Gleanings In Exodus
47. The Priesthood
Exodus 27:20 – 28:2
Once more we would direct the reader’s attention to the order of Jehovah’s instructions to Moses concerning the Tabernacle and all that was connected with it. At first glance the contents of Exodus 28 and 29 seem to depart from the logical sequence and to introduce confusion. Instead of completing the description of the Tabernacle and its furniture, the priesthood is introduced, and then in chapter 30 the last of the holy vessel is described. But fully assured that God is not the Author of confusion, the prayerful student should diligently seek the mind of the Spirit for an explanation of this perplexity. A new subdivision of Exodus begins with the 28th chapter, or more correctly, at 27:20.
Many years ago it was pointed out by Mr. Darby that everything mentioned in Exodus 25:10 to 27:19 foreshadowed God’s coming forth unto His people: each article there mentioned was a symbol of display, that is, a manifestation of God in Christ. But from 27:20 to the end of chapter 30 the order is reversed, everything there pointing to the provisions of grace which enable us to go in to God: that is to say, the priesthood and the vessels referred to in Exodus 30 have to do with approach. But before the laver and the incense altar (the vessels needed for access to God) are brought before us, we are shown the appointment and consecration of the priesthood. Thus we may discern Divine order in the seeming confusion, for there must be designated persons for approach, before the vessels could be used. "God has come out in type and figure to His people; then He indicates those who are to be set apart for His service in the sanctuary—those who are to enjoy the special privilege of access to Himself; and lastly, the vessels, etc., are given, which they would need in their holy employment in the house of God" (Mr. E. Dennett).
The blessed unity, amid diversity, of the whole of Jehovah’s instructions to Moses in this section of Exodus has been dealt with so helpfully by the late Mr. Soltau that we quote from him at length: "The Tabernacle and its vessels, the Priesthood and the various ministrations connected therewith, form but one subject; although divided for the sake of more distinctly contemplating each portion. The Tabernacle would have been useless without its vessels: and the Tabernacle with its vessels would have been of no service but for a living family of priests, constantly engaged in various active ministrations within the holy places, and about the various holy vessels.
"So closely connected is each part of this subject with the other, that in the directions contained in Exodus, there is no break; but the command for making the holy garments and consecrating the priesthood (Ex. 28 and 29), comes between the enumeration of some of the holy vessels and the various parts of the Tabernacle. Indeed, properly speaking, the 27th chapter should end at v. 19, where ‘thou shalt command the children of Israel’ begins a new subject, viz.: directions concerning the oil for the light of the sanctuary. The 28th chapter continues with ordering the sacrifices for the day of priestly consecration. The 30th carries on the subject connected with the priesthood, by giving the description of the incense altar; and the whole closes with the Sabbath, at the end of the 31st chapter.
Again; when all the various parts of the work have been completed, ending with the garments of the priesthood (chapters 36-39:31) the following verse is added: ‘Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the Tent of the Congregation finished; and the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they’. Here, therefore, the priestly garments were considered part of the work of the Tabernacle! And if we turn to Hebrews 8 we find that the priests, that offered gifts according to the law, served unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God, when he was about to make the Tabernacle itself; see, saith He, that thou shalt make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount’ (vv. 4, 5).
"The service of the priests in offering gifts and sacrifices was connected with the commandments given to Moses in the mount respecting the making of the Tabernacle. The words ‘See, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed thee in the mount’, as recorded in Exodus, were spoken to Moses respecting the holy vessels (Ex. 25:40), but are in Hebrews 8 quoted to prove that the priests and their ministrations were examples and shadows of heavenly things. The whole subject is therefore much blended."
Still observing the order of truth presented to us in our present section, it is most striking to find we have in 27:20, 21 that which is obviously the connecting link between the two central lines of thought—God coming out to His people, they going in to Him. "And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always. In the tabernacle of the congregation without the vail, which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning before the Lord: it shall be a statute forever unto their generations on behalf of the children of Israel." Two things are here brought before us: provision for the maintenance of the light and the ministration of the priesthood. These verses are very rich in their typical teaching and must be carefully weighed as a preparation for what follows. Strictly, they begin the section and are the key to the contents of chapters 28 and 29.
Before a description is given of the garments and consecration of the priests, provision is made for perpetual light in the sanctuary. This takes the precedence. As v. 21 tells us the light was to shine "before the Lord." Priestly ministry was for the benefit of the people; but the claims of God must first be met. This was the order in Genesis 1: the first thing there, was "Let there be light." This, before a single creature was brought into existence. So here in Exodus. In figure it tells that Christ had first to meet all the demands of God’s holiness, ere He could minister for us as our great High Priest: the Cross first, then His intercession on High.
It was at the Cross that God was fully manifested as the Light (1 John 1:5); that is, in His ineffable holiness—His very nature as eternally antagonistic to sin. And in the typical order of God’s revelation of Himself through the vessels of the Tabernacle, beginning with that which was in the Holiest (the ark and the mercy-seat), the movement was ever outward, past the table and the lampstand in the holy place, to the brazen altar in the outer Court (27:1), which foreshadowed the Cross: the altar marking the terminal of the coming out of God in manifestation. Thus provision having been made through Christ’s atonement for "the lamp to burn alway," i.e. for the unsullied holiness of God to act without compromise in His gracious dealing with poor sinners, the way was then clear to make known the provisions which Divine mercy had made for reconciled sinners to draw near to God within the veil.
But as we showed in a previous paper, the Lampstand speaks not only of Christ, but also of the Holy Spirit as His gift to the saints. This explains the fact that in v. 20 it is "the people" who were to supply the "pure oil olive beaten for the light." As was the case in connection with all the other materials (see 25:2, etc.), so that which speaks of the Holy Spirit given us by Christ, was also Holy vided by "the people" themselves, The Tabernacle and its services were not only for Jehovah, but for Israel too: thus their providing the materials for it, witnessed to their personal interest in it. In keeping with this we may note that 27:21 mentions, for the first time, "the Tabernacle (Tent) of the congregation!"
But further: does not this initial mention of the "Tent of the Congregation," in the present connection, supply more than a hint of the formation of that Church which is the Body of Christ—consequent upon His having satisfied the requirements of God’s holiness and the descent of the Holy Spirit? In Matthew 16:18 our Lord employed the future tease not the present—"I will build My Church," not I am building. Ephesians 1:20-23 also plainly teaches that Christ was not given to be the Head over all things to His Church until after His resurrection and ascension. Thus the Church is only seen (typically) after the claims of Divine holiness had been met, the throne of God eternally established, and the Holy Spirit sent down as the witness of this: cf. Acts 2 33.
Again; it is in Exodus 27:21 that, for the first time, mention is made of "Aaron and his sons." This also has a double significance. Coming right after mention of "the people" in v. 20, it tells us on whose behalf the Priesthood was instituted. "Aaron and his sons" are mentioned twenty-four times in the book of Exodus, but they are not seen until after instructions were given for the children of Israel to furnish the oil for the light. How plainly this foreshadowed the fact that the priestly ministry of Christ is essential to maintaining the gracious working of the Spirit through His people! Up to this point, nothing whatever had been said of any human agents or ministers appointed to officiate in the tabernacle service and to delight themselves in the dwelling place of God among men, amidst the heaven-given shadows and emblems of the eternal verities which we have previously contemplated. But in God’s light we see light (Ps. 36:9). The light makes manifest—here the divinely-chosen ministers of the sanctuary. This introduces to us the subject of Israel’s priest-hood—one abounding in precious instruction for us; but to which, alas, the vast majority of the saints are total strangers.
Sixty years ago a servant of God wrote, "To a large portion of those who would be regarded as intelligent Christians, and who are something more than mere routine readers of the Bible, the types of the Tabernacle, with its priesthood, service, and offerings, are barren of comfort and edification. Yet it is generally acknowledged that they are pictures by which God, in His condescension, would teach His children things otherwise all but incomprehensible. It is generally admitted, also, that the key to unlock these treasures of spiritual truth lies ready to the hand of every student in the New Testament. Without inquiring particularly why these treasures have fallen into such general neglect in our day, the following suggestion is worthy of the consideration of the earnest among us: ‘The real secret of the neglect of the types,’ says one who is entitled to be heard on this point, ‘I cannot but think may, in part, be traced to this—that they require more spiritual intelligence than many Christians can bring to them. To apprehend them requires a certain measure of spiritual capacity, and habitual exercise in the things of God, which all do not possess, for want of abiding fellowship with Jesus. The mere superficial gaze upon the Word in these parts, brings no corresponding idea to the mind of the reader. The types are, indeed, pictures, but to understand the picture, we should know something of the reality. The most perfect representation of a steam-engine to a South Sea savage would be wholly and hopelessly unintelligible, simply because the reality, the outline of which was presented to him, was something hitherto unknown.’
"Paul arrests himself in speaking of Christ as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:11, etc.), by the reflection that those whom he addressed were incapable of receiving instruction on account of their spiritual childhood. A child of a king is unconscious of the dignity and the inheritance to which he is born; but it is none the less a king’s child: and so there are many true children of God who seem to remain babes, content, apparently, that they have life and are children; and so they need milk. This accounts for the spiritual feebleness and inactivity of the Church in our day. Babes, indeed, must be fed on milk, but it is not necessary that Christians should continue babes. May we not, therefore, exhort them, in the words of the apostle, ‘To leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ and go on to perfection’ (Heb. 6:1)—to manhood—to the condition of those who, ‘by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil’?" (Waymarks in the Wilderness).
Since then, conditions have not improved. There appear to be as many "babes" among Christians as ever. The greater part of the Bible seems a sealed book to them. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable," and it is to our irreparable loss if we neglect any portion thereof. "Whatsoever things were written before time, were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4), and if we fail to give proper attention to the types our souls will be the poorer. Notably is this the case with the subject before us. What hazy and inadequate ideas concerning priesthood are entertained by the average believer. That the Lord Jesus is the great High Priest of His people, he knows, but as to the place of Christ’s priesthood, the nature of its activities, its relation to other truths, especially to redemption; the design accomplished by it. the blessings secured from it, the portion which the saint enjoys by virtue of it, are most indefinitely defined in the minds of most.
On the Cross the Savior said, "It is finished": all that was needed to satisfy the requirements of God and reconcile to Him His alienated people, was accomplished. Then, wherein lies the necessity for the present ministry of our great High Priest? If His blood fully atoned for all our sins, why should He now be making intercession on our behalf? This is a difficulty which has been felt by many. But the same problem is presented in the book of Exodus. Here we see a (typically) redeemed people, protected from judgment by the sprinkled blood of the lamb, brought out from the house of bondage, separated unto Jehovah, He dwelling in their midst. Yet, a priesthood was appointed to act on their behalf! Why? The same book of Exodus reveals the solution. The priesthood was for the maintaining, not securing, their relationship with Jehovah. They were still a people compassed with infirmity, subject to temptation, and alas, frequently failing. The holy God dwelling in their midst could not tolerate that which was unclean. Therefore the same grace which had brought them nigh to Himself, now made provision for the keeping of them nigh.
Priesthood has to do with fellowship. Its need arises from the fact that the sinful nature remains in those who have been bought with a price. It is to meet the failures of a people who when they would do good evil is present with them: this evil which causes them to offend in "many things" (James 3:2), makes the priestly ministry of Christ so essential. This was what was foreshadowed in Exodus and Leviticus. The application of these types to Christians today calls for a wisdom which only the Holy Spirit can supply, for in the light of the Hebrews’ Epistle it is clear that the Levitical shadows present contrasts as well as comparisons, and though containing much which finds its antitypical fulfillment in the spiritual blessings of the Church, there is also not a little which will only be made good to Israel in a coming day. The immediate linking together of the Lamp-stand and the Priesthood in Exodus 27:21 plainly intimates that only in the light of God can the latter be discerned and understood.
First, let us mark and admire the lovely grace of God which is brought out in the type before us. This is seen in the choice that He made. "Take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office" (28:1). Not Moses, but Aaron, the inferior brother, was the one selected for this great favor. Moreover, the tribe to which he belonged was one of the least honorable of the twelve; yea, it was under the curse, because of Levi’s cruelty—see Genesis 49:5-7. Not Reuben the firstborn. nor Judah whom his brethren should praise (Gen. 49:8), nor Joseph the fruitful bough, but Levi, was to be the priestly tribe. How this exhibited the sovereignty of Divine grace! Finally, the matchless and wondrous grace of God in appointing Aaron to be the high priest is seen in the fact that at the very time His choice was made known to Moses, his brother was taking the lead in the idolatrous worship of the golden calf! Nor do these details mar the accuracy of the type; instead, they strikingly illustrate the fact that our great High Priest was the gift of God’s marvellous grace.
Second, let us now consider the significance of his name. "Aaron" means "very high." He stood supreme as the high priest, exalted not only above his own house, but also above all the people. Thus was he a type of the Lord Jesus, whom God has exalted with His right hand to be a Priest and a Savior (Acts 5:31). But as if to magnify the high priesthood of Christ above that of all others, the Holy Spirit has added the word "great"—our "great High Priest" (Heb. 4:14), an adjective used of none other, not even Melchizedek.
We may note that in Exodus 28:1 the names of Aaron’s sons are also given, and each of them was most appropriate and striking. Nadab means "willing"; Abihu, "my Father is He"; Eleazer, "help of God"; Ithamar, "land of palm." As another has pointed out, "these four words afford a little prophetic intimation of characteristics attaching to the House of which the Son of God is the Head: deriving its life from God the Father, and all its power and help from Him; following in the footsteps also of its blessed Master, in yielding willing and not constrained service to God; and like the palm trees, lofty in righteousness, and ever bringing forth fruit (Ps. 92:12-14). The palm-tree is one of the ornaments of the future temple described by Ezekiel, and was also one of the embellishments of Solomon’s temple. It is peculiarly the tree of the desert, flourishing where no other could exist; ever marking out to the weary traveler the spot amidst surrounding desolation, where a grateful shade and a spring of living water were to be found; and remarkable for longevity and ceaseless fruitfulness. Thus it was an apt emblem of the heavenly priesthood" (G. Soltau).
Third, let us dwell upon the significance of the singular pronoun in 28:1: "Take unto thee Aaron, and his sons with him, that he may minister." This is very striking and most blessed. Aaron and his sons formed together one priesthood, and Aaron’s appointment to his office was inseparable from theirs. What a wondrous foreshadowment was this of the union between our great High Priest and His House, and what an intimation that His ministry before God concerned His House, and them alone!
And here we must stop. To write at length upon the Priesthood of Christ would necessitate us expounding almost the entire Epistle of the Hebrews, where this blessed theme is developed by the Spirit of God. To that important New Testament book we would refer the interested student. There, the divine Instructor has pointed out both the comparisons and the contrasts between the type and the Anti-type. The Aaronic priesthood furnished much that was the pattern of Christ’s priesthood, but the order of it is vastly superior, being that of Melchidezek—the royal priest. God willing, other aspects of the subject will come before us in future papers.