Holiness, as was brought out (in previous articles) was one of the properties of the Levitical priesthood—of Aaron in particular, of his family of priest, and, in the final instance of the tribe of Levi, selected by the Lord to perform the service at the tabernacle. However, a distinction must be made here between Aaron in his capacity of priest and Aaron’s person as such. The character of Aaron’s holiness as priest was solely ceremonial, symbolical-typical. It was this as the office of priest with which he was vested, was solely symbolical-typical. The truth of this statement is born out by the how of God’s sanctifying him, that is, of His separating him from the common sphere and of His dedicating him to His, God’s service, and to Himself. The Lord sanctified Aaron through His washing him through the agency of Moses, with water, through His anointing him with the oil of consecration, through his sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice and of the anointing oil upon Aaron and his garments, through his preparing for him a body free from every physical blemish and deformity and endowed with natural strength, thus, in a word, through His rendering Aaron symbolically clean, pure and sinless. Aaron’s symbolical sinlessness was thus his cleansed body—cleansed in the holy water and in the blood of the animal that had symbolically atoned the guilt of all his sins through its suffering and dying. And Aaron was also commanded to be holy, to sanctify himself, which he did (symbolically) through his refraining from defiling himself for the dead among his brethren and from mutilating his body. In addition he was clothed with beautiful garments; and the beauty of these garments was the effulgence, the brightness, of his symbolical purity. There is then a close connection between holiness and purity.

But Aaron’s duty was not merely to sanctify himself symbolically, but also to bring himself forward as the living realization of the grace of God which he, in his capacity of symbolical priest; symbolized. His calling was also to be holy in the true sense. What is true holiness? True holiness must be looked for first in God. God is holy, that is, he is separated from the creature and thus also from sin and is wholly devoted to self. Being what He is, holy God, He sanctifies His people in Christ. He separates them from the terrene of sin, from the world that lieth in darkness and consecrates them wholly to Himself. This He does through His redeeming His people from all their sins in Christ and making them partakers of His divine nature. And He commands them that they sanctify themselves by His mercy, which they do through their mortifying their members which are on the earth.

Aaron was holy also in this true sense. He is called in Scripture the Saint of God. The priesthood and the whole tribe of Levi (as to its elect neucleus) was holy in this true sense. Fact is that in the years preceding its consecration to the service at the sanctuary, it had surpassed all the others in holy zeal for God’s covenant. Scripture makes special mention of this. At Mal. 2:1-7, the tribe of Levi is singled out as a family with whom was the covenant of God. The passage reads, “My covenant was with him (Levi) of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.” This is a remarkable testimony which the Lord here gives of Levi. A similar testimony is given of this tribe at Deut. 33:8-11, “And of Levi, he (Moses, engaged at the close of his career in blessing the twelve tribes) said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with the holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant. They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt-sacrifice upon thy altar. Bless, Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again.” That this blessing has reference not only to the priests but to the entire tribe is clear from the statement that “They shall teach Jacob thy judgments. . . The common Levites were also the teachers of the law in Israel.

Excellent things is here said of Levi. “Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with the holy one.” The holy one signifies not God but Levi. The word found in the original is grace (chesed). It is Levi who comes into view here as the participator in the grace of God. The address, uttered by Moses is directed to God, “Let O Lord thy Thummim and Thy Urim be with Levi, the gracious one.” The Urim and the Thummim were instruments through which the Lord gave guidance to His servants in times of stress. It was attached to the official dress of the high priest. Here in all likelihood the two words are used as common nouns and denote the knowledge of the law. The address continues, “Whom (namely, Levi) thou didst prove at Massah and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah. This is a historical reference to Israel’s tempting God at the two places mentioned—a tempting, recorded in Ex. 17 and Num. 22. The people of Israel, having journeyed from the wilderness of Zin, had pitched at Rephidim. There was no water there for the people to drink. And the people murmured against Moses and Moses cried unto the Lord. In obedience to the command of God, he smote the rock, and there came water out of it that the people might drink. And Moses called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the chiding of the people of Israel and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not. A similar uprising of the people is recorded in Num. 22. The people of Israel had come into the desert of Zin. And there was no water. Again the people uttered against Moses and Aaron a hard speech. The Lord, having heard, commanded Moses to speak to the rock in the eyes of the people, adding that it should give its water. Moses was furiously angry with the people. Instead of speaking to the rock, he in his great rage smote it, because he was unwilling at that moment to fetch them water out of it. Nevertheless the water came out abundantly. Thus he had believed not “the Lord to sanctify Him in the eyes of the people.” And then we read, “This is the water of Meribah (strife); because the children of Israel did strive with the Lord and He was sanctified in them.” There can be no doubt that both these strivings —the one at Rephidim and the other in the wilderness of Zin—are referred to, because in their connection they were adopted to denote the beginning and the end and therefore the whole of the murmurings of the children of Israel during the time of their residence in the wilderness. Now it is to these strivings that the clause, “with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah”—a clause contained in the above-cited blessing pronounced upon Levi—has reference. And the thought conveyed is that at Massah and Meribah, the Lord proved Levi (in his generation as narrowed down to Moses and Aaron) and strove with them,—strove with Moses in particular, because in his great anger—an anger that was kindled by the murmuring of the people of Israel—he had refused to fetch them water out of the rock. Now this anger of Aaron, Moses, (Levi) was sinful and is thus to be denounced. Yet there was also a bright side to it. It betokened the greatness of Moses’ (Levi’s) zeal, did this anger, this passion of impatience. Levi (Moses and Aaron) could not endure that the people should rebel against God. Some prefer to understand the clause as referring to the people and thus read, “With whom, that is, with Moses and Aaron, thou, people of Israel, didst strive, quarrel, and whom thou didst prove, provoke to anger by thy murmurings.” But this construction is too arbitrary. It is with Aaron that God had a controversy. Now it is certain that the holy fire that flamed in Moses’ soul and in the soul of Aaron consumed the whole tribe of Levi. For the address continues, “Who, namely, Levi, in his generations, said unto his father and his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his children.” That this statement in its application must not be confined to a single individual is evident from this that the speaker in the sequence embraces the whole Levitical order, when he says, “They have observed (guarded) thy word, and kept thy covenant.” Levi denied the strongest natural ties when the interests of Jehovah were concerned. Levi then said to his father and his mother, “I have not seen him. . . .” Notable examples of Levi’s zeal here described, are found at Ex. 32:26 sq.; Num. 25:7 sq.; and Lev. 1:11. Let us attend briefly to each of these cases.

Moses was in the mountain with the Lord. The instructions he was being given concern the ark and the tabernacle and its service. While these instructions were being given, the people camped in the plain turned to the idol. Thus even while the Lord was instructing Moses to prepare for Him the things that were needful for His residence in their midst, they began to clamor for gods that were no gods. “Up, make us gods,” they say to Aaron. Aaron yields and soon the people are whirling in mad circles about a golden calf, as they shout, “these be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” And the proclamation of Aaron was that on the morrow there would be a feast unto the Lord. And on the morrow they rose up early, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. Thus the rites of the true religion were preserved. And they danced with Jehovah’s name upon their lips. For it was a feast unto the Lord! What mockery. A great sin was being committed. Jehovah had just taken the nation to Himself in the blood of the sacrifice. The covenant had just been ratified. The Lord sees and hears all. He tells Moses to get him down from the mountain. Arriving at the scene of their pagan feasting, he without a word lays hold on their idol, and burns it with fire. What is left he crushes between stones until it is fine dust. This dust he cast into the brook that flowed from the mountain, and bade the people to drink their god. And as to the people, instead of humbling themselves and repenting of their great sin, they so carried on, it must be that Moses perceived that they had no intention of again permitting themselves to be bound by the restraints of God’s law. There were signs of a general uprising on the part of the people. So it was again time for the sternest action. So taking his stand in the gate of the camp, Moses says, “Who is on the Lord’s side, come to me.” “And” so we read, “all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.” The rest refused to come. They were thus for the idol, against Jehovah. So they now openly declared through their not coming to Moses. But all the sons of Levi came. Turning now to these sons, Moses addressed them as follows, “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. Fill your hand today for Jehovah; for every one against his son and against his brother, and to bring a blessing upon you this day.” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of

Moses. A terrible retribution. Yes, but not more terrible than the sin by which it had been called forth. These sons of Levi loved Jehovah more than their own kin, more than their own lives. They were thus worthy of His mercy. They keep God’s covenant. Thus, quoting once more the blessing of Moses pronounced upon this tribe, “they shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thy altar.” So did the sons of Levi on that day bring upon them a blessing. And the Lord blessed Levi’s substance and the work of his hands.

Another case of Levi’s loyalty to Jehovah is found at Num. 25:6. While the people of Israel abode at Shittim, they committed whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against His people. Moses commanded the judges to slay every one of his men that were joined unto Baal-peor. And the people of Israel wept before the door of the tabernacle. And while they wept, one Israelitish man was so bold as to bring in the sight of the whole congregation and in the sight of Moses a Midianitish woman into the camp. It was Phineas, the grandson of Aaron, who, seeing it, rose up and went after the man into his tent and slew both the man and the woman.

In the light of these events, it is plain that a great change must have taken place in Levi during the sojourn of the people of Israel in Egypt. For during the patriarchal period, Levi was possessed of a wholly different spirit. But during the Egyptian period, this tribe must have been raised around Aaron to a high spiritual plain.

The statement was just made that Levi, and we now speak of the father of the tribe, was possessed of a wholly different spirit during the patriarchal age. In the words of the dying prophet (Jacob), Simeon and Levi were brethren; instruments of cruelty were in their habitations. He bids his soul to come not in their secret, for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall. He curses their anger (but not Levi), for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel.

The utterance has reference to the treachery of Levi (and Simeon), which he perpetrated against the Shechemites. The wrath which had led to the slaughter of these men, was carnal. It was not, as to its essence, love of God’s covenant but family pride, as is evident from what they said in defense of their atrocious deed. “Shall he deal with our sister as with a harlot?” Yet, it was through this wrath of Levi that the Lord at that juncture of sacred history preserved His covenant. For the proposal of Shechem was to the effect that the tribe which he represented and the family of Jacob be one. Had this proposal been accepted, the promise could not have been fulfilled,—the promise, “unto thee and unto thy seed will I give this land. . .”

Thus it appears that through the years preceding the actual elevation of Levi to the position of priestly tribe, the Lord was spiritually qualifying this tribe for this position. At the time of this elevation, which took place after the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and at Sinai, Levi was known among the tribes as excelling in holy zeal. And so it had to be in order that the service of God might be rightly esteemed.