1 “Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. Take one bull of the herd and two rams without blemish, 2 and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil. You shall make them of fine wheat flour. 3 You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, and bring the bull and the two rams. 4 You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and wash them with water. 5 Then you shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the coat and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod. 6 And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. 7 You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. 8 Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, 9 and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.
10 “Then you shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull. 11 Then you shall kill the bull before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 12 and shall take part of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar. 13 And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar. 14 But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.
15 “Then you shall take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, 16 and you shall kill the ram and shall take its blood and throw it against the sides of the altar. 17 Then you shall cut the ram into pieces, and wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and its head, 18 and burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord. It is a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.
19 “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, 20 and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. 21 Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and his sons’ garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.” – Exodus 29:1-21ESV
God had given Moses His construction plans for the Tabernacle and its elements. He had provided the designs for the sacred garments of the priests. Now, He gave Moses instructions for the consecration of Aaron and his sons so that they might serve as His holy representatives before the people.
Once the Tabernacle was complete and ready for use, there would be one final step before God’s presence could dwell among His people. God had appointed Aaron and his sons to serve as priests and He had assigned given them the high honor and heavy responsibility of maintaining the spiritual welfare of the entire nation. The priests and the entire Tabernacle in which they would serve had to be thoroughly purified and consecrated to prepare the way for the Lord’s presence.
Despite the Tabernacle’s ornate and rather lavish design, it was still just a glorified tent. The elements contained inside its decorative walls, though covered in gold and decorated with precious gems, were just ordinary objects made with human hands. Those who had been chosen to wear the sacred garments and enter the inner recesses of the sanctuary were just ordinary men.
When the people of Israel looked at the Tabernacle they would see a structure they had helped to build. Their contributions had helped to fund its construction. Their sweat equity had transformed the words of God into a reality, and as they stood before the completed structure, they could take pride in what they had accomplished. So, it was essential that the people understand the sacredness of the Tabernacle. During its construction phase, they would have entered into its various chambers and touched the objects that would later become off-limits. They would have been familiar with every nook and cranny of God’s house and proud of the role they had played in its construction. But once completed, the Tabernacle would no longer be accessible. The gifts they had donated for its construction were no longer theirs. The doorway into the grounds of the Tabernacle would be closed to them.
The Tabernacle was meant to be a sacred space, set apart for God’s use. But it had been made with human hands and constructed from earthly materials. When King Solomon completed his grand plan for the Temple in Jerusalem, he admitted, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27 ESV).
Centuries later, the apostle Stephen picked up on this thought in a sermon he preached to a crowd of Jews in the city of Jerusalem, not long after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“…it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’” – Acts 7:48-50 ESV
And the apostle Paul would echo the words of Stephen in an address he gave at the Areopagus in Athens.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” – Acts 17:24 ESV
As Moses and his fellow Israelites stood back admiring the glorious Tabernacle they had helped to create, it would have been easy for them to take credit for its existence. They would have assumed that it somehow belonged to them. But God wanted them to know that this building, while magnificent and worthy of praise, was unfit for His habitation. God didn’t need a house to live in. This Tabernacle was not for His benefit but for the benefit of the people of Israel. It would become a lasting symbol of His abiding presence and a vivid reminder of His holiness. But it all began on the day that Moses consecrated Aaron and his sons.
Chapter 29 of Exodus parallels chapter 8 of Leviticus. Each outlines the detailed instructions given by God to Moses for the elaborate opening ceremony of the Tabernacle. First on the agenda was the ordination of Aaron and his sons. Before they could serve in God’s house, they had to be purified with water. Then their personal garments were replaced with the sacred robes provided for them by God. Once properly attired, Aaron and his sons were anointed with oil. This ritual was designed to signify their set-apart status. It represented the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon each of the men, preparing them to serve in His holy house.
But one further step was required before these men could enter God’s presence. They had been ceremonially cleansed and robed in righteous garments but there was still the matter of their sin. To the human eye, they looked like priests and appeared to be holy and fully prepared for their role. But Moses was ordered to offer three different sacrifices to ensure that Aaron and his sons would be acceptable to God. Their garments could not take away sin. Though they looked like priests, they remained covered in guilt and unworthy to enter into God’s presence.
The first sacrifice involved a bull that was offered as atonement for sin. Its blood was sprinkled on the horns of the altar, making it holy before the Lord. But before the bull was killed, Aaron and his two sons laid their hands on the animal, ceremonially transferring their sins onto the beast. Its death served as a substitute for their own. Their sin debt was paid for by another.
The next sacrifice was a ram and, as before, Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the animal before it was slain. Then its blood was sprinkled on the sides of the bronze altar and its entire body was burned as “a burnt offering to the Lord. It is a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord” (Exodus 29:18 ESV).
“By consuming the entire animal, God was indicating that he had completely accepted the worshiper, and as it was a sweet smelling fire sacrifice, he was indicating that he was pleased to accept it. By offering the entire animal, the worshiper was indicating on his part a complete surrender to God.” – NET Bible Study Notes
The final sacrifice involved a second ram on which Aaron and his sons laid their hands. In this case, the blood of the ram was placed “on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet” (Exodus 29:20 ESV). This sacrifice was unique to Aaron and his two sons. It was intended to set them apart for their service as priests. In this case, the blood was not for atonement but for sanctification. It consecrated them for their unique role as God’s mediators. Covered in oil and blood, the men were ready to serve the Lord.
Their lavish garments were now soaked with oil and stained with blood, and it was in this macabre state that they were able to enter into God’s presence. When Aaron and his sons made their way into the Tabernacle for the first time, they did so by virtue of the blood. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Moses was required to shed innocent blood so that his brother Aaron might receive atonement. He had to take life so that the lives of his brother and nephews might be spared and so that they might serve the spiritual needs of the people.
Jesus did the same thing for us when He gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. The entire Tabernacle and the rites and rituals surrounding it point to Christ. Once again, the author of Hebrews makes the connection between the two.
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. – Hebrews 13:11-12 ESV
Aaron and his sons were now ready to enter into God’s presence. But this elaborate ritual would have to be repeated over and over again before they could serve in God’s house. As sinners, they remained unfit for service without the blood sacrifice and the purification process that accompanied it. This entire ceremony was meant to communicate the holiness of God and the sinfulness of men. The blood was representative of man’s guilt and condemnation. But it also stood for God’s willingness to provide substitutionary atonement for the debt men owed. He had a plan for dealing with the problem and it involved the sacrifice of another. And as the apostle points out, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.