The Offering Becomes the Priest’s Property
Every contribution means “to lift off,” and signifies that which is elevated or set apart for holy purposes. It can be from the produce of the earth (Num. 15:19–21) or of plunder from war (Num. 31:29, 41, 52). It can be used of tithes (Num. 18:24, 26–29) or of material for the Tabernacle (Exod. 35:5, 21, 24), and even of the half shekel (Exod. 30:13–16).
In sacrifices, it is the shoulder of the peace offering (Exod. 29:27; Lev. 7:34; Num. 6:20). These diverse items are all in some sense dedicated to Yahweh. The târumah is never offered “before” Yahweh, but always “to Yahweh.” It was a dedication without ritual outside the sanctuary, achieved by oral declaration (Jdg. 17:3) or physical act (Lev. 27:32).36 In general, Numbers 5:9-10 stressed that each gift becomes the personal property of the priest to whom it is given, and does not therefore belong to the priestly community as a whole.
The context of the passage is about the righting of wrongs within the community, the kind of wrong in which damage has been done and loss is persistent. Confession, full restitution, and additional payment of 20% is required of the guilty party, in addition to the ram of atonement. If the man is dead and there is no next of kin to whom payment can be made then the money, along with the ram and other offerings, then it automatically goes to the priest.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah exposed how the neglect of the priesthood support caused a harmful effect on priestly practice and morale. There is still great relevance of such law in the post-exilic context. The degree to which the 20% norm could be enforced was immaterial; the principle mattered.
In verses 9–10, there is a concern to protect the rights of individual priests, and to prevent favoritism. The author uses the compensation question to affirm the principle of proper priestly support by the community, through the system of sacrifices and offerings. For the moment the principle is sufficient.
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Have you ever felt that it is unfair for the offering to go the pastor’s livelihood? Why do you think you feel this way?
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