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Truths from Old Testament Priests

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Exodus 29

The priests were to direct Israel’s worship and teach the people about God and what He requires. Faithfully fulfilling their duties also would establish a longing for a perfect priest and a once-for-all sacrifice that would come only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.


Today we open our Wisdom Journey with the Lord’s instructions to Moses on Mount Sinai to consecrate and ordain Israel’s priests. These instructions will be obeyed following the building of the tabernacle (Leviticus 8). 


The details given here highlight the importance of Israel’s worship. These priests are going to represent the people before God, and they’re going to represent God before the people.  


Let me remind you that the tabernacle itself was constructed after the pattern the Lord showed Moses back in Exodus 25. The tabernacle and its furnishings were designed to teach people about the holiness of God and how sinful people could approach Him—namely through blood sacrifice. The priests serving in the tabernacle modeled these truths and pointed ahead to Christ’s work. The high priest especially was pointing people to the work of Jesus Christ, the one the New Testament calls our “great high priest” in Hebrews 4:14.


Rather than comment on all the details of the consecration ceremony here, I want to emphasize the role of the priests and the pattern they provide for the Great High Priest to come. Let me give you seven important truths about Israel’s priesthood and what they mean for us even today.


First, the priests are chosen by God for a unique service. The Lord says to Moses in Exodus 29:1, “Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them.” To consecrate them means to set them apart for special duties no one else can perform. 


No one simply chose to be a priest. God specifically chose Aaron and his descendants to serve Him as priests. Aaron’s ministry is going to be a pattern that points to the Chosen One—the Son of God—who will be the final and great High Priest who offers one final, all-sufficient sacrifice for sins.


The second truth about Israel’s priests is that they must be holy. The Lord says here in verses 10-12:


“You shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull. Then you shall kill the bull before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and shall take part of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar.” 


By laying their hands on the bull’s head, the priests are identifying with the animal about to be sacrificed. And what kind of sacrifice is this? Verse 14 calls it a “sin offering”; this is a sacrifice for unintentional sins a person commits.


After this, an unblemished ram is to be sacrificed, and the process is repeated with laying on of hands and sprinkling blood at the altar. Verse 18 here refers to this as a “burnt offering to the Lord,” which is a sacrifice for intentional sins.


Here’s the point: Aaron and all his sons might be priests, but they are still sinners. They need God’s forgiveness. They need to have their sins—even the ones they don’t know about—covered by the blood of an animal before they can serve a holy God! 


This whole ceremony emphasizes the need for a holy priesthood and therefore points ahead to Jesus, our sinless Great High Priest. The apostle Peter writes that New Testament believers also are priests unto God (1 Peter 2:9): 


But you are a . . . royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.


Beloved, you serve God today—you represent Him today. But if you ever hope to serve Him as you should, you need to walk in holiness, consistently confessing your sins and asking the Lord’s forgiveness. PQ


Third, Israel’s priests are to fulfill their duties faithfully. The second ram that is offered is called in verse 22 the “ram of ordination.” This word for “ordination” comes from a Hebrew verb meaning “to fill the hands.”[1] To ordain someone is to entrust to their hands—to put into their hands—certain duties. And in this case, it’s the duties of the priesthood.


Blood from this ram is to be placed on the right ear, the right thumb, and the big toe on the right foot of each priest. This is the Lord’s way of symbolically “filling the hands” of Aaron and his sons with all the work to be accomplished in the tabernacle. What they handled, what they heard, and where they walked was to be committed to the work of God.


And so it was for Jesus, our Great High Priest. He fully executed his duties on earth; and even today, He is faithfully carrying out His priestly work, interceding for us at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 7:25). 


Fourth, we see that the Lord makes full provision for the priests. Portions of the offerings are for the priests to eat. We are told in verse 28 that the breast of the ram “shall be for Aaron and his sons as a perpetual due from the people of Israel.” 


In other words, those serving the Lord need to eat. They ought to be provided for; their needs should be met.


The fifth principle or truth concerning the priests of Israel we see here is that they must complete their ordination. In verse 35, the Lord tells Moses, “Through seven days shall you ordain them.” This means they cannot be ordained priests unless they complete this seven-day ceremony. 


The number seven communicated the idea of completion—a concept that no doubt had its origin in the creation week and God’s resting on the seventh day. I think this principle implies the idea of following God’s timing. Even to this day, as royal priests on earth, representing the true and living God, we should demonstrate our trust in the timing of God for everything in life. 


The sixth truth about Israel’s priests is that they will communicate God’s remedy for sin. The Lord says here in verses 38-39:


“Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs . . . One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.”


So, twice a day, every day, the priests effectively demonstrate the need for a substitutionary sacrifice to pay for people’s sin. 


This is a wonderful picture of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 2:17 tells us, He became a “faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation [atoning sacrifice] for the sins of the people.” 


What parallels do you see between Israel’s priesthood, the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:5, 9), and Jesus, our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14)? What do these parallels teach you?


One more important truth is indicated here, and it’s that priests are to help people come to know God. We read in verses 44-46:


“Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God . . . that I might dwell among them.” 


You can see why Israel’s priests played such a critical role in Israel’s life and worship. They reminded the people of God’s holiness, the need for forgiveness, and the principle of an innocent substitute sacrificed for sinners. And all this pointed to the coming Redeemer, the great and holy High Priest who would offer Himself as the final, unblemished, permanent, all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. Why? So that you and I can know the true and living God and one day dwell with Him forever. 

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