In today’s reading, God called the ministries of the priests and Levites a “gift” (vv. 6–7). Culturally, we think of gifts as something received, as on birthdays and holidays. But in Scripture, a gift is given by God in order to enable the recipients better to serve Him and His people and thereby to live lives of more complete worship (see 1 Cor. 14:12; 1 Peter 4:10).
The word gift here also suggests that it was an honor for the priests and Levites to represent the people before God, and it was a special privilege for them to spend extra time in God’s presence and to lead the nation in worship. With Aaron’s priestly leadership reaffirmed in chapter 17, this chapter summarizes the duties and responsibilities of serving before the Lord (v. 1). Only the Levites were allowed to help, and then only by caring for the tabernacle itself, not by offering sacrifices at the altar. This strict division of labor was divinely ordained, with death the penalty for disobedience.
God’s instructions extended to practical matters as well. Specific parts of each offering were to be set apart as food for the priests. It was still to be regarded as holy, so they would need to be ceremonially clean to partake. Since their ministry replaced an inheritance of land (v. 20), they had no other way to make a living or provide for themselves. Similarly, provision for the Levites happened by receiving the nation’s tithes, and they also were required to tithe the best of what they received. Their failure to tithe would defile the nation’s giving (v. 32).
The phrase “covenant of salt” is a memorable one (v. 19; 2 Chron. 13:5). It reflects salt’s preservative function and thus the permanence or “everlasting” nature of the covenant.