Leviticus 9 is Aaron’s first service. Everything up to here has been preparatory. Aaron and his sons will experience the opportunity to offer every kind of sacrifice except for those offered for specific sins (sometimes called “reparation offerings” – see chapter 5), and the sacrifices common to the poor (birds).
The first offering is a sin offering, made to receive forgiveness. It is interesting that Aaron makes one of these for himself and his sons despite the fact that such a sacrifice had already been offered by Moses the week before. Sin is ever before us.
The second offering was a burnt offering. Having received forgiveness, this offering preceded the rest. It might be likened to visiting in someone’s home. You take off your shoes as you enter the house, and you present your gift to your host. Everything else follows this.
Aaron then offered these two offerings for the people of Israel, followed by a “fellowship offering” (an offering of thanksgiving) with its accompanying cereal (grain) offering.
There are several lessons here: First, before one presumes to give God a gift or make any effort to serve Him, there must be a recognition and cleansing of sin. Before leaders look to intercede for the lives of their followers, the leaders must see to the cleansing of their own lives.
Second, in service to God, it is important to be scrupulous about doing as God says. Everything is done “as the Lord commanded” (vss. 6, 11) or “prescribed” (9:16).
Finally, after everyone responds to God in His way, God makes His presence known. We cannot live lives inattentive to the will of God and sin and expect His presence.
It is easy to get lost in all the offerings of Israel, but if you’ve made it through the first six chapters of Leviticus, you are out of the woods – even if you don’t know where you have been. There are five different types of offerings listed in these chapters.
The first three offerings are the “burnt offering,” the “grain” (or cereal) offering, and the “fellowship” (or peace) offering. Each of these are identified by the “smell” of the offering when made. It produces a “pleasing aroma” to God and all are offerings that celebrate a right relationship with God.
The last two offerings are the “sin” and “guilt” offerings. These are used to “atone” (make payment) for sin and are not said to produce a pleasing aroma.
Offerings have an additional three characteristics: Some (grain, sin, and guilt offerings) are called “most holy.” Only a portion of these offerings are given to God. The rest of the offering belongs to the priests. Fellowship offerings were offered to God, but part of them were returned to the offerer to eat as a blessing. Burnt offerings were totally offered to God.
By the number of offerings required, when they were required, and what was required, no one should miss the point that a relationship with God was costly, and required an individual’s attention. While we no longer make these offerings (because Christ’s offering superceedes them all), no one should imagine that a relationship with God today requires less care.
Commit a crime, and something dies – at least, it dies if you expect forgiveness from God. Know something that will help others, yet you refuse to speak up? It’s a crime (sin) and to be forgiven, something must die. Make a commitment and then thoughtlessly fail to keep it? Something must die to be forgiven.
No one was exempt from the law – not the king, not the priests, not the common man. Ignorance was no excuse. If you committed sin, and weren’t aware of it, you were still guilty before God.
But who you were did affect the cost of the sacrifice. If you were a priest, you offered a young bull. Significantly, if a whole community sinned, a bull was also to be offered. In other words, the guilt of the Priest was equal to that of the whole community. If a leader sinned, he offered a male goat. If an ordinary individual sinned, his offering was simply a female goat, or, if he was poor, two doves or two pigeons. The higher up the ladder you were, the more elaborate the sacrifice. Greater position requires greater responsibility before God, and the seriousness of sin in positions of leadership is greater than for ordinary people.
Little has changed. God is still serious about how we live and his code of ethics did not “lighten up” with the coming of Jesus. We are responsible for knowing how to live, and guilty for living improperly – whether we are aware or not. Greater position means greater responsibility.
The one thing that has changed is that Jesus, our High Priest, has made atonement for our sins, and he did it not with the sacrifice of an animal, but with the sacrifice of his own life. God takes sin seriously. We should too.
Chapter forty ties up the book of Exodus in a neat package.
Remember that in chapters 25 – 31, God tells Moses how to construct the tabernacle. In chapters 35 – 39, Israel constructs it as God commanded. In chapter forty, the first 16 verses instruct on how to set up the tabernacle. In the final sixteen verses, Israel does as God commanded.
It is only when everything is done as God commanded that the glory of the Lord settles among His people. As Victor Hamilton observes: “Whenever God’s work is done in God’s way for God’s glory, the brilliant presence of His Majesty is almost a given.”
The tabernacle was set up on the “first day of the first month,” a date mentioned only six other times in the Bible. This is the second time. The first time was after the flood when the water had dried up from the earth (Genesis 8:13). Both times mark a new beginning. This time, God’s people would begin with His presence among them.
When we become Christians, God adopts us into His family and takes up his dwelling within us by means of His Holy Spirit. It is truly a new beginning, and auspicious at that, for from that time forward, the journey of our life is conducted in an intimate presence with Goe not available before, and not available to anyone outside His covenant.
Whenever you have a spare hour, and a computer, line up, side by side, Exodus 25 through 30 and 35 through 40. The amazing thing – though almost mind numbing – is the great similarity between these chapters. Note just the lampstand for example:
God said: “Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be one with it” (27:31). Then, in 37:17, “They made the lampstand of pure gold and hammered it out, base and shaft; its flower like cups, buds and blossoms were of one piece with it”
In fact, in the last two chapters of Exodus, Moses notes not less than fourteen times that Israel built the tabernacle, and everything in it, just “as God commanded them.” It was then that God took up His dwelling among them, and remained a visible presence among them “in the sight of all the house of Israel” wherever they went.
Our obedience is not how we coerce blessings from God. As God’s children, he longs to bless us. In fact, the blessings are already ours. But the presence of the Lord among us, and his blessings, do not come and are not seen among the disobedient. Only the obedient are blessed. It was true in ancient Israel. It’s still true today.
When I read the story of the golden calf, I’m always reminded of Isaiah 40:30-31 in the old King James Bible: “they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” It’s the word “wait” that catches my attention. In our time, to “wait” means to delay action until something expected happens. In the King James Bible, “wait” meant to “trust,” and that’s what Israel isn’t doing in Exodus 32. They couldn’t “wait” for Moses to return because they didn’t “trust” the Lord. Impatience with God comes from a lack of faith: confidence He knows what He is doing; confidence He has a plan.
Chapter 32 is filled with stupidity.
Israel loses faith in the Lord who has delivered them, so they transfer their allegiance to an idol that looks like a young cow that can be fashioned by a man using a tool – a small, mute and impotent god to be sure – one they could control, but who could not rescue.
Aaron stupidly explains his actions: “they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” Did he really expect Moses to buy that?
But the story is also filled with grace. Moses undertook to reason with God, hoping to temper the Lord’s anger. He reminded Him of God’s reputation in the pagan world. He reminded God of His promises to Abraham and Isaac. But in the end, Moses offered his own soul for that of his people, and God relented. In your daily prayers, remember especially those who have lost faith and turned from God. Your intercession may be just what they need to be saved.
Priced a good bull lately?
I thought about this as I read the ordination ceremony of Aaron and his sons.
Aaron, aided by his boys, was to be the spiritual liaison between God and God’s people. But even he didn’t take that job himself. He was appointed by God, and not without some pomp and circumstance. To be admitted to those positions required a cleansing from sin, and that cost the lives of a bull and two rams. But it wasn’t just their sacrifice. Moses had to be meticulous in how he sacrificed those animals. The end result was a priesthood, a human link between God and man. Those priests were special – unlike everyone else. They had access to food no one else was able to eat. Their support came directly from God, paid for by the people they served who made offerings to the Lord.
Four lessons come to mind. First, serving God is not a matter of human choice. Serving the Lord comes by His invitation and even qualifying for the post must be done according to His terms. One doesn’t just “accept the Lord Jesus Christ” and be “in.” Second, to be able to serve the Lord requires a cleansing sacrifice, an “atonement.” Ultimately, for us today, Jesus is the sacrifice that has made this cleansing possible. Third, living in service to God sets us apart from the rest of the world – a holiness that must be seen in the way we live our lives, down even to the way we dress.
Finally, this service is costly. Today, a bull can go for anywhere between $1500 and $2500. A ram for $100 – $200. A bull and two rams were used in the ceremony. But it didn’t end there. Israel had to sacrifice a bull and two rams every day from that point onward. It wasn’t like the animals were slaughtered and given to the poor. They were just killed and burned. When you consider how many cattle were killed every year in just this way, being the people of God becomes a serious and pricey proposition. Animals had to be raised. Animals had to be bought.
Today, Christians serve as priests. Our service is at God’s election, and must be in His way. And we can be sure that it will be costly. Ours is no cheap God.
And that ain’t no bull.
Picky, picky, picky.
It is the way God seems in the chapters dealing with the tabernacle and its furnishings. From the measurements of the curtains to the number of loops on each end to tie them to the wall supports. From the choice of fabric to the choice of color. Nothing was left to the imagination of man. In fact, everything was to be made “according to the plan” God showed Moses in the mountain. Exactly according to the plan the text says (25:9). This becomes a theme beginning in this part of the book, for the command to follow instructions occurs repeatedly (25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8) and in a variety of forms.
But it’s not just about following instructions.
This building is to be something grand. The materials they are to use are not ordinary. To a very practical mind, one might wonder why the curtains had to be of “finely” twisted linen, why the clasps to hold curtains together had to be of gold, why acacia wood had to be used, why the bases for the tent poles had to be set in bronze bases, why the oil for the lamps had to be “clear” and from “olives.” These were a nomadic people and a tabernacle like this would undoubtedly stand out – like building a stone mansion in a trailer park.
But that was the point. Israel’s God was not a man – nor like a man. Their God was uncommon among the gods of the people surrounding them. The place of His dwelling had to be special.
In every thing we do for God, it should be the very best possible. And since God now has made his home within us, His Church, everything about us should radiate that we are different in a way that will bring honor and glory to the Lord.
In Exodus 20, we have the summary of the law of God in the ten commandments. What follows, after 20:17, is an expansion or elaboration on the summary. In chapter 24, having given Israel the law of God, Moses wrote down the laws for permanence into the “book of the covenant” (the only mention of such a book in Exodus). Moses then built a symbolic shrine: an altar surrounded by twelve pillars representing God dwelling among His people.
I find it significant that Moses calls on “young” men to be involved in the offerings. Scholars typically do not comment on this, dismissing it as simply a matter of necessity: the large number of animals would require young people of strength and vigor to manage. But this is such a matter of common sense that it hardly seems necessary to take special note of it. What Israel is about to do is formally enter into a covenant with God. It’s not something just the older people were buying into. It involved future generations. By using the youth, Moses shows that they are a valued part of the covenant agreement. Perhaps the reason we lose so many young people in the Christian faith is that we never allow them to feel that they are a significant part of the Church until their minds are already determined they are not a part by the way we have excluded them from the conversations.
Two types of sacrifices were offered: burnt and fellowship. The burnt offerings were for sin and were totally consumed. The fellowship offerings signified thanksgiving and union with God. Part of the fellowship offerings were to be eaten by the offerers and so, all Israel engages in a meal with God. Union and agreement between them is signified by the sprinkling of blood on both the people and the altar of God.
The Elders of Israel also engage in a meal with the Lord, but their position grants them an even closer communion. Covenants were often concluded with meals (cf. Genesis 26 & 31). The text says they “saw” the Lord (and yet didn’t die!). Without doing damage to the plain expression of the text, I find it significant that rather than describe God as they see him, what is revealed is the “pavement” on which the Lord walked, a sapphire as clear as the sky. It is as if they see God, but all they can bring themselves to describe is the ground on which He walked.
Significant also is Moses calling the sprinkled blood the “blood of the covenant.” The phrase will not appear again until a new covenant is offered by God, sealed not with the blood of animals, but with His own blood, that of Jesus (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24).
The list of laws in chapter 20 is often called the “ten words,” because in Hebrew, the focus is on one word of each command. These provide the basis of the moral code of both the Old and New Testaments, as well as summarize the requirements of every human relationship with God.
God doesn’t undertake to explain why these rules are important to Him. They are His rules. So significant are they that the Lord underscored their seriousness with lightening, trumpet blasts, fire and a voice so awesome that Israel “trembled with fear.”
Why was God so overpowering? To emphasize He’s serious about the rules, or, as Moses put it, “so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
The paragraph following is significant. Wherever Israel went, she was to build an altar for the worship of God. She could use dirt, or rocks, but whatever she used, the content of the materials could not be changed. God made the dirt. Israel could not change that. God made the stones. Israel could not change them. There was nothing she could do to make the elements “better” than God had made them.
Many have tried to change, supplement, re-order or throw out God’s rules. But they are God’s. They will never be better than they already are. We have to remember that.