Leviticus 9 begins with the words ‘on the eighth day’. This is a continuation of the previous chapter, which ended off with the command for Aaron and the priests to be confined for seven days (Lev 8:33).
(A) The Call to Obedience: Issued by a Holy God
On this eight day, "Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel" (v.1). Notice that we are told that Moses summoned them, andAaron did not just emerge from the tent. This is not just mere semantics. Right at the beginning of the passage we are reminded that Aaron and the priests who have just been ordained were acting in obedience and responded to a call. They did not do as they pleased.
Apart from Moses and the elders, we are also told in verse 5 that ‘all the congregation’ i.e. everyone was there, to witness the beginning of the priests’ daily work life. In chapter 8, they were witnesses to an ordination ceremony, but chapter 9 was meant to show the congregation the work of the priest. Who else was there? Verse 5 tells us that God was there too ("before the LORD"). The people were in His holy presence.
Moses gives them some commands, and tells them why they had to follow God's commands (v.6). They had to obey so that "the glory of the LORD may appear to you". How do you think they feel when they are told this? There would definitely be excitement, joy and anticipation, as if they were receiving an important guest. But there would definitely also be reverential fear. After all, the last time God appeared to them (c.f. Exodus 19:16-20, 20:18-21) they were so fearful at the incredible might and power of God and told Moses not to let God speak to them directly. When these same words were uttered in Leviticus 9, they would have thought about this when they were told that God was going to appear to them again. What, then, is this fear of God? It is the highest form of reverence from the understanding that He is so much more powerful than we can imagine and mere mortals like us cannot stand in His presence. Maybe it’s something like being asked to meet someone of very high standing – you might feel honour and anticipation but also fear that you do something wrong.
What can we learn from these verses? We ought to approach our obedience with the reverential fear that He deserves because He is God. We obey God because He is our almighty, holy, God. He is totally different from us. How do you think of God? How do you approach Him? What is your attitude when you gather with the congregation to worship Him?
(B) The Process of Obedience: Humility and Total Submission before a Holy God
Verses 7 to 21 give us a list of offerings. Notice the type of offering, as well as how they are to be made.
|7||Instruction||"as the LORD has commanded"|
|8-11||Sin Offering for the priests||"As the LORD commanded Moses" (v.10)|
|12-14||Burnt Offering for the priests|
|15||Sin Offering for the people||"Like the first one"|
|16||Burnt Offering for the people||"According to the rule"|
Firstly, what is significant of the order of the offerings? The sin offerings are made first, reminding us of last week’s study that showed us the imperfect obedience of the priests, and how they needed their own sins to be atoned for. This was also, as we established earlier, part of their daily work. The sin offering that was made as part of their ordination was not a once and for all offering for all their ministry, but they needed to offer the sin offering every time they came before God. This constant reminder of their sin and need for cleansing was now necessarily part of their life, by virtue of the fact that God had called them to this work.
Secondly, we also see something about the obedience of the priests from the manner in which they offerings are made. The obedience of the priests is done in response to God’s commands. God, and no one else, is the one who issues the commands, and their job is to obey it. The obedience of the priests also demands that things should be done precisely and thoroughly, according ‘to the rule.’ They made sure of this in all their offerings. These verses give us a picture of total obedience. Is this a picture of your obedience?
Let us take a closer look at the first sin offering. Unlike the sin offerings mentioned in previous chapters, a bull calf is offered instead of a bull (v.2). It is (possibly) a reminder to Aaron of the golden calf incident that happened earlier (Exodus 32). In that account, Aaron was the one responsible for fashioning the calf and declaring the feast day to the calf, and later tried to push the blame away from himself. He even came up with a ridiculous excuse that the idol it came out of the fire (Ex 32:2-5, 22-24). Thus, Aaron’s obedience in Leviticus 9 with the sacrifice of the calf (v.8-11) led him to remember his own specific sin and foolishness and need for cleansing.
In verses 17, we read that the grain offering was burnt beside the ‘burnt offering of the morning.’ Remember that the burnt offering goes up everyday. Though this service was an extraordinary one – the first sacrifice of the newly ordained high priest and priests -- the daily burnt offering was not forgotten, and was still essential to the worship life of God’s people. They were waiting for something extraordinary -- the glory of God, the mundane things still needed to continue! What can we learn about obedience and worship? In the same way, sometimes when we think of sacrificial service, we are drawn to larger, more grand shows of offering ourselves to God. Yet, our worship is also in the everyday – we are called to read the Bible, to understand it, to pray for one another, to show compassion and be kind to people, to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. We are called to do so many thing in worship of God, and these things are not to be neglected and they are very important! How often do we claim we "offer ourselves to God", and forget these things? This verse reminds us that there is a steadiness in worshipping God that we should hold fast to as well. Our obedience is not to be in spurts or only in dramatic actions – totality of obedience is in everyday living.
After the grain offering, the peace offering was offered. The wave offering happens as part of the peace offering where the breasts and the right thigh are waved "before the Lord". These are not parts of the sacrifice that are to be burnt as an offering to God, because only the fat is offered up. What happens to them then? These are kept by the priests as their portion of the offering. As they wave it as an offering to God, they are acknowledging that even in the things that ‘belong to them’ or are to be consumed by them, all things really belong to God and come from God. It is like our doxology when we sing "We give thee but thine own, Whatever the gift may be, All that we have is Thine alone, A trust, O Lord from thee". We obey because we worship a God who has given us everything we have. Our obedience is but a way of responding to that reality.
(C) The Result of Obedience: Blessing, Acceptance and Revelation from a Holy God
After the offerings have been made, we are told that Aaron "lifted up his hands towards the people and blessed them" (v.22). The lifting up of hands is not uncommon. We've seen that Moses’ hands had to be held up for Israel to win against the Amalekites (Ex 17:11). Today, it is often a sign of worship. But there are very specific mechanics for the lifting of hands: Aaron lifts his hands upwards, signifying from whence he implored the blessing, and towards the people on whom he desired it might descend. It was a symbolic gesture, where Aaron acknowledges that the blessing was not coming from Aaron as much as it was coming from God through Aaron.
Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out and blessed the people, "the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people" (v.23). Fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar. What does this represent (v.24)? It represents God Himself, perhaps specifically God’s wrath that was meant to consume them consuming the sacrifice instead. However, God accepts their sacrifice. This would evoke feelings of joy and relief (the phrase "shouted for joy" is used in the NIV), perhaps fear, awe, shock at how things have actually happened ( since they shouted and hid their faces). Whatever it is, there is a visceral response to God revealing Himself to His people that recognises His inherent deity and honour. This is the instinctive response for us when we enter the presence of God and when we obey Him -- heights of joy, reverential fear, awe. These verses also show us the result of obedience -- blessing, acceptance and revelation from a holy and gracious God.
And yet, that’s not quite where the story ends. When we think of fire coming down from God, we see God revealing Himself in fire in Acts, when the Holy Spirit came in ‘divided tongues as of fire’ and rested on each one of them. But before Pentecost, the reason for this fire was because God revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. In His life and obedience, He showed us God's righteousness. In His death, we see God's mercy and love, but also His justice. In Him and in the gospel is all of God’s being, all of God’s character – His righteousness, justice, wrath, mercy, love. How do we know these truths, and Him today? God has left us with this knowledge in the Bible! This is an amazing gift from God – and the fact that we know it through the Word of God is even more amazing. God has revealed Himself in all His glory in His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Bible points to Him.
This necessarily changes our perspective of obedience too. At the start of Lev 9, we see how the people had to prepare themselves and obey so God could appear before them. For us, we know that in Christ, we see God’s revelation and blessing, and this helps us to obey. We obey because God has appeared in the most ultimate way already, dying for us on the cross, not just motivating us but also enabling us to truly obey Him. He has given us everything we need – so why aren’t we obeying? Why aren’t we shouting in awe and joy and falling on our faces? May God’s revelation tug at our hearts once again, calling us to true obedience in Him.