Numbers 18:1
And the LORD said to Aaron, You and your sons and your father's house with you shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood.
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(1) Shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary . . . —It must be remembered that the iniquity of the sanctuary, and the iniquity of the priesthood, extended not only to the defilement of the sanctuary by the transgressions of priests and people (Leviticus 16:11; Leviticus 16:15-16), but also to its defilement by the imperfections connected with the services of the priests and the offerings of the people (Exodus 28:38).

Numbers 18:1. The Lord said unto Aaron — Probably by Moses. Having, by the foregoing miracles, vindicated the honour and authority of the priesthood, God now lets Aaron know the importance of his office, wherein he was to behave with great care and circumspection, and withal he again declares what was the duty of the Levites, as distinct from that of the priests, from Numbers 18:1 to Numbers 18:8. And from thence he proceeds to tell them what maintenance he had settled upon both, for their encouragement in doing their duty. Thou and thy sons shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary — Shall suffer the punishment of all the usurpations, or pollutions of the sanctuary, or the holy things, by the Levites, or any of the people, because you have power from me to keep them all within their bounds. Thus the people are, in good measure, secured against their fears. Also they are informed that Aaron’s high dignity was attended with great burdens, having not only his own but the people’s sins to answer for; and therefore they had no such reason to envy him, if the benefits and dangers were equally considered. The iniquity of your priesthood — That is, of all the errors committed by yourselves, or by you permitted in others, in things belonging to your priesthood.18:1-7 The people complained of their difficulty and peril in drawing near to God. God here gives them to understand, that the priests should come near for them. Aaron would see reason not to be proud of his preferment, when he considered the great care and charge upon him. Be not high-minded, but fear. The greater the trust of work and power that is committed to us, the greater danger there is of betraying that trust. This is a good reason why we should neither envy others' honours, nor desire high places.The iniquity of the sanctuary - i. e. the guilt of the offences which an erring people would be continually committing against the majesty of God, when brought into contact, through the ordinances, with the manifestations of His presence. Compare the marginal reference.

The iniquity of your priesthood - As the priests themselves were but men, they were strengthened to bear the iniquity of their own unintentional offences, by being entrusted with the ceremonial means of taking it away (compare Leviticus 16). The word "bear" has, in the Old Testament, this double sense of "enduring" and "removing;" but in the person of Christ, who atoned by His own endurance, the two axe in effect one.


Nu 18:1-7. The Charge of the Priests and Levites.

1. the Lord said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary—Security is here given to the people from the fears expressed (Nu 17:12), by the responsibility of attending to all sacred things being devolved upon the priesthood, together with the penalties incurred through neglect; and thus the solemn responsibilities annexed to their high dignity, of having to answer not only for their own sins, but also for the sins of the people, were calculated in a great measure to remove all feeling of envy at the elevation of Aaron's family, when the honor was weighed in the balance with its burdens and dangers.God showing to Aaron, his sons, and the Levites their office, Numbers 18:1-7; appointeth to Aaron and his sons their maintenance, Numbers 18:8-20; and also to the Levites, Numbers 18:21-24. He commandeth them by Moses to give tenths of their tenths to the chief priests, Numbers 18:25-32.

The iniquity of the sanctuary, i.e. shall suffer the punishment of all the usurpations or pollutions of the sanctuary, or the holy things, by the Levites or any of the people, because you have authority and power from me to keep them all within their bounds, and I expect you use it to that cud. Thus the people are in good measure secured against their fears expressed Numbers 17:12,13. Also they are informed that Aaron’s high dignity was attended with great burdens, having not only his own, but the people’s sins to answer for; and therefore they had no such reason to envy him as they might think, if the benefits and encumbrances and dangers were equally considered.

Of your priesthood, i.e. of all the errors committed by yourselves, or by you permitted in others in things belonging to your priesthood.

And the Lord spake unto Aaron,.... As the things spoken were such as concerned Aaron, he might be only and immediately spoken unto: thou,

and thy sons, and thy father's house with thee; meaning both priests and Levites, the priests by him and his sons, and the Levites by his father's house:

shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary; the blame of any evil committed there, the punishment of it; the priests, Aaron and his sons, if they did not perform the duty of their office aright, he in the most holy place, and they in the holy place, and at the altar of burnt offering in the court; and the Levites, if they did not take care to watch in the tabernacle, and keep out strangers and polluted persons:

and thou, and thy sons with thee, shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood; be answerable for my sins, errors, and mistakes that should be committed by them in the discharge of their office, through their own remissness, or not taking care that the Levites did their duty; this shows that the office of priesthood, though honourable, was burdensome, and not to be envied; and that the people needed not to be under such terrible apprehensions as they were, lest they should come too near the sanctuary, as to be in danger of death, since it lay upon the priests and Levites especially to take care thereof, and who, if negligent, would suffer.

And the LORD said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear {a} the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood.

(a) If you trespass in anything concerning the ceremonies of the sanctuary of your office, you will be punished.

1. thy sons] i.e. the priests. The expression was due to the post-exilic practice of all priests of tracing their descent genealogically to Aaron.

thy fathers’ house] Here it means the whole tribe of Levi, exclusive of Aaron and the priests.

bear the iniquity of the sanctuary … of your priesthood] i.e. bear the consequences of the iniquity of allowing your priesthood, or the sanctuary committed to your charge, to be profaned.

1–7. The duties of priests and Levites. The priests are to have charge of the sanctuary, and the Levites are to help them; the latter, however, may not come into contact with the sacred utensils or the altar. No layman may approach on pain of death. The subject has already been treated in Numbers 1:50-53, Numbers 3:5-10; Numbers 3:38; and the principle of the disabilities of laymen has been illustrated in ch. 14.Verse 1. - The Lord spake unto Aaron. This clear and comprehensive instruction as to the position and support of the sons of Aaron on the one hand, and of the Levites on the other, may very naturally have been given in connection with the events just narrated. There is, however, no direct reference to those events, and it is quite possible that the only connection was one of subject-matter in the mind of the writer. That the regulations which follow were addressed to Aaron directly is a thing unusual, and indeed unexampled. The ever-recurring statement elsewhere is, "the Lord spake unto Moses," varied occasionally by "the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron" (as in Numbers 2:1; Numbers 4:1; Numbers 19:1); but even where the communication refers to things wholly and peculiarly within the province of Aaron, it is usually made to Moses, and only through him to his brother (see e.g., Numbers 8:1-3). This change in the form of the message may point to a later date, i.e., to a time subsequent to the gainsaying of Korah, when the separate position of Aaron as the head of a priestly caste was more fully recognized than before, and he himself somewhat less under the shadow of his greater brother. Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary. Aaron's father's house, according to the analogy of Numbers 17:2, 3, 6, was the sub-tribe of the Kohathites, and these had charge (to the exclusion of the other Levites) of the sanctuary, or rather sacred things (הַמִּקְדָּשׁ, as in Numbers 10:21. Septuagint, τῶν ἁγίων). See on Numbers 4:15. This mention of the Kohathites in connection with the sanctuary is an incidental proof that these instructions were given in view of the wanderings in the wilderness, for after the settlement in Canaan no Levites (as such) came into contact with the sacred furniture. It is not easy to define exactly the meaning of "shall bear the iniquity (תִּשְׂאוּ אֶת־עַון) of the sanctuary." The general sense of the phrase is, "to be responsible for the iniquity," i.e., for anything which caused displeasure in the eyes of God, "in connection with the sacred things and the service of them;" hence it meant either to be responsible for such iniquity, as being held accountable for it, and having to endure the penalty, or as being permitted and enabled to take such accountability on oneself, and so discharge it from others. This double sense is exactly reflected in the Greek word αἴρειν, as applied to our Lord (John 1:29). The priests, therefore (and the Kohathites, so far as they had anything to do with the sanctuary), were responsible for all the unholiness attaching or accruing to it, not only by reason of all offences committed by themselves, but by reason of that imperfection which clung to them at the best, and made them unworthy to handle the things of God. In a further and deeper sense they might be said to be vicariously responsible for all the iniquity of all Israel, so far as the taint of it affected the very sanctuary (see on Exodus 28:38; Leviticus 16:16). The iniquity of your priesthood. The responsibility not only for all sinful acts of omission and commission in Divine service (such as those of Nadab and Abihu, and of Korah), but for all the inevitable failure of personal holiness on the part of those who ministered unto the Lord. This responsibility was emphatically recognized and provided for in the rites of the great day of atonement. Moses carried out this command. And when he went into the tabernacle the following morning, behold Aaron's rod of the house of Levi had sprouted, and put forth shoots, and had borne blossoms and matured almonds. And Moses brought all the rods out of the sanctuary, and gave every man his own; the rest, as we may gather from the context, being all unchanged, so that the whole nation could satisfy itself that God had chosen Aaron. Thus was the word fulfilled which Moses had spoken at the commencement of the rebellion of the company of Korah (Numbers 16:5), and that in a way which could not fail to accredit him before the whole congregation as sent of God.

So far as the occurrence itself is concerned, there can hardly be any need to remark, that the natural interpretation which has lately been attempted by Ewald, viz., that Moses had laid several almond rods in the holy place, which had just been freshly cut off, that he might see the next day which of them would flower the best during the night, is directly at variance with the words of the text, and also with the fact, that a rod even freshly cut off, when laid in a dry place, would not bear ripe fruit in a single night. The miracle which God wrought here as the Creator of nature, was at the same time a significant symbol of the nature and meaning of the priesthood. The choice of the rods had also a bearing upon the object in question. A man's rod was the sign of his position as ruler in the house and congregation; with a prince the rod becomes a sceptre, the insignia of rule (Genesis 49:10). As a severed branch, the rod could not put forth shoots and blossom in a natural way. But God could impart new vital powers even to the dry rod. And so Aaron had naturally no pre-eminence above the heads of the other tribes. But the priesthood was founded not upon natural qualifications and gifts, but upon the power of the Spirit, which God communicates according to the choice of His wisdom, and which He had imparted to Aaron through his consecration with holy anointing oil. It was this which the Lord intended to show to the people, by causing Aaron's rod to put forth branches, blossom, and fruit, through a miracle of His omnipotence; whereas the rods of the other heads of the tribes remained as barren as before. In this way, therefore, it was not without deep significance that Aaron's rod not only put forth shoots, by which the divine election might be recognised, but bore even blossom and ripe fruit. This showed that Aaron was not only qualified for his calling, but administered his office in the full power of the Spirit, and bore the fruit expected of him. The almond rod was especially adapted to exhibit this, as an almond-tree flowers and bears fruit the earliest of all the trees, and has received its name of שׁקד, "awake," from this very fact (cf. Jeremiah 1:11).

God then commanded (Numbers 17:10, Numbers 17:11) that Aaron's rod should be taken back into the sanctuary, and preserved before the testimony, "for a sign for the rebellious, that thou puttest an end to their murmuring, and they die not." The preservation of the rod before the ark of the covenant, in the immediate presence of the Lord, was a pledge to Aaron of the continuance of his election, and the permanent duration of his priesthood; though we have no need to assume, that through a perpetual miracle the staff continued green and blossoming. In this way the staff became a sign to the rebellious, which could not fail to stop their murmuring.

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