The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
And ye shall not go out of the door of the tabernacle of the congregation in seven days, until the days of your consecration be at an end: for seven days shall he consecrate you.Consecration and Service
IT seems singular and almost frivolous that the priests were commanded not to go out of the door of the tabernacle of the congregation for seven days. This is our own practice. The accident has changed, but this is the philosophy of all calculated and well-set life. We think we have escaped all these mechanisms, whereas we have not escaped one of them. God is one, his method is one, his providence is one. Any variety which may please our little fancy is a very transient delight; at the root and core of things there is a marvellous, an eternal unity. Men are not permitted to go forth into the priesthood at a step. No priesthood is worth accepting that any fool may step into without notice, without preparation and without thought. The great priesthoods of life are all approached by a seven days' consecration. Men may rush at work, they may "rush in where angels fear to tread"; but looked at comprehensively and weighed wisely, the great philosophy covers all time that he who would accept any priesthood of life—by which is meant any of its highest offices, leaderships and utilities—must approach through a strait gate and go by a narrow way and obey the eternal law of consecration. This is not open to dispute; no theme of controversy is started by this suggestion. The practice of life is described almost literally even in this ancient text. There is no Old Testament in the sense of obsoleteness or exhaustion; there is an Old Testament in the sense of root, origin, first points, germs, authorities. Without the Old Testament we could have had no New Testament, as without eternity time would have been impossible. Does the medical priest run into his priesthood without consecration? is he not hidden for many a day in the tabernacle of wisdom—in the tent in which he meets all the authorities of his science? For a long time he may not prescribe; for a considerable period he has but to inquire and to give proof of capacity and industry. A whole week of time—meaning by that some perfect period—must elapse before he goes forth authoritatively to feel a pulse, or to prescribe a remedy. Why this repetition of Old Testament technicality, of obsolete and most frivolous pedantry? There is no such thing. The Old Testament has a grip of life in all its departments and issues—which is proof enough that it never wrote itself. Does the musical priest rush into his work quite suddenly without notice or preparation, without consecration and endorsement? Allow that in some conspicuous instances which could never be encompassed by mortal law there may have been bushes burning in wildernesses without the enkindling of the fire by human hands; allow for genius, for almost divine fulness of inspiration; still there remains the great common law of education, progress and influence; and seven days' consecration, silence, study, inquiry, qualification must precede a forthcoming priest and the assertion of his power. The same law applies to the preaching of the Gospel. The preacher must be long time hidden, during which no man may suspect that he is a preacher; his silence may be almost provoking; people may be driven to inquire what the purpose of his life is;—he says nothing; he never reveals himself; he looks as if he might be about to speak, but speak he never does; he is full of books and thoughts, and prayer seems to be written upon his transfigured face. What is the meaning of this? He is in the Tent of Meeting; he is in conference with the Trinity; he is undergoing consecration,—in no merely ceremonial sense: in the sense of acquiring deeper knowledge of God, fuller communion with the truth, and entering into closer fellowship with all the mysteries of human life. Even when he seems to be doing things that other men could easily do, it is the other men who are making the mistake. When the medical priest, hoary with long years, touches your pulse, remember that half a century is listening to the ticking of that life-pendulum; and remember that when any well-qualified critic pronounces an opinion in a moment upon any performance it may be half a century that speaks in the brief and urgent sentence. Our judgments are not to be founded upon the mere flash of the moment; behind what appears to be easy there may be a lifetime of study, prayer, and consecration. What is true of all these regions is equally true of every other region in life that is worth occupying—true of every workman, however humble his sphere of industry, true of every head of a business that requires care and thoughtful management, true of every man who attempts wisely to direct public opinion; there must be preparation, consecration, waiting, silence, and then the outcoming of the prepared man to do the work which God means him to execute. Thus life is no little trick, no momentary posture, no empirical venture; but a deep philosophy, a grand tragedy, a tremendous struggle. O! that men were wise, that they understood these things! In all thy ways acknowledge God, and he will direct thy path. Do not run before being sent. Remember that time spent in the wilderness is not time wasted. Never forget that there is a religious silence as well as a religious utterance; and let God fix the time of consecration and the place of concealment, and let him begin, continue and terminate the conference. After that all will be easy—not because of any frivolity in itself, but because of the divine store of strength treasured up in the prepared and consecrated heart
"So Aaron and his sons did all things which the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses" (Leviticus 8:36).
Obedience is the best preparation for service. We cannot rule until we can obey. That was the motto of the great Napoleon. It is a philosophy expressed in the briefest terms. Aaron and his sons did not take a primary place; they did not rush upon their destiny; they waited, accepted the law, obeyed it to the letter, stood still like a commanded sun, and would not move until God bade them go forward. It is at this point that many of us lose much. We are impatient: we think we are prepared for action when we are not at all qualified to undertake it. The teacher knows better than the pupil; the master knows when we have been long enough in the wilderness or undergoing processes of spiritual education and religious chastisement. God is the time-keeper. To obey is to express in the form most suitable to modesty a spirit of genuine greatness. He who obeys, accepts discipline. To obey is to confess the power of others; to obey is to be willing to learn. How often is obedience masked! It has a look of complete surrender, though it is hooked and seamed through and through with subtle reluctance. In that case it is not obedience. None of the happy issues of obedience are secured by it; it is but a varied form of vanity, it is but a concealed expression of self-idolatry. The same rule holds good in Christian service. In the words of judgment we read, "Thou hast been faithful... I will make thee ruler." The sense is even more clearly and graphically expressed by another word in the same judgment, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful... I will make thee ruler." We should have more influence if we were more inspired by the spirit of obedience. Our word would go further if our character justified the assertion of our claim. It has come to a sad state when men undervalue what may be called, or rather miscalled, the negative virtues. We praise open heroism, military adventure, and in doing so we may within certain bounds be perfectly right; but we should not forget patience, obedience, modesty, uncomplaining resignation, the eyes that are weary with long watching, and the lips that are sometimes tempted to move to profanation and yet are recovered suddenly and shaped in prayer. It is no mark of progress that we undervalue negative virtues, passive qualities, simple waiting until we are told to go forward. A meek and a quiet spirit is, in the sight of God, of great price.
The time came when Aaron was to go forward to his work. "And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel," and gave them their orders; and Aaron went forth and took the "young calf for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering." There is something very pathetic about a man's first action. We ought to look lovingly upon the young who try for the first time to realise the mystery of their vocation. It little becomes us to sneer. We ourselves, however old and skilled, had to begin. We should rather remember our own stumblings, and blunderings, and misadventures, and remembering these, should keep back the word of stinging criticism and bitter reproach, the utterance of which on the part of any man is an insult to the Spirit of Christ. Are any beginning the Christian race? We who are a mile or two on must pray that the new runners may run well; we remember where we slipped, where we well-nigh fell and should have fallen quite, but for friendly interposition and gentlest encouragement given by stronger men. He is not an able man who shows his ability in cynicism and in sneering. It is the curse of some families that they are always bitter. They mistake sneering for ability. It is the sting of a wasp, it is the fang of a serpent, it is the hoof of an ass,—it is not ability. Ability sustains, comforts, encourages, builds up with gracious edification and speaks the word of encouragement when heart and flesh do fail. We owe everything to encouragement—nothing to bitter cynicism. Encouragement was given in the case of the early priests.
"And Moses said, This is the thing which the Lord commanded that ye should do: and the glory of the Lord shall appear unto you." Duty and glory—not glory and duty—must be the motto of life. Read the words,—ponder them: "This is the thing which the Lord commanded that ye should do:—" The sentence is punctuated by a colon; the thing is supposed to be done, and on the other side of the colon we read—"and the glory of the Lord shall appear unto you";—harvest after seedtime, honour after service, heaven after earth, immortality after triumphant death.
Jesus Christ did all that is here ascribed to Aaron and his sons. Christ underwent preparation: for thirty years he was practically silent; he was being consecrated in a sense we cannot perfectly understand; he was being set apart, and in the end he brought all the completeness of his strength to bear in redeeming tenderness upon the awful situation of the world. He walked in long silence; no man dared ask him any question about his reticence. He might have spoken before—so human impatience reasoned; but he was fulfilling a destiny; he was representing the most solemn mystery of life. Christ obeyed. In saying so, we are abiding strictly by the Scriptural line; we are not venturing upon some idle or poetic fancy. He accepted the position: he "became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross"; as a Son he served in the Father's house. Study this aspect of the divine character of Jesus; his Deity suffers no loss by this stoop of his humanity. He is not the less God to the soul, but the more, and the more priestly and the more sympathetic, that he understands all the bending, all the condescension, all the service of life. There is no work of a permitted kind to which the hand can be put which Christ did not do long before he commanded us to attempt its execution. Jesus Christ also had his first work. We read such words as these: "Jesus began to preach." They are tender words; they touch the heart with a most subtle pathos. Christ, who never himself began—for he was Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last—"began to preach"—heard his own voice in public for the first time. What a beginning it was! How like a beginning when he began! He said "Repent!" It was a short discourse,—yes, in words, but a discourse that filled all time with its meaning. Then we read—"This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee." He who began to preach began to work miracles—did his first wonder. They say that to the true speaker the sentences he utters are greater surprises to himself than to his hearers. Was the miracle greater to Christ than to the observer? Was there any element of surprise in the Redeemer's mind when he saw that the water had blushed into wine? We cannot tell. The human mind must wonder, and put reverent questions, and may do so without profaning sanctities divine. Have we begun? Have we begun to preach? Have we tried to do the first miracle? Have we never begun at all? It is high time to awake out of sleep: the night is far-spent, the day is at hand; redeem the time, buy up the opportunity,—begin now. One man's miracle may be the speaking of a gracious word, or the utterance of a forgiving declaration, or the offering of a hand long withheld, or the serving of the poor and the ignorant and those that are out of the way. Another man's miracle may be begun in opening his lips for the first time in audible prayer. Each man must find out for himself the point at which he must begin his preaching and his miracle. Christ associated duty and glory; he said—"I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,... glorify thou me... with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." He, too, would be glorified. Moses finished the work, then the glory of the Lord descended; Aaron did the things that were commanded, then the glory of the Lord appeared; Jesus Christ finished the work which was given him to do, and the glory was not withheld,—a marvellous sentence; it seems to separate the coincident lines and divide them for ever.
"Aaron therefore went unto the altar, and slew the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself" (Leviticus 9:8).
There the scene ends. We look for analogies and consummations, but where is the analogous line in this instance? There is a sentence in the New Testament which makes us quail bearing upon this very doctrine. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 7:27), that sentence is recorded: "Who needeth not daily, as those high-priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself." All the meaning of that sentence no man may explain. Does it relate to the latter part of the previous sentence or to the entire declaration? Read again: "Who needeth not daily, as those high-priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this—" Which? "... first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself." He was without sin, and therefore would need no sin-offering;—a Lamb without blemish or spot or drawback, he had no sin to confess; but when he was baptized he said "... thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness"; and when he was slain, what know I how much of his pure humanity was itself involved in the mysterious oblation? Silence is best. That he had no sin, he knew no sin, that he was spotless, pure, holy as God in himself we know; but representatively, humanly, fleshly, who can tell—for the exposition must put itself into the form of a question—the whole meaning of this ineffable mystery?
Thus stands the sublime appeal: a time of consecration, an act of obedience, glory crowning duty. To that programme of life and to no mean policy are we called, every one, by the Spirit of Christ and the vision of his Cross.
The order of God for the consecration of Aaron is found in Exodus 29, and the record of its execution in Lev. viii.; and the delegated character of the Aaronic priesthood is clearly seen by the fact, that, in this its inauguration, the priestly office is borne by Moses, as God's truer representative (Hebrews 7).
The form of consecration resembled other sacrificial ceremonies in containing, first a sin offering, the form of cleansing from sin and reconciliation; a burnt offering, the symbol of entire devotion to God of the nature so purified; and a meat offering, the thankful acknowledgment and sanctifying of God's natural blessings. It had, however, besides these, the solemn assumption of the sacred robes (the garb of righteousness), the anointing (the symbol of God's grace), and the offering of the ram of consecration, the blood of which was sprinkled on Aaron and his sons, as upon the altar and vessels of the ministry, in order to sanctify them for the service of God. The former ceremonies represented the blessings and duties of the man, the latter the special consecration of the priest.
The solemnity of the office, and its entire dependence for sanctity on the ordinance of God, were vindicated by the death of Nadab and Abihu, for "offering strange fire" on the altar, and apparently for doing so in drunken recklessness. Aaron checking his sorrow, so as at least to refrain from all outward signs of it, would be a severe trial to an impulsive and weak character, and a proof of his being lifted above himself by the office which he held.
From this time the history of Aaron is almost entirely that of the priesthood, and its chief feature is the great rebellion of Korah and the Levites against his sacerdotal dignity, united with that of Dathan and Abiram and the Reubenites against the temporal authority of Moses.
The true vindication of the reality of Aaron's priesthood was, not so much the death of Korah by the fire of the Lord, as the efficacy of his offering of incense to stay the plague, by which he was seen to be accepted as an intercessor for the people.
—Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.