God is teaching us what priesthood means for us today. He takes it very seriously. Giving us instructions on how to live. This is what is brought out so clearly in the story of Nadab and Abihu, the two older sons of Aaron, who carelessly assumed that as priests they could do whatever they wanted to do! When they did, a flame of fire consumed them in their tracks, and thus they died suddenly before God in the sanctuary. This stunned and sobered the people of Israel. It was God’s way of impressing upon them the fact that the priesthood is extremely important.
I wonder if we have any idea at all of how terribly important this priesthood is which God has committed to us as believers. The church has not been what it ought to be. Individual Christians have neglected this priesthood which is committed to them. As a result there has been no salt with savor in society and so it is corrupting at a fearful rate.
Now, in Chapter 10, we come to three further instructions to priests which are very insightful and helpful. Following the account of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu we read, in Verses 8-11:
And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, “Drink no wine nor strong drink, you nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.” (Leviticus 10:8-10 RSV)
There you notice two great privileges of ministry which priests enjoy:
The first is to discriminate between the clean and the unclean, between the holy and the common. Of course in the ancient priesthood this meant to distinguish between animals which were marked as clean and those which were declared unclean, and between sacred vessels, buildings, etc., and those which were for common use. When this is lifted to the level of our priesthood, the spiritual level, it means to discriminate between that which merely feeds the natural life and that which improves a person’s spiritual relationship, deep in his inner heart. And it means to distinguish between that which is harmful and that which is harmless.
That is not easy to do! It takes a very sharp eye and discriminating mind to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. You remember that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that though by that time those men ought to have been teachers, yet they needed somebody to teach them again the first principles of God’s word because they were unable to judge between the right and the wrong, between the clean and the unclean. This is what a priesthood is for.
And, second, it is to teach the truth. It is to unveil reality. It is to tear down all the illusions under which people live and to demolish all the lies and fantasies with which society is saturated, and to expose the way life really is. That is the business of priests — to teach the truth about life as the God of truth himself has revealed it. That is what these priests were to do. They were to teach the people of Israel all the statutes which the LORD had spoken to them through Moses. And that is our job — to unveil the truth and to help people to see and understand it.
You see, the first ministry corrects what is wrong; the second replaces it with what is right. That is the job of a priest — your job, my job — to take this truth and to set it before people in such a way that they can see the truth about themselves and about life.
So many need that help today, the need for truth in all the areas of our lives.You can minister wherever you are!
You notice also that there was one thing the priests must not do. Verse 8 says, “The LORD spoke to Aaron [evidently directly, not through Moses this time], and said, ‘Drink no wine nor strong drink, you nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations.'” Now, don’t misunderstand that. This is not a women’s temperance message. The Bible never says that anything is wrong with wine or strong drink except in the abuse of it, in its use to excess. But it does say, consistently all the way through, that any degree of drunkenness, any getting high, any lack of control is always regarded as wrong because it destroys our humanity to some extent.
The priests were warned against this particularly when they went into the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, for ministry. The forbidding of the priests to drink wine or strong drink is a picture of something on the spiritual level in our lives. It signifies that we should avoid on the spiritual level that which wine and strong drink do on the physical level.
What is that? Well wine and strong drink, of course, tend to excite nature. They arouse the flesh, and distort judgment as a result. So anything which arouses our passions, our flesh, in the exercise of our priesthood, with its necessity of discriminating and making judgments between what is harmful and what is harmless, is forbidden to us lest it destroy our ability to judge — both for ourselves and for others to whom we may be ministering.
How greatly this warning is needed! For instance, sometimes you see Christians, with the best of intentions, getting involved in shady financial deals, in trying to make a lot of money quickly, justifying it to themselves on the grounds that they would be better able to support missionaries or to contribute more to the church. But, despite their sincerity, in the process they have done things which were downright illegal and clearly wrong!
We must also be careful trying to help someone in problems, lest we fall into those traps of our own. God is warning us , don’t get yourself involved in a situation to such a degree that you lose the ability to be objective and to distinguish which is right and which is wrong.
The next section deals with the sources of the priests’ strength:
And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons who were left, “Take the cereal offering that remains of the offerings by fire to the LORD, and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy; you shall eat it in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due, from the offerings by fire to the LORD; for so I am commanded.” (Leviticus 10:12-13 RSV)
This section, from Verse 12 to Verse 15, tells us where strength can be derived to meet these heavy demands for objectivity in the decisions we have to make. The cereal offering, as we have already seen, is a picture of the humanity of Jesus, his perfect manhood, man just as God intended man to be! He knows exactly what we go through. He experienced every pressure, every single temptation that we undergo.
But do you notice where they were to eat this? In only one place. They were to eat it beside the altar, right beside the place where the animals were put to death, as a reminder of that fundamental principle which runs all through Scripture: he who loses his life shall save it, but he who tries to hang on to it shall lose it. That is the basic law of life. If you try to hang onto your humanity, try to protect it and keep it for yourself, and are concerned only about what pleases you or does something for you, you will lose it. It will wither and die and you will turn hard and callous and cold and cruel. But if you fling it away, give it away to others, and are ready to invest it in somebody else’s life and welfare, let it die, in other words, you will save it and it will be a joy to you.
There are two other sources of strength given here. Look at Verses 14-15:
“But the breast that is waved and the thigh that is offered you shall eat in any clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you; for they are given as your due and your sons’ due, from the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the people of Israel. The thigh that is offered and the breast that is waved they shall bring with the offerings by fire of the fat, to wave for a wave offering before the LORD, and it shall be yours, and your sons’ with you, as a due for ever; as the LORD has commanded.” (Leviticus 10:14-15 RSV)
Notice the emphasis on the continuity of this provision. This is something which is available all the time, forever. We have seen already the meanings of these two portions of the animals. The breast is a symbol of the affections of Christ, of his love for us. The thigh symbolizes his strength, his power on our behalf. What this is saying, again, is that when you get discouraged and feel as if you are not accomplishing anything, and you are beaten down and it doesn’t seem as if anybody is taking any notice, you are to remind yourself of the love the Lord Jesus has for you, to remember that he cares about you and accepts you and is with you, and that his love never changes. You are precious and dear to him.
When you feel that you can’t do something, that the demands upon you are too great, that you don’t have the power to respond as you ought in some situation — perhaps you know you should love someone, but the person is so difficult to love — then you are to remind yourself that Christ’s life is in you and that his strength is yours. If you will just step out and act upon it, it will be there to supply you with whatever power you need. That is feeding upon the thigh. Notice that both of these are to be eaten anywhere, not just at the altar but anywhere you need them. This is where the sources of strength lie.
The final section of this passage deals with a problem which arose. Verses 16-20:
Now Moses diligently inquired about the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it was burned! And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron who were left, saying, “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? Behold, its blood was not brought into the inner part of the sanctuary. You certainly ought to have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded.” And Aaron said to Moses, “Behold, today they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD; and yet such things as these have befallen me! [He is referring to the death of his two sons.] If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been acceptable in the sight of the LORD?” And when Moses heard that, he was content. (Leviticus 10:16-20 RSV)
Do you see the problem here? There were two kinds of sin offering, as explained in the law of the sin offering in Chapter 6:
In one the blood was to be carried into the inner sanctuary, into the holy place, and there it was to be sprinkled on the horns of the golden altar of fragrant incense. That was required as a picture of the depravity of man’s evil. And because of that depravity no part of the animal was to be eaten but it was all to be taken outside the camp and burned. Only God could consume it, so deep is man’s evil.
But there was another kind of sin offering in which the blood was sprinkled on the horns of the brazen altar in the outer court. There the flesh of the animal was to be eaten by the priests as a picture of their understanding of the nature of their evil and as a token of their acceptance of the forgiveness of God.
This offering was of the second kind. The blood had not been brought into the sanctuary and so Moses said, “You should have eaten this meat! Why didn’t you do it?” And he is afraid lest the judgment of God consume the rest of these priests. But Aaron explains. He says, “Two of my sons have sinned. And even though a sin offering had been offered this very morning, yet they died. Evidently there is some depth of depravity here that we don’t understand but which has taken their lives. Therefore it seemed to me that the LORD would not be pleased if I ate the sin offering. So we have treated it as though the blood were sprinkled before the golden altar, and the body of this animal has been burned in its entirety.”
When Moses heard that, he understood. He realized then that Aaron had gone deeper than the letter of the law; he had understood the intent of it. He had understood what God is after in these sacrifices and rituals and ceremonies. He recognized there was a matter of deeper concern here. And so God, mercifully, does not exercise any judgment here because Aaron has pressed beyond the letter to the deep intent of the law. And Moses is content with that.
This attitude always pleases God. You see, God is really not at all interested in our ritual. That is something we need so desperately to understand. He is not impressed by the fact that you come to church every Sunday, if that is all you do. He doesn’t care the least bit that you stand and sing and pray and witness, or whatever you do, if your heart is not in it. Those activities, in themselves, do not make you any better in his sight. What he is after is what happens in the heart!
These words of David from the 51st Psalm, written after David himself had fallen into deep and dark sin, the double sins of murder and adultery. In Verses 15-17 of this great Psalm he cries out,
O Lord, open thou my lips,
and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
For thou hast no delight in sacrifice;
were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalms 51:15-17 RSV)
That is what Aaron saw, and so Moses was content to let the letter of the law be violated because the intent of it was so beautifully fulfilled.
And that is what God is after with us. He doesn’t want any kind of religious practices. He doesn’t care about that. What he wants is a heart that is open, responsive, honest, and obedient before him. With that God is greatly pleased. That delights his heart.
Have you checked the content of your heart lately?