Here the priests of Israel are ordained, and their garments and the sacrifices that set them apart proclaiming our salvation in Jesus Christ. He is our High Priest who leads us in worship every Lord’s Day to offer our sacrifices of praise, and by His ministry, our worship is made potent to batter the gates of Hell and turn the course of human history.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments, and the anointing oil…” (Lev. 8-9)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The ordination of the priests took place over the course of eight days (9:1, 8:32). On the first day, the congregation witnessed Aaron and his sons being washed, anointed, and dressed in their uniforms (8:1-13). Then three animals were sacrificed: a bull for sin offering (8:14-17), a ram for an ascension offering (8:18-21), and a ram of “ordination,” a sort of peace offering (8:22-29). Some of the oil and blood was sprinkled on Aaron and his sons after this, and they ate a meal at the doorway of the tent of meeting, where they were to remain for the next seven days (8:30-36).
On the eighth day, two sets of sacrifices (one set for Aaron, one for the people) were offered so that “the glory of the Lord would appear” (9:1-7). Aaron offered a sin offering and an ascension offering for himself (9:8-14), and then he presented the sin offering, ascension offering, grain offering, and peace offerings for the people (9:15-21). Finally, Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people and fire consumed the offerings on the altar and the people shouted and fell on their faces (9:22-24).
FOR GLORY AND BEAUTY
Ever since the Garden of Eden, clothing has been deeply theological. When Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes were opened to see their own nakedness, and they tried to cover their own shame, but God made clothing for them from the skins of animals (Gen. 3:7, 21). This is the story of all human history: we have guilt and shame and either we try to hide it or we receive God’s covering. Elsewhere, we are told that part of the reason the priests were given a uniform was to cover their nakedness (Ex. 28:42), but it was also for “glory and beauty” (Ex. 28:2, 40).
This was to picture for Israel their need for salvation: instead of shame and mourning, God offered to provide “garments of salvation” (e.g. Is. 61:3, 10). This is the offer of the gospel: to be clothed in Christ. “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (Heb. 4:13-14). This is really what we mean by “clothed in Christ.” We mean that Christ is your great high priest, that His glory and beauty are your glory and beauty.
Very practically, all clothing is either seeking to reflect this reality with fitting praise, gratitude, and glory, or else it is a reflection of man’s own self-seeking arrogance and ostentation.
THE ORDER OF THE SACRIFICES & COVENANT RENEWAL WORSHIP
The ordination of the priests is one of the places we look to for our order of worship. While we need not insist that another order would be sinful, we want our worship to be “according to Scripture.” We know that Scripture commands us to confess our sins, to hear the Word read and preached, and to celebrate communion together, but what order are we to do it in?
In the Old Testament when the three central sacrifices were offered (Sin, Ascension, and Peace), they always seem to be offered in the order seen here (Lev. 9:3-4 cf. 8:14-31) and in a couple other places (cf. Num. 6, Ez. 45:17). We see the same theological order in the covenant renewal at Sinai: blood is sprinkled on the altars and on the people (Sin), the elders ascend the mountain (Ascension), and they eat and drink with God (Peace) (Ex. 24).
We call this order of worship “covenant renewal worship”: we confess our sins, we ascend to God through the Word read and preached, and we sit down to eat and drink at peace with God and one another. If you put a Call to Worship at the beginning and the Commissioning at the end, you have “5 Cs”: Call, Confession, Consecration, Communion, Commission.
We call it “covenant renewal,” but we could just as easily call it the “gospel enacted”: we are summoned to worship God, but we know we are sinners in need of forgiveness, so we confess and are assured of God’s pardon through Christ. Then we ascend into the presence of God in and through the Word of Christ which cuts us up on the altar. Finally, we feast at peace with God and one another before being charged and sent out with His blessing.
It’s striking that God commands the people to ordain these men to the priesthood in a certain way so “that the glory of the Lord shall appear” (9:6). We see an analogous result in the ordination of deacons in the New Testament: when the apostles determined not to neglect the Word of God and prayer, they ordained seven men to oversee the physical needs of the congregation, and the “Word of God spread and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem…” (Acts 6:7). When God’s people are obedient in appointing Spirit-filled leaders, the glory of the Lord appears, and more people turn to the Lord.
The same thing is true about faithful and obedient worship in general. When we obey the Lord in our worship services, both inwardly and outwardly, seeking Christ in it all, the glory of the Lord appears. When our worship is ordered according to Scripture, God promises that even unbelievers will fall down and worship God, saying that God is truly in our midst (1 Cor. 14:25). This is not some kind of mechanical theological formula, but it is a sure promise of the Living God received by faith in Christ alone.
The Book of Revelation can broadly be read as a heavenly worship service, with Christ our High Priest leading worship such that the judgments fall on the earth (Rev. 5-6ff). So we worship God in heaven on the Lord’s Day so that God’s Kingdom will come and His Will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. And with Christ our High Priest, it is sure to be done.