Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 18

Chapter 18
Summary:God speaks to Aaron, telling him that he and his sons will bear full responsibility for any desecration of either the tabernacle or the priesthood. God reminds Aaron that while the Levites are his relatives and are to work for the priesthood, only Aaron and his sons may perform any of the duties in the tabernacle itself. The Levites are work under Aaron's charge, and to work in the service of the tabernacle, but God tells Aaron that they are not to go near any of the items within the sanctuary of the tabernacle, nor the altar, or God will kill both Aaron and the offending Levite.

God tells Aaron that the Levites are there to assist him, and that a non-Levite is never to perform these tasks. God further explains to Aaron that it is his duty to care for the sanctuary in the tabernacle and the altar, so that this will somehow prevent God from having to bestow wrath upon the people of Israel.

God tells Aaron that he has separated the Levites from amongst the people of Israel, and given them to Aaron as a "gift" to assist him, and that the duties of the priesthood are a "gift" to Aaron and his sons, so therefore anyone else that attempts to perform these duties is to be put to death.

God now tells Aaron that because he and his sons in the priesthood have been given the responsibility to give "holy" sacrifices to God on behalf of the people of Israel, only Aaron and his sons are to receive the food items offered - by permanent law. The only exception being sacrifices burnt upon the altar, that the males of Aaron's family are to eat these sacrifices in a "holy" place. All other sacrifices can be enjoyed by Aaron's family - sons and daughters alike, as long as they are ceremonially "clean".

God states that the best of the olive oil, wine, wheat, and the first fruits offered by the people to God, are given to Aaron and his sons, and all of the first crops brought before God shall be eaten by all ceremonially "clean" persons in Aaron's household.

Everything that is dedicated to God shall also belong to Aaron and his sons, including the firstborn amongst men and animals. The firstborn men, along with all "unclean" animals must be redeemed with a monetary value of five shekels (which is noted to be worth twenty gerahs). They are to be "redeemed" when the child is one month old.

The firstborn of cows, sheep, and goats however must never be redeemed with money, as they are deemed "holy" and therefore must be sacrificed upon the altar - sprinkling their blood upon it, and burning their fat upon it, for a "sweet savor" to God. The animals meat shall belong to Aaron, including the breast and right shoulder used in the "wave offering".

All of the "heave offerings" which the people of Israel offer to God, are to be given to Aaron and his family by permanent law, as a "covenant of salt" between God and the descendants of Aaron.

God tells Aaron that priests are not to own land or benefit any other way from the people of Israel, as God will provide them with all that they need. The Levites will be paid for their work in the tabernacle by instituting a tithe upon the people of Israel.

However, no-one aside from the people of the tribe of Levi may enter the tabernacle, lest they bear "sin", and are to be killed. The Levites must do their service, or they too will bear their "sin" (and presumably be killed) - this is a permanent law to be upheld throughout the generations. The tithes of the people of Israel, which they offer as "heave offerings", are to be given to the Levites and therefore they shall not have any other income or inheritance.

God then speaks to Moses telling him to speak to the Levites, to tell them that when they receive their tithes from the people of Israel, they in turn will have to pay 10% of that tithe to God as their "heave offering". This 10% of their tithes shall be considered just as valid as if they were offering up the first of their crops like the rest of the people of Israel do. This "tithe of the tithes" must be the choicest part of tithes, which is to given to Aaron the priest. By giving the best portion of the tithes to Aaron and his sons, God reasons that this will absolve their guilt for accepting God's tithes in the first place.

The spoils of the tithes may be eaten anywhere the Levites wish as it is their payment for serving in the tabernacle, however, the tithes are not to be forgotten or taken for granted that God considers the tithes "holy", or else he'll kill you.
Thoughts:God for a change, speaks to Aaron directly instead of through Moses, at the beginning of this chapter and reminds him that he needs to be careful of his treatment of both the tabernacle and the priesthood in general - which basically boils down to God saying "if you follow all of my rules down to a tee, I won't have to kill you". He further expands upon this point saying that he's responsible for any of his Levite helpers breaking a rule too, in which God will kill them both.

It boils down like this:
  • We have the common folks (603,550 of them, give or take depending on how many God winds up killing through plagues, stonings, and immolation - after Numbers: Chapter 16 this would drop our number down to around 588,600) who aren't allowed in the tabernacle at all, and will be killed for simply entering or touching it.
  • Next we have the tribe of Levi (about 22,300 of them give or take from plagues, immolations, and stonings) who are allowed to work in the tabernacle (mostly to transport and move the tent around to and from each campsite) but aren't allowed in the "sanctuary" containing the ark of the covenant, nor can they touch any of the "holy" items in the tent.
  • Finally we have the last subdivision of Aaron's lineage (that consists currently in our story with four people: Aaron, his son Eleazar, his son Ithamar, and his brother Moses) that can touch anything and enter the tabernacle, but they have to use everything properly and have to babysit anyone else to prevent them from doing anything improper that God doesn't like, or they'll be put to death.
Basically, under 4% of the population have a much higher social status in God's view. Of those 4% only 4 people are allowed the highest security clearance - but they're also to babysit everyone else at the risk of their own lives.

God's forcing these people to perform these tasks he's assigned them as he claims that somehow this will prevent his wrath from destroying everyone. He tells Aaron that by forcing the Levites into doing these chores, he has given the Levites to Aaron as a "gift", and that he should also look at his priestly duties as a "gift" as well. It's rather difficult for me to view either as being "gifts" when they come with the risk of fatal punishment for acts of disobedience that could be committed by any one of over 22,000 people with only four people being able to supervise them. God also reminds Aaron that if a non-Levite attempts to perform any tasks in the tabernacle, they're to be put to death.

God now reminds Aaron that him and his sons are free to share the spoils of all of the "animal sacrifices", as well as grain and drink sacrifices, with the rest of their households (providing that they're all ceremonially "clean") - except for anything sacrificed by fire. In the case of fire sacrifices, only the men in Aaron's family are allowed to eat these, and must do so in a "holy" place. The fine olive oil, wine, wheat, grains, and first fruits however, are okay to be eaten by all the ceremonially "clean" members of Aaron's household.

Everything that is dedicated to God shall belong to Aaron and his sons, which includes the firstborn among man and animals. However, the first born men (along with all "unclean" animals) must be redeemed with a monetary value of five shekels, which has to be paid when the child is one month old.

It isn't stated however what happens if this five shekel "firstborn tax" isn't paid to the priests. While I'd like to believe that the priests wouldn't put a one month old child to death for not being "redeemed", I could also say that I'd like to believe that people wouldn't be put to death for gathering up sticks on a Saturday.

The firstborn of cows, sheep, and goats however, are never to be redeemed with money as God considers them "holy". Apparently the best thing to do with "holy" animals is to slaughter them and set their carcasses on fire upon the "holy" altar, so that God can enjoy their "sweet savor". The animal meat of course, can be enjoyed by Aaron and his priestly sons.

All of these "heave offerings" will belong to Aaron and his family, and is a permanent law to be observed from generation to generation.

God continues on and states that the priests are not to own or inherit land, nor are they to earn any other income outside of the priesthood, as God takes care of all of their need. The Levites are to be paid for their work by instituting a tax (a tithe) upon the people of Israel.

God again reminds Aaron that no-one aside from the Levites may enter the tabernacle, lest they be killed for this "sin". All Levites appointed for work in the tabernacle must do their job, or they too will bear their "sin" (and presumably be killed as well).

Back to the tithes, God states that because of these tithes, the Levites also are not to have any other form of income or own land either.

God now addresses Moses, telling him about the tithes. He tells Moses that the Levites will have to pay a 10% tax on the tithes that they receive from everyone else, to pay to the priests.

Now let's do some math here, even though the tithes in question weren't necessarily all monetary taxes. For the sake of this example, let's put a monetary value of $5 to symbolize a value on the tithes. Every Israeli aside from the tribe of Levi must pay this $5 tax, and there's at least 588,600 (due to recent plagues and immolation in our story). That is almost $3 million collected - $2,943,000 - of which 90% - $2,648,700 - of that goes into the pockets of the Levites. There are approximately (it's not clear how many of those killed in the rebellion belonged to the Levite tribe) 22,000 Levites. Each Levite would receive roughly $120.40 from the tithes. The remaining 10% from the tithes would amount to $294,300 to be split amongst the priests, which at this point in our story at most is four people (Aaron, Eleazar, Ithamar, and perhaps Moses) who would each collect a cool $73,575(!)

Think about this - Aaron and his sons already have a wealth of food from everyone's animal sacrifices, which are all mandatory for everything from minor "sins", to being taxed for your first crops and firstborn children and livestock. Now on top of this, they collect a $73,575 salary while their employees (the Levites) get paid $120 each, and aren't allowed to pursue another form of income, nor do they get the spoils of eating any of the animal meat from all of these mandatory animal sacrifices. This is a really imbalanced system where the elite (the priests) benefit by ridiculous margins above the worker class (the Levites).

Anyways, God likens the 10% that the Levites must give up from the tithes that they're paid, as being as valid as if they were paying a tithe themselves. God adds in the stipulation that the 10% tithe that the Levites have to pay to the priests, has to be the choicest part of the tithes. For example, when the Israelites pay their first crop tax by donating the best of their first harvest to the church, the Levites then have to give the priests the best 10% of whatever has been collected. God reasons that by the Levites giving the best 10% to the priests, this will absolve them from the guilt of benefiting from the tithes in the first place.

While God will allow the spoils of the tithes to be eaten anywhere the Levites wish, he also notes that the tithes are not to be taken for granted or viewed lightly, as God considers them "holy", and he'll kill you for not revering them properly.

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