Deuteronomy 18:1
The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and his inheritance.
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Deuteronomy 18:1-5.


(1) The priests the Levites, (and) all the tribe of Levi.—The fact that there is no “and” here in the original, and the look of the sentence in English, might dispose a superficial reader to find some ground here for the theory that priest and Levite are not distinguished in Deuteronomy. No such idea occurred to Rashi. He says, all the tribe of Levi, not only those that are perfect (who can serve), but those who have a blemish (and cannot).” The distinction between priest and Levite has already been sufficiently noted on Deuteronomy 11:6; Deuteronomy 17:9. The passage is evidently on the same lines with Numbers 18:18-21, which see.

(3) The shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw.—This would be from the peace offering. The shoulder is assigned to them in Leviticus 7:32-33 (comp. Numbers 18:18). The “two cheeks and the maw” are not mentioned elsewhere, and the latter word is found in this place only. They are not a valuable part of the sacrifice. An absurd reason for the gift is assigned by Rashi. We know that in the time of Eli, the priests varied their requirements at pleasure, and in the face of the law (see 1Samuel 2:13). The “priests’ due “here, and “the priests’ custom” there, are the same word in Hebrew, which we have elsewhere translated “requirement.”

(4) The flrstfruit also of thy corn.—See Numbers 18:12. The first of the wool is mentioned here only. The quantity in all these cases has been defined by the Rabbis, on grounds somewhat arbitrary.

(5) To stand to minister in the name of the Lord.—This is the office of the priests. The Levites are said, “to stand before the congregation to minister unto them” (Numbers 16:9). If the writer of Deuteronomy knew no distinction between priest and Levite, it is difficult to see how the Jews could have derived the distinctive privileges of the priests from these enactments.

Deuteronomy 18:1. His inheritance — The Lord’s portion or inheritance, which God had reserved to himself, as tithes and first-fruits, and other oblations distinct from those which were made by fire.18:1-8 Care is taken that the priests entangle not themselves with the affairs of this life, nor enrich themselves with the wealth of this world; they have better things to mind. Care is likewise taken that they want not the comforts and conveniences of this life. The people must provide for them. He that has the benefit of solemn religious assemblies, ought to give help for the comfortable support of those that minister in such assemblies.Better, "there shall not be to the priests, the Levites, yea the whole tribe of Levi, any inheritance, etc."

And his inheritance - i. e., God's inheritance, that which in making a grant to His people of the promised land with its earthly blessings He had reserved for Himself; more particularly the sacrifices and the holy gifts, such as tithes and first-fruits. These were God's portion of the substance of Israel; and as the Levites were His portion of the persons of Israel, it was fitting that the Levites should be sustained from these. On the principle here laid down, compare 1 Corinthians 9:13-14.


De 18:1-8. The Lord Is the Priests' and the Levites' Inheritance.

1. The priests the Levites … shall eat the offerings—As the tribe of Levi had no inheritance allotted them like the other tribes but were wholly consecrated to the priestly office, their maintenance was to arise from tithes, first-fruits, and certain portions of the oblations presented on the altar, which God having by express appointment reserved to Himself made over, after being offered, to His ministers.The Lord is the priests’ and Levites’ inheritance. Deu 18:1,2. Their due from the people, Deu 18:3-5. A Levite’s portion that came to serve voluntarily, Deu 18:6-8. All unlawful arts prohibited, Deu 18:9-14. Christ is promised, whom they must hearken to, Deu 18:15-19. False prophets threatened, Deu 18:20. The mark of a false prophet, Deu 18:21,22.

The offerings of the Lord made by fire; by which phrase we here manifestly see that he means not burnt-offerings, which were wholly consumed by fire, and no part of them eaten by the priests; but other sacrifices, whereof part was offered to the Lord by fire, and part was allotted to the priests for their food. His inheritance, i.e. the Lord’s portion or inheritance, which God had reserved to himself, as tithes and first-fruits, and other oblations distinct from those which were made by fire; and so these two branches make up the whole of that which belonged to God, and was by him given to the Levites.

The priests, the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel,.... That is, in the land of Canaan, in the division of it among the tribes:

they shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and his inheritance; the meat offerings, see Leviticus 2:2, and whatsoever of the sin offerings and peace offerings which were the Lord's; so Ben Melech says, the flesh of the offerings which belonged to the priests was called fire offerings, after part of it was consumed by fire. All these, with other things, Numbers 18:8, were given, as the Targum of Jonathan expresses it, for their inheritance, in lieu of their having none in the land of Canaan.

The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and his {a} inheritance.

(a) That is, the Lord's part of his inheritance.

1. The priests the Levites] This double title, peculiar to D, is found both in the Code, Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 17:18, Deuteronomy 24:8 (cp. Deuteronomy 21:5 : the priests the sons of Levi) and in Deuteronomy 27:9 (edit.?), cp. Deuteronomy 31:9. By God’s appointment (Deuteronomy 18:5) all members of the tribe of Levi were priests de jure, but in consequence of the law abolishing the rural altars and rendering priestly functions impossible except in the Temple, a member of the tribe while resident in the country is called Levite alone—the Levite within thy gates—and can secure the name and the rights of a priest only when he removes to Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 18:6); where however he does not cease to be called Levite (Deuteronomy 18:7). With this distinction the priests and the Levites are to D synonymous. This is further emphasised by the addition—

all the tribe of Levi] The and prefixed by the A.V. and R.V. Marg. is not in the Heb., in which the phrase stands in apposition to the priests the Levites. There is therefore no possibility in the interpretation that D intended by Levites ‘all other members of the tribe of Levi.’ This interpretation is a forced attempt to reconcile D’s law with those of P which distinguish between priests and Levites.

no portion nor inheritance with Israel] Cp. Deuteronomy 10:9 (with his brethren), Deuteronomy 12:12 (with you), Deuteronomy 14:27; Deuteronomy 14:29 (with thee), and the deuteronomic Joshua 13:14; Joshua 13:33; Joshua 18:7. The tribe are landless. So in P, Numbers 18:20; Numbers 18:23 f., Numbers 26:62.

they shall eat] live, or subsist, by; cp. Ar. ’ukul (from the same root) ‘means of subsistence.’

the offerings of the Lord made by fire] This expression, an early instance of which occurs in 1 Samuel 2:28, is found more than 60 times in P and nowhere else (the grammar shows that it is an intrusion. Joshua 13:14).

and his inheritance] all other offerings to the Deity, such as are detailed in Deuteronomy 18:4.Verse 1. - The priests the Levites, the whole tribe of Levi; i.e. the whole tribe of Levi, including both the priests and the general body of the Levites. They shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire. "The offerings of the Lord made by fire" (literally, the fires or firings of Jehovah), here referred to, were the meal offering, the sin offering, and the trespass effusing (cf. Numbers 18:9). And his inheritance; i.e. of Jehovah, what was appropriated to him, and from him to the tribe of Levi, such as tithes, firstlings, and firstfruits. Choice and Right of the King. - Deuteronomy 17:14, Deuteronomy 17:15. If Israel, when dwelling in the land which was given it by the Lord for a possession, should wish to appoint a king, like all the nations round about, it was to appoint the man whom Jehovah its God should choose, and that from among its brethren, i.e., from its own people, not a foreigner or non-Israelite. The earthly kingdom in Israel was not opposed to the theocracy, i.e., to the rule of Jehovah as king over the people of His possession, provided no one was made king but the person whom Jehovah should choose. The appointment of a king is not commanded, like the institution of judges (Deuteronomy 16:18), because Israel could exist under the government of Jehovah, even without an earthly king; it is simply permitted, in case the need should arise for a regal government. There was no necessity to describe more minutely the course to be adopted, as the people possessed the natural provision for the administration of their national affairs in their well-organized tribes, by whom this point could be decided. Moses also omits to state more particularly in what way Jehovah would make known the choice of the king to be appointed. The congregation, no doubt, possessed one means of asking the will of the Lord in the Urim and Thummim of the high priest, provided the Lord did not reveal His will in a different manner, namely through a prophet, as He did in the election of Saul and David (1 Samuel 8-9, and 16). The commandment not to choose a foreigner, acknowledged the right of the nation to choose. Consequently the choice on the part of the Lord may have consisted simply in His pointing out to the people, in a very evident manner, the person they were to elect, or in His confirming the choice by word and act, as in accordance with His will.

Three rules are laid down for the king himself in Deuteronomy 17:16-20. In the first place, he was not to keep many horses, or lead back the people to Egypt, to multiply horses, because Jehovah had forbidden the people to return thither by that way. The notion of modern critics, that there is an allusion in this prohibition to the constitution of the kingdom under Solomon, is so far from having any foundation, that the reason assigned - namely, the fear lest the king should lead back the people to Egypt from his love of horses, "to the end that he should multiply horses" - really precludes the time of Solomon, inasmuch as the time had then long gone by when any thought could have been entertained of leading back the people to Egypt. But such a reason would be quite in its place in Moses' time, and only then, "when it would not seem impossible to reunite the broken band, and when the people were ready to express their longing, and even their intention, to return to Egypt on the very slightest occasion; whereas the reason assigned for the prohibition might have furnished Solomon with an excuse for regarding the prohibition itself as merely a temporary one, which was no longer binding" (Oehler in Herzog's Cyclopaedia: vid., Hengstenberg's Dissertations).

(Note: When Riehm objects to this, that if such a prohibition had been unnecessary in a future age, in which the people had reached the full consciousness of its national independence, and every thought of the possibility of a reunion with the Egyptians had disappeared, Moses would never have issued it, since he must have foreseen the national independence of the people; the force of this objection rests simply upon his confounding foreseeing with assuming, and upon a thoroughly mistaken view of the prophet's vision of the future. Even if Moses, as "a great prophet," did foresee the future national independence of Israel, he had also had such experience of the fickle character of the people, that he could not regard the thought of returning to Egypt as absolutely an impossible one, even after the conquest of Canaan, or reject it as inconceivable. Moreover, the prophetic foresight of Moses was not, as Riehm imagines it, a foreknowledge of all the separate points in the historical development of the nation, much less a foreknowledge of the thoughts and desires of the heart, which might arise in the course of time amidst the changes that would take place in the nation. A foresight of the development of Israel into national independence, so far as we may attribute it to Moses as a prophet, was founded not upon the character of the people, but upon the divine choice and destination of Israel, which by no means precluded the possibility of their desiring to return to Egypt, even at some future time, since God Himself had threatened the people with dispersion among the heathen as the punishment for continued transgression of His covenant, and yet, notwithstanding this dispersion, had predicted the ultimate realization of His covenant of grace. And when Riehm still further observes, that the taste for horses, which lay at the foundation of this fear, evidently points to a later time, when the old repugnance to cavalry which existed in the nation in the days of the judges, and even under David, had disappeared; this supposed repugnance to cavalry is a fiction of the critic himself, without any historical foundation. For nothing more is related in the history, than that before the time of Solomon the Israelites had not cultivated the rearing of horses, and that David only kept 100 of the war-horses taken from the Syrians for himself, and had the others put to death (2 Samuel 8:4). And so long as horses were neither reared nor possessed by the Israelites, there can be no ground for speaking of the old repugnance to cavalry. On the other hand, the impossibility of tracing this prohibition to the historical circumstances of the time of Solomon, or even a later age, is manifest in the desperate subterfuge to which Riehm has recourse, when he connects this passage with the threat in Deuteronomy 28:68, that if all the punishments suspended over them should be ineffectual, God would carry them back in ships to Egypt, and that they should there be sold to their enemies as men-servants and maid-servants, and then discovers a proof in this, that the Egyptian king Psammetichus, who sought out foreign soldiers and employed them, had left king Manasseh some horses, solely on the condition that he sent him some Israelitish infantry, and placed them at his disposal. But this is not expounding Scripture; it is putting hypotheses into it. As Oehler has already observed, this hypothesis has no foundation whatever in the Old Testament, nor (we may add) in the accounts of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus concerning Psammetichus. According to Diod. (i. 66), Psammetichus hired soldiers from Arabia, Caria, and Ionia; and according to Herodotus (i. 152), he hired Ionians and Carians armed with brass, that he might conquer his rival kings with their assistance. But neither of these historians says anything at all about Israelitish infantry. And even if it were conceivable that any king of Israel or Judah could carry on such traffic in men, as to sell his own subjects to the Egyptians for horses, it is very certain that the prophets, who condemned every alliance with foreign kings, and were not silent with regard to Manasseh's idolatry, would not have passed over such an abomination as this without remark or without reproof.)

The second admonition also, that the king was not to take to himself many wives, and turn away his heart (sc., from the Lord), nor greatly multiply to himself silver and gold, can be explained without the hypothesis that there is an allusion to Solomon's reign, although this king did transgress both commands (1 Kings 10:14. Deuteronomy 11:1.). A richly furnished harem, and the accumulation of silver and gold, were inseparably connected with the luxury of Oriental monarchs generally; so that the fear was a very natural one, that the future king of Israel might follow the general customs of the heathen in these respects.

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