Saved to Serve (Leviticus 8:1-36)

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John Piper’s book, Battling Unbelief, is a compilation of eight chapters from his larger work, Future Grace. The purpose of this book is to focus on the application of the deeper foundation of what was written there. He explains the rationale for this when he writes, “Many people move from application back to foundation rather than the reverse. . . . I am hopeful that . . . this smaller book will send many readers to the larger work for a deeper biblical understanding.”

Piper is certainly correct when he notes that many people (most of us?) prefer application over foundation. And that perhaps is why Leviticus is one of the most ignored books in the church today. You see, it is all about foundations, but we love to rush to the New Testament to see its applications. This is understandable, but without foundation, application can miss the point. Pragmatics is fine as long as they are faithful to principles. Leviticus gives to us the principles that we so desperately need when it comes to living a life of worshipping God.

Chapter 8 begins the second “worship manual” in this 27-chapter revelation from God with reference to acceptable worship.

The first worship manual, which spans chapters 1-7, deals with how to sacrifice so as to enjoy God’s presence. The second, which comprises chapters 8-10, deals with how the priests were to serve with reference to the sacrifices. Moses was here given instructions concerning how to transform ordinary men into those who would serve as God’s priests.

John Newton once noted that “none but He who made the world can make a Minister of the Gospel.” In many ways this is precisely the theme of Leviticus 8.

Further, we can say that these instructions were also intended to keep these men safe as they served. Of course, only those who were priests were permitted to serve in the tabernacle (a replica of both the world as well as of the church). As we will see, this could be very dangerous, as attested by the events recorded in 10:1-2.

As we unpack the first chapter in this three-chapter manual we need to pay close attention, for it is very relevant to we who have been saved under the new covenant. The high priest, of course, points to Christ. The high priest and the larger priesthood point us to God-appointed ministers of the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 9:13-14). The priesthood further points us to the New Testament principle of the priesthood of all believers. (Note with reference to the Israelites that—according to Rushdoony—“the priests represented all that the people were to become.”) And underlying all of this is the fact that we are saved to serve. Let’s learn how to do so. As Eveson writes, “The priestly ordination rituals point us to spiritual realities that are necessary if we are to be found among the Lord’s people.”

The Calling of the Priests

In vv. 1-5 we have the record of the selection of the priests.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments, 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. And Moses said to the congregation, “This is what the LORD commanded to be done.”

(Leviticus 8:1-5)

Preaching on the anniversary of his consecration as bishop, Augustine of Hippo once referred to the enormity of the responsibility he carried.

To rebuke those who stir up strife, to comfort those of little courage, to take the part of the weak, to refute opponents, to be on guard against traps, to teach the ignorant, to shake the indolent awake, to discourage those who want to buy and sell, to put the presumptuous in their place, to mollify the quarrelsome, to help the poor, to liberate the oppressed, to encourage the good and to suffer the evil and to love all men.

To be preaching, disputing, reproving, and edifying, to be on hand for everyman—that is the great burden and one which lies heavily on me.

As weighty as the responsibilities were upon Augustine, Tidball notes,

The duties of Augustine were as nothing compared with the responsibilities Aaron was to assume as the high priest of Israel. He and his family were to be the custodians of holiness, the teachers of Israel and the nation’s intermediaries with God. It was important, therefore, that they should enter into office neither lightly nor without full recognition of the people of God. Leviticus 8 reports the impressive ordination of Aaron to God’s service.

It was no small thing to be chosen and called to serve in the priesthood. As the writer to the Hebrews notes, “no man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5:4). In Exodus 28-29 Moses had made preparations for the ordination of the priests; now he finally did that for which he had earlier prepared.

In a sense, Moses here served as a high priest to ordain the high priest and the priesthood. He also at times served as a prophet and even as a king, and we can therefore say fairly that he was a type of Christ. As great a man as Moses was, let us remember that he simply pointed to one even greater (cf. Hebrews 3:1-6).

The Calling was Particular

We see in our text that the calling of the priesthood was very particular. God did not leave the choice of a high priest up to Moses, nor did he leave the choice of the regular priests to Moses. God told him very specifically to “take Aaron and his sons.” God handpicked Aaron as the high priest and specifically selected the tribe of Leviticus, and in particular the family of Aaron, to serve in the priesthood. One might suggest that, with Levi’s history (cf. Genesis 34), the selection of the Levites to serve in the priesthood was unlikely, but God graciously chose to forgive Levi’s history and appoint the tribe to serve as priests regardless.

God’s choice of the new covenant High Priest was also particular. According to 1 Peter 2:4-6, Jesus was “chosen by God and precious” and was “a chief cornerstone, elect, precious.” His ministry as High priest was a “command” that He “received from [His] Father” (John 10:18). Again, His Father “gave” Him the “command” to serve in that capacity (John 12:49; 14:31).

But the larger priesthood was likewise chosen by God (Hebrews 5:4) and, similarly, those who serve as new covenant priests (i.e. all believers) are also specifically chosen and appointed by God (1 Peter 2:9; Ephesians 1:3-4; Revelation 17:14).

The Calling was Public

Those called to serve as priests were, as it were, put on public display. Three times in these opening verses we read of the Moses being told to gather the “congregation” to witness the installation of the priests. We should not necessarily assume that the entire population of Israel—probably in the region of two million—gathered to witness this event, but there were at the very least representatives of every tribe and family present.

The point is that the priests’ installation was to be public. Their investiture was not to be secretly in private. The reason for this, I would assume, was to emphasise their God given authority as well as their accountability to those that they served.

We should note that Jesus became the mediating High Priest publicly. His birth was announced by an angelic host. His baptism was a public event. When He began His public ministry, “news of Him went out through all the surrounding region” (Luke 4:14). His ministry was very public (cf. John 6:27).

In similar vein, those who minister the gospel are to be ordained (and to serve) publicly. As I write these words, we as a church are preparing to ordain two more men to the eldership of the church. It has been made known for some time now that they have been undergoing an internship. Now that the time has come for them to be officially appointed to the office, their names have been posted and publicly announced from the pulpit for several weeks, and when they are officially ordained to the ministry, it will be a public event.

To bring this back to the level of the priesthood of all believers, let us not that those who have been saved are to be publicly installed and identified as priests. This is precisely the role that baptism and formal church membership play in the life of the believer. There is an expectation laid upon every believer to serve as a priest (Romans 12:1-11; Galatians 5:13).

As a local church, we subscribe to a church membership covenant. The covenant simply outlines in very clear terms the biblical expectation laid upon every member to serve in the church. We take the covenant very seriously and expect those who are members of the church to serve as they have covenanted. Failure to serve in the local church is failure to do what God requires of every new covenant priest.

Let us never lose the wonder of the privileges and the responsibilities of being chosen by God to serve God by serving one another.

Are you a self-absorbed church member? Matt Chandler tells of an annual “state of the church” address that he has introduced in his own local church,

in which I say to the congregation, “Hey quit coming here. If you’re not serious, if you don’t want to plug in, if you don’t want to do life here, if you don’t want to belong, if you’re an ecclesiological buffet kind of guy, eat somewhere else.”

I appreciate the intent behind his words. There is no biblical justification for church members refusing to gather with the body for worship. There is no justification for church members to only show up for services but to refuse to serve in ministry. There is no justification for a church member to withhold his fellowship and giftings from the local church.

The Cleansing of the Priests

In Exodus 29:4, God instructed Moses, when the time came to appoint the priesthood, that he must bring the priests to the door of the tabernacle and wash them with water. Now, in v. 6, we see Moses doing just that: “Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.”

The word translated “brought” is the same one that is used time and again in the opening chapters to describe a sacrificial animal being brought to the tabernacle. “Here Aaron and his sons are ‘presented’ to the Lord, just like a sacrifice,” writes Tidball, “so that they may offer their lives on the altar and be set apart exclusively to serve God.”

Of course, the purpose of the washing was to signify cleansing. Those who serve must be clean to do so. God is concerned about holiness.

It is said that cleanliness is next to godliness. In fact, under the old covenant cleanliness was inseparable from godliness. Moral cleanliness is simply an outward profession testifying to what should be an inward condition, and the two cannot, in fact, be separated.

The New Testament emphasises the need for believers to be spiritually clean.

  • Titus 3:5—Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11—And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
  • Hebrews 10:22—Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
    • Revelation 1:5—And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

Those who lead God’s people must be clean. Filthy leaders destroy the flock. For proof of this, just read Jeremiah 23! Even the best of leaders needs continual washing (see John 13:10).

Since every believer is a priest, every believer must likewise be clean. As believers, we should take seriously the words of Psalm 15.

Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but he honours those who fear the LORD; he who swears to his own hurt and does not change; he who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.

(Psalm 15:1-5)

This is a tall order, to be sure, but it is one that must be taken very seriously. There are no double standards. We are to be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:13-16). Those who will serve must be born again (John 3) and they must be continually cleansed in order to serve acceptably.

The Clothing of the Priest

Moses was told in v. 1 to take “the garments” of the priests and to clothe them, and now in vv. 7-9 we see him doing so.

And he put the tunic on him, girded him with the sash, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him; 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, and he put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate. And he put the turban on his head. Also on the turban, on its front, he put the golden plate, the holy crown, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

(Leviticus 8:7-9)

Those who served in the priesthood must be clothed appropriately. Likewise, Eveson notes that “Christians must not only be spiritually washed by the Holy Spirit, they must also be clothed by the Son of God.” Character matters! The Levitical priest, says Eveson, was “a human being clothed with the majesty of heaven.” Let’s consider this matter of the priestly clothing in a little more detail.

The Nature of the Clothing

Each piece of the priestly outfit was either useful or symbolic for a specific task. Without the uniform in its entirety, the priest could not function fruitfully either for God or for man. As Ross says, “The message of this ritual is that those who minister must be prepared and equipped to do what God called them to do.”

In our studies of the tabernacle, we noted that the structure was designed by God to reflect heavenly realities. This is obvious both in the design and the material used. The priestly garments were designed from the same material used to construct the tabernacle, and the garments therefore likewise reflected the heavenly. The clothing therefore served as a solemn reminder, both the priests and to the people, of whom they represented and whom they served. Writes Harrison,

Elaborate though these vestments were, particularly in view of their wilderness milieu origin, their own function was to remind the Israelites that a powerful, holy and just God was indeed present with them in so far as the wearer of the garments was held to be linked to Him.

Just as the priests needed to appreciate their God-given clothing (they could not serve acceptably without it), so believers need to appreciate the nature of their clothing. We are clothed with the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 13:14) and this enables us to serve the Lord.

The Need for the Clothing

The garments served to remind the priests that they did not stand in their own merit or in their own name. They represented God to man and man to God.

Wenham notes of uniforms in general, “Essentially a uniform draws attention to the office or function of a person, as opposed to his individual personality. It emphasizes his job rather than his name. . . . A uniform enables the rest of society to identify immediately figures of authority, and to pay them appropriate respect.” This was a major purpose of the priestly uniform.

But the garments also served to keep the priest humble as he was reminded that he had been chosen by God to serve Israel as a priest. The attire was never intended to become a badge of honour by which the priest would lord it over the people. He stood under God, and God appointed him to service.

A third important purpose of the attire, and particularly with reference to the high priest, was to serve as the means to his effectiveness. It said to the people that he was God’s representative and was ready to function in any of the priestly capacities.

Finally, the uniform spoke of character—God’s character. Character mattered then, and it matters now.

Let’s take a moment to apply this.

First, note that those who serve as leaders in the church are required to have godly character. The biblical qualifications for the eldership are clearly set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. These texts speak far more clearly to the character of the elder than to his job, and the qualifications are non-negotiable. The elder must exhibit such character in order to be appointed, and he must continue to exhibit such character in order to continue serving in the office.

Those who serve as leaders in the church must be of such character and competence that those they lead will be confident in their ability to fruitfully function. Preparation is necessary. Ministers need to be clothed not only in holiness and heavenliness but also in “helpfulness.”

The Lord Jesus Christ was, is, and forever will be dressed for glory and for honour—and this is our only yet sure hope! As Isaiah exulted, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). We have hope because God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Note further that our service for God can only begin once we have been clothed in the garments of His appointed High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only as we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” that we will be enabled to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts” (Romans 13:14). It is only if we have “not defiled [our] garments” that we will “walk with [Christ] in white” and be counted as “worthy” (Revelation 3:5). Revelation 19:14 similarly speaks of “the armies in heaven” who are “clothed in fine linen, white and clean.”

The Consecration of the Priests

We read of the consecration of the priests in vv. 10-13:

Also Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, 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.

(Leviticus 8:10-13)

Anointing in Scripture was the act of “setting apart” or “sanctifying” a person or object. Both kings and prophets were anointed for service (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13; 1 Kings 19:13). James uses the term in the sense of a profession of sanctification (James 5:13-18). Anointing was also used as an act of perfuming, and even of giving comfort (Ruth 3:3; Psalm 23:5). Related to this was its use as a means of showing hospitality (for example, the anointing of Jesus’ feet). Anointing is also associated with the Holy Spirit coming upon someone for service (see 1 Samuel 10:1-12; Zechariah 4:1-14; Acts 10:38; etc.).

Here, it probably serves all of the above purposes. It was a form of “deodorant” in the light of the stench of sacrifice. More to the point, the priests were being set apart unto unique service to God. They were filled with the Spirit for this task and were being welcomed into God’s house!

Let’s pause briefly for a few points of application.

First, leaders must be filled with the Holy Spirit to effectively serve God’s people. As they are filled with the Spirit, they will exhibit self-control. As with Psalm 45:7 such filling will produce a joyful solemnity.

I was recently speaking to my brother-in-law, who pastors a church in the United States. I was asking him how things were going in the church. He told me that there were both great joys and some struggles. While he rejoiced to see people being added to the church, he was also grieved that some church members were not being as faithful as they ought to be. He told me that his wife had urged him to focus on the positive, and then added, “But she doesn’t understand the heart of a shepherd. While you rejoice at the 99 sheep who are safely in the fold, your heart always grieves for the one who is lost.” That is the heart of a man who has been filled with the Spirit so as to effectively serve God’s people.

Second, every believer is anointed by God to serve in His house. John speaks of believers having “an anointing from the Holy One” (1 John 2:20, 27) and Paul says, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God” (2 Corinthians 1:21). Every believer is therefore to serve the house according to his or her giftedness, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Are you actively and deliberately exercising your spiritual gifts with spiritual graces?

Third, remember that the Lord Jesus Christ was consecrated by the Spirit. Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Jesus claimed this as a direct prophecy of His own ministry in Luke 4:16-21.

The early church in Jerusalem understood that God had “anointed” His “holy Servant Jesus” (Acts 4:27; see 10:38). The author of Hebrews writes of Jesus, “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions” (Hebrews 1:9; cf. Psalm 45:7).

As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes, “At the age of 30, the carpenter from Nazareth set out on his public ministry and because he had become a man and was living in this world as a man, though he was still the eternal Son of God, he needed to receive the Spirit in his fullness, and God gave him the Spirit.” How much we also need such consecration!

The Confession of the Priests

In the longest section of this particular chapter, we read of the confession of the priests.

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. Then he took the blood, 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.

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 he 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. Then he 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. 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 8:14-30)

In these verses we are reminded of the sinful nature of the Levitical priesthood. They themselves were sinners and so they needed atonement as much as those they served and whom they were seeking to help. Three offerings were required and each one involved confession. We see this particularly by the fact that, in each case, they were required to “lean on the sacrifice.”

Confession of Sin

“Whoever represented God in ministry,” writes Ross, “surely must have experienced full atonement: forgiveness of sin and acceptance with God.” And so God required offerings from the priests who would serve Him in the tabernacle.

The Sin Offering

In vv. 14-17 we read of the sin offering that was offered.

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. Then he took the blood, 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.

(Leviticus 8:14-17)

This was a purification offering, for, as Vasholz notes, “cleansing is mandatory before one serves the Lord.”

Those who sense their need for purification are the best suited to help others to deal with their sin. Self-righteousness in a leader is never helpful!

If church members will be effective in serving one another then they must first face their own failure and filth in the light of the gospel. The Lord Jesus, of course, was the exception: We laid our hands on Him!

The Burnt Offering

The second sacrifice made was the burnt offering.

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.

(Leviticus 8:18-21)

This served as an atonement offering.

You will notice that, in these three offerings, Moses actually killed the sacrifices. In the sacrifices detailed in chapters 1—7, the individual bringing the offering would kill the animal himself, but here Moses killed the animal on behalf of the priests. The priests themselves needed a high priest, and even this “high priest” was a sinner who himself needed a sacrifice. Atonement was required all round.

Leaders must never lose sight of the fact that they require atonement, and neither must those whom they lead. We are what we are by the grace of God. “The importance of ritual propriety is again stressed here,” writes Harrison, “in that the priests must first secure atonement for themselves before they can purport to obtain it on it on behalf of other Israelites. No priest in any age can lead his followers to a point of spiritual development which he himself has not previously attained.”

Confession of Separation

The third sacrifice signified the separation, or consecration, of the priests.

And he 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. Then he 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. 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 8:22-30)

This was the sacrifice of consecration (see 7:37-38). In this offering, the priests were confessing their commitment to live set apart to the Lord. They were set apart totally to God—ear, thumb, and toe (vv. 22-24). As Dillman notes, “The priest must have consecrated ears to listen to God’s holy voice; consecrated hands at all times to do holy deeds; and consecrated feet to walk evermore in holy ways.” Simply put, they were to be covenantally faithful

In vv. 25-29 the best part of the sacrifice was set apart for the Lord, signifying that the priests were to dedicate their best to the Lord. “In identifying themselves with the immolated animal,” writes Wenham, “they dedicate themselves to God. In Paul’s phrase, they died unto sin that they might live unto righteousness.”

Note in v. 29 that even Moses required a sacrifice.

The priests were set apart for service by blood (v. 30). You will note the obvious emphasis on the universality and pervasiveness of sin. This action was repeated because of the deep rooted sin in human nature.

Reconciliation is inseparable from separation. When God saves He immediately separates; justification is always accompanied by sanctification. We are separated from sin and to the gospel of God (Romans 1:1).

Note from this that leaders are uniquely set apart for ministry. Their lives are not “normal.” As Ross observes, “there was no separation between sacred and secular; the priest was never off duty.”

There is a sense in which this is also true of all of God’s people: We are never “off duty.” Eveson writes, “As members of the new covenant, Christians are called to be a holy priesthood. God the Father chose us, the Spirit sanctified us and Jesus Christ cleansed us by his blood and brought us near to God. Our Saviour died not only to redeem us but to ‘purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works.’”

The Lord Jesus, of course, was completely and perfectly set apart (Hebrews 7:26).

The Confinement of the Priests

In vv. 31-35 we read of a period of confinement for the newly-installed priests.

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. As he has done this day, so the LORD has commanded to do, to make atonement for you. 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.”

(Leviticus 8:31-35)

The final step in the installation process of the priesthood involved a meal; one that would be repeated daily for seven days. The priests were to remain confined for seven days before commencing their ministry. This confinement was for the purpose of impressing upon them the seriousness of the task which lay before them. It was an opportunity for contemplation, for communion and for protection from the contamination and distraction of life.

This confinement has a parallel in creation. Just as God took seven days to create the world, so He now took seven days to “create” the priesthood to lead His people in worship.

We should note that sanctification is more easily lost than it is secured. Had the priests not been confined at God’s command, they might easily have been contaminated in the world.

Those called to lead God’s people must not rush into the task. Preparation takes time! That is why one requirement for an elder of a local church is that he must not be “novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). I was recently speaking to a six-year-old boy in our church who informed when that, when he grows up, he wants to be a preacher. When I suggested that he might take over from me when I retire, he eagerly replied, “Yes, I’ll take over when you die!” It was a humorous moment, but it does illustrate the truth that leadership must be developed over time.

All of us need to contemplate the privilege that we have to serve, and we must spend sufficient time communing with God before doing so. The Lord Jesus Himself was under command to wait before fulfilling the ultimate ministry to which God had appointed Him (John 2:4; 10:18; 12:27). Why should we be in any greater hurry?

The Christ of the Priests

The closing verse tells us very simply that “Aaron and his sons did all the things that the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses” (v. 36). We should understand that all of this points us in the end to Christ.

The Levitical priesthood would not always do as the Lord commanded Moses (see 10:1-2), but God would continue to keep His covenant. “To minister for the Lord requires everything foretold in this chapter,” writes Ross, “and by the grace of God it has all been provided for us in Christ.” Listen as Eveson draws a parallel between this text and the ministry of Christ:

In preparation for his great priestly work our Lord Jesus Christ spent the first thirty years of his life away from public gaze. During that time he grew in height and wisdom and God and all those who knew him were very impressed and please with him (Luke 2:52). After his washing and anointing he spent a further 40 days enduring a period of testing in the wilderness. In all his experiences he learned obedience through the things he suffered, “And having been perfected, he became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:7-10).

Are you a priest? Then live like one and serve. Are you perhaps not a priest? Then draw near to the High Priest and become one.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(Hebrews 4:15-16)