Leviticus 8 – The Consecration of Priests
A. Prelude to the consecration of Aaron and his sons.
1. (1-3) The command given.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments, the anointing oil, a bull as the sin offering, two rams, and a basket of unleavened bread; and gather all the congregation together at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”
a. Take Aaron and his sons with him: Exodus 29 records the command God gave to Moses to carry out this consecration ceremony with Aaron and his sons. Now that the tabernacle was built it was time to perform the ceremony.
i. Exodus 29:1 stated the purpose of the ceremony: To hallow them for ministering to Me as priests. That is, this ceremony was to set the priests aside for God’s purpose and will.
ii. Since in Jesus we are a holy priesthood… a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9), there is much for us to learn by analogy in this consecration ceremony. God wants us set apart for His purpose and will, and He uses these principles to accomplish that goal.
b. Gather all the congregation together at the door of the tabernacle of meeting: God gave a specific list of items needed in the consecration ceremony and commanded that all the congregation together witness this ceremony. It would not be performed secretly.
2. (4-5) Moses does as the LORD commands.
So Moses did as the LORD commanded him. And the congregation was gathered together at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And Moses said to the congregation, “This is what the LORD commanded to be done.”
a. The congregation was gathered together at the door of the tabernacle of meeting: We don’t know if this was a large crowd, or certain representatives from the tribes, or both. This was a public ceremony.
i. “Ministers are to be ordained in the public assembly, (Acts 14:22) that the people may show their approbation, profess their purpose of obedience, and pray for God’s Spirit to be poured upon them.” (Trapp)
b. This is what the LORD commanded to be done: The entire consecration ceremony was God’s plan, not the plan of Moses. In some ways this was a strange and messy plan, but it was God’s plan for the process of consecration.
B. Preliminary aspects of the ceremony of priestly consecration.
1. (6) The washing of the priests.
Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.
a. Aaron and his sons: This was not a ceremony for just anyone in Israel. There were special consecration ceremonies available to anyone – such as the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6. But this ceremony was for priests, for Aaron and his sons.
i. Then Moses brought: “In the sacred rites of consecration it is noticeable that Moses acted. It is an arresting thing to see him thus exercising all the functions of the priestly office, although he was not permanently appointed thereto. The explanation is that he was acting as in the very place of God. God, through His servant, anointed Tabernacle and priests.” (Morgan)
b. And washed them with water: The process of consecration began with cleansing. All priestly ministries began with cleansing, and a cleansing that was received: you shall wash them. Aaron and his sons did not wash themselves; they received a washing.
i. This was humbling because it took place publicly at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. We cannot be cleansed from our sin without being humbled first.
ii. Rooker believed this washing was by full immersion, and Harrison also considered this point: “Some Jewish interpreters have maintained that the washing of Aaron and his sons was by immersion, as was required of the high priest on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:4).”
iii. This great cleansing was a one-time thing. From then on, they just needed to cleanse their hands and their feet.
iv. Like these ancient priests, every Christian is washed by the work of God’s word (Ephesians 5:26), by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). This cleansing work was accomplished by the death of Jesus for us (Revelation 1:5) and is appropriated by faith.
2. (7-9) The clothing of the high priest in priestly garments.
And he put the tunic on him, girded him with the sash, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him; and he girded him with the intricately woven band of the ephod, and with it tied the ephod on him. Then he put the breastplate on him, and he put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate. And he put the turban on his head. Also on the turban, on its front, he put the golden plate, the holy crown, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
a. And he put the tunic on him: After being cleansed, the priest had to be clothed – but not in his own clothes. He had to put on garments given by God.
i. Like these ancient priests, every believer is clothed in Jesus Christ and in His righteousness (Revelation 3:5). These are clothes that are given freely by Jesus but received and “worn” by faith.
ii. “Note, that these garments were provided for them. They were at no expense in buying them, nor labour in weaving them, nor skill in making them; they had simply to put them on. And you, dear child of God, are to put on the garments which Jesus Christ has provided for you, at his own cost, and freely bestows upon you out of boundless love.” (Spurgeon)
b. Girded with the sash…the ephod…. the breastplate…. the turban: Each of these specific articles of clothing were made for the high priest, garments to show the glory and for beauty of the priesthood (Exodus 28:2).
· The tunic was woven from fine linen thread (Exodus 28:39).
· The sash was a broad, woven band tied around the midsection (Exodus 28:39).
· The robe was a blue, seamless robe, with bells and small decorative pomegranates around its bottom hem (Exodus 28:31-35).
· The ephod was essentially an ornate apron-like garment, made of gold, blue, purple and scarlet thread (Exodus 28:5-8).
· The breastplate was also made with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread. It was attached to the ephod with gold chains. On the breastplate were four rows of three gemstones, each stone having one of the names of the twelve tribes inscribed on it. In wearing the breastplate, the high priest would bear the names of the sons of Israel… over his heart (Exodus 28:15-30).
· The Urim and the Thummim seem to be a pair of stones, one light and another dark, and each stone indicated a “yes” or “no” from God. The high priest would ask God a question, reach into the breastplate, and pull out either a “yes” or a “no” (Exodus 28:30).
· The turban was a simple wound linen headpiece. More important than the turban itself was the golden plate with the inscription Holiness to the LORD (Exodus 28:36-38).
3. (10-13) The anointing of the priests.
Also Moses 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, anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the laver and its base, to consecrate them. And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him. Then Moses brought Aaron’s sons and put tunics on them, girded them with sashes, and put hats on them, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
a. Moses took the anointing oil: The oil was sprinkled on non-living things, to show that they were specially set apart for the service of the LORD.
i. On the altar seven times: “Seven times, to signify the singular use and holiness of it, which it was not only to have in itself, but also to communicate to all the sacrifices laid upon it.” (Poole)
b. And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him: The priests of Israel also had to be anointed. The oil (a picture of the Holy Spirit) was poured over their heads, indicating that it was given in great measure, not in small measure (Psalm 133:2). Things were sprinkled, but upon people the oil was poured out.
i. To consecrate him: This means that the anointing oil set Aaron apart. If something is consecrated, it is then set apart for God’s service. Once sprinkled with oil, then the tabernacle wasn’t just a tent anymore; the altar was no longer just a fire-pit; Aaron was no longer just a man. He was a priest of the Living God and the high priest.
ii. “There is no statement in the OT as to why oil typified the Holy Spirit. Oil was widely used in lamps. As the lamp burned, the oil seemed to vanish into the air. Such a connection of oil and air possibly may have made the typology natural in the Hebrew culture.” (Kaiser)
iii. Like these ancient priests, every believer has an anointing (1 John 2:20) that they may receive and walk in by faith.
4. (14-17) The sacrifice of the sin offering.
And he brought the bull for the sin offering. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull for the sin offering, and Moses killed it. Then he took the blood, and put some on the horns of the altar all around with his finger, and purified the altar. And he poured the blood at the base of the altar, and consecrated it, to make atonement for it. Then he took all the fat that was on the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, and the two kidneys with their fat, and Moses burned them on the altar. But the bull, its hide, its flesh, and its offal, he burned with fire outside the camp, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
a. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull: The washing at the door of the tabernacle was only one aspect of the symbolic cleansing from sin. There also had to be the punishment of the guilty, and this happened in the sin offering. As Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull, they symbolically transferred their sin to the bull.
i. “The Hebrew word means more than lightly placing the hand, it gives the idea of pressing hard upon the bullock’s head. They came each one and leaned upon the victim, loading him with their burden, signifying their acceptance of its substitution, their joy that the Lord would accept that victim in their stead. When they put their hands on the bullock, they made a confession of sin.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Like these ancient priests, every believer can only be consecrated to God through sacrifice. Our consecration should be greater because it was made through a far greater sacrifice – the sacrifice of God’s own Son.
b. Then he took the blood, and put some on the horns of the altar all around with his finger, and purified the altar: The altar was sanctified with the blood of the sin offering, and the best of the animal was burnt before the LORD – the rest was destroyed outside the camp. The sin offering said, “We have failed to give our best to God. This animal now gives its best to atone for our failure, and we decide to live now giving our best, even as this animal which dies in our place.”
i. The idea behind the ancient Hebrew word for altar is essentially, “killing-place.” The ancient altar – a place of death – was made holy and was consecrated to God. Like that ancient altar, the altar of the New Covenant – the cross – is transformed from a place of death to a place set apart to bring life.
5. (18-21) The sacrifice of the burnt offering.
Then he brought the ram as the burnt offering. And Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, and Moses killed it. Then he sprinkled the blood all around on the altar. And he cut the ram into pieces; and Moses burned the head, the pieces, and the fat. Then he washed the entrails and the legs in water. And Moses burned the whole ram on the altar. It was a burnt sacrifice for a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
a. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram: As the sin offering before it, the burnt offering also symbolically received the sins of the priests and they laid their hands on the head of the animal and confessed their sin.
b. Moses burned the whole ram on the altar: The ram was completely burnt before the LORD, with its blood sprinkled on the altar. The burnt offering said, “We have failed to give our all to God. This animal now gives its all to atone for our failure, and we decide to live now giving our all, even as this animal which dies in our place.”
i. This demonstration of total commitment to the LORD only came after the first three aspects of the ceremony: cleansing, anointing, and atonement. Without these things settled first, we cannot truly give ourselves to God.
C. The ceremony of priestly consecration.
1. (22-24) The sacrifice and the blood.
And he brought the second ram, the ram of consecration. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, and Moses killed it. Also he took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he brought Aaron’s sons. And Moses put some of the blood on the tips of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. And Moses sprinkled the blood all around on the altar.
a. The second ram, the ram of consecration…. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram: After atonement for sin had been made through the sin offering and the burnt offering, it was then time for the sacrifices and ceremonies that would actually consecrate the priests. Like the previous sacrifices for atonement, these began with identification with the sacrificial victim, as they laid their hands on the head of the ram.
i. The theme of connection to and identification with the sacrificial victim did not end with the atoning of sin. It was the core principle of their consecration to priestly service. In the same way, our connection to and identification with Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, does in no way end when our sins are forgiven. It remains constant, especially in regard to any aspect of our priestly service.
b. He took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear: To express the idea of consecration, blood from the ram was placed on the ear, thumb, and toe of the priest. It was blood from the ram – not the wool and not the fat. God wanted the life of the sacrificial victim to mark His consecrated priests.
i. Leviticus 17:11 is one of many instances that express this principle: For the life of the flesh is in the blood. God wanted the life of the sacrificial victim to be evident in the body of the priest.
c. Tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot: These consecrated priests were stained with the blood of sacrifice. They should hear differently because the blood was on their ear. They should work differently because the blood was on their thumb. They should walk differently because the blood was on their toe.
i. Specifically, it was applied to the right ear, hand, and foot. This isn’t because God felt they could do whatever they wanted to with their left ear, hand, and foot. It is because the right side was considered superior, with more strength and skill (because most people are right-handed). God wanted their best to be dedicated to Him.
2. (25-29) A wave offering to God.
Then he took the fat and the fat tail, all the fat that was on the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, the two kidneys and their fat, and the right thigh; and from the basket of unleavened bread that was before the LORD he took one unleavened cake, a cake of bread anointed with oil, and one wafer, and put them on the fat and on the right thigh; and he put all these in Aaron’s hands and in his sons’ hands, and waved them as a wave offering before the LORD. Then Moses took them from their hands and burned them on the altar, on the burnt offering. They were consecration offerings for a sweet aroma. That was an offering made by fire to the LORD. And Moses took the breast and waved it as a wave offering before the LORD. It was Moses’ part of the ram of consecration, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
a. He took the fat and the fat tail: The second ram used in the consecration ceremony – the ram whose blood was applied to the ear, hand, and foot of the priest – was used as a wave offering before the LORD.
b. Waved them as a wave offering before the LORD: Part of this second ram – the best parts – was put together with the bread, cake, and the wafer and was first waved before God in an act of presentation. Then these portions were burnt on the altar as an act of complete devotion.
c. Moses took them from their hands and burned them on the altar: Normally, portions such as the right thigh belonged to the priests as their portion. But not in the consecration ceremony; it was inappropriate for them to personally benefit from this offering.
3. (30) Blood is sprinkled on the priestly garments.
Then 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, his sons, and the garments of his sons with him.
a. Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood which was on the altar, and sprinkled it: The blood alone wasn’t enough. God wanted blood mixed with oil, and to have the mixture sprinkled on the priests. There was to be a combination of both the sacrifice and the spirit (represented by the anointing oil).
i. “Yes, brethren, we need to know that double anointing, the blood of Jesus which cleanses, and the oil of the Holy Spirit which perfumes us. It is well to see how these two blend in one…. It is a terrible blunder to set the blood and the oil in opposition, they must always go together.” (Spurgeon)
b. And sprinkled it on Aaron, on his garments: This mixture of oil and blood stained the garments of Aaron and his sons. It would be a long reminder of this ceremony of consecration.
i. “Thus we find that the high priest himself must be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice; and our blessed Lord, of whom Aaron was a type, was sprinkled with his own blood. 1. In his agony in the garden. 2. In his being crowned with thorns. 3. In the piercing of his hands and his feet. And, 4. In his side being pierced with the spear. All these were so many acts of atonement performed by the high priest.” (Clarke)
4. (31-32) A fellowship meal with God.
And Moses said to Aaron and his sons, “Boil the flesh at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and eat it there with the bread that is in the basket of consecration offerings, as I commanded, saying, ‘Aaron and his sons shall eat it.’ What remains of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn with fire.
a. Boil the flesh at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and eat it there with the bread: The remaining meat portions of this ram were given to Aaron and the other priests after those portions were presented to God as a wave offering. It was then cooked and eaten by the priests during the days of their consecration ceremony.
i. The second ram – after the ram presented as a burnt offering – had its life applied to the consecrated priests. First, its life was applied with the application of blood to the ear, hand, and foot of the priest. Then through a ritual meal, its life was applied by the priest taking the ram into himself.
ii. The eating did not begin the process of consecration. It came after the washing, the clothing, and the blood-atonement of the priests. The eating speaks of the continuing relationship of the priest with God. “Let not this distinction be forgotten; the eating of the sacrifice is not intended to give life, for no dead man can eat, but to sustain the life which is there already. A believing look at Christ makes you live, but spiritual life must be fed and sustained.” (Spurgeon)
iii. In this way, eating is a good picture of a healthy, continuing relationship with Jesus.
· Eating is personal. No one can eat for you, and no one can have a relationship with Jesus on your behalf.
· Eating is inward. It does no good to be around food or to rub food on the outside of your body – you must take it in. We must take Jesus to ourselves inwardly, not merely in an external way.
· Eating is active. Some medicines are received passively – they are injected under the skin and go to work. Such medicines could even be received while one sleeps – but no one can eat while asleep. We must actively take Jesus to ourselves.
· Eating arises out of a sense of need and produces a sense of satisfaction. We will have a healthy relationship with Jesus when we sense our need for Him and receive the satisfaction the relationship brings.
b. What remains of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn with fire: God did not want to fellowship with them over stale food. Even if they had the exact same meal, God wanted it made fresh. He wants our fellowship with Him to be fresh.
5. (33-36) Seven days of consecration.
And you shall not go outside the door of the tabernacle of meeting for seven days, until the days of your consecration are ended. For seven days he shall consecrate you. As he has done this day, so the LORD has commanded to do, to make atonement for you. Therefore you shall stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the LORD, so that you may not die; for so I have been commanded.” So Aaron and his sons did all the things that the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses.
a. You shall not go outside the door of the tabernacle of meeting for seven days: With the coming generations, new descendants of Aaron would qualify for the priesthood and would be consecrated the same way. For Aaron and his descendants, the consecration process took seven days.
i. “Verse 35 indicates that on each of the next seven days Moses was to offer the same sacrifices on behalf of Aaron and his sons.” (Harrison) See also Exodus 29:35-36 to clarify this point.
ii. Seven days: “This number was the number of perfection among the Hebrews; and the seven days’ consecration implied a perfect and full consecration to the sacerdotal office.” (Clarke)
b. He shall consecrate you: The he mentioned here may be a reference to Moses, who supervised the consecration ceremony. It may also be a reference to God, who does the true work of setting aside a person for ministry. Without God’s consecration, all this would be an empty ceremony.
i. This was a complicated, long, repetitive, messy ceremony. God still has His own consecration and preparation process today for His servants. “Nothing is to be omitted which Jehovah commands. His priests must be washed, robed, anointed, sustained, separated, and all in His way, or they cannot exercise their functions in His service. To neglect anything, is to invalidate ministry.” (Morgan)
c. To make atonement for you: Through the repetition of these sacrifices over seven days, it was emphasized again and again that these priests were sinners, they were fallible men who needed atonement. A high standard (indeed, a higher standard) should be expected of leaders among God’s people, but not the standard of perfection.
i. “The contrast between the sinful lives of the high priests and the life and work of the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, to which these priests pointed, was not lost to the writer of the Hebrews (Hebrews 9:7–14).” (Rooker)
d. You shall stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting day and night for seven days: For seven days they lived at the tabernacle and ate the ram of the consecration and the bread of consecration. The consecration ceremony wasn’t quick and easy. It took time, reflection, and a constant awareness of sacrifice and atonement.
i. “The Lord’s part was consumed with fire upon the altar, and another portion was eaten by man in the holy place. The peace offering was thus an open declaration of the communion which had been established between God and man, so that they ate together, rejoicing in the same offering.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “I know some good people who are very busy indeed in the services of God, and I am very delighted that they should be, but I would caution them against working and never eating. They give up attending the means of grace as hearers, because they have so much to do as workers.” (Spurgeon)
e. You shall stay at the door of the tabernacle…and keep the charge of the LORD. After seven days of living in the tabernacle, they would either love the tabernacle of God and His presence, or they would hate them.
i. If approached with the right heart, their consecration demonstrates the heart of the Psalmist: How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psalms 84:1-2)
ii. So that you may not die: “If the threatening seem too severe for the fault, it must be considered both that it is the usual practice of lawgivers most severely to punish the first offenses for the terror and caution of others, and for the maintenance of their own authority.” (Poole)