- And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
- Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, He that offereth the sacrifice of his peace offerings unto the LORD shall bring his oblation unto the LORD of the sacrifice of his peace offerings.
- His own hands shall bring the offerings of the LORD made by fire, the fat with the breast, it shall he bring, that the breast may be waved for a wave offering before the LORD.
- And the priest shall burn the fat upon the altar: but the breast shall be Aaron’s and his sons’.
- And the right shoulder shall ye give unto the priest for an heave offering of the sacrifices of your peace offerings.
- He among the sons of Aaron, that offereth the blood of the peace offerings, and the fat, shall have the right shoulder for his part.
- For the wave breast and the heave shoulder have I taken of the children of Israel from off the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them unto Aaron the priest and unto his sons by a statute for ever from among the children of Israel.
- This is the portion of the anointing of Aaron, and of the anointing of his sons, out of the offerings of the LORD made by fire, in the day when he presented them to minister unto the LORD in the priest’s office;
- Which the LORD commanded to be given them of the children of Israel, in the day that he anointed them, by a statute for ever throughout their generations.
- This is the law of the burnt offering, of the meat offering, and of the sin offering, and of the trespass offering, and of the consecrations, and of the sacrifice of the peace offerings;
- Which the LORD commanded Moses in mount Sinai, in the day that he commanded the children of Israel to offer their oblations unto the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai. (Lev. 7:28–38)
With these verses, we come to the end of the laws concerning sacrifices and begin a shorter section on the priesthood. We have here references to the wave offering (v. 30f., cf. 34) and to the heave offering (v. 32f., cf. 34). S. C. Gayford best describes their meaning:
The waving was a forward and return motion representing the offering of the breast to God and His handing it back to the priest for his portion. The symbolism is clear from Nu. 8:10–22. The Levites were offered by the congregation as a wave offering to the Lord who gave them back to Aaron (v. 19) to assist him in his ministrations. There was a difference between the wave breast and the heave thigh: the breast was given to God who handed it back to His priest; the thigh was given directly to the priest. So the priest was the guest of God in the former case and the guest of the sacrificer in the latter, and thus became the mediator between God and man in the common meal.1
The Hebrew text makes it clear that the breast is a dedication (v. 30), and the leg is a contribution (v. 34).2
To understand the meaning of the heave offering, the leg or thigh, the contribution to the priests, we must examine Numbers 18:25–28:
- And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
- Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.
- And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshingfloor, and as the fulness of the winepress.
- Thus ye also shall offer an heave offering unto the LORD of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the LORD’S heave offering to Aaron the priest.
The rest of the tithe, nine-tenths of it, went to the Levites (Num. 18:29–32). The Levites were the instructors of Israel (Deut. 33:10), and they bore the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:8, 31:9). They assisted in the administration of civil government (1 Chron. 23:28); they were choristers, musicians, guardians, and gatekeepers of the sanctuary (1 Chron. 9:14–33), and overseers (1 Chron. 23:4). Their role in music is cited in Psalm 42:1, 44:1, etc., and 2 Chronicles 20:19. They were connected with the temple treasury and with the royal administration (1 Chron. 9:22, 26f.; 23:4, 28, etc.). They also served as judges (2 Chron. 19:8, 11) and assisted the priests (1 Chron. 6:31ff., 23:27–32, etc.). At the same time, the priests also had duties as officers of health and sanitation (Leviticus, chapters 11–14).
The primary role of the priests, however, pertained to the sanctuary and sacrifices. The Levites had a broader role, one which can be described as educational, legal, and cultural.
With the New Testament, the sacrificial work ended, and the work of the ministry became Levitical. Even our English word priest has no relation to the Old Testament word, and priest is a contraction of presbyter. The instructional and cultural function is thus Levitical and the essence of the Christian ministry. This duty of instructional and cultural authority and leadership was basic to the medieval and early Reformation eras. Christianity could dominate society for two very practical reasons. First, it was seen as the duty of the Christian community and its leadership to exercise dominion over society in the name of Jesus Christ. Second, God’s tax, the tithe, plus gifts and offerings over the tithe, were the financial mainstay of this dominion mandate.
In the medieval era, a steady rebellion by princes and peoples developed against the tithe, and the church resorted to all kinds of disgraceful devices to raise money. The same happened to the Reformation churches, and again there were resorts to painfully bad practices in fund-raising.
The medieval church had built schools, universities, hospitals, cathedrals, charitable organizations, and more, and financed music and the arts. With time, this waned and became something barely maintained rather than a force commanding society. Among the churches of the Reformation, by the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, the same cultural force was declining. It lingered longer in America, where most universities had a Christian beginning, but here, too, it diminished in time.
Today, while a revival is under way, only a small minority tithe, and many tithers see the tithe as restricted to the church as a worshipping institution. This is hardly the nature of the tithe in Scripture, since nine-tenths of the tithe went to the Levites. When tithing once again finances such things as Christian scholarship, music, law, and the like, we shall see dramatic changes.
Note that the heave offering had to be given personally to the priest, even if through a Levite. Christ’s work is done by persons; Christian institutions are groups of persons in Christ’s service.
We should note further that, if a people tithed faithfully, and also gave gifts over their tithe, the priests and Levites would be prosperous and effectual in their ministry. The economic status of those in Christ’s service is God’s barometer of the faith of a people. Poor faith means poor Levites, a quest by people for personal advantage rather than God’s dominion.
An evil inheritance from Neoplatonism is the equation of spirituality with poverty and a contempt for material things. Such an equation begins with a false view of spirituality which is divorced from Scripture and the Holy Ghost. It then sees poverty as a kind of virtue. There is no evidence that either poverty or wealth makes people spiritual and godly, nor is there any evidence that material wealth makes people unspiritual and ungodly. The sin common to all the sons of Adam makes us ungodly, and wealth or poverty have little to do with it. Only the sovereign grace of God can make us a new creation, not wealth or poverty.
Our Lord makes it clear that “the labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7). Those who labor worthily in Christ’s calling deserve “double honour” (1 Tim. 5:17), i.e., double pay. To His disciples, our Lord says, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Matt. 6:31). He did not mean thereby that they would always have their necessary provisions. Rather, He had in mind the law whereby, as Paul summarizes it, God’s servants are “partakers with the altar”:
- Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
- Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:13–14)
The health of a society in God’s sight is revealed by its support of the work of Christian evangelism and dominion, by the preaching of the Word, by education, scholarship, music, publications, and more. If we limit our view of what constitutes Christ’s work, we limit His Kingdom, and our blessings.
1. S. C. Gayford, “Leviticus,” in Charles Gore, Henry Leighton Goudge, and Alfred Guillaume, eds., A New Commentary on Holy Scripture (New York: Macmillan, 1929), 107.
2. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 126.