LEVITICUS 9: HOLY BLAZES!
The Tabernacle is complete, instruction on the three major sacrifices has been given, a sacred band of brothers has been called. These brothers have been given special clothing and specific rituals of worship to perform. Now comes one of the climactic moments of Leviticus revealing the power and glory of Yahweh.
On the eighth day of their ordination, where the priests had stayed at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel together. He told Aaron to bring a bull calf for his sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defect. Israelites were told to bring a male goat for the sin offering, a calf and a lamb—both a year old and without defect—for a burnt offering, an ox and a ram for a fellowship offering, and grain and oil for a grain offering.
They were to do all this for one reason: “For today the Lord will appear to you” (9:4).
Sacrifices functioned to purify and sanctify a place for God to dwell. This is one of the most common misunderstandings of sacrifices among Christians.
Many American Christians, for example, would say the one-dimensional purpose of sacrifices was to remove an individual’s sin. This is one purpose and certainly a central one—to purify and cleanse the priesthood, the congregation of Israel, and individuals—but these sacrifices were a means to the goal of God dwelling among them. The recurring phrases in Leviticus make clear that Israel is to seek this holiness because God wants to dwell in their midst and these sacrifices will pave the way for that to happen. So the goal of the entire program of sacrifices is to make a place for Holy God to dwell in fellowship with his people and to bring the community together in fellowship with one another.
Chapter 9 is the narrated form of the instructions that have led up to this point in Leviticus. What we miss when we skim over parts we think are repetitive, is the movement of the story from divine message to messenger—God to Moses to Aaron and the Israelites—giving instruction to obedience and enactment. Chapters 8 and 9 show this obedience and enactment of Israel’s new ritual program for worship before the Lord.
So here we see in one chapter the enactment of the three major sacrifices.
First they offered the sin offering for atonement (purifying) and expiating (removing) sin (Lev 9:8-11)—a bull for the Levites. Next, they burned a ram whole on the altar as dedication—the burnt offering—to the Lord from the Levites (9:12-14). After completing the sin and burnt offerings for the priests, Aaron brought the offering that was for the entire congregation: the ram for Israel’s sin offering, the calf and lamb for the congregation’s burnt offering and added the grain offering with it (9:15-20). (See also John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table, Leafwood Publishers, 2008).
Finally, Aaron and his sons slaughtered the ox and ram as the fellowship offering—fat portions were burned on the altar and blood was sprinkled on the sides of the altar; Aaron waved the breast and right thigh as a wave offering before the Lord then kept that portion for him and his sons to eat (9:21-22).
So the fat portions of the fellowship offering were the Lord’s portion, the thigh and breast the priests portion, and the rest of the animal was taken by the worshippers to eat. With the sin offering, only the priests eat a portion of the meat. The burnt offering is burned whole and no part is eaten.
With the fellowship offering, portions are given to the Lord, priests, and worshippers. If this voluntary offering involves a bull, the meat left after the offal is burned and the priests take their portion of thigh and breast, would still be hundreds of pounds and could feed hundreds of Israelite families.
A most incredible scene comes next.
After the meticulous preparation of the tabernacle and vestments of the priests and offerings, the Lord rewards their obedience and diligence and desire for God’s presence. The reward is to show his presence in fire descending from heaven, an incredible show of his power.
Here is how The Message paraphrase describes it: “Aaron lifted his hands over the people and blessed them. Having completed the rituals of the Absolution-Offering, the Whole-Burnt-Offering, and the Peace-Offering, he came down from the Altar. Moses and Aaron entered the Tent of Meeting. When they came out they blessed the people and the Glory of God appeared to all the people. Fire blazed out from God and consumed the Whole Burnt Offering and the fat pieces on the Altar. When all the people saw it happen they cheered loudly and then fell down, bowing in reverence” (Leviticus 9:22-24).
The Tabernacle has been set up, the major sacrifices have been prescribed, and now Aaron and his sons and Levites are ordained as priests. A unique and ceremonially appropriate place for Holy God to dwell has been established, a chosen nation and chosen priests are listening for God’s instructions, special dress for the priests is fabricated, and the suspense and tension is mounting for the coming presence of the Lord in the Tent of Meeting.
The event of God’s appearing was exponentially important for the life of this new community. God was—the fire proved—indeed with them.
Read Leviticus 8-9 then reflect with others on the following:
1. What do you like about the story?
2. What do you not like about story?
3. What do you think the story is saying to the original audience?
4. What is the story saying to us today?
5. What is the story calling us to believe?
6. What is the story calling us to do?
7. With whom can you share this story this week?
Charles Wesley was an English leader of the Methodist movement in the 1700s. He wrote a nearly unbelievable number of hymns. Are you ready for this? Six thousand hymns.
Of those six thousand hymns, only 1 in 400 covered texts from Leviticus, but he did write from sixteen texts in Leviticus. One of those sixteen texts is Leviticus 8:35, and the title is, “A Charge to Keep I Have.” He received the idea for the song while reading Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Leviticus, where the note for 8:35 says, “We shall everyone of us have a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, one generation to serve.” The hymn is printed in Charles Wesley’s 1762 hymnal. (Graham McKay, A Hymn a Day, O’More Publishing, 2003).
Lord, in the words of that great song, “A Charge to Keep I Have,” so also I pray to you for myself, my loved ones, my neighbors, my church (or synagogue, mosque, or temple): “We shall everyone of us have a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, one generation to serve.”
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.