Do you struggle to pay attention reading through Leviticus? Last week I posted about how we can do more than simply “get through” it. Today I want to share an Aha! moment I had reading through Leviticus again last week. For all the times I’ve read Leviticus over the years, I never noticed the drama in the story Aaron’s first official sacrifice as Israel’s high priest.
In my ESV Bible the heading for Leviticus chapter 9 says, “The LORD Accepts Aaron’s Offering.” Straight-forward enough, right? Not exactly. Two events occur, one before and one after the sacrifice, that make the events of chapter 9 so astonishing.
The Drama Before
In Exodus 24:9-11 we read,
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ent up, and they saw the God of Israel. There were under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness…they beheld God, and ate and drank.
Keep this mind as we go.
In Exodus 32, before Aaron and his sons are officially installed as Israel’s first priests, Moses was atop Mt Sinai with the Lord, leaving Aaron to mind the store, overseeing the Israelites. In a move that even Barney Fife, on his worst day while Andy was away, wouldn’t have the audacity to do, Aaron gives in to the whims of the Israelites and creates the golden calf. And with it declares, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
This is the man who saw the Lord, who ate with Him on the mountain, who was used by God as Moses’ right-hand man during the encounters with Pharaoh leading up to the Exodus. And then, turning his back and his conscience on all of that, sets up Israel’s first (and sadly, not its last) national idol.
It is a miracle itself that God did not wipe him out right there. Which brings us to…
The Drama After
We’re not given a timeframe from Leviticus 9 to Leviticus 10. It could’ve been days, weeks, or months. Regardless, not long after the Lord accepts their initial priestly sacrifices, God kills Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu.
The details of the incident are divinely sketchy in the text, but we know they offered profane incense before the Lord, unauthorized or “strange” fire. In irony and contrast, the Lord immediately consumed them in his holy and vengeful fire.
Here again, we have to go back and reread Exodus 24:9-11. Right there in the text we see these two men were also on the mountain seeing the Lord and eating there with their father Aaron, their uncle Moses, and seventy elders of Israel!
And still they would go on to profane the worship of the Lord and suffer the terrible consequences.
The Drama in the Middle
Knowing all of this makes the drama of what took place in Leviticus 9 even more amazing, doesn’t it?
It is a wonder and a mercy that God even condescends to acknowledge our sinful race, much less bid us draw near in reconciliation.
It is also stunning to think God didn’t disqualify Aaron from ministry (or just kill him) after the golden calf incident, which from our human perspective seems as-bad or worse than his sons’ sinful perversion of God’s instructions for worshipping him.
Instead God appoints him to the greatest honor, to become the first high priest to the Lord. And on that inauguration day the Lord was pleased to receive the sacrifices on behalf of the priests and the people.
Thirdly, it’s mind-boggling to think that God allowed Nadab and Abihu to serve in ministry knowing full well what would later do.
Reminds me of how the Lord called and welcomed Judas into the fold, giving no indication whatsoever of his future betrayal. Jesus was so kind to him that not only did he let him hold the money bag while knowing he was stealing from it. Which is why in the upper room at the last supper when he announced one of them would betray him, the other disciples had no clue who it might be.
The Drama of Redemption
Ultimately, what we have to marvel at is the drama of redemption itself. What happened in Leviticus 9 not only foreshadows a better, eternal Priest, Jesus, who would offer the greatest sacrifice for sin, himself.
Leviticus 9, as with all of Leviticus and the whole Old Testament for that matter, reminds us in pictures of the depths of our sin and idols of the heart, Christ’s future perfect atoning sacrifice where by God accepts and reconciles us to himself, through no merit of our own. Our sins atoned and forgiven, we are restored and commissioned into service for our God.
Astonishing. And to think–how often have we grumbled that Leviticus is boring. God forgive us!