The book now shifts to its second major division: The Laws of the Priesthood. Allen Ross says, “The next section of Leviticus focuses on who has the right to offer sacrifices in the holy place and in what way such people were qualified to do so.” The chapter is the first part in what some scholars call a Triptych found in Leviticus 8-10. Chapter 8 focuses specifically on the consecration of the priests. This elaborate ritual involving washing, clothing, anointing, sanctifying, and inaugurating was strictly in observance to the Lord’s commands to set these men apart for a unique life of service in the sanctuary. The key idea of the chapter is that this consecration comes from God.
The fact that Moses must gather the congregation to witness the ceremony, and that he even must instruct them that this thing was “the thing that the Lord commanded” (v. 5) is not insignificant. They must know and understand that Aaron and his sons were appointed and set apart by God for this task. Their role as spiritual leaders must come with the support and foundation of God’s appointment. Ross notes that this is the point of all ordination services. “It is God who calls people and consecrates them to his ministry. Both the one entering ministry and the congregation must acknowledge this from the outset if ministry is to function correctly” (209).
As the process of the Consecration ceremony unfolds we will see again and again that the major point is that it is God who consecrates the priests for ministry. The whole series of events that take place as the official ceremony begins are God’s way of preparing these men for their role. Moses must wash them (v. 6), which though literally done with water had a symbolic meaning, pointing to inner spiritual cleansing. In fact in their own ministry later on the priests would have to wash themselves each and every time they came to serve in the sanctuary (see Ex. 30:17-21). Then Moses clothed the men (v. 7-9). The wearing of specific priestly garments was an indication of their unique role. They were set apart, distinct in their function. The garments were a visible reminder to themselves and to others that they were God’s representative: a symbolic reminder of their personal sanctification.
The anointing of the Tabernacle and the very utensils in it, along with the priests themselves is yet another reminder of God’s role in consecration (v. 10-13). Anointing with oil may often have carried the notion of special calling and empowerment by the Spirit of God (1 Sam. 10:1, 6; 16:13-14; Isa. 61:1; Zech. 4:1-6) (See Ross, 211). The priests cannot perform their function apart from this anointing. God’s Spirit empowers them for service, nothing else will do the trick. Ask any pastor who has attempted to labor apart from the empowering work of the Holy Spirit and they will vouch for this desperate need.
As the process moves on to the step of atonement it is important to recognize that the priests themselves were not above this. They too needed to have their sins forgiven and experience acceptance with God. So Moses offers a Purification offering and a Burnt Offering (v. 14-21). Ross says, “Anointing with oil may have consecrated the priests to God, but it could not make atonement for them. Sacrifices were thus made” (212).
The ordination ceremony finds its most distinctive elements in the final two components of its process: ordination and installation. The Ordination required another sacrifice of a ram (v. 22). The meat of this sacrifice was placed into the hands of the priests until his hands were full. Then the blood of the sacrifice was placed on his ear, thumb, and toe. Ross notes:
The application of blood to these parts covered what they heard, what they handled, where they went; it meant that in all their activities they were supposed to be set apart by the blood. Being a priest involved total sanctification of life – a holy lifestyle. This is confirmed by the sprinkling of oil and blood (8:30). There was no separation between sacred and secular; the priest was never off duty. (213)
This consecration of lifestyle is significant. We often think of ministry as a job, a task, a career. Yet, God sees all of it as a lifestyle. This does not mean that pastors should not work a real 9-5 and be protected from burnout, workaholism, etc. But it does mean that all who engage in the service of the Lord need to be ready and willing to dedicate their whole lives to God. Every area of life and every moment of life.
Finally, in the official installation Aaron and his sons were required to stay at the tent for seven days repeating the sacrifices. The Old Testament idea of seven as completeness is surely in view here. “It will take seven days to ordain you,” Moses tells the men (v. 33). But their ordination is complete. It is a full transition from one way of life to another. They are truly set apart for God’s specific ministry of the Sanctuary.
God’s role in consecration is vitally important. It is important to the Old Testament for it established the authority of the Aaronic priesthood. God instituted this priesthood and governed the appointment of its priests. No other priests would be acceptable. Certainly it applies to us in the Church today as we consider two truths: First, the reality that all men dedicated to the ministry of the church are to be called by the Lord. James is very specific that pastoral ministry is not for just anyone (James 3:1). A man ought to be called by God to such a task, and the church that appoints Him should have this confidence. Second, however, we ought to note that the priesthood of all believers in the New Testament reminds us that each and every one of us is being sanctified by God Himself. He calls and equips all of us for the work of the ministry. There is no sanctification apart from His Spirit.
Finally, however, we ought to observe how all of these principles point us still further to the Great High Priest Jesus Christ. It is Christ who is perfectly set apart, called, and dedicated to the task of leading God’s people to Himself, making atonement for their sins, and interceding for them. Jesus is washed at the beginning of His ministry, not because he needed to be cleansed, but in order that he might “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). He is anointed with the Spirit of God (Luke 4:18). He makes perfect sacrifice, filling up all that the Law requires (Heb. 5:9). We look, then, from Leviticus 8 to both our Great High Priest, and God’s sanctifying of us all in Him.