In the articles appearing under the above caption, I am addressed to the task of setting forth the place which the Levitical priest occupied in the scheme of things that formed the symbolical-typical apparatus of the Old Testament dispensation. As has already been said, the book of Genesis and the first twenty-seven chapters of the book of Exodus make no mention of a priesthood in the line of Seth (the third from Adam) and of Abraham, that is, make no mention of a class of individuals vested with the office of priesthood as an exclusive prerogative, thus a class of persons whose exclusive right it was to perform the duties that belonged to this office. The reason is, as was made plain, that this holding the office of priests as an exclusive prerogative was, according to the will of God, to be characteristic of the Levitical priesthood.
Let us now direct our attention to this priesthood. The question first in order is: What distinguished the priest (priests) from all the other Israelites, from the nation at large? We learn this from the description of Moses on the occasion of Korah’s rebellion, “And he spake unto Korah, and unto all his company, saying, Tomorrow the Lord will show who is His, and who is holy. . . .” We must notice the connection in which this stands. Moses had selected Aaron and his sons for the office of priesthood. This selection had implied the rejection of all the others. It was thus a declaration to the effect that of all the members of the theocracy Aaron only was qualified. But was this true? Had the Lord so said? Had the selection of Aaron actually been the execution of a command of God? Had He so dictated? This Korah and his company denied. They took the stand that they had been unlawfully deprived of their right, and that the impulse under which Moses had acted was not loving obedience to a command of God but carnal lust of power. This is evident from their speech. They say to Moses, “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” Apparently they had right upon their side. Seemingly they speak because the interests of God’s people lie close to their heart. Had not in the ages preceding all the people of God been doing the work of a sacrificer? Had not the Lord said, years previous, when they were first come to the desert of Sinai, and before the vesting– of the priesthood in the persons of Aaron and his sons,—had the Lord not said to them then, on the occasion of the ratification of the covenant, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). How plain, in the light of this word, that the Levitical priesthood is an invention of Moses, an innovation unwilled by the Lord. So they reasoned. When Moses heard, he fell upon his face. And his full reply to Korah reads, “Tomorrow the Lord will show who is His, and who is holy; and whom He makes to draw near to Him; and him whom He chooses will He make to draw near to Himself” (Num. 16:5). The Lord will show who of all the people of Israel possesses holiness and is thus fit to serve God’s altar. And the choice again fell upon Aaron.
Holiness, then, was the property of God’s priests, of Aaron. But if the whole congregation was holy, how could Aaron and his sons (the priesthood) be said to alone possess this property? What was meant, certainly, is that they were holy in a peculiar symbolical sense. This raises the question, What was their symbolical holiness? It was the symbolical holiness of their priestly clothing, of their anointing, and of the blood of the offering, the sacrifice of which belonged to the rites of the consecration of their persons to their office.
Let us then attend firstly to the priestly garments, the instruction for the making of which is contained in Ex. 28. To these garments belonged: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle (Ex. 28:4). The different portions of this dress are fully described in the sequence. The first part mentioned is the ephod. It is the part of the official dress of the high priest. It was made of blue, of purple, and of scarlet yarn, and fine twined linen, worked throughout with gold thread. In all likelihood it consisted of two pieces, one hanging over the breast and the other over the back, and connected together over the shoulders. Its principal feature was its serving to bear the breastplate.
Upon the shoulder pieces of the ephod two precious stones were placed, one upon each shoulder; and these were engraved with the names of the children of Israel, each with six names “according to their generations,” that is, according to their respective ages, so that the names of the six elder sons were engraved upon the precious stones on the right shoulder, and those of the six younger sons upon that of the left. The stones were fixed in golden settings, surrounded by golden braids. Their names were for a “memorial unto the children of Israel:” “before the Lord upon Aaron’s two shoulders. . . .” (28:6, 7, 9-12).
The second part mentioned is the girdle or belt for the waist. It, too, was made of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine linen. By it the ephod, whose pieces were attached to it at their extremities, was fastened tightly to the body.
The part mentioned next is the breastplate, a woven fabric of the same material and the same kind of work as the ephod, and of the length and breadth of half a cubit (nine inches). The woven cloth was laid together double. In it were set four rows of precious stones. The stones were the following: the first or upper row, odem, our cornelian, of a blood-red color; pitdah, topaz, golden yellow; bareketh, literally the shining, the emerald of a brilliant green. In the second row, nophek, carbuncle, red; sappir, the sapphire, of a sky-blue color; jahalom, according to some, the diamond, according to others, the onyx. In the third row, leshem, a figure, pale, variegated; shevo, a composite stone, glistening, variegated; achlamah, amethyst, violet color. In the fourth row, tarshish, chrysolite, according to some, a brilliant stone of a golden color; shoham, beryl; jaseph, jasper. These stones were set in golden enclosings or capsules, and upon them were written the names of the sons of Israel. The upper end of the breastplate was provided with two golden rings, and likewise its lower end. Two rings of gold were made upon the shoulder pieces of the ephod and likewise upon the ephod where it joined the girdle. By two close-corded chains of pure gold attached to the upper, and by threads of blue yarn attached to the lower rings, the breastplate was binded to the ephod (28:15-28). “And Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in into the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually” (28:29).
Into the breastplate Moses put the Urim and the Thummim; that they might “be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord:” The question what the Urim and the Thummim were and the related question what the object of them was, will be taken up and answered when we inquire into the symbolical-typical significance of the parts of the priestly dress and of the rites of consecration.
The third part of Aaron’s official dress was the robe, Hebrew, Meil meaning covering. It was made for and belonged to the ephod, “And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod. . . .” It was a long, closely-fitting coat of blue, that reached to the knees. In the middle of it there was an opening to put the head through when it was put on. In order that it might not be torn when put on, there was a hem around the opening for the head “the work of a weaver”; from which it follows that the robe was woven in one piece, and was not formed of several pieces sewed together. On the lower edge there were pomegranates (the fruit of the tree of the myrtle family, resembling an orange in size and color), made of twisted yarn of blue and red and scarlet, and little golden bells between them round about,” a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.” When Aaron performed the duties of his office, he put on this robe, “that his sound might be heard when he went into the holy place before the Lord, and when he came out, and that he might not die.”
The fourth article of the high priest’s dress was the plate of gold called crown of gold in chapter 29:30, and upon which were engraved the words, “holiness to Jehovah.” By means of a ribbon of blue fastened to it, it attached to the front of the brilliant white headdress of the high priest,—a dress that, judging from the name it bears in the Hebrew text (miznephet from zanaph to twist) was wrapped in folds about the priest’s head and thus had the form of a turban. The one thing about this dress that had special significance was the golden plate. When the high priest wore this dress, this plate was above his forehead, that he “might bear the sin of the holy things, which the children of Israel sanctified, with respect to all their holy gifts. . . as an acceptableness for them before Jehovah” (28:38).
In addition to the parts mentioned and described, the dress of the high priest included a body coat, a girdle and under-drawers. The body coat was a plain cloth of white linen. From the circumstance of its being called weavers’ work, in chapter 39:27, it follows that it was whole throughout, without seam, like the robe of Christ. This coat was worn close to the body next to the drawers. How far down it reached is not stated. In all likelihood it reached to the ankles. The girdle was of variegated work, that is, it was made of yarn, and of the same four colors as the other holy things. The short drawers, reaching from the hips to the thighs, served “to cover the flesh of the nakedness.”
The official dress of the common priests consisted of the same parts as the custom of the high priest with the exception, of course, of the crown of gold and the ephod with its breastplate and the Urim and Thummim.
Now the holiness of the priest was in the first instance symbolical-typical and was thus the holiness of their priestly dress, but not only of this dress but also of the special consecration for the performance of the duties of their office. The rites of this consecration are prescribed in Ex. 29, and carried out in Lev. 8.
Moses, in obedience to the Lord’s command, goes to the tabernacle, taking with him Aaron and his sons, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and a bullock for the sin-offering, and two rams and a basket of unleavened bread for the other offerings. He gathers “the whole congregation”—that is, the nation in the person of their elders—there also. According to Ex. 29, the basket of unleavened bread contained, besides this bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened flat-cakes covered with oil. Bringing Aaron and his sons, Moses washes them with water. Now follows the clothing of Aaron. Moses puts upon him the body-coat and the girdle, then the robe of the ephod, next the ephod, and the breastplate with the Urim and the Thummim, and finally the cap upon his head, with the golden crown over his forehead. This is followed by the anointing, which is performed first upon the tabernacle and its furniture; then upon the altar of burnt-offering with its utensils and upon the laver and its foot; and after this upon Aaron by the pouring of the holy oil upon his head. Moses now robes and anoints Aaron’s sons. The clothing and anointing of Aaron and his sons “shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations” (Ex. 40:15), that is, the anointing secures to them the priesthood for all ages. The holy garments of Aaron are to be his successors after him to be anointed and consecrated in them.
The consecration is concluded with a sacrificial ceremony that consists of a threefold sacrifice. Moses causes a bullock to be brought before the tabernacle for a sin-offering in behalf of Aaron and his sons. Hence, they lay upon the victim their hands, transfer, by this action their guilt from themselves to their innocent substitute. Moses now kills the victim before the Lord, by the door of the tabernacle. Taking the blood, he puts it upon the horns of the altar with his finger, and pours all the blood beside the bottom of the altar. As a result of this action, the blood is in Jehovah’s presence before His face; and its presence there bespeaks its acceptance by Him as a covering of Aaron’s sins. Moses now takes all the fat that covered the inwards of the victim, and the caul that is above the liver, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, and burns them upon the altar. These choice parts, representative, as they are, of the life of the victim in its greater health and vigor, are, in their state of burning, to be regarded as symbolical of the holy zeal of God’s house by which Christ was consumed while expiating the sins of His people. In the final instance, therefore, these parts, in their state of burning, betoken the zeal of all God’s believing people and in particular that of Aaron, who, in Scripture, (Ps. 105) bears the title “the saint of God.” The flesh of the bullock, and its skin, and its dung, Moses burns with fire outside the camp. This action betokens that Aaron’s guilt and that of his sons, having been atoned, is gone, so that, on account of their being covered by the blood of their innocent substitute, they are free from the obligation of dying a sudden and untimely physical death and have right of excess to Jehovah’s presence.
Moses now brings a burnt-offering to the Lord in behalf of Aaron and his sons. He causes to be brought before the tabernacle a ram. Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon its head. The victim is slain. Its blood is sprinkled round about upon the altar. As these actions have just been explained, and fully explained in previous articles, nothing more need be said of them here.
Having slain the ram, and sprinkled its blood round about upon the altar, Moses cuts it in pieces, washes its inward parts and legs, fits all the parts, including the head, together, and burns the whole upon the altar. It is a burnt-offering unto the Lord: a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the Lord,” and therefore the whole dead body of the victim—even its head, legs, and inwards—are burnt on the altar and thus ascends in fire to the Lord. This laying of the whole on God’s altar or table and the ascending of the whole in fires to God, forms a certain and undoubted testimony that the sacrifice is accepted, that thus sins, in this case Aaron’s and his sons, have been (symbolically) atoned, and that therefore iniquity is no longer being imputed.
There are still two other offerings which Moses, in response to the command of God, brings in behalf of Aaron and his sons, to wit, the peace and the meat offering. Moses takes another ram. Upon the head of this victim also Aaron and his sons put their hands. The victim is now kitted. Moses takes of its blood and puts it upon the tip of Aaron’s right ear, and upon the tip of the right ear of his sons, and upon the thumb of their right hand, and upon the toe of their right foot, and sprinkles it upon the altar round about. He now sprinkles of this blood and of the anointing oil upon Aaron and his sons and upon their garments. ‘‘And he shall be hallowed, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons’ garments with him” (29:21). It is, first of all in this action with the blood that the offering here described differs from the ordinary peace-offerings.
The action with the flesh of this sacrifice is also peculiar and significant. Moses takes the choice portions of the carcass, and the right shoulder, and lays by three another cake of each of the three kinds of pastry, and puts all in the hands of Aaron and in the hands of his sons, and waves them for a wave-offering before Jehovah, after which he takes them out of their hands and burns them upon the altar for “a burnt-offering, for a sweet savor before the Lord.” Now follows the sacrificial meal, which forms the conclusion of this dedicatory offering.