January 19, 2005
“Set Apart for Service: Moses Ordains the Priests”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me
to Leviticus, chapter eight. We’re going to read the whole of this chapter
tonight, but because this chapter is not only lengthy but filled with very
specific regulations for the consecration, for the anointment, for the
ordination of the priests of Israel, what I think I’ll do is break the chapter
up into eight parts as we read through it, and just say a brief explanation of
what each part of the chapter is doing.
Now, I’ve given you my outline. Let me hasten to say
I think that Moses’ outline to this passage is only seven parts, so I want to
immediately say Moses is right and I’m wrong, but the reason I’m giving it an
eight-part outline is to show you something, especially in verse 30, that you
might miss otherwise. The way I come up with Moses’ outline is, if you’ll
notice, at the end of each of the eight sections except the one that I broke out
separately, you’ll find a phrase that sounds like this: “…just as the Lord
commanded him.” I think that’s giving you Moses’ outline to this passage. As he
describes to you something and brings that description to a close, he says
something like, “we did this just as the Lord commanded.” And then he describes
something else, and then he repeats that phrase. I want you to focus on that
phrase, because that’s one of the key points of this passage to us tonight.
But what I’ll do is, I’ll give you just a brief
description of what Moses is telling you about, and then we’ll read that portion
until we get through. Because it’s a long passage, that will only leave us a
little while to draw your attention to three or four, or maybe even five things
which we can learn from this great passage.
Let’s look to God’s word and hear it, but first
let’s go to Him in prayer.
Lord God, we thank You for Your word, and we pray
now that as we read it in this series of short readings that You would bless our
minds with understanding and our hearts with faith; and that we would hear and
see and believe the truth of Your word for the well-being of our own lives and
for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Now, the first section that we’re going to read
is verses 1 through 4, but you’re going to note that I’m going to stop right
in the middle of verse 4, because one of those great phrases occurs there, where
Moses is telling you that he’s finished with that part and he’s getting ready to
go to the next part. And then we’ll pick up in the middle of verse 4 for the
next reading. So let’s hear God’s word from Leviticus 8, verses 1 to 4.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take Aaron and his sons with
him, and the garments and the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering and
the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble all the
congregation to the doorway of the tent of meeting.’ So Moses did just as
the Lord commanded him.”
Now in that part of the passage the Lord commands
Moses to assemble Aaron, who is going to be the high priest, and his sons who
were going to be the priests, and the whole congregation at the tabernacle with
all the specific materials, animals, and things which are going to be necessary
for this ritual of anointing and ordination to be carried out in the sight of
everyone in Israel. And that’s what Moses has told you about in the first
section of the chapter.
The second section of the chapter picks up in the
middle of verse 4 and runs down to verse 9. And in that section, Moses
explains to the people what is about to happen is what the Lord has commanded
him to do. He has not thought this up; the Lord has commanded all of this to be
done. And this is to draw the people’s attention to the fact that they are
supposed to learn something from what is being done in the symbolic ordination
and anointment of these priests. There are spiritual realities that they are to
understand, comprehend, and respond to in these rituals. And then the priests
are cleaned and clothed, they are washed and clothed, in this passage. Let’s
continue to hear God’s word.
“When the congregation was assembled at the doorway of the tent of
meeting, Moses said to the congregation, ‘This is the thing which the Lord has
commanded to do.’ Then Moses had Aaron and his sons come near, and washed them
with water. He put the tunic on him and girded him with the sash, and clothed
him with the robe, and put the ephod on him; and he girded him with the artistic
band of the ephod, with which he tied it to him. He then placed the
breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummin. He
also placed the turban on his head, and on the turban at its front, he placed
the golden plate, the holy crown, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
So, the second part of the chapter describes the washing
and clothing of the priests.
Then, if you look at verses 10 to 13 you’ll see
the third part of the chapter. Here Moses anoints the tabernacle itself,
and then Aaron, and then the priests. So not only the place where ministry is
going to be done is anointed, but those who were going to do ministry in that
place are anointed. They’re consecrated, and ordained and appointed for God’s
“Moses then 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 and anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the basin and its
stand, to consecrate them. Then he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s
head and anointed him, to consecrate him. Next Moses had Aaron’s sons come near
and clothed them with tunics, and girded them with sashes, and bound caps on
them, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
The third section of this chapter.
The fourth section you’ll find in verses 14 to
17, and here a sin offering is going to be made for the cleansing, for the
purification, of these priests who are going to serve in the Lord’s house, to
lift up offerings for the forgiveness of sins of God’s people. But before they
can lift up offerings for the forgiveness of sins of God’s people, offerings
have to be lifted up for the forgiveness of their sins, because they are
unclean. They are sinful men.
Now, you will see in my outline that I have said
that these offerings are offered for the “symbolic” purification of their sins,
because the author of Hebrews reminds us, doesn’t he, that “the blood of bulls
and goats cannot forgive sins.” And so these rituals do not bring about the
forgiveness of these priests’ sins, but these rituals point to that which will
bring about the forgiveness of the sins of all those who trust in God and in the
Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered in God’s word, because it is Christ’s
sacrifice that truly forgives. But here, the sin offering is described.
“Then he brought the bull of the sin offering, and Aaron and his
sons laid their hands on the head of the bull of the sin offering. Next Moses
slaughtered it and took the blood with his finger and put some of it around on
the horns of the altar, and purified the altar. Then he poured out the rest of
the blood at the base of the altar and consecrated it, to make atonement for
it. He also took all the fat that was on the entrails and the lobe of the
liver, and the two kidneys and their fat; and Moses offered it up in smoke on
the altar. But the bull and its hide and its flesh and its refuse, he burned in
the fire outside the camp, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
Then the fifth part of the chapter, in verses 18
to 21. Now the sin offering has been made; the priests have been ritually
purified; so now a burnt offering is going to be given as a pleasing aroma to
God. It’s an offering that is presented for the pleasure of God, for the glory
of God, on behalf of the priesthood. And you see it there in verses 18 to 21,
the fifth section of this passage.
“Then he presented the ram of the burnt offering, and Aaron and his
sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. Moses slaughtered it and
sprinkled the blood around on the altar. When he had cut the ram into its
pieces, Moses offered up the head and the pieces and the suet in smoke. After
he had washed the entrails and the legs with water, Moses offered up the whole
ram in smoke on the altar. It was a burnt offering for a soothing aroma; it was
an offering by fire to the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
The fifth section of the chapter.
The sixth section of the chapter runs from verses
22 to 29. And in those verses we will see a description of the sacrifice of
ordination and consecration that is made for the priesthood. An offering has
been made for their purification, and an offering has been made for the glory
and the pleasure of God, and now a sacrifice, an offering, is going to be
brought for the express purpose of setting these men apart for ministry and
ordaining them, indicating God’s supplying of them of the gifts and abilities
and responsibilities for ministry. So we see the sacrifice of ordination and
consecration in verses 22 to 29.
“Then he presented the second ram, the ram of ordination, and Aaron
and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. Moses slaughtered it and
took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, and on the
thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. He also had
Aaron’s sons come near; and Moses put some of the blood on the lobe of their
right ear, and on the thumb of their right hand, and on the big toe of their
right foot. Moses then sprinkled the rest of the blood around on the altar. He
took the fat, and the fat tail, and all the fat that was on the entrails, and
the lobe of the liver and the two kidneys and their fat and the right thigh.
From the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord, he took one
unleavened cake and one cake of bread mixed with oil and one wafer, and placed
them on the portions of fat and on the right thigh. He then put all these on
the hands of Aaron and on the hands of his sons, and presented them as a wave
offering before the Lord. Then Moses took them from their hands and offered
them up in smoke on the altar with burnt offering. They were an ordination
offering for a soothing aroma; it was an offering by fire to the Lord. Moses
also took the breast and presented it for a wave offering before the Lord; it
was Moses’ portion of the ram of ordination, just as the Lord had commanded
There’s the sixth section of the chapter.
Now, Moses’ seventh section of the chapter begins
in the very next verse, but I’ve broken it out for you so that you won’t miss
something quite significant, and you’ll see it there in verse 30. Here
Moses anoints, he ordains, Aaron and his sons, the priests, with blood and oil.
He sprinkles it on them.
“So 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,
and his sons, and the garments of his sons with him.”
There’s the act of ordination of those priests, in the
sprinkling of that blood and oil upon them.
And then, finally, my eighth section. If you
look at verses 31 to 36, you’ll see here Moses command the priests to eat of
their part of the ordination sacrifice and offering. Part of that
ordination offering they had already lifted up to the Lord in a wave offering,
and it had been burned up on the altar. But the other part was theirs, and Moses
tells them, now take it and eat it, but stay inside the tent of meeting. Stay
inside the tabernacle for seven days, because it’s going to take the whole of
that seven-day process to consecrate you, to ordain you, to atone for you.
Here’s what he says in verse 31 and following:
“Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons, “Boil the flesh at the
doorway of the tent of meeting, and eat it there together with the bread which
is in the basket of the ordination offering, just as I commanded, saying,
‘Aaron and his sons shall eat it.’ The remainder of the flesh and of the bread
you shall burn in the fire. You shall not go outside the doorway of the tent of
meeting for seven days, until the day that the period of your ordination is
fulfilled; for he will ordain you through seven days. The Lord has commanded
to do as has been done this day, to make atonement on your behalf. At the
doorway of the tent of meeting, moreover, you shall remain day and night for
seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, so that you will not die, for so
I have been commanded.’ And thus Aaron and his sons did all the things
which the Lord had commanded through Moses.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy,
inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Now this passage is so rich that I’m very tempted
not to skip a single aspect of it. It would be so delightful, for instance, for
us to pause and think about the significance of the anointing of the priests
with oil, because in the Near East, in its blinding sun and its very hot
climate, in the thin clothes that folks would wear–Nomads in the desert and
their exposure to the intensity of sunlight–one of the great expressions of
hospitality to them as they would come into a Near Eastern tent and receive the
kindness of their host, would have been their host having the privilege of
anointing them with oil. The oil served to moisturize their dry skin, and to
perfume them. You might imagine the kinds of aromas that would attend that kind
of climate. And it was a great blessing and expression of hospitality, and
expression of ‘I’m making you at home in my home; I’m accepting you into my home
as a part of my own household’, in the anointing of the guests with oil in the
It would be so delightful, wouldn’t it, for us to
spend some time thinking about the fact that God is saying to these priests,
‘I’m anointing you, and I’m welcoming you into My home. You’re part of My
family.’ And when we think that these priests themselves foreshadow not only
the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they foreshadow the privileged role that
we have in the new covenant…because what does Peter tell us? That we are a
kingdom of priests. Yes, it’s appropriate to apply many of the lessons of
this passage to ministers of the gospel, but it’s appropriate to apply the
message of this gospel to members of the Christian church, because God has made
you, in the glories of the new covenant, to be priests for Him.
But we can’t tarry there tonight. We’ve got to look
at just a few things, so let me start here.
I. The first thing that I want you
to see is that God is concerned in this passage that the congregation, the whole
congregation of God’s people, see and understand what the Lord is doing in the
ordination of these priests.
Notice that when these priests are assembled for
these rituals of ordination, God explicitly says that this is to be done in the
presence of the assembly of the whole congregation of Israel. Look at verse 3:
‘Moses, get Aaron, get his sons, get all the necessary sacrifices and materials,
and utensils and food, and come together at the tabernacle–and bring the whole
Why is God doing that? Because God wants
all His people to see and understand important spiritual truths which they are
to learn from the ordination of these priests. There is a lesson to
be learned. In fact, I suspect that the reason why these priests are told to
prepare their food and keep watch at the doorway of the tent of meeting over the
period of the seven days of their ordination is so that the people of God can
continue to watch them over that whole seven-day period. ‘There are spiritual
lessons to be learned,’ in other words, God is saying, ‘from the things that I
am going to be doing in these sacrifices.’ And we’re going to learn some of
those spiritual lessons as we go along, but the first thing that I want you to
see is that God wanted this ordination to be done in the sight of the people of
God. There were spiritual lessons for them to learn.
You know, my friends, we still have that privilege
in our own day, when we see ministers of the gospel and elders of the church of
the Lord Jesus Christ ordained by the laying on of hands in this sanctuary from
time to time. You know, that’s a blessed privilege and lesson that we get to
participate in every time it happens. And just as in the old covenant God wanted
His people to see and understand, so in the new covenant God wants His people to
see and understand when His servants are set apart.
So there’s one thing: that the congregation was to
see and understand what the Lord was doing in the ordination of the priests.
II. But there’s a second
thing. God makes it clear throughout this passage that He alone can supply what
these priests need in order to serve as His priests for the people of God.
First of all, you’ve already noticed it–how
many times? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight times in this
passage it is stressed that Moses did what? “Just as the Lord commanded
him.” Why? Because the people of God couldn’t’ make their own way up into
God’s presence. God had to show the way into His presence. God had to provide
the way into His presence.
I love the definition of biblical worship that the
Anglican, David Peterson, gives when he says that in worship we come to God onto
the terms that He proposes, and in the way that He alone makes possible. Isn’t
that a beautiful statement? We come to God in worship on the terms that He
proposes…you don’t come to Him any old way you want to. You don’t come to Him
with a golden calf; you don’t come to Him with statues of cows, in mountains in
Samaria: you come to Him on the terms that He proposes, and in the way that He
alone makes possible. And God’s reminding His people that even in the
ordination of these priests, but furthermore, He provides forgiveness of sins,
atonement, cleansing, purification. He, through all of these rituals, shows
that He must supply what these priests need to minister. And isn’t that an
important lesson for the people of God to learn, in the old covenant and in the
III. There’s a third thing
we learn from this passage, and it’s the new covenant flip-side of that last
truth, and that is, whereas these priests had to be supplied by God in order to
fulfill their service of God to the people of God, our great High Priest is
inherently worthy to perform His great deeds on behalf of the people of God.
And isn’t that what the author of Hebrews is
thinking about when he tells us in Hebrews, chapter 7, verse 26, that
“…it was fitting that we should have such a High Priest, holy, innocent,
undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not
need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifice first for His own
sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when
He offered up Himself. For the law appoints men as high priests who are weak,
but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, made perfect
And so our very reflection on the way that God consecrated
priests in Leviticus 8 reminds us that we have a High Priest who didn’t need
atonement to be made for Him before He served His people; for He was perfect,
and the atoning work that He offered on our behalf was perfect, and so if you
are trusting in Him, your conscience need not fear that there is a smidgen of
your sin left undealt with, because He is perfect.
IV. But there’s more, isn’t
there? The passage describes for us the consecration to service of these
priests, their purification, their preparation, their consecration, their
sanctification, their dedication, their inauguration…and think of the glorious
parallels there are for us as we see these things through the eyes of the New
These priests have to be purified before they went
into service. Do you remember the Lord Jesus Christ, in the upper room, in the
night in which He was betrayed, before the Lord’s Supper, in John 13:8, what
does He do? He goes about washing His disciples’ feet. And when Peter says,
“Lord, not me!” what does He say? “If I do not wash you, you have no part of
Me.” It’s Jesus as the second Moses, purifying His disciples for their service
of the people of God.
You remember Peter’s response: ‘Well, then, Lord,
not my feet only, but my whole self!’ No, Peter. You understand that what I’m
doing to your feet is symbolic of what I’m going to do for you tomorrow with
My whole self, and My blood will avail to wash away, Peter, all your sins.
Can you imagine that truth coming home to Peter after his denial of the Lord?
All your sins, Peter; My blood will avail for all your sins.
And of course, these priests had to ritually be
cleansed, forgiven, atoned for, in the offering up of those sacrifices for sin
and guilt, and purification. But the Lord Jesus, we’re told by the Apostle Paul
in II Corinthians 5:21, “He who knew no sin became sin, that we might become the
righteousness of God in Him.” Atonement; forgiveness; cleansing;
And we think of the preparation and the consecration
of these priests. In that ritual where the ram is offered, and their ears and
their thumbs and their toes are daubed with the blood of that lamb which has
been offered on the altar…you see the picture there. They’ve laid their hands
on that animal; that animal has been sacrificed; the blood of that animal has
been applied to them. It is a picture of them giving the totality of themselves
But what does Paul say to us in Romans 12:1?
‘Brethren, I entreat you, I beg you, by the mercies of God to present
yourselves —your bodies- as living sacrifices. I call upon you to give the
whole of yourself to God in service and devotion.’ You see, it’s a picture that
even goes a step further than this picture of dedication and devotion and
V. Oh, there are so many other
things, but there’s one last thing that I have to say. Have you noticed that
this process lasts seven days?
This is not a quick twenty-minute thing, or a
forty-five minute thing, or an hour and fifteen minute thing: this is a
seven-day process of ordination! Is that not a picture of the reality that
Christian ministry and Christian life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon?
Fads come and go, trends come and go: this book,
that book, this speaker, that speaker, this idea, that idea…God’s means of
grace, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, week after week, continue to do their work,
just as they have done for the last thousands of years. And the ministers of
God’s word are called to get up there and just keep serving God over and over,
Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.
Though there are some days that we’re on and there
are some days that we’re off…but friends, I want to promise you, your
ministers here want, like reliable fullbacks, to just keep hitting the line.
We’re not flashy wide receivers. We’re not great halfbacks. We’re not getting
the headlines; we’re just hitting the line. And you can count on us: we’re just
going to keep hitting the line over and over. Dive left, dive right, dive up
the middle–Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, God’s word, God’s means of grace,
prayer, God’s sacraments–over and over, because that is how God has ordained
that His people will be built up in the truth.
Oh, there’s so much more to say about this passage.
Perhaps some other time. Let’s look to God in prayer.
Lord, we thank You for Your word, and we pray
that You would, by Your Spirit, anoint and consecrate us to be the kingdom of
priests that You mean all of us to be. These things we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing?
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make
His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His
countenance upon you and give you peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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