We have already seen how God meets the need to be loved, and to love in return, the need for peace, the need to have our guilt removed, and the need for restoration of relationship with others. All of these are so beautifully symbolized in the visual aids God has given us in the five offerings of Leviticus.
And then we came to the need for a priest. We have seen that here too God has made ample provision — first of all in the great high priest he has given to us, our Lord Jesus. He is the underlying resource of every Christian. He is always available to us!
And with Aaron were his sons, who are a picture of the priesthood of the believer, of the ministry each of us can have with one another in meeting the emotional and intellectual problems of life.
As we looked through the eighth chapter at the process of priesthood, we saw the way by which God produces priests. The washing, clothing, and the anointing with oil of Aaron as the high priest. Then the sons of Aaron gathered with him to share this priesthood. They too went through the process of being washed, clothed, and anointed, not only with oil but also with blood, symbolizing the necessity for cleansing from sin in their lives and in ours. Finally at the end of Chapter 8 we found them feasting together in the tabernacle on the thigh of the ordination offering and the bread of the cereal offering, symbols of strength and life imparted to them by the sacrifice made on their behalf, pictures of our life in Christ. And, you recall, Moses then gave strict orders for Aaron and his sons to stay in the tabernacle for seven days and not to leave, lest they die.
Now, the ninth chapter continues this process and introduces us to the final steps in becoming priests. It opens with a very instructive word:
On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel; (Leviticus 9:1 RSV)
The eighth day is highly significant! Eight is the number of a new beginning — a resurrection, in other words. So the eighth day is a symbol of resurrection life.
By this means God is teaching us that the process of priesthood, the ministry of being a priest, must be on the basis of resurrection power. We must trust in the resurrected life of a living Lord within us — new life, a new beginning — not in the natural resources of our old life, with its attempt to garner wisdom from here and there and put it all together and thus to muddle through. We have all been subjected to “good advice” by well-meaning people which, when followed, often has led us into some of the most difficult times of our lives. But here God is wiping all that out. He says, “I don’t want you to rest on that. I want you to operate from resurrection life, from the Scriptures understood in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to relate sensitively to the needs of individuals so that the advice you give as priests will not be your wisdom, but mine.” That is what this all means. And that is why Moses insisted that these priests not leave the tabernacle for seven days. God had said, “If you leave before seven days are up, you will die.” By that means he is saying, “Look, don’t try to operate as a priest on any basis other than resurrection power. It will never work. You will produce only death if you try to do it in any other way!”
Jesus spoke to his disciples and said things that were hard to accept and many began to leave him, John says in Chapter 6 of his gospel. Even the twelve disciples acted as though they too were going to leave. So Jesus said to them, “Will you also go away?” (John 6:67), with the implication, “Well, if you want to, go. All I need is the power of a living God!” What we need to learn is that when we rely on natural power we thereby forego supernatural power. Natural strength is not enough, and never will be, to do the job.
The reason why we try to depend upon it, though, is revealed in the next section. Beginning with Verse 2 and continuing through Verse 21 we have another section which details for us the offerings that were offered in connection with the ordaining of the priests.
First of all there were offerings for Aaron himself. In Verse 2, Moses said to Aaron,
“Take a bull calf for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and offer them before the LORD.” (Leviticus 9:2 RSV)
And in Verse 8 we are told,
So Aaron drew near to the altar, and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself. (Leviticus 9:8 RSV)
And, in Verse 12, he also killed the burnt offering which was for himself.
And then there were offerings for the people. Verses 3-4:
And say to the people of Israel, “Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both a year old without blemish, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a cereal offering mixed with oil; for today the LORD will appear to you.” (Leviticus 9:3-4 RSV)
These offerings were then sacrificed, as recounted in the rest of this section. So once again we run into the strange prominence of offerings and of blood which pervades this whole portion of the book.
God is shouting at us! He wants to get across to us a fundamental truth regarding the power of the priesthood. It is that the resurrection power of a living God at work within his people can never be exercised apart from a previous death.
When these Israelites brought their offerings, these innocent animals whose blood had to be shed, whose lives had to be forfeited, they were expected to learn something from the sacrifices. These were not mere rituals they went through to placate an angry God so that they then could go on and live unchanged. They were not an umbrella of protection against the wrath of an angry deity. These offerings were expected to teach the offerer that something had to die within himself. An offering was a substitute which was accepted only because the person making the offering was identified with it. Something had to happen within him. That is what God is getting across. Of course this symbolizes the end of all the natural resources of life — and this is the key to the use of resurrection power.
God is saying that out of death comes life. Not only for us but for others as well when we minister to them.
Look at the result now, in Verse 22:
Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 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. And fire came forth from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat upon the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:22-24 RSV)
What a dramatic scene! The whole camp of Israel, a million or more people, are somehow gathered at vantage points where they can observe what is happening in the open space before the door of the tabernacle, where the brazen altar is located. They watch Aaron and his sons kill these animals and put them on the altar and sprinkle the blood and pour it out. When everything is completed exactly as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron go together into the tabernacle. A hush falls on the whole assembly — no one knows what is going to happen.
Then Moses and Aaron come out again and they blessed the people. And suddenly the glory of the LORD appears. What was that? As best we can determine from other Scriptures it was a shining cloud of light, the Shekinah, a radiant glory of light which suddenly appeared and filled the whole area. Later it was to take up residence in the tabernacle, in the holy of holies where it was suspended over the ark of the covenant. But here it appears before all the people. And then a supernatural fire proceeds from it which consumes in a flash all the rest of the offerings upon the altar. A most impressive scene! No wonder the people fall on their faces and shout. This is a shout of victory, an expression of their sense of awe and wonder at the fact that the God of glory is in their midst.
Now, put this all together. All of this is designed, as Paul says in First Corinthians 10, for our instruction. This is God’s way of teaching us. What is the lesson? Well, there is a counterpart in our lives.
We are to be priests like these, and the objective of priesthood is to produce the glory of the LORD. That is what is manifest when the priesthood is operating properly. When all is done as God commands, then it works out to produce the glory of the LORD and the fire of God. The counterpart of that glory in our lives today is the beauty of the character of Jesus. The New Testament says that the Spirit of God is at work in our hearts to produce glory unto glory. And Paul, in Second Corinthians 4 says that the glory of God is found “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 KJV). So it is God’s character, the character of Jesus, appearing in you and in me in our daily encounters with people, which is represented by the glory of the LORD here in Leviticus.
Remember that Jesus said to his disciples in the moment of their agony when they were facing the cross with him and dreading the loneliness that his departure would mean, “Your sorrows will be turned into joy,” (John 16:20). And it was predicted of Jesus in the book of Isaiah that he would come and bring “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3b KJV), the oil of joy for the spirit of mourning, that his coming would turn these things into inner joy.
This is the purpose of his priesthood. And it is the purpose of your priesthood in the lives of others — that you might enter into their circumstances with sensitivity toward the individuals involved, and that the words you speak are able to release them from their outward despair and turn it around into inner joy and glory.
That is what God is saying to us. There is no glory without this process of priesthood, but the purpose of priesthood is that the glory of the LORD might be manifest.
My God, do people see the glory of God in you when you minister to them? Do they feel the joy of the Lord when you pray with them? Does the joy of God resound in their bellies, like rivers of flowing life?