Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
The following commentary covers Chapters 17 through 18.
From chapter 17 to 20 this subject is set forth with the circumstances relative to it. First, the authority of Aaron is established by signs shewn by the power of God, in his rod, put with the others near God-the source of all authority. The power of life and blessing displays itself with a rapidity which makes manifest the presence of God. The buds, the flowers, and the fruit grow on dry wood. Priesthood, living and victorious over death, through divine efficacy, [See Note #1] must lead the people; God's authority is entrusted to it. The carnal people, always astray, bold just before in the presence of the majesty of God, are afraid of His presence now that His grace manifests itself, and say that they cannot draw near Him. This opens the way for still deeper views on the place that priesthood holds in general.
In chapter 18 the place of priesthood is clearly defined, as well as that of the Levites. The priests alone draw near to the holy place; they alone are allowed this intimacy with God. But, in consequence of their position, there are sins, iniquities which they are called to bear, as an effect of this proximity, which would not be remarked among those who are outside. That which is unbecoming the presence and the sanctuary of God does not become His priests. They bear the iniquity of the holy place. If the people disobeyed the law, doubtless they were punished; but that which defiled the sanctuary fell upon Aaron and his sons. What, then, is the measure of holiness given to the children of God-alone true priests? It is the purification of the sanctuary itself, not what is fit for man, but what is fit for God. The service of the Levites, and the Levites themselves were given as a gift to the priests. Priesthood also was a pure gift to Aaron and his sons. Because of the anointing, the most holy things were given them to eat, which was a special privilege of the priests. The same thing is true with regard to us.
Whatever is precious in the offering of Christ, in every point of view-in His life and in His death; in that bread come down from heaven, contemplated in His life of devotedness and grace here below; and in His death for us-all is the food and nourishment of our souls, in that communion with God in which we ourselves are kept in our priesthood. The priests alone ate the holy things, and they ate them in a holy place. It is only in the sense of the presence of God, and under the efficacy of that oil which is not poured on flesh, that we can truly realise what is precious in the work of Christ.
Verse 10 (Num 18:10) presents something very remarkable; for what is here said, and nowhere else, is that they were to eat them in the most holy place, the holy of holies. There is no difficulty in the terms. I have sometimes thought that it might mean, from among the most holy things; but if it be not that, the meaning is then in the holy of holies, and only relates to the antitype. That is, it is only in the presence and before the throne of the sovereign God Himself that we can really feed on that precious food. Historically the priests were not there; being in the sanctuary of God, they were accounted as being there.
There were things which, though truly belonging to the priestly family, were not properly eaten in the priestly character, such as the heave-offerings, the wave-offerings; the daughters ate of them as well as the sons: all that were clean in the house could partake of them. Thus, in the joys of the children of God, there are some that belong to them as a family. We enjoy our blessings and all that is offered by man to God. It is a joy for the soul. All that the Spirit of Christ works to the glory of God, even in His members, and still more what He has done in Christ Himself, is the food of the soul of the household of God, and strengthens them. Do not our souls enjoy those firstfruits, the best of the new wine and the wheat-the firstfruits of that noble harvest of God, the produce of His seed on the soil of His election? Yes, we enjoy them in thinking of them. But the sin-offering, the trespass-offerings, the meat-offerings, all that in which we share in spirit in the deep work of Christ, is only eaten in the character and the spirit of a priest. We must, according to the efficacy of this work of Christ, enter into the spirit in which He presents Himself after His sacrifice, moved by His perfect love, in the presence of the Most High-enter into the sentiments of love, of devotedness in the consciousness of the holiness of God; in a word, into the feelings with which He presents Himself as a priest before Him, in order to connect, by love and the efficacy of His offering, the holiness of God, with the blessing of him who has sinned-to realise that which is precious in Christ in that work, to share in it (for so it is) in grace. And, effectively, that only takes place in the most holy place, in the presence of God, where He appears for us. In fine, whether the joys of the family of God's house, or this holy participation in spirit in the work of Christ, all we have just been speaking about belongs to the priesthood. Even the Levites were to recognise in all that God gave them as strangers in the land of promise, the rights and the authority of the priests.
Now, if we make the distinction between the two, all believers are priests; ministers, in their capacity of ministers, are only Levites. Their service (besides that which is towards the world, a character which the dispensation did not bear, and which, therefore, is not the subject here) is to minister to the priestly joy and service of the saints with God. Our service will meet with reward in heaven, our priestly place will be nearness to God and joy in Him. It is evident that partaking in spirit (to partake in it in reality is of course impossible) in the sacrifice of Christ for sin, in eating of it as a priest, is a very holy thing, a privilege enjoyed in a very holy place; everything is specially holiness here.
That is grace; righteous judgment could destroy, but not bring through; grace alone can.