How would you respond if someone told you that God was going to appear before you today? What thoughts, fears, joys, and hopes would come to you? It must have been an amazing thing for the people of Israel when Moses told them this. These very words were surely both exciting and terrifying. But God’s appearance also necessitated a response of obedience on their part. The appearance of the Lord requires, most importantly, that sin be dealt with among the community. To see the glory of the Lord we must follow the order of the sacrifices.
The events of chapter 9 take place on the “eighth day” of the week, we are told. The eighth day is, of course, the first day of a new week. All of the previous week had been consumed with the consecration of the priests, but now they would actually begin to function in their role with their responsibilities. As they do Moses makes a promise to the whole assembly: Today the Lord will appear to you (v. 4). The people had seen the glory of the Lord in previous moments, but nothing this close, nothing this intimate and personal. God would dwell among them! They had seen God atop Mt. Sinai as Moses went up to meet with Him. They had also seen God in the Pillar of Cloud and Fire, but in each case they had been warned to “keep their distance” (Ex. 19:20-23). This explains, then, the need to immediately begin the process of purification and atonement.
Moses commands Aaron to do two things: (1) Offer a Sin and Burnt offering for himself, and (2) offer the four major offerings – Sin, Burnt, Grain, and Peace – for the people. He was to follow the precise instructions Moses gave him and prepare himself and the people for meeting with God. Derek Tidball notes one very specific and important detail: the mention of a “bull calf” for Aaron’s own sin offering (v. 2). Nowhere else is a calf mandated for the Sin Offering. Many scholars believe that this particular requirement is a reference to the Golden Calf incident and Aaron’s role in making it. The sacrifice, then, is meant to deal with Aaron’s failures in that idolatrous act. Tidball writes, “With this offering the last stains of that grave sin were being removed” (The Message of Leviticus, 122).
Aaron offers sacrifices for both himself and the people. Despite having a whole week’s worth of sacrifices already made, Aaron must now perform his duties for the first time. He must make sacrifices for himself and for the people. He, not Moses. It’s his first day on the job and though this will become routine it is never intended to become meaningless. God’s glory will appear! He knows it and anticipates it with the sacrifices he makes in this chapter. The people too anticipate it as the whole assembly gathers at the entrance to the tent! There’s much to be said here about the anticipation of the glory of God and of His appearing among His people. Does such anticipation mark our corporate celebrations? Do we long for God’s appearing and the manifestations of His glory when we gather together? We should. God is not less glorious or less inclined to reveal His glory to us today!
The emphasis of the passage, however, is really on Aaron’s responsibility for strict obedience. Regularly we read the phrase: “as the Lord commanded” or “as Moses commanded.” Aaron is following the practices outlined in chapter 8 to the detail. There are no deviations and exceptions. This sets up, of course, a stark contrast for what follows in chapter 10, but it nonetheless also makes a connection between Aaron’s faithfulness and the appearance of the glory of the Lord. The causal structure of verse 6 emphasizes this: This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you. The order of the sacrifices, in particular, is important. There was no other way to witness the glory of the Lord then to conform to his unfolding plan:
- Sin is confessed
- Consecration is renewed
- Gifts are offered
- And then, finally, fellowship is enjoyed (see Tidball, 126)
No other order would work. It is the same for us too – we cannot enjoy fellowship with God except by first confessing sin and having relationship with God restored.
This points us, quite naturally, then, to the person of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John makes reference to the language of Leviticus. Jesus, we are told, “tabernacle” among us (John 1:14). He is the glory of God made manifest among us. John writes: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. In Christ not only are our sins dealt with, forgiven, and our relationship with God restored, but He himself manifests the glory of God to us. Tidball writes, “We do not need to have stood with the entire assembly of Israel long ago on the eighth day in the wilderness to see the glory of God. We need only to turn our eyes to Jesus and survey his wondrous cross to see a glory that outshines anything that Israel observed” (130). Jesus Christ both deals with our sin and reveals the glory of God to us. Leviticus 9 draws a connection between the appearance of the glory of the Lord and faithfulness to the prescribed order of the offerings. Jesus Christ fulfills Leviticus 9 for us. So that now we no longer look to the order of the sacrifices, but instead look the sacrifice himself who is the glory of God.