Institution of the Priesthood
Before looking at the present passage, we need to address 2 issues in this book: first, how Leviticus relates to the other 4 books written by Moses and second, the major themes in Leviticus. First, we immediately notice that Leviticus is the third book of the 5 written by Moses, the five being called the "Pentateuch." If we go back to the first 2 books Moses wrote, we remember that at the beginning of man's life on earth, man and woman were deceived by Satan, the man indirectly and the woman directly. One of God's punishments against Eve was that there would be enmity between the woman and the serpent (Satan). God had promised, though, that a day would come when a son of the woman would crush the serpent's head and the serpent would bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15). Although the promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ, Moses saw a major partial fulfillment of this promise in the person of Abraham and his descendants. Whereas before the time of Abraham generation after generation lived evil lives, Abraham walked with God by faith. From him issued a nation which experienced victory over Satan by becoming the people of God. The question then becomes, "What does it mean to live like the people of God? What does it mean to have victory over the serpent?" Leviticus provided an answer to these questions. The descendants of Abraham would live like God's people and overcome the serpent if they followed God's instructions in Leviticus.
The second issue deals with the major themes of the book. Basically, Leviticus focuses on 3 themes: (1) the sacrificial system, (2) the Aaronic priesthood, and (3) some of the moral laws of the OT, others being found in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Although many of the specifics of these themes in Leviticus no longer relate to Christians per se, the 3 themes generally still do relate to us. Christ's sacrifice on the cross replaces the sacrificial system in Leviticus. Christ replaces Aaron as our High Priest with the result that Christians even become priests of God, and God today still expects righteous living from His people. As we shall see, the system set up in Leviticus collapsed because it was incapable of fulfilling the function God had intended for it; on the other hand, the new system set up by Christ is permanent because of its effectiveness in achieving what God had intended for it.
THE PRIESTS REPRESENT THE PEOPLE (8:1-5)
Before Moses begins to robe Aaron for his office and to offer sacrifices for Aaron, Moses first calls for the whole nation of Israel to assemble at the entrance to the Tabernacle, the tent God had commanded the Israelites to build as a place of worship for Him. Not only do the people assemble at the entrance to the tabernacle, Moses also brings Aaron and his sons, plus the materials necessary for consecrating Aaron. Moses brings all these different elements together in order to impress upon the people the principle that what is about to happen does not relate just to Aaron and his sons; this is not a unique event for Aaron alone. What is about to occur will impact the whole nation as well. Aaron is about to become THEIR high priest. He will represent THEM before God and will represent God before them. When he stands before God, they are the ones then actually standing before God. From the very outset of their creation as a nation, God had said that the Israelites would be a kingdom of priests. Since it was physically impossible for them all to minister in the sanctuary, Aaron and his sons would represent them. When Aaron and his sons were ministering in the Tabernacle, they were ministering on behalf of Israel and not simply for their own sakes.
ROBING AARON (8:6-8)
The first action Moses takes is to robe Aaron with garments especially prepared for the high priest. At first, Moses washes Aaron to symbolize the spiritual purity Aaron should have in his life. Next, Moses clothes Aaron with a full-length tunic, woven as one piece without any seams, made of linen. After putting the tunic on Aaron, Moses ties a sash around the tunic. Next, Moses covers the tunic with an outer robe, once more seamless with a hole in the middle so that Aaron could slip his head through it, made of purpose (hyacinth) cloth. Moses ties another sash around this outer cloak. Over the front of the robe (covering Aaron's chest), Moses ties an apron, over which Moses again ties a cloth breast piece. Onto this breast piece are sown 12 different gems with each gem representing one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Part of the breast piece contained a pouch, into which Moses place 2 die or lots called the Urim and the Thummin. Whenever the high priest was called upon to make a major decision, he would throw the die or cast the lots which would help him decide. Upon Aaron's head, Moses placed a cloth turban to the font of which he attached a brass plate which had engraved on it the words, "Holy to the Lord," meaning that the high priest was God's special possession.
SACRIFICES OFFERED SO THAT AARON COULD BECOME HIGH PRIEST (8:10-29)
Before God allows Aaron to being his priestly ministry, He instructs Moses to anoint Aaron and the tabernacle instruments with oil. Oil in the OT symbolized God's Spirit, anointing with oil symbolized God's Spirit coming upon the person in order to empower the person for service. Unfortunately, the oil was only a symbol. Whereas at times the Holy Spirit did come upon one of God's servants, He did not remain upon that person permanently. A permanent indwelling of the Spirit occurred only after Pentecost.
Next, God orders Moses to offer up 3 sacrifices to qualify Aaron to be the high priest. The first sacrifice is called the sacrifice of sin offering. Aaron and his sons were to lay their hands on the head of a young ox, which Moses was to slaughter. He would then take the blood of the ox and smear some of the blood on the horns of the altar, pour the rest of the blood at the base of the altar, offer up its liver, its kidneys with fat, and the entrails on the fiery altar. The rest of the bull was to be burned outside the camp of the Israelites. Aaron lays his hands upon the ox to symbolize that the ox was actually being sacrificed on Aaron's behalf. Although the ox had never sinned, Aaron had and should have paid for his own sins with his own death; however, by placing his hands upon the ox, Aaron and God were declaring that the ox was dying on Aaron's behalf.
Note 2 things. First, Moses smeared the altar with blood in order to purify the altar also. Even though an ox was being sacrificed for Aaron's sins, Aaron and his sons nevertheless still remained sinners, and anything they touched would be polluted, even the altar. As a result, even the altar needed to be purified from contamination from sin. Second, notice that this sacrifice occurs before the other sacrifices (burnt offering, consecration, etc.). The reason is that before a person can be totally God's (sacrifice of burnt offering) and before God can use any person for service, God must first remove their sin.
The second sacrifice was called the sacrifice of burnt offering, or the holocaust. This sacrifice consisted of Aaron and his sons laying their hands on the head of a ram; by doing so, they were claiming that the ram was being sacrificed on their behalf. Moses again takes some of the blood and pours it around the base of the altar, but this time he places the entire animal upon the altar to be burned by the altar fires. Although Moses will wash part of the animal in order to purify it, he nevertheless offers the entire animal upon the altar.
The third sacrifice is called "the sacrifice of consecration," or when it applies to the people, "the sacrifice of peace offering." Once more, Aaron and his sons place their hands upon the ram to be sacrificed to show that the sacrifice is being offered on their behalf. Moses takes some of the blood and smears it on the lobe of their right ear, on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot. This was to signify that the priests were obligated to listen to God and not carry out their own wishes (blood on the ear), to perform the Lord's work and not their own (blood on the thumb), and to walk in God's ways (blood on the big toe). The right side of the body is consecrated because most people have dominant right sides (right-handed, etc.). At the conclusion of the sacrifice, Moses again offers up selected portions of the ram; he does not sacrifice the entire animal in order to distinguish this offering from the sacrifice of burnt offering or sacrifice of dedication.
RESULT OF THE SACRIFICES (9:22-24)
Immediately following the sacrifices for Aaron and the people, God descends in the form of a bright cloud called the "glory" or the Shekinah. Fire or lightning shoots from the cloud and totally devours the sacrifice on top of the altar. God's presence and the lightning indicate God was pleased with the sacrifice and determined to live among His people.
Note that the sacrifices had to occur before God descended to live with His people. Sin had to be dealt with, people had to give themselves wholly to the Lord, and His people had to give themselves to full service before God was pleased to live among them. We see so many Christians today longing to have God's presence. They'll get involved in every kind of Bible study imaginable; they'll pray to no end; however, they refuse to deal with sin in their own lives. To be sure, they detect sin in the lives of everyone around them; however, they never see it in their own lives. Moreover, they are always praying that God endorse their own plans and agenda, and are so frustrated whenever things don't go well. Well, God is not interested in furthering yours or my agendas. Only those fully dedicated to Him and following His leadership are going to experience His presence and His life. This applies to the church as a whole as well. Christians dedicated only to the Lord will experience His power and presence.
COLLAPSE OF THE SYSTEM (10:1-3)
Right after Moses finishes preparing Aaron and his sons for the priesthood, Aaron's 2 sons offer strange fire before the Lord. By offering strange fire, they probably used some kind of incense not prescribed by the Lord. The result was that God struck them down dead.
You can look at this event 2 ways. First, this event shows the seriousness of the commands God gave to Moses and to Aaron. God will brook no disobedience but rather demands to be treated as holy before the people. We see this operating also in Acts 5:1ff where Ananias and Sapphira lie to the church about how much money they had contributed to the church coffers. Once the Holy Spirit through Peter informs Ananias and Sapphira He knows of their lie, He strikes them down. This event in Leviticus may be saying the same thing the episode of Ananias and Sapphira is saying.
Second, and probably better, this event points to the fact that this system was flawed from the beginning and that it would eventually collapse. If the system was ever going to work, you would think that it would work at the outset; however, at the very beginning, we see disobedience and punishment. Look at what happened whenever God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments. You would think they would have been good for at least a year; however, what do they do? Immediately they turn around and build a gold calf and declare that this was the god who delivered them from Egypt. The OT system of Law was not going to work, and these 2 episodes proved it.
Why wouldn't this system ever work? Two reasons. First, the sacrifices consisted only of animals. Even though the animals were without blemish physically, they were still nothing more than mere animals. Sacrificing animals will never save anybody. If they could, then you would think that the dedication of the Temple would have permanently removed sin because on that day alone, Solomon sacrificed over 200,000 animals. If all these sacrifices could not remove sin, then they will never be removed by human means either. Lord knows, though, that many of us are trying to make up for our own sins. We're not sacrificing animals, but we are doing everything possible to feel good about ourselves. We can never shop enough; we are always trying to be friends with just the right people in order to feel better about ourselves. We're obsessed with making sure our kids are involved in every imaginable event because if little Johnny doesn't get to participate in a certain event, his life will be ruined forever. All this is not working though. People are full of rage like never before. Youth are so unhappy; adults are miserable. The truth is that either Christ's death on the cross pays for our sins, or they are never removed. Either He makes us right with Himself and ourselves, or we will be forever miserable.
Second, the OT system did not have the Holy Spirit. The OT saints were left to live lives in their own strength and power—a recipe for failure.
Finally, these sacrifices apply to all Christians. The sin offering finds fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ for all Christians. The sacrifice of burnt offering finds its fulfillment in our completely dedicating our lives to God (Rom. 12:1), whereas the sacrifice of ordination finds its fulfillment in Christians being dedicated to serving the Lord by using their spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-8). (Notice that these 3 sacrifice serve as the outline for the book of Romans—sin offering (Rom. 1-8), burnt offering (Rom. 12:1-2), and ordination offering (Rom. 12:3-8).
Many try to reduce these sacrifices by applying them only to the official clergy. By doing this, they not only are separating the ministers from the rest of the congregation which violates the principle that Aaron represented the people, they also excuse themselves from living holy, dedicated lives of service. Notice that those who excuse themselves from these sacrifices want to be close to God; however, only after all 3 of these sacrifices were offered did God descend upon the tabernacle and accept the sacrifices. God's presence came only after the 3 sacrifices. All 3 sacrifices must be operating if a person is going to experience God on a deeper level in his life.