After Aaron and his sons were ordained (Lev. 8), they performed their first ritual for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. This is the inauguration of the new tabernacle. How does the New Covenant improve on these old rituals?
As I note in many of these posts that touch on the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices, the Spirit-inspired writers of the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament) encourage us to read the Old Testament, particularly the priesthood and the ministry of the priests, as containing types and shadows of the substance or reality, which is Christ and his heavenly priesthood.
They [priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Heb. 8:5)
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. (Heb. 10:1)
Then the author of Hebrews writes many, many verses explaining the realities of the copies and shadows. They are revealed most clearly in Jesus’s sacrifice and his priesthood in the heavenly, eternal sanctuary.
Peter explicitly makes the water of the flood during the time of Noah symbolic:
And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. (1 Pet. 3:21)
Paul writes that food and festivals are but the shadow, while Christ is the substance:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)
Even the lives of the people in the OT serve as exemplary warnings for us:
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11)
With their permission, so to speak, I apply their typological and symbolic method here.
For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:
Many (not even close to all) elements are retained, and what is kept is improved on or streamlined.
The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to biblegateway.com, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.
Let’s look at Lev. 9 section by section.
On the eighth day, Moses summons Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. They had already spent seven days of consecration, so now it was time to go through their first worship service. Aaron was to take the animals, without defect, for the sin and burnt offerings, while the Israelites were to bring in animals and grain for the sin, burnt, fellowship and grain offerings. Evidently the guilt offering was excluded, unless it became part of the other ones on this unique occasion. They were to make atonement for themselves and the people. They did as Moses commanded.
Recall the basic meaning of atonement.
In English the word literally means “at-one-ment,” or reconciliation, being at one with God (the -ment suffix means the “result of”). The Hebrew verb is kapar (used 102 times) and is generally translated as “to atone,” “to wipe clean,” and “to appease.”
In English the word literally means “at-one-ment,” or reconciliation, being at one with God (the -ment suffix means the “result of”). The Hebrew verb is kapar (used 102 times) and is generally translated as “to atone,” “to wipe clean,” and “to appease.” In Gen. 32:20, Jacob sent gifts ahead of him to “wipe” (atone) the anger off his brother Esau’s face. As it turned out, Esau was not angry because time healed his wounds, and he was prosperous. The main point, however, is that sacrifice and gifts atone for or wipe away just wrath. The sacrifice of an animal during the sin offering (Lev. 4:1-5:13), for example, was to atone for the worshiper’s own sins, by blood manipulation primarily. Then God’s judicial wrath would be lifted and he would smile on his people again. Jacob and Esau were reconciled. Either by gift or blood manipulation or handling, God and his people were reconciled.
Jewish commentators on Lev. 4:20 say that a Hebrew verb for “forgive” is salach (pronounced sah-lahkh), and it refers only to God’s forgiveness (Torah, p. 771). The forgiveness of God runs deep in NT Greek, and makes no such distinction in the Greek verb aphiēmi (pronounced ah-fee-ay-mee). Humans have to forgive, as well.
See the post: What Is Biblical Forgiveness?
The NT Greek nouns are hilasmos (used twice and pronounced hee-lahs-moss) and hilasterion (also used twice and pronounced hih-lah-stay-ree-own). The first noun appears in 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 and means “an atoning sacrifice, propitiation.” Propitiation means “satisfaction” or “appeasement.” Jesus is the sacrifice that atones for sins. Our sins destroyed and separated us from God, but the sacrifice of Jesus reconciles us to God (1 John 1:6-7).
For more information, please click on this post:
To forestall objections that falsely accuse God of being primitive or petty or a child abuser, please see this post: Christ’s Death on Cross = Cosmic Child Abuse?
The purpose of the sacrifices for ordination is found in v. 6: “so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” There is a connection between purity and power or glory or presence. If ministers of the gospel intend to have the power and presence of the Lord to back up their words, they must live purely, without a lot of distractions. Then the glory or presence of the Lord will be there.
This is the order of the sacrifices for the priests:
Sin offering: expiation of sin by the shedding of blood; it is beneficial for the Israelite worship to have his sins forgiven. The animals stands in for him.
Burnt offering: full surrender of the priests symbolized by the victim animal to God, and full surrender and consecration must come before fellowship with God;
Grain offering: consecration to God of the fruit of his labors; the priests are at rest in God;
Peace / fellowship offering: sustenance of life from God’s table and peace with God; Fellowship offering: joy and fellowship with God and humans; humanity needs fellowship with God. In this case the priests have fellowship with God.
That order parallels the Christian experience. First, Christ offers himself as a sin offering. Second, the burnt offering means we respond with total dedication and consecration to him. Third, the Christian does not need to do good works to earn his peace with God, for Christ already achieved that for them, so they are at rest from their labors. Fourth, as noted, they are at peace and can have fellowship with him through the work of Christ.
Aaron performed the sin and burnt offering. Recall that in the sin offering, the animal stood in for the human. The burnt offering was totally burnt. This symbolizes total dedication, spirit, soul, and body.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Rom. 12:1)
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:24)
The fact that Aaron and his sons had to offer sacrifices for their own sin is an admission that everyone has sin in their lives, in their very being, by virtue of being human.
In contrast, Jesus did not have sin in his life or in his nature. He did not need first to offer his own blood to atone for his own sins, and then for the sins of everyone else.
Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Heb. 7:27)
So he was the sacrifice without defect (Heb. 4:15) and not for himself first or at all.
Aaron then sacrificed for the people, following the prescribed ritual carefully. He even waved the breast and right thigh. This is to draw attention to the worshiper. He honors God, and God is to honor him and his sacrifice. It is a very special gift to God. This is fulfilled in the New Covenant with this verse: “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing” (1 Tim. 2:8).
Now let’s see if we can stretch the lifting to include the sacrifice of Christ itself. Father God fulfilled the lifting and waving requirement in his Son, who had willingly sacrificed himself on the cross. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32-33). Then he ascended to the Father’s right hand. “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (Eph. 4:10). And “therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Heb. 4:14).
However, if restrictive interpreters don’t like this symbolism of the wave offering = lifted up = Christ being lifted up on the cross, then recall the other interpretation. It signifies a very special offering. And no offering is more special than Christ on the cross.
Verse 22 is a gem hidden in the ritual. I love it. “Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them.” Though the next verses come later in the Israelites’ trek through the wilderness, Aaron probably prayed in this way (Num. 6:22-27):
The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 “‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’
27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Num. 6:22-27)
That is one passage that the New Covenant Scripture can transfer wholesale to the church. Nonetheless, Jesus provides favor and the shining approval of God. He makes access to the throne of grace possible (Heb. 4:16). This is how Jesus fulfills the Aaronic blessing for the kingdom community he was in the process of forming (Matt. 5:2-12):
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:2-12)
I like v. 8 that says the pure in heart. When God cleanses the heart, one can “see” God, not with the natural eye, of course, but with the eyes of the Spirit. No one needs to sacrifice animals to have a pure heart. In any case, in Jesus’s Jewish context, the Jewish believers in the Messiah would experience persecution, and they might not get rich off the gospel. Be prepared.
This blessing happened while he was ascending into heaven:
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-51)
What did he say? Was it the Aaronic blessing in Num. 6:22-27? We don’t know, but it may have been a variation on it.
Here’s Paul’s promise of material blessing for those who are generous:
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Cor. 9:8)
And Paul promises spiritual blessing of the highest order:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Eph. 1:3)
Then he lists them for those who are in Christ–converted and surrendered to him and invited his Spirit into their hearts. The first chapter of Ephesians is worth a look. Powerful.
When Moses and Aaron left the tent of meeting (tabernacle), the glory of the Lord appeared to them. God came down in his manifest presence. Then fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering. This speaks of the fire of purity and divine presence. This holiness and awesomeness sets up the next chapter when two of Aaron’s sons will undergo instant judgment. More explanation on that in the next post.
How did people react? They shouted for joy and fell facedown. These are not two contradictory reactions. One can be joyful and filled with the awe of God. One can even shout the joy, while falling facedown.
How does this post help me grown in Christ?
Let me quote a particularly rich passage:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)
Jesus is the great high priest and the Son of God. He is not a distant high priest who is so holy that he cannot empathize with our weaknesses. It is comforting to know that he was tempted in every way as we were, but his sacrifice was perfect, because he was without sin (recall the instruction that the animals had to be without defect). The greatest thing of all is that God’s holy and awesome presence is not so scary that we should not approach the throne of grace. We can. To what purpose? To receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.
This grace and mercy goes in the opposite direction of what we will see in the next chapter.