Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Num. 18:20, 21, 23, 24
20. And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.
20. Dixit autem Jehova ad Aharon, De terra eorum haereditatem non habebis, nec portio erit tibi in medio eorum: ego portio tua, et haereditas tua in medio filiorum Israel.
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.
21. Filiis autem Levi ecce dedi omnes decimas in Israele in haereditatem pro ministerio eorum quia ipsi exequuntur ministerium tabernaculi conventionis.
23. ... that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance.
23. Et in medio filiorum Israel non possidebunt haereditatem.
24. But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.
24. Decimas enim filiorum Israel quas offerent jehovae in elevationem, dedi Levitis in haereditatem: idcirco dixi de illis, In medio filiorum Israel non possidebunt haereditatem.
19. Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth.
19. Cave autem tibi ne derelinquas Levitam omnibus diebus tuis super terrain tuam.
20 And the Lord spake unto Aaron. This passage only refers in general to the payment of those tithes which were common to all the Levites. We shall soon afterwards see that the Levites, by God’s command, paid other tithes to the priest; and a third sort will be added, which were only offered every third year. As to the present passage, God requires tithes of the people for the maintenance of the tribe of Levi. It is indeed certain that the custom had existed of old among the ancient patriarchs before the Law, that they should vow or offer tithes to God, as appears from the example of Abraham and Jacob. Moreover, the Apostle infers that the priesthood of Melchisedec was superior to that of the Law, because, when Abraham paid him tithes, he also received tithes of Levi himself. (Ge 14:20; Ge 28:22; Heb 7:11.) But there were two different and special reasons for this payment of tithes, which God ordained by Moses. First, because the land had been promised to the seed of Abraham, the Levites were the legitimate inheritors of a twelfth part of it; but they were passed over, and the posterity of Joseph divided into two tribes: unless, therefore, they had been provided for in some other way, the distribution would have been unequal. Again, forasmuch as they were employed in the sanctuary, their labor was worthy of some remuneration, nor was it reasonable that they should be defrauded of their subsistence, when they were set apart for the performance of the sacred offices, and for the instruction of the people. Two reasons are consequently laid down why God would have them receive tithes from the rest of the people, viz., because they had no part in Israel, and because they were engaged in the service of the tabernacle. Besides, God, who as their King laid claim to the tithes as His own right, resigns them to the Levites, and appoints them to be as it were His representatives. To this the words, “I am thine inheritance,” refer.
The manner in which the tithes were employed will be seen afterwards in its proper place: it will be sufficient now to remember that the part which God had taken away from them and transferred to the sons of Joseph was thus compensated for; and since they were withdrawn from domestic cares, that in the name of all the people they might be more at liberty for, and more intent upon, sacred things, an income for their maintenance was thus given them. Wherefore the Papal priests draw a silly inference, when they claim the tithes for themselves, as if due to them in right of the priesthood; else must they needs prove that those, whom they call the laity, are their tenants, as if they were themselves the lords of the twelfth part of all landed property; and again, it would be sacrilege to appropriate the tithes to their own use, and to possess other lands of which they receive the rent. Nor does that expression of the Apostle, which they no less dishonestly than ignorantly allege, help them at all,
"The priesthood being changed, the right also is at the same time transferred.” (Heb 7:12.)
The Apostle there contends, that whatever the Law had conferred on the Levitical priests now belongs to Christ alone, since their dignity and office received its end in Him. These blockheads, just as if they had robbed Christ, appropriate to themselves the honor peculiar to Him. If they duly performed their duties, and, giving up all earthly business, devoted themselves altogether to the instruction of the people, and to the execution of all the other offices of good and faithful pastors, unquestionably they ought to be maintained by the public; as Paul correctly infers that a subsistence is now no less due to the ministers of the Gospel than of old to the priests who waited at the altar, (1Co 9:14;) but under this pretext they unjustly lay hands on the tithes, as if they were their owners, and with still greater impudence accumulate landed properties and other revenues.
It is probable that when the Roman Emperors 214 first professed themselves Christians, either induced by just and proper feelings, or out of superstition, or impressed with a pious solicitude that the Church should not be without ministers, they gave the tithes for the maintenance of the clergy; for whilst the Roman State was kee, the people used to exact tithes from their tributary nations. And this was the case, too, where there were kings; for the Sicilians 215 paid tithes before the Romans obtained dominion over them. Moreover, if there was a scarcity of corn in the city, the senate demanded a second tithe of the provinces. Nay, we gather from 1Sa 8:15, that it was a most ancient custom for kings to receive tithes; so that we need not be surprised that the Romans should have imitated this example. Whence we may infer that, when the Emperors wished to bestow a maintenance on pastors out of the public stock, they rather chose a tenth than any other proportion, that they might imitate God. And in fact some traces of this still remain; for the tithes do not everywhere belong to the priests; and it is well known that a good part of them are swallowed up by monks and abbots, who were not formerly reckoned among the clergy. I need not say that some lands are tithe free. But how would the Pope have allowed them to be held by laymen, if, by divine right, (as they stupidly prate,) they had been the sacred inheritance of the clergy? In conclusion, inasmuch as titlies are to be counted amongst public imposts and tributes, let not private individuals refuse to pay them, unless they wish to destroy the political state and government of kingdoms; but let pious princes take care to correct abuses, so that idle bellies may not devour public revenues which are devoted to the Church.
I am thy part. I have just before explained the meaning of this clause, viz., that, because the Levites were excluded from the common inheritance, God compensates this loss out of what is His, as if they received it from His hand; as much as to say, that He in Himself afforded a supply abundantly sufficient for their remuneration. Meanwhile, they are commanded to be contented in Him alone. Nor can we doubt but that David alludes to this passage when he exclaims,
"The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance; the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places,” (Ps 16:5;)
for he intimates not only that God is more to him than all earthly wealth, but that in comparison with Him all that others accounted to be most excellent and delectable was worthless. Since now we are all made priests in Christ, this condition is imposed upon us, that we should seek no other portion. Not that we are actually to renounce all earthly goods, but because our felicity is so securely based on Him, that, contented with Him, we should patiently endure the want of all things, whilst those who possess anything should be no less free and unentangled than as if they possessed nothing.
“The common opinion is, that it was in the fourth century, when magistrates began to favor the Church, and the world was generally converted from heathenism. Some think Constantine settled them by law upon the Church, but there is no law of Constantine’s now extant that makes express mention of any such thing. — Before the end of the fourth century, as Mr. Selden not only confesses but proves out of Cassian, Eugippius, and others, tithes were paid to the Church.” — Bingham Antiq. B. 5, ch. 5, Section 3.
By the “Lex Hieronica,” referred to by Cicero in C. Verrem., lib. 2:13, and 3:6.