This portion is titled Tetzavveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10), meaning “command.” As usual, there’s a lot I want to comment on, but I’m going to focus on the process of Aaronic dedication.
In my post, The mystery of the uncut stones, I wrote about how a relatively obscure commandment on building altars to God out of whole stones actually helps us connect to wider truths and contexts in Scripture, because a physical action or object given in the law is often a means of opening up a greater vision and understanding of spiritual things. The rite of Aaronic consecration is no different.
It reveals a God of order, who requires His servants to go through a logical, step-by-step process by which they become acceptable vessels of service; a God of all-encompassing intent and foresight, who vested His ritual instructions with layers of meaning that would echo into the future with an undiminished ability to communicate, illustrate and educate; a God of consistency and absolute reality, who grounds human beings in the truth through the concrete media of visual, tactile worship… who helps us apprehend the heavenly by rooting us in the earthly because He made us, and He knows how we tick.
Consequently when you look at the rite of Aaronic dedication, you see an absolute sequence of events that applies to all believers, its meaning fleshed out in the powerful symbolism of the actions involved. … And before I go on, I’d like to clarify that when I say “symbolic”, I don’t mean it in a primary or exclusive sense. In my opinion, many people make the mistake of saying that the law of Moses was largely symbolic (excluding the moral/ethical parts, that is) – they say that the law pointed toward Christ and was used to illustrate the fact that it’s impossible for anyone to fulfill the law perfectly, and that we need the blood of a Saviour to atone for our sins. And while I do believe this to be true, I don’t believe that this was all there was to it.
I think the law of Moses was not merely symbolic, but sacramental. A thing that’s symbolic points to something else, a reality not yet realised or a truth bigger than the symbol itself. But a thing that’s sacramental brings that reality near: it’s more than symbolic – it allows the person to partake of the truth that’s represented by the sacrament in a very real way… a way that causes spiritual power to be transmitted to actually affect/alter the material world. This is why baptism and Communion are so powerful – they aren’t just symbols of the Christian faith, they’re sacraments: means by which the spiritual truths of the faith become actual reality for the believer (see, for example, this testimony of what happened at my baptism).
In the same way, I believe that the Mosaic rituals and ceremonies weren’t merely illustrative, but pragmatic. If you think about the fact that God was birthing a people for Himself at Sinai and giving them a comprehensive, theocratic covenant that would dictate everything about how they dressed, lived, ate, worked and settled their problems, it stands to reason that He wasn’t just providing for them (and redefining them) physically and socio-culturally when He gave them their moral/practical laws, but also psychically and spiritually in the ritualistic/ceremonial laws. And this is how, in my opinion, the presence of God managed to dwell almost perpetually among the Israelites – visibly, tangibly, and interactively – prior to the coming of Yeshua and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: it was because some part of the nation was always living and worshipping sacramentally almost every hour of every day, courtesy of the Torah.
And like other sacraments, practising these aspects of the law was merely an expression of the relationship the people were already supposed to have with the Lord – faith was always the first and greatest requirement, which ensured the efficacy and acceptability of worship acts and observances under the Mosaic covenant. In times of rebellion, falling away and unbelief, it held no more meaning than if a backslidden Christian were to try to take Communion; at best, it would be a hollow act, and at worst, it would actually incur God’s anger and judgement.
So when people say that the ceremonial aspects of Moses were merely symbolic, I believe that’s inaccurate. … But getting back to Aaron, as I was saying, when you look at the process of how he and his sons were dedicated to God for priestly service, you see an absolute sequence of events that applies to all believers… a sequence that may indeed be symbolic for us, but which was sacramental for Aaron’s line:
- Atonement via sin offering
- Offering a whole burnt offering
- Specific blood consecration
- Offering a heave offering
- Eating holy food
As I’ve said before, I don’t intend to write at length about the offerings/sacrifices until Leviticus, but I do want to highlight the way this sequence closely parallels the path of a believer when he/she comes to God. Accordingly, in order to serve Him, we must:
- Have our sins atoned for by the blood of Yeshua
- Offer ourselves to Him freely and wholeheartedly as a living sacrifice
- Explicitly dedicate the way we live to God, as indicated by the blood of the consecration ram being put on the tip of the priest’s right ear, right thumb and right big toe. The right side is chief in the Bible, and these body parts respectively symbolise one’s ability to hear/obey, what one does (the thumb being the digit that enables grasping and doing), and how one walks (the big toe being the digit that guarantees balance and proper motion). And interestingly, in Exodus 29, Moses is instructed to put the blood of the bull on the horns of the altar, pour the rest out at the base (verse 12) and to dash the blood of the ram on all the sides of the altar (verse 16) – which roughly corresponds to the placement of blood on the priest: top (ear), middle (thumb) and bottom (big toe). In my opinion, this is a way of identifying the priest with the altar, and reiterates the picture of the believer as a living altar.
- Offer the best of what we have to God as an act of worship
- Commune/fellowship with Him: partake of His presence (including taking Communion), feed on His word, and abide in Him… or as Exodus 29:33 puts it, to “eat those things with which the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify” us
As you can see, the similarities are striking… and, I think, recognisably intentional. Of course, the figure of the High Priest ultimately foreshadows Christ, but with Aaron’s entire line being subject to dedication, it makes sense that Peter referred to those of us who’re grafted into the vine of the Messiah as a royal and holy priesthood as well – because we’re adopted as His flesh and blood through faith, and we will, one day, be like Him… when the process of our being conformed to His image is complete.
To end, here’re some resources from the Temple Institute in Jerusalem about the priestly garments. I thought they were quite informative:
- The production of the garments
- The 3 categories of priestly garments and the materials
- Photos of the materials used in weaving the garments
- The various components of the High Priest’s garments: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
- Inside the priestly wardrobe and the order of dressing
And more specifically, here’s a slideshow of the garments that’ve been made for the High Priest in preparation for the coming Temple. There’s also an illustration of the gold crown that the High Priest wore here, and a picture of the current crown that’s been prepared.