Chapter 3 -


You shall thus give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the sons of Israel. (Numbers 3:9)

Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every first-born, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be Mine. For all the first­born are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt. I sanctified to Myself all the first-born in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the LORD. (12-13)

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Number every first-born male of the sons of Israel from a month old and upward, and make a list of their names. And you shall take the Levites for Me, I am the LORD, instead of all the first-born among of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the first-born among the cattle of the sons of Israel.” (40-41)

And for the ransom of the 273 of the first-born sons of Israel who are in excess beyond the Levites, you shall take five shekels apiece, per head; you shall take them in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary (The shekel is twenty gerahs), and give the money, the ransom money from those who were in excess among them, to Aaron and his sons. (46-48)

God selected Aaron and his sons to be His priests. He was their inheritance because the priests, particularly the High Priest, were like his mortal first born sons – the traditional patriarchal priests who served on earth as intermediaries for Him with humanity.

Aaron and the succession of his sons and their sons as high priests foreshadowed the role of His only begot­ten Son, Jesus, who is today the Christian's High Priest. Just as the Aaronic priests then mediated between God and Israel, so Christ now mediates between God and the Church, which is spiritual Israel.

As mediators, the priests acted out God's part by receiving, eat­ing and ritually slaughtering the sacrifices offered by the worship­pers. God called the offerings His food as opposed to the tithe which was the Levite's food and inheritance. The tithe was God's only insofar as the Levites were God's, being His chosen replace­ment for the offering of Israel's first born. God protected and defended the Levite's right to the tithe because they were His.

The priests never received tithes - only offerings, which were the food on God’s sacrificial table. Israel gifted offerings to the divine and immortal God, and Israel paid tithes to their mortal fellow tribe members, the Levites.

The priests received the offerings in the name of God: this is how God was their inheri­tance. Thus, the Bible expresses this truth by stating that the LORD gave to Aaron His right to the gifts of the altar. To Aaron and his sons were given all the offerings and sacrifices. That included the right to the offering of first fruits - especially the first born males of men and beasts.

Functional, Ritual & Symbolic Substitutions

Let's review this chain of substitutions. Since the Levites were chosen to replace the first born of all Israel, they belonged to God. Since what is God's belongs to the priests (He is their inheritance.), the Levites were given to the sons of Aaron.

At this point the only Israelites without an inheritance are the Levites. They had only small communities of adjacent households to dwell in. To make up for this inequity, God created the concept and law of the tithe to provide the Levites with their fair share in the Promised Land. All persons are promised an inheritance if they faith­fully enter into covenant with God.

Obviously, a loving and just God would not allow His chosen servants to be exempted from the promise. This is the origin and rationale for the tithe. It is derived from the principle of the first fruits belonging to God, but it is not the offering of first fruits.

The tribe of Levi alone represented God's first fruits of men - the first born. All the first born belonged to God due to ancient revelation and the terms of His deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Consequently, God gave all the Le vites as an offering of first fruits to His priests ­the Aaronites, the descendants of Aaron.

The rest of the tribes of Israel now had in the Levites' a tribe of sanctified first born sons. The other tribes' first born sons were no longer family priests. Their first born sons were redeemed or ran­somed by a single payment of five shekels to the Aaronites.

The Levites served the Aaronites instead of the first born from each family. They received the tithe from the Israelites' lands as their inheritance. The tithe was their wage for their service in Israel's stead: the Levites served at the tabernacle and temple in the place of all the first born sons of the other tribes.

There were symbolic as well as practical reasons for this sys­tem. Symbolically, Aaron, the high priest, and his sons represented the future Son of God. The high priests symbolized Jesus Christ, the first bornof God. The Levites symbolized the first born of human­ity, or the Church. Israel represented the rest of the world.

These three sets of first born each foreshadow one of the three biblical resurrections:

  1. The Aaronites that of the Son of God, Jesus. (I Corinthians 15:20-23)
  2. The Levites symbolize the First Resurrection at Messiah's return, announced by the sev­enth and last trumpet. (Revelation 20:4-6)
  3. The Israelites as the Second Resurrection to Judgment, which takes place the end of the Millennium. (Revelation 20:5, 11-15)

Clarifying God’s Administration

From the practical side, taking the one tribe of Levi in the place of the first born sons of all the tribes kept families together which obvi­ously eliminated in advance many interpersonal problems. In contrast to patriarchal religious practice, the Levitical priesthood was a doctri­nally and geographically centralized religious administration to serve the one God in one place.

The patriarchal religious system had been a very decentralized, autonomous, and disjointed family cult system that varied in belief and practice from clan to clan. Instead of one central altar and tabernacle, there had been many altars and shrines. Since each family or clan had their own.

The Levites as a tribe were supported by the tithe. They in turn tithed to the Aaronites, who did not receive tithes except as an "offering" from the Levites. The Aaronites received all of the sacrifi­cial offerings, particularly the redemptions and sacrifices of the first born of clean beasts since God was their inheritance. Their duty was to spend all of their time in His service. The Levites served the Aaronites in the place of Israel's naturally first born sons and took care of the tabernacle and later the temple.

The Levites also served their brother Israelites directly in the cities where they lived by teaching and enforcing the law. The Levites served as the judges of last resort when local councils of elders or Judges could not come to a conclusion (II Chronicles 19:4-11 and Nehemiah 13:22). Because they did not receive agricultural land holdings in Canaan, they had a right to receive the tithe of that land's production. This gave them wages for their service.

Israel was obliged to pay Levi because Levi was performing work on their behalf. All Israel was promised the land of Canaan. It would have been unjust for Levi to be excluded because God chose them to serve Aaron. Thus, the Levites received the tithe as a proportional share of the promised inheritance.

The first mention of tithing in the Torah is Leviticus 27:30-33:

Thus, all the tithe of the land, of the seed, of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD's; it is holy to the LORD. If, therefore, a man wishes to redeem part of his tithe, he shall add to it one-fifth to it.

And for every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. He is not to be con­cerned whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it, then both it and its substitute shall become holy. It shall not be redeemed.

It is God's presence and or purpose that make anything holy. The tithe is holy because it was dedicated to the Levites who belonged to God. It was not God's food. Offerings were God's food. The tithe was holy in the same way that entire Promised Land was the Holy Land. (Zechariah 2:12)

Numbers chapter 18 gives a thorough summary of the laws delin­eating the legal rights of the Aaronites and Levites as well as their relationship between them. It includes references to the first born, tithes and other offerings. Read the whole chapter. The following are only selected excerpts:

Then 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 your sons as a perpetual allotment. This 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.

“As the most holy gifts you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of 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. All 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 have given to the LORD, I have given them to you.” (8-12)

“Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal... the first-born of man you shall surely redeem their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver.” (15-16).

Then 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.

“And 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.” (20-21)

For 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...”

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “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. And your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat.

“'So 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. Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the sacred part of them.’” (24-29)

God calls the Levites' tithe of the tithe to the Aaronites an offering to Him. This categorically proves that the use of the ten per cent figure in calculating an offering does not mean that it must be a tithe.

Moses Not a Priest

The Levites were not the priests of God but the priesthood's arms and legs. Aaron was selected as the first High Priest (Exodus 28). He was chosen over Moses because Aaron was the first born and had married a Levite while Moses was married to Zipporah, a daughter of Jethro, priest of Midian. (Exodus 2:15-3:1)

Moses was the mediator of the Sinai Covenant and not physically qualified to be a priest under the Levitical system God planned to establish in the desert. Similarly, Jesus was not qualified physically to be a priest, even though he was the mediator of the New or Jerusalem covenant becoming the ultimate ONE Mediator between God and man. (I Timothy 2:5)

Moses was not qualified to be a priest. The Torah obligated priests to marry the daughters of priests, or they could not be priests. Specific provisions existed for the support of priestly children, daugh­ters in particular, who may have married someone who was not a priest and then later returned to her father's house. (See Leviticus 21:7­9, 13-15; 22: 12-16).

Aaron was Moses' older brother, the firstborn of Amram and a great-grandson of Levi. (I Chronicles 6:1-3) The firstborn had been designated as God's as shown above. All of the Israelite priests after the Levitical order were descended from Aaron, the first born of the first born. As God's, they were to receive as an offering from the Levites the very best of the entire tithe from the land, the firstlings of the Levitical inheritance, the tithe.

Originally, most of the priestly Aaronites lived near the tabernacle - in one place as opposed to the dispersed Levites. As the number of the Aaronites increased in population relative to the Levites, the priests were also found living in the Levitical cities, scattered amongst their non-priestly brethren. Nevertheless, the "tithe of the tithe" offer­ing was always sent by the Levites to the Temple at Jerusalem for re­distribution among the priestly families of Aaron.

Nehemiah 10:34-39 describes plainly the practical application of what was outlined in the Torah:

…in order that they might bring the first fruits of the ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the LORD annually … for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God…and the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns.

And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chamber of the storehouse… Thus we will not neglect the house of our God. (35­-39)

The often quoted denunciation of not honoring God with the tithes in Malachi 3:8-12 is actually referring to the "tithe of the tithe" brought to the Temple.

Of course, if the common man did not tithe to the Levite, then the Levite could not send their offering tenth to the Temple. This is how the individual Israelite was not to "neglect the house of our God."

Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, “How have we robbed Thee?” In tithes and offerings…Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open for your the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. (8-10)

Malachi's message dates to the time of Nehemiah. By comparing Nehemiah with Malachi, it is plain that only a tenth of the tithes collected for the Levites, which was an offering, went to the temple treasuries in Jerusalem. Malachi condemns holding back whatever is due God. He condemns the acts of putting mammon before God, the attitude that God is not real:

Your words have been arrogant against Me: says the LORD. Yet you say, "What have we spoken against Thee?”

You have said, “It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts?” (Malachi 3:13-14)


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