8 The Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘Bring Aaron and his sons, their garments, the anointing oil, the bull for the sin offering, the two rams and the basket containing bread made without yeast, 3 and gather the entire assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting.’ 4 Moses did as the Lord commanded him, and the assembly gathered at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 5 Moses said to the assembly, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.’ 6 Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. 7 He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash round him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him. He also fastened the ephod with a decorative waistband, which he tied round him. 8 He placed the breastpiece on him and put the Urim and Thummim in the breastpiece. 9 Then he placed the turban on Aaron’s head and set the gold plate, the sacred emblem, on the front of it, as the Lord commanded Moses. 10 Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. 11 He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar seven times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin with its stand, to consecrate them. 12 He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. 13 Then he brought Aaron’s sons forward, put tunics on them, tied sashes round them and fastened caps on them, as the Lord commanded Moses.
Leviticus 9:1-7, 22-24
9 On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. 2 He said to Aaron, ‘Take a bull calf for your sin offering and a ram for your burnt offering, both without defect, and present them before the Lord. 3 Then say to the Israelites: “Take a male goat for a sin offering, a calf and a lamb – both a year old and without defect – for a burnt offering, 4 and an ox and a ram for a fellowship offering to sacrifice before the Lord, together with a grain offering mixed with olive oil. For today the Lord will appear to you.”’ 5 They took the things Moses commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the entire assembly came near and stood before the Lord. 6 Then Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.’ 7 Moses said to Aaron, ‘Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people; sacrifice the offering that is for the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord has commanded…22 Then Aaron lifted his hands towards the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down.23 Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down.
10 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘“Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.”’Aaron remained silent.
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
Since the Garden of Eden, humanity’s greatest privilege has been to come close to God and enjoy fellowship with him (Genesis 3:8). But God has been out of reach since Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of his presence (Genesis 3:23-24). God acted to bring people back into his presence. He rescued his people from Egypt (Exodus 3, 12-14) and came to live among them in the tabernacle tent – dwelling place – at the heart of their camp (Exodus 40:34-35).
This tent became the place of meeting between God and his people when the God-appointed High priest offered sacrifices and entered the tent (9:22-23). He came as the people’s representative, and the LORD accepted both the sacrifice and the people and showed them his glory, provoking wonder and humility (9:24). However, the disobedience of the priestly family led to God’s glory also being seen in judgement (10:3). While the LORD remained with his people - and they could approach him – the relationship became unstable. It depended on human respect and obedience for God’s holiness. Eventually the LORD’s glory left his people because of their sinfulness (Ezekiel 8-11) and did not return.
But Jesus came as the better mediator between God and human beings. He is a perfect High Priest who never sinned (Hebrews 4:14-16) and lives permanently in God’s heavenly presence. He constantly intercedes for us so that we can approach God with our prayers and cries for mercy confident we will be accepted and sure our relationship with God is secure (Hebrews 7:24-25). God shows us his glory through him (John 1:14). We experience his glorious presence now by the Spirit who keeps our spiritual gaze on Jesus so that we respond with humble joy. While the church is now God’s priesthood, our ‘sacrifices’ of service and praise are accepted because of our High Priest Jesus (1 Peter 2:5). We will experience his glory face to face at Jesus’ return, or, if we reject the gospel about Jesus, we will be judged (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).
Note on key themes of the book
The book of Leviticus is the 3rd book in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). Together, these books cover the story of creation through to the entry of God’s Israelite people into the promised land.
Leviticus is concerned with answering the question at the heart of the story of the Pentateuch (and the Bible!): how can sinful people come close to, and live with, a Holy God? Or, in the language of Leviticus, how does the Tabernacle where God dwells become the Tent of Meeting between him and his people?
The answer is through the sacrifice God provides (ch1-7), offered by the priests God appoints (ch8-10) and through cleansing from the pollution of impurity and sin (ch11-15). These three come together decisively on the most important day of the Israelite calendar – the day of atonement (ch16). On this day the high priest entered the Holy of Holies through sacrifice. He came into God’s presence to purify God’s place and people so that the people and God could be with one another.
Notes on the immediate context of the passage
Ch 8-10 follows after ch 6:8-7:38, which describes how the priests are to carry out each of the five types of sacrifice which enable the people to come and remain close to God at the Tent of Meeting. Ch 8 logically follows by narrating the 7 day ordination of Aaron and his Sons as priests, with a focus on the 1st day. Ch 9 describes the 8th day and its dramatic culmination with Aaron and Moses entry into the Tabernacle and the appearance of the LORD’s glory. Ch10 describes an immediate act of dismissive disobedience by some of the priests which leads to God’s glory being displayed in judgement. This new crisis leads into the commands of chapters 11-16 on how a people tainted by God-dishonouring sin can stay in the presence of the Holy God without dying.
Structure of the passage
This week’s sermon focuses on the passages above as they draw out the distinct role of the priesthood in bringing a sinful people close to a Holy God. The other sections of ch8-10 describe the details of how the sacrifices were performed during the ordination service. We will not be preaching on these verses explicitly as a) last week’s sermon focused on the sacrifices and b) Ch9:1-7 & 9:22-10:3 sufficiently illuminate the purpose of these sacrifices.
We need a mediator. A high priest representative who can bring us close to God. Why? So…
We can be accepted by God (8:1-13)
V1-4 introduce us to a big ceremony with lots of strange objects and interesting people. The ordination ceremony of the priests. But this special ceremony has a special meaning – the people will be accepted by God. The High Priest and his sons are being made mediators between God and the people (v4-5). God will make the High priest holy by cleansing him of sin (v6) and anointing him as his own (v10-13). This means the mediators will be accepted by God and can come into his presence. They will wear clothes that show they represent the people when they go into God’s presence (see Exodus 28). The people and their offerings will be continually accepted by God because the accepted mediator will represent them (Exodus 28:36-38). Jesus is our holy and accepted mediator who constantly lives in the presence of God (Hebrews 7:23-25). He applies his sacrifice to our daily failings, he prays on our behalf so that the LORD gives us the grace we need. He brings our spiritual sacrifices, our attempts to serve God, to God (1 Peter 2:5) and they are accepted through him. Because he is accepted by God we are accepted by God each and every day.
We can be in the presence of God (9:1-7, 22-24)
On the 8th day of the ordination ceremony, the priests and the people were told to offer sacrifices so that the LORD would appear to them (v4, 6). When the sacrifices are made, Aaron and Moses finally enter the place of God’s presence (v22-23). The LORD then shows the people his glory, revealing that he forgives them by consuming the sacrifice (v24). The people respond with joy and humble respect (v24). Experiencing the personal God’s glorious presence always involves joy at forgiveness and humility before his greatness. That experience of his presence starts when we look to our mediator Jesus, who sacrificed himself on our behalf. He is God’s glory (John 1:14) and we truly enjoy God’s presence as we connect what he did at the cross to our experience.
We can be secure with God. (10:1-3)
Triumph quickly turns to tragedy as the disobedience of Nadab and Abihu (v1-2) brings insecurity into the people’s relationship with God. Before God appeared to consume the offering, not he consumes them. Before the people shouted for joy, now there is silence. God is totally deserving of absolute honour. If people will not honour him and so experience his glory, he will show his glory by destroying them (v3). The closeness the Israelites have with God is not shaky, with the possibility of death rather than joy close at hand (see 10:6-8). This crisis on insecurity is not resolved for them until Leviticus 16 and the day of atonement. It is resolved for us because we have an obedient mediator, Jesus. He responded with obedience in every situation and so is perfectly obedient (Hebrews 5:7-9). We can depend on his obedience for closeness with God, but not on anyone else’s. If we do not depend on Jesus, we will only experience God’s glory in judgement and will be cut off from enjoying his wonderful presence when Jesus returns (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).
Suggestions for any tricky bits/questions?
What do weird ceremonies and strange clothes possibly have to do with us and our relationship with God?
We recognise that ceremonies and clothes are meaningful because they represent something meaningful. The flags, pictures of the Queen and golden chain on officials at a Citizenship ceremony mean that the people present are going to be accepted as citizens. The oil, bathing and special clothes of the priests in Ch8 meant that the people present were going to be accepted by God. Because the Priests were made holy (v10-13) they were accepted by God. Because they were accepted by God the people they represented were acceptable to God (see Exodus 28:26-38). In the same way, Jesus is the holy mediator who constantly lives in the presence of God. His prays for us and applies his sacrifice to our daily failures and weaknesses so that we, and all we do, are accepted by God.
If his death paid for my sins once and for all, why do I still need someone mediating for me?
See the answer above! We can often feel like we’re not very good Christians. We can find our daily failures and mixed motivations leave us with a sense of distance from God. But Jesus isn’t just someone who sacrificed himself for us in the past, he is someone alive and active right now for us – always praying for us, always bringing our needs to the Father’s attention, always asking we be forgiven our current sins on the basis of his past sacrifice and obedience. Our attempts to serve God, full of mixed motives though they are, are accepted by God because Jesus presents them to him. God accepts us and has goodwill towards us because of Jesus our constant mediator (Hebrews 7:23-25, 5:7-9, 1 Peter 2:5).
Surely I have access to God any time as a Christian?
You do, but not on your own. You have access through your great High Priest, Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16). There is no such thing as ‘just me and God’ in the Christian life.
Don’t we experience God’s glory in nature etc.?
We see reflections of God’s glory and nature in the natural world. (Psalms 8, 19, Romans 1:20). But we only experience the personal God personally as he brings us to know the joy of forgiveness and humility before him (Leviticus 9:24). We experience God’s glorious presence as we reflect on and believe in Jesus, who is himself God’s glory (John 1:14), and who shows us God’s glory through his own sacrificial death (John 17:1).
How can I really be sure I’m authentically experiencing God’s presence?
An authentic experience of God’s glorious presence will be centred on Jesus and his death on the cross (see above). It will involve us finding joy in forgiveness and finding ourselves humbled before God’s mighty goodness (Leviticus 9:24). We can experience this whatever our circumstance, and whether we are otherwise happy or deeply sad and distressed. It is not dependent on ourselves or our mood.
They ‘saw’ God’s glorious presence. Surely what we experience is ‘2nd best’?
The opposite is true! The Israelites of Moses’ day saw the LORD’s glory in the fire coming from above the altar. This revealed his forgiveness and his power, but not much of his heart or character. We experience God’s presence through faith in Jesus, a human being whose character and concerns are on full display in the pages of scripture. Furthermore, their experience of God was like our experience of the rays of the sun - they carry warmth and light but they are not the sun itself. But Jesus has all the fullness of God dwelling in him (Colossians 1:19). He is not just a beam of God’s glory, but God himself.
Isn’t it wrong that God would destroy people for disobedience? Seems like a massive overreaction.
It would be if God was anyone but God. But he is God. He is Holy, completely different from us in every way and deserving of utter respect and obedience. That is the point that Moses makes in 10:3. Our disobedience also deserves death and we will be cut off from his presence forever unless we trust in Jesus, the obedient mediator (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).
Summary of author’s main point
You will only enjoy my glorious presence through the mediation of obedient and holy priests.
Purpose for original audience
Keep coming close to the Holy God’s glory through the priests who represent you; ensure they honour his holiness by obedience.
Purpose for us today
Know that we experience God’s glorious presence through our mediator Jesus: depend on him for acceptance and security with God.
Key areas of application to individual Christians:
Sometimes we feel like we’re bad Christians. We feel like all our efforts for God are tied up with wrong motivations and we feel distant from him. Remember that Jesus is representing us now in God’s presence: he is praying for us, he is applying his sacrifice to our failures, ensuring the Father will give us grace in time of need. Because he is accepted by God right now, we are accepted by God right now.
We can look to experience God’s presence in all sorts of places, hunting for a deeper spirituality. But Jesus is God’s glory and it is his sacrificial death that will prompt joyful thanks and humble respect towards God. Come to Summerlink and connect the cross to your experience. Read the Bible and ask: what does this show me about Jesus that makes me thankful? What does this show me about Jesus that humbles me?
Don’t let your sense of closeness to God depend on an admired Christian leader or close Christian friend. They will let you down and that could shake you. Depend on Jesus’ obedience for your secure closeness with God.
Key areas of application to sceptics & explorers:
We think there are many ways to God. But we can only be accepted if we come his way. And only a holy mediator can come that way. We need Jesus so we can be accepted by God.
We can experience aspects of God in nature etc. But we can only experience the presence of the personal God when we turn our attention to God’s glory, Jesus.
We are disobedient and God will judge us if we don’t depend on our obedient mediator, Jesus.