Expositor's Bible Commentary
And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto me in the priest's office: Take one young bullock, and two rams without blemish,CHAPTER XXIX.
THE CONSECRATION SERVICES.
The priest being now selected, and his raiment so provided as that it shall speak of his office and its glory, there remains his consecration.
In our day there is a disposition to make light of the formal setting apart of men and things for sacred uses. If God, we are asked, has called one to special service, is not that enough? What more can earth do to commission the chosen of the sky? But the plain answer which we ought to have the courage to return is that this is not at all enough. For God Himself had already called Paul and Barnabas when He said to such folk as Simeon Niger and Lucius of Cyrene and Manaen, "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:1-4). And these obscure people not only laid their hands upon the great apostle, but actually sent him forth. Now, if he was not exempted from the need of an orderly commission by the marvellous circumstances of his call, by his apostleship not of man, by the explicit announcement that he was a chosen vessel to bear the sacred name before kings and peoples, it is startling to be told of some shallow modern evangelist, who works for no Church and submits to no discipline, that he can dispense with the sanction of human ordination because he is so clearly sent of heaven.
The example of the Old Testament will no doubt be brushed aside as if the religion which Jesus learned and honoured were a mere human superstition. Or else it would be natural to ask, Is it because the offices and functions of Judaism were more formal, more perfunctory than ours, that a greater spiritual grace went with their appointments than with the laying on of hands in the Christian Church, a rite so clearly sanctioned in the New Testament?
It is written of Joshua that Moses was to lay his hands upon him, because already the Spirit was in him; and of Timothy that he had unfeigned faith, and that prophecies went before concerning him (Numbers 27:18; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 1:5). But in neither dispensation did special grace fail to accompany the official separation to sacred office: Joshua was full of the Spirit of Wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands upon him; and Timothy was bidden to stir into flame that gift of God which was in him through the laying on of the Apostle's hands (Deuteronomy 34:9; 2 Timothy 1:6).
Accordingly there is great stress laid upon the orderly institution of the priest. And yet, to make it plain that his authority is only "for his brethren," Moses, the chief of the nation, is to officiate throughout the ceremony of consecration. He it is who shall offer the sacrifices upon the altar, and sprinkle the blood, not upon the first day only, but throughout the ceremonies of the week.
In the first place certain victims must be held in readiness--a bullock and two rams; and with these must be brought in one basket unleavened bread, and unleavened cakes made with oil, and unleavened wafers on which oil is poured. Then, at the door of the tent of the meeting of man with God, a ceremonial washing must follow, in a laver yet to be provided. Here the assertion that purity is needed, and that it is not inherent, is too plain to be dwelt upon.
But such details as the assuming of the existence of a laver, for which no directions have yet been given (and presently also of the anointing oil, the composition of which is still untold), deserve notice. They are much more in the manner of one who is working out a plan, seen already by his mental vision, but of which only the salient and essential parts have been as yet stated, than of any priest of the latter days, who would first have completed his catalogue of the furniture, and only then have described the ceremonies in which he was accustomed to see all this apparatus take its appointed place.
What we actually find is quite natural to a creative imagination, striking out the broad design of the work and its uses first, and then filling in the outlines. It is not natural at a time when freshness and inspiration have departed, and squared timber, as we are told, has taken the place of the living tree.
The priest, when cleansed, was next to be clad in his robes of office, with the mitre on his head, and upon the mitre the golden plate, with its inscription, which is here called, as the culminating object in all his rich array, "the holy crown" (Exodus 29:6).
And then he was to be anointed. Now, the use of oil, in the ceremony of investiture to office, is peculiar to revealed religion. And whether we suppose it to refer to the oil in a lamp, invisible, yet the secret source of all its illuminating power, or to that refreshment and renovated strength bestowed upon a weary traveller when his head is anointed with oil, in either case it expresses the grand doctrine of revealed religion--that no office may be filled in one's own strength, but that the inspiring help of God is offered, as surely as responsibilities are imposed. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me."
With these three ceremonies--ablution, robing and anointing--the first and most personal section of the ritual ended. And now began a course of sacrifices to God, advancing from the humblest expression of sin, and appeal to heaven to overlook the unworthiness of its servant, to that which best exhibited conscious acceptance, enjoyment of privilege, admission to a feast with God. The bullock was a sin-offering: the word is literally sin, and occurs more than once in the double sense: "let him offer for his sin which he hath sinned a young bullock ... for a sin(-offering)" (Leviticus 4:3, Leviticus 5:6, etc.). And this is the explanation of the verse which has perplexed so many: "He made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21). The doctrine that pardon comes not by a cheap and painless overlooking of transgression, as a thing indifferent, but by the transfer of its consequences to a victim divinely chosen, could not easily find clearer expression than in this word. And it was surely a sobering experience, and a wholesome one, when Aaron, in his glorious robes, sparkling with gems, and bearing on his forehead the legend of his holy calling, laid his hand, beside those of his children and successors, upon the doomed creature which was made sin for him. The gesture meant confession, acceptance of the appointed expiation, submission to be freed from guilt by a method so humiliating and admonitory. There was no undue exaltation in the mind of any priest whose heart went with this "remembrance of sins."
The bullock was immediately slain at the door of "the tent of meeting"; and to show that the shedding of his blood was an essential part of the rite, part of it was put with the finger on the horns of the altar, and the remainder was poured out at the base. Only then might the fat and the kidney be burned upon the altar; but it is never said of any sin-offering, as presently of the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings, that it is "a sweet savour before Jehovah" (Exodus 29:18, Exodus 29:25)--a phrase which is only once extended to a trespass-offering for a purely unconscious lapse (Leviticus 4:31). The sin-offering is, at the best, a deplorable necessity. And therefore the notion of a gift, welcome to Jehovah, is carefully shut out: no portion of such an offering may go to maintain the priests: all must be burned "with fire without the camp; it is a sin-offering" (Exodus 29:14). Rightly does the Epistle to the Hebrews emphasize this fact: "The bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the Holy Place ... as an offering for sin" are burned without the camp. The bodies of other sacrifices were not reckoned unfit for food. And so there is a striking example of humility, as well as an instructive coincidence, in the fact that Jesus suffered without the gate, being the true Sin-offering, "that He might sanctify the people through His own blood" (Hebrews 13:11-12).
Thus, by sacrifice for sin, the priest is rendered fit to offer up to God the symbol of a devoted life. Again, therefore, the hands of Aaron and his sons are laid upon the head of the ram, because they come to offer what represents themselves in another sense than that of expiation--a sweet savour now, an offering made by fire unto Jehovah (Exodus 29:18). And to show that it is perfectly acceptable to Him, the whole ram shall be burnt upon the altar, and not now without the camp: "it is a burnt-offering unto the Lord." Such is the appointed way of God with man--first expiation, then devotion.
The third animal was a "peace-offering" (Exodus 29:28). This is wrongly explained to mean an offering by which peace is made, for then there could be no meaning in what went before. It is the offering of one who is now in a state of peace with God, and who is therefore himself, in many cases, allowed to partake of what he brings. But on this occasion some quite peculiar ceremonies were introduced, and the ram is called by a strange name--"the ram of consecration." When Aaron and his sons have again declared their connection with the animal by laying their hands upon it, it is slain. And then the blood is applied to the tip of their right ear, the thumb of their right hand, and the great toe of their right foot, that the ear may hearken, and the best energies obey, and their life become as that of the consecrated animal, their bodies being presented, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. Then the same blood, with the oil which spoke of heavenly anointing, was sprinkled upon them and upon their official robes, and all were hallowed. Then the fattest and richest parts of the animal were taken, with a loaf, a cake, and a wafer from the basket, and placed in the hands of Aaron and his sons. This was their formal investiture with official rights; although not yet performing service, it was as priests that they received these; and their hands, swayed by those of Moses, solemnly waved them before the Lord in formal presentation, after which the pieces were consumed by fire. The breast was likewise waved, and became the perpetual property of Aaron and his sons--although on this occasion it passed from their hands to be the portion of Moses, who officiated. The remainder of the flesh, seethed in a holy place, belonged to Aaron and his sons. No stranger (of another family) might eat it, and what was left until morning should be consumed by fire, that is to say, destroyed in a manner absolutely clean, seeing no corruption.
For seven days this rite of consecration was repeated; and every day the altar also was cleansed, rendering it most holy, so that whatever touched it was holy.
Thus the people saw their representative and chief purified, accepted and devoted. Thenceforward, when they too brought their offerings, and beheld them presented (in person or through his subordinates) by the high priest with holiness emblazoned upon his brow, they gained hope, and even assurance, since one so consecrated was bidden to present their intercession; and sometimes they saw him pass into secret places of mysterious sanctity, bearing their tribal name on his shoulder and his bosom, while the chime of golden bells announced his movements, ministering there for them.
But the nation as a whole, with which this historical book is chiefly interested, saw in the high priest the means of continually rendering to God the service of its loyalty. Every day began and closed with the burnt-offering of a lamb of the first year, along with a meal-offering of fine flour and oil, and a drink-offering of wine. This would be a sweet savour unto God, not after the carnal fashion in which sceptics have interpreted the words, but in the same sense in which the wicked are a smoke in His nostrils from a continually burning fire.
And where this offering was made, the Omnipresent would meet with them. There He would convey His mind to His priest. There also He would meet with all the people--not occasionally, as amid the more impressive but less tolerable splendours of Sinai, but to dwell among them and be their God. And they should know that all this was true, and also that for this He led them out of Egypt: "I am Jehovah their God."
 Neither, it must be added, were the bodies of certain sin-offerings of the lower grade, and in which the priest was not personally concerned (Leviticus 10:17, etc.).