In last week’s devotional we saw that if you want to understand Leviticus, you have to understand holiness, as seen in the theme, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (19:2), which you find again and again throughout the book. But now we should ask what holiness is, since many of us have a mistaken idea of it. Somehow we think of holiness in exclusively ethical terms. Because we think of ethics as a scale from 0 (if you’re very bad) to 100 (if you’re very good), we think of holiness as kind of moving up the scale.
Now it’s true that ethical matters are involved in holiness. People who are holy are going to behave in a holy manner. But that’s not the chief idea behind the word “holy.” The word itself really has to do with consecration or separation. A good translation of the word “holy” would be “set apart.” That’s why the word can be used for objects. In last week’s study I mentioned the book of Zechariah, and said that in the day of God’s blessing upon Israel in the future, even objects such as the bells on the horses and the pots in the temple of the Lord were going to be holy. Pots and bells don’t have ethical values, but they can be set apart. In that day the people are going to be so set apart for God that everything they have is going to be set apart for Him.
If you want to be holy, you are to belong to God; be set apart to God; live for God so that everything you have belongs to God. Your bank account ought to be holy because it ought to be set apart to God. Your time ought to be holy because you are to be set apart for God. That’s the idea of holiness that we have here in Leviticus.
During this week we will focus on the priests, who were to be set apart in the service of the Lord. We will look at their installation and ordination, as well as their function, and then finally the deaths of two of the priests. And as we look at Israel’s priesthood, we have to remember that according to the New Testament all of God’s people are priests. Although there are certain things in these chapters that pertain particularly to the Old Testament priests—the offering of literal sacrifices, for example—the principles that are found here in these chapters apply to every single Christian.
In Leviticus 8 we have the public ordination of the priests. First, they were purified by washing with water. Then they were clothed, the items of which were described in great detail in Exodus 28. The order in which the vestments are described here in Leviticus is according to how Aaron and his sons put the vestments on. The next thing that happened was the consecration of the tabernacle and the priests. They are anointed with special oil that’s been prepared according to the instructions given in Exodus 31.
In the Bible, oil is frequently used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. When an individual was anointed with oil, it signified that the Holy Spirit was coming upon that individual to bless him for that particular office to which he was being consecrated. There were three different offices in the Old Testament for which one was anointed: prophet (for example, when Elijah anointed his successor, Elisha), priest (as we will see in our studies this week), and king (such as when Samuel anointed both Saul and David). Their anointing with oil showed that they were set apart by that special ritual to their unique office and function.
In the Old Testament period, a prophet could not be a priest, a priest could not be a king, a king could not be a prophet, and so on. In Jesus’ case, all three are combined in His one person. He is our great prophet because He speaks the words of God. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells Moses that He is going to raise up a prophet like Moses from among the people. And God is going to put His words into this prophet’s mouth, and this prophet will speak to the people all that God commands (Deut. 18:18). Jesus Christ is this prophet, and He comes to speak the words of God.
The book of Hebrews says that Jesus Christ also fulfills the function of a priest, and that He is a priest forever. In the Old Testament, priests succeeded priests, one after the other. And furthermore, they never finished their work; they had to keep offering sacrifices again and again. Hebrews says this is symbolized by the fact that there were no chairs in the temple, and in the tabernacle before that (see Heb. 10:11). The priest’s work was never done; he could never sit down. But in the case of Jesus Christ, we have an eternal priest who offered the sacrifice of Himself once for all. And having done that, He sat down at the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 10:12). The atonement was made forever by our great high priest, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is also our king. The great prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 talks about the one who is going to be called “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace.” It goes on to say that one will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it with justice forever. That’s exactly what Jesus Christ has come to do. In the book of Revelation we read that He is given the title King of Kings and Lord of Lords.