2. Priesthood Leviticus 8-10, 16
Part 1: Fire Unauthorized
Moses has called us together before the tent of meeting. It is to do what Adonai has commanded to be done. Yet what that is, I still do not know.
I strained to see over the heads of the men in front of me. At thirteen, I was a growing boy, but was still shorter than my elders. I could see Moses washing Aaron and his sons. Then he began to dress Aaron in a coat with a sash, then a robe and ephod. Next cam a breast piece. The breast piece was a beautiful thing. There were twelve precious gems set in it, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses placed two other stones in the breast piece. I did not find out until later what they were. These stones were the urim and thummim, used for casting lots.
Now Moses tied a turban and gold plate, like a crown, on Aaron’s head.
All this I knew was done according to what Adonai commanded. Since the incident with the golden calf, most of us knew not to do other than what Adonai had said, even if we claimed to do it in His name and with right intention. Motive did not matter to Adonai if we did not obey.
Moses washed and consecrated Aaron’s sons, then dressed them in the garb, as commanded. They laid their hands on a bull, as if putting their sin on the animal. The bull was killed. They burned some of him. His remains were taken outside the camp, for they were dirty and could not dwell with us, just as we are dirty and Adonai cannot dwell with us, without sacrifice.
But sacrifice is not the only thing needed. We must have mediators between us and Adonai, for the common and Holy must never meet. That is why Aaron and his sons are being consecrated. They are cleansed so they may approach He who is unapproachable. They are the priesthood of Adonai, chosen by Him to serve Him.
More animals were sacrificed. my stomach churned at the sight of blood, but I knew it was necessary. The price for sin is death, and I was thankful that it was the animal, not myself, who was dying for what I had done.
The last sacrifice was made. Aaron blessed the congregation, and then he and Moses entered the tent. When they came out, fire came from heaven and consumed the offerings. Not only fire, but the glory of Adonai came.
I, and all those around me, shouted for joy, then fell on our faces in fear of the power of Adonai. I was again thankful His wrath for my sin was averted to and absorbed by an animal.
Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, and friends of my brothers, began to offer incense. I looked on joyfully, understanding their sincere desire to worship Adonai. But just as I was thinking this, more fire came. Instead of consuming an offering, though it consumed Nadab and Abihu. Then Moses said, as from Adonai, for Aaron not to mourn. There were more ceremonies, but I could not focus. I was shocked. Adonai had accepted our offerings, why now was He angry? What had Nadab and Abihu done? They were so eager to serve Him!
Then I began to wonder. Everything Moses and the Levites had done that day were done just as Adonai had commanded, and Adonai was pleased. Had Nadab and Abihu done that which was not commanded? Had their incense and fire been unauthorized? Had they done what so many of us had done with the golden calf, worshipping Adonai in a way He had not commanded? Were even our mediators, our priesthood, imperfect? Would they be enough to come between us and Adonai? Or would something more be needed to mend the gap and allow us to approach Adonai?
As I walked home, I knew that Adonai’s holiness required us to worship only how He had commanded. It was not that He was a petty sovereign, but because it was the only way He could be near to us, if we obeyed Him exactly, if the priests mediated, and if atonement was provided through the animals. This was how the two estranged parties, Israel and Adonai, could be brought near.
I realized that in the worship of this awesome and powerful God, creativity was not virtue, but deadly vice. The worship of Him was not for our own pleasure and whim, not even the impulse of the consecrated priesthood, but for His glory. For us to approach Him, we had to do it as He commanded, nothing more, nothing less.
I prayed He would give strength, wisdom, and humility to all of Israel, but especially to the priests, who were our mediators, who brought us near to Him.
Part 2: One Atonement
It was Passover. I held the rope that was tied on our lamb more tightly. I thought of the many lambs and pigeons we had taken to the temple to be sacrificed. I knew why we brought sacrifices; Papa told us every time. But I wondered why we had to keep doing it, why one wasn’t enough. Why couldn’t one lamb take away all of our sin? If the problem with our sin was that was such a part of us, couldn’t one thing wash it all away? I wanted to be near the presence of Adonai, and that’s what these sacrifices were for. I reflected on His goodness to us in giving us grace.
But why couldn’t it all be like the day of Atonement? It was only once a year, and the High Priest could be so near to Adonai. I wondered what it was like, to be that close to Him. Or what about the goat? What would it be like to have hands laid on you, as if sin was imparted to you? But to be cut off! My sin deserved for me to be cut off from Adonai and my people. I admit, on these days when Jerusalem’s streets were so crowded, I almost wished I could. But I knew being cut off was much worse than I could imagine.
My family could barely afford our lamb this year. Times were hard under the Romans. I wished again for one atonement covering all our sin. And what about the One who would crush the devil’s head? Might He be able to cover all of our sin?
I passed the temple. I had heard that last night they had arrested a man who was blaspheming. He claimed to be God, though He never said it outright. There had been crowds around Pilate’s house, and the man was judged there. I heard the crowds chose to let a murderer go instead of Him. I knew blasphemy was one of the worst crimes a Jew could commit. But to let a murderer loose? At least blasphemers didn’t kill.
They delivered the blasphemer to the Romans, and He’ll be crucified this morning. Papa said I could go watch. As soon as I deliver the lamb at home, I’ll go to Golgotha, where they crucify criminals.
This whole scene intrigues me. Why do the Romans care for our affairs? They treat us like dirt. Maybe they fear what we might do if we are too upset.
An hour later, I was at Golgotha. The men, there were three being executed, were already on their crosses. I in my boyishness half-reveled in the gore of crucifixions. But something about this one was different.
Soon the sky grew dark. I looked at the sky. The sun’s light was failing. I had come just before the sixth hour! It couldn’t be sunset already. I was frightened, yet I remained there, watching the men suffer. I heard the weeping of women, and saw men nearby them. They stood a distance from the scene, but were gazing at the cross in the center, where the blasphemer hung. Hung on a tree, cursed, cut off, for the scriptures say, “cursed is he who hangs on a tree.”
I wanted to know more about this blasphemer, so I approached the group and asked.
“What He said is true,” said one. “He is the Son of God.”
“Then why must He die?” I asked. The Son of God should be powerful enough to save us from the Romans! Even, perhaps, to plead with His Father to allow one atonement to cover our sins.
They could not answer me. I wondered at them.
It was the ninth hour. Light came again. The aberration in daylight scared me. What was behind it?
The blasphemer cried out to God. “Why have you forsaken me?” He said. My mind drifted back to earlier that morning, when I had been musing about being cut off.
If this man was the Son of God, why was His own Father cutting Him off? How could God have a Son, anyway?
If this man had offered sacrifices, He’d be forgiven, absolved in the blood of lambs and in the hope that God would forgive His sin and reconcile their relationship. But if He was the Son of God, perhaps He had never sinned, and never needed to offer a sacrificed. Perhaps He was like the sacrifice, perfect, and unblemished.
The man soon breathed no longer. I was amazed, normally it took days, not hours, for a man to die on a cross.
Someone beside me spoke. “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”
I turned. It was a centurion that had spoken. I stared at him in disbelief. A Roman, believing a Jew?
The crowds began to return home. Many were wailing. My head spun as I walked from Golgotha. I needed answers. I walked by the temple, but knew they would not be able to answer my questions; they had condemned this man.
After what I had witnessed, I wondered if it was true. Was He the Son of God? Was the darkness connected to His death?
The shouting of a friend snapped me out of my thoughts.
“Did you hear?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“The curtain to the Most Holy Place has been torn in two from top to bottom!”
I stared at my friend. That curtain was tall and thick! Torn? and from top to bottom? “Is it true?”
“Yes!” He said. “My own father saw it!”
I was shocked. My friend’s father was a priest, yes, but not the High Priest. “And he lived?”
My friend nodded vigorously.
“I must go,” I said, and ran back to Golgotha. There I sat at the foot of the blasphemer’s cross.
“It is as they say, you are the Son of God!” I said.
And then, full of realization, which could only have been the gift of Adonai, came upon me.
He was cut off because He, like the goat on the day of Atonement, bore my sin. But it was enough. We no longer needed priests and sacrifices. That was why the curtain had been torn in two, why my friend’s father could enter without death. We no longer needed priests and sacrifices. This man, the Son of God, had died as our sacrifice, and had made a way for us to be with God, without sacrifice, without separation, and without danger of His Holiness.
Here, dying on the cross, was the one sacrifice I had been looking for. And He was not only our sacrifice, but also our priest. He would intercede for us before Adonai. His bearing of our sins would allow us to come to Adonai. It was all taken care of, forever.
I stared up at Him. He looked no different from any other man. He was dirty, naked, and bleeding. Yet to me, He was beautiful.
He was the Lamb that covered all of my sin. As the sun set and Passover began, I arrived at home to tell my family. We rejoiced greatly that night, and every day and night ever after.
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
'Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, 'tis He, 'tis He!
'Tis the long-expected prophet,
David's Son, yet David's Lord;
By His Son, God now has spoken
Tis the true and faithful Word.
Tell me, ye who hear him groaning,
Was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro' fear his cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress;
Many hands were raised to wound him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.
Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
'tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.
Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost;
Christ's the Rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on him their hope have built.
- Thomas Kelly, “Smitten, Stricken, and Afflicted”
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.
But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.
My faith would lay its hand
On that dear head divine
As penitently here I stand,
Confessing guilt is mine.
My soul looks back to see
The burden you did bear
When hanging on the cursed tree;
I know my guilt was there.
Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice
And sing his bleeding love.
- Isaac Watts, “Not All the Blood of Beasts”