Last post we started in earnest into the book of Leviticus, and saw how sacrifices are able to help Israel be safe with God dwelling with them. We have also seen in the first post from Exodus this is the main question for Leviticus, can Israel be in a safe relationship with God? Approaching Leviticus with this question, I hope we can see that Leviticus is a book that is also relevant of us as Christians, for we too need to safely dwell with God.
This post we are looking at a section which concentrates upon the priests in Israel (6:9-10:20). If you haven’t yet read this, try to read it now, and answer how does this help keep Israel safe? List all the good things and the bad things and use these to work out what is the same and what is different for us. I suggest reading it in one sitting rather than by chapter.
What is this section about?
This section describes the role of the priests in Israel, which is to make the sacrifices and serve God. This is one of the only sections in the book that contains any narrative. It describes the consecration of the priests and their acceptance by God. This enables them to complete their role. This section ends with a troubling episode where two priests where they do something wrong and end up being killed.
Colouring: Good things for Israel are green headings and blue heading are bad for Israel.
Priests are to be holy
Priests are to be holy, they are an image of Israel within Israel themselves. Israel is holy and different from the surrounding nations, as God has chosen them, and set them apart to serve him (see Learning to Love Leviticus 1 – Motivation in Exodus). The priests are chosen by God from within Israel to be set apart and to serve him. One of the primary ways they serve God is by completing the sacrifices for Israel:
14 “And this is the law of the grain offering. The sons of Aaron shall offer it before the Lord in front of the altar. (Lev. 6:14; see also 6:9-10, 6:20, 6:22, 6:25, 7:5, also many sacrifices described in ch 1-5)
This is a very important aspect of life within Israel. It is not just important for the priests, but essential for the whole of Israel to stay safe in God’s presence as we saw in the last post (Learning to Love Leviticus 2 – Sacrifices (1:1 – 6:8)). If this role is not completed correctly not just the priest, but the whole of Israel could be in jeopardy! This is why the priests are given detailed instructions of how to correctly make the sacrifices. The priests must be the people to complete the sacrifices, as they offered closer to God’s dwelling place, and it is too dangerous for an ordinary Israelite to approach God.
Their other job is to keep Israel safe by instructing them how to remain clean and holy; and what they are to do if they are are unclean and unfold therefore unfit to be near God:
10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.” (Lev. 10:10-11)
This is also important for Israel needs to know how to be safe and instructed on what to do.
Because the priests are holy and set apart to serve God, they cannot labour in fields to get their food. God provides a way of them getting food, by allowing them to eat a part of the offerings and sacrifices given to Him. This act also demonstrates the priest’s holiness for they are to eat holy food, in a holy place:
16 And the rest of it Aaron and his sons shall eat. It shall be eaten unleavened in a holy place. In the court of the tent of meeting they shall eat it. (Lev. 6:16; see also 6:18, 6:26, 6:29, 7:6-10, 7:14-16, 7:31-35)
Everything is set up so that Israel understands what holiness is, through looking at the priests. They live completely differently to everyone else, and their entire lives are ordered around serving God. This image is a great thing, for not only does it make their sacrifices possible to be carried out, but also reminds them daily that they are set apart to serve God. So this visual demonstration of their status in the world, as God’s chosen people, was designed to help them to all serve God better, understanding that they are to dedicate their entire lives to his service.
Priests can be Holy
You might be thinking – but priests are not really any different from the rest of Israel. In fact the priests are going to be Aaron and his family, and Aaron was the person left in charge of Israel when the golden calf was made! This family doesn’t seem very holy, let alone more holy than the rest of Israel.
Despite our reservations, God has chosen Aaron and his family, and tells Moses how to consecrate them so that they become holy:
10 Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. 11 And 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. 12 And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. (Lev. 8:10-12; see also 8:2, 8:22, 8:28, 8:29, 8:30-31, 8:33 (look for similar words like anointing, ordaining)
The consecration allows God to accept Aaron and his family to be priests:
22 Then Aaron lifted up his hands towards the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Lev. 9:22-24)
We can see that through this acceptance, God has enabled them to be holy and safe entering his presence. We can think now that all is good the priests are able to be holy, and enter God’s presence to make the sacrifices, so Israel will be safe.
Priests are able to be unholy
However, the very next thing Leviticus tells us is that priests can still do unholy things, and they will die if they are not obedient. Two of Aaron’s sons burn unauthorised fire which consumes them:
1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. (Lev. 10:1-3)
This may seem a bit extreme, it was only creating a fire that they weren’t supposed to, not the same as, say, the golden calf situation. However, this shows how holy God is, and how Israel, and in particular their priests need to remain holy to stay safe and alive when in His presence.
God explains this incident, stating that they are to fear and honour God correctly:
3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” (Lev. 10:3)
This does not bode well for priests as they are people, and while they are consecrated, their actions and desires are not holy by nature, and they will not sanctify and glorify God as they ought. This means that they are unlikely to maintain the level of holiness required to stay in proximity to God.
The priests in chapter 10 also get more instructions, but this time they are told that disobedience will result in their death:
6 And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lordhas kindled. (Lev. 10: 6; see also 10:7, 10:9)
The feeling of despair, when it comes to the priests being able to live in line with the rules, is compounded at the end of the chapter, when Aaron’s remaining sons do not offer up the sacrifice correctly:
16 Now Moses diligently enquired about the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it was burned up! And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the surviving sons of Aaron, saying, 17 “Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? (Lev. 10:16-17)
This occurs so quickly after his other son’s death that you would think they would have been so careful and wary of God’s power and Holiness. These priests do not die in this instance, but it doesn’t leave a lot of confidence in the priests ability to do their job correctly, to serve God, and keep Israel safe, so that all people in Israel can serve God.
Do we as Christians have priests?
Priests are holy and are set apart to act as mediator between God and Israel, representing the people to God (through the sacrifices and their service) and God to the people (through their holiness). This would have been great if the priests could obey God and serve him correctly but it becomes clear that they couldn’t. What is the situation for us?
Our mediator is Jesus, and he is holy, and thus able to keep the law perfectly, and offer the perfect sacrifice for us!
1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. (Heb. 8:1-2)
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb. 8:11-12)
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Heb. 8:15)
Jesus acts as the priest for us, entering God’s presence, and presenting the perfect sacrifice, so that we can be seen as holy in front of God. Though the cross, sufficient atonement has been made so that our sin’s can be forgiven, and we can safely serve God.
As Jesus is our mediator God looks at Jesus, who represents us, and therefore sees us as perfect. We too can look to Jesus, and see a perfect representation of God:
37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:38-39)
We can therefore rejoice that our priest is perfect; and be reassured that by looking at him we can see, and understand who God is. We can also safely enter God’s presence for our mediator did not fail in any aspect, he did everything required, with the right motivations.
Personally, I find this a huge encouragement to put my faith in Jesus completely, as no human can is able to represent me, so that I am seen as perfect and holy before God. I also feel that I can now safely pursue God, and rejoice in my being in relationship with him. It is so exciting to know that my mediator is ministering for me in heaven not on earth. He is truly in God’s presence at the Father’s right hand, not just outside a tent. This system is not made of man, and therefore tainted by man’s sin, which grows my confidence in my atonement, and perfection before God. I can rejoice and praise God for a perfect priest that is truly in relationship with him. I am motivated to follow Jesus, and serve God more, for the sacrifice that enabled this relationship was his life.
Next post we shall be looking at a section about being clean so try to read Lev. 11:1-15:33. Again, try to think about how this enables God and Israel to dwell together safely. List all the good and the bad things in this section for Israel. Then use them to answer what is the same and what is different for us as Christians.
(All scripture quoted from English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)