Payday for priests
Levites in charge of worship1 The LORD told Aaron: I’m putting you, your sons, and your entire extended family—the tribe of Levi—in charge of the worship center. I’ll hold you Levites accountable for what goes on there. As for the job of priest, that duty goes to just you and your sons. You’re responsible for what happens among priests.
2 Get your Levite relatives on board with the work you and your sons will do as priests at the tent worship center. Have them help you. 3 They should carry out their assignments at the worship center. But they shouldn’t go anywhere near the altar or any furnishings used inside the sacred tent. If they do, you’ll die with them because you’re in charge. 4 Your relatives in Levi’s tribe can help you maintain the tent worship center. No one else may do that.
5 Perform your duties at the altar and inside the Sacred Room. If you do, I won’t have reason to get upset with you Israelites. 6 Look, I have personally chosen your extended family—descended from Levi—to help you in the work you do at the Meeting Tent. These people are my gift to you. 7 But you and your sons alone are the priests. You’re the only ones allowed to minister at the altar or behind the curtain leading inside the tent worship center. This privilege is yours alone. Anyone else encroaching on that will have to die.
Everyday a payday8 The LORD spoke to Aaron again: Now listen to me. I have personally put you and your sons in charge of all the offerings the Israelites bring to me. These are holy gifts the people give to me, and I’m sharing these gifts with you—as I always will. 9 You get a share of the offerings not burned on the altar. That will include part of every grain offering, every sin offering, and every guilt offering. You and your sons may eat these very sacred offerings. 10 But treat them as holy and eat them in a sacred place. Only men may eat these offerings. 11 I’m also giving you all the special offerings of gratitude that Israelites bring to me. These belong to you and your entire families—sons as well as daughters. Everyone in your household may eat it.
Priests get the best crops12 Israelites bring me all the best of their harvest: the purest olive oil, new wine, the first of their grain, along with fresh fruit. I’m giving this back to you priests. 13 When the people bring these offerings to me, I’ll give them to you for your families to eat. Everyone in your household who is ritually clean is allowed to eat it. 14 Everything given to me belongs to you. No one else can have it. 15 Every first child born to a mother and every first animal born to its mother has to be offered to me. I give them all to you. But you can’t sacrifice any of those children, or any firstborn animal that’s ritually unclean. You have to buy their freedom.
16 Here’s the price of freedom for those children and for unclean animals ages one month and older: silver weighing about two ounces, based on the worship center’s standard shekel weight. 17 But there’s no saving ritually clean firstborn animals. That includes cattle, sheep, and goats. Sacrifice these holy animals to me. Sprinkle their blood on the altar and burn their fat into smoke that rises as a sweet smell to the LORD. 18 Meat from those sacrifices belong to you. When someone brings me a gratitude offering, you get the breast meat and the right thigh. 19 Sacred gifts the Israelites bring to me will become my gifts to you and your families, including your sons and daughters. I’m making this permanent. This is your share from now on, throughout the generations. I’m preserving this promise in salt so it will last.
No tribal land for Levite tribe20 Once again the LORD spoke to Aaron:
You’re not going to inherit any tribal territory. But you’ll inherit me. 21 Levi’s extended family—the Levites—inherit everything Israelites bring to me. I’ll give you all of the 10 percent tithe. It’s payment for your ministry services at the Meeting Tent. 22 Other Israelites aren’t allowed anywhere near your sacred space at the Meeting Tent. If they break that rule it’s a capital offense. They’ll need to die.
23 Levites are the only people allowed to work at the Meeting Tent. So, they bear responsibility for whatever happens there, good or bad. That’s permanent. They get no tribal share of the land. 24 Levites get the tithe from all the Israelites. That’s why I’m not giving them a share of the tribal land.
Priests tithe, too25 Then the LORD talked with Moses: 26 Tell the Levites they have to tithe, too. Tell them that when they get tithe from the Israelites, they have to tithe on their income like everyone else. They tithe on the tithe. 27 The LORD will treat this offering like he treats harvest offerings from other Israelites. 28 When you give this offering to the LORD, it will go to Aaron the priest. 29 So, make sure the tithe you give is from the best you received. The LORD gets the best you have to offer.
It’s no sin for priests to eat the tithe30 The LORD also told the Levites:
When you give the best of the best in your tithing, the LORD will treat it as though it’s coming from your own harvest fields, threshing floors, and winepresses. 31 After your tithe, the rest of the food you received from Israelites is yours to eat and share with your households. It’s your salary for your service at the Meeting Tent. 32 There’s nothing wrong with eating this food if you give the LORD the best of it when you bring him your tithe. And make sure you don’t treat the gifts Israelites bring as though they are common and not holy. That could be a fatal mistake.
The Sacred Room was the main sanctuary inside the tent worship center. Aaron’s sons were allowed to go in this room. But the Most Sacred Room was off limits to everyone but Aaron and Moses. That’s where God met with Moses to give him instructions. This holiest place on earth to Israelite ancestors of the Jewish people is where they kept the gold-plated box that held the two stones containing the Ten Commandments. The box is best known as the Ark of the Covenant. A curtain separated this room from the main room in the tent worship center sometimes known as the Tabernacle and sometimes as the Meeting Tent.
One of Jacob’s 12 sons.
Grain offerings were expressions of gratitude for a harvest and for the way God takes care of the Israelites. People offered the grain in several ways: ground to fine flour, presented as baked, fried, cooked in a pot, or roasted with olive oil. For more about grain offerings see Leviticus 2:1-3; 6:14-18
A sin offering can refer to something the people of Israel brought to God after they realized they had accidentally broken one of God’s laws earlier. Some scholars say a better translation is the opposite of “sin” because the sacrifice is intended to “un-sin” people, to purify them. So those scholars call it a “purification offering.”
In older lingo, the guilt offering was called the trespass offering, as in, “Forgive us our trespasses” or sins. In fact, scholars can’t seem to figure out what the difference is between a “sin offering” and a “guilt offering.” One guess is that guilt offerings are more serious and often involve making restitution. Leviticus 5:14-7:7 talks about when a person needs to make a guilt offering. Leviticus 7:1-10 talks about how to make the sacrifice.
This sacrificial offering goes by various names: fellowship offering, elevation offering, symbolic offering, special offering, and wave offering. The Hebrew word can mean to wave, lift, or blow. In Exodus 29, this sacrifice represented the culmination of an ordination service authorizing priests for ministry. It was the final act, which some scholars say was mainly an expression of gratitude to God for allowing these men to be assigned to lead the worship rituals for the people of Israel.
Israelites become ritually unclean, for example, if they touch a corpse. To become clean, they have to go through cleaning rituals, which included washing themselves and waiting for a time, often just until sundown. A woman in her monthly period was considered unclean as long as she was bleeding. For more, see Leviticus 15.
These animals would include camels and donkeys. See Leviticus for more information.
Literally “five shekels.” The five shekels is roughly a couple of ounces or about 50 grams. That’s about the weight of 10 quarters or six euros. One silver shekel was worth about a month’s wage for the average working man, according to some scholars. Shekels came in different weights. It’s unclear how much these shekels weighed. There was a heavy shekel that weighed about 11.5 grams or .4 ounces. This was sometimes called the King’s Shekel or the Royal Shekel. Some scholars say this was also the weight used in the Israelite worship center and later in the Jerusalem Temple. The lighter shekel weighed about 9.5 grams or .33 ounces. Some scholars say this was probably the shekel accepted at the worship center. So, we get to take our pick until someone figures out the precise weight of an Israelite shekel of weight more than 3,000 years ago.
See Leviticus 2:13.
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