Proper Priestly Protocol

 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. 10 And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. 11 Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. 12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 13 Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.

14 “And this is the law of the grain offering. The sons of Aaron shall offer it before the Lord in front of the altar. 15 And one shall take from it a handful of the fine flour of the grain offering and its oil and all the frankincense that is on the grain offering and burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 16 And the rest of it Aaron and his sons shall eat. It shall be eaten unleavened in a holy place. In the court of the tent of meeting they shall eat it. 17 It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of my food offerings. It is a thing most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. 18 Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as decreed forever throughout your generations, from the Lord’s food offerings. Whatever touches them shall become holy.”

19 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 20 “This is the offering that Aaron and his sons shall offer to the Lord on the day when he is anointed: a tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning and half in the evening. 21 It shall be made with oil on a griddle. You shall bring it well mixed, in baked pieces like a grain offering, and offer it for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 22 The priest from among Aaron’s sons, who is anointed to succeed him, shall offer it to the Lord as decreed forever. The whole of it shall be burned. 23 Every grain offering of a priest shall be wholly burned. It shall not be eaten.”

24 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 25 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. 26 The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. 27 Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place. 28 And the earthenware vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. But if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured and rinsed in water. 29 Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. 30 But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.” – Leviticus 6:8-30 ESV

At this point, God turns His attention to Aaron and his sons, focusing on their role as His priests and the mediators for the people of Israel. God outlines the five different offerings once again, but this time from the vantage point of the priestly family. These men had been given the weighty responsibility of making atonement for the sins of the people and God wanted them to take their role seriously. It was one thing for the sinner to offer the proper sacrifice for sin as ordained by God, but it would be of little value without a priest to perform the actual act of atonement. The sinner could bring the required sacrifice but only a priest was qualified to present the offering to God on the sinner’s behalf.

So, God provided Aaron and his sons with very specific instructions regarding the burnt offering, the grain offering, the ordination offering, and the sin offering. Each required a slightly different protocol that was to be observed down to the last detail. The priests were not allowed to improvise or alter the form of the sacrifice in any way.

Every morning, one of Aaron’s sons would put on his official robes, enter the Tabernacle compound and remove the ashes from the previous day’s sacrifices. These “holy” garments were required before he could approach God’s altar. Once the ashes were collected, he was to remove his sanctified garments and replace them with ordinary clothing so that he could leave the compound and place the ashes in a predesignated location that had been ceremonially cleansed and prepared for this purpose. In accomplishing this task, it was essential that the priest ensured that the fire never went out on the bronze altar.

“…the fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must never go out. Each morning the priest will add fresh wood to the fire and arrange the burnt offering on it.” – Leviticus 6:12 NLT

The ashes had to be removed but the embers were to be kept alive and additional wood was to be added in order to maintain a perpetual flame on the altar. As long as the Israelites were encamped and the Tabernacle was open for business, the flame on the bronze altar was to be constantly kindled and perpetually ready for sacrifices to be made. And it was the responsibility of the priests to keep the fire burning at all times.

In chapter 9, Moses records the inauguration of the sacrificial system, when Aaron and his sons offered a series of sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people. Once Aaron had completed the required offerings, officially opening the Tabernacle for business, God placed His seal of approval on the entire proceedings in a powerful and memorable way.

Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. – Leviticus 9:22-24 NLT

God created the initial fire that consumed those first offerings, and it was up to Aaron and his sons to preserve a remnant of those embers for perpetuity. The flame that God ignited was to never go out.

It was from this very same altar that the priests would remove coals to ignite the incense that was burned on the altar of incense. God was the source and sustainer of the purifying flame that made their sacrifices not only possible but effective. Even the grain offerings that were offered to God were a pleasing aroma to Him due to the flame that He Himself had initiated. And God graciously provided Aaron and his sons with a portion of the grain offering as payment for their services.

I have given it to the priests as their share of the special gifts presented to me. Like the sin offering and the guilt offering, it is most holy. Any of Aaron’s male descendants may eat from the special gifts presented to the Lord. This is their permanent right from generation to generation. – Leviticus 6:17-18 NLT

God provided all that the priests needed, from the robes they wore to the food they ate. They served on His behalf and, in return, He amply sustained and rewarded them for their faithful service.

God notes that if anyone or anything other than one of the priests came into contact with these sanctified offerings, they would be rendered holy. If a commoner happened to touch some of the grain offerings that had been reserved for the priests, he would be considered holy by virtue of transference and expected to maintain his purity in the same way as the priests.

“The layman who touched these most holy things became holy through the contact, so that henceforth he had to guard against defilement in the same manner as the sanctified priests.” – Keil and Delitzsch, Leviticus

It was essential that everything be done according to God’s exacting standards so that holiness might be maintained. Any variation from God’s script would result in the sacrifices being defiled and their atoning purpose thwarted.

Even Aaron and his sons, whom God had set apart for His service, were required to maintain their set-apart status by carefully following God’s commands. This included their twice-daily offering of two quarts of choice flour. These offerings were to be burned in their entirety on the altar as a form of worship to Yahweh. It was not only important that the priests served God on behalf of the people, but they were also to demonstrate their own reverence for God by offering these gifts as a pleasing aroma to Him. It was all to be consumed by fire and offered as a gift to God alone.

Holiness, humility, worship, and obedience. All of these things factored into the proper adherence to God’s sacrificial system. Everything had to be done according to God’s strict requirements and from a proper perspective. The right sacrifice offered in the wrong way or with improper motives would prove fruitless and counterproductive. Obedience was essential but so was obeisance. Seeking God’s forgiveness but without offering Him proper worship from a contrite and reverent heart was to risk incurring His wrath. Atonement was only possible if done in the right way and from a right heart.

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.

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