Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
During the few first few reads of Leviticus (as well as the latter part of Exodus) one can become quite bored and ask “What is all of this for?” From a Christian standpoint, much of the law has been cast away due to Jesus’ atoning death on a cross and his own teachings. For example, it seems like all of the chapters on sacrifice are no longer needed considering that Jesus’ sacrifice covered them all. Or what about the food restrictions, didn’t Jesus himself say that those laws no longer applied? Or (for today’s example) consider all of the regulations for priests. Our High Priest is in heaven and will be forever, because it is written in Hebrews 7:23-25,
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
If Jesus is the high priest in heaven and lives forever, why do I care about regulations for them? Not only that, but Paul writes about how pastors and other modern clergymen should act in the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. If when you encounter the latter chapters of Exodus and the whole of Leviticus you start asking, “Why do I have to read this?” you’re actually on the right track. The Law of God still holds sway and importance in our life, but to realize that we have to understand how a list of largely repealed laws can still be considered important. After all, Paul told us that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:6-17). So when you approach these passages of Law during your yearly Bible read-through (which I highly recommend) or on some sort of Bible study that has led you there remember that this stuff is important. And instead of complaining and dreading Leviticus, consider it a fun game of adventure and discovery as you press the Holy Spirit with questions as to why varied passages are still important. I’m sure He’ll give you the answers you need.
Which brings us to today’s passage. During the ordination of the priests, there are quite a few rituals with a variety of meanings. I’ve written on the priestly ordination twice before, however, today we will be covering new ground and new verses in this surprisingly rich tradition. One of the steps of the priestly ordination is that of the changing of clothes. We read,
Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him. He also tied the ephod to him by its skillfully woven waistband; so it was fastened on him. He placed the breastpiece on him and put the Urim and Thummim on the breastpiece. Then he placed the turban on Aaron’s head and set the gold plate, the sacred diadem, on the front of it, as the Lord commanded Moses (Leviticus 8:6-9).
What does this have to do with us? Surprisingly, quite a bit. You see, having the priests change their clothes was not only due to their new job requiring a new uniform, but it also held the distinction of them becoming new people in God. Previous to this, Aaron had been known as “the guy who made the golden calf.” However, during the ordination ceremony, Aaron’s change of clothes symbolized the great change that was made in his life through the Lord, who had chosen him. We too are called to change our clothes (and by that I mean our lives) by entering into a close relationship with Jesus through his death. Jesus tells us in Revelation 3:18,
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
And what are these white clothes exactly? They are the product of our salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ, which is being declared righteous. For it is written in Revelation 19:6-8,
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord and God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
And give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
And his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
Was given her wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints).
As a quick note, the church (specifically the multitude of believers) is what is represented as the “bride.” Anyway, those who come to Jesus will be made clean, and as such will be given new, white clothes in the eyes of God. This is not the only time this imagery is used though. Zechariah prophesied about the restoration of Jerusalem and God’s people, and to do so the Lord utilized this image of the High Priest changing his clothes. We read,
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you” (Zechariah 3:1-4).
This happens to every person when they are saved by the Lord. He chases off the devil and gives you new clothes for your new life in the Lord. When you accept him into your life, Jesus snatches you out of the fire.
There’s more though. The clothes that are given to the priests are even more symbolic than just showing a person’s restoration in the Lord. Take the ephod for example, it is not just a robe, but actually has meaningful attachments on it. Scripture tells us,
Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel in the order of their birth- six names on one stone and the remaining is on the other. Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord (Exodus 28:9-12).
So during the days before Christ, the High Priest was to carry on his shoulders the sons of Israel, which were the names of the Israelite tribes. So in effect, the Priest was expected to carry on his shoulders weight of the entire community. Thank goodness in this age of a global community that Jesus is now our high priest! Or take a look at the turban Aaron was given and its purpose,
Weave the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen. The sash is to be the work of an embroiderer. Make tunics, sashes and headbands for Aaron’s sons, to give them dignity and honor (Exodus 28:39-40).
The accessories (including the turban) were given in order to distinguish the priests above the normal people. As those who are chosen by God (even today those who are saved by Jesus) are different from those who have not accepted Christ. Sure, everyone may be the same by earthly standards, but the Lord sees those he’s chosen as honorable above others. The Lord also wanted to make sure that the High Priest did not make decisions based on his own opinion, but rather through considering every side. To do this, the Lord made commands specific to the breastplate along with the Urim and Thummim,
Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord. Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means for making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord (Exodus 28:29-30).
Notice that the Lord requires the priest to consider the people in every decision, rather than looking after himself. Even today, we should consider others first, as we’re told, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Not only that, but the Urim and Thummim were to be placed over his heart as well. What were the Urim and Thummim? They were two things in which the priest used to get answers from God. One suspects they were something like a holy set of lots to cast or a divine coin to flip when the priest couldn’t make a decision or needed Godly help. Numbers 27:21 gives a little insight into the use of these mystery articles,
He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.
No matter how they were utilized, the Urim and Thummim were ways in which to inquire directly to the Lord for answers in difficult matters. However, if you look at the regulations for them from Exodus, the High Priest isn’t supposed to use them all the time, but rather wear them in order that he always has the means for asking the Lord on hand. So rather than compare this to having a holy coin to flip, I’d suggest that wearing the Urim and Thummim were kind of like wearing a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet. King Solomon recommended this course of action to us even now as he wrote,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding:
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and shun evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).
If we put the Lord first in our decisions, trust that he will straighten things out.
Just like Aaron and his sons, when we accept Jesus we receive more than just a nice white ephod. Of course, the most important part is that we’re given salvation and through that entrance to heaven (the white clothes). However, like Aaron we also get cool accessories, each with their own meaning. Paul wrote on these new clothes that a believer is able to access once coming to Christ; we read,
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17).
That’s right, instead of getting Lawrence of Arabia gear; we get to don awesome armor. Paul tells us to wear the belt of truth, so we don’t get caught with our pants down, and to do our own righteous acts, so that we’ve got a pretty obvious defense when someone tries to attack us. Not only that, but we’re told to fit our feet with peace (probably so we don’t run around like madpeople while freaking out). Then come the big ones: Faith, Salvation, and the Word. Our faith can be a shield against false teachings and demonic attacks. When you start from a position of faith, it is much easier to interpret information without getting upset about where God stands with the rest of the world (for example, when you start from a faith position, it is easier to see that the facts point more to creation than they do to evolution). Paul tells those in Christ to wear their salvation on their head. Why? SO YOU DON’T FORGET! You’re a saved person in Christ, not the old person you were before Jesus came into your life; never forget that you’re something special now. Even if you lose your footing, you’ll never lose your helmet. And finally: the Word. I will tell you, when you actually read the Bible with the Holy Spirit in your life, he will teach you how to wield it skillfully in order to make it through life’s toughest battles. So, dear friend, don’t just wear your linen undergarments from Jesus, but put on the full armor of God.
There’s more to your new life though than just the clothes. The ordination ceremony that we read earlier continues,
Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar seven times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin with its stand, to consecrate them. He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him (Leviticus 8:10-12).
Through this step of the ritual, the Lord is trying to show us that when we’re anointed by God, everything around us also becomes anointed and holy. So when Jesus saves us from the fire, he also blesses all that surrounds us by his presence. Don’t believe me? Think I’m writing some sort of prosperity gospel? Check out what the Bible says about David, “In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him” (1 Samuel 18:14). Did David see hard times? Sure he did, but David also saw great successes because he always had God with him. Just like David we are given this aura of blessings in all that we do when we accept Jesus into our hearts. Look at the way that the Lord looked after not only Paul, but also those around him when his ship hit a massive storm,
After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the god whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me (Acts 27:21-25).
God protects those who trust in his son, Jesus Christ. And as you may have noticed, not only is there blessing and protection, but also there is a mission. If you think you’re life has no meaning, think again (unless you don’t have Jesus)! All of God’s children have a purpose, and until they’re called heavenward, God will not lose (and therefore, through Christ, we will win).
Continuing on, after changing Aaron’s clothes and his life and anointing everything around him, Moses moves onto his sons. We read, “Then he brought Aaron’s sons forward, put tunics on them, tied sashes around them and put headbands on them, as the Lord commanded Moses” (Leviticus 8:13). Through this step of the ordination, we’re given the message that when a person is saved by the blood of Jesus, it becomes far more likely that their family will be saved also. I say “more likely” because two chapters later, two of Aaron’s sons are killed by God, so it’s not a guaranteed deal. However, you can trust that the Lord will work in your family when you come to God through his son. For it is written in Acts 16:29-31,
The jailer called for the lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved- you and your household.”
As you can see, by one act of faith from the jailer, his whole family was saved. So too when you are called by God to change your life (and your clothes), don’t worry about what your family will think, the Lord won’t forget them. Paul tells us that having one member of your family as holy will help to purify the rest. He explains,
For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy (1 Corinthians 7:14).
I should mention that Paul goes on to note that this isn’t always the case, but anyway a person should not worry about that sort of stuff when they come to Jesus.
Before the ordination of Aaron and his sons, the Lord gives Moses some instruction that has a lot of meaning behind it as well. The Bible says in Leviticus 8:1-3,
The Lord said to Moses, “Bring Aaron and his sons, their garments, the anointing oil, the bull for the sin offering, the two rams and the basket containing bread made without yeast, and gather the entire assembly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.”
Even before the whole process starts, God tells Moses that the ordination is going to require a sacrifice and that it is a very big deal (everyone had to appear). Likewise, when we are saved, there is a sacrifice followed by a big party (in heaven). First was the sacrifice, Jesus died on a cross roughly 2000 years ago in order that you and I may be declared clean in the eyes of God. Some people question whether it is possible for Jesus to have died so long ago and still be our atoning sacrifice, and yet we’re told in the Bible, “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). So be assured, my friends, Christ died for you (even if it was a very long time ago). Not only did Jesus’ sacrifice bring us salvation, but when we choose to accept the salvation of Christ, there’s a party in heaven. Don’t believe me? Check out Jesus’ parable of the Lost Coin,
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:8-10).
When we come to Jesus to be saved from our sins and our past, God throws a party; and as we can see from everyone being called to the Tent of Meeting, it’s a big party.
Finally, in what might be what we’d consider the grossest part of Aaron’s conversion from sinner to saint, is the sprinkling of blood. We read,
Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood from the altar and sprinkled them on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. So he consecrated Aaron and his garments and his sons and their garments (Leviticus 8:30).
Think of this, Aaron and his son just got brand new clothes and what’s the first thing that Moses does? He throws blood on them! What could possibly be the reason for this? Well, the Bible records in Leviticus 8:34, “What has been done today was commanded by the Lord to make atonement for you.” Ok then, why did God command this? To find the answer we have to look way over in Revelation 7:13-14,
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes- who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
By accepting Jesus into our hearts, we’re not only given new lives, but we are completely washed clean by Christ’s blood. This is where our salvation comes from. Moses and Aaron may not have known exactly why they were doing each step of these rituals, but God did. He was setting things up in the Law so that we could better understand and have a deeper appreciation for the salvation that for us seems so easy. For it is written, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:10). For us it is so easy, but for God it means so much. God didn’t plan to save you when Jesus died, he had you in his mind since before the creation, and through the sometimes odd rituals we read in Leviticus, we can learn just how long this plan has been going on.
If you haven’t given your life to Christ yet, now is a great time. If you’re not ready yet, that’s probably fine, you’ll likely have other chances in the future (since God is pretty strong on getting his chosen ones on the right team). However, if you are ready, pray with me and the Lord will surely hear your prayer. Just read along (out loud):
Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank you for helping me to understand just how deep your plans run.
I have not been very interested in your salvation before,
Forgive me, Lord, for my disinterest in your love and your salvation.
Come now; wash me clean with your blood
And change my clothes to be white.
Give me a new life in you, Lord Jesus.
Free me from the sins of my past and forgive me.
Come into my life, and stay with me always.
In your name, Lord Jesus, I pray,