The five sacrifices which would define the worship of Israel for centuries have been elucidated and explained. Aaron and his sons were ready to be ceremonially ordained as priests. Their ministry was then inaugurated in a brilliant pubic worship service at the Tent of Meeting. After an undisclosed period of time, two of Aaron’s sons were guilty of a faulty and fatal act.
The ordination ceremony for Aaron and his sons was a public extravaganza that extended for an entire week. The purpose of the ceremony was not only to set apart those chosen by God for the priesthood, but also to communicate the holiness of God to His people. In preparation for the ceremony, Moses collected the finely crafted priestly garments, the specially formulated anointing oil, three animals for sacrifice, and a basket of unleavened bread. He summoned everyone to assemble at the entrance to the Tabernacle (8:1-4). The service of ordination consisted of four main movements. It began with Moses ceremonially washing Aaron and his sons, symbolizing the moral purity required in their service. Secondly, Aaron, as the High Priest, was invested with the six garments unique to his office, depicting the majesty and glory of God (ephod, breastpiece, sash, turban, robe, and tunic). The Urim and Thummin, the two stones used by the High Priest for discerning the will of God, were placed in the fold of his breastpiece. Thirdly, Moses consecrated the Tabernacle. He smeared oil on the Tent, its furnishings and utensils. He consecrated the altar with a seven-fold anointing. He poured oil on Aaron’s head which ran down his face, beard and garments. He also invested Aaron’s sons with their priestly clothes. Thirdly, three offerings of consecration were conducted. The first animal sacrificed was the valuable male bull for the Sin Offering. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the bull’s head, transferring their sin to the animal, as their substitute. The bull was killed. Moses took the blood and consecrated the altar, the horns of the altar, and its base. The fat, liver and kidneys were offered to the Lord. The rest of the bull was burned outside the camp. The second animal was a ram given for the Burnt Offering. The ram was killed. Moses threw its blood against the sides of the altar and then the whole animal was offered to the Lord. A third animal was sacrificed, the ram of ordination. The ram was killed. Moses took its blood and anointed Aaron from head to toe, then did the same to his sons. Moses placed the fat, liver, kidneys and right thigh in the hands of Aaron and his sons. They waved the pieces before the Lord. Then Moses took all the pieces from Aaron and burned them as an offering of ordination. Moses also waved the breast and then kept it for himself. He took the oil of God’s secret recipe, along with blood from the altar, and sprinkled it on Aaron’s and his sons’ pristine garments. The ceremony concluded with a meal of ordination consisting of cooked meat and baked goods. These four steps were repeated every day for seven days. During the weeklong ceremony, Aaron and his sons were not permitted to leave courtyard, upon the penalty of death.
As it happened, on the eighth day after the seven-day ordination ceremony, the inaugural service of the Tabernacle was celebrated (9:1). The worship service had three elements. First, two offerings were made on behalf of Aaron (7-14): a bull calf for the Sin Offering (symbolizing purification) and a ram for the Burnt Offering (symbolizing devotion). After the bull was sacrificed and before the ram was offered, Aaron left the camp for the first time in seven days to properly dispose of the ashes in a clean place. Then the ram was sacrificed. The second element was the cleansing offerings for the people (15-21). A female goat was given for the Sin Offering, followed by animal and grain offerings (the five sacrifices minus the guilt offering). These offerings were presided over by Aaron in order that the Lord would appear and display His manifest presence. The service concluded with a benediction (22-24). Aaron lifted up his hands and blessed the people. Moses and Aaron entered the Tent together, then reappeared and blessed the people again. After the blessing, the fire of the Lord flashed from The Most Holy Place and consumed the smoldering animals on the altar. As God appeared in His glory, the people erupted in spontaneous praise and fell on their faces (24b).
As it happened, Aaron and his sons were given an awesome responsibility. They served near the Lord (10:3), under strict accountability. As priests, they were commanded to take hots coals from the altar (the fire ignited by the Lord Himself) and use God’s fire to burn incense in a hand-held censor. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, took fire from another source (literally, a strange or foreign source). The tragedy is shrouded in mystery. Whether done deliberately or out of ignorance (which neither was excusable) the fire which came from God consumed them. Aaron’s response to the death of his two sons was sobering. He held his peace (3). Aaron’s cousins, who were Levites, were assigned to carry their scorched bodies away using their seared priestly garments as a stretcher. Moses spoke to Aaron and his remaining sons, Eleazer and Ithamar, and warned them not to mourn nor leave the courtyard but let the people bewail their deaths. Moses ordered them to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (10). That same day, Eleazar and Ithamar, offered a Sin Offering, which permitted the priests to eat the remaining meat portions. But instead of eating them, they burned them up. When Moses found out, he was angry for what he perceived to be their indifference to the Lord’s command and provision. Aaron replied to Moses, “If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the Lord have approved?” (19). Aaron concluded that it was far better to be sensitive to God’s will than insensitive to it. And who could blame him? Moses did not.
Holy God, You are a consuming fire. Holiness befits You. Reverence is due You. I am reminded of the holiness required of Your people and Your servants. Forgive us when we offer anything that is not authorized by You. Fill us with Your Spirit so that we may serve You faithfully. We serve in the hope of the gospel knowing that Jesus, Your Son, was consumed by Your fire so that we would not be consumed. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.