20 And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.
21 “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, 22 so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. 23 But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24 For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”
25 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe. 27 And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. 28 So you shall also present a contribution to the Lord from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the Lord‘s contribution to Aaron the priest. 29 Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated.’ 30 Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be counted to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the winepress. 31 And you may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting. 32 And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have contributed the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.’” – Numbers 18:20-32 ESV
The tribe of Levi had been set apart by God and assigned responsibility for caring for the tabernacle and overseeing the elaborate sacrificial system He had ordained for the nation of Israel. Of the 12 tribes of Israel, they were the only one that would not be given an allotment of land in Canaan. Rather than inheriting a designated area within the land of promise, they would be given 48 cities located within the territorial boundaries of the other tribes.
“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can flee for safety. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. In all, forty-eight towns with the surrounding pastureland will be given to the Levites. These towns will come from the property of the people of Israel. The larger tribes will give more towns to the Levites, while the smaller tribes will give fewer. Each tribe will give property in proportion to the size of its land.” – Numbers 35:6-8 NLT
This meant that members of the tribe of Levi would be distributed among the other tribes of Israel. In a sense, as God’s “holy ”ones, they were to permeate the rest of God’s people and provide a positive spiritual influence on the nation as a whole. In return for their faithful service as priests and caretakers of the tabernacle, the Levites would enjoy the provision of God.
“You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.
“To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting…” – Numbers 18:20-21 ESV
God promised to meet all their needs. But their compensation would not come in the form of agricultural commodities or livestock. They would grow no crops of their own. They would own no flocks or herds. Yet, God would provide for them through means of the sacrificial system. God would graciously share with the Levitical priests the gifts given to Him by the people.
“These are the parts the priests may claim as their share from the cattle, sheep, and goats that the people bring as offerings: the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. You must also give to the priests the first share of the grain, the new wine, the olive oil, and the wool at shearing time. For the Lord your God chose the tribe of Levi out of all your tribes to minister in the Lord’s name forever.” – Deuteronomy 18:3-5 NLT
“God was the unique inheritance to the Levites. He was the focus of their service, the source of their sustenance, and the significance of their calling. Their inheritance included cities, daily food, and a constant vocation, but it did not include the same type of land inheritance given to the other tribes of Israel.” – http://www.gotquestions.org
In their position as God’s mediators, the Levites played a vital role in protecting the spiritual and physcial well-being of the people. They served as guardians of the tabernacle with the responsibility of preventing any unauthorized individual from attempting to enter the holy place or come in contact with the consecrated items contained within it.
“From now on, no Israelites except priests or Levites may approach the Tabernacle. If they come too near, they will be judged guilty and will die. Only the Levites may serve at the Tabernacle, and they will be held responsible for any offenses against it.” – Numbers 18:22-23 NLT
Failure to do their job would have dire consequences for all involved. So, God stressed to Aaron the serious nature of their role. Holiness was a high priority for God and the Levites were to help the nation of Israel maintain their set-apart status by requiring obedience to His commands
In return, God would provide for all their needs. Yet, the Levites were still expected to contribute a tithe on the basis of His gracious gifts to them. In other words, they were to offer a tithe on the tithe. When the people gave their tithes to God, the Levites would receive a portion as a gracious gift from God. But God expected them to a tithe in return, as a token of their gratitude toward and complete reliance upon Him.
“You must present one-tenth of the tithe received from the Israelites as a sacred offering to the Lord. This is the Lord’s sacred portion, and you must present it to Aaron the priest. Be sure to give to the Lord the best portions of the gifts given to you.” – Numbers 18:28-29 NLT
They were instructed to treat the tithes of the people as if they were the produce they had grown, the flocks they had raised, and the fruits they had cultivated.
“When you present the best part as your offering, it will be considered as though it came from your own threshing floor or winepress.” – Numbers 18:30 NLT
This was intended to create a sense of total dependence upon God. He was to be their sole source of provision and by giving a tenth of what they received back to Him, they would be demonstrating their complete reliance upon His grace and mercy. But God warned them to take this command seriously and obey it religiously. There was no room for debate or differences of opinion.
“You Levites and your families may eat this food anywhere you wish, for it is your compensation for serving in the Tabernacle. You will not be considered guilty for accepting the Lord’s tithes if you give the best portion to the priests. But be careful not to treat the holy gifts of the people of Israel as though they were common. If you do, you will die.” – Numbers 18:31-32 NLT
Disobedience would result in God’s disapproval and, ultimately, the death of the guilty party. If they treated the tithes of the people with disrespect, they would pay with their lives. Those gifts and offerings had been dedicated to God and were to be revered as His possessions. He was graciously sharing with them what was rightfully His. And what He really wanted them to understand was that He was to be their portion. The Hebrew word is חֵלֶק (ḥēleq), and it can be translated as “portion,” “part,” or “territory.”
While they would receive no land as their inheritance, God would serve as their territory. The benefits they would normally expect to receive from land ownership would be provided by God Himself, and He would prove to be a more than sufficient source of sustenance. Yet, His goodness would be directly tied to their obedience.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.