Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Deuteronomy 18:1 - 18:1

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Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Deuteronomy 18:1 - 18:1


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In addition to the judicial order and the future king, it was necessary that the position of the priests and Levites, whose duties and rights had been regulated by previous laws, should at least be mentioned briefly and finally established (Deu 18:1-8), and also that the prophetic order should be fully accredited by the side of the other state authorities, and its operations regulated by a definite law (Deu 18:9-22).

Deu 18:1-2

The Rights of the Priests and Levites. - With reference to these, Moses repeats verbatim from Num 18:20, Num 18:23-24, the essential part of the rule laid down in Num 18: “The priests the Levites, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel.” “All the tribe of Levi” includes the priests and Levites. They were to eat the “firings of Jehovah and His inheritance,” as described in detail in Num 18. The inheritance of Jehovah consisted of the holy gifts as well as the sacrifices, i.e., the tithes, firstlings, and first-fruits. Moses felt it to be superfluous to enumerate these gifts one by one from the previous laws, and also to describe the mode of their application, or define how much belonged to the priests and how much to the Levites. However true it may be that the author assigns all these gifts to the Levites generally, the conclusion drawn from this, viz., that he was not acquainted with any distinction between priests and Levites, but placed the Levites entirely on a par with the priests, is quite a false one. For, apart from the evident distinction between the priests and Levites in Deu 18:1, where there would be no meaning in the clause, “all the tribe of Levi,” if the Levites were identical with the priests, the distinction is recognised and asserted as clearly as possible in what follows, when a portion of the slain-offerings is allotted to the priests in Deu 18:3-5, whilst in Deu 18:6-8 the Levite is allowed to join in eating the altar gifts, if he come to the place of the sanctuary and perform service there. The repetition in Deu 18:2 is an emphatic confirmation: “As He hath said unto them:” as in Deu 10:9.

Deu 18:3-5

“This shall be the right of the priests on the part of the people, on the part of those who slaughter slain-offerings, whether ox or sheep; he (the offerer) shall give the priest the shoulder, the cheek, and the stomach.” הַזְּרֹעַ, the shoulder, i.e., the front leg; see Num 6:19. הַקֵּבָה, the rough stomach, τὸ ἤνιστρον (lxx), i.e., the fourth stomach of ruminant animals, in which the digestion of the food is completed; Lat. omasus or abomasus, though the Vulgate has ventriculus here. On the choice of these three pieces in particular, Münster and Fagius observe that “the sheep possesses three principal parts, the head, the feet, and the trunk; and of each of these some portion was to be given to the priest who officiated” “Of each of these three principal parts of the animal,” says Schultz, “some valuable piece was to be presented: the shoulder at least, and the stomach, which was regarded as particularly fat, are seen at once to have been especially good.” That this arrangement is not at variance with the command in Lev 7:32., to give the wave-breast and heave-leg of the peace-offerings to the Lord for the priests, but simply enjoins a further gift to the priests on the part of the people, in addition to those portions which were to be given to the Lord for His servants, is sufficiently evident from the context, since the heave-leg and wave-breast belonged to the firings of Jehovah mentioned in Deu 18:1, which the priests had received as an inheritance from the Lord, that is to say, to the tenuphoth of the children of Israel, which the priests might eat with their sons and daughters, though only with such members of their house as were levitically clean (Num 18:11); and also from the words of the present command, viz., that the portions mentioned were to be a right of the priests on the part of the people, on the part of those who slaughtered slain-offerings, i.e., to be paid to the priest as a right that was due to him on the part of the people. מִשְׁפָּט was what the priest could justly claim. This right was probably accorded to the priests as a compensation for the falling off which would take place in their incomes in consequence of the repeal of the law that every animal was to be slaughtered at the sanctuary as a sacrifice (Lev 17; vid., Deu 12:15.).

The only thing that admits of dispute is, whether this gift was to be presented from every animal that was slaughtered at home for private use, or only from those which were slaughtered for sacrificial meals, and therefore at the place of the sanctuary. Against the former view, for which appeal is made to Philo, Josephus (Ant. iv. 4, 4), and the Talmud, we may adduce not only “the difficulty of carrying out such a plan” (was every Israelite who slaughtered an ox, a sheep, or a goat to carry the pieces mentioned to the priests' town, which might be many miles away, or were the priests to appoint persons to collect them?), but the general use of the words זֶבַח זָבַח. The noun זֶבַח always signifies either slaughtering for a sacrificial meal or a slain sacrifice, and the verb זָבַח is never applied to ordinary slaughtering (for which שָׁחַט is the verb used), except in Deu 12:15 and Deu 12:21 in connection with the repeal of the law that every slaughtering was to be a שְׁלָמִים זֶבַח (Lev 17:5); and there the use of the word זָבַח, instead of שָׁחַט, may be accounted for from the allusion to this particular law. At the same time, the Jewish tradition is probably right, when it understands by the הַזֶּבַח זֹבְחֵי in this verse, κατ' ïé̓͂êïí èṍåéí åõ̓ù÷é́áò å̔́íåêá (Josephus), or ἔξω τοῦ βωμοῦ θυομένοις ἕνεκα κρεωφαγίας (Philo), or, as in the Mishnah Chol. (x. 1), refers the gift prescribed in this passage to the חולין, profana, and not to the מוקדשׁרן, consecrata, that is to say, places it in the same category with the first-fruits, the tithe of tithes, and other less holy gifts, which might be consumed outside the court of the temple and the holy city (compare Reland, Antiqq. ss. P. ii. c. 4, §11, with P. ii. c. 8, §10). In all probability, the reference is to the slaughtering of oxen, sheep, or goats which were not intended for shelamim in the more limited sense, i.e., for one of the three species of peace-offerings (Lev 7:15-16), but for festal meals in the broader sense, which were held in connection with the sacrificial meals prepared from the shelamim. For it is evident that the meals held by the people at the annual feasts when they had to appear before the Lord were not all shelamim meals, but that other festal meals were held in connection with these, in which the priests and Levites were to share, from the laws laid down with reference to the so-called second tithe, which could not only be turned into money by those who lived at a great distance from the sanctuary, such money to be applied to the purchase of the things required for the sacrificial meals at the place of the sanctuary, but which might also be appropriated every third year to the preparation of love-feasts for the poor in the different towns of the land (Deu 14:22-29). For in this case the animals were not slaughtered or sacrificed as shelamim, at all events not in the latter instance, because the slaughtering did not take place at the sanctuary. If therefore we restrict the gift prescribed here to the slaughtering of oxen and sheep or goats for such sacrificial meals in the wider sense, not only are the difficulties connected with the execution of this command removed, but also the objection, which arises out of the general use of the expression זֶבַח זָבַח, to the application of this expression to every slaughtering that took place for domestic use. And beside this, the passage in 1Sa 2:13-16, to which Calvin calls attention, furnishes a historical proof that the priests could claim a portion of the flesh of the slain-offerings in addition to the heave-leg and wave-breast, since it is there charged as a sin on the part of the sons of Eli, not only that they took out of the cauldrons as much of the flesh which was boiling as they could take up with three-pronged forks, but that before the fat was burned upon the altar they asked for the pieces which belonged to the priest, to be given to them not cooked, but raw. From this Michaelis has drawn the correct conclusion, that even at that time the priests had a right to claim that, in addition to the portions of the sacrifices appointed by Moses in Lev 7:34, a further portion of the thank-offerings should be given to them; though he does not regard the passage as referring to the law before us, since he supposes this to relate to every slaughtered animal which was not placed upon the altar.

Deu 18:4

In Deu 18:4, Moses repeats the law concerning the first-fruits in Num 18:12-13 (cf. Exo 22:28), for the purpose of extending it to the first produce of the sheep-shearing.

Deu 18:5

The reason for the right accorded to the priests was the choice of them for the office of standing “to minister in the name of Jehovah,” sc., for all the tribes “In the name of Jehovah,” not merely by the appointment, but also in the power of the Lord, as mediators of His grace. The words “he and his sons” point back quite to the Mosaic times, in which Aaron and his sons held the priest's office.

Deu 18:6

As the priests were to be remembered for their service on the part of the people (Deu 18:3-5), so the Levite also, who came from one of the towns of the land with all the desire of his soul to the place of the sanctuary, to minister there in the name of the Lord, was to eat a similar portion to all his Levitical brethren who stood there in service before the Lord. The verb גּוּר (sojourned) does not presuppose that the Levites were houseless, but simply that they had no hereditary possession in the land as the other tribes had, and merely lived like sojourners among the Israelites in the towns which were given up to them by the other tribes (see at Deu 12:12). “All his brethren the Levites” are the priests and those Levites who officiated at the sanctuary as assistants to the priests. It is assumed, therefore, that only a part of the Levites were engaged at the sanctuary, and the others lived in their towns. The apodosis follows in Deu 18:8, “part like part shall they eat,” sc., the new-comer and those already there. The former was to have the same share to eat as the latter, and to be maintained from the revenues of the sanctuary. These revenues are supposed to be already apportioned by the previous laws, so that they by no means abolish the distinction between priests and Levites. We are not to think of those portions of the sacrifices and first-fruits only which fell to the lot of the priests, nor of the tithe alone, or of the property which flowed into the sanctuary through vows or free-will offerings, or in any other way, and was kept in the treasury and storehouse, but of tithes, sacrificial portions, and free-will offerings generally, which were not set apart exclusively for the priests. וגו מִמְכָּרָיו לְבַד, “beside his sold with the fathers,” i.e., independently of what he receives from the sale of his patrimony. מִמְכָּר, the sale, then the thing sold, and the price or produce of what is sold, like מֶכֶר in Num 20:19. לְבַד is unusual without מִן, and Knobel would read מִמְּכָרָיו, from מְכָרָיו and מִן, in consequence. הָאָבֹות עַל stands for בֵּית־אָבֹות עַל (see at Exo 6:25; κατὰ τὴν πατρίαν, lxx), according to or with the fathers' houses, i.e., the produce of the property which he possesses according to his family descent, or which is with his kindred. Whether עַל in this passage signifies “according to the measure of,” or “with,” in the sense of keeping or administering, cannot be decided. As the law in Lev 25:33-34, simply forbids the sale of the pasture grounds belonging to the Levites, but permits the sale of their houses, a Levite who went to the sanctuary might either let his property in the Levitical town, and draw the yearly rent, or sell the house which belonged to him there. In any case, these words furnish a convincing proof that there is no foundation for the assertion that the book of Deuteronomy assumes or affirms that the Levites were absolutely without possessions.