We Must Have a Consecrated and Pure Priest
At the heart of biblical religion is that we must have a priest, a mediator, to represent God to us and us to God. We are unable to represent ourselves, because God does not accept us. We rebelled against him, and sin has separated us from him. Before he can accept our works, he must accept our persons, and this he cannot do unless there is one to stand between him and us to make peace with God and obtain cleansing and righteousness for us. God revealed this truth to the godly line of Seth, the seed of the woman. Then through Moses, he made known the requirements of righteousness, priesthood, and sacrifice. If he left us to ourselves, we would either degenerate into complete superstition and mythology, as the ancients did, or we would sink into utter forgetfulness of God, as the moderns have done under the twin deceptions of technology and economic stability. Surrounded as we are with so much blindness, we must hold fast to God’s truth. We must have a priest that God accepts. He must be pure if he is to stand safely before God and make atonement for our sins. Behind all the details of the tabernacle, priesthood, and sacrifices, we learn a profound truth. God loves us, reveals his grace to us, and intends to dwell with us. Sin will never stop him from enjoying fellowship with his people. He will remove our sins through sacrifice and draw near to us through his appointed priests.
Washed, Clothed, and Anointed (vv. 1-9)
1 "And this is what you shall do to them to hallow them for ministering to Me as priests: Take one young bull and two rams without blemish, 2 "and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil (you shall make them of wheat flour). 3 "You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, with the bull and the two rams. 4 "And Aaron and his sons you shall bring to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall wash them with water. 5 "Then you shall take the garments, put the tunic on Aaron, and the robe of the ephod, the ephod, and the breastplate, and gird him with the intricately woven band of the ephod. 6 "You shall put the turban on his head, and put the holy crown on the turban. 7 "And you shall take the anointing oil, pour it on his head, and anoint him. 8 "Then you shall bring his sons and put tunics on them. 9 "And you shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and put the hats on them. The priesthood shall be theirs for a perpetual statute. So you shall consecrate Aaron and his sons.
But not just any priest will suffice. In all that follows, we see two absolute prerequisites for an acceptable priest. He must be appropriately set apart to God for his office, and he must be purified from his sins. All the qualifications were external and tied to blood atonement for the priests themselves. Those high priests could stand and minister in the Most Holy Place only because they were dripping with blood. They had to offer sacrifices first for themselves, for they were personally unfit to minister in God’s place or to intercede for men. This was true of them all, even Samuel. God is too holy to be approached by sinners, and yet he allowed very sinful men to handle his holy things. This is only through the virtue of substitutionary atonement, which is so prominent in the priest’s consecration and ministry that only the hardest and blindest hearts will deny it. God accepts us only on the basis of the shed blood of an acceptable substitute. This wounds our pride, but it is better to have our pride stepped on than the Judge’s gavel fall upon us and announce our guilt and everlasting ruin. The sinfulness of the high priest had to be cleansed, at least typically, and this was done through the consecration rites that are outlined in this section of Exodus. O, how God’s people needed and longed for the proper and true priest to come, who would mediate not upon the basis of ceremonies and washings and clothing, as well as the succession of descent, but by the intrinsic worthiness of his own person (1 Sam. 2:35; Ps. 110:4).
Until such a priest came, God gave explicit directions for the correct way to approach him. After all the needed materials for the sacrificial meal are gathered together in a basket, together with a young bull and two rams without blemish (vv. 1-3), Moses must bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tabernacle. There they must be washed (v. 4), for God will have no dirty servants – does this perhaps typify the “washing of regeneration” and the need for regenerate men to serve in the appointed offices? After washing them, they must be clothed with the priestly clothes (vv. 5-6), which as we have seen testify not only to God’s beauty that must be reflected in his servants but also our need to be clothed with a righteousness that he accepts.
Then, Aaron and his sons are anointed with oil (v. 7), setting them apart to office, and undoubtedly typifying the presence, gifts, and grace of the Holy Spirit (Ps. 45:7; 133:2). The under-priests should also be clothed with their particular priestly garb (vv. 8-9). This was the external preparation for the priestly office, and while its necessity highlights the inadequacy of the Levitical priests, it also points us forward to the sufficiency of Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:26-28). His consecration to be our great High Priest is not tied to washings and rituals and clothes, but to the power of his personal righteousness, his glorious person as the Father’s eternal beloved and incarnate Suffering Servant. If those priests with such “carnal ordinances” were able to stand before God and made atonement, how much more security do we have in our Lord Jesus Christ, whose consecration lies in his personal worthiness and perfect sacrifice?
Cleansed by Blood (vv. 10-34)
10 "You shall also have the bull brought before the tabernacle of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the bull. 11 "Then you shall kill the bull before the LORD, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 12 "You shall take some of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and pour all the blood beside the base of the altar. 13 "And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, and the two kidneys and the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar. 14 "But the flesh of the bull, with its skin and its offal, you shall burn with fire outside the camp. It is a sin offering. 15 " You shall also take one ram, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the ram; 16 "and you shall kill the ram, and you shall take its blood and sprinkle it all around on the altar. 17 "Then you shall cut the ram in pieces, wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and with its head. 18 "And you shall burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD; it is a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD. 19 "You shall also take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the ram. 20 "Then you shall kill the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tip of the right ear of his sons, on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot, and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar. 21 "And you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar, and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments, on his sons and on the garments of his sons with him; and he and his garments shall be hallowed, and his sons and his sons' garments with him. 22 "Also you shall take the fat of the ram, the fat tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, the two kidneys and the fat on them, the right thigh (for it is a ram of consecration), 23 "one loaf of bread, one cake made with oil, and one wafer from the basket of the unleavened bread that is before the LORD; 24 "and you shall put all these in the hands of Aaron and in the hands of his sons, and you shall wave them as a wave offering before the LORD. 25 "You shall receive them back from their hands and burn them on the altar as a burnt offering, as a sweet aroma before the LORD. It is an offering made by fire to the LORD. 26 "Then you shall take the breast of the ram of Aaron's consecration and wave it as a wave offering before the LORD; and it shall be your portion. 27 "And from the ram of the consecration you shall consecrate the breast of the wave offering which is waved, and the thigh of the heave offering which is raised, of that which is for Aaron and of that which is for his sons. 28 "It shall be from the children of Israel for Aaron and his sons by a statute forever. For it is a heave offering; it shall be a heave offering from the children of Israel from the sacrifices of their peace offerings, that is, their heave offering to the LORD. 29 " And the holy garments of Aaron shall be his sons' after him, to be anointed in them and to be consecrated in them. 30 "That son who becomes priest in his place shall put them on for seven days, when he enters the tabernacle of meeting to minister in the holy place. 31 "And you shall take the ram of the consecration and boil its flesh in the holy place. 32 "Then Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 33 "They shall eat those things with which the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them; but an outsider shall not eat them, because they are holy. 34 "And if any of the flesh of the consecration offerings, or of the bread, remains until the morning, then you shall burn the remainder with fire. It shall not be eaten, because it is holy.
By a Sin Offering (vv. 10-14)
This was preparatory for the main part of the high priest’s consecration. Three sacrifices were required; the entire cycle was repeated at his priestly inauguration for seven days (vv. 35-37). The sin offering was first; the bull was sacrificed for the priest’s sins. He was unfit to stand before God, and thus his sins required propitiation. The directions for the burnt sacrifice are obviously interwoven with the instructions given later in Leviticus – but all were revealed to Moses on Sinai, so it is no confusion that we see here a beautiful harmonization of God’s revelation. Substitutionary atonement was clearly signified by the placement of Aaron’s hands (and his sons) upon the head of the bull. The blood was applied to the horns of the altar and poured at its base – for the altar also required purification before a holy God could accept it! The inward fat covering the organs was the choicest part of the sacrifice, and it was burned upon the altar as a gift to God as a sweet-smelling aroma. The hide and other parts were taken outside the camp and burned, just like our Lord Jesus Christ “suffered outside the camp” for our transgressions (Heb. 13:12). He has taken our sins away by being our sin offering – taking them away from God’s presence by paying their full penalty, and taking them away from us by bearing our curse and judgment. For this reason, we must come confidently to God through Jesus Christ alone, for he “made his soul an offering for sin.” The sin offering commanded here had atoning virtue only because it typified the perfect sacrifice the Lamb of God would make for sinners.
By a Burnt Offering (vv. 15-18)
The first ram was then offered as a whole burnt offering. The central significance of the burnt offering was propitiation. When it was slain, its blood was also applied to the base of the altar – the altar required propitiation – God is HOLY, HOLY, HOLY! The ram was cut in pieces and placed upon the altar. The whole ram was consumed with fire. It was an offering of sweet savor to the Lord. O, how we have forgotten how much God hates sins and that he is only wrathful toward sinners until their sins are taken away! Remembering this will elevate his mercy and grace, for the offended God is the One who provides the propitiatory sacrifice, then typically in the beasts but when the fullness of time came, by consuming his Son upon the cross. The burnt offering also symbolized the high priest’s complete consecration to the Lord. Like the ram was wholly consumed, so he was to be wholly consumed with fulfilling the office God gave to him. But as he required propitiation for his own sins, he pointed the faithful to the One coming who would take away our sins. And how wondrous must be our Savior’s sacrifice to every humble and amazed sinner, when he considers that “it pleased the Father to bruise him” (Isa. 53:10), that the precious Son of God and Lamb of God became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), was cursed and stricken for our sins. He was consumed to satisfy divine justice, obtain our everlasting redemption, and effect perfect reconciliation with God through faith in his blood.
By a Consecration Offering (vv. 19-34)
The second ram was then offered. Some aspects of this offering are a burnt offering (v. 25), others, such as the waving and eating are a peace offering. It seems best to look at this second ram as being a more specific part of the priest’s consecration to priestly service, a particular offering and series of rites to set him apart to that office (v. 22). When the ram was killed, Aaron and his sons placed their hands upon its head. Its blood was applied to their right ear – “My ear you have opened or bored” (Isa. 50:4-5) – right thumb, and big toe – Aaron’s ears, hands, and life required cleansing and consecration (v. 20). The ram’s blood was to be sprinkled around the base of the altar (v. 20), as well as upon Aaron directly and his priestly vestments (v. 21). The better parts of the ram, along with the consecrated bread, were then placed in Aaron’s hands (vv. 22-24), who waved them before the Lord as a wave offering. Aaron had nothing to bring to the Lord of his own; all had to be put into his hands. Then, those waved parts were burned as a burnt offering (v. 25). The breast of the ram was waved separately, along with the shoulder, and then given to Aaron and his sons for their support (vv. 26-28). Those who minister at the altar eat from the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). The priests were given the best part of the ram; this was God’s perpetual command respecting the financial support of those who ministered in his tabernacle (v. 29). To show that the high priest was now sanctified to serve and acceptable with God, as part of his consecration, the ram’s breast was boiled and eaten before the Lord (vv. 30-33). Anything remaining until morning was burned with fire (v. 34).
Seven-Day Consecration and Daily Ministrations (vv. 35-41)
35 "Thus you shall do to Aaron and his sons, according to all that I have commanded you. Seven days you shall consecrate them. 36 "And you shall offer a bull every day as a sin offering for atonement. You shall cleanse the altar when you make atonement for it, and you shall anoint it to sanctify it. 37 "Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and sanctify it. And the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar must be holy. 38 "Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs of the first year, day by day continually. 39 "One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. 40 "With the one lamb shall be one-tenth of an ephah of flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of pressed oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering. 41 "And the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; and you shall offer with it the grain offering and the drink offering, as in the morning, for a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD.
Completely Set Apart to God (vv. 35-37)
The washings, anointings, and sacrifices continued for seven days. God took the purifying of his priests very seriously. They were impure men, unfit to stand before him. Even the altar had to be purified (v. 37), for it was fundamentally unclean and unworthy. It is tedious for almost everyone to read these details, but the picture that begins to emerge is that we are far more sinful than we know. God is far holier than we can comprehend. And since the priests must have our own interests at heart, i.e., must share our nature, then their sinfulness must be ceremonially removed by blood before they can safely and effectually minister before God. Of course, the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin. The repetition of these sacrifices, the seven days consecration at the beginning of each high priest’s ministry, testified that something was not right. If sin were truly taken away, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, as the apostle asks (Heb. 10:2)? On the contrary, the repetition of the sacrifices, and the repetition of the consecration, brought sin to the forefront; it was remembered because it was not removed. Its removal required a more perfect sacrifice, a better priesthood, and a better altar. This we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Morning and Evening Sacrifice (vv. 38-41)
The priestly consecration enabled the priest to perform his regular duties. The morning and evening sacrifice receives prominence here, for they were his most basic functions. Together with the meal or grain offering, the morning and evening sacrifice were perpetual, not to be omitted for any reason. We need God’s renewed mercies in the morning; we need his confirming mercies in the evening. Throughout the day, we need cleansing from our sins. The repetition of the sacrifices testified to the reality of our sin and the necessity of blood atonement for us to be reconciled to God. In these two sacrifices we have a good model, perhaps a commanded one, to renew our hope in the mediation of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ, to confess our sins to God and to seek his cleansing mercy by believing upon the perfect sacrifice of his Son. We are forgiven because of his blood spilled once for all at Calvary. We must appropriate that blood by believing upon him morning and evening. That we no longer offer Mosaic worship and sacrifices does not mean we are free from having any concern about blood, atonement, and propitiation. We observe these truths by looking personally and perpetually to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who alone has taken away the sins of the world.
Why We Need a Consecrated and Pure Priest (vv. 42-46)
42 "This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet you to speak with you. 43 "And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory. 44 "So I will consecrate the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. I will also consecrate both Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as priests. 45 "I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. 46 "And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.
No Fellowship without Sacrifice (vv. 42-43)
The reason for the consecration of the high priests, all the sacrifices he had to make for himself and for the people, is God’s abiding presence with us. God ordained these things to occur at the tabernacle because he wanted to meet with them there. To meet is to receive worship, forgive sins, and enjoy fellowship. He intended to reveal something of his glory to his priests and his people. Sin is the great barrier to fellowship with God. It is an insurmountable barrier. God alone can remove it, and he removed it for his old covenant people by revealing to them a system of sacrifices and a purified priesthood. It is easy for us to get lost in their details, but we should never forget their purpose. God would keep his covenant promise to be our God and to make us his people. He would enjoy us, and comfortably admit us to enjoy him through showing us the way to have our sins purged. This is the only way to enjoy his fellowship. Our sins must be taken away.
Priest and People Sanctified by Glory (vv. 43-44)
The Lord also intended through a consecrated priesthood to sanctify his people, set them apart for his service, for their joy in his service and fellowship. It was not only for the high priest that this consecration took place. The consecration had a higher end, which had the priests remembered, and practiced, they would have been humbled rather than proud, diligent rather than self-serving. Through removing our sins, the Lord revealed the glory of his mercy and of his reconciled nearness to us. All of life – priesthood, altar, people, tabernacle (v. 44) – was set apart to God. This was the great vision God revealed to Moses. It remained the unreleased hope of the old covenant types but a living hope for Messiah’s age and kingdom (Zech. 14:20), when the bells on the horses’ bridles would have HOLINESS TO THE LORD engraved upon them. It is not too much to say that by drawing near to them in mercy and friendship, the Lord would make them his kingdom of priests. This could not have been realized in those shadowy days, but it was held out to them as a gospel privilege through cleansing blood. We now have this reality, for we are a kingdom of washed and consecrated priests (1 Pet. 2:9). Through Jesus our great high priest, we offer sacrifices of praise to God (Heb. 13:15) and offer our bodies as living sacrifices to him (Rom. 12:1).
I Will Dwell with You (vv. 45-46)
How glorious was even that covenant of fading glory! Among all the peoples of the earth, the Lord would dwell with the children of Abraham, as wicked and stubborn as they were. He showed them the way to be reconciled to him through substitutionary atonement. He made his dwelling place with them. And thus he began to fulfill the central covenant promise, the promise at the heart of all the promises – “I will be your God.” Again and again, the Lord says that he will be to us all that he is as God – faithful, loving, gracious, generous, merciful, vigilant. The list of his loves is long! He would also have us know that he is the Lord (v. 46), our Redeemer. If we know this, then our hearts will be humbled, unlike Israel’s, for who are we that he should deliver us from Egypt, from sin and Satan, from the world in its rebellion against him, from the wrath to come? We are unworthy of the least of his mercies, as Jacob confessed, but he has lavished upon us mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace. He is the Lord our God; let us worship and adore him! How much greater and more glorious reason we have, for God now dwells with us by his Holy Spirit. If he saw no sin in Jacob, before his Son came and brought in everlasting righteousness, how much more has he put away our sins, buried them in the bottom of the ocean? We are holy, without spot, and without any charge to be laid against us (Col. 1:22), his holy people, his excellent ones in the earth in whom is all his delight. Hallelujah! May God be feared greatly in the assembly of his saints, adored for his mercy, loved for his love, served for his grace, praised for his beauty!
The Son of God Consecrated as High Priest Forever
Jesus Christ has now been consecrated as the great High Priest over the house of God (Heb. 7:25-28). Exodus 29 is fully understood only if backlit with the glory of his person and work. The fading glory of the older covenant has now given way to the noonday brightness of the new. Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, is our pure priest without any sin or blemish. He does not need to offer up a sacrifice for himself. He offered himself as the sacrifice for sins. His sinless life and worthy person is the altar upon which he offers himself; his the priestly hand covered with his own blood by which he offered himself to God for our redemption. He is thus able to enter for us within the veil not of the earthly tabernacle or temple but of the heavenly presence of God. And having entered there through a new and living way, the veil of his own resurrected flesh, he now lives at God’s right hand to make intercession for us. And he has left heaven’s curtain pulled back. By faith in him, we may draw near with boldness – the boldness of sin atoned through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, of propitiation made through his blood, of reconciliation and redemption effected by his mediation. There are no charges pending, nor spots remaining for the child of God. And whatever else we need or face upon our pilgrimage to be with him where he is to behold his glory, Jesus Christ is consecrated for us forevermore. Where he is, he will soon bring us. His meditation and intercession are always availing.
And just like the shekinah glory in the tabernacle, sanctified priest, altar, and people, so we all, “with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). The types could not transform; they could only point to the great transition coming and feed the faith of those who longed for Christ’s appearing. But we have the reality; we are indwelled by God’s Spirit. We are God’s sanctified priests, his dwelling place by the Spirit (Eph. 2:22). We have this treasure in clay pots, so that the power is of God and not us, but the power is of God (2 Cor. 4:7). He will strengthen us with all might according to his mighty power (Col. 1:11). This is because he is with his church, dwells with each believer, raises us from death to life, and forms us into living stones. This is ongoing sanctification, to be sure, so we must fight against the indwelling sin that holds us back, the worldly influences that knock us off course, and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ in our lives (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Let us follow him closely and obey him lovingly (John 14:21-23), and he will reveal more of his fullness to us so that we know more of his transforming grace. Holiness, joy, and indwelling love are the fruits of his mediation, and he will not stop until he establishes this righteousness in the earth.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. Why must we have a consecrated and pure high priest?
2. How were these two objectives accomplished under the old covenant?
3. Why were so many sacrifices necessary for the high priest’s consecration to office?
4. What was the main truth of the sin offering?
5. Of the burnt offering?
6. Why was the series of rituals and sacrifices repeated for seven days?
7. In what ways does the consecration of the high priest proclaim the greater person and work of Jesus Christ our great High Priest?
8. Why are these details so tedious to consider, even for true believers? What do we need to learn about ourselves and about God in order to appreciate them more?