Numbers 18: The Obscure Statute/Ordinance of Tithing

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 4 –  Numbers 18: The Obscure Statute/Ordinance of Tithing

When Genesis 14 is removed as a candidate to support biblical tithing, then the only other biblical alternative is the Mosaic Law. Therefore, tithing must fall under one of three categories of the law. Tithing must either be part of the commandments, part of the ordinances, or part of the judgments. The “commandments” expressed the righteous will of God (Exod. 20:1-26); the “judgments”governed the social life of Israel (Exod. 21:1 to 24:11); and the “ordinances” governed the religious life of Israel (Exod. 24:12 to 31:18). These three elements formed the ‘law,’ as the phrase is generically used in the New Testament. It is clear that tithing fell into the category or “ordinances.”

Numbers 18 is the exact legislative wording of the ordinance which includes tithing. Just as any person studying the history of any subject should begin at its origin, even so any legitimate study of tithing should logically begin with the precise wording of the ordinance itself. Unfortunately, however, very few Christians can open their Bibles to the exact place of the tithing ordinance — Numbers 18! Since this chapter will be referred to often in this book, it is necessary for tithe students to be very familiar with it.

An important seminary textbook on understanding biblical principles says, “The main burden of doctrinal teaching must rest on the chair passages.” . . . “These passages [seats of doctrine] which we may call chair passages, can well function as boundary setters for interpreters as they seek guidance about the correct interpretation of texts that are textually or topically parallel. These chair passages contain the largest amount of material in one place on the respective doctrines. In a sense they represent a self-policing function of Scripture, one particularly important for Protestants who have typically rejected external limitations (e.g., by the church or by tradition) on their interpretations of the Bible.”

As you very carefully read Numbers 18, pay special attention to the words which I have placed in italics because they all play important roles in this book.

Num 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.

The priesthood of the firstborn, or the male head of each detached family, active since the time of Adam, has been abolished among the Israelites. No longer can individual Israelites build altars and sacrifice directly to God as did all of the fathers of Israel.

18:2 And your brothers also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, bring with you, that they may be joined to you, and minister to you; but you and your sons with you shall minister before the tabernacle of witness.

The tribe of Levi has been separated from the other tribes. And the house of Aaron within the tribe of Levi has been further separated to serve as priests. Although separated, the other Levites will not be priests, but will only assist the priests.

18:3 And they shall tend to your needs and all the needs of the tabernacle; only they shall not come near the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor you also, die.

Again, the non-priestly Levites are only assistants to the priests. If they Levites enter into the Holy Place or Most Holy Place, they will be put to death along with the priests who allowed them to enter.

18:4 And they shall be joined to you, and attend to the needs of the tabernacle of the congregation, for all the service of the tabernacle; and a stranger shall not come near to you.

18:5 And you shall attend to the needs of the sanctuary, and the needs of the altar; that there may be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel.

18:6 And I, behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the children of Israel; to you they are given as a gift for the LORD, to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.

18:7 Therefore, you and your sons with you shall keep your priest’s office for every thing of the altar, and within the veil; and you shall serve: I have given your priest’s office to you as a gift for service; and the stranger that comes near shall be put to death.

The death decree is repeated a second time to remind all that only priests can “come near” into the presence of God for direct worship.

18:8 And the LORD spoke to Aaron, Behold, I also have given you the charge of my heave offerings of all the holy things of the children of Israel; to you have I given them by reason of the anointing, and to your sons, by an ordinance [statute] forever.

This chapter (not Leviticus 27 or Malachi 3) IS the important foundational ordinance, or statute, which defines how the priests and Levites will be supported by Israel under the Old Covenant. The word is used often in this chapter.

18:9 This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every oblation of theirs, every grain offering of theirs, and every sin offering of theirs, and every trespass offering of theirs, which they shall render to me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons.

18:10 In the most holy place shall you eat it; every male shall eat it; it shall be holy to you.

Only the priests (not the Levites) are allowed to partake of the sacrificial offerings. They must be EATEN within the Holy Place of the Sanctuary/Temple and cannot be taken home for the rest of their families.18:11 And this is yours: the heave offering of their gift, with all the wave offerings of the children of Israel; I have given them to you, and to your sons and to your daughters with you, by a statute [ordinance] forever; every one that is clean in your house shall eat of it.

18:12 All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer to the LORD, them have I given you.

18:13 And whatsoever is first ripe in the land, which they shall bring to the LORD, shall be yours; every one that is clean in your house shall eat of it.

18:14 Every thing devoted in Israel shall be yours.

18:15 Every thing that opens the matrix in all flesh, which they bring to the LORD, whether it is of men or beasts, shall be yours; nevertheless, the firstborn of man shall you surely redeem, and the first offspring of unclean beasts shall you redeem.

18:16 And those who are to be redeemed from a month old shall you redeem, according to your estimation, for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs.

18:17 But the first offspring of a cow, or the first offspring of a sheep, or the first offspring of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy; you shall sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shall burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savor to the LORD.

18:18 And the flesh of them shall be yours, as the wave breast and as the right shoulder are yours.

18:19 All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer to the LORD, I have given you, and your sons and your daughters with you, by a statute [ordinance] forever; it is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD to you and to your seed with you.

Food and Income of the Priests from These Texts:

1. Specified portions of sacrificial offerings of animals and food (v. 11).

2. Firstfruits of oil, wine, and grain (v. 12-13).

3. All vow offerings, money and otherwise (v. 14).

4. Firstborn animals (v. 15).

5. Redemption money from firstborn of man and unclean animals (v. 15-17).

6. Animal skins of sacrificed animals (v. 18).

7. Only a tenth of the tithe (v. 25, 26)

18:20 And the LORD spoke to Aaron, You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any part among them; I am your part and your inheritance among the children of Israel.

RESTRICTION: In exchange for their service to God, the priests were not allowed to own and inherit land in Israel. According to Joshua 21:9-19, they were supposed to live in 13 priestly cities around (but not in) Jerusalem. Although they occupied these lands, they remained the possession of the tribes.

18:21 And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.

18:22 Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come near the tabernacle of the congregation, unless they bear sin, and die.

18:23 But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute [ordinance] forever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance.

18:24 But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit; therefore I have said to them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.

Income of the Levites Who Assisted the Priests:

1. The whole tithe (of which they gave 1/10th to the priests) (v. 21)

2. Selling sacrificial animals in the Temple market (later)

3. Money-changing profits in the Temple (later)

RESTRICTIONS: Although they received the whole first tithe, the Levites were NOT the ministers of Israel, nor could they inherit or own land in Israel (v. 24)

18:25 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

18:26 Thus speak to the Levites, and say to them, When you take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given to you from them for your inheritance; then you shall offer up a heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.

18:27 And this, your heave offering, shall be reckoned to you, as though it were the grain of the threshing-floor, and as the fulness of the wine-press.

18:28 Thus you also shall offer a heave offering to the LORD of all your tithes, which you receive of the children of Israel; and you shall give thereof the LORD’s heave offering to Aaron the priest.




Surprising and shocking to many, the most important preachers, or ministers, in the Old Covenant did NOT receive the tithes. They only received one tenth of the tithe from their Levite servants. Also, the Temple shekel and freewill offerings covered the expenses of building and maintaining the Temple and purchasing the animals for the nation’s sacrifices. [If the (sometimes thousands of) sacrificial animals were purchased from the Levites and, later, Pharisees, then a lot of money indeed would be involved.]

18:29 Out of all your gifts you shall offer every heave offering of the LORD, of all the best thereof, even the sanctified part thereof out of it.

18:30 Therefore you shall say to them, When you have heaved the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted to the Levites as the increase of the threshingfloor, and as the increase of the wine-press.

18:31 And you shall eat it in every place, you and your households; for it is your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation.

18:32 And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have heaved from it the best of it; neither shall you pollute the holy things of the children of Israel, unless you die.

The Levites were to treat the tithes they received as if they were from their own farmland and gave a tenth of these to the priests. The priests did not tithe. Whereas the priests must eat a large portion of the food they received in the Holy Place of the Temple, the Levites could eat all of their tithes anyplace they desired.

The myth exists that tithes were always the BEST. This is not a biblical truth! Actually, the food tithe given to the Levites was the TENTH, and not necessarily the best; also, the animal tithes given to the Levites was EVERY TENTH, not the best (Lev. 27:32-33). However, when the Levites gave their tenth of the tithe to the priests, only that portion was to be the BEST.


Tithing was an ordinance (statute) at the very heart of the Mosaic Law and Numbers 18 is the exact wording of that ordinance.

One: Only national Israel was commanded to pay tithes. Almost every verse in the chapter makes reference to national Israel and her children under special covenant terms. This ordinance was never expanded outside of those Old Covenant terms of national Israel to the church.

Two: Only the Aaronic priests among the Levites could “come near,” or “draw near,” to offer at the altar, enter the holy places, and touch the vessels and furnishings inside the sanctuary (vv. 1, 2b, 4, 7). Direct worship of God was only performed “by proxy” through the priests. There was no priesthood of believers; the priesthood of the head of the family had been set aside in the Old Covenant; and even most Levites could not directly worship God. The reason for emphasizing the “come near” passages will become clear in a later chapters of this book concerning how the doctrine of the priesthood of believers affects tithing. Also, see the very important discussion at Hebrews 7:19.

Three: Levites, who received the whole first tithe, merely performed servant duties for the priests. Even they would die if they “came near” to God (vv. 2a, 3, 4, 6). See point 6.

Four: Neither priests nor Levites could own or inherit property (vv. 20, 23, 24, 26). Tithes replaced all property inheritance rights. This key part of Old Covenant tithing is discussed in a separate chapter in this book.

Five: Although they did not receive the whole tithe, priests were given heave offerings, firstfruits of the land, the firstborn of clean animals, vow offerings, and redemption money for the firstborn of men and unclean animals (vv. 8-19) (Neh. 10:35-37b). Any extension of tithes and offerings should include these also.

Six: Only Levites received tithes, not the priests (vv. 21-24). The tithe was paid to them for their servant duties towards the “anointed” priests. Levites did NOT perform the actual worship ritual. This aspect has also been largely forgotten today in attempts to re-word tithing for Christians.

Seven: In Numbers 18, the priests, descendants of Aaron, those who actually performed the sacrificial ritual, did NOT receive tithes! They only received 1/10th of the 1/10th that was given to the Levites for all other forms of service (vv. 25-32) (Neh. 10:38). Therefore, priests received only one percent (1%), or a “tithe of the tithe” (v. 26). This aspect has also been largely ignored without valid biblical principles.

Eight: Tithes only consisted of food and were eaten (v. 31). See the full discussion in chapter one on the definition of “tithe.” This is yet another unauthorized change of God’s Word in order to convert Old Covenant Law into something God never intended.

Nine: Since the priests’ share was always brought to the STOREHOUSE, God commanded the male priests to EAT it inside the holy places of the storehouse (18:10). However, since the Levites’ tithe was NEVER brought to the STOREHOUSE, God allowed them to EAT it “in every place, you and your households” (18:31). This agrees with Nehemiah 10:37b which commanded Israel to bring the tithe to the Levitical cities, and not to the temple storehouse in Jerusalem. Therefore, Malachi 3:10 only refers to the “tenth of the tithe” which was the portion brought FROM the Levitical cities INTO the storehouse.

Ten: These instructions are clearly in the context of the Old Covenant “statutes” or “ordinances.” Tithing was neither among the moral “commandments” nor among the civil “judgments” of the Law. The term, ordinance/statute, is used four times in this chapter alone (vv. 8, 11, 19, 23). This is also the context of Malachi 3:7 and 4:4 which is often ignored.

Eleven: This foundational chapter must be thoroughly studied by any serious Bible student interested in the subject of tithing.

Twelve: Having studied Numbers 18, it is quite difficult to understand why Eklund would say, “In spite of all that Jesus accomplished on our behalf he did not revoke God’s ownership of the tithe. The Old Covenant practice of tithing was not a part of the legal system.” In reality, tithing was the very “heart” of the cultic ceremonial worship system! Tithing replaced the former system of the family priesthood and was foundational in making provision for the very existence of the Levitical priesthood in order that the religious, ceremonial, and cultic provisions of the law would be enforced (Numbers 3:6-13; 18:1,2).