A Consecrated Priesthood - Part 1
Let's take a look at our outline for Leviticus to see where we are in our study.
Outline: Leviticus: Training in Holiness
- Attaining Holiness – (Leviticus 1-16)
- Through Offerings (1-7)
- Through a Consecrated Priesthood (8-10)
- By Distinguishing Between the Clean and the Unclean (11-15)
- By Observing the Day of Atonement (16)
- Practicing Holiness – (Leviticus 17-27)
- Individual Responsibility to Keep God's Moral and Ritual laws (17-20)
- Priestly Responsibilities (21-22)
- The Nation's Responsibility to Promote Holiness (23-25)
- Reasons for Practicing Holiness: Blessings and curses (26)
- Evidence of Holiness: Vows and Valuations (27)
As you can see, we've done the first section of part one (offerings), which is the longest of the various sections as well as key to understanding these other sections. The offerings demonstrate and describe the duties of both the offeror and the priest in presenting a sacrificial offering to God. This section also explains the reasons and results for each offering, the type of offerings, and when parts of the offering were held back, and how it was to be divided between the one offering the sacrifice and the priest.
We now move on to examine the process of consecrating men to serve in the priesthood.
I. Attaining Holiness Through a Consecrated Priesthood – Leviticus 8-10
To better understand this section, we need to use a time line that begins in the book of Exodus, which overlaps some of the events taking place in Leviticus.
1. The construction of the Tabernacle complex is completed – Exodus 40
Materials were donated by the people and instructions for the design and furnishings were given to Moses by God, and the Lord empowered several artisans to fabricate His exact plans so that all was done according to Divine instruction. God's chosen people had a place where they would interact with the living God – next came instructions on how and when that could and would be done.
2. Sacrificial System – Leviticus 1-7
Offering sacrifices of animals and produce was not new, however, going forward, this process was going to be regulated by God for those sacrifices offered at the Tabernacle. Sacrifices were no longer to be offered by a variety of people on hills or under trees in different ways to different gods.
From now on, certain sacrifices for certain reasons would be offered in only one place (the Tabernacle) and offered to only one God – the true and living God who had saved the Israelites from Egyptian bondage exhibiting incredible signs and wonders proving that He was the true God with power. He had set aside (consecrated) Moses and Aaron as leaders and His spokesmen.
Now it was time to set aside or consecrate not only the place where the people were to come before God with their offerings (Tabernacle), but also the men who were to serve as mediators between the people bringing their offerings and God Who would receiving these. The men who would serve in this capacity would be the priests (at this time, these were to be Aaron, the High priest and his four sons.
3. The Priesthood – Leviticus 8-9
In Exodus 28-29 God gave Moses the instructions for making the special garments for the priests as well as how to prepare the anointing oil that was to be used exclusively for holy purposes such as consecrating (setting aside for God's use) the Tabernacle, its furnishings, as well as the priestly garments and the priests themselves when the time came.
In Exodus 40:17-33 we read about the completion of the Tabernacle and then how God descended upon it to demonstrate that they had completed it according to His will and that, as promised, He was now with them, dwelling among His people by being present in the Tabernacle.
34Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36Throughout their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; 37but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. 38For throughout their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.
- Exodus 40:34-38
What is left to do is prepare the priests for their constant interaction in close proximity to God by consecrating them (setting them apart for His service) through a special ceremony given to Moses to carry out for this very purpose.
II. The Consecration Ceremony – Leviticus 8-9
1Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2"Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the anointing oil, and the bull of the sin offering, and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread, 3and assemble all the congregation at the doorway of the tent of meeting." 4So Moses did just as the Lord commanded him. When the congregation was assembled at the doorway of the tent of meeting, 5Moses said to the congregation, "This is the thing which the Lord has commanded us to do."
- Leviticus 8:1-5
Note that the Tabernacle complex, the priestly garments, the priests and anointing oil, as well as the animals for sacrifice and baskets of bread have all been mentioned and prepared in advance for the coming of this day in various passages of Exodus (garments - Exodus 28; oil – Exodus 30; animals and bread – Exodus 29).
Note that the Pentateuch is one book with five volumes and not five separate books. All five volumes are interconnected. As God's chosen representative, Moses serves in God's role for these proceedings. It will be God Himself acting through Moses who will be the One who is actually consecrating the Tabernacle, the priests and their garments to the service of the Lord.
Note that after Moses will have offered the sacrifices and consecrated the people and objects with the holy oil – he will no longer be allowed to offer sacrifice or enter the Holy place or Holy of Holies. Despite his leadership of the people and direct relationship with God, after their consecration, only the priests will be able to offer sacrifices or enter the Holy Place and only the High Priest will be allowed to enter the Holy of Holies – once per year.
Note also that Moses is instructed to gather the people (probably the leaders of the tribes) to witness the consecration since the people, as well as the priests, would participate in the offering of sacrifices to God. It was their Tabernacle too!
A. Dressing Aaron with the Priestly Garments – Leviticus 8:6-9
Moses' first action is to wash the priests (Exodus 29:4) probably in the water of the laver situated in the courtyard and symbolizing their cleansing from sin and purification.
- Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, Ithamar (High Priest and priests – Exodus 28:1).
This act, as well as the sacrifices to follow, emphasized the fact that the priests chosen by God to preside at ceremonies designed to deal with the people's sins, had to first have their own sins acknowledged and removed. As the High Priest, Aaron had a more elaborate attire than his sons who wore linen garments tied with a sash worn over underwear (like shorts) along with a head covering (like a cap).
Aaron's clothing placed on him by Moses:
- Tunic – linen under garment (Exodus 28:39; Exodus 39:27) - Worn by all priests.
- Sash – length of cloth made of fine, twisted linen – used like a belt (Exodus 28:39; Exodus 39:29).
- Robe – worn by the High Priest over his tunic as a sign of his office – blue in color, sleeveless. Made of beautiful material, woven from a single piece of cloth without a seam. A series of small, golden bells and pomegranates were sown to the hem of the robe. The bells signified the presence of the High Priest in the Tabernacle before God, the pomegranates were a symbol of righteousness as well as knowledge since it was believed that this fruit, when opened contained 613 seeds, the same number of laws contained in the Torah. (Exodus 28:31-35; Exodus 39:22-26).
- Ephod – was like an apron and made of blue, purple, and scarlet material with designs of golden thread woven into the fabric. It was attached to the shoulders with golden chains and the patches on the shoulders to which the chains were connected each held an onyx stone with the names (six on each stone) of the tribes engraved in alphabetical order (Exodus 28:6-14; Exodus 39:27. These symbolized the burden of responsibility for the people's spiritual welfare carried by the High Priest.
- Breastpiece – a square pouch folded over on itself so something could be carried inside its pocket. It was made with the same material as the Ephod and adorned with 12 precious stones, each with the name of a tribe of Israel. Symbolically these testified to the fact that when the High Priest entered the Holy Place, he took the entire nation with him. He represented all the people.
- Urim and Thummim – Two stones that could be cast like dice in order to produce a yes, no or neutral answer to a question. It was believed that if used properly by the High Priest that the answer came from God (Exodus 28:30). These stones were kept in the pocket of the breastpiece.
- Turban – cloth made of fine linen wrapped about the head of the High Priest. Only the High Priest wore a turban, the other priests wore a cap (Exodus 28:29; Exodus 39:28; Leviticus 8:13). A golden plate (holy crown) was attached to the turban and it was inscribed with the words, "Holy to the Lord" (Exodus 28:36-38; Exodus 39:30-31).
This uniform worn by the High Priest was impressive. It was designed to make men marvel, made for glory and beauty (Exodus 28:2). The High Priest's garments reflected the significance of the work he did and the greatness of the God served.
B. Anointing the Tabernacle and Priests – Leviticus 8:10-13
10Moses then took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it and consecrated them. 11He sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times and anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, to consecrate them. 12Then he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him, to consecrate him. 13Next Moses had Aaron's sons come near and clothed them with tunics and girded them with sashes and bound caps on them, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
- Leviticus 8:10-13
Moses uses the special oil to sprinkle/anoint/set apart the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings and utensils. He anoints the altar of burnt offerings in the courtyard seven times (7 = perfect or complete – a combination of 3 = God + 4 = creation/N.S.E.W.). The altar is, therefore, completely and perfectly consecrated for its intended purpose, which will be to offer sacrifices to God by fire.
Moses anoints Aaron as High Priest and then dresses his sons as priests with more simple garb and consecrates them as well. In Exodus 28:41 Moses was commanded to do the following to prepare Aaron and his sons for the priesthood:
- Anoint – to set apart for God's purpose.
- Ordain – appoint to a special task or role, in this case as priests.
- Consecrate – this means to be assigned to "holy" positions used by God for His purpose.
Aaron and his sons have been anointed in that they have been set apart from the rest of the Israelites to serve God in a special way; they have also been ordained to serve as priests on behalf of the people before God, and have received the special clothing as a sign of this role with Aaron wearing the elaborate clothing signifying his special role as High Priest.
C. The Consecration Ceremony – Leviticus 8:14-9:24
Now begins the longest part of the preparations for the priest to begin their ministry – the sacrifices that Moses and then the priests themselves will offer in order to make their transition from individuals who are part of the Israelite nation to anointed, ordained, and consecrated priests of the Most High God.
For the purpose of brevity, I will list the steps that Moses performs and commands to be done in their order of appearance:
1. A Sin Offering – Bull – Leviticus 8:14-17
We have previously reviewed this type of sacrifice (sin - one of the five). This time it is Aaron and his sons who place their hands on the bull signifying that they transferred their sins onto the animal. After it was killed, Moses dabbed the bull's blood on the horns of the altar and poured the rest at its base, thus cleansing both the altar and the priests of uncleanness and sin, rendering both the altar and priests ready to offer sacrifice on behalf of the people and their sins. Moses completes the sin offering by burning the fat parts of the animal on the altar and the rest at a "clean" place outside the camp. As in all sin offerings, no part of the bull was kept for food – it was completely burned up.
2. A Burnt Offering – First Ram – Leviticus 8:18-21
Burnt offerings were made to signify the dedication that the offeror had towards God. In this case it signified the dedication Aaron and his sons had toward the ministry which they had been given.
3. Ordination Offering – Second Ram – Leviticus 8:22-29
This offering was not among the five regular offerings that would normally be made by the priests. It was part of their ordination process:
- Moses served as priest and presented the ram.
- Aaron and sons again placed hands on the animal.
- Moses slaughtered the animal.
- He then placed some of the animal's blood on Aaron's right ear lobe, his right thumb, and on the big toe of his right foot; he then repeated the procedure for his sons.
- The symbolism here was that the priest's entire body (head to foot) was consecrated to the Lord's service and the priest accepted his ordination into ministry.
- He was to use his ears to hear and understand God's commands.
- His hands to do God's work.
- His feet to go where God directed.
- Aaron and sons took parts of the animal and the grain elements and made a "wave offering," lifting them up in the air to symbolize that they (not Moses or the people) were the ones making the offering.
- Moses then took these from them and burned them on the altar.
- Moses took the remaining breast of the animal and made a "wave" offering with it (symbolically offering it to God) but kept this part for himself which was custom for priests to do for offerings which were not meant to be burnt or sin sacrifices (I.e. peace offerings).
4. Anointing Aaron and Sons
Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and of the blood that was on the altar and sprinkled it on Aaron and his garments, and also on his sons and his sons' garments. So he consecrated Aaron and his garments, and his sons and his sons' garments with him.
- Leviticus 8:30
This was the second time Moses anointed them. The first time (Leviticus 8:10-13) was at the very beginning before the consecration ceremony began. Differences this time:
- 1st – oil only – 2nd – oil mixed with blood.
- 1st – oil poured on Aaron's head – 2nd – oil sprinkled on Aaron and his garments.
- 1st – only Aaron anointed – 2nd – anointing includes Aaron's sons and their garments.
The main difference between these two anointings was that the first prepared Aaron (purified him) to make his offerings before God with his sons; the second was to confirm that the rituals had accomplished their purpose and the anointed ones were now considered to be priests in service to God.
5. 7 Day Waiting Period – Leviticus 8:31-36
After the consecration/ordination rituals were performed (before the leaders of the people gathered at the entrance of the Tabernacle complex) the newly ordained priests kept a seven day vigil remaining in the Tabernacle complex day and night. This was under pain of death. Each day Moses would offer the sacrifices of ordination and Aaron and his sons would eat of it along with the grain offering (unleavened bread) – burning up whatever was not eaten. This process was repeated seven days.
Why seven days?
- To fully atone for their sins (vs. 34) and demonstrate the absolute purity and holiness of the priests (their ordination repeated 7 times = perfection).
- A witness to the people concerning the holiness of their priests.
- A time for the priests to reflect on their unique and demanding role in God's service.
6. Activities on the 8th Day – Leviticus 9:1-21
As the seven days are winding down, Moses gives instructions for what will happen when the vigil is over and the priests will begin their official duties. He instructs Aaron and his sons, as well as the people, to each prepare the animals and grain for sacrifices that the priests were to offer for the first time by themselves without his assistance. One sacrifice was to be for the priests themselves and the other for the people after which the Lord would bless them (Leviticus 9:1-7).
a) Offering for the Priests (Leviticus 9:8-14) – The first offering is a "sin" offering for Aaron and his sons, thus atoning for their sins and providing forgiveness. A second animal was offered as a "burnt" offering signifying their complete devotion to the Lord (since the animal was completely reduced to ashes).
b) Offering for the People (Leviticus 9:15-21) – Now that the priests have been fully ordained and have first offered sacrifices for their own sins and to demonstrate their complete devotion to God, they are ready to minister on behalf of God's people. Aaron and his sons make several kinds of offerings on behalf of the people:
- A sin offering – atonement and forgiveness.
- A burnt offering – complete devotion to God.
- A grain offering – reinforcing the purpose and conviction of the worshipper, going over and above what was required.
- A peace offering – celebrated and sought peace with God and joyful fellowship with other people.
At this point the priests have been officially ordained, have begun their duties in the recently constructed and consecrated Tabernacle where they have just completed offering various sacrifices for themselves and the people, the last of which calls on joyful fellowship with their brethren and even God Himself – everything done according to God's will and specific instructions.
7. Blessings from the Lord
22Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
- Leviticus 9:22-24
God confirms Moses' leadership and Aaron's new role by an appearance of His glory, not His person. Fire appears to burn up the sacrifice on the altar. The people recognize God's presence with a shout (of joy and awe) and fall on their faces in reverence and worship. God's appearance gives authority, credibility and assurance that the sacrificial system and the priests who administer it effectively achieve its purposes:
- To atone and forgive sin
- To offer thanks in an acceptable manner
- To accept the devotion offered by worshippers
- To create joyful fellowship between man and God.
Moses and Aaron have jointly blessed the people as a sign of their solidarity, and God has provided a miraculous sign as approval of these men and their roles before the people, thus providing a high point in the history of the Jewish nation. Unfortunately, this success will not last long as we will see in the following chapter.