1The LORD said to Aaron:* You and your sons as well as your ancestral house with you* shall be responsible for any sin with respect to the sanctuary; but only you and your sons with you shall be responsible for any sin with respect to your priesthood. 2You shall also present with you your kinsmen of the tribe of Levi, your ancestral tribe, that they may be joined to you* and assist you, while you and your sons with you are in front of the tent of the covenant. 3They shall discharge your obligations and those with respect to the whole tent; however, they shall not come near the utensils of the sanctuary or the altar, or else both they and you will die. 4They will be joined to you to perform the duties associated with the tent of meeting, all the labor pertaining to the tent. But no unauthorized person* shall come near you. 5You shall perform the duties of the sanctuary and of the altar, that wrath may not fall again upon the Israelites.
6I hereby take your kinsmen, the Levites, from among the Israelites; they are a gift to you,a dedicated to the LORD for the labor they perform for the tent of meeting. 7b But you and your sons with you must take care to exercise your priesthood in whatever concerns the altar and the area within the veil.* I give you your priesthood as a gift. Any unauthorized person who comes near shall be put to death.
The Priests’ Share of the Sacrifices. 8The LORD said to Aaron:* I hereby give to you charge of the contributions made to me, including the various holy offerings of the Israelites;c I assign them to you and to your sons as a perquisite, a perpetual due. 9This is what you shall have from the oblations that are most holy: every offering of theirs—namely, all their grain offerings, purification offerings, and reparation offerings which they must return to me—shall be most holy for you and for your sons. 10You shall eat them in a most holy place;* every male may partake of them. As holy, they belong to you.
11This also you shall have: the contributions that are their gifts, including the elevated offering* of the Israelites; I assign them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual due.d All in your household who are clean may eat them. 12I also assign to you all the beste of the new oil and of the new wine and grain that they give to the LORD as their first produce that has been processed. 13The first-ripened fruits of whatever is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours; all of your household who are clean may eat them. 14Whatever is under the ban* in Israel shall be yours. 15Every living thing that opens the womb, human being and beast alike, such as are to be offered to the LORD, shall be yours;f but you must redeem the firstborn of human beings, as well as redeem the firstborn of unclean animals. 16For the redemption price of a son, when he is a month old, you shall pay the equivalent of five silver shekels according to the sanctuary shekel, that is, twenty gerahs. 17But the firstborn of cattle, or the firstborn of sheep or the firstborn of goats you shall not redeem; they are holy. Their blood you must splash on the altar and their fat you must burn as an oblation of pleasing aroma to the LORD. 18g Their meat, however, shall be yours, just as the brisket of the elevated offering and the right thigh belong to you. 19As a perpetual due I assign to you and to your sons and daughters with you all the contributions of holy things which the Israelites set aside for the LORD; this is a covenant of salt* to last forever before the LORD, for you and for your descendants with you. 20h Then the LORD said to Aaron:* You shall not have any heritage in their land nor hold any portion among them; I will be your portion and your heritage among the Israelites.
Tithes Due the Levites. 21To the Levites, however, I hereby assign all tithes in Israel as their heritage in recompense for the labor they perform, the labor pertaining to the tent of meeting.i 22The Israelites may no longer approach the tent of meeting, thereby incurring the penalty of death. 23Only the Levites are to perform the labor pertaining to the tent of meeting, and they shall incur the penalty for the Israelites’ sin;* this is a permanent statute for all your generations. But they shall not have any heritage among the Israelites, 24for I have assigned to the Levites as their heritage the tithes which the Israelites put aside as a contribution to the LORD. That is why I have said, they will not have any heritage among the Israelites.
Tithes Paid by the Levites. 25The LORD said to Moses: 26Speak to the Levites and say to them: When you take from the Israelites the tithes I have assigned you from them as your heritage, you are to make a contribution from them to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe; 27and your contribution will be credited to you as if it were grain from the threshing floor or new wine from the vat. 28Thus you too shall make a contribution to the LORD from all the tithes you take from the Israelites, handing over to Aaron the priest the contribution to the LORD. 29From all the gifts to you, you shall make every contribution due to the LORD—from their best parts, that is the part to be consecrated from them.
30Say to them also: Once you have made your contribution from the best part, the rest of the tithe will be credited to the Levites as if it were produce of the threshing floor or the produce of the vat. 31You and your households may eat it anywhere, since it is your recompense in exchange for labor in the tent of meeting. 32You will incur no punishment when you contribute the best part of it. But do not profane the holy offerings of the Israelites or else you shall die.
* [18:1–3] This law, which kept unqualified persons from contact with holy things, is in response to the Israelites’ cry in 17:28. It is followed by other laws concerning priests and Levites.
* [18:1] With you: not only in the present but also those of his house in the future.
* [18:2] Be joined to you: in Hebrew a pun on the popular etymology of the name “Levi.” Cf. Gn 29:34.
* [18:4] Unauthorized person: here, “one who is not a Levite”; in v. 7, “one who is not a priest.”
* [18:7] Veil: the outer veil, or “curtain,” is probably meant.
* [18:8–10] Two classes of offerings are here distinguished: the most holy offering, which only the male members of the priestly families could eat (vv. 8–10), and the other offerings, which the women of the priestly families could eat (vv. 11–19).
* [18:10] In a most holy place: in the court of the tabernacle, according to Lv 6:9, 19.
* [18:11] Elevated offering: this included the brisket and right thigh (v. 18), the shoulder of the peace offering (Lv 7:30–34), and portions of the nazirite sacrifice (Nm 6:19–20). With you: see note on v. 1. Aaron had no daughters; see also v. 19.
* [18:14] Under the ban: in Hebrew, herem, which means here “set aside from profane use and made sacred to the Lord.” Cf. Lv 27:21, 28.
* [18:19] A covenant of salt: cf. 2 Chr 13:5. The reference may perhaps be to the preservative power of salt (cf. Mt 5:13); but more likely the phrase refers to the custom of eating salt together to render a contract unbreakable. See note on Lv 2:13.
* [18:20] The priests and Levites were forbidden to own hereditary land such as the other Israelites possessed; therefore in the allotment of the land (chap. 34) they did not receive any portion of it. Certain cities, however, were assigned to them for their residence; cf. 35:1–8.
* [18:23] Incur the penalty for the Israelites’ sin: the Levites are responsible for protecting the sanctuary from illegitimate encroachment and in this sense pay the penalty for the Israelites’ iniquity. This responds further to the fears of the people expressed in 17:27–28.
d. [18:11] Ex 29:27–28; Lv 7:34; 10:14.
h. [18:20] Dt 10:9; 18:1–2; Jos 13:33; Ez 44:28.