Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bible Commentary - Leviticus 9

In this chapter, Aaron makes some of his first official priestly offerings and the glory of the LORD appears to the people in response.

With the priesthood finally confirmed in accordance with the dictates of Exodus, this chapter is important because it establishes the credentials of the priests before the people.  Remember what I said about Exodus: the LORD and Moses are trying to build a national identity that is fundamentally predicated on their covenant with the LORD.  The priesthood is the group that officiates that covenant, so it is necessary for the people to see that God is fully supporting the priests and that the offerings and intercession of the priests can bring about a divine blessing.  We have seen the LORD meet with the Israelites before (e.g. Ex 19, Ex 40), but this is the first time that he is appearing to them in response to an offering in the style of Leviticus.

Just as in the last chapter, again note that there is a very particular order in which the sacrifices are made here.  First Aaron is commanded to make offerings "that you may make atonement for yourself and for the people", with emphasis on "yourself".  He first offers a sin offering and then a burnt offering to atone for sin.  This is abbreviated from the fuller 4 offerings made last chapter, but that's because he is only preparing himself to make even more sacrifices.

After the priest is properly atoned and ready, he is to make another set of sin, burnt, grain and peace (or fellowship) offerings.  After discussing these topics with someone else, I would like to clarify one point here.  Making a sin offering, or any set of offerings, is not how you become ritually clean.  Even the guilt offering isn't exactly about attaining ceremonial cleanliness, it is about a recognized personal guilt or sin from being unknowingly unclean for a long period of time.  After making a guilt offering, one would presumably still need to follow the ordained rituals to become ceremonially clean as well.

That said, there are some offerings which the Israelites are commanded to make after they become cleansed from a variety of conditions.  Again, I will discuss this more when we reach those chapters.

So the high priest Aaron is to make a set of four offerings, and he makes them in the exact same order as the last chapter.  He makes a sin offering to atone for the sin of the people, the burnt and grain offering form the core of the ritual, and then it is concluded with a peace offering and a benediction.

Most importantly, when Aaron and Moses come out and bless the people, the glory of the LORD appears and fire comes out and consumes the offerings, as a sign of acceptance and agreement.  It is a bit peculiar that the fire would consume offerings which were already "offered up in smoke".  I think we can assume that the sacrifices were still burning on the altar and fire came out of the cloud of glory and consumed what was left.

This teaches us that the LORD accepts offerings and the ritual system, but more importantly that he accepts Aaron as the high priest and this really serves as a very public confirmation of the whole system.  Given the rebellious behavior we have seen so far, this is very important.  This chapter teaches us the blessing of making the sacrifices in accordance with the commands of the LORD.  The next chapter will teach us the curse of disobeying the LORD.

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