God’s Word for You
Numbers 18:8-16 The flock looks after its shepherd
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Offerings to Support the Priests and Levites
8 The LORD spoke to Aaron. This is what he said: See, I myself have put you in charge of the elevated offerings made to me. All of the holy things from the Israelites I have given to you as an allotment and to your sons as a permanent right. 9 Part of the most holy things that are not burned in the fire will be yours. Every one of their offerings which they give to me—every one of their grain offerings, every one of their sin offerings, and every one of their restitution offerings—will be most holy for you and your sons. 10 You will eat it as a most holy thing. Every male may eat of it. It will be holy for you. 11 This is yours too: the elevated offerings from their gifts, including all the wave offerings from the Israelites. I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a permanent right. Everyone who is ceremonially clean in your house may eat it.
At this point, God addresses the subject of how the priests and Levites would receive a living (food, clothing, an income, etc.) since they would have no inheritance of land in Canaan. All of the offerings and sacrifices that were brought to the Lord and that were not completely burned up, belonged to the priests and Levites. These things were the food for the whole tribe and their families. As long as a priest’s wife and children were ceremonially clean, they could eat this consecrated food. There were instructions for what to do in the cases of uncleanness that happened to everyone from time to time in Leviticus 22:4-8. In general, they would need to have a bath and then wait until sundown (Leviticus 22:6-7).
12 All the best oil, all the best wine and grain, the Israelites’ firstfruits which they give to the LORD, I have given them all to you. 13 The first ripe produce from everything that is in their land, all that they bring to the LORD, will be yours. Everyone who is ceremonially clean in your house may eat it.
This list is supplemented in various places by references to the abundance of Canaan. In the Apocryphal book Tobit, the Naphtalite author says that he brought “the first fruits of the crops and the firstlings of the flock, the tithes of the cattle, and the first shearings of the sheep” for the priests (Tobit 1:6), along with “a tenth of the grain, wine, olive oil, pomegranates, figs, and the rest of the fruits” for the Levites (1:7), as well as money and additional gifts for widows and orphans (1:8). Many of the same items are listed in Deuteronomy 8:8, adding honey, wheat and barley.
14 Everything permanently devoted by the Israelites will be yours. 15 The firstborn from every living thing, human or animal, whatever they present to the LORD, will be yours. However, you must redeem the firstborn of any human. You must also redeem the firstborn of an unclean animal. 16 When they are one month old, you must redeem them at the set redemption price, five shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.
Another gift for the Levites and priests was the dedicated firstborn of every womb. The firstborn animals belonged to the Lord (Exodus 13:2) as well as the firstborn son of every human family. The sons were redeemed by buying them back, and here we see that even unclean animals (animals there were not to be eaten) were also redeemed, such as donkeys and camels. There is a provision in Exodus 13:13 for firstborn donkeys to be redeemed with lambs.
This system was complex and strict, and the thing we learn from it is that the Lord requires faithfulness from us; obedience. His people were not to worship false gods the way that their neighbors did. The Israelites showed their faith by obeying these laws and by taking care of the priests and Levites who made intercessions for them.
This is a part of this text that we can apply the most directly to our lives today (another will come tomorrow). God set in place a way for the people to look after their spiritual leaders. After the time of the tabernacle and the destruction of the Temple, a new question had to be asked by Christians as well as by Jews: How will we look after our preachers when there is no more Temple, no more tithes that are required? The Middle Ages saw a rise in the number of churches in Europe, Asia and Africa that were possessions of secular governments. The Muslims destroyed most of these in Africa and parts of Asia, but the question began to trouble the church in Luther’s time: Who has authority over the church? The secular lord, king, or duke? Or the church itself? The lords and dukes imposed heavy taxes, in some cases, to keep the churches running, and the clergy was content with this in most but not all cases. The Lutheran Reformation (1517) did not end this, but Luther addressed the problem many times. It wasn’t really until the Lutheran church and other denominations arrived in America that a real solution presented itself. Here in North America, churches were not owned by the Pope nor by a duke or a king. Who was responsible for the church? The church itself. This is where our Synods sprang into being, because we needed a way to train new pastors. Groups of churches would take this “road together” (Greek “synod”) and work toward the same goals, especially planting new churches, doing mission work, and training new workers as pastors and teachers.
Today, the church in America receives very little help from the government apart from a few tax breaks which are not always accepted. The government gives those tax incentives to churches (no church is truly “tax exempt,” but pays tax on almost everything) because even the most heathen government recognizes that churches provide necessary services for the population, and that a population devoid of religion will lose both its morale and its morals in a single generation. We are in danger of this in our time in many places.
Returning to the application of our text, how do our churches supply the needs of our pastors and teachers? As a pastor, part of my divine call requires me not to seek any outside employment, so that I may focus on the needs of the congregation. In fact, our called workers are not truly paid for the work that we do the way other employees are paid, but rather we are paid, in effect, not to do other work. We are simply given a living wage so that we can carry out the work of the gospel.
When a pastor is ordained or installed, the congregation promises these things (the “you” is you, the congregation member):
1, To listen eagerly to the preaching of the word, receiving it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
2, To take to heart his scriptural words of warning and encouragement, humbly accepting the Word planted in you. (James 1:21)
3, To work together with him for our Lord’s kingdom so that by your works of service the body of Christ may be built up. (Ephesians 4:12)
4, To help him by your word and example in teaching the young, remembering how the Scriptures urge you to bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
5, To honor and love him, as the Apostle Paul says, ‘Respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
6, To pray for him continually, that his ministry among you may be greatly blessed and that with all his responsibilities, he may continue to have a cheerful spirit.
7, To provide also for his physical needs, for the Lord says, ‘The worker deserves his wages’ (Luke 10:7), and the Apostle Paul says, ‘Anyone who receives instruction in the Word must share all good things with his instructor’ (Galatians 6:6).
8, Finally, remember what the Scriptures say: ‘Obey your teachers and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you’ (Hebrews 13:17).
This is from our usual installation service. As you can see, providing for a pastor’s physical needs are only one small part of the church’s responsibility. Our request of Christians as pastors, teachers, and other ministers, is that people pray for us, and keep reading the word of God. It is there in God’s word that we meet and learn about our Savior, learn to love God with all our heart and mind, and each to love his neighbor as himself.
Pastor Timothy Smith