A Typical Priesthood Points the Way
1. In Moses’ time how did Jehovah refer to the people of Israel, and under what circumstances?
IN THE eighth generation from Abraham (to Nadab son of Aaron) his seed had grown to be a throng numbering into the millions, but serving as slaves to a harsh taskmaster, Pharaoh of Egypt. Their numbers had already exceeded the native population, so jealous fear dictated a policy of reduction through hard bondage. At this critical point Jehovah’s angel appeared to Moses at the burning thornbush and informed him: “Unquestionably I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their outcry as a result of those who drive them to work; because I well know the pains they suffer. And I am proceeding to go down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land.” He instructed Moses to say to Pharaoh: “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘Israel is my son, my first-born. And I say to you: Send my son away that he may serve me. But should you refuse to send him away, here I am killing your son, your first-born.’”—Ex. 1:8-10; 3:7, 8; 4:22, 23.
2. Did Jehovah give proof of his being a God to the Israelites? How?
2 Pharaoh did prove foolhardy enough to refuse compliance with the demand for release of Jehovah’s firstborn, his people Israel, and so he had to pay the penalty. With a mighty hand Jehovah delivered his people, and in doing so smote the land of Egypt with heavy blows that doubtless crippled that nation for many decades. Not only were the cattle and crops severely damaged by a series of calamities, but the firstborn of every household and of every beast were slain by Jehovah’s angel, and finally the flower of Egypt’s warriors together with their horses and chariots were engulfed in the returning waters of the Red Sea. Jehovah could therefore with truth declare: “It was I who brought Israel up out of Egypt and who went delivering you from the hand of Egypt.”—1 Sam. 10:18.
3. What grand opportunity did God place before the people of Israel?
3 In the third month following that great liberation Jehovah’s firstborn people were encamped before Mount Sinai, and through his prophet Moses Jehovah there declared to them: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, that I might carry you on wings of eagles and bring you to myself. And now if you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:4-6) Think of that! A nation of priests, and Jehovah’s firstborn, implying that they would constitute but the first of a family of nations that Jehovah would come to have! And this particular “son” would be highly distinguished as a priestly nation that in due time might have the privilege of representing all other national groups before Jehovah. This holy nation was to be heir of Jehovah’s blessings in a special sense, so that through it benefits might go to all other peoples in accord with God’s promise to faithful Abraham.—Gen. 22:18.
4. With what provisions did Jehovah arrange to weld the tribes of Israel into a theocratic nation?
4 With fascination, then, we go on to consider how God began to deal with this nation he was pleased to designate as his firstborn. From a loose association of tribal groups they were now to become one nation under theocratic rule, God-rule. To promote this purpose, a special arrangement was made for a system of national worship. To the requirements of pure family worship, already familiar through the instruction of faithful patriarchs, there were now to be added certain new and unique features, namely, a holy place of central worship, a priesthood, and regulations governing pure national worship of Jehovah their great Deliverer.
5. Why should we expect that the details of construction of the tent in the wilderness would be important?
5 The pattern Moses followed in construction of a portable temple or holy place was not based upon something that prophet had seen in Egypt. It was given him by Jehovah, for God’s angel messenger counseled Moses: “And see that you make them after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.” In view of this the details of this pattern were sure to be bound up with deep and significant implications for the future, particularly when we realize that this tent was but a temporary provision for the period of their journeyings on the way to the land promised to Abraham their forefather.—Ex. 25:40.
6. Describe the construction and the furnishings of the tent.
6 The curtains draped on posts around the courtyard of the tent separated that holy place from the surrounding encampment of the Israelites. The tent itself was divided into two parts, one of which was in shape an exact cube. This was the innermost or Most Holy compartment. It was screened from the anterior room by a curtain of beautifully embroidered material. Behind that curtain there was but one item of furniture, the ark of the testimony, with its lid of solid gold intricately fashioned into the shape of a throne-seat overshadowed by cherubims with outspread wings. Inside the Ark itself were the tablets of the Ten Words written by the finger of God, and, later, a sample of the manna from heaven in a gold container, as well as the almond rod that testified to God’s selection of Aaron’s house for the priesthood in Israel. In the front compartment there were a table for showbread, a lampstand of gold and an altar for incense. In front of the tent stood the large copper washbasin, while between it and the gate of the courtyard was located the large altar of sacrifice. Whether the nation was in camp or on the march, this holy place of worship was handled exclusively by a specially selected and sanctified priesthood.—Exodus chaps. 25, 26, 27.
A REPRESENTATIVE PRIESTHOOD
7. In what ways was the tribe of Levi particularly blessed and honored by Jehovah?
7 Jehovah directed his mediator Moses to form a priesthood that would be representative of the entire nation. Aaron and his male offspring were selected as a special priestly family through which a succession of high priests would be assured. Heretofore, under patriarchal provisions, the firstborn sons would have been in line to perform as priests, each one in behalf of his respective family group. Now, however, Jehovah directed that the entire tribe of Levi was to substitute for the firstborn of all Israel, and was to be formed into the congregation or tribe of the firstborn under the direction of the family of Aaron. (Num. 3:41) Their forefather Levi had been involved with Simeon in presumptuous and vengeful violence, for which they were to suffer. However, when Moses called for volunteers to serve as executioners against stubborn and idolatrous fellow Israelites, the tribe of Levi responded promptly. Now, see how Jehovah marvelously blessed them! As a tribe they were now privileged under Aaron to take the lead in matters of worship, just as did faithful firstborn sons or heirs under patriarchal custom.—Gen. 49:5-7; Ex. 32:25-29; Num. 3:5-51.
8. How was Aaron’s office shown to be a vital one in God’s provision for the people of Israel?
8 Aaron was the one selected by Jehovah to be the high priest and to have the main responsibility for the right worship of a people who should strive to be worthy of the designation “a holy nation.” Note how this responsibility was emphasized by certain features of the high priest’s attire: “And Aaron must carry the names of the sons of Israel on the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he comes into the Holy as a memorial before Jehovah constantly. And you must put the Urim and the Thummim into the breastpiece of judgment, and they must prove to be over Aaron’s heart when he comes in before Jehovah; and Aaron must carry the judgments of the sons of Israel over his heart before Jehovah constantly. And [the turban with special gold plate fastened on its front] must come to be upon Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron must answer for the error committed against the holy objects, which the sons of Israel will sanctify, that is to say, all their holy gifts; and it must stay upon his forehead constantly, to gain approval for them before Jehovah.” (Ex. 28:29, 30, 38) In all of this we can see that emphasis is placed upon the need for purification of the people’s worship lest Jehovah should break forth upon them with fiery execution merited by their sinful condition.
INSTALLATION OF THE TYPICAL PRIESTHOOD
9. What steps did Moses take in connection with the installation of the typical priesthood?
9 Chapter twenty-nine of Exodus sets forth the instructions for installing the Aaronic priesthood, and chapter eight of Leviticus recounts the actual putting into effect of Jehovah’s requirements in this regard. All Israel was called on to witness the ceremony at the entrance of the courtyard. Moses first washed Aaron and his four sons and then clothed Aaron with the distinctive priestly garments. Then he took some of the anointing oil and sprinkled it on the tent and its furnishings and utensils. Finally he poured some of the oil upon the head of Aaron. Then Moses clothed Aaron’s sons in their priestly garments. There followed the sacrificing of one young bull and two rams, in each instance Aaron and his sons first placing their hands upon the heads of the animals presented for slaughter. In effect, that was a testimony on their part that those animals were substituting for themselves, and so the particular disposition of those animals would be indicative of their cleansing from sin and condemnation before God, resulting in their being a holy, clean priesthood worthy of being used in Jehovah’s priestly service.
10. Explain (a) how the various parts of the bull of the sin offering were used, (b) how the first ram was handled, and (c) how the ram of installation was dealt with.
10 The young bull was slaughtered and its blood spattered upon the altar of sacrifice and poured out around its base as a special sanctification of this holy “table” upon which the future offerings by fire to Jehovah would be consumed. The intestinal fat of the bull with its kidneys and the appendage of the liver were then made to smoke upon the altar, while the remaining parts of its flesh with its skin and its dung were burned outside the camp. The first ram was then slain and its blood also sprinkled on the altar, after which the entire animal was made to smoke upon the altar. The second ram was treated differently. Some of its blood was smeared by Moses on the right earlobe, the right great toe and the right thumb of Aaron and his four sons. The fatty portions and the right leg were then placed upon the hands of those five men and waved to and fro before Jehovah. Moses then took such portions and smoked them on the altar as an installation sacrifice. The choice breast portion was waved to and fro before Jehovah by Moses himself and then eaten by Moses as his portion of this special offering.
11. What further instructions as to the installation ceremony did Moses arrange to have carried out?
11 Moses then took some of the anointing oil mingled with blood from the altar of burnt offering and spattered it upon Aaron and his sons and their garments. He next instructed them to boil the remaining parts of the installation ram and eat it as something holy at the entrance of the tent of meeting. There they must continue on duty, day and night, for seven days in all, keeping the obligatory watch of Jehovah. On each of the succeeding six days another bull must be offered for a sin offering. Thus it was to take seven days to fill the hands of this typical priesthood with power and acceptability to appear before Jehovah on behalf of the nation of Israel.
12. Give a description of the setting apart of the Levites as helpers to the Aaronic priesthood.
12 Since it was to be expected that the members of this numerous nation would be approaching with their personal and tribal offerings now that an empowered priesthood was available, the need for a great body of duly authorized helpers to the priesthood became apparent. Moses was directed to meet this need by a formal ceremony that is described for us at Nu chapter eight of the Bible book of Numbers. On this occasion the eligible males of the tribe of Levi were brought forward, and the people, probably through their representative chieftains, laid their hands upon the heads of the Levite men. The Levites were then caused to move to and fro before Jehovah as a wave offering from the sons of Israel. Then two young bulls were brought forward, and upon these the Levites laid their hands, after which the bulls were slaughtered, one of them as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. The significance of this presentation of the Levites and their acceptance by Jehovah is referred to in the words of God’s angel to Moses: “And I shall take the Levites in place of all the first-born among the sons of Israel. And I shall give the Levites as given ones to Aaron and his sons from among the sons of Israel, to carry on the service of the sons of Israel in the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the sons of Israel, that no plague may occur among the sons of Israel because the sons of Israel approach the holy place.”—Num. 8:18, 19.
REGULATIONS FOR THE TYPICAL PRIESTS
13. What regulations were to apply to the priesthood of Aaron?
13 The priests and Levites were required to maintain personal, fleshly cleanliness, supervise the offerings of the people, perform all the services of the sanctuary and supervise strict observance of God’s law among the people. Officiating priests had to be without defect or blemish of any kind. They must not become yoked in marriage to a foreigner or to an ineligible Israelite girl. They must drink no intoxicating beverage while on duty at the tent. They were responsible for blowing the holy trumpets, thus giving definite leadership to the people, whether in the matter of setting up or breaking camp, engaging in battle or celebrating some special festival to Jehovah. No Levite was to be given any land inheritance when the people arrived in Canaan. Instead they were to be given dwelling places in forty-eight cities strategically located throughout the lands assigned to the various tribes. In this way Jehovah’s earlier decree that they were to be scattered in Israel was carried out, but at the same time Jehovah saw to it that there were those who could supervise pure worship present in all the tribal portions of the land.—Num. 10:1-10; Leviticus chap. 21; Num. 35:6; Gen. 49:5, 7.
14. (a) What are some of the offerings that were brought to the tent of meeting? (b) What was unique about the atonement day sacrifices?
14 Instruction was given through Moses for the various offerings that could be brought to the tent of meeting, some of them community offerings and some of them family or personal offerings; sin offerings for wrongs committed, guilt offerings on account of guilt that in some way might become attached to the offerers; voluntary offerings of thanksgiving and offerings made on the occasions of making some vow before Jehovah. (See Leviticus, chapters 1 through 7.) Then, once each year, there were atonement day sacrifices, offered on the tenth day of the seventh month. This was when a special recleansing and resanctifying of the entire tent arrangement was to take place, as though readying the nation for another year in which they might continue to have Jehovah’s presence and favor with them. (Leviticus chap. 16) This was the one day of each year when the high priest penetrated the Most Holy with the blood of the atonement offering. Before doing so he had to make sure that no underpriests were present in the front compartment of the tent, and that the Most Holy itself had been filled with smoking incense.
15. What statutes did Jehovah give to the people, and who would have much responsibility for their proper observance?
15 Other statutes relative to the pure worship of the entire nation were also provided, these to be enforced by the priesthood under the direction of its high priest. Fat and blood were not to be eaten on pain of death. The fat was to be smoked upon the altar for a sweet odor to Jehovah. The blood, when not offered upon the altar, was to be poured out upon the ground. All types of sexual uncleanness were to be avoided or immediately expiated by the corresponding sacrifice or punished by death. Slander, extortion, recourse to spiritism of any kind, were matters to be investigated and the guilty ones adequately punished. Special provision was made for cases of unintentional pollution through contact with a dead body or some other unclean thing or person. Thus Jehovah stressed to the Israelites the vitalness of maintaining a clean camp so that he could, without damage to them, continue to dwell in their midst.—Lev. 3:17; Numbers chap. 19.
16. (a) To what extent was God’s provision of the tent arrangement appreciated? (b) What facts point to failure on the part of the priesthood?
16 Thus in great detail did Jehovah provide a central place of worship, a priesthood representative of the entire nation, and proper regulations and sacrifices. But to what extent would this loving provision be appreciated by the people? How near would it bring them to the pure and holy God? Certainly this Aaronic priesthood continued for many centuries. Through its hands passed the offerings of generation after generation of Israelites. In due time its members officiated in the grand temple constructed by Solomon in the city of Jerusalem. But the people continually gravitated toward idolatry and unclean pagan practices. Even this representative priesthood proved unfaithful! In fact, not long after that initial installation Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, suffered fiery death at the hand of Jehovah for daring to perform unauthorized rites within his holy place of worship. The sons of Eli later presented another disappointing example of greedy men who used the holy office of priest to serve their own profane and selfish ends. The prophet Micah, in a later day, could rightly charge that Israel’s “own priests instruct just for a price,” and not out of love for Jehovah and their fellow worshipers.—Lev. 10:1, 2; 1 Sam. 2:12-17; Mic. 3:11.
17. Were there some good examples of faithfulness in the priesthood?
17 There were some faithful members of this priesthood whose records shine out in vivid contrast to the course of the faithless ones. Phinehas, grandson of Aaron, demonstrated commendable zeal for pure worship when he promptly slew the son of an Israelite chieftain and a pagan princess as they engaged in forbidden sex relations. Jehovah gave him, in reward, a “covenant of peace,” “the covenant of a priesthood to time indefinite.” Jehoiada, who courageously protected and instructed the young prince Jehoash of Judah, saving him from the murderous campaign of his pagan grandmother, Athaliah, furnishes another fine example.—Num. 25:1-13; 2 Chron. 22:11; 23:1-3.
18. Why did not the typical nation qualify to become Jehovah’s “special property”?
18 As we reflect upon the subsequent history of Israel we must realize that the Aaronic priesthood failed on the whole to elevate the minds and hearts of the people and bring them closer to God. It did not ward off the well-deserved, desolating blows that came upon temple and city, priesthood and people, first in 607 B.C.E. and then again in 70 C.E. Since the nation failed to obey strictly the voice of Jehovah their Savior and to keep his covenant, they did not qualify to become his “special property” out of all peoples of earth. Jehovah’s judicial decision is therefore expressed by his prophet: “Because the knowledge [of my will] is what you yourself have rejected, I shall also reject you from serving as a priest to me.”—Hos. 4:6.
19, 20. (a) What benefits are derived from our knowledge of those dealings with Israel? (b) In what way did Israel share the handicap upon all nations? (c) What weaknesses needed to be overcome?
19 That entire arrangement of holy place, priesthood and regulations did, however, point to the need for some greater provision for the relief of men from the burden of sin and for bringing them into closer communion with the immaculate Father in heaven. Also, since the people of natural Israel, as a nation, failed to qualify as Jehovah’s firstborn and priestly nation, we can be confident that he would in due time reveal how such a “holy nation” would be formed, to his own praise and the blessing of all families of the ground. It should also be noted that those provisions for national worship had much to do with outward cleansing and offered very little of inner cleansing whereby the people might enjoy a good conscience toward God. All peoples, therefore, including the Israelites, still labored under the handicap of a bad conscience, a consciousness of being impure and naked before the eyes of God, and having no one worthy and able to present an adequate offering in their behalf. That Aaronic priesthood, with all its ministrations, having only “a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things, [it] can never with the same sacrifices from year to year which they offer continually make those who approach perfect.”—Heb. 10:1.
20 How, then, and upon what basis could people ever hope to draw near to the God of heaven, the Source of life, and enjoy with him a relationship unclouded by a bad conscience? How could the fatal weakness of human imperfection as noted in the mediator Moses, in the high priest Aaron and his underpriests, and in the entire people ever be overcome? Jehovah himself provides the happifying answer, which we shall discuss in the next issue of The Watchtower.