Living in God’s holy presence : the priesthood (Lev. 8-9)

Publié le 28 février 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Samuel Niblack

Have you ever tried to read the whole Bible? You started with the book of Genesis (Noah’s Ark, The Tower of Babel, Joseph), then, Exodus, nice, and then, the next book, Leviticus… and that’s where you  stopped! This book is weird! Or if you follow a reading plan that makes you read the Bible in one year (which I strongly advise!), you would  arrive these days (according to the plan I usually follow, on February  21st), in the book of Leviticus… and there you are strongly tempted to  abandon your Bible reading plan!  

But, you must not stop at Leviticus. I was asked some time ago what is your favorite book of the Bible? My favorite book of the Bible is the book I am preaching today.  Leviticus is truly a summit of the Bible. It is a summit of the first 5  books of the Bible (the « Pentateuch »)…

The 2 books before (Genesis, Exodus) tell how God brought up for Himself a people from Egypt, He led them to this mountain of Sinai, where they had this great encounter with God, a moment that defines their identity. And then the next two books (Numbers, Deuteronomy) are the departure from  Sinai, the descent from the mountain, but also the decline and rebellion of the people. So, it is really a summit, in the  literal/geographical sense, but also, in the literary and spiritual, of the  first books of the Bible.  

The book itself is organized in an interesting way, like a mountain, to  help us understand the 7 parts of the book:  

1. Rites of worship (6 offerings)  

2. Rules for priests (8-10)  

3. Laws of ritual purity  

4. Day of Atonement  

5. Laws of moral purity  

6. Rules for priests (21-22)  

7. Rites of Worship (7 Feasts of the Lord)  

This morning we will look at the section on priests. 

In order not to panic in front of Leviticus, think of the rules of a board  game. When reading the rulebook for the first time (with the game  content, instructions, how to arrange the board, etc.), one can get lost,  especially when there are pages and pages of a complex game. The  rules can even take away the desire to play. For there is nothing like  playing the real game to better understand the game.  In these chapters we have the practical application. We are going to  witness the first Leviticus celebration, the inaugural celebration. We  will see why God instituted this role, this office of high priest/priest. In  order to come into the presence of God and dwell with him, we need a  representative, a mediator. 

1. The consecration of the priests – ch 8  

 -> shows how God is apart  

2. The inauguration of the celebration – ch 9  

 -> shows how close God wants to be  

1. The consecration of the priests. (ch 8, reading v1-13)  In Chap 8 we have the ceremony of consecration, or inauguration, of  the priests, Aaron and his sons. Until then, Moses did everything:  liberator, legislator, scribe, general of the armies, judge, mediator,  prophet, spokesperson of God. But now he is going to set up the  normal functioning. On that day, the High Priest takes office – he is  « consecrated ».  

This consecration is clearly presented in 7 steps (« as the Lord  commanded Moses, v9, 11).  

a. washing and dressing (v6-9)  

b. anointing (v10-13)  

c. offering the sacrifice of atonement (v14-17)  

d. offering the holocaust/ascension (v18-21)  

e. offering the sacrifice of consecration/ordination (v22-29)  f. sprinkling blood (v30)  

g. eating the consecration meal (v31-36)  

This inauguration ceremony, in front of all the people, served to show  that not just anyone can approach God in any way. This is the great  lesson to remember. I retain two strong ideas in this ceremony:  

a. The need for purity. Many of the steps involved purification: they  were washed with water, sacrifices had to be offered for their own  sins, there was the sprinkling of blood (we tend to think that blood stains, but in these rites, blood is a symbol of life, and so it washes  away defilement and death).  

In the other chapters dealing with the priests towards the end of the  book (21-22), we come back to this idea of the purity of the priests,  they had to be impeccable physically, morally (no physical defect,  marital defect, etc.). Not that God discriminates against the  handicapped (see Jesus in the Gospels), but for the high priests it was  symbolic – everything that comes into contact with God must be  impeccable.  

It’s like a surgeon entering the operating room. It requires a great  cleanliness, purity, a protocol to prevent the slightest stain, infection.  b. This consecration ceremony also served as a reminder that the  priest was truly set apart, separated. Moses did not say, « Who is  willing? Who wants to enter? Each in turn. We are all equal. » The fact  that there were special garments, the fact that there was an anointing,  the fact that there was a consecration sacrifice, all that set the priest  apart. This idea of being set apart, detached, separated will help us  understand many things in the Bible.  

The image that comes to mind is of a technician who has to intervene  on a nuclear power plant reactor. If there is a problem on the reactor,  EDF does not advertise for an open recruitment day, open to all, all  jobs are equal. No, we would like whoever comes in to be equipped, to  respect the protocols, to be an expert, to be protected, etc. It is the  same for approaching God….Heb 5:4 No one takes this dignity for  himself unless he is called from God.  

For example, there was a law in Leviticus forbidding the wearing of a  garment woven of two threads. Arbitrary? But, the garments of the high priest were woven of different threads, so perhaps this law was a  way of saying, « Don’t even think about being a high priest. Some tried  later on. A man named Korah was not happy: « I want to be a priest,  too. » On another occasion, a king, Uzziah, tried to play the role of the  priest, and he became a leper for the rest of his days.  

All the people are therefore witnesses to this special role – a great  purity, and a strong distinction. All this helps us to understand the  word, holy, holiness, which contains these two ideas: pure and set  apart. There is such a gap between God’s purity/perfection and our  

imperfection, but also such a distinction between God and man,  between Creator and creature, that we need a specially consecrated  representative, equipped to bring us together. Not just anyone can  come close to God in any way.  

But after having said all this, we must remember that the Levitical  priests no longer exist! The Levitical priesthood ended with the coming  of Jesus, the ultimate High Priest. The Levitical priesthood had big  shortcomings: the priests were sinners themselves, they were mortals,  and all this was not symbolic.  

Only one is a priest/mediator, it is Jesus. He alone has been chosen,  consecrated, anointed for this task. So it is a dangerous attitude to think:  « I too can imagine myself being one, I too want to play this role of being  my own savior… ». It is also a serious mistake to consider church leaders  as priests… In one sense, there is only one priest, it is Jesus, in another  sense, all Christians are now priests … 

2. The Inauguration of Worship, ch 9 (reading v1-4, 22-24)  This chapter ends with one of the strongest and most glorious moments  in the history of Israel. Yes, God is apart and therefore priests are  needed to mediate, but the goal is for God to be near. It is precisely the  role of a mediator, to bring people closer. Let’s look at the course of this celebration.  

v7 and v22 are summaries of this celebration: Aaron raised his hands to  the people and blessed them. Then he came down, after offering the  sacrifice of atonement, the burnt offering and the sacrifice of  thanksgiving.  

Remember the rules of a board game. We saw in ch 1-7 the 5 (+1)  sacrifices, see 7.37. Now we see the practice, the order of worship: 1)  Atonement (v15), then 2) the holocaust (ascension), v16 accompanied  by the offering (v17), and finally 3) the sacrifice of thanksgiving (peace).  v18.  

This order is very telling. We atone for sin, we consecrate ourselves  entirely to God, we eat with him in peace and gratitude. (Daily Christian  life means remembering these same things: my sins are atoned for, I  give myself to God, I enjoy restored fellowship with him).  

And it worked! Look at v24… At the end of this celebration, 2 men can  enter God’s house! And God comes down, he comes, he appears to all  the people, and by his representatives, he blesses all the people. There  are only 2-3 times in all of the old Testament where God becomes so  visible, so close. 

Leviticus may not be our favorite book because we think it doesn’t get a  lot of action. But the action is here, in these verses 23-25. It is as if with  this inaugural worship a new stage begins for the people: God is now  present, he has taken up residence in his house.  

Exodus 40:35 Moses could not enter the tent…  

Lev 1.1 And the LORD called Moses out of the Tent of meeting…  Lev 9:23 Moses and Aaron entered the Tent…  

Name 1:1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses… in the Tent of meeting…  

Now, thanks to the role of the priest, God is near and he comes to bless  his people. Heaven and earth are coming together. From the next  chapter on, it will be a disaster. We will have to wait for someone much  better than Aaron to really represent us.  

What does all this have to do with my week? In Christ, you have a God  close by who wants to bless you. God is for you. Numbers 6.24-26: is  this Christians favorite hymn in times of covid? If Jesus is your  advocate, these words describe your daily life.