The Levitical Priesthood

Holiness, so it was pointed out, was one of the properties of the Levitical Priesthood. As was said, however, a distinction must be made between Aaron’s person as such and this person as vested with the office of priest. The character of Aaron’s holiness as priest was solely ceremonial, symbolical-typical. It was this as the office of high priest into which he was inducted through suitable ceremonial rites was symbolical. But Aaron was also commanded to bring himself forward as the living realization of the grace of God betokened by his office. This too was Aaron’s calling. It was the calling of the priesthood and in the final instance of the entire tribe of Levi. And, as was shown, for this calling Levi in his generations had also been spiritually qualified. Evidence was produced from Scripture that showed that during the Egyptian period, this tribe had undergone a remarkable, spiritual transformation, so that, when the time was at hand for the elevation of Aaron and his family to the sacerdotal office, this tribe was known in Israel as surpassing all the others as to its holy zeal for God’s house.

Let us now consider the remaining properties of the Aaronic priesthood, as set forth by Moses’ word to Korah and his company, on the occasion of the latter’s rebellion, “Tomorrow the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy; and whom he will make to draw near to him; and him whom he chooses will he make to draw near unto him” (Num. 16:5). There are in all four properties made mention of in this scripture, to wit, being the Lord’s (“the Lord will shew who is his”), being holy, being caused by the Lord to draw near to Him, and being the object of the Lord’s choice. Aaron was the possessor of these properties.

Aaron, being holy, was the chosen of the Lord. On this account he was the Lord’s. These two characteristics are essentially one. They can be distinguished between but are not to be separated. They stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect. For through the Lord’s choosing Aaron, He made him His own, took him to Himself, that he should exist for God. This the Lord had right to do, as Aaron was God’s property even apart from his election to the symbolical-typical high priestly office. He was this as he belonged to a people—the people of God—whom God had made His own through His choosing it from among all the nations of the earth. And this, too, was God’s right. For Israel was God’s property (not His people) even apart from its election on account of its belonging to a fullness—the fullness of the earth—that was the Lord’s creature and thus His exclusive possession—a creature therefore with whom God may do according to His good pleasure. Of this ground of His right to choose Israel, God made special mention shortly after the arrival of the people of Israel at Sinai. If Israel would obey God’s voice and keep His covenant, then it should be a peculiar treasure unto God above all people; for “all the earth is mine” (Ex. 19:5). So, as the people of Israel by reason of its election was God’s peculiar treasure among the nations, so the Aaronic family also by reason of its election was, as compared with the rest of the Israelitish families, God’s peculiar treasure in Israel. The reason why God chose this family is not that it by itself excelled the others in true goodness. The reason was solely God’s sovereign good pleasure. Hence, the thought conveyed by Moses’ word to the rebels, “Tomorrow the Lord will shew who is holy. . . .and him whom He chooses will He make to come near unto Him,”—is not that God chose Aaron on account of his being holy. The thought conveyed is that him whom the Lord chooses is holy by virtue of his being the Lord’s chosen. Now this choosing—the choosing of which the scripture under consideration makes mention—has reference in the first instance to Aaron and is therefore to be defined as God’s good pleasure to consecrate Aaron to the office of high priest through His cleansing him (symbolically) from all his sins and through His vesting him, Aaron with the garments of glory especially designed for the high priest. And it was through His so cleansing him that the Lord made him to draw near to Him, the Lord.

Such, then, were the properties possessed by God’s priest—possessed by the Aaronic family in distinction from all the other Israelites. Now this is precisely what Korah and his company denied. They insisted that “all the congregation are holy, every one of them”, that thus so far was Moses’s selection of Aaron for the office of priest from being the execution of a command of God that it was representative of a carnal lust of power. And apparently they had right on their side. For in the ages preceding all God’s people had done the work of a sacrificer. And on the occasion of the ratification of the covenant the Lord had said not merely to Aaron and his family but to the entire congregation, “Now therefore, if you 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 a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). It was without a doubt on the ground of this communication that Korah and his allies branded the Levitical priesthood an invention of Moses and thus an innovation unwilled by the Lord. But what these insurgents were willingly ignorant of is that as the people of Israel were God’s peculiar treasure among the nations, so Aaron (and his family) was God’s peculiar treasure in Israel and was thus in distinction from them all the Lord’s possession in a peculiar sense—in the sense that the right to draw peculiarly near to the Lord to make atonement for the sins of the people with the blood of his sacrifice, belonged only to him. So, what these rebels refused to consider is that the Israelitish people were holy not in themselves but only in Aaron and in Aaron as the appointed high priest of atonement, that thus it was only in him as their representative that they could tread the sacred precincts of God’s house, tread these precincts only as far as the door of this house.

But what real evidence was there that the aforesaid right was possessed by Aaron alone? The very act of Moses that had consisted in his vesting Aaron, through appropriate ceremonies, with the priestly office. However, to the rebels this action formed no evidence. Their contention was that Moses had acted on his own initiative, and thus not as under the necessity of a command of God. This was indeed the charge implicit in their hard speech. And a terrible charge it was. For it was equivalent to an outright denial of Moses’ calling. If the charge were true, Moses was an imposter and all the laws which he had promulgated had originated not in God’s but in his mind and had thus to be taken as the expression of the will of a mere man.

But how could they reasonably deny that Moses had been sent of the Lord? They could not. For the evidence that God was with him and that God was his dwelling place and that in this place he had learned God’s secrets had been so amazingly conclusive as to render any challenging of his divine sending and authority altogether irrational This being true, the uprising of Korah and his company must be construed as springing from sheer hatred of God, and of His sacred institutions and in particular of the vicarious atonement of Christ as prefigured by the office of high priest and the service that belonged to it. What therefore these rebels meant when they in their carnal rage protested that all the congregation was holy is that it was holy by itself and thus had no need of its being sprinkled with the blood of Aaron’s sacrifice.

But that the broader issue in this strife was not whether Aaron was the appointed priest of atonement but whether God had actually sent Moses, is plain from the following language which Moses spake to the congregation during the progress of the insurrection, “Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them by my own hand” (Num. 16:28). “Hereby ye shall know. . .” And they did know. . . . on the morrow. And Moses again in token that the Lord had sent him predicted the doing of God by which they knew “If these men,” said he, “die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me. But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain to them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord” (Num. 16:29, 30). And the earth did swallow them up, them and all their houses and all the men that pertained unto Korah and all their goods.

The Lord on this occasion also settled before the consciousness of His people Israel the matter of the calling of Aaron to the office of priest of atonement, thus also the matter of whether the congregation was holy as unsprinkled by the blood of this priest’s sacrifice. On the morrow and in response to the command of Moses, Aaron, together with two hundred and fifty men of the company of Korah appeared before the Lord, each supplied with a censor and a quantity of incense. Each man took his censor and, having put fire therein and laid thereon his incense, came and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Aaron and Moses. Then, simultaneously perhaps with the earth’s opening its mouth and swallowing up the rebels, fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense. But Aaron lived. Thus God had spoken. And this was His reply to their contention that all the people were holy in themselves and thus apart from the blood of the high priest’s sacrifice. For it is to be considered that the incense of the men of Korah’s company had been inflamed by strange fire, and not by the fire taken from the altar of God’s priest, thus not by virtue of the blood of this priest’s sacrifice. This incense therefore, in its state of consumption, was impure, as are the prayers and all the issues of the life—issues of which this incense was the symbol—unsanctified by the blood of Christ’s blood.

With the rebels destroyed, God once again spake. In obedience to God’s instruction, Moses laid up twelve rods before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. Each rod represented one of the tribes and bore the name of the tribe it represented. The rod of Levi with the name of Aaron carved upon it, was among them. “On the morrow the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” (Num. 17:8). The rods were brought out to all the children of Israel. They looked and were convinced, many of them in all likelihood against their will. And the murmurings ceased. Moses was thereupon commanded to bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels.

This blooming of Aaron’s rod and of his alone had a twofold signification. It denoted that Aaron’s was the right to tread the sacred precincts of God’s house and that this right was his alone.

Now this right accrued solely from God’s choosing him, thus from God’s good pleasure to consecrate him to the office of high priest through His rendering him symbolically sinless. And of this choosing and its purpose (Aaron’s symbolical cleansing and resultant holiness and Aaron’s being made to draw peculiarly near to the Lord through this cleansing) the budding rod was the token and the expression. So did the Lord actually show whom He chose, who was His and who was holy. And so, in the fullness of time would God again would show who was His, when He would send His Son, Christ Jesus, as prepared unto every good work. For the rod—Aaron’s rod—its buds and blossoms and almonds, in the last instance had reference to Christ, to the fruits of righteousness which He yielded: His consuming zeal of God’s house, His perfect obedience of which His suffering and dying for the sins of His people were the supreme expression. And as little as the buds and blossoms of Aaron’s rod—it was by itself but dry and lifeless wood—were of this rod, so little was Christ in His fruit-bearing the product of humanity. For the notice of Scripture is to the effect that he was a root out of a dry ground. And this ground is mankind, dry and lifeless and thus unfruitful on account of its being dead in sin. Christ was God’s Christ exclusively. His fruit was of God, of the Spirit that rested upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. Therefore was the fruit that He bore the certain indication that He was the chosen one of God, the Lord’s heritage, the holy son of God and thus the one who of all men was privileged to draw near to God. And draw near He did together with His people, chosen in Him unto life eternal before the foundation of the world, and therefore also crucified, buried and raised with Him and set in heaven together with Him, and blessed there with all spiritual blessings. Therefore does His life abound now in His people. And abiding in Him they bear much fruit. For without Him they can do nothing. And the blossoms that were made to appear on Aaron’s rod betoken also this fruit, betokens that this fruit is solely of Him and thus that also this people is chosen of God, His peculiar heritage among men, made by Christ kings and priests unto God and thus privileged to dwell with Christ in God’s house to everlastingly declare His praises and to be satisfied by His likeness.

Let us now have regard to the position that Aaron, in his capacity of high priest and in conjunction with his sacrifice occupied in the economy instrumentally introduced by Moses. Aaron in the aforesaid capacity was (symbolically) mediator of God and man, His people. The above observations have already suggested this. We are not unmindful of the fact that it is Moses whom the Scriptures set forth as the mediator of the Old Testament Dispensation. Yet Aaron, too, was Mediator. But there is a difference to be noticed here. Aaron was mediator as high priest of atonement; Moses chiefly as prophet of God. And as prophet he towers above all the prophets, Christ excepted. Such was the magnitude of the task which He was called to perform that he ranks not with Isaiah or any of the other prophets but with Christ. What was his task? The answer is found in Hebrews 3:1-5: “Wherefore holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and the High priest of our profession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses in as much as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house. . . . for ever house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken of after; but Christ was a son over his own house; whose house are we. . . .”

The Scripture asserts that Moses, as Christ, had a house, that of this house he was the builder and the faithful servant in it. Moses’ house was the Old Testament church, which he instrumentally built and set in order. This house, with its foundation, occupants, government, social and religious institutions, was the replica of a mass of legislation, which God, Israel’s supreme lawgiver, had imparted to Moses. Now whereas it was the execution by Moses of the instruction contained in this legislation that brought into being the Old Testament theocracy—the typical-symbolical house of God—this house is said to be of Moses and he is said to be its builder.

As may be expected therefore, the mode of God’s intercourse with Moses was unique. It was and had to be congruous with the magnitude of his, Moses, task. Moses knew God face to face, received from God

His revelations not in vision and by dream but by direct discourse. He talked with God as a man with a man. Accordingly, we read at Deut. 34:10, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses whom the Lord knew face to face.” And again in Num. 13:6-8, “And he said, Hear my words: If there be a prophet among you, I, the Lord, will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house. With him I will speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches, and the similitude of the Lord will he behold. . .”

As a prophet, Moses was raised to a vantage point of such heights that he beheld the doings of God concerning His people to the end of all time. The book of Deuteronomy contains a prediction of the exile of the church to Babylon, of its return to Canaan and of the ultimate dispersion of the Jews over the entire face of the earth. Besides, the prophetic discourses of Moses contain statements that are to be construed as directly predictive of the blessedness of the church in the state of glory. In the Scriptures Moses stands before us as the fountain and father of all the prophets and books of the Holy Scriptures. All the history, proverbs, prophesy and poetry of Israel is grounded upon his laws and exist in them.

However, if Moses was mediator as prophet, Aaron was mediator as the high priest of atonement. Now our word mediator appears in the New Testament Scriptures as the translation of the Greek word mecitees, the primary meaning of which is between. Hence in common language the word or name mediator is the signification of one who interposes between parties at variance for the purpose of reconciling them, so that, according to the common conception, to mediate is to interpose between two hostile parties as the equal friend of each, thus to act as a go-between, or to arbitrate as the prince that mediates between nations and prevents war and is thus the benefactor of both parties. But this certainly is not the signification of the word or name in the vocabulary of the Scriptures. God and His people are not to be conceived of as two parties originally at variance but now reconciled through the persistent efforts of a go-between. Such a conception is degrading to God. True it is, that this people by nature hate God and that He hates sin in them. But His mercy over them is from everlasting to everlasting. And even while they were yet sinners Christ died for them,—Christ, His only begotten Son, through whose cross He reconciled not Himself to them but them to Himself in His love wherewith He loved them everlastingly. This being true the above conception of mediatorship will not do when the reference is to the mediator of God and man. And such was Aaron symbolically. What were the characteristics of Aaron as Mediator? His being of God and man as God’s appointee, that is, His representing, as the gift of God’s love, men with God and God with men, or in the language of a scripture at Hebrews 5:1, his being taken from among men and ordained of God for men in things—Israel’s sins and their removal—pertaining to God, that he might offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. Such was his task, namely to make atonement for men in the presence chamber of God and to confer upon men in behalf of God God’s blessing. Such being the characteristics of the mediatorship of Aaron, this mediatorship was to the honor and praise of God.

However, the features of the mediator of God and men were but dimly visible in Aaron, and this for the following reason. Aaron was one; his sacrifice was another. In agreement herewith, the sins of men, God’s people, were laid, by imposition of hands, not upon Aaron but by Aaron upon the sacrificial victim. This victim and not Aaron, therefore, died for sin. And with its blood was the mercy seat sprinkled. Aaron further was not men’s true bread. The life that abounded in men dwelt not bodily in him. He was not men’s true vine and they his branches. Aaron as mediator of atonement was symbol, type. He was thus food for men’s soul’s indeed, but for the same reason that all the Scriptures are this. The Scriptures set forth the promise, Christ, the heavenly. So, to despise Aaron was to despise the very Word of God. It was thus to perish everlastingly. For Aaron was the mediator of atonement. One could not therefore reject him and have peace with God, as it was through God’s causing the speech that this symbol declared to dwell richly in the hearts of His people, that He justified them before their own consciousness.

Aaron then was but symbol. The true mediator of God and man is Christ. It is to Him that our attention must be directed, would we have understanding of the full significance of the mediatorship of the Mediator of God and man. Christ is the true Aaron. He was sacrifice and sacrificer. So, being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle—His very own nature in which He atoned the sins of His people, thus a tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building—neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:11, 12). However Christ’s mediatorship did not end when He had done obtaining legally redemption for His people. His task as Mediator included much more than His atoning His people’s sins on the cross. Firstly, that He, the glorified Savior, as the representative and agent of the Father, the Triune Jehovah, pour out upon His body, the church, His Spirit, and so cause His people to partake of the heavenly gifts that accrued from His sufferings and death and that now dwell bodily in Him, the base and channel of all grace; further, that He, by the power of His love preserve His people in this world for their heavenly inheritance and protect them against their enemies in the midst of which He reigns, as one having received all power in heaven and earth; thirdly, that He rules His people by His Spirit and His Word and lead them by His counsel to everlasting glory. Christ did and does all this.

But if the mediatorship of Christ is to stand out in our minds in its full significance and glory, we must have understanding of what Christ meant by language such as this, “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”

If Christ is the true vine then His followers must needs abide in Him, that is, remain in Him everlastingly. For, being the true vine, He is the seat and channel of their life. Such was the good pleasure of the Father, namely, that in Him should dwell and dwell everlastingly, the fullness bodily. And this fullness includes every heavenly blessing, all grace. And it dwells in Christ now and forever. For in Him His followers are enjoined to abide. Without Him they can do, will ever be able to do, nothing. Should they be, ever be, separated from Him, they would again stand before God in all their sins and instantaneously perish. For He is the true vine, true bread, the living water, the way the truth and the life, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, the hidden manna, the morning star, the tree of life. He is, in a word, all and everything for His people now and everlastingly. For in Him dwells all fullness.

However of this fullness not He but the Father is the creative fountain. From Him, that is, from His will (not from His being) it flows, a river of grace, first into Christ and from Christ into His people. And this people by the mercy of God, abide in Christ; and Christ abides in the Father. This was the truth to which Christ gave expression when He prayed, “That they may all be one; as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one. . .”

So is then Christ the mediator of God and men. In Him God reconciled His people to Himself. In Him they have redemption. The heavenly gifts that He merited they receive from God only through Him. Through Him is their fellowship with God. In His face do they see God and see Him as He is. He is the likeness of God by which they are everlastingly satisfied.

The mediatorship of Christ is thus eternal. It will not have served out its purpose when the church will have appeared with Him in glory. For Christ obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, a covenant that is eternal (Heb. 8). Hence, He must abide as Mediator. The more excellent ministry which He obtained He will forever retain. He will abide then as the true bread of His people and everlastingly feed them. Never will He be separated from His people, for then His body were without a head and the church of God without a cornerstone.

In the light of the above observations, it is plain that Christ is Mediator according to His threefold office of priest, prophet and king, and thus also according to all His works. He is thus not Mediator and but as priest, prophet, king, the way, truth and the life, the resurrection, the true bread, the living water. It means that as Mediator He is the fulfillment of the whole law, the body of every shadow, thus of Moses and Aaron alike.

In the first paradise there was not the Mediator of God and man. There was no need. Created in the image of God, Adam was righteous initially in the way of his own obedience. God was His life immediately and directly, so to say. Ill-deserving, man was not. Guilt he did not have. Of salvation he had no need. But if this state continued, man would never experience the power of God’s redeeming grace, and thus see God as He is, and seeing say to his soul, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: ….who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” Therefore before the foundation of the world, God was choosing the Mediator and in Him His people that the latter should be holy and without blame before God. For God wanted with Him in His sanctuary a people who should see Him in the face of Christ and thus see Him as He is that they might give Him greater glory. And such a people God now possesses—a people redeemed from sin and curse and hell, a people who find themselves in the embrace of a God—the God and Father of Christ—Who took them to His heart in Christ, Who cleansed them from all their sins in Christ’s blood and Who gave them all things with Christ. And they bless His name according as they see Him. And they see Him as He is, for they see Him in Christ’s face.