As we turn our attention from the establishment of the sacrificial system to a new section that begins in Leviticus 8 I was searching for a good way to quickly recap the five offerings we’ve studied over the first seven chapters as well as to illustrate how Jesus is the fulfillment of them all. As I pondered a way to paint this picture it occurred to me Jesus already had.
It’s an interesting thought to chew on, but in this Old Testament, Levitical dynamic the sacrifices had to be offered for sinful man to come to the tabernacle and meet with God. They were all required and non-negotiable. Though we might be quick to say such a dynamic no longer exists within our New Testament context, I’m not so sure it doesn’t.
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 the Apostle Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner Jesus also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (added in Matthew 26). This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
While it’s true there is no sacrifice we’re required to offer to meet with the Lord (or ever could offer), it is still a fact the only way we can meet with God is through the sacrifice Jesus offered for us — a sacrifice the elements of Communion were designed to emphasize.
In partaking of the “bread and cup” Paul says we’re “proclaiming” the significance of “the Lord’s death.” What this means is that Communions core purpose it to be the way in which we recognize our salvation comes through faith in His sacrifice — the Burnt Offering. In addition to this, in a response to His grace, Jesus has invited us all to come and partake of these things “in remembrance of Him” — the Grain Offering (unleavened bread).
In the elements themselves we also have this picture in the “bread” of His broken body being offered to atone for our sins of nature and will and by His blood (“the cup”) we see the results of our atonement illustrated… We’ve been made pure — the Sin and Trespass Offering.
In the end it is the very consuming of the elements themselves (eating the bread, drinking of the cup) that epitomizes not only the incredible oneness we have with Jesus (“this is My body”), but the communion we now have with one other — the Peace Offering.
Again, I find this idea to be amazing… In the Old Covenant, Levitical system five sacrifices were required to meet with God. But now in the New Covenant of grace we can freely meet with Jesus by partaking of elements that represented His fulfillment of these five sacrifices.
Leviticus 8:1-4, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments (the specifications for the garments of the priests and High Priest is found in Exodus 28), the anointing oil, a bull as the sin offering, two rams, and a basket of unleavened bread; and gather all the congregation together at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.’ So Moses did as the Lord commanded him. And the congregation was gathered together at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”
After articulating to Moses and by extension the Hebrew people the specific protocols for the sacrificial system that was to occur at this new “tabernacle of meeting” located in the middle of the camp, Leviticus 8 transitions from these seven chapters of legalese to an active narrative that will last eight days and carry us up through the end of Leviticus 10.
Keep in mind, the important work being conducted at the tabernacle and the facilitating of the people’s interactions with God necessitated the priesthood. These men were ordained to represent the people before God. Not only was the tabernacle the only place humanity could meet with the Lord, but the involvement of the priests was essential!
That said… Because the priests were themselves also sinners (don’t forget just a few weeks before this scene Aaron had played an instrumental role in the people’s idolatry by building for them a Golden Calf to worship), God required a specific process by which the priests were to be consecrated before they began their sanctified duties. What we’re about to witness in this chapter is the establishment of that Aaronic Priesthood!
To do this, the Lord commanded Moses to call “the congregation” of Israel before “the door of the tabernacle” and separate from the people “Aaron and his sons.” As members of the Tribe of Levi Aaron’s family was to make up the priesthood. Imagine the scene of the entire congregation encircling this tent with Moses calling forward Aaron and his sons!
Once Moses (who’s acting as God’s representative in this situation) had brought these men before all the people, the Lord then commands they be taken through a public process of consecration and ordination according to a set of particular instructions provided back in Exodus 29. This explains why Moses also has with him “the garments” for the priesthood, the “anointing oil,” and “a bull, two rams, and a basket of unleavened bread” for the sacrifices.
Leviticus 8:5-6, “And Moses said to the congregation, ‘This is what the Lord commanded to be done.’ (Note: 16 times in Leviticus 8 and 9 you will find this word “commanded” letting us know God was very serious about how all of these things were to take place.) Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.”
Again, I want you to imagine the scene… Moses brings “Aaron and his sons” (which we’ll learn were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar) before the entire congregation. These men remove their normal garments and Moses proceeds to give them all a bath “with water.” If you find that to be strange, imagine how awkward it was for Aaron and the boys!
After being “washed” Moses then dresses them all in new garments. He clothes Aaron in the High Priest’s attire before clothing the four sons in the common threads of the priests.
Leviticus 8:7-9, “And Moses put the tunic on Aaron, girded him with the sash (a belt), clothed him with the robe (the outer garment), and put the ephod on him (a mantle that went over the outer garment); and he girded him with the intricately woven band of the ephod, and with it tied the ephod on him. Then he put the breastplate on him (the specs for both the “ephod” as well as the “breastplate” are also provided in Exodus 28).
And Moses put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate. And he put the turban on Aaron’s head. Also on the turban, on its front, he put the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord had commanded Moses (details recorded for us in Exodus 29-30).”
While it’s difficult to say with 100% certainty and true the Scriptures are vague, in light of Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65, and 1 Samuel 14, it would appear the “Urim and Thummim” — which in the Hebrew can be translated as the “Lights and Perfections” — were actually two different stones used by the High Priest to determine the will of God. In our modern context this would be akin to rolling dice in order to make important decisions.
Regardless, once Aaron has been clothed, we read how… Leviticus 8:10-13, “Moses also took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it (the furniture and utensils), and consecrated them. He sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times, anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the laver and its base, to consecrate them. And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him. Then Moses brought Aaron’s sons and put tunics on them, girded them with sashes, and put hats on them, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
The idea of anointing Aaron with the exact same oil as the tabernacle was to publicly illustrate the reality it was the High Priest and he alone that was ultimately responsible for everything that would take place within this tent of meeting. He was part of the tabernacle.
Leviticus 8:14-15, “And he brought the bull for the sin offering. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull for the sin offering, and Moses killed it.”
This act of “Aaron and his sons” offering in front of all the people “the sin offering” intended to articulate a profound point… The priests were no different than the rest of the people in that a blood sacrifice was required for their atonement as well. Though ordained to fill a divine and holy calling, these men (the priests) were sinners just like everyone else.
Leviticus 8:15-17, “Then Moses (in accordance with the law of the Sin Offering detailed in Leviticus 4) took the blood (of the bull he’d just slaughtered), and put some on the horns of the altar all around with his finger, and purified the altar. And he poured the blood at the base of the altar, and consecrated it, to make atonement for it. Then he took all the fat that was on the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, and the two kidneys with their fat, and Moses burned them on the altar. But the bull, its hide, its flesh, and its offal, he burned with fire outside the camp, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
While it would be inaccurate to say this was the first sacrifice of its kind ever made — the practice of making similar offerings before the Lord was common in the Genesis record, it is worth pointing out this is the first time the detailed procedures established for this Levitical system of sacrifice at the tabernacle have ever been implemented!
Until the moment “Moses killed the bull” the sacrificial system had been theoretical. The “congregation” in addition to “Aaron and his sons” had never seen this before. In truth this was the first time Moses had made such an offering before the Lord. No doubt this entire process for sacrifice was radically different than the customs they’d witnessed in Egypt.
Imagine watching Moses drain out all the blood of the bull before then using that blood to “consecrate and purify the altar.” Imagine watching him as he worked tirelessly to then cut the bull into the specified pieces burning the “fat, liver, and kidneys” upon the altar before carrying the rest of the carcass through the people to be “burned outside the camp.” You couldn’t help but think, “Dang, God was serious about all of this! He wasn’t playing around!”
Once the procedures for the Sin Offering were completed, Moses returns to the tabernacle… Leviticus 8:18-24, “Then he brought the ram as the burnt offering. And Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, and Moses killed it. Then he sprinkled the blood all around on the altar. And he cut the ram into pieces; and Moses burned the head, the pieces, and the fat. Then he washed the entrails and the legs in water. And Moses burned the whole ram on the altar. It was a burnt sacrifice for a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
And Moses brought the second ram, the ram of consecration. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, and Moses killed it. Also he took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he brought Aaron’s sons. And Moses put some of the blood on the tips of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. And Moses sprinkled the blood all around on the altar.”
Leviticus 8:25-27, “Then Moses took the fat and the fat tail, all the fat that was on the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, the two kidneys and their fat, and the right thigh; and from the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord he took one unleavened cake, a cake of bread anointed with oil, and one wafer, and put them on the fat and on the right thigh; and he put all these in Aaron’s hands and in his sons’ hands, and waved them as a wave offering before the Lord.” (The details of this unique offering are documented in Exodus 29 in connection with the consecration of the priesthood.)
Leviticus 8:28-30, “Then Moses took them from their hands and burned them on the altar, on the burnt offering. They were consecration offerings for a sweet aroma. That was an offering made by fire to the Lord. And Moses took the breast and waved it as a wave offering before the Lord. It was Moses’ part of the ram of consecration, as the Lord had commanded Moses. Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood which was on the altar, and sprinkled it on Aaron, on his garments, on his sons, and on the garments of his sons with him; and he consecrated Aaron, his garments, his sons, and the garments of his sons with him.”
Leviticus 8:31-33, “And Moses said to Aaron and his sons, ‘Boil the flesh at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and eat it there with the bread that is in the basket of consecration offerings, as I commanded, saying, ‘Aaron and his sons shall eat it.’ What remains of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn with fire. And you shall not go outside the door of the tabernacle of meeting for seven days, until the days of your consecration are ended. For seven days he shall consecrate you.” (The Lord instructs that “Aaron and his sons” had to remain in the Tabernacle for seven days.)
Leviticus 8:34-36, “As he has done this day, so the Lord has commanded to do, to make atonement for you. (Moses played a unique role in acting as a priest in order to make atonement for the men who’d make up the Levitical Priesthood.) Therefore you shall stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, so that you may not die; for so I have been commanded.’ So Aaron and his sons did all the things that the Lord had commanded by the hand of Moses.”
As with so many of the things we’ll encounter in this book the key to really understanding what is going on is to always see Leviticus as God establishing an order through which He would ultimately work out His greater plan for humanity. If fact, this particular story whereby God establishes the Aaronic Priesthood is a perfect example of this!
The initial question you have to ask in the context of this amazing event is what was God’s purpose for the priesthood? If you’d answer by saying it was all about sinful man having a mediator between himself and God, you’d be wrong. Again, the key to unpacking what’s happening in Leviticus is to first consider where the concept will ultimately land.
By the time you get to the New Testament tragically the Levitical Priesthood had become a condemnable joke. The priests weren’t representing the people or facilitating the worship of God. They were abusing the people by profiteering off the sacrificial system. Caiaphas the High Priest was infamously corrupt and the antithesis of all the priests were called to be.
Additionally, at the crucifixion of Jesus, the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us the veil in the Temple that separated humanity from the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom removing the sin barrier and eliminating the need for the priesthood altogether.
It should also be pointed out following the resurrection when people fully understood what Jesus had accomplished on the cross as the “Lamb of God” a shift occurred —Thousands of devote Jewish men and women instantly stopped participating in the Levitical system.
Historically, a little less than four decades after these things, the Romans would sack Jerusalem and burn the Temple to the ground. Since 70 AD not only has there been no altar by which the Jews could offer an atoning sacrifice, but the Levitical Order of priests has ceased operations. The reality is today no Jew could ever be a priest of the Aaronic Order because all of the genealogical records proving lineage to Levi have been lost.
Now there are those who’ll content the Aaronic Priesthood was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus who became our great High Priest. While I’ll explain Jesus’ role in all of this in a few minutes and it’s true Christ is presently functioning as our Mediator in heaven, the reality is that Jesus could not be the fulfillment of the Levitical Order because He descended from the Tribe of Judah. This point is actually made in Hebrews 7:14, “For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning the priesthood.”
With these things in mind (that the priestly order of the Hebrew people ended in 70 AD and Jesus did not descend from the Tribe of Levi — meaning neither are relevant to Leviticus 8), the key to understanding what God is accomplishing in this chapter is to see the fulfillment of the priesthood residing in who you and I have become in Christ Jesus.
In 1 Peter 2 the Apostle describes who we are as followers of Jesus by making a direct connection back to Leviticus 8. He says we are now part of a “holy and royal priesthood.” Amazingly, what occurs in Leviticus 8 has more application to you and I than anything else.
Since we embody what God was instituting in this chapter but we aren’t priests in the sense we mediate on behalf of sinners before the throne of God or facilitate the mechanism by which sacrifices are offered for atonement (this is a role for only Jesus), God’s purpose in establishing the priesthood must be much broader than one might initially assume.
To help us unpack these things it’s important we not forget the larger work God was seeking to accomplish through Leviticus in general… God had just delivered the Hebrew people from their bondage, removed them from Egypt, and now called them to be a holy people unto Himself. He then uniquely ordered the way this Nation of Israel was to operate specifically to illustrate to the larger world there was a better way to live!
Israel was called to be distinct from the world in order to be God’s witness in the world. She was to be the body God would inhabit! Her calling was holy and God’s purposes intentional. In Exodus 19:5-6 the Lord said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Ultimately, to help the people conceptualize who they were all to be in the world as a “kingdom of priests” God called out Aaron’s family from the congregation to become the priesthood. They were to model for the people the life God desired them all to live.
To this point you should notice more of this sevenfold pattern involved in the priesthood. If you breakdown the passage you’ll see seven steps Moses uses in the ordination process. Aside from this, “Aaron and his sons” were to remain in the tabernacle for seven days to complete their consecration. No doubt these sevens intend to take us back to Genesis 1.
In the establishing of the priesthood God is illustrating this re-creation… Keep in mind, there was nothing unique about “Aaron and his sons.” In fact, they were sinners like the rest. And yet, in God’s abundant grace He chose them, made them priests, brought them into His presence, and ordered their entire lives around Himself to illustrate a new way to be human.
I love the card game Spades; and yet, for the new player it can be difficult to pick up. That said… As anyone who’s ever played Spades knows the easiest way to learn is not by reading an instruction manual, but to sit next to someone who already knows how to play and watch a few hands. This highlights the brilliance of God… In order to teach Israel a different way of living in a continual communion with the Creator, God intentionally established the priesthood in order to demonstrate what this life was to look like.
This is why chapter 8 opens with the people being called to the “door of the tabernacle” with “Aaron and his sons” being called out and separated. They were set aside from the rest of the people to fill this specific role and particular function. This is likely why we see such a performance quality to all that happens in this chapter. The distinction was to be visual.
After “Aaron and his sons” are separated from the congregation, it’s not a coincidence they publicly remove their normal, common garments, are “washed” by Moses “with water,” before being adorned with new clothes designed to be different from everyone else in Israel!
“Aaron and his sons” are then anointed by Moses with oil, purified by the blood, and consecrated for their unique calling. In the end the people would come to the priests to encounter God, because the priests were the ones having a daily encounter with Him!
This word often repeated in this chapter “consecrated” literally meant to set gems into place. You see God called “Aaron and his sons” out of the midst in order to set them into a position for this divine purpose. Again, imagine the scene as Moses “took some of the blood of the sacrifice and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot” before repeating the process with Aaron’s four sons.
The image was powerful. As the priest of God their lives were ordered from head to toe for His purposes. They were to have an ear to hear the voice of God, hands to do the work of God, and feet to walk in His will. Again, this is the calling of every follower of Jesus! One scholar remarked concerning this picture writing, “The priests were called to reflect the divine well — in all they hear, do, and go. The priests were to be the divine on display.”
How interesting these things concerning the priesthood ultimately illustrate who we are in Christ as well as who we’ve been called to be in the lost world around us? First, God has called us out of this world and set us aside for His purposes. To do this He washed us clean of our sin and our filthy, common rags He exchanged for righteous, holy garments!
Beyond this, you and I have been anointed by the Holy Spirit consecrating us to Himself. As priests we are not normal! We are different and distinct by design. The oil yields a sweet aroma. Our lives are centered on the divine. Positionally, we’ve been purified by the blood!
And it’s as a direct result of who God has made us that we become priests in the world not by the sermons we teach or words we say, but the way in which we live our lives. As priests we testify God has established a new, better way to live — a new way to be human.
Let me apply this idea… If you’re a married man, the Bible presents you as being the priest of the household. Not I realize this idea is controversial, but only if you hold hast the common misconceptions about the role of a priest. Think of it like this… While it’s true there is a component of this role whereby you intercede in prayer on behalf of your wife and kids…
And there is no question you have a responsibility to make sacrifices for them as needed… Sure, as the priest of your home, God will hold you to account for what happens under your roof… And yet, please understand, your role as priest, more than anything else, is to lead by example! As the priest of your home it is your primary job to “reflect the divine well!”
It can’t be understated how one of the main challenges of being a priest is that we all naturally live within a certain tension. In many ways we all find ourselves standing in between two different worlds. This is why in the calling to be a priest God knew how critical it would be for you to center your entire life around Him. For the priest no part of his life was to be trivial, but all of it consecrated. Aside from this, God also knew we’d need an example!
Which leads to the other important element this story in Leviticus 8 illustrates for us… It’s impossible to become a priest without first having a Priest! There is no doubt Moses plays an interesting and unique role in the process of consecrating the priesthood. And yet, in many ways this also highlights a core, fundamental problem presented in the story.
The challenge was how do you initiate a priesthood of sinners without first making a Sin Offering… But how do you offer the Sin Offering without someone acting as a priest? Basically, the conundrum was how to start the process when everyone was a sinner. Theoretically, you needed a sinless priest to offer the first sacrifice for the sinful priests.
In this situation God makes a concession by allowing Moses to make the initial offering (which he could do since he was a Levite) before officially transitioning the procedures to “Aaron and his sons” beginning in chapter 9. The problem with this is that Moses was still a sinful man (he’d killed an Egyptian years earlier) and therefore the Levitical Priesthood began with a fundamental flaw. Good thing this didn’t really matter in the overall scheme.
Operating under the premise Leviticus never intended to work, but to establish the way in which God would work… Moses presents for us a type of Jesus within our story. Jesus is the one Priest who offered the effective sacrifice so that we might all be priests.
Let me quickly give you two Biblical justifications for the priesthood of Jesus: First, Jesus is more than able to be our High Priest, because unlike Moses He was sinless and didn’t need to offer for Himself a sacrifice for sin. Secondly, though Jesus did not descend from the Tribe of Levi and therefore could not be of the Aaronic Order, according to Hebrews 6, Jesus’ priestly linage came through an earlier precedent… “The order of Melchizedek.”
In Genesis 14:18-20 we read how, as Abraham was returning from a successful campaign to liberate the citizens of Sodom, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe of all.”
The point is that while true you and I cannot be priests without a Priest, with an appropriate understanding of the fundamental purpose for the priesthood, Jesus is more than able! Not only is it Jesus who chose us, called us, washed us, clothed us, anointed and consecrated as well as purified each of us through His blood, but He also shows us how to be a priest!
In closing, one of the most powerful aspects of this story is how it all began… Don’t miss this… In Leviticus 8:1-2 we read, “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Take Aaron and his sons with him!’” You see it was God and not Moses who chose “Aaron and his sons” to be priests. God chose the Calf-Maker to be the first High Priest! What a display of grace!
My friend, like Aaron, there is nothing any of us can do to earn such a position. Righteous garments can never be earned! And yet, what an amazing thing that God has called you and I to be a “holy and royal priesthood” in this world — that He called failures to model a better way! How glorious He then equipped us for such a task giving us Jesus to show the way!
Know as a priest your life matters. You’ve been consecrated — a gem set in stone for a purpose. Christian, never forget it’s your job to model for the world around you the very life God desires for them and Jesus died to provide. The question is what life are you modeling?
To be an effective priest our text is clear how essential it is you center your entire life around the things of the Lord. When trying to balance the natural tension that comes when you stand between two worlds, I encourage you to follow Jesus’ lead! Every priest needs a priest and thankfully we have the Great High Priest to look upon!
Also never forget, when it’s all said and done, most people will search out a priest when they desire an encounter with God and they’ll do this for one fundamental reason… A priest’s life demonstrates a personal relationship with God! Again, may I ask… What life are you modeling to the world around you? My friend, “May the priests in all they hear, do, and go reflect the divine well… May your life put the divine on display.”
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