Priestly Ordination for a Nation of Priests
by Lonnie Lane
We know that God doesn’t interact with unholiness. It’s not just because He has an aversion to sin. He doesn’t directly interact with unholy humankind because we would be destroyed by the power of His holiness. Holiness has innate energy – the kind that speaks universes into being and they suddenly “are.” Being directly confronted with God’s holy power, even His unbridled love, is beyond our ability to endure it. It would destroy us. I have experienced a bit of the joy of heaven in an open vision. It was the most glorious moment of my life, but it was also unbearable. We cannot bear in our fallen bodies the power and energy of even God’s joy. I am sure I would have exploded into pieces if He did not lift it off of me after a few seconds. That we are unable to endure looking directly at the sun, a mere created thing, is but a small example of our inability to endure the power of God’s presence. This gives us some further insight into what Adam and Eve may have experienced when they “fell from glory” and were suddenly terrified of God’s presence and hid from Him after they sinned and lost their own God-endowed glory.
So what was God to do if it’s relationship He’s wanting with unholy people? When God wants to do something big He always starts small. To change the world He begins with one man. First He chose Abraham. When He chose this man, it was as good as done in God’s Mind. He, being outside of time and space, isn’t daunted by either time or space. Now or forever, it’s all the same to God. That’s why He can meet us in the moment but prophesy what will be to the end of the age. And large or small, it too is all the same.
That He began with just one man, Abraham, with the intent of bringing salvation to the universe, ought to encourage us to think big with God and not “despise the day of small things” (Zech. 4:10). What could be too hard for God? Through Abraham, God sets apart his family unto Himself for His purposes, one small family among millions of other families, “…saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed'” (Acts 3:25). We know the story. Eventually Abraham’s family is big enough to become a nation, having been rescued by God from the most powerful demonic influence in the world at the time, manifested in Egypt. He did it again through one man, Moses, through whom God also gave the people a constitution, that is commandments and laws by which they should live as the people of God. You could sum the laws up this way: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2).
But what about if they fail to keep God’s laws? What happens when they are not being holy? Will God be angry? Will He cause them to die? Is there a way back to God if they are not holy? What about that relationship Holy God wants with the unholy people? God must make a way for transgressors to be restored, or surely there will be no one left for who can maintain holiness before Him adequately? Again, God sets apart a man, Moses’ brother Aaron, and like with Abraham, God decrees that his sons will carry out the calling God put upon their father. God sets Aaron apart as a priest unto Himself, one who is to enter into God’s holy presence and be a mediator between God and the people. Aaron is to be the head priest, or high priest, over his priestly sons, all of whom are set apart as holy.
Now, I ask you, do you think Aaron was a good candidate for holiness? It wasn’t as though Aaron was spotless and pure. Was this a man you would trust with this kind of leadership? Wasn’t he the guy who was involved with that whole golden calf incident? Remember this? “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron" (Exodus 32:1-3).
Evidently neither Aaron nor the people believed Moses would ever be seen again. After all, forty days is a long time. What were they to think? That God had abandoned them after all? So now they needed a new god. They were out of Egypt, but Egypt was not out of them. The story tells us Moses’ reaction to their idolatry and unholy actions, but it doesn’t tell us what must have gone on inside of Aaron. How ashamed must he have been to see his brother reflecting the glory of God and he having led the people into giving their gold to produce the idolatrous calf? Was he ashamed before Moses, or before God? Both? The people had been left in his charge and he had failed miserably. Was he horrified at how easily he had lost any and all sense of what He had come to know of God’s power and presence while witnessing Him deliver Israel from Egypt? I can’t even imagine what Moses must have had to say to Aaron in his rage at how he had turned from God and used his God-given leadership to organize their idolatry.
But maybe that’s what made Aaron the right man for the job. We see enough in the Bible, and know from our own lives, that God is looking for people who know their own sinfulness, who are aware they are not holy and that apart from God’s mercy and forgiveness, they would be destroyed. Moral failures, if they bring us to true repentance and deep humility before God, are the very things that may protect us against further sin against God, and prepare us for ministry. Yeshua, in His sermon on the mount declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). “Poor” in Hebrew, according to a footnote in The Power New Testament, means repentant. It is the repentant to whom the Kingdom of heaven belongs. Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God are both Hebrew ways of saying the same thing. So that statement is consistent with the whole of the Bible. Perhaps it is Aaron’s repentance upon seeing how he led Israel into such apostasy and error that changed him into someone God could trust. Perhaps Aaron was so impacted by how he deserved to die, but God had mercy upon him, that he would have compassion upon those who would be in need of God’s forgiveness. Perhaps Aaron was so devastated by his own weakness of character and how swayed he was by the people in order to stay in their favor rather than believing God, that it put a holy fear of God upon him so that never again would he violate God’s holiness.
When we too are confronted with the depth of our own sin, so that we see ourselves as we really are, desperately in need of God’s love and mercy, we can never again take lightly His forgiveness. It changes us. We walk tenderly before Him, careful not to dishonor Him in any way. Not only do we wish to avoid bringing Him any displeasure, but we become aware that we who are His represent Him to the world around us, causing us to want only to be “vessels of honor” (see 2 Tim 2:20) for His name’s sake. Only He is holy, only He is righteous. When we know our own self-righteousness, the fear of ever offending God again like we have reigns in our hearts, then God can begin to trust us with His power and authority. Such was presumably the case with Aaron.
In order to set Aaron in place as high priest, God tells Moses how to officiate at his ordination. The entire congregation of Israel was to witness what is about to take place. Somehow more than one million people were able to see the goings-on as the priesthood is instituted and Aaron is installed as God’s high priest. First he needs to be washed with water. At this time they’re in a desert and water is hard to come by. Years later, when priests were ordained they would enter the waters of a mikveh, or what we would call a baptism. Yeshua, upon entering His own priestly ministry, entered the waters of mikveh with John the Immerser officiating, thought it is highly unlikely he thought of it that way. So, “Moses had Aaron and his sons come near, and washed them with water” (Lev. 8:6). Then he proceeded to dress Aaron in the clothing that God had ordered be prepared for him, the “uniform” of priesthood. “Then he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him. Next, Moses had Aaron’s sons come near and clothed them” as God had commanded. (See Lev. 8:7-13).
This was followed by much slaughtering of sacrificial animals, with attention to different bodily parts of the animals handled specifically, with the blood placed upon the altar. The meat was put upon the altar to be burned, with the exception of the flesh (skin) which was taken outside the camp to be burned there. “Flesh” can never be offered as atonement. (In the spiritual sense, flesh is exactly what it is that needs to be atoned for.) This all took hours to accomplish. And had to have been very messy. Blood and guts messy. Slaughter isn’t a very tidy word, is it? Blood has its own unique smell, which was coupled with the burning meat on the altar and all the smoke. An unforgettable occasion, without a doubt, for those who witnessed it.
Some of the blood was put on Aaron’s right ear, thumb and big toe. This was to sanctify what he would hear, what he would hold with his hands and how he would walk before the Lord. To ordain in Hebrew means “to fill the hands.” Aaron and his sons hands’ would now be filled with carrying out the sacrificial atonement for the forgiveness of sins. Their hands would be laid (pressed) upon the animals to transfer the sins of the people to the animal. Their left hands (palms) would be filled with oil while their right hand fingers would dip into the oil and anoint the people and the sacrifices. Their hands would be hands of blessings as they held them up to bless the people. And they would be hands of praise to act as mediators between the people and God. There was more to the ceremony which you can read in Leviticus 8 regarding the ordination, but it culminated with God saying to Aaron, “You shall not go outside the doorway of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the day that the period of your ordination is fulfilled, for he will ordain (lit. fill your hands) you through seven days… You shall remain day and night for seven days… that you may not die” (:33-35).
Imagine, they’re alone with God in the tent for a week, just Aaron and his sons. They were to “keep the charge of the Lord” so possibly they had the sacrifices to eat, because sacrifices were to be eaten by the priests in the holy place. The sacrifices they ate were holy unto the Lord. We can see here a prototype of “eating” the body and blood of the Lord in remembrance of His atoning sacrifice in communion.
What does one experience being alone for a week with God? As Moses and Aaron had experienced the presence of the Lord in the “tent of meeting” before, it’s possible that His presence was with them. It would seem that as God commanded this as a part of the ordination to be alone with Him, no doubt it was a time of consecration, of God doing a work in their hearts. How changed do you expect you would be if you were alone with God for a week? What was it like for Aaron to have all his social interactions to be completely cut off, except for his sons who are experiencing the same thing? Did he become aware of the demands of his flesh, of how much he looked everywhere but to God for his needs? Is it a given that being in that circumstance would inevitably do the sanctifying work God intended? What do you think?
I used to take three days each year to go away and be alone with God in a cabin in the woods. It often took a day or more to just unwind from the world to get quiet enough to turn off everything else that makes its demands in my soul. Alone like that, the distractions in life are gone. Just you and your Bible. No CDs, no books, no props. I hear His still small voice every day, but this getting away entirely away with God is different. This enables God to strip away what keeps you distracted and otherwise occupied so that you begin to see God for Who He is, as paramount, not sidelined in the issues of your life. I usually found myself sleeping a lot when I first got there – a coming into His rest, with a realization of how ‘unrested’ I generally am, despite what I might say is being in His rest. Time changes when you’re alone with God. You’re awake in the night hours as He nudges you to come be with Him. It may not be an easy time, but it’s a precious time and one in which you feel closer to God, you and the Lord sharing an intimate time together. Like being with Him is….well, like you were “home.”
Perhaps it was like that for Aaron. But we have reason to believe something was amiss with his sons, Nadab and Abihu. These two men were given the highest privilege of being in the Lord’s presence on the mountain when God called them: “Then He said to Moses, "Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance… Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:1, 9-11). Since God is a Spirit and wouldn’t have feet, we can assume they saw Yeshua as God!!
They went through the same ordination process as their father, including being alone with God in the tent. Following their ordination experience there was an extensive preparation and sacrificing of sin and burnt offerings on the altar, just as had been commanded while all the congregation was in attendance. “Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them…. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering…and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9:22-24). Wow, can you imagine seeing that? Fire appears from heaven and devours the sacrifice! But it’s not just visual; there is a sense of God’s holy presence that causes every single person – over a million of them – to shout and fall prostrate before God!
But what did Nadab and Abihu do when this happened? First we need to know what their names mean, which always gives some insight into people in the Bible. Nadab means to “offer freely, spontaneously,” while Abihu’s name means “He, God, is my father.” Nothing ungodly about those names. But what did they do? “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Lev. 10:1,2) What a shock! This happened while the entire congregation of Israel, including Moses and Aaron saw what happened. If there wasn’t a fear of God among the people before, there would be one now. Did they even understand what had happened? Aaron must have been in agony of so great a loss, terrified of God and very confused. Everything had been so glorious in God’s presence. What had happened? Moses, who has spent considerable time in God’s immediate presence, gives the explanation: “Moses said to Aaron, "It is what the LORD spoke, saying, 'By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored'" (Lev 10:3). Aaron is so submitted to God at this point that he says nothing out of the reverential fear of the Lord and submits to God’s holy judgment. Can you see why God chose him to be the prototype high priest?
What are we to learn from this? We can have a calling directly from God Himself, we can experience God’s glory, we can spend time in His presence, we can even go through ordination, but ultimately it is a matter of our hearts. What was Nadab and Abihu’s motive for offering what God called “Strange fire?” Was it a spontaneous thought as Nadab’s name suggests? What we do spontaneously, without thinking it through, often exposes what’s in our hearts. Or did they see God as their Father but with the high priest as their own father, did they not recognize the responsibility or submission to God it involved? Were they just too familiar having seen their own father as high priest that they didn’t realize the holiness of the calling. There is some possibility that the incense they offered was something that they knew of a past religious experience. God is a jealous God and will not allow that. It may be that they were trying to induce God to do something else spectacular. That would be testing God, and it would be witchcraft. Whatever the reason, they did not honor God as God. For all their experiences with God, their hearts were not right with Him and it was their hearts that God judged.
Had they known about it, this is just the kind of episode that would have protected the church from irreverence and apostasy from Constantine forward had the church leaders taken the Old Testament Scriptures as seriously and as essential to knowing God as they did the New Testament. As the New Testament is written primarily to believers, it does not have in it that which would bring acute correction to a wayward, and misinformed church that was lost in apostasy. Where there is a lack of awareness of the holiness of God, there’s a good chance the Old Testament is neglected as being relevant for living a godly life.
By doing away with the Torah in particular as valid for the church, incidents like this one were missing to their understanding of God. Would church history have read differently if those who deemed to come near to God treated Him as holy in their personal relationships with Him? There are two relationships in the Leviticus 10:3 verse (above), one private and one social. Those who come near to God can only do so personally and alone. We can be in a crowd but it is only individually that we draw near to God. This story confronts us with whether we are “treating Him as holy.” Perhaps this is an opportunity to ask Him to show you what it means to Him, and to align your heart anew with His holiness at a greater depth. None of us wants to be found in the ultimate place of Nadab or Abihu, so this may be an opportunity for some to examine their heart attitude toward God. The other relationship is to honor Him before “all the people” with whom you interact. Both private and social are heart issues.
What is in our hearts will be revealed in how we honor Him in our speech, in what we value, and in the way we represent Him with our lives. God may have given us a picture with Nadab and Abihu to warn us against our religion being outward without a sanctified heart. It’s true that Yeshua died for our sins, but the Bible tells us “In repentance…you will be saved” (Isaiah 30:15). Might we need to repent for not treating Him as holy in our most private lives with Him? Or outwardly in our interactions with others? Do we take Him for granted or treat Him too familiarly? Being intimate does not mean we can be casual with Him. An example comes to mind: “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear” (1 Peter 5:6). Yeshua is our Husband and Lord. He does not call us to a fear that drives us from Him, but a fear of the Lord that wants at all costs to avoid offending Him because we love Him. That kind of love honors Him as is His due.
Yeshua has made us priests unto our God. But we’re not all living as priests unto Him, being mediators to bring others to Him, or using our hands to bless and lay healing hands on others, or to bring them before the Lord for His forgiveness. Perhaps some time alone with God, asking Him to change you and to make you wholly His, asking Him to show you His holiness, and to make you a vessel for His honor might just be something He is looking to share with you.
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2010.
Lonnie Lane comes from a family of four generations of Jewish believers, being the first one saved in 1975. Lonnie has been in church leadership for many years, and has planted two “one new man” house fellowships, one in Philadelphia suburbs and the other in Jacksonville, Florida, where she now lives near 6 of her 8 grandchildren. Lonnie is the author of “Because They Never Asked” and numerous articles on this website. She has been the Producer of Messianic Vision's radio and TV shows and the International Prayer Co-Coordinator for Messianic Vision's intercessors. Click Here to order Lonnie's book, "Because They Never Asked."
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.