Numbers 18: The Privileges and Sacrifices of Being Part of God’s Holy Priesthood

As a member of Jesus’ royal priesthood, you are privileged to sacrifice for Him1

Introduction. Here, after the civil war within the tribes of Israel, God reminded the priests regarding their important responsibility for ensuring the physical and spiritual purity of His people. Today, any believer in Jesus is part of His royal priesthood: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9). Like the Levites, believers are prone to sin. Thus, believers need regular reminders regarding their need to stay pure and help others stay pure as well. Although the application of these rules have changed in the modern era, this chapter provides principles that you can follow to keep yourself pure and to help others become and then remain pure for Jesus.

1) The Consequences of Sin. Nu. 18:1-5.

  • God’s mercy and grace absolve us of sin, but not the consequences of our actions. Chapter 17 ended with the Jews fearing judgment for their rebellion: “Are we to perish completely?” (Nu. 17:13). God answers this question by telling the Levites that they would “bear the guilt in connection with the priesthood.” “So the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You, your sons, and your father’s household with you shall bear the guilt in connection with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the guilt in connection with your priesthood.”’ (Nu. 18:1). Moreover, because of their sins, the Levite assistants could not go near the tent of the “testimony” where the ark was kept “2 But also bring your brothers with you, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, so that they may join you and serve you, while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.”’ (Nu. 18:2). At first, it might seem odd to tell the victims of the rebellion that they were partially responsible. But the rebellion against Moses and Aaron originated with Korah, a fellow leader within the tribe of Levi. Aaron also was not leading a Spirit-led life as the High Priest. This may have allowed Korah’s rebellion to gain traction amongst the “men of renown” (Nu. 16:2), and later the 14,700 (Nu. 16:49). If your life is filled with murmuring, coveting, deceit, or faithlessness, God can thankfully forgive your sins (1 Jo. 1:9). Yet, should you expect His forgiveness to restore others that you hurt by your actions?

  • Restore any relationships broken by your sins. The nation of Israel had been led astray by selfish priests. There were literally thousands of Jews who needed mediators to restore their relationships with God. The Levites were to act as mediators by “bear[ing] the guilt in connection with the sanctuary.” (Nu. 18:1). The Levites further needed to act quickly “so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel.” ‘“3 And they shall perform duties for you and the duties of the whole tent, but they shall not come near the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die. 4 They shall join you and perform the duties of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; but an unauthorized person shall not come near you. 5 So you shall perform the duties of the sanctuary and the duties of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel.” (Nu. 18:3-5). God would shortly instruct the Levites on the ritual of the red heifer to help a nation consumed by mass sin and death. Yet, the Levities first needed a refresher course on how to be good priests. In their fight for power, they forgot their central mission – to help others be reconciled to God. Today, Christ is the only person who can mediate between man and God (1 Tim. 2:5). But this does not mean that we have nothing to do as believers. Like the Levites, we need to help those we have wronged by our actions. We can direct them to the one true mediator. More importantly, we must restore the people we have wronged before we seek forgiveness for our sins (Matt. 5:23). Have you restored those whom you have hurt?

  • Like the Levites, we are privileged to suffer for God. The Levities learned that their privilege to serve was not without sacrifice. As our High Priest, Christ also sacrificed for the Church by paying the ultimate price for our sins (Mk. 3:28-29). Like the Levites and like Christ, our privilege in serving in His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) means that we will also sometimes suffer for Him. Yet, we must always remember that this is a privilege and not a burden. Peter advised those who suffer for the cause of Christ to rejoice (1 Pet. 4:13). How can your suffering, trials, and humiliation make you a better witness for Christ? (Ro. 5:3; Jam. 1:2-4). We can tell others that Jesus offers the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). Yet, if you have never had to cling onto Him in a rough storm, how much will someone in a storm trust your advice? How good can you be at fulfilling your duty in comforting others (2 Cor. 1:4) if you have never needed comfort yourself?

2) Seven Responsibilities of Being Part of God’s Holy Priesthood. Nu. 18:6-32, 1 Pet. 2:5, 9.

1) Serve God. (Nu. 18:6). God “dedicated” the “fellow Levites” as a “gift” to the Levite leaders “to perform the service for the tent of meeting.” ‘“6 Behold, I Myself have taken your fellow Levites from among the sons of Israel; they are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord, to perform the service for the tent of meeting.”’ (Nu. 18:6). The Hebrew word for “gift” is literally translated as “a service of a gift.” We were also “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Eph. 2:10). Are you fulfilling the purpose for which God created you?

  • Be a living sacrifice. Anything that is “devoted” for God cannot be returned to secular use (Lev. 27:28). We are a holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). Christ is our High Priest who prepares us for service (Heb. 8:1; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:10). Is your life a living sacrifice for Him or yourself? (Ro. 12:1-2).

  • Give the best of your life. The book of Leviticus tells us that the priest was to make a grain (or life) offering to God (Lev. 2). Yet, the priest needed to make sure that his grain (or life) offering was entirely burned up (Lev. 6:22). Nothing could be held back. Do you hold back any portion of your life in service to God?

  • Die to your old self. To be a good priest, Paul tells us that we must die to our old self (Ro. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). Are you transformed in your walk? Do you walk by the Spirit? Or, do your old habits of the flesh still control you in your walk?

  • Serve God with all your heart. Aaron was not the last priest to live by the flesh. God later condemned the priests who served Him with their lips but not our hearts (Is. 29:13). Do you serve God with all your heart or just your lips? Is your service to God limited to showing up at a Sunday service? Do you spend your free time meditating on God’s word? Do you look for ways to serve Him?

2) Serve others. (Nu. 18:7). As priests, the Levites were to “attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil,” and “to perform the service.” ‘“7 But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything that concerns the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform service. I am giving you the priesthood as a service that is a gift, and the unauthorized person who comes near shall be put to death.’” (Nu. 18:7). This implies helping others come to God.

God set apart the Levites to serve others2

  • Help your brothers and sisters in Christ. As a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9), believers are also supposed to help others prepare for service to God (Eph. 4:11-13). How much time do you spend counseling brothers or sisters who have stumbled? If the answer is none, how much time do you spend in fellowship getting to know your brothers and sisters? How much should you expect others to open up to you if you are private with your own life with others?

  • Help “outsiders” become “insiders.” God warns that the “outsider will be put to death.” (Nu. 18:7). God called the Jews to be “a light to the nations.” (Is. 42:6). We are also called to be a light to outsiders in darkness (Matt. 5:14). Are you fulfilling that calling? Are your words and the light of your life an example directing “outsiders” to become “insiders” within the body of Christ? Or, are you like a flickering strobe light, causing others to turn away from God?

  • Be ready at all times. In Leviticus, the priests were told to keep the fire burning at all times, both day and night (Lev. 6:9, 12-13). If a sinner wanted to come forward to make his or her life right with God, the priest had to be ready at all times. Are you ready at all times to help a sinner go from becoming an “outsider” to an “insider.” If you don’t know God’s Word, how many outsiders will God likely send to you?

3) Trust God. (Nu. 18:8-11, 23). God told Aaron that the priests were in charge of God’s “offerings.” These gifts were a “perpetual allotment” to the priests “8 Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, ‘Now behold, I Myself have put you in charge of My offerings, all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given to you as a portion and to your sons as a permanent allotment. 9 This shall be yours from the most holy gifts reserved from the fire; every offering of theirs, namely every grain offering, every sin offering, and every guilt offering, with which they shall make restitution to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons. 10 As the most holy gifts you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. 11 This also is yours, the offering of their gift, that is, all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a permanent allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it.”’ (Nu. 18:8-11, 23). Because they had no land of their own (Nu. 18:20), the Levites and their families were allowed to eat some of the offerings so that they could devote themselves to God (Nu. 18:10-11; Lev. 6:16-18; 7:6; Dt. 18:1). Although we are a holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), Christians do not typically receive tithes from others. Nevertheless, all Christians still receive from God a “perpetual allotment.” The Holy Spirit is “His offering” to us (Jo. 14:16-18, 26; 16:6-14). Do you know what the Holy Spirit gives you as your “allotment”?

  • God provides for your needs, not wants. The priest received the best food (Nu. 18:18). He also received the skin of the burnt offering for clothes and tents (Lev. 7:8). They did not need to worry about their provision. Believers also do not need to worry about their provision of food or clothes (Matt. 6:25-34). Yet, should we expect God to fulfill all our material desires? If our desires would entangle us in debts or the sin covetousness, why would God want to fulfill those desires?

  • Show gratitude by giving thanks. The priest was able to eat some of the living sacrifice because it was holy (Lev. 6:16-18; 7:6). The priest, however, was to eat the sacrifice at the court of the tent of meeting to remember who gave him his holy provision (Lev. 6:16). We likewise eat communion to remember the bread of life that has been given to us through Christ (Matt. 26:26; 1 Cor. 11:24). We eat this bread in church, and we are also warned not to be flippant or irreverent when we eat it (1 Cor. 11:27-28). Every good and perfect thing in your life comes from Jesus in heaven (Jam. 1:17). Are you giving thanks to Him for all you have?

4) Be Spirit led. (Nu. 18:12-16). God promised that the priests would receive the best “fresh oil,” “fresh wine” and the “first fruits” of the grain and fruit offerings ‘“12 All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of what they give to the Lord, I have given them to you. 13 The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. 14 Everything banned from secular use in Israel shall be yours. 15 Every firstborn of the womb of all flesh, whether human or animal, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours; however you must redeem the human firstborn, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your assessment, five shekels in silver by the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs.”’ (Nu. 18:12-16).

The Levites were called upon to allows the Holy Spirit to guide their actions3

  • The Spirit. Oil was a part of any life offering (Nu. 18:12-13; 8:8; Lev. 8:30; 14:18, 29). The oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). Moses followed the Spirit, manifested as a pillar of smoke and fire. He did not decide on his own where Israel was to go. When you serve God, the Spirit also should be leading you (Ro. 8:14). Your life will not please God if you are guided by the flesh (Ro. 8:8).

  • The joy of the Lord. In this context, wine is a symbol of joy and happiness. Jesus is the true vine from which all grapes grow (Jo. 15:1, 5). Only in Him can we bear fruit: “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” (Isa. 11:1). We are now alive because we are connected to Jesus (Jo. 15:5). Moreover, we can only live if we remain connected to Him (Jo. 15:5-6; Ezek. 15:1-8). We can also look forward to joy in heaven when we will drink the fruit of the vine with Jesus (Matt. 26:29). Is your life example like “fresh wine,” i.e. joyful and happy? Or, is your joy of the vine more like a hangover?

  • God gave you His best. The people were told to bring their “firstfruits” to the altar for the priest (Nu. 18:12-13; Ex. 23:16, 19; 34:26; Lev. 2:12, 14, 23:20; Dt. 18:4; 26:2-4, 10; 2 Chr. 31:5; Neh. 10:35-39; Prov. 3:9; Heb. 6:20; 7:1-8). These were the best that they had to offer. Christ “has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20). In other words, He has given His firstfruits to us. Christ gave us both His life on the cross, and He gave us His Holy Spirit. Out of gratitude, are you giving Him back the best of your life? (Ro. 12:1-2).

  • Give your firstfruits back to Him. God condemned the faithless priests of that time who offered blind, lame, and sick animals as sacrifices (Mal. 1:8, 13-14). Are you offering the first fruits to God in gratitude? Or, are you giving Him the lame portions of your time and energy? What kind of example are you setting for others?

5) Be Holy. (Nu. 18:17-19). The priests had to be holy. They could not break God’s Law by consuming the firstborn of the ox, the sheep, or the goat. The priests were to sprinkle the blood of these animals on the altar and offer up their fat as a soothing aroma to the Lord. “17 But the firstborn of an ox, the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and offer up their fat in smoke as an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the Lord. 18 However, their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh. 19 All the offerings of the holy gifts, which the sons of Israel offer to the Lord, I have given to you and your sons and your daughters with you, as a permanent allotment. It is a permanent covenant of salt before the Lord to you and your descendants with you.’” (Nu. 18:17-19).

Today, only the blood of Jesus can redeem you4

  • Be sanctified. Being “devoted” to God implies that we are separated from the world. God told the Jews to be holy and to draw a distinction between the clean and the unclean because He is holy (Lev. 11:44-47; 19:1; Ex. 19:6). We as Christians are also told to be holy (Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:14-16; 2:9). Are you separated from the things of this world? Or, have you become lost in the weeds of the world?

  • Stay free of sin to avoid profaning Christ’s sacrifice. Under God’s Law, sin cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). The animal sacrifices were both gross to look at and expensive for the sinner. Because purity was so important, a priest was warned not to go near the things that God had purified if the priests were “unclean” or in sin. Failing to do so would “profane” God’s holy name.” (Nu. 18:32; Lev. 22:2). Jesus Christ’s death was the one-time fulfillment of the blood sacrifice (1 Pet. 1:18-19; Heb. 9:11-12). If you drink the cup of communion while sinning, is there any reason why you are not profaning Christ’s sacrifice?

  • Pray at least two times a day. The animal blood was a soothing aroma to God (Nu. 18:17; Lev. 1:9; Ex. 29:18). Christ’s sacrifice later became that soothing aroma (Eph. 5:2). Today, we can create a soothing aroma to God through our prayers (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). The priests created a soothing aroma through incense (prayer) in the morning and in the evening every day (Lev. 6:20; Ex. 30:7-8). As a priest for God, are you also praying at least twice a day?

  • Commit your strength and your love to serving Christ. The priest also made a wave offering (Nu. 18:17). This showed that he was bound and connected to God (Ex. 29:24, 28; Lev. 7:30, 34; 8:27; 9:21; 10:14, 15; 23:10, 15, 20; 23:10; Nu. 6:20; 8:11, 13; 18:11, 18, 26-29). The wave offering included the right “thigh” (NASB/NIV) or “shoulder” (KJV), one of the strongest muscles in the body (Nu. 18:18; Lev. 7:31-34; 8:26; 9:21; 10:12-15). The priest also gave the fat of the breasts to the Lord (Nu. 18:18; Lev. 9:20; 10:12-15). The breast is also a symbol of love, i.e. love for a baby. By eating these two portions of the animal in fellowship with God, the priest acknowledged that his life, love, and strength had come from God. Conversely, the priest also acknowledged that he would give his life, love, and strength back to God. Any believer in Christ should make the same commitment. Does this apply to you?

  • Be salt in a world rotting in sin. The “holy gifts” were a sign of the “covenant of salt.” (Nu. 18:19). Salt was part of a covenant because it had a lasting quality (Gen. 31:54; Ex. 24:5-11; Ps. 50:5). In that time, it kept meat from rotting. It was part of any grain offering (Lev. 2:13). It also was part of any burnt offering (Ezek. 43:24), and it was part of the incense in the sanctuary (Ex. 30:35). It also foreshadowed Christ’s everlasting covenant with us (Gen. 17:7; Ps. 105:10). Jesus called on us to be part of His covenant by being the “salt” of the Earth (Matt. 5:13). In other words, we are to keep the Earth from rotting from sin. Salt irritates an open wound. According to Jesus, what happens if we lose our saltiness? (Matt. 5:13). Do you irritate sinners? Or, do you blend in around any setting, having lost your saltiness?

6) Be temperate. (Nu. 18:20-23). The priests were told that they were to have “no inheritance in their land.” Nor were they to “own any portion among them.” Instead, God was their “portion” and their “inheritance.” “20 Then the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. 21 To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel as an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. 22 And the sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bring sin on themselves and die. 23 Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their own guilt; it shall be a permanent statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance.” (Nu. 18:20-23; Dt. 18:2).

Deny yourself worldly pleasures and make Jesus your inheritance5

  • Deny yourself. Christ had no home (Lk. 9:58). Although we are not commanded to live without a home, Christ calls upon us to deny ourselves (Lk. 9:23). Is there something in the material world you deny yourself? If you can’t think of anything, what should that tell you? Is there room in your walk to draw closer to Christ?

  • Store up your treasures in heaven. He also told us to store up our treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20). We are to be content with what God has given us (Heb. 13:5-6). David knew that God was his inheritance: “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup; you support my lot.” (Ps. 16:5; 119:57; Lam. 3:24). Matthew Henry likewise advises: “Those that have God for their inheritance and their portion for ever ought to look with a holy contempt and indifference upon the inheritances of this world, and not covet their portion in it.” What kind of witness for God are you if others perceive you as coveting material things? Are you saving for the mansion in heaven or for the mansion on Earth?

7) Be generous. (Nu. 18:24-32). Finally, God required that the priests give a “tithe of a tithe.” “24 For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons 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 sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe. 27 Your offering shall be credited to you like the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. 28 So you shall also present an offering to the Lord from all your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the Lords 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 them, the sacred part from them.’ 30 And you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be credited to the Levites like the product of the threshing floor, and like the product of the wine vat. 31 You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. 32 And you will bring on yourselves no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, so that you do not die.’’” (Nu. 18:24-32). We are not just commanded to give, we are commanded to be generous givers. Moses previously requested that the workers stop giving when the Tabernacle was being built because there was an outpouring of generosity (Ex. 36:2-7; 2 Cor. 9:6, 8-14).

  • God gives back to those who give. If you hold back your tithes, you are robbing from God. If you give to Him and trust Him, He promises to give you even more (Mal. 3:8-10). Are you giving generously to receive His blessings?

  • Give with the right motives. God does not want your offerings if your heart is not right (Prov. 5:8; Isa. 1:13; Jer. 7:21-24; Amos 5:21-24). Are you giving to be recognized? (Matt. 6:3). Are you giving out of obligation instead of love?

  • Give joyfully. Finally, we are to be cheerful givers: “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:6-7). Do you only give when times are good? Or, will you trust God and give with joy when times are bad?