Prepping for ordination
- 1 The LORD told Moses:
- 2 Get Aaron and his sons. And bring their official priestly clothing along with some olive oil to anoint them. Bring sacrificial animals, too: a bull as a sin offering,1 along with two male goats and a basket of yeast-free bread.
- 3 Tell the people to come to the doorway at the Meeting Tent.2
- 4 Moses did that, and the people came.
- 5 Moses told them, “We’re about to do something the LORD told us to do.”
- 6 Moses got some water. He washed Aaron and Aaron’s sons.
- 7 Then he dressed Aaron in the official clothes of a high priest:3 a tunic shirt with a sash belt, a robe, and an apron to wear around his waist. Moses tied the apron4onto Aaron with a decorated belt.
- 8 Then Moses dressed Aaron in the Chest Shield of Law and Order.5 The Chest Shield had a pocket that held two objects called Lights and Perfection.6
- 9 Moses put a turban on Aaron’s head, as the LORD told him to do. A gold medallion hung from the front of this sacred turban—a badge of devotion to the LORD.
- 10 Moses picked up some olive oil and started anointing everything in the tent worship center, marking it all as reserved for the LORD’s use—devoted to him, and holy because of it.7
- 11 Moses splashed some oil on the main sacrificial altar, seven times. He anointed all the altar utensils along with the large water basin and stand. This marked them as holy and reserved exclusively for religious use.
- 12 He poured some of the oil on Aaron’s head, anointing him as the LORD’s priest.
- 13 Moses brought Aaron’s sons up in front of the people. He dressed them in their formal priestly tunics, with their sash belts and hats. That’s what the LORD told him to do.
A bull dies for the priests
- 14 Moses brought forward the bull he was going to kill as a sin offering for Aaron and his sons. He had the men put their hands on the bull’s head.
- 15 Moses killed the bull. Then he used a finger to smear some of the blood on the horns8 at the top four corners of the altar. This ritual purified the altar. Moses poured the rest of the bull’s blood at the base of the altar, as restitution for any sins the men may have committed.9
- 16 Moses collected fat from the bull’s internal organs. He took both of its kidneys and the long lobe of the liver.10 He burned it all on the altar.
- 17 He burned the rest of the bull outside the camp: meat, internal organs, and hide. This is what the LORD told him to do.
Two goats die for the priests
- 18 Moses then brought forward a male goat—a ram—as a burnt offering.11 He had Aaron and his sons put their hands on the ram’s head.
- 19 Then Moses killed the ram and splashed some of its blood along all four sides of the altar.
- 20 He cut the ram into manageable pieces and placed them all on the altar, including the ram’s head and fat. Then he burned them, turning them into smoke.
- 21 He washed the ram’s internal organs and legs. Then, as the LORD had instructed, he burned the entire ram on the altar. This was a burnt offering, a sweet-smelling gift to the LORD.
- 22 Moses brought up a second ram, as an ordination offering. Again, he had Aaron and his sons put their hands on the ram’s head.
- 23 Moses killed the ram. Then he dabbed some of its blood on Aaron’s right ear, right thumb, and on the big toe of Aaron’s right foot.12
Dab blood on ears, thumbs, toes
- 24 Moses did the same to Aaron’s sons, dabbing blood on their right ears, thumbs, and big toes. Then he splashed blood on the sides of the altar.
- 25 Moses collected the ram’s fat, including fat from internal organs and from the thick tail.13 He took both kidneys and the ram’s right thigh.
- 26 The ordination offering included a basket of yeast-free bread. Moses took one big loaf, made with olive oil, and one thin loaf. He set the bread in a pile on top of the ram’s fat and right thigh.
- 27 He distributed all of it among Aaron and his sons. The men lifted the meat and bread and waved it as an offering to the LORD.
- 28 Moses took it back. He put it all on the altar, and burned it as an ordination offering—a sweet smell for the LORD.
- 29 Moses picked up the ram’s breast meat, which the LORD gave to Moses for officiating at this ordination. Moses waved the meat as an offering to the LORD.
- 30 Moses then collected some blood from the altar and sprinkled it with anointing oil on Aaron and his sons, and on the men’s clothing. This consecrated the men and their priestly clothing, marking them as holy and reserved exclusively for God’s use.
- 31 Moses told Aaron and his sons, “Boil the meat that’s left. Eat it with the bread outside the entrance to the Meeting Tent. I was told to tell you to eat it.
- 32 Burn any leftovers of the meat and bread.
- 33 After the meal, stick around. You need to stay inside the Meeting Tent for seven days. It’s the final step in ordaining you for ministry as priests.
- 34 What we did here today was what the LORD said we needed to do to purify you for this sacred assignment.
- 35 Stay near the entrance of the Meeting Tent for seven days and nights. The LORD said you need to do this. So you’d better do it so you don’t end up dead.
- 36 Aaron and his sons did everything Moses said the LORD told them to do.
A sin offering usually refers to something the people of Israel brought to God for accidental sins. Some scholars say a better translation is the opposite of “sin” because the sacrifice is intended to “un-sin” people, to purify them. So those scholars call it a “purification offering” because “un-sin” or “de-sin” aren’t words, don’t sound scholarly even if they were, and each have only two syllables. “Purification” has five. See Exodus 4 for more.
This is likely the tent worship center of Exodus 36-40, given the descriptions that come later. Yet a Meeting Tent was mentioned first in Exodus 33:7, before the tent worship center was built and located in the middle of the camp (Numbers 2:17). This was another place where Moses apparently spent some time, “outside the camp, at a fair distance” (Exodus 33:7). This is where people would go to hear from Moses about what the Lord had to say about any particular question they had. Some scholars say Moses likely set up this Meeting Tent outside the camp because of God’s refusal to travel with the people. Moses may have figured that if God wouldn’t come to them, they would go to God.
For details about clothing the priests wore, see Exodus 28-29.
“Apron” is more literally ephod. Scholars debate exactly what that looked like. Some describe it as a skirt or a shift-like garment that covered the body from about the waist to the mid-thigh. Priests used what was described as an ephod to store the sword of Goliath, after David killed this Philistine champion warrior (1 Samuel 23:9).
More literally, the “Decision Chestpiece.” The descriptive word in Hebrew is mispat. It can mean a wide variety of words, including: justice, judgment, law, court, rights, and decisions. We need context clues to pick the right word. The general idea, however, seems to suggest the vest, which the high priest wore over his heart, representing his authority to deliver God’s messages and judgments to the people.
These were two objects never described in the Bible. They might have been stones, marked or colored in different ways. The high priest used them to answer questions with a “yes” or “no” or “wait.” It might have worked a bit like tossing two coins in the air and seeing how they land. Two heads for “yes.” Two tails for “no.” One of each for “wait.” It might seem foolish to make an important decision that way, such as whether to go to war. But the people of Israel seemed to believe that God controlled the objects the priests used. That doesn’t mean the Bible endorses making decisions that way today. As in, two heads up for a four-wheeler or two tails up for retirement savings. The Hebrew names are Urim and Thummin, described as meaning “lights” and “perfection.”
More literally, Moses “consecrated them,” or made them holy when he anointed them. It wasn’t just the anointing that made them holy, it was the act of devoting them to the LORD, for his use only. The tent worship center wouldn’t be used for a weekend camping trip. It was reserved for matters related to worshiping and talking with God.
Archaeologists have uncovered many “horned altars” in Israel and Palestinian Territories. Bible writers never explained why altars were built with the corners turned up like animal horns. Perhaps the horns were a tribute to the livestock sacrificed on the altar. One more common guess is that the horns gave priests something to which they could tie the dead animal. This could help keep the sacrificed animal from rolling off the fire before it was burned. Psalm 118:27 seems to add credibility to that theory: “Go ahead and tie the festival sacrifice to the four corners of the altar.” Consider how it might feel for a worshiper to watch the sacrificed animal roll off the flaming altar before the animal had even caught fire. We might understand that the animal fell off because the burning wood pile shifted as wood disintegrated in the fire. But someone offering a sacrifice to seek forgiveness for sin might think God had just rejected the offering.
Jewish law taught that sin was a capital offense that required blood to atone for the sin. In Old Testament times, animals were permitted as substitutes to atone for the sins of humans. Jewish law quotes God putting it this way, “Life is in the blood, and I have given you the blood of animals to sacrifice in place of your own” (Leviticus 17:11 Contemporary English Version). New Testament writers present Jesus as the final sacrifice, ending the sacrificial system “for all time.” (Hebrews 10:10).
Literally, “finger of the liver.” It’s usually identified as the caudate lobe. There are three other lobes: right, left, and quadrate.
This was the most common sacrifice. Worshipers burned the entire animal. Burnt offering instructions: “Take the animal to the north side of the altar. Kill it there on this sacred site of the LORD. Aaron’s sons the priests will take some of the blood and splash it on all four sides of the altar. Cut the animal into pieces, including the head and the fat. A priest will set them onto the fire on the altar” (Leviticus 1:11-12). See also Leviticus 1:3-13; 6:1-6.
Scholars guess the blood symbolizes that Aaron is 100 percent God’s priest, from blood-tagged head to blood-tagged toe.
Herders bred fat-tailed sheep in and around what is now Israel and Palestinian Territory. The tail of a mature ram could weigh 20 pounds (9 kg) or more. Fat on the tail was considered the tastiest meat a sheep had to offer.
ROBERT V. HUBER
Chapter 8 describes the anointing and ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests, but all this sounds familiar. Weren’t they already ordained and anointed in chapter 29 of Exodus? Why this retelling?
Although Aaron is generally considered to be the first Israelite priest, it is Moses who seems to be taking the part of a priest in these ordination rites. Do you think of Moses as a priest, too?
Moses anoints everything in the tent worship center with olive oil and later he also anoints Aaron with oil. What do you think might have been the value of a ritual like this? Some people reading this story might say it looks like Moses is treating the olive oil like a magical ointment.
As part of the ordination rite Moses puts blood on Aaron’s ear, thumb, and big toe! What is this all about? Is it some kind of dark version of “This little piggie went to market?” What do you think it might mean?