I’m on a journey through Leviticus, and it is very enjoyable. Yes, their ordination is significant in its own right, but how do New Testament themes enlarge and fulfill priestly consecration?
As I note in the 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:
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. 8 section by section.
Eventually, when I get to Exodus (Lord willing), I will explore the symbolic significance of the priestly garments. This post at bible.org does an admirable job:
Here’s the image at that link:
I urge all readers who are interested in going into details about the symbolism of the priestly garments to click on the link above that image. The study is excellent and based on the book of Exodus. But we’re in Leviticus right now.
I note in passing that high liturgical churches (e.g. Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran) all require the priests and ministers to put on religious robes with lots of symbolic meaning. I have no theological criticism to make here, but sociologically and evangelistically, I believe the vestments can be a distraction for the “common,” “wee” folk in today’s world of fast-paced imagery. But to each his own.
Now let’s begin the study, section by section.
In the first pericope (pronounced peh-RIH-koh-pea) or section (vv. 1-4), God ordered Moses to tell his older brother Aaron and his sons to prepare for the ordination: garments, anointing oil and a bull for the sin offering and a basket containing bread without yeast. They were to meet together at the tent of meeting (the tabernacle and not a separate tent of meeting temporarily set up for Moses outside the camp). The tabernacle was blueprinted back in Exod. 36-36 and set up in Chapter 40.
First, in the next verses in John 4 the food–literally bread–is the will of God. He said these next words in the context of ministering to the Samaritan woman, who repented. Then many Samaritans were converted to Jesus.
34 “My food [bread],” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Doing the will of God is the right food, and this food is about the harvest and reaping of souls. Harvest and reaping is the first work so that souls can be nourished with the bread of heaven.
Second, let’s build on the idea that sacred bread from heaven nourishes the soul. After feeding the five thousand with bread and fish, Jesus said:
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:32-35)
Then he added a lesson about his body and blood:
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51)
He expands on this idea by contrasting Manna (Exod. 16; Num. 11:4-35) in the wilderness with his being the bread that lasts:
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
Many interpreters say the bread imagery includes the Eucharist or Communion bread, because it is all about feasting on the person and Spirit of Jesus, and then they shall live forever. However, the bread at the Lord’s Table (Communion or Eucharist) is never explained to allow the partaker to live forever, unless one imports a prior belief of a miracle into the bread eaten at the Last Supper.
Further, Jesus did not say here in John 6 that his body was literal bread, but this is metaphorical language for intimacy and lifelong connection to him. Only daily life in Christ and walking in the Spirit can do that, not a doctrine that mystifies literal bread at the Eucharist or Communion.
Third, speaking of the Eucharist or Communion, Jesus here takes the bread and breaks it and distributes it.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” (Mark 14:22)
My symbolic reading is about the bread in the Holy Place in the sanctuary being symbolic of New Testament truth that Christ is the bread of heaven. And in this case Paul guides us clearly in Col. 2:17, which says that eating and drinking is a mere shadow, but the substance is in Christ. Therefore, we can symbolize things from the Old to the New Testaments, including bread.
In the next pericope (vv. 5-9), Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. Of course the NCS (New Covenant Scriptures or New Testament) teaches water baptism as a sign of an inward cleansing. It is easy to see why dirt on the body symbolized dirt on the soul. In Aaron and his sons’s case they needed to get their bodies washed, and maybe the felt something going on internally, but the text is silent about that.
To apply the washing to our lives, Jesus told Nicodemus:
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5)
Paul agrees, writing that washing through rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit brings salvation:
[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Titus 3:5-6)
See my post: Basics about Water Baptism
Then Moses put the tunic or garment on Aaron and tied a sash around and clothed him with the robe and put an ephod on him.
The garments and accessories were made back in Exod. 39. This ceremonial dressing scene is revealed impactfully by Joshua the high priest, who had returned from exile and ministered to the people (Zech. 3). (The name Jesus is Joshua in Hebrew.) Satan was accusing him, and the Lord himself had to rebuke Satan. Joshua was bedecked with filthy clothes, and the Lord told the angel of the Lord to take them off: “See, I have taken away your sin” (v. 4). The angel put a clean turban on his head and clean clothes on him. “The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here'” (vv. 6-7). So the filthy garments symbolized sin. Having new garments put on Joshua symbolizes the gift of God’s righteousness.
Here is Heb. 5:1-4, which speaks of the priest’s own sins and that he had to sacrifice for them:
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. (Heb. 5:1-4)
Jesus did not have sin in his life, so he wore no dirty garments from his own failure. However, he took on himself our failures. This is what Jesus has done for us: he has put on us a clean robe of righteousness and a clean turban, which protects the head (mind) from bad thinking. But it goes farther than this. Joshua represented the Branch, who was to be revealed as the Messiah, Jesus. “Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.” So Joshua fulfills or carries forward the office of Aaron, while Jesus carries forward the office of all high priests.
The epistle to the Hebrews has numerous references to Jesus being our high priest. Here is one
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here,[a] he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining[b] eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:11-12)
The breastpiece had twelve precious stones on it, and they represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus called twelve apostles (Matt. 10:2; Luke 6:12-13). They will sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:38; Luke 22:30), and their names will be on the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14). They have a special office and calling that no one has or can ever have.
See my posts:
The breastpiece had the Urim and Thummim in it. These were probably stones used for guidance. A hyper-grace teacher said, as he dug into the Hebrew roots, that these two stones provided better guidance than the Holy Spirit (!). Wrong. This Scripture says the Spirit of truth will guide believers and speak about and glorify Jesus. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (John 16:13-14). The Spirit is a person sent from God. He is not an impersonal stone.
Then Moses got the anointing oil, first made with very costly material, back in Exod. 30:22-33, and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it. He sprinkled oil on the altar seven times and on all its utensils. The purpose was to consecrate them or set them apart or make them holy for special service. Seven usually symbolizes completion or fullness, three (Trinity) + four (creatureliness) = seven. (But if you don’t like numerology, then skip it; I don’t care for it too much, either, though I acknowledge it is there in some contexts).
The point about seven is that Moses did a thorough job of anointing everything in the temple and its utensils. Then he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head. For what purpose? To consecrate him or set him apart or make him holy for service. Ps. 133:2 says that unity among the brothers is like: “… precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.” And thus the psalmist envisions that the oil was so plentiful that it flowed down Aaron’s beard to the collar of his robe. Then Moses dressed Aaron’s sons.
What does oil symbolize? Let’s do a quick review of oil and its symbolic meaning of the anointing and the Spirit.
Oil speaks of the sacred anointing for consecrating the priests (Exod. 29:7; 30:22-33).
Next, Samuel took a flask of oil and anointed first Saul (1 Sam. 10:1) and then David (1 Sam. 16:1) to be kings. In 11 Sam. 6:3, we read: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David” (see Ps. 89:20). In Ps. 23:5, David proclaimed that God anointed his head with oil.
Heb. 1:9 says that God anointed his Son Jesus with the “oil of joy.”
Mark 6:13 says Jesus anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. James 5:14 says oil was used to anoint the sick.
In Luke 4:18 Jesus said God has anointed him to carry out the ministry of God. Acts 10:38 says God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit. Paul said that God anointed them (2 Cor. 1:21). “Christ” means “the Anointed One.”
We, God’s New Covenant people, also have an anointing from the Holy One, who will guide his people to the truth (1 John 2:20, 27). The Holy One is the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).
From these verses oil came to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Oil, the anointing, and the Spirit are linked. Being in Christ, we are all anointed by the Spirit. We have been consecrated or set apart or made holy, for service.
Now let’s combine the typological reading of bread and oil, in a simple equation:
Bread + Oil = Nourishment in Christ by the Power of the Spirit.
This long pericope shows Moses offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, the fellowship / peace offering, with the wave offering, and in what seems to be a specialized ordination offering (vv. 22-29). In verse 30 he sprinkled blood and oil on the garments of Aaron and his sons.
It seems that the animals stood in for or substituted for Aaron and the priests and made atonement for them (v. 34). Let’s recall what atonement meant.
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. The gift of the burnt offering was to atone for the worshiper’s own sins, not by blood manipulation primarily (that is the sin offering), but by a gift. 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 hih-lahs-mohss) 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 sin 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 these posts:
To forestall objections that falsely accuse God of being primitive or petty or a child abuser, please see this post:
Let’s move on.
Verse 21 says: “It was a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.” The burnt offering was totally consumed, which speaks of complete devotion of the believer to God, an appropriate type given to us by the ordination of the priests. Let’s focus on the aroma. More deeply still than the mere animal part, recall this verse: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). Jesus is the pleasing aroma when God inspects our sacrifice. Jesus stands in for us, and God is pleased with our offering, because of his Son..
So now let’s focus on other interesting elements in the ordination ritual.
First, Moses took part of the sacrifices and burned them outside the camp. Notice how the author of the epistle to Hebrews applies this outsider idea to Jesus and his church:
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Heb. 13:11-13, emphasis added).
Second, in v. 14, Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the bull, but this does not mean that their sins were transferred to it. Instead, they identified with it and consecrated it. It was going to stand in their place. They designated the bull as their offering, sacrificed for them. We could have an early idea of substitution, the animals standing in for them.
See my post:
In v. 15 Moses took some of the blood of the bull and sprinkled it on the altar to purify it. Blood purifies in this old ritual.
Here’s what the blood of Jesus means to us:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. (Eph. 1:7-8)
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:13)
We have redemption (1:7) and then reconciliation (2:13).
Third, Moses took the blood of the ordination ram and placed the blood on Aaron’s right ear lobe, and his right thumb, and his right big toe. In v. 24 he did the same to his sons. We can read this symbolically to means that the newly ordained priests were covered from head to toe. It was thorough. We can take the symbolical interpretation even further: these body parts, specifically the ear, symbolize first our hearing from God through the blood. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). The thumb stands in for laboring for the Lord through the hand: “At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them” (Luke 4:40). Or it could represent working at everyday jobs: “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you” (1 Thess. 4:11). And the toe stands in for the feet, which means traveling and preaching the gospel: “And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'” (Rom. 10:15).
Fourth, in v. 26, the bread without yeast has some symbolism behind it. In Exod. 12, the Israelites were not to bake bread with yeast, because they had no time to lose, waiting for it to rise. They were to depart from their slavery in Egypt in haste. What about your personal slavery? Do you want to leave it behind you in a hurry, or do you lollygag and linger, as it entices you backwards? In some (not all) contexts, yeast is a bad thing. Jesus told his disciples to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. When the disciples didn’t understand the metaphor, he told them that yeast symbolized their teaching (Matt. 16:5-6 and 11-12). Luke says the yeast of the Pharisees was hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). Paul says that even a little yeast leavens (or rises) the entire loaf, which in context speaks of a negative influence, which we are to get rid of (1 Cor. 5:6-7; Gal. 5:9).
Fifth, Aaron and his sons performed the wave offering. It means that they are presenting it before the Lord with special significance. “Look, here, Lord! We give it to you!” This worship gesture may be fulfilled by this verse: “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands” (1 Tim. 2:8). We give our lives to you, as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:13).
See my post The Fellowship Offering from a NT Perspective for more information about the wave offering.
Further, Father God fulfills 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 symbolic interpretation 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.
Sixth and finally for this long section, Moses sprinkled the anointing oil and some of the blood from the altar on the garments worn by Aaron and his sons. They too had to be consecrated or set apart or made holy for service. The altar always speaks of total dedication and surrender to God. We and our own selfish will is burned up and given to God, totally.
Moses then commanded Aaron to cook the meat at the entrance at the tent of meeting and eat it there, along with the bread from the basket of ordination offerings. The rest of the bread and meat–fat and some internal organs–had to be burned on the altar. The men remained at the entrance for seven days, and, as noted, seven speaks of completion. One reason: “so you will not die” (v. 35), referring to Aaron and his sons.
Our flesh has to die. “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” Gal. 2:20). God’s demand for total consecration is equally total and unbending, if people want to work for him.
How does this post help me grow in Christ?
This entire chapter is about ordination. Whether it is done officially or by God’s call, you need to consecrate yourself. You need to be ordained under authority. Moses was under God, and Aaron and his sons were under Moses (and God of course).
You belong to God and make up a royal priesthood: “ But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9, emphasis added).
John heard the twenty-four elders sing this song about God making persons from every tribe and language and people and nation a kingdom and priests:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9-10)
How are we qualified to be priests? Paul writes that on our repentance salvation brings us into union in Christ, who becomes our holiness and righteousness:
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:3)
Being in Christ qualifies us to be his priests because we are consecrated and set apart (made holy) from the world and its pollution to serve him with sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15).
Further, we are qualified because we are anointed of God by the oil of the Spirit. We are burned up at the altar of God, where we have surrendered our life to him. Now he will raise us up through his resurrection power.
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Rom. 8:11)
Peter adds this insight:
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:5-6)
This clothing oneself with humility and humbling oneself is a kind of sacrifice. Are you willing to do it? If so, God can use you. He will raise you up. He will ordain you officially or unofficially.