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The Priesthood

Simultaneously with the work on the tabernacle, detail instructions are also given relating to other aspects of the religious ordinances. The instructions for the priesthood are closely related to the instructions for construction of the tabernacle and its vessels. Prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law, the head of each family offered sacrifices to God (Gen. 8:20). From what we have observed, Moses had this responsibility. Now this and other responsibilities relating to the ministry of the tabernacle are to be given to the new office of the priesthood. The high priest will serve as the head of the group with the other priests assisting him. The priests will represent the people before their God. Later, we shall see that it is the prophet who represents God before the people.

God chose Aaron and his sons, who are of the tribe of Levi, for this revered and honored responsibility. God instructs Moses: “Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron’s sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar” (Ex. 28:1). A new order was established that day, which would remain within the family of Aaron for the next thirteen hundred years. Aaron was appointed high priest and the office was to pass in succession to the oldest son. Later, the entire tribe of Levi was set aside and appointed to service as caretakers and transporters of the tabernacle and its holy vessels (Num. 1:48-53, 3:5-39). However, only Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests (Ex. 27:21, 28:43, 29:9).

Since the Levites did not receive land, they were supported by tithes paid by members of the other tribes (Num 18:21, 24, 26). God required the full-time service of the Levites. The priests were supported by a tithe paid by the Levites, by eating portions of the sacrifices and by eating of the stale showbread (Ex. 29:31-34, Num. 18:8-32).

The entire priesthood organization or order, like the tabernacle, was an example and shadow of heavenly things. The writer of the book of Hebrews goes into great detail in chapters seven through ten showing that the order of the priesthood, which was established under Aaron, was a prophetic shadow of what was to come. We must also note that the order of Aaron came to an end and was replaced by a new order at the death of Christ.

Aaron was a type of Christ as was Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20, Ps. 110:3). Whereas Aaron and his service were a picture of the atoning work of Christ through His death; Melchizedek was a type of Christ in His resurrection – the role of King-Priest. After Christ’s resurrection, He, who was of the line of Judah, became High Priest following the order of Melchizedek. The order of Melchizedek refers to the royal authority and the unending duration of Christ’s high priesthood (Heb. 7:1-24).

Since Aaron’s priesthood was patterned after the model in heaven, it is symbolic of the holiness of God. Much of the symbolism was reflected in the clothes. “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.” “And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So. they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest. They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked.” (Ex. 28:2, 4-6). Note that the clothing is made of the same material and colors as those used in the construction of the tabernacle. Read Exodus chapter twenty-eight for a complete and very detailed description of these garments.

God placed stringent restrictions upon those who were to serve in the office of the priesthood. Since they were in contact with Holy places and Holy things, those who served in the sanctuary of the tabernacle must be ceremonially clean and perfect – both in physical appearance and in character (Leviticus chapters 21 and 22). They became defiled by physical contact with any unclean thing. We have already noted that the brass laver was placed in the courtyard of the tabernacle for a ceremonial washing after contact with the animal sacrifices. The priests were required to take a virgin as a wife. Daughters who became harlots defiled their father, the priest, and the penalty to the daughters was death by stoning. A man was considered blemished if he had physical defects such as blindness, deformed body features, skin blemishes, etc.

After God gave instructions in Exodus chapter twenty-eight regarding the making of Holy garments, then in Exodus chapter twenty-nine He gave the procedures for consecration for service. Each priest was required to go through four ceremonies before he was consecrated and allowed to perform the duties of the office. First, he was brought to the door of the tabernacle and washed with water. Next, the holy garments were placed on him, and then he was anointed by the pouring of oil over his head. Lastly, sacrifices were required for the following offerings: sin, burnt, and peace. Leviticus chapter eight provides the details of this service.