God continues to build His nation. He has delivered them from slavery. He has given them His laws and now we see the beginning of the priesthood God will give His people. Under this old covenant God's people had a priesthood. These priests stood between God and His people offering sacrifices, teaching, and leading by example how God's holy people are supposed to live. In Exodus 19:6 we see God's desire is for His people to become a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. But the Israelites failed miserably, falling into sin, worshiping idols, and offering sacrifices that were unacceptable to the Lord. Instead of being a holy nation Israel became a sinful nation. They decayed morally, in part because the priests failed to be holy and obedient as God had commanded.
We live under the new covenant. We read in 1 Peter 2:5,9 that we are a holy priesthood and a royal priesthood. It has never been more important than it is today to be the light of Christ in the world, to be His hands and feet. Never has the world needed to see people treated with dignity, fairness, and equality like it does today. This time is a huge opportunity to show people what being Christlike is.
The ordination ceremony for Aaron and his sons took eight days. As God's chosen priests they were called to accept three responsibilities. Chapter eight speaks of submitting to God's authority. Chapter nine reveals God's glory and chapter ten speaks to accepting God's discipline. Moses didn't have to invent an ordination ceremony. Just as God had provided instructions for the building of the tabernacle, the offering of sacrifices and the law, He now gave detailed instructions for the setting aside of priests to serve Him and His people. No detail was left out. This was a public event. And it was serious business. Aaron and his sons were washed all over once. From then on, they washed their hands and feet as they served. When sinners trust Christ, they are washed once from their sins. They keep their hands and feet clean by confessing their sins to the Lord. Aaron was given his holy regalia, clothing that set him apart as a high priest. No one else had clothes like this. He would be recognized wherever he went. Both Aaron and the tabernacle were anointed with the special oil reserved for temple use. In scripture oil is often a symbol of the Spirit of God who has anointed each believer. The Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Christ both mean anointed one. The fact that the anointing oil of the Lord was on the priests set them apart from the common people and governed what they could and could not do. Aaron's sons were also ordained and clad in their robes. Offerings were made and the priests were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifices taken from the altar. Now the priests were set apart and neither the priests nor what they wore could be used for any common purposes because they had been set apart for serving the Lord.
Once the ordination was finished the priests went to work offering sacrifices. Each day had to begin and end with total consecration to the Lord. The priests needed to offer sacrifices for themselves first because they were sinners. They could not act on behalf of the people if they were not clean first. Moses spoke to the people and told them the Lord would appear in His glory once the ordination was completed. And, once everything was done as the Lord commanded, Aaron stepped down from the altar and he and Moses went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people. Each day after the evening sacrifice the priest would come out and bless the people. The glory of the Lord did appear, just as He had when the tabernacle was completed.
One of the main purposes of the tabernacle ministry was to glorify God whose glory dwelt in the holy of holies on the mercy seat. Pagan nations had plenty of gods and rituals and sacrifices. But they didn't have the glory of the one true, living God. God detests idolatry because it robs Him of the glory that is due Him. And it robs His people of the blessings He wants to share with them. Aaron gave two blessings that day. The first he gave alone. It was probably the blessing we find in Numbers 6:23-26. The second he gave alongside Moses when the ordination ceremony was completed. When the glory of God appeared, fire came out from the Lord and consumed the offering on the altar. We read in Hebrews 12:29 that our God is a consuming fire. The fire should rightfully have fallen on the people because of their sin. This is a reminder to us that God's wrath should have fallen on us. Instead, by the grace of God it fell on Jesus. When the people saw the glory and power of God, they shouted for joy and fell down on their faces.
The celebration was very short lived. A day which should have ended on a high note with the worship of a good and loving God ended instead with the funeral of Aaron's two oldest sons. Everything these two men did was wrong. They were the wrong people to be handling the incense and presenting it to the Lord. That was the job of the high priest and him alone. They used the wrong instruments. They used their own censors instead of the censor of the high priest that had been sanctified by the special anointing oil. They acted at the wrong time. The only time the high priest could take incense into the holy of holies was the day of atonement and then there was a very specific ritual. They acted under the wrong authority. They didn't consult first with their father or Moses nor did they follow the word of God which Moses received. They even used the wrong fire. Some call it strange fire or unauthorized fire. The command was to take coals from the brazen altar but Nadab and Abihu supplied their own fire. And God rejected it. They acted from the wrong motive. They didn't seek to glorify God and God alone. Nowhere does scripture say what their motive was but it seems like they acted out of pride, showing their importance. And they acted under the wrong power. Verses 9-10 seem to imply they had been drinking.
These two men were not outsiders. They had been on the mountain and seen God. Their father was the High Priest. They were trained in the service of the Lord. And they were killed for their disobedience. Serving the Lord is serious business, not something to be taken lightly. We serve with reverence and godly fear. As Aaron soon found out serving the Lord comes with responsibilities and sacrifices...personal sacrifices. He was not permitted to mourn the deaths of his sons because the ordination service wasn't completed yet. It may seem harsh that the Lord didn't just warn Nadab and Abihu. However, at the beginning of a new era in salvation history the Lord often brought judgement in order to warn the people. The priestly ministry at the tabernacle was about to begin and the Lord wanted to be sure the priests understood the seriousness of their work.
Moses was worried something else might happen and he admonished Aaron and his two remaining sons for not eating the sin offering. And Moses was angry. But Aaron knew he could not eat with a clear conscience because of his grief. He would just be going through the motions and that would not have pleased God. Because God looks at the heart and wants obedience, not sacrifice. I have often wondered what Moses thought as he led God's people. But Moses' day of reckoning is soon to come.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W