January 19, 2005
“Set Apart for Service: Moses Ordains the Priests”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter eight. We’re going to read the whole of this chapter tonight, but because this chapter is not only lengthy but filled with very specific regulations for the consecration, for the anointment, for the ordination of the priests of Israel, what I think I’ll do is break the chapter up into eight parts as we read through it, and just say a brief explanation of what each part of the chapter is doing.
Now, I've given you my outline. Let me hasten to say I think that Moses’ outline to this passage is only seven parts, so I want to immediately say Moses is right and I'm wrong, but the reason I'm giving it an eight-part outline is to show you something, especially in verse 30, that you might miss otherwise. The way I come up with Moses’ outline is, if you’ll notice, at the end of each of the eight sections except the one that I broke out separately, you’ll find a phrase that sounds like this: “…just as the Lord commanded him.” I think that's giving you Moses’ outline to this passage. As he describes to you something and brings that description to a close, he says something like, “we did this just as the Lord commanded.” And then he describes something else, and then he repeats that phrase. I want you to focus on that phrase, because that's one of the key points of this passage to us tonight.
But what I’ll do is, I’ll give you just a brief description of what Moses is telling you about, and then we’ll read that portion until we get through. Because it's a long passage, that will only leave us a little while to draw your attention to three or four, or maybe even five things which we can learn from this great passage.
Let's look to God's word and hear it, but first let's go to Him in prayer.
Lord God, we thank You for Your word, and we pray now that as we read it in this series of short readings that You would bless our minds with understanding and our hearts with faith; and that we would hear and see and believe the truth of Your word for the well-being of our own lives and for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Now, the first section that we're going to read is verses 1 through 4, but you’re going to note that I'm going to stop right in the middle of verse 4, because one of those great phrases occurs there, where Moses is telling you that he's finished with that part and he's getting ready to go to the next part. And then we’ll pick up in the middle of verse 4 for the next reading. So let's hear God's word from Leviticus 8, verses 1 to 4.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble all the congregation to the doorway of the tent of meeting.’ So Moses did just as the Lord commanded him.”
Now in that part of the passage the Lord commands Moses to assemble Aaron, who is going to be the high priest, and his sons who were going to be the priests, and the whole congregation at the tabernacle with all the specific materials, animals, and things which are going to be necessary for this ritual of anointing and ordination to be carried out in the sight of everyone in Israel. And that's what Moses has told you about in the first section of the chapter.
The second section of the chapter picks up in the middle of verse 4 and runs down to verse 9. And in that section, Moses explains to the people what is about to happen is what the Lord has commanded him to do. He has not thought this up; the Lord has commanded all of this to be done. And this is to draw the people's attention to the fact that they are supposed to learn something from what is being done in the symbolic ordination and anointment of these priests. There are spiritual realities that they are to understand, comprehend, and respond to in these rituals. And then the priests are cleaned and clothed, they are washed and clothed, in this passage. Let's continue to hear God's word.
“When the congregation was assembled at the doorway of the tent of meeting, Moses said to the congregation, ‘This is the thing which the Lord has commanded to do.’ Then Moses had Aaron and his sons come near, and washed them with water. He put the tunic on him and girded him with the sash, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him; and he girded him with the artistic band of the ephod, with which he tied it to him. He then placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummin. He also placed the turban on his head, and on the turban at its front, he placed the golden plate, the holy crown, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
So, the second part of the chapter describes the washing and clothing of the priests.
Then, if you look at verses 10 to 13 you’ll see the third part of the chapter. Here Moses anoints the tabernacle itself, and then Aaron, and then the priests. So not only the place where ministry is going to be done is anointed, but those who were going to do ministry in that place are anointed. They’re consecrated, and ordained and appointed for God's service.
“Moses then 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 and anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, to consecrate them. Then he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him, to consecrate him. Next Moses had Aaron's sons come near and clothed them with tunics, and girded them with sashes, and bound caps on them, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
The third section of this chapter.
The fourth section you’ll find in verses 14 to 17, and here a sin offering is going to be made for the cleansing, for the purification, of these priests who are going to serve in the Lord's house, to lift up offerings for the forgiveness of sins of God's people. But before they can lift up offerings for the forgiveness of sins of God's people, offerings have to be lifted up for the forgiveness of their sins, because they are unclean. They are sinful men.
Now, you will see in my outline that I have said that these offerings are offered for the “symbolic” purification of their sins, because the author of Hebrews reminds us, doesn't he, that “the blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sins.” And so these rituals do not bring about the forgiveness of these priests’ sins, but these rituals point to that which will bring about the forgiveness of the sins of all those who trust in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered in God's word, because it is Christ's sacrifice that truly forgives. But here, the sin offering is described.
“Then he brought the bull of the sin offering, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull of the sin offering. Next Moses slaughtered it and took the blood with his finger and put some of it around on the horns of the altar, and purified the altar. Then he poured out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar and consecrated it, to make atonement for it. He also took all the fat that was on the entrails and the lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys and their fat; and Moses offered it up in smoke on the altar. But the bull and its hide and its flesh and its refuse, he burned in the fire outside the camp, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
Then the fifth part of the chapter, in verses 18 to 21. Now the sin offering has been made; the priests have been ritually purified; so now a burnt offering is going to be given as a pleasing aroma to God. It's an offering that is presented for the pleasure of God, for the glory of God, on behalf of the priesthood. And you see it there in verses 18 to 21, the fifth section of this passage.
“Then he presented the ram of the burnt offering, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. Moses slaughtered it and sprinkled the blood around on the altar. When he had cut the ram into its pieces, Moses offered up the head and the pieces and the suet in smoke. After he had washed the entrails and the legs with water, Moses offered up the whole ram in smoke on the altar. It was a burnt offering for a soothing aroma; it was an offering by fire to the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
The fifth section of the chapter.
The sixth section of the chapter runs from verses 22 to 29. And in those verses we will see a description of the sacrifice of ordination and consecration that is made for the priesthood. An offering has been made for their purification, and an offering has been made for the glory and the pleasure of God, and now a sacrifice, an offering, is going to be brought for the express purpose of setting these men apart for ministry and ordaining them, indicating God's supplying of them of the gifts and abilities and responsibilities for ministry. So we see the sacrifice of ordination and consecration in verses 22 to 29.
“Then he presented the second ram, the ram of ordination, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. Moses slaughtered it and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. He also had Aaron's sons come near; and Moses put some of the blood on the lobe of their right ear, and on the thumb of their right hand, and on the big toe of their right foot. Moses then sprinkled the rest of the blood around on the altar. He took the fat, and the fat tail, and all the fat that was on the entrails, and the lobe of the liver and the two kidneys and their fat and the right thigh. From the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord, he took one unleavened cake and one cake of bread mixed with oil and one wafer, and placed them on the portions of fat and on the right thigh. He then put all these on the hands of Aaron and on the hands of his sons, and presented them as a wave offering before the Lord. Then Moses took them from their hands and offered them up in smoke on the altar with burnt offering. They were an ordination offering for a soothing aroma; it was an offering by fire to the Lord. Moses also took the breast and presented it for a wave offering before the Lord; it was Moses’ portion of the ram of ordination, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
There's the sixth section of the chapter.
Now, Moses’ seventh section of the chapter begins in the very next verse, but I've broken it out for you so that you won't miss something quite significant, and you’ll see it there in verse 30. Here Moses anoints, he ordains, Aaron and his sons, the priests, with blood and oil. He sprinkles it on them.
“So 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, and his sons, and the garments of his sons with him.”
There's the act of ordination of those priests, in the sprinkling of that blood and oil upon them.
And then, finally, my eighth section. If you look at verses 31 to 36, you’ll see here Moses command the priests to eat of their part of the ordination sacrifice and offering. Part of that ordination offering they had already lifted up to the Lord in a wave offering, and it had been burned up on the altar. But the other part was theirs, and Moses tells them, now take it and eat it, but stay inside the tent of meeting. Stay inside the tabernacle for seven days, because it's going to take the whole of that seven-day process to consecrate you, to ordain you, to atone for you. Here's what he says in verse 31 and following:
“Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons, “Boil the flesh at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and eat it there together with the bread which is in the basket of the ordination offering, just as I commanded, saying, ‘Aaron and his sons shall eat it.’ The remainder of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn in the fire. You shall not go outside the doorway of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the day that the period of your ordination is fulfilled; for he will ordain you through seven days. The Lord has commanded to do as has been done this day, to make atonement on your behalf. At the doorway of the tent of meeting, moreover, you shall remain day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, so that you will not die, for so I have been commanded.’ And thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the Lord had commanded through Moses.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Now this passage is so rich that I'm very tempted not to skip a single aspect of it. It would be so delightful, for instance, for us to pause and think about the significance of the anointing of the priests with oil, because in the Near East, in its blinding sun and its very hot climate, in the thin clothes that folks would wear–Nomads in the desert and their exposure to the intensity of sunlight–one of the great expressions of hospitality to them as they would come into a Near Eastern tent and receive the kindness of their host, would have been their host having the privilege of anointing them with oil. The oil served to moisturize their dry skin, and to perfume them. You might imagine the kinds of aromas that would attend that kind of climate. And it was a great blessing and expression of hospitality, and expression of ‘I'm making you at home in my home; I'm accepting you into my home as a part of my own household’, in the anointing of the guests with oil in the tent.
It would be so delightful, wouldn't it, for us to spend some time thinking about the fact that God is saying to these priests, ‘I'm anointing you, and I'm welcoming you into My home. You’re part of My family.’ And when we think that these priests themselves foreshadow not only the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they foreshadow the privileged role that we have in the new covenant…because what does Peter tell us? That we are a kingdom of priests. Yes, it's appropriate to apply many of the lessons of this passage to ministers of the gospel, but it's appropriate to apply the message of this gospel to members of the Christian church, because God has made you, in the glories of the new covenant, to be priests for Him.
But we can't tarry there tonight. We've got to look at just a few things, so let me start here.
I. The first thing that I want you to see is that God is concerned in this passage that the congregation, the whole congregation of God's people, see and understand what the Lord is doing in the ordination of these priests.
Notice that when these priests are assembled for these rituals of ordination, God explicitly says that this is to be done in the presence of the assembly of the whole congregation of Israel. Look at verse 3: ‘Moses, get Aaron, get his sons, get all the necessary sacrifices and materials, and utensils and food, and come together at the tabernacle–and bring the whole congregation.’
Why is God doing that? Because God wants all His people to see and understand important spiritual truths which they are to learn from the ordination of these priests. There is a lesson to be learned. In fact, I suspect that the reason why these priests are told to prepare their food and keep watch at the doorway of the tent of meeting over the period of the seven days of their ordination is so that the people of God can continue to watch them over that whole seven-day period. ‘There are spiritual lessons to be learned,’ in other words, God is saying, ‘from the things that I am going to be doing in these sacrifices.’ And we're going to learn some of those spiritual lessons as we go along, but the first thing that I want you to see is that God wanted this ordination to be done in the sight of the people of God. There were spiritual lessons for them to learn.
You know, my friends, we still have that privilege in our own day, when we see ministers of the gospel and elders of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ ordained by the laying on of hands in this sanctuary from time to time. You know, that's a blessed privilege and lesson that we get to participate in every time it happens. And just as in the old covenant God wanted His people to see and understand, so in the new covenant God wants His people to see and understand when His servants are set apart.
So there's one thing: that the congregation was to see and understand what the Lord was doing in the ordination of the priests.
II. But there's a second thing. God makes it clear throughout this passage that He alone can supply what these priests need in order to serve as His priests for the people of God.
First of all, you've already noticed it–how many times? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight times in this passage it is stressed that Moses did what? “Just as the Lord commanded him.” Why? Because the people of God couldn't’ make their own way up into God's presence. God had to show the way into His presence. God had to provide the way into His presence.
I love the definition of biblical worship that the Anglican, David Peterson, gives when he says that in worship we come to God onto the terms that He proposes, and in the way that He alone makes possible. Isn't that a beautiful statement? We come to God in worship on the terms that He proposes…you don't come to Him any old way you want to. You don't come to Him with a golden calf; you don't come to Him with statues of cows, in mountains in Samaria: you come to Him on the terms that He proposes, and in the way that He alone makes possible. And God's reminding His people that even in the ordination of these priests, but furthermore, He provides forgiveness of sins, atonement, cleansing, purification. He, through all of these rituals, shows that He must supply what these priests need to minister. And isn't that an important lesson for the people of God to learn, in the old covenant and in the new?
III. There's a third thing we learn from this passage, and it's the new covenant flip-side of that last truth, and that is, whereas these priests had to be supplied by God in order to fulfill their service of God to the people of God, our great High Priest is inherently worthy to perform His great deeds on behalf of the people of God.
And isn't that what the author of Hebrews is thinking about when he tells us in Hebrews, chapter 7, verse 26, that
“…it was fitting that we should have such a High Priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifice first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.”
And so our very reflection on the way that God consecrated priests in Leviticus 8 reminds us that we have a High Priest who didn't need atonement to be made for Him before He served His people; for He was perfect, and the atoning work that He offered on our behalf was perfect, and so if you are trusting in Him, your conscience need not fear that there is a smidgen of your sin left undealt with, because He is perfect.
IV. But there's more, isn't there? The passage describes for us the consecration to service of these priests, their purification, their preparation, their consecration, their sanctification, their dedication, their inauguration…and think of the glorious parallels there are for us as we see these things through the eyes of the New Testament.
These priests have to be purified before they went into service. Do you remember the Lord Jesus Christ, in the upper room, in the night in which He was betrayed, before the Lord's Supper, in John 13:8, what does He do? He goes about washing His disciples’ feet. And when Peter says, “Lord, not me!” what does He say? “If I do not wash you, you have no part of Me.” It's Jesus as the second Moses, purifying His disciples for their service of the people of God.
You remember Peter's response: ‘Well, then, Lord, not my feet only, but my whole self!’ No, Peter. You understand that what I'm doing to your feet is symbolic of what I'm going to do for you tomorrow with My whole self, and My blood will avail to wash away, Peter, all your sins. Can you imagine that truth coming home to Peter after his denial of the Lord? All your sins, Peter; My blood will avail for all your sins.
And of course, these priests had to ritually be cleansed, forgiven, atoned for, in the offering up of those sacrifices for sin and guilt, and purification. But the Lord Jesus, we're told by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 5:21, “He who knew no sin became sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Atonement; forgiveness; cleansing; purification….
And we think of the preparation and the consecration of these priests. In that ritual where the ram is offered, and their ears and their thumbs and their toes are daubed with the blood of that lamb which has been offered on the altar…you see the picture there. They've laid their hands on that animal; that animal has been sacrificed; the blood of that animal has been applied to them. It is a picture of them giving the totality of themselves to God.
But what does Paul say to us in Romans 12:1? ‘Brethren, I entreat you, I beg you, by the mercies of God to present yourselves —your bodies- as living sacrifices. I call upon you to give the whole of yourself to God in service and devotion.’ You see, it's a picture that even goes a step further than this picture of dedication and devotion and consecration.
V. Oh, there are so many other things, but there's one last thing that I have to say. Have you noticed that this process lasts seven days?
This is not a quick twenty-minute thing, or a forty-five minute thing, or an hour and fifteen minute thing: this is a seven-day process of ordination! Is that not a picture of the reality that Christian ministry and Christian life is not a sprint, it's a marathon?
Fads come and go, trends come and go: this book, that book, this speaker, that speaker, this idea, that idea…God's means of grace, Lord's Day after Lord's Day, week after week, continue to do their work, just as they have done for the last thousands of years. And the ministers of God's word are called to get up there and just keep serving God over and over, Lord's Day after Lord's Day.
Though there are some days that we're on and there are some days that we're off…but friends, I want to promise you, your ministers here want, like reliable fullbacks, to just keep hitting the line. We’re not flashy wide receivers. We’re not great halfbacks. We’re not getting the headlines; we're just hitting the line. And you can count on us: we're just going to keep hitting the line over and over. Dive left, dive right, dive up the middle–Lord's Day after Lord's Day, God's word, God's means of grace, prayer, God's sacraments–over and over, because that is how God has ordained that His people will be built up in the truth.
Oh, there's so much more to say about this passage. Perhaps some other time. Let's look to God in prayer.
Lord, we thank You for Your word, and we pray that You would, by Your Spirit, anoint and consecrate us to be the kingdom of priests that You mean all of us to be. These things we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.