In what is said in Deuteronomy of the priests, their service or their clothing is not paramount, as is the case in Leviticus where a people go through the wilderness. In Deuteronomy, priests are seen as part of a people who have the inheritance and whose position must now be determined more in details. The same difference can be seen in the food of the priests. In Leviticus we also read about the food of the priests, but there it is connected with the most holy. Here it is about sacrifices that the people bring and of which the people eat, regardless of the priesthood class, but in which the people share with the priests.
The priests are kept alive by the sacrifices of the people, as are the Levies. This means that priestly service in the church, that is to say, worship, only flourish when every member of the church in his daily life – so to speak, as a member of the people – present his bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God (Rom 12:11Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship.). Without daily dedication to God, not much will come of the priestly service.
It is good to see the difference between the priest and the Levite and what that means to us. Priests are offerors, they are worshippers. Levites are given to help the priests. Priests serve God, Levites serve the priests. The Levites maintain the priestly service. Levite service is all service aimed at promoting priestly service.
We are both priests and Levites. The believer is both a worshipper and someone who helps to perform the priestly service. This help is particularly evident in the ministry of the Word. The ministry of the Word is especially focused on this and not primarily on our practical walk. Our practical walk is the means by which the priestly service can be performed in a good way.
The food and income of priests and Levites are described in detail in Numbers 18 (Num 18:2-322But bring with you also your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may be joined with you and serve you, while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.3And they shall thus attend to your obligation and the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die.4They shall be joined with you and attend to the obligations of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; but an outsider may not come near you.5So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel.6Behold, 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.7But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform service. I am giving you the priesthood as a bestowed service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”8Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, “Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment.9This shall be yours from the most holy [gifts reserved] from the fire; every offering of theirs, even every grain offering and every sin offering and every guilt offering, which they shall render to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons.10As the most holy [gifts] you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you.11This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even 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 perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it.12All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you.13The 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.14Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours.15Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem.16As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs.17But the firstborn of an ox or 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 shall offer up their fat in smoke [as] an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the LORD.18Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh.19All 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 perpetual allotment. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD to you and your descendants with you.”20Then 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 for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting.22The sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die.23Only the Levites shall perform 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 sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance.24For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.’”25Then 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.27Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat.28So you shall also present an offering to the LORD from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the LORD’s offering to Aaron the priest.29Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.’30You shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then [the rest] shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat.31You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting.32You will bear 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, or you will die.’”). Here it happens briefly, in accordance with the book that is not so much about priests and Levites, but about the whole people. This emphasizes the importance of our daily life, how we behave in it. If we behave there in a way that suits someone who is a member of God’s people, it will strengthen both the Levite service and the priestly service. If we have a sloppy way of life, little will come of our service as Levites and priests.
Of the sacrifices the people bring, three parts must be given to the priest. Sacrifices are those sacrifices that the people themselves are allowed to eat. The only sacrifice from which the people may eat is the peace offering. In a spiritual sense, food has the meaning that what we think and absorb in our mind forms our character. In other words: our character is partly determined by what we read and listen to.
The priest receives as his food “the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach”. “The shoulder” of the sacrifice speaks of spiritual energy that the Lord Jesus has shown. He continued under all circumstances and completed the work in obedience to His God and Father. If the shoulder is my food, it creates this character trait in me. I then will also go my way in persevering obedience. From this results priestly service. But if it is only priestly service, without first having been food, it is quickly only form. “The two cheeks and the stomach” are connected to the digestive system, by the food will have its effect in the character.
These things apply to the Lord Jesus during His life on earth. He has always walked in the way of His God, He has contemplated God’s law day and night (Psa 1:22But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
), for God’s law is within His heart (Psa 40:88I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”
). He has always been in the things of His Father (Lk 2:4949And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s [house]?”). There is also an application for us. As priests we must always be in the things of God. It is not enough only to hear the Word. It is important that we think about it, that we process it.
The priest also receives food from the first fruits. The first fruits are that which has just come from the land. So it is about what is fresh and not something that has been in the barns for years. This indicates how important it is that we keep on using “grain”, which speaks of the Lord Jesus as the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died, through which we received eternal life (Jn 12:2424Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.). Every time, every day, we must experience a new joy, “the new wine” in the Lord, through what we read of Him in the Word. Every time, every new day, we must feed on new, fresh food and experience the new power of the Holy Spirit, “oil”.
When our life of faith loses its freshness and we rely on old knowledge and experiences, dead orthodoxy arises. In the meetings this will manifest itself in following a pattern of habits or even the drafting of a liturgy. In both cases a human order is followed and there is nothing to be noticed of freshness and spontaneity in the coming together. Then we eat from old stock. This is the consequence if we do not feed the priest within us and if we forget the Levite, if we do not have an eye for what he distributes to promote the priestly service.
In addition to grain, new wine, and oil, “the first shearing of the sheep” must also be given to the priest. The wool of sheep here speaks of what comes from the new nature in the brothers and sisters. It is the warmth of the fellowship of the brothers and sisters. The first blessing is noticeable in the priestly service. Priestly worship shows how the “first shearing” is doing. There is a cold service if the ‘warmth of the wool’ is missing in the meetings. Then the priestly service is carried out of habit, without the awareness that we belong together as brothers and sisters. We do meet in the meetings, but during the week we don’t care about each other, we live along each other.
Priestly service exists because of God’s sovereign election. He desires priests in His presence, that they may serve in His name. No priest can stand there and serve because who he in himself is, as if he personally has any quality that God can appreciate. God has laid His Name upon them. That is why priests are pleasant to Him. That service never comes to an end. God wants this to be a continuous activity (Heb 13:1515Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.).