“Shall Be Yours” (Numbers 18:12-14, 21)
Under the law of Moses, God set apart the tribe of Levi for a specific work. Numbers 3:6-7 says, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. And they shall attend to his needs and the needs of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of meeting, to do the work of the tabernacle...”
At the time the book of Numbers was written, Levi was no small tribe. Numbers 3:39 says, “All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the Lord, by their families, all the males from a month old and above, were twenty-two thousand.” Supporting 22,000 men and their families is no small order.
Even so, it was the responsibility of the surrounding tribes to make offerings so the Levites could be totally dedicated to their God-ordained work and be supported. Those tithes and offerings of Israel were for God’s work and God’s people who did the work. Numbers 18:12-13 offers more details, “All the best of the oil, all the best of the new wine and the grain, their firstfruits which they offer to the Lord, I have given them to you. Whatever first ripe fruit is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it.” Verse 21 continues, “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform...”
Now, today, we are no longer called to support a Levitical priesthood as we have a a new “High Priest” who is “Mediator of a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:1, 6). Yet, we are still a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) and some dedicate their lives to ministry. So, there are principles to learn from this Old Testament text to guide our giving.
First of all, God still has “laborers” who are to be supported by those among whom they labor (Luke 10:7-8; 1 Timothy 5:18). In fact, Paul uses the example of the Levites as a precedent for this new covenant responsibility (see 1 Corinthians 9:13-14). Secondly, the Levites were to be supported with the “firstfruits” and not the leftovers (Numbers 18:12). Yet, how many times do preachers today survive on the bare minimum? So many stories could be told of preachers being given second-hand computers, hand-me-down clothes, and furnishing their homes with old, used furniture while feeding their family on a salary qualifying for food stamps. The example of Old Testament Israel was to give for the Levites first. They were to be treated not with the scraps of benevolence but with the wages fitting of a valued worker. Finally, the priesthood was to be supported because it was, ultimately, for the good of Israel. Those who support God’s workers generously show their appreciation for the work and what it provides spiritually. God’s Word calls it “a covenant of salt forever” (Numbers 18:19). What does “salt” do? It enhances the flavor. What do God’s workers do? They better those they serve as “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). It is wisdom to support God’s laborers generously so they might fully focus on their God-given ministry which is of great benefit to whom they minister.