Leviticus 1-7 consisted of detailed instructions for the various offerings. Leviticus was written to show the Israelites, and us, what it takes for a holy God to dwell amongst sinful people. In today's study, we'll look at the setting aside of the priests, who were so important to the system. We're moving a bit away from the intricacies of the system, to focus on the people that God has set aside to serve Him. 

 

(A) Holy preparation of the priests (8:1-13) 

After the instructions for the 5 offerings, the LORD gives Moses 2 instructions (v.1-4). Moses had to prepare both the people ("take Aaron and his sons") and objects ("the garments", "anointing oil", "bull of the sin offering", "two rams", "basket of unleavened bread")(v.1-2). He was also to assemble the people, who were referred to collectively as the "congregation". "Congregation" becomes the NT word for church. The congregation met at the tent of meeting, a place so named because the people of God had to meet there. congregation meets at the tent of meeting. 

After they met, Moses did “the thing that the LORD has commanded to be done”(v.5-13). This one thing was the preparation of the priests, but was broken down into a few steps, which the writer details for us. 

Washes them (v.6) 

"And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water." 
  • On a practical note, remember that they lived in the desert. 
  • But notice also that this took place in front of the congregation. It was a public ritual to show that the High Priest and the priests are indeed clean.
 Puts on clothes (v.7)

"And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him and tied the skillfully woven band of the ephod around him, binding it to him with the band." 
 
  • The writer took pains to detail each item, because each item has a meaning. 
  • Exodus 28 details for us the preparation process of these clothes. These clothes were specially made by people that have been filled with the spirit of skill. God equipped His people in the preparation process
 Puts the breastpiece on top of the clothes (v.8)

 "
And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim" 
  •  In Exo 28:15-20, we read of the details of this breastpiece and ephod. The breastpiece will have the names of the 12 tribes, "when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord" (c.f. Exo 28:28). Thus, when the priest went before God, he had the the names of the people on his heart. 
  • What are the "Urim and the Thummin"?
    Gordon Wenham in his commentary on the book of Leviticus, says,
    “…the Urim and Thummim (v8). These are Hebrew words which literally mean “lights and perfections.”…They were capable of giving a positive, negative, or neutral reply to a question…in early Israel but by postexilic times they had dropped out of use…Israel could see in the glorious figure of the high priest the personal embodiment of all that the nation ought to be both individually and corporately.” 
 Sets the turban on his head, together with the golden plate and holy crown (v.9)

"
And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses" 
  • plate is attached, with the inscription "holy to the Lord" (Exo 28:36). Thus, the priest comes as a bridge, bearing the people behind him, but also looking to the holy God. This shows us the mediatory work of the priest. 
 Consecrates the holy items by sprinkling the anointing oil (v.10-11)

"Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. ..."
  • This included the tabernacle, altar, utensils, basin and stand. These items were sprinkled with oil to be consecrated. 
 Pours anointing oil on Aaron's head (v.12)

"And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him to consecrate him."
  • A mark of consecration (setting aside) and it also symbolised the anointing of the Spirit. 
 Clothes the son of Aaron (v.13)

"
And Moses brought Aaron's sons and clothed them..."
  • The same thing was done to the sons of Aaron. 
  • The whole family is set apart for a completely different purpose, and it feels as if they are living in a different world. This is the design of the priesthood, and this is all public.

Moses did it all "as the Lord commanded". Great care was taken to detail the process to show that Moses obeyed God's commands as He had commanded it. This was all that was required to prepare the priests. 

 

(B) Bloody atonement for the priests (8:14-29) 

Moses performs 3 offerings after this act of obedience. They are:

  1. Bull of the sin offering (v.14), which shows that sin needs to be atoned or paid for
  2. Ram of the burnt offering (v.18), a sign of devotion and worship.
  3. Ram of the ordination (v.22), and it is similar to the peace offering (c.f Lev 3)

We've studied the burnt and sin offering in previous weeks, and have learnt that they are different offerings. The burnt offering comes with the sin offering, because worship needs to be preceded by an atoning work. We learn something important, that we never come before God in worship without another dying in our place. This is why Aaron and sons needed to lay their hands on the bull (v.14), as a corporate acknowledgement of their sins, and the substitutionary place of the offering. 

But, what is surprising about these 3 offerings? Here, we realise that Moses plays the role of the priest, while the priests are the worshippers. It means that those who God set aside to make atonement on behalf of others need to first have atonement made on their behalf. It was to teach the Israelites something important -- this system, though holy, is imperfect. Heb 5:1-5 tells us the same thing, that these priests need to offer sacrifices for their own sin, just as they do on behalf of the people. These imperfect priests, therefore, cannot appoint themselves to be priests, but need to be called by God. In Ps 24:3-5, David declares that only one with clean hands and a pure heart can ascend the hill of the LORD and stand in His holy place. Only the righteous will receive the blessings of the LORD. But, Leviticus 8 shows us that the priests are not the righteous mentioned in this psalm. 

 

(C) Imperfect obedience of the priests (8:30-36) 

After the third offering, the ordination offering, we are told that Moses sprinkles the anointing oil and blood on the altar and the garments of Aaron and his sons, in order to consecrate them (v.30). It was a sign of setting them aside, and to be made holy. There is one simple application for us right here. Our pastors and ministers of the word have been set aside for the ministry. Yet, like the priests, they are not perfect and are still sinners who need the atoning work of another. Do you realise that people you look up to -- parents, leaders, pastors etc -- are imperfect? What kind of unfair expectations do you have of them? Do you also expect yourself to adhere to unattainable standards, and when you fail, you greatly disappoint yourself? Leviticus teaches us that there is only one holy one -- God and God alone, not even Moses, not even Aaron and his sons. It shows us our anthropology, and our need for a Savior. How does this change the way you relate to others, and pray for them? 

After all this activity, Moses finally speaks to Aaron and his sons (v.31). He gives them a series of instruction with a sequence of action words in verses 31-33 ("boil", "eat", "burn", "shall not go"). These were the things they had to do and observe during the 7 ordination days. Part of their ordination involved the partaking of a meal together in fellowship, and living apart from the community for a period of time. 

Moses summarises the entire sequence of activites in verse 34, by declaring that everything thus far was for the atonement of the priests. Every step in the ordination and consecration process was deliberate and intentional, to show them that they were sinners who needed to have their sins paid for by another. Only then would they be dressed in their priestly garments and be able to fellowship with each other, and God. There was also a warning in verse 35 that disobedience would be met with death. These priests were called by God (c.f. Heb 5:4), and there was no resignation option available. It was their identity and purpose. 

We will see in Lev 9 (next week!) that they obey God's commands. Yet, in Lev 10, we will read of the death of 2 of Aaron's sons, because of their disobedience. And don't forget that Aaron, the great High Priest, was the one responsible for building the golden calf (Exo 32). As we read these passages, we might be surprised and even frustrated by the failures of these priests. But these are recorded for us as pictures of our own struggle with sin and idolatry. We too, continually turn to things made by man and sacrifice time, energy and efforts for. None of us is righteous, in the same way these priests are sinful and continue to sin, and continue to need their own sins to be atoned for. 

So what? 

We realise that Lev 8 was not a way to save ourselves. The imperfections of earthly priest who needed a mediator for themselves point to the perfections of Jesus! Jesus walked into the sea of Galilee to be washed publicly, not to be made clean, but to identify with sinners. He was not clothed with carefully woven clothes, but was given a purple robe to shame Him. He was crowned, but with a crown of thorns. This is the same one who bears the people of God on His heart and all our names are graven on his hands and written on His heart. He is the one with clean hands and a pure heart that can ascend the Lord's holy hill. It is because of this Priest's intercession and righteousness that we have access to God in heaven. 

Jesus is our great High Priest, perfect in every way that Aaron and his sons could not be. How do we respond? Heb 4:14-16 to therefore, hold fast to our confession. Hold fast and never let go of this truth -- that Jesus came into the world to die for sinners. Dear friend, do not tell yourself that you need to atone for your own sins, or need to do things to be accepted by God. And draw near to the throne of grace. Run to Him, stay close to the one who gives grace and mercy in abundance. It does not matter how you feel. He is the offering that is ever burning, so we can worship Him today.