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Vayikra/Leviticus 10:15b ... and it shall be for you and your sons with you for an everlasting statute, just as the L-rd has commanded.
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The fourth aliyah of Parashat Sh'mini contains only four verses, of which this is the last. Moshe has given instructions to Aharon and his two surviving sons concerning the grain offering and the peace offering over which they had just officiated before Aharon's two oldest sons - Nadab and Abihu - were consumed by fire beforeHaShem for bringing "strange fire, which He had not commanded" (Vayikra 10:1). The grain offering is "most holy" and is to be eaten "unleavened beside the altar" (v, 12, NJPS), "in the sacred precinct" (v. 13, NJPS), by only the priests themselves. The portions of the peace offerings, however, are not quite so holy so "the breast of elevation offering and the thigh of gift offering you, and your sons and daughters with you, may eat in any clean place" (v. 14, NJPS); they may be eaten by the priest and his family. Although not explicitly mentioned, this does include the priest's wife as well.
The aliyah closes with this text, asserting that the ownership and disposition of the priestly portions is to be so arranged on a permanent basis; this is what should always happen. These portions of the peace offerings brought to HaShem by the people shall always be for the priests and their families. Then in an unusual ending - it ends a verse only three times in the Tanakh: Vayikra 9:7, here and 2 Samuel 24:19 - Moshe emphasises that this is a direct command of HaShem. The verb in this phrase, , is the Pi'el 3ms affix form of the root , "to command, instruct, decree, give orders"1, which is used some 500 times in the Tanakh. This is not just a tradition, a custom handed down from father to son over many generations, this is an explicit command from HaShem.
In the nearly two thousand years since the Second Temple was destroyed by the Roman legions, there have been no priestly shares in the peace offerings brought to HaShem. Without a temple and a consecrated priesthood, there is nowhere and no way to make such offerings. In any case, Rav Sha'ul tells us, Yeshua is now our peace offering, bringing us peace with G-d and with each other: "For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14, ESV). Jew and Gentile are made one - but definitely not homogenised - in the Body of Messiah and are being "built together into a dwelling place for G-d by the Spirit" (v. 22, ESV).
However, that doesn't mean that G-d's people do not bring Him offerings. Whether in money or in kind, both the church and the synagogue have ways of handling institutional offerings so that staff and bills can be paid. Similarly, individual ministers and rabbis can and do receive personal gifts - as to the L-rd - from congregants and others as a sign of appreciation for their work or for ongoing support in mission, outreach and humanitarian work.
Based on a verse from the Torah, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing" (D'varim 25:4, NJPS), Rav Sha'ul makes the case that those who work - essentially for G-d, though that may be expressed in serving people - in His kingdom, should be able to receive an adequate and appropriate income from the kingdom: "the ploughman should plough in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop" (1 Corinthians 9:10, ESV). Placing his words firmly in the same context as our text, Sha'ul asks the Corinthians, "do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?" (v. 13, ESV). This is the priest's share of the peace offerings! "In the same way," Sha'ul declares, "the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel" (v. 14, ESV).
Sha'ul's words affect two groups of people. The first group is those who receive, be that physical benefits, or spiritual benefits: welfare, support, teaching, counselling. They have a responsibility, subject of course to sufficient means, both to support the work of the person or organisation providing those benefits, and to take their own share in the work or labour of those people, sometimes by monetary donations, while at others by volunteering and so helping others. It is an important kingdom principle to give or support where you are being fed. The second group is those who provide the benefits - the teaching, the mentoring, the food, the clothing - they are allowed to accept the right of support without feeling guilty: "it will belong to you and your descendants with you as your perpetual share" (Vayikra 10:15, CJB). Even though Sha'ul himself refused full-time support and earned his own income where he could, we know that he did accept gifts. Yeshua gives us the general case: "Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages ... whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, 'The kingdom of G-d has come near to you'" (Luke 10:7-9, NASB).
With privilege comes responsibility. Those of us who teach, lead congregations or otherwise work in the kingdom need to ask how we use what we gain from our work in the kingdom? How should we treat it - are there restrictions or obligations? Aharon and his sons did have restrictions placed on them. On the one hand, the grain offering could only be eaten beside the altar in a holy place. That might correspond to volunteer hours or designated donations - they can only be used directly in the ministry, for ministry purposes and not for helping with personal tasks such as shopping or gardening. On the other hand, the meat from the peace offerings could be eaten in any clean place by the priest and his family. This might correspond to monetary support donations intended to cover living expenses, food and clothing, etc. - they are available to meet the life needs of the leader or worker concerned and their families.
While the directions for the priests to eat the offerings in a clean or a holy place speak to us about always using time and funds for honourable purposes, this should not exclude reasonable rest, relaxation and enjoyment. Buying an ice-cream for the children during a few days holiday or vacation is not a misuse of support funds. Neither is careful provision for retirement or watching a family film - these are things that any normal family or person would do and kingdom workers should be no exception. G-d's workers must not be cowed by the enemy using imagined expectations of donors into living a life of penury, not drawing adequate living expenses and making life miserable for their families and friends. Not only will this result in rapid burn-out and disillusionment for those concerned, thus robbing the kingdom of the work and call of the individual or family, but it is an appalling witness that damages the reputation of the whole Body of Messiah.
Whether you are a donor or a receiver - or both, which is a normal and healthy place to be - know that we are all accountable to our heavenly Father in these matters. The funds we have and donate are His funds - we simply return some of them to Him when He asks. The funds we receive are His and come from Him - He provides them to cover our ministry and living expenses as we labour in His vineyard, doing the work of the kingdom. Yeshua said that He had come so that His disciples "may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10, NIV). Life includes laughter and song, fun and games, excitement and enjoyment - qualities that the world usually thinks believers are singularly lacking - to complement the new and fresh life we have and share in Yeshua. We all need to play our part in being that for ourselves and enabling others to play theirs. That too is our right for all generations, as commanded by the L-rd.
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), pages 376-377.
Further Study: D'varim 20:5-7; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:4-7
Application: How can you enable someone whose work or life you enjoy and appreciate to know that you care for them and want to enable them to live life to the full? A call, a card or a gift can turn an overcast day into sunshine and blow away the clouds. Ask the Spirit to show you someone you can bless today.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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