After three months, at a slow pace through the wilderness, the children of Israel came to Mount Sinai for an appointment with their God and their Deliverer. God had instructed Moses: “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Ex. 3:12b, NKJV). There they waited in anticipation and apprehension for additional instructions. Their departure from Egypt was a tremendous initial leap of faith and brought them out of bondage and under the watch care of their Creator.
At the foot of Mount Sinai, God proposed marriage to the Israelites through the Mosaics Covenant. “‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Ex. 19:5-6, NKJV).
“Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’” (Ex. 19:8a, NKJV).
Thus, God and the people entered into a marriage contract. Little did the people know that the law that God would establish would be a portrait of Christ who would someday satisfy all of God’s laws, die on the cross for the sin of all mankind, and be resurrected on the third day.
Israel’s marriage to God consummated a relationship that reflected many of the great things God had planned for mankind. The daily activities in the people’s lives were filled with patterns, examples, types, and shadows to remind them of their special privileges and unique relationship with their God, their Husband. These patterns, examples, types, and shadows looked forward to the person and works of the Christ who would come. The unique nature and the significance of everyday events were evident in the area of religious affairs.
Multiple specific rules are discussed in Exodus, Leviticus, and the first ten chapters of Numbers. First, God required the people to wait at the foot of Mount Sinai until all the details of the ceremonial law were completed.
The Levitical rules seem parenthetical to the wilderness march as God tries to ensure all details are understood. This becomes clear when we observe that the wilderness march began twice – in Exodus’ last chapter and again in Numbers’ tenth chapter. So many details are given that we often lose sight of specific subjects and miss much of the overall impact. We will attempt to organize and focus on some of the details of the Levitical or Ceremonial law while observing the new nation camped in the shadow of Mount Sinai.
Why did God set up so many specific rules for the religious ceremonies of the Levitical Law? Undoubtedly, God wanted to set the worship services of the Nation Israel apart from those of the Gentile nations. The Gentiles performed elaborate ceremonies and offered sacrifices to many gods.
Through marriage, Israel was committed to one God who claimed to be the one and only God – the Creator of all things. The Israelites promised to be faithful and accepted His will to direct them. Their faithfulness would be measured primarily by their obedience to ceremonial detail and dependence upon their Creator.
God’s nature is pure and holy. It does not allow Him to fellowship with anything unclean. Therefore, if any person, animal, or object brought into His presence is not properly cleansed, it must be destroyed or rejected. He, alone, established the rituals of purification that must be followed to cleanse all participants ceremonially.
God’s rules also made it clear to the people that He expected them to recognize Him as the only source of their blessings. His chosen people were given specific instructions regarding returning to Him, a portion of all they received. God required a return of all firstborn sons, the firstlings of all flocks and herds, the first fruits of the field, and one-tenth of all cattle and produce.
In addition, they were told to give Him part of the great wealth they had taken from Egypt. This wealth was used to construct the Tabernacle and clothe the priests. God’s requirements served a practical purpose in supporting the priesthood, but His primary intent was to motivate them to direct their treasures and hearts to Him.
The religious ordinances are also very prophetic and beneficial in teaching by types. For example, the writer of the Book of Hebrews makes it very clear that the Tabernacle, priesthood, and animal sacrifices were prophetic shadows or types that were later fulfilled in the life of Christ.
Scripture indicates that the national feasts were prophetic, and at least four have been fulfilled. Since we are following the golden thread of Scripture, we will explore, in summary, the typical teaching of ceremonial law. Many Biblical writers neglect this emphasis, but it is essential to understand this if we are to see the unfolding eternal plan of God.
Before moving to the next section, which is a detailed description of the Tabernacle, reading chapters seven through ten of the Book of Hebrews would be beneficial. After our study of the Levitical law is concluded, a review of these chapters may also prove rewarding. For those who would like a more detailed study of Biblical types, “Gleanings in Exodus” by Arthur W. Pink and “Tabernacle, God’s Portrait of Christ” by J. Vernon McGee are highly recommended.
The Wilderness Tabernacle
Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see God’s desire for fellowship with man and His efforts to establish a place where we can dwell together. Scripture opens in Genesis with God coming down to walk in the garden with Adam in the cool of the day; it concludes with man fellowshipping with God in the New Jerusalem. The Tabernacle (later the temple) is a significant link in the golden chain stretching from Genesis to Revelation.
When God united in a marriage bond with Israel, He descended upon the mountain of Sinai and spoke to Moses and His people. God’s presence was manifested as a consuming fire on the mountaintop. The people saw flashing lightning and a great cloud of smoke. They heard great thundering and the sound of a very loud trumpet. The whole mountain shook violently. They had been instructed to wash their garments and be consecrated before He came. Any man or beast touching the mountain, without being called by God would die. After experiencing such an awesome encounter with God, who can question their reaction?
The people trembled, stood at a distance, and asked Moses to relay God’s messages. They feared that they might die if God kept speaking directly to them. This fear was well-founded because God had warned Moses that many would perish if they gazed upon Him.
The great contrast between God’s holiness and man’s depravity presents a real dilemma that must be overcome for God and man to dwell together. Even though God promised that He would go with them and help them conquer and possess the Promised Land of Canaan, He would also separate Himself from the people by the boundaries set upon the mountain.
A special place must be prepared and consecrated for His presence to dwell among them. Furthermore, a particular group of people, known as priests, would have to be selected to serve before the Lord and act as mediators between Him and His people. For this reason, the Lord instructed Moses to collect a special contribution and gave him a detailed list of things to acquire.
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goat’s hair; ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate. And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it’” (Ex. 25:1-9, NKJV).
The Tabernacle had at least three meanings which we must quickly examine: 1) It was to be a dwelling place for the presence of God; 2) It was to be the sanctuary of all religious ceremonies; and 3) It was to be a typical picture of Christ who would come to redeem mankind from their depravity.
Click on “The Wilderness Tabernacle” for a detailed study of this subject.
Simultaneously with the work on the Tabernacle, detailed instructions were also given for other aspects of the religious ordinances. For example, the instructions for the priesthood were closely related to the instructions for constructing the Tabernacle and its vessels.
Before giving 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 duties relating to the Tabernacle ministry were given to the new priesthood office. 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 the prophet 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, NKJV). 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, NKJV). However, only Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests (Ex.27:21, 28:43, 29:9).
Click on “The Priesthood” for a detailed study of this subject.
The Sacrificial System
The primary responsibility of the priests was to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the Israelites – for individuals, families, and the nation. The offering of animal sacrifices has been traced back to Adam; there, God took the skins of animals to make clothing for Adam and Eve. The sacrificial offerings, from the time of Adam to the death of Christ, are recognized as a covering for sin in anticipation of the day when the death of Christ would permanently wash away sins. The practice of offering sacrifices was so widespread when the Law was given that the Gentiles were offering sacrifices to their idols.
Because of the tremendous influence that the Gentiles had over God’s chosen nation, God, through the law, restricted and refined the sacrificial services for Israel. The new rules and procedures given to Israel were patterned after and symbolic of God’s blueprint in heaven for man’s eternal salvation. The Gentiles were offering sacrifices of their design, including humans, to appease their pagan gods. These gods were created through their vain imaginations. It is incredible how closely Satan imitates yet distorts the meaning of the things concerning God the Creator.
God’s first requirement was that sacrifices be brought to the door of the Tabernacle.
The Feast Days
The twenty-third chapter of Leviticus gives instructions for the celebration of feast days – these are designated as Holy Convocations. “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feast’” (Lev. 23:2, NKJV).
Seven feasts were given to the children of Israel to celebrate with the offering of sacrifices. They range in length from one day to seven days. The feast of Passover, Unleavened bread, and First fruits all took place during the second and third week of the Jewish first month of Nisan (March/April).
The Harvest Festival, Pentecost, celebrated the wheat harvest and occurred fifty days after the Passover/Unleavened Bread feast during the month of Sivan (May/June). The remaining three feasts, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles were celebrated in the fall after the harvest was completed during the Jewish seventh month of Tishre (Sept./Oct.).
These “feasts of the Lord” coincided with the changing seasons and reminded the people of God’s constant provision and protection for them. These feasts allowed the people to return to God a part of all that he had given them. All were occasions of delight, enjoyment of God’s gifts, and a time to seek his forgiveness and cleansing. Finally, these feasts brought the twelve tribes together in worship and fellowship.
All males were required to attend the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Ex. 23:14-19).
Since the feasts were prophetic, they foreshadowed events to come like the other ordinances. Each of these feasts was to find fulfillment in the future. Some have already been fulfilled and documented for us in the New Testament. It is amazing how the chronological sequence of the feasts within the year corresponds to their chronological fulfillment of God’s program.
Click on “The Feast Days” for a detailed study of this subject.
In addition to the special Feast Days, one day out of each week, the Sabbath, was observed as a day of rest and as a holy convocation. “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings” (Lev. 23:3, NKJV).
The Sabbath was given to Israel as a memorial of God’s creative activity and a permanent sign of their covenant relationship. “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex. 20.11, NKJV). The keeping of the Sabbath was given as the fourth commandment of the Law. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8, NKJV).
Scripture is clear that the Sabbath was given only to Israel and served as a sign of their unique covenant relationship with God. “Therefore, the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed” (Ex. 31:16-17, NKJV).
There were also, other Sabbath – the Sabbath year and the year of Jubilee.
Click on “The Sabbaths” for a detailed study of this subject.
One cannot study the Jewish religious ordinances without noticing the recurrence of the number seven. Seven denotes completeness and is used as a structural element in the Mosaic religious ceremonial system. Notice that every seventh day was a Sabbath, every seventh year was a Sabbatical year, and every seventh Sabbatical year was followed by the Jubilee year.
Every seventh month was a month of a feast. There were seven weeks between the Passover and the Pentecost feast. The Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days. We also see the sevens in the number of animals sacrificed. Fourteen (twice seven) lambs were offered at the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. The entire Levitical system was run on wheels of seven cycles and pointed to what was completed in the first advent of Christ.
The Glory of His Presence
Some nine months after the first instructions for the Levitical Law were given to Moses, the Tabernacle and Holy garments were made ready,
God spoke unto Moses. “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. You shall put in it the ark of the Testimony, and partition off the ark with the veil. You shall bring in the table and arrange the things that are to be set in order on it; and you shall bring in the lampstand and light its lamps. You shall also set the altar of gold for the incense before the ark of the Testimony and put up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. Then you shall set the altar of the burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And you shall set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar and put water in it. You shall set up the court all around and hang up the screen at the court gate” (Ex. 40:2-8, NKJV).
“And you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it; and you shall hallow it and all its utensils, and it shall be holy. You shall anoint the altar of the burnt offering and all its utensils, a consecrate the altar. The altar shall be most holy. And you shall anoint the laver and its base and consecrate it” (Ex. 40:9-11, NKJV).
“Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tabernacle of meeting and wash them with water. You shall put the holy garments on Aaron, and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest. And you shall bring his sons and clothe them with tunics. You shall anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may minister to Me as priests; for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations” (Ex. 40:12-15, NKJV).
“Thus, Moses did; according to all that the Lord had commanded him, so he did. And it came to pass in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was raised up” (Ex. 40:16-17, NKJV).
The Tabernacle was raised on the first day of the religious year and the first anniversary of its national birth. They have been camped at the foot of Mount Sinai for approximately ten months.
Then Moses offered a sacrifice: “And he put the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting and offered upon it the burnt offering and the grain offering, as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Ex. 40:29, NKJV).
The book of Leviticus provides insight into the sequence of events, “And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9:23-24, NKJV).
“Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34-35, NKJV).
The duties of the priest passed from Moses to Aaron and his sons. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle. A new order had begun. All is complete and the camp of Israel was ready to march to the Promised Land.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® 2011 by Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Used with permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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