 11,264,000 divided by 53,000, quotes only 212 28/53 - See Lowman, Dodd, etc. But though this was a very small proportion for a whole tribe that had consented to annihilate its political existence, that it might wait upon the service of God, and labor for the people's souls; yet let it be considered that what they possessed was the best of the land: and while it was a slender remuneration for their services, yet their portion was such as rendered them independent, and kept them comfortable; so that they could wait on the Lord's work without distraction. This is a proper pattern for the maintenance of the ministers of God: let them have a sufficiency for themselves and families, that there may be no distracting cares; and let them not be encumbered with riches or worldly possessions, that they may not be prevented from taking care of souls.
Thus ye also shall offer a heave-offering - As the Levites had the tithe of the whole land, they themselves were obliged to give the tithe of this tithe to the priests, so that this considerably lessened their revenue. And this tithe or tenth they were obliged to select from the best part of the substance they had received, Num 18:29, etc. A portion of all must be given to God, as an evidence of his goodness, and their dependence on him. See the end at Num 20:28.