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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Numbers 18

Numbers 18:1-7, 22, 23

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

1. Et dixit Jehova ad Aharon, Tu et filii tui, et domus patris tui tecum, portabitis iniquitatem sanctuarii: tu quoque et alii tui tecum portabitis iniquitatem sacerdotii vestri.

2. And thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee: but thou and thy sons with thee shall minister before the tabernacle of witness.

2. Et etiam fratres tuos, tribum Levi, tribum patris tui, accedere fac ad te, et adhaereant tibi, ministrentque tibi: tu autem et filii tui tecum stabitis coram tabernaculo testimonii.

3. And they shall keep thy charge, and the charge of all the tabernacle: only they shall not come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor ye also, die.

3. Et custodient custodiam tuam, et custodiam totius tabernaculi: veruntamen ad vasa sanctitatis, et ad altare non accedent, ne moriantur tam ipsi quinn vos.

4. And they shall be joined unto thee, and keep the charge of the tabernacle of the congregation, for all the service of the tabernacle: and a stranger shall not crone nigh unto you.

4. Et adhaerebunt tibi, et custodient custodiam tabernaculi conventionis ad omnem cultum tabernaculi: externus autem non accedet ad vos.

5. And ye shall keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar: that there be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel.

5. Custodietis igitur custodiam sanctuarii, ne sit posthac indignatio contra filios Israel.

6. And I, behold, I have taken your brethren 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.

6. Ego enim ecce, sumpsi fratres vestros Levitas e medio filiorum Israel vobis donum datos, Jehovae ut ministrent in cultu tabernaculi conventionis.

7. Therefore thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest’s office for every thing of the altar, and within the vail; and ye shall serve: I have given your priest’s office unto you as a service of gift: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

7. Tu autem et filii tui tecum custodietis sacerdotium vestrum in omni ratione altaris, et intra velum exequemini ministerium: munus dedi sacerdotii vobis, itaque extraneus qui acceder morietur.

22. Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come nigh the tabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin, and die.

22. Neque accedent posthac filii Israel ad tabernaculum conventionis, ut portent iniquitatem ad moriendum.

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 for ever throughout your generations, ...

23. Sed ipsi Levitse facient opus; tabernaculi conventionis, et ipsi portabunt iniquitatem suam statuto perpetuo per generationes vestras.


1 And the Lord said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons. By this solemn appeal God stirs up the priests to devote themselves to their duty with the greatest fidelity and zeal, for He declares that if anything should be done contrary to the requirements of religion, they should be accounted guilty of it, since those are said to “bear the iniquity of the sanctuary” who sustain the crime and the punishment of all its pollutions. God would have the sanctuary kept clear from every stain and defect; and also the dignity of the priesthood was to be maintained in chastity and pureness; a heavy burden, therefore, was imposed upon the priests when they were set over the holy things as their guardians, on this condition that if anything were done amiss they were to be exposed to punishment, because the blame rested on them; just as if God had said that negligence alone was tantamount to sacrilege. Thus their honor, conjoined as it was with so much difficulty and danger, was by no means to be envied.

In this way did God admonish them that the legal rites were of no trifling importance, since he so severely avenged all profanations of them; for thus it was easily to be gathered that something far more excellent and altogether divine was to be sought for in these earthly elements. This may also be very properly applied spiritually to all pastors, to whom blame is justly imputed, if religion and the holiness of God’s worship be corrupted, if purity of doctrine impaired, if the welfare of the people endangered, since the care of all these things is entrusted to them.

2. And thy brethren also. He here assigns their duties to the Levites, that they also may minister, but, as it were, under the hand of the priests, viz., that they may be ruled by their commands. Thus the authority was in the hands of the priests, but the Levites afforded them their assistance. On this ground they are prohibited from approaching the altar, or entering the greater sanctuary; in fact, a lower degree is assigned to them, half-way between the priests and the people. Hence did all learn how reverently God’s majesty must be served; for although He had adopted the whole people, yet so far was it from being lawful that any of the multitude should penetrate to the altar, that the Law even kept back the Levites from thence, although they were God’s peculiar ministers. Moreover, in this figure, we perceive how necessary is a Mediator for us to conciliate God’s favor towards us; for, if it was not allowable for the holy and chosen seed of Abraham to approach the typical sanctuary, how should we, who were aliens,  200 now penetrate to heaven, unless a way of access were opened to us through Christ? Finally, when He forbids strangers from meddling with holy things, He does not mean only foreigners, but all the people, except the tribe of Levi; for here a distinction is drawn, not between the Church and heathen nations, but between the ministers of the sanctuary and the rest of the people.

5. And ye shall keep the charge. He again exhorts the priests to be diligent in the performance of their office, with the addition of a denunciation of punishment if they failed in zeal and earnestness. Nor does He now threaten them alone, but the whole people; neither does this contradict the foregoing declaration, inasmuch as the common fault of all by no means lightened theirs. Nay, if God punished the innocent people on account of the pollution of the sanctuary, how much heavier a punishment awaited the priests, (antistites,) by whose fault the sin was committed, so that they might be justly accounted its authors. Meanwhile let us learn from this passage how sincerely we ought to demean ourselves in the service of God, the profanation of which is intolerable to Him. Moreover, in order that the priests might engage themselves in their duties more actively, and with greater sedulity, He shews that they cannot give way to idleness without base ingratitude, since they reign in a manner over the whole tribe of Levi, or at any rate they hold the supremacy among their brethren. An indirect reproof of their negligence, if they do not faithfully fulfill their duties, is implied, when God reminds them that He has of His liberality honored them with the priesthood. “I have appointed your office, as a gift,”  201 i.e., I have gratuitously conferred on you what was otherwise yours by no right. Others read it differently, viz., “I have appointed your priesthood as a ministration of gift:” but since the meaning amounts to the same thing, nor does it make any difference in the main, we may freely take our choice.

22. Neither must the children of Israel. He again inculcates what he had before said, that the Levites were chosen to attend to the sacred things; since God would not admit all the people promiscuously, as before the giving of the Law, when others also offered the sacrifices. But, nevertheless, He strongly charges them that they should be attentive to the performance of their duties, since, if any of them should offend, their crime would be fatal; for so we must understand His words, “they shall bear their iniquity  202 to die:” just as in the next verse He says that they shall be guilty of all the pollutions, for, if the service of God should be defiled by inadvertency, the crime shall be imputed to them.



Qui estions estrangers, et rejettez au pris d’eux.” — Fr.


Donum posui munus vestrum.” — Lat. “I have given your office unto you as a service of gift.” — A. V. The latter part of the sentence is omitted in Fr.


See margin, A. V. He paraphrases the words of verse 23.

Next: Numbers 4:4-20,24-28,31-33