A Survey of the Old Testament Priesthood from Adam
to Jesus, the Great High Priest
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2017 F. Wayne Mac Leod
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Special thanks to Diane Mac Leod for proof reading.
Title Page
1- Family Priests
2- The Priesthood of Moses in the Wilderness
3 - The Levites
4 - The Aaronic Priesthood Established
5 - The Responsibility of the Aaronic Priesthood
6 - The Priesthood in the Wilderness
7 - The Priesthood and the Conquest of Canaan
8 - The Decline of the Priesthood Under the Judges
9 - The Priesthood Under Saul, the First King of Israel
10 - The Reorganization of the Priesthood Under King David
11 - Kingdom Divided and the Priesthood of God Abandoned
12 - The Priesthood in the Southern Kingdom of Judah
13 - The Priesthood During the Exile
14 - The Priesthood and the Return from Exile
15 – The Priesthood in the Time of Jesus
16 - The Need of a New Priesthood
17 - The Order of Melchizedek
18 - Jesus the High Priest
19 - Jesus' Qualification as High Priest
20 - The Desire of Our High Priest for Us
About The Author
his is a study of the priesthood of the Old and New Testaments.
The purpose of the study is two-fold. First, to provide, in summary
form, an overall picture of the priesthood of God from its early
beginnings to the time of the Lord Jesus. Second, to show what the
priesthood in the Old Testament reveals about our need of new priest in the
person of the Lord Jesus.
As you read you will see how the Old Testament priesthood developed over
time, moving from being the responsibility of the family head to an
established role in the tabernacle. As the nation matured, the priesthood
grew with it. The changes that took place were not always accepted by the
people. In fact, lives would be lost as people rejected the purpose of God
for the priesthood. The northern kingdom of Israel would completely
abandon the Levitical and Aaronic priesthood and establish their own order
of contrary to the purpose of God.
The priests struggled in their role. There were times when the worship of
God and the role of priest was abandoned for years. While many priests
sought to honour the Lord God, there were others who fell into deep sin and
immorality. Some were struck dead for their blasphemous ways. Ultimately,
the priesthood would turn their back on the Lord God and crucify His Son
on a cross.
Hebrews reminds us that these priests were themselves sinners who fell
short of God’s standard. They could not remove the guilt of sin from the
nation. For the guilt of sin to be removed, a new priesthood would be
required. This priesthood was not from the Old Testament tribe of Levi or
the family of Aaron but a totally new priesthood from the order of
Melchizedek. The Lord Jesus would ultimately do what no priest before
Him could do provide complete forgiveness and remove the penalty of
sin. He did so by offering His own life on the cross. He now stands as our
perfect High Priest having broken the barrier between us and the Father.
My prayer for this study is that it would point people to the Lord Jesus and
help the reader to understand the need of the Priesthood of Jesus. I trust that
it will give the reader a new appreciation of the work of Christ on our
behalf. May the Spirit of God be pleased to use this study to elevate the
name of Christ and exalt His work as High Priest for us.
God bless,
F. Wayne Mac Leod
e begin our study of the Old Testament priesthood with an
examination of its function in the book of Genesis. Before
doing so, however, we need to understand the basic role of the
priest and why he was necessary. This brings us back to the fall of
humankind into sin and its entrance into the Garden of Eden. Sin became a
barrier between God and His creation. The result was physical death and a
loss of fellowship with God. From the moment sin entered the world, there
was a need for someone to intercede on behalf of humankind before its
A quick look at the Old Testament shows that God setup a system of
sacrifices and offerings. These sacrifices provided for the forgiveness of sin
and restoration of God’s people to fellowship with Him. The role of the
priest was to bring these offerings and sacrifices to God on behalf of the
people. The priest stood between God and the people seeking forgiveness
and favour from God. With this basic starting point, let’s look at the book of
Genesis to see what it tells us about this role of priest. We begin in Genesis
4, just after the fall of creation into sin.
Cain and Abel
In Genesis 4 we have the first record of an offering being made to the Lord.
3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the
fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his
flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and
his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So
Cain was very angry, and his face fell. (Genesis 4)
Notice that there are two types of offerings brought to the Lord in this
passage. The first is an offering from the ground—this was the offering of
Cain as a tiller of the soil. The second offering was the sacrifice of the
firstborn of the flock of Abel. Both types of offerings were commanded by
the Lord in the Old Testament (see Numbers 18:13-17).
It is not our purpose to enter a discussion on why one offering was accepted
and the other was not. For the purpose of this study, it is important that we
notice several details. Notice, how Abel brought the firstborn of his flock as
an offering. Notice also that he offered the fat portions to the Lord. It would
not be until later, under the leadership of Moses, that the offering of the
firstborn of the flock would become an established regulation (see Exodus
13:1). It was in commemoration of the fact that God spared the firstborn of
the families of Israel when they left Egypt. This was not something Abel
understood but practiced, nonetheless. Also, the fact that he offered the fat
portions to the Lord is significant. God would put this in writing later in the
time of Moses but somehow Abel understood this to be the requirement of
God even before it was regulated by Moses (Exodus 29:13).
What we see here are the sons of Adam bringing their own offerings to the
Lord. In the case of Abel, we see him sacrificing the offering and bringing
the fat portions to the Lord. While Cain’s offering was rejected, there is
good evidence that this had nothing to do with his offering but the attitude
and way he brought it. In this time, before the Law of Moses, it appears that
individuals would offer their own burnt offerings or thanksgiving offerings
to the Lord.
In Genesis 8 we read of the judgement of God on the earth in the form of a
flood. Noah and his family alone were saved from this worldwide
devastation because God told them to build an ark and to seek shelter there.
When the waters subsided and the family was finally able to leave the ark
and walk on dry ground, Noah gathered his family before him and on their
behalf offered a great sacrifice to the Lord.
18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives
with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird,
everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the
ark. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every
clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt
offerings on the altar. (Genesis 8)
Noah acted as a priest on behalf of his family. He had a sense of what
animals were clean and acceptable to God and offered them on an alter as a
burnt offering for forgiveness and the blessing of God on his family. God
was pleased with Noah’s offering and promised His blessing by committing
to never again destroy the earth with a flood.
After Noah, we have no record of individuals like Cain and Abel offering
sacrifices. We see, however, numerous occurrences of the head of the
family taking on this responsibility for his family.
Genesis 12 tells the story of how God called Abram out of the region of Ur
and promised to make him a great nation. In obedience to the command of
the Lord, Abram took his family and left his home in Ur to follow the
leading of the Lord. As he travelled, he arrived in the region of Shechem.
There in Shechem the Lord spoke to Abram:
7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I
will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had
appeared to him. (Genesis 12)
Abram’s response to the Lord was to build Him an altar.
From Shechem, Abram moved toward the region of Bethel and appeared to
settle for a time. Notice what he does when he arrived in Bethel.
8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and
pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And
there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the
Lord. (Genesis 12)
In both Shechem and in Bethel, Abram built an altar to the Lord. The altar
was used for sacrifices and offerings. As the head of the family, he saw it as
his responsibility to build these altars and to bring the necessary sacrifices
to God on behalf of His family. Abram appears to act as a priest for his
It seems that wherever Abram moved, he would build an altar. We read in
Genesis 13:
18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of
Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the
LORD. (Genesis 13)
As time when by, the promise of God to make of his descendants a great
nation seemed more and more impossible in the eyes of Abram. On one
occasion, he asked God about this promise. God showed Abram the stars of
the sky and told him that his descendants would be numerous like those
stars. Abram believed the words of God but wanted some sort of sign from
God as a guarantee of His promise. In response, God asked Abram to bring
Him an offering:
8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess
it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female
goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a
young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half,
and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the
birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the
carcasses, Abram drove them away. (Genesis 15)
Abram was told to sacrifice a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a
young pigeon, cut them in half and lay them side by side. God would walk
through these corpses saying something like this: “If I do not fulfil my
promise to you, may I be like these animals that lay dead on the ground.”
Through this great sacrifice, Abram is confirmed in the promise of God for
His family.
Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham by God was well
accustomed to bringing sacrifices to God on behalf of his family. This
becomes very evident when God called him in Genesis 22 to offer his son
on an altar. In obedience to God, Abram took Isaac, his son, and left early in
the morning for a mountain in the region of Moriah (Genesis 22:1-2).
We are not told how old Abraham’s son Isaac was at that time, but he was
old enough to walk, carry wood and understand what was happening. As
they were walking up the mountain to make the sacrifice, Isaac questioned
his father:
7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said,
“here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but
where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22)
This question of Isaac to his father gives us insight into the life of the
family. Isaac was aware of the procedure even as a young child. He speaks
here about a burnt offering and the need of a lamb. It is obvious from this
those regular sacrifices took place at his home. He had seen his father
perform these sacrifices and knew what to expect. From this is it quite clear
that Abraham acted as a priest for the entire family.
Evidence of Abraham acting as priest is further seen in Genesis 17 when
God commanded that all males of his family be circumcised.
23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his
house or bought with his money, every male among the men of
Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins
that very day, as God had said to him. (Genesis 17)
Notice that this verse is quite specific. Abraham circumcised Ishmael, every
son born in his house and all his male servants. When his son Isaac was
born Genesis 21:4 tells us that Abraham circumcised him also. Abraham
took this spiritual responsibility on himself as God’s priestly representative
for his family.
As priest, Abraham would also cry out to God on behalf of his family. We
have an example of this in Genesis 18 where God reveals to him that he was
going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Knowing that his nephew Lot and
his family was in this city, Abraham petitions God to save the city for Lot’s
sake. While the city was ultimately destroyed, Lot and his two daughters
were rescued due to Abraham’s petition. Abraham felt a God-given burden
to intercede for his family and cry out for God’s favour on their lives.
When Abraham’s son Isaac grew up and had his own family, he would
carry on the priestly tradition. When God met him in the region of
Beersheba, he too would build and altar there to sacrifice and worship:
23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the Lord appeared
to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your
father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply
your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an
altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his
tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. (Genesis 26)
Not only did Isaac offer sacrifices to the Lord but we have a record in
Genesis 27 of him blessing his children. This act of blessing was one
carried out by a priest, who would call on the favour of God for his people.
Isaac’s son Jacob wrestled with God on behalf of his family. Genesis 32
records the story of how he fought with and angel and refused to let him go
until he had blessed him and his family. His wrestling was long and hard,
but he longed to see the blessing and protection of God on his family, and
he was willing to risk all to obtain this blessing for them.
Genesis 33:18-20 records how Jacob arrived in the city of Shechem and
there he erected and altar to the Lord. Again, we see that as the head of his
household it was his priestly duty to assure that sacrifices were made on
their behalf.
When Jacob moved to Bethel in Genesis 35, he would build an altar at the
command of the Lord.
1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make
an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from
your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who
were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and
purify yourselves and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and
go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who
answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever
I have gone.” (Genesis 35)
Notice that the command to build an altar came from God to Jacob. He was
the priest for his family and so God spoke to Him. As priest and spiritual
head of the family, Jacob called on his household to put away all foreign
gods and purify themselves. There is Bethel he would perform the sacrifices
necessary for his family.
In Genesis 48 and 49 Jacob would also offer his blessings and prophetic
words to each of his children before he died. He spoke to them the words of
God and brought them the blessings and warning of God. This too was his
priestly role as head of the family.
Let me give one more example before we conclude. While there are some
questions regarding the date of the book of Job, there are some interesting
similarities here with the book of Genesis. Job is described as a righteous
man who loved the Lord. His children, however, did not share his heart.
This concerned Job very much and in response he would personally offer
sacrifices to God on their behalf:
4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on
his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and
drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their
course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise
early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the
number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have
sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
(Job 1)
Notice again what is happening here. Job acts as priest for his family. He
was concerned about the possibility that in their festivities they would sin or
curse God in their hearts. He felt obligated as a result to rise early in the
morning and offer burnt offerings for each of them, imploring the
forgiveness of God on their behalf. Clearly Job saw himself as a priest for
his family and like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sought the favour and
forgiveness of God for each of his children.
What we see from the book of Genesis and Job is that initially the family
head would act as priest for his family. He would set up an altar and bring
the necessary offerings and sacrifices to God on their behalf. He would
implore the favour of God and pronounce His blessing on the family.
For Consideration:
Why was a priest necessary?
Did those who acted in the role of priest in Genesis have any special
qualifications for their role?
What do we learn in this chapter about the important spiritual role of the
head of the family? What were his obligations?
How do you function as priest over your family?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord that He did not leave us in our sin but provided a means
whereby we could be restored to fellowship with Him.
Ask the Lord to give you a deeper sense of your obligation as a priest for
your family.
Thank the Lord that He was willing to use even simple people to represent
him before their families. Ask Him to help you to be a faithful
t appears from the books of Genesis and Job that the role of priest was
exercised by the head of the family. This practice would change as the
nation of Israel continued to grow. By the time they left their bondage
in Egypt there were over 600,000 men and an unnumbered women and
37 And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth,
about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and
children. (Exodus 12)
Remember that Pharaoh had tried to kill all the male children of Israel. We
could assume therefore, that there was an even greater number of women
leaving Egypt. If, however, there were the same number of women to men
and only two children for every family, we could safely assume that about
2.5 million people left Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
Israel was no longer a small family but a growing nation. God called Moses
not only to deliver His people from bondage but to lead them to a land of
their own and establish them as a nation under God. The establishment of
Israel as a nation required clear guidelines and regulations.
Those guidelines were established under the leadership of Moses. Through
Moses, God would lay out His requirements for Israel as a nation. Those
requirements involved special days and celebrations to remember the
goodness of God and His deliverance. The Passover, for example, was to be
celebrated every year in remembrance of how the angel passed over every
home in Israel whose doorposts were marked with the blood. The law
regarding God’s ownership of the firstborn offspring of every child or
animal, was also in remembrance of how God spared Israelite children
while killing the firstborn of every family in Egypt.
In those early days in the wilderness, Moses seems to act as a priest for the
nation. He would hear from God and communicate His words to the people.
He would seek the Lord on behalf of the people and their needs:
We have a record in Exodus 17 of a great battle with the Amalekites.
Joshua, Israel’s military commander, engaged these enemies in battle, but
Moses went up to the top of a hill and held his staff high in the air. Listen to
what happened that day:
11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and
whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’
hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he
sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side,
and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the
going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his
people with the sword. (Exodus 17)
Moses is the person who stood between God and the people. As he held up
his rod, the people were victorious but when it fell down the enemy began
to win. The outcome of the battle was from the Lord, but it required the
effort of Moses holding up His hands to the heavens. Moses’ role as priest
was vital for the people of God to win the battle.
It was not long before the task of being priest over a whole nation became
too much for Moses to handle. His father-in-law perceived this when he
saw Moses spending the entire day counselling the people in the ways of
the Lord. Jethro suggested that Moses find able men who could help him to
minister to the people, leaving the more difficult cases to him.
21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear
God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men
over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of
tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great
matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall
decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the
burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be
able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in
peace.” (Exodus 18)
Moses would follow the advice of his father-in-law and appoint men to help
him judge and counsel the people in the will of the Lord. This set Moses
free to hear from the Lord about His greater purpose for the nation of Israel.
Through Moses, God would unfold His plans for the nation. He instructed
Moses in the religious ceremonies that were to be practiced in Israel as well
as in the behaviour He expected of His people. The regulations God gave
Moses in those days covered all aspects of life what they could eat, their
social responsibilities and the punishments to be handed out to those who
disregarded God’s ways. As a priest, Moses instructed his people in the
ways of the Lord and made sure that God’s instructions were being
followed in the nation of Israel.
Moses’ role as priest also required interceding for Israel before God. The
people did not always follow the ways of God. There were times when they
would anger Him to a point where He threatened to destroy them as a
nation. We have such a case in Exodus 32 when the people asked Aaron to
make a god for them. In response, Aaron fashioned a golden calf in the fire
and set it up for the people to worship. Listen to the response of God to this
in Exodus 32:
7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom
you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded
them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have
worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O
Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the
Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a
stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath
may burn hot against them, and I may consume them, in order that I
may make a great nation of you.” (Exodus 32)
Notice how God’s anger was such that He considered destroying the nation
and raising up another through Moses. The response of Moses is
11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why
does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have
brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty
hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he
bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them
from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and
relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember
Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by
your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as
the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give
to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord
relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his
people. (Exodus 32)
Moses pleaded with God on behalf of the people, begging Him to forgive
and not exercise the judgement His people deserved. He implored Him for
mercy and compassion. God heard the prayer of Moses relented.
In Exodus 33 God told Moses that He would send His people to the land He
had promised their fathers but His personal presence would not go with
them lest He consume them on the way because of their evil. Both Moses
and the people grieved over the fact that the presence of the Lord would not
be with them and so Moses again pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this
people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.
Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found
favour in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favour in your
sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order
to find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your
people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will
give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go
with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known
that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in
your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from
every other people on the face of the earth?” 17 And the Lord said
to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you
have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.”
Because of the prayer of Moses for the people, God again relented and
promised that His presence would go with the people on their way to the
Promised Land.
What is clear from the book of Exodus is that at the beginning of their
wilderness wandering, Moses had a very special role a national priest. He
exercised this role by counselling and judging cases between individuals. In
each case, he would seek the will of the Lord and counsel people
As priest, Moses would hear from God and communicate that message to
the people. Moses would oversee the religious celebrations God had
instituted. He made sure that the sacrifices and offerings made to God were
performed according to the regulations God had given Him.
Moses also saw it as his priestly obligation to intercede for the people in
their sin and rebellion. He did what He could to counsel and teach the
people of God but when they sinned, Moses would cry out to God for
mercy on their behalf. He stood between God and the people as an
intercessor pleading their case.
The time in the wilderness was a period of transition for the people of God.
During the initial period of this wandering, it appears that Moses takes the
lead as spiritual advisor and priest for the people. He stands between God
and the people, communicating the will of God, interceding for them in
their sin and guiding them into the will of God for their lives.
After a period of four hundred years in Egypt, it is uncertain as to how
much the people of Israel understood of God’s purpose for their lives. It is
unclear if the heads of the families had exercised their role as spiritual priest
over their family units during this time in Egypt. Moses led the people into
the truth of God and His purpose for their lives, transitioning them into a
new phase of their life as a nation and in their experience with God.
For Consideration
Moses spent entire days counselling and seeking the will of the Lord for
individuals. His counselling, however, had to do with seeking God’s
purpose and not sharing his own ideas. How easy is it to share our own
ideas with people and not really seek the will of God for them?
There were times when the life of the nation hung in the balance and the
only thing that would save them was the prayers and intercession of Moses.
How important was praying and interceding for Moses as priest? How
important is it for us today?
After 400 years in the bondage of Egypt, it is unclear how much the people
of God understood the will of God and His purpose for their lives. How
important was the teaching side of Moses’ priestly ministry?
We have seen that the priestly ministry of Moses involved counselling,
intercession, and teaching. Look at your church today. Are any of these
aspects missing?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to give you a heart to intercede for those around you who are
not walking with the Lord.
Ask the Lord to give us men and women in our churches today whose
desire it is to teach God’s ways and communicate God’s heart and not their
own ideas.
Take a moment to thank the Lord for those who have had a spiritual impact
on your life and who have held you up before God in times of deep distress
and pain.
Pray for those who are in spiritual leadership over you. Ask that Lord to
give them a heart for the people to whom God has called them. Ask Him to
reveal to them the significance of the ministry He has called them to.
he exodus from Egypt was a significant event for the people of
God. It is interesting to note that as they prepared to leave, the
Lord God commanded that each family sacrifice a lamb and paint
its blood on the doorposts of their homes in Egypt. When the angel of God
passed over their homes and saw the blood of the lamb, he would spare
their firstborn son. The angel of the Lord would, however, kill the firstborn
child in any house that did not have this blood painted on its doorposts. God
gave specific instructions for the sacrificing of this lamb to the heads of the
3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this
month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’
houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small
for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbour shall take according
to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall
make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish,
a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats,
6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when
the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their
lambs at twilight. (Exodus 12)
Prior to leaving the nation of Egypt, the head of the household was to act as
priest for his family by making this sacrifice.
The death of the firstborn sons in the families of Egypt was the final plague
that God uses to set the Israelites free from slavery. Pharaoh chose to let the
people go after this event. The incident was significant also for another
reason. Because God spared the firstborn of Israel, when the family heads
painted the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, He required that every
firstborn of Israel be consecrated to Him from that point forward in
remembrance of this event.
1 The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn.
Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel,
both of man and of beast is mine.” (Exodus 13)
The Lord would go on to explain this consecration of the firstborn to His
11 “When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he
swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, 12 you shall
set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn
of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. 13 Every
firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will
not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among
your sons you shall redeem. 14 And when in time to come your son
asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong
hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.
(Exodus 13)
Notice what Exodus 13 tells us. All firstborn male animals belonged to the
Lord. If the animal was an unclean animal, the people were to buy it back
from the Lord. If the firstborn was a donkey for example (an unclean
animal) and they were unwilling to buy it back from the Lord, then they
were to kill the donkey. If the firstborn was a clean animal such as a sheep,
it would be sacrificed to the Lord. It was not theirs to keep.
Regarding the firstborn male children, listen to the requirement of the Lord:
15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or
beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the
firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean
animals you shall redeem. 16 And their redemption price (at a
month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in
silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty
girahs. (Numbers 18)
The cost to buy back a firstborn son was five shekels of silver. When they
arrived in the land of Canaan, this would be paid to the priests and the
money used in the work of the tabernacle.
As the nation grew, the practices of their faith became more structured, God
commanded that a tabernacle be built as a central place of worship. He then
chose one of the families of Israel to be His servants in the work of the
tabernacle in the place of the firstborn of Israel:
11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Behold, I have taken
the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every
firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The
Levites shall be mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. On the day
that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I
consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and
of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.” (Numbers 3)
While the obligation to redeem every firstborn child remained, the tribe of
Levi was chosen to represent the firstborn of every family in Israel by
serving the Lord full time. We read in Numbers 3 what the general
responsibilities of these Levites would be:
6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest,
that they may minister to him. 7 They shall keep guard over him and
over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they
minister at the tabernacle. 8 They shall guard all the furnishings of
the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they
minister at the tabernacle. 9 And you shall give the Levites to Aaron
and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of
Israel. (Numbers 3)
The Levites were involved the care of the tabernacle and its furnishings and
assisting the priests in their various duties. We will examine the priesthood
in the next chapter. For now, our focus in on this tribe of Levi whose role
was to assist in the work of the newly constructed tabernacle. Levi had
three sons: Gershon, Kohath and Merari (Numbers 3:17). Each of these
sons and their descendants would be given a task in the ongoing work of the
The sons of Gershon, (the Gershonites) were given the responsibility of
caring for the covering of the tabernacle, the doors, and the hangings in the
courtyard (Numbers 3:25-26). The sons of Kohath (the Kohathites) were to
care for the ark of the covenant, the table, lampstand, and other temple
furnishings. Finally, the sons of Merari were to care for the frames, bars,
and pillars of the tabernacle. As the people of God moved from place to
place in the wilderness, after their escape from Egypt, these Levites would
carry the tabernacle and its furnishings. When the people camped, these
Levites would setup the tabernacle according to the instructions of God so
that the people had a place of worship.
The Levites were much more than caretakers, however. They also had a
variety of other tasks to perform in the service of God. 1 Chronicles 23
gives us a better idea of the various responsibilities of the Levites:
27 For by the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered
from twenty years old and upward. 28 For their duty was to assist
the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, having the
care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy,
and any work for the service of the house of God. 29 Their duty was
also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering,
the wafers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering
mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size. 30 And they
were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and
likewise at evening, 31 and whenever burnt offerings were offered to
the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the
number required of them, regularly before the Lord. 32 Thus they
were to keep charge of the tent of meeting and the sanctuary, and to
attend the sons of Aaron, their brothers, for the service of the house
of the Lord. (1 Chronicles 23)
According to this passage the Levites would cleanse the holy articles and
prepare them for use by the priests. They would assist the priest with the
offerings. They led in worship of the Lord in the various celebrations that
took place in the life of Israel. 1 Chronicles 9:26 tells us that they were also
in charge of the offerings and treasury of the tabernacle and would manage
this on behalf of the people. We also have records of the Levites being
involved in the teaching of the Law of God (see 2 Chronicles 17:8-9 and
Nehemiah 8:7-13). In many ways, the role of Levite could be comparable to
the role of deacon or elder in the church of our day.
As Israel grew, so did her spiritual needs. The need to teach and counsel the
people of God grew. There were more sacrifices to be offered and more
offerings to manage. God provided the Levites to help in this important
role. Under the leadership of Moses in the wilderness, the faith of Israel
became more structured. A place of worship was constructed. This
tabernacle would move with them wherever they went. The descendants of
Levi (the Levites) cared for the tabernacle and its various articles. While the
obligation of the head of the home to be a spiritual leader for his family
continued, there was also developing in Israel a national faith with spiritual
leaders and a central place of worship. The Levites played a vital role in the
maintenance and ministry of this central place of worship.
For Consideration:
Who were the Levites?
What was the role of the Levite in the spiritual life of Israel?
Why was it necessary for an entire family line to be set apart for the service
and worship of God?
How does the establishment of a Levitical role change the religious life of
the people of God in those days?
Compare the role of the Levite to the role of a deacon or elder in the church
today? What are the similarities?
The Levites were servants who often assisted in ordinary and common
tasks. Their role, however, was very important. How willing are we to
recognize those in our church who exercise these ordinary and unnoticed
For Prayer:
Take a moment to thank the Lord for men and women who act as servants
to facilitate the worship of God in your church.
The role of Levite was often a “behind the scenes” role. Ask God to make
you to be a servant who willing serves if you are noticed or not.
Ask the Lord to show you if there is a role, He would have you play in the
worship and service of the body of Christ.
The change from a family centred faith to one of a more centralised faith
would not be an easy adjustment for everyone. Have there been changes in
your church or life that have been difficult to understand or adjust to? Ask
the Lord to give you grace to be willing to move as He moves. Ask Him to
give you a heart that is willing to change when He calls for change.
e saw in the previous chapter how the Lord chose a family
from among the people of Israel to represent Him on behalf of
the nation of Israel. The male descendants of Levi were to be
set apart for the service of God.
It should be noted that up to this point there was no central place of
worship. The people of God worshipped in family units with the head of the
family acting as priest on their behalf. As the people of Israel left the land
of Egypt, the Lord instructed Moses to build a tent or tabernacle where the
worship of God would take place (see Exodus 26). As we saw in the last
chapter, the Levites played an important role in caring for this tabernacle.
God also chose another family to act as priests for the nation. Speaking to
Moses in Exodus 28, God said:
1 Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him,
from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and
Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. (Exodus 28)
Aaron and his sons were set apart by God to act as priests for the nation.
Their descendants alone would carry this honour as priests of Israel.
This position of priest was elevated by God. The people of Israel were to
respect the descendants of Aaron as their spiritual leaders. To distinguish
this family from everyone else, God commanded Moses to make special
clothing for them to wear:
2 And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for
glory and for beauty. (Exodus 28)
These clothes identified them as priests of God, called to serve and minister
to the spiritual needs of the nation. When people saw them in these clothes,
they would remember to honour them as God’s chosen instruments.
In the breast piece that Aaron wore were two stones called the Urim and
Thummim. It is unclear as to how these stones were used, but they were
used in the judgement of the people of God. God chose to use these stones
to communicate His will for the people through the priest.
30 And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and
the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in
before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people
of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly. (Exodus 28)
God chose to communicate His specific will for the people through these
two stones worn by the priest. As such, the priest would be equipped to
speak on God’s behalf in the various situations that occurred in Israel.
Aaron and his sons were set apart in an elaborate ceremony of ordination
involving many sacrifices and offerings (see Exodus 29). By this means
Aaron and his sons were separated from all the other people in Israel to be
spiritual leaders. From generation to generation, they would minister in
God’s name to the people of Israel (see Exodus 40:15). No other family was
permitted to serve as priests.
This special calling on the descendants of Aaron was not accepted by
everyone. In Numbers 16 we have the record of a rebellion against God’s
choice. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram gathered 250 chiefs from the people of
God and approached Moses to speak with him about this matter. Listen to
what they had to say to Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16:3:
3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against
Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the
congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among
them. Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the
LORD? (Numbers 16)
Prior to this time, the heads of the family units were appointed to act as
priests for their families. Korah and his followers didn’t see why they had to
have Aaron as their priest nor why he should be elevated above them. They
rebelled against the idea of a centralised priesthood.
It should be remembered here that Korah was a Levite. As such, his own
family had been chosen out of the nation of Israel to serve at the tabernacle.
He still resented, however, the fact that Aaron’s descendants were given the
role of priests. Moses spoke to this issue in Numbers 16 when he replied to
8 And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9 is it too
small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from
the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do
service in the tabernacle of the LORD and to stand before the
congregation to minister to them, 10 and that he has brought you
near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And
would you seek the priesthood also? (Numbers 16)
Moses saw the jealousy of these Levites as they watched Aaron and his
sons be elevated above them. They loved the fact that they had been chosen
from all others to be servants in the tabernacle but resented the fact that
God had called someone else to an even higher position.
To confirm His call on the family of Aaron, God gave a word to Moses for
Korah and his followers:
28 And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent
me to do all these works and that it has not been of my own accord.
29 If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of
all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD
creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and
swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down
alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised
the LORD. (Numbers 16)
Numbers 16:31 tells us that as soon as Moses had finished speaking, the
ground spilt apart and swallowed the families of Korah with all their
belongings, confirming that God had chosen Aaron’s descendants to be
priests over them.
Despite this clear sign from God, the people still resisted the Lord and
grumbled against Moses and Aaron, God’s chosen priest. The Lord sent a
plague against them. Only when Aaron took his censor and walked with it
through the congregation of offenders was this plague stopped. Before it
was stopped, however, 14,700 people were killed (see Numbers 16:47-50).
This transition to a centralised priesthood did not come easy. There were
many lives lost as people grumbled and complained, but it was clearly the
will of the Lord to establish a priesthood who would act on behalf of the
people as a nation.
The descendants of Aaron were given a special role in the religious life of
the people of God. They were given responsibilities before God that even
the Levites could not perform. This is evident in Numbers 18:
2 And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe
of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you
and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3 They
shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not
come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they
and you, die. (Numbers 18)
It is clear from this that while the Levites cared for the tabernacle and the
transportation of its furnishings from place to place, they were not
permitted to minister on behalf of the people in ceremonies involving the
use of the vessels. To do so would mean death for the Levites and possibly
even the priests who permitted it.
What we see here is that as the faith of Israel developed, it became more
and more centralised. With the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood, the
sacrifices and ceremonies are being handed over to a specific group of men
who would minister in the tabernacle. It was a sin punishable by death for
anyone else to approach the altar to make a sacrifice or use the oil or
incense set apart for God and His worship (see Exodus 30:37-38).
The intention of the centralisation of Israel’s faith and religious practice was
that as the nation grew and spread out, its integrity and purity would be
maintained. With over 2.5 million people in the nation, it would be very
easy for them to lose focus and wander off into false practices. Remember
that many of these former Israelite slaves very likely could not read, nor
was there any Scriptures to guide them in the practice of their faith. God
was only now beginning to reveal to Moses His purposes for Israel’s faith.
While Moses would write down what the Lord was showing him, these
writings would not have been available to the average person. The families
of Israel did not have copies of the law in their homes. They were
dependant on the instructions they received from Moses, the priests, and the
Levites. It was the obligation of these priests and Levites to assure that faith
was practiced as God intended.
For Consideration:
What was the difference between a priest and a Levite? How was it
determined who would be a Levite and who would be a priest?
How were the priests set apart from everyone else in Israel? Have we lost
some of the respect due to our religious leaders today?
Was the transition to a more centralised worship easy for Israel? Give an
What were the benefits of having the faith of Israel centred around the
tabernacle with priests who alone could minister to the spiritual needs of the
Consider the jealousy of Korah and his followers. Do you ever experience
this jealousy when God chooses to use someone else besides yourself to
accomplish His purpose?
For Prayer:
Thank the Lord for those He has chosen to be your spiritual leaders. Take a
moment to commit them to Him.
Ask God to give you grace to not grumble but to respect those He has put in
authority over you. Ask forgiveness for times when you have spoken evil of
Ask the Lord to help you to accept the changes that come your way,
especially as it relates to your church. Pray that these changes would be for
His glory alone.
n the last chapter, we saw that the Lord called for a priesthood to be
established from the family of Aaron. Before proceeding further in
this study, I would like to take a moment to consider the
responsibilities of the priests as defined by God to Moses.
We have seen the responsibilities of the Levites as assistants to the priests.
While the Levites were priests of a sort, the descendants of Aaron had some
very particular responsibilities.
One of the first obvious responsibilities of the priests was to offer sacrifices
to God on behalf of the people. It is not our purpose in this study to at the
various types of sacrifices offered. Suffice it to say that the priests offered
sacrifices of thanksgiving as well as sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. It
was the duty of the priest to bring these sacrifices to the Lord:
12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go
out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall
arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the
peace offerings, 13 Fire shall be kept burning on the altar
continually; it shall not go out. (Leviticus 6)
God gave very specific instructions to the priests about the procedure
involved in the sacrifice of these animals (see Leviticus 1). They were to be
careful to follow these instructions.
Another important aspect of the priest’s duties involved receiving the
offerings of God’s people. We see this clearly from Leviticus 2:1-3:
1 “When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord,
his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put
frankincense on it 2 and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he
shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its
frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion
on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 3 But
the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a
most holy part of the Lord’s food offerings.
Offerings were brought to the tabernacle and given to the priest who would
bring them to God on behalf of the individual concerned. Notice also that a
portion of the offering brought to the Lord was given to the priest (Exodus
29:26; Leviticus 7:31-32). It was by this means the priests were paid for
their service on behalf of the people.
We learn also from Leviticus 13 and 14 that the priests were also involved
in the purification of the people from uncleanness and impurities that
defiled them before God. We have in Leviticus 13 a set of rules established
by God for the diagnosing and treatment of leprous conditions of the skin.
The priest was to examine the sores on the skin of those affected. If they
exhibited certain signs they were to be separated for a time from the rest of
the people. If the condition improved, the priest was to declare them pure
through a ceremony of purification (see Leviticus 14:1-32).
The priest not only examined skin conditions and declared individuals
either pure or impure he was also to do the same for houses or clothes when
a form of mould was growing on them (Leviticus 14:33-57). This role
guaranteed the health of the nation. It also made sure that no physical
defilements separated God’s people from their Creator.
Overseeing and Handling the Holy Things
Another responsibility of the priests was to oversee the holy things of God.
This involved the oil, incense, offerings, and vessels used in the service of
the Lord.
16 And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the
oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering and
the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all
that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels. (Numbers 4)
While in some cases, the priests were assisted by the Levites, it was the
priests who gave oversight and handled the sacred articles used for the
worship of God.
Social Justice
The priests also were involved in judging cases between believers. In
Numbers 5:11-31, for example, we have the case of a man suspecting his
wife of adultery. The priest was to settle this matter. The priests were also to
be involved in judging cases of murder or theft. Deuteronomy 17:8-10 gives
us an example of a man charged with murder coming before the priests for
8 “If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of
homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one
kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too
difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the
Lord your God will choose. 9 And you shall come to the Levitical
priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall
consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10 Then
you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place
that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according
to all that they direct you. (Deuteronomy 17)
A very important role of the priest was to teach the people the ways of God.
Listen to the command of Moses to Aaron in Leviticus 10:
8 And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Drink no wine or strong
drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of
meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your
generations. 10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the
common, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you are to
teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to
them by Moses.”
Notice here that Moses commands Aaron to teach the people the difference
between what was holy and common; clean and unclean. The priest was to
teach the people of Israel “all the statutes the Lord has spoken to them by
Moses” (Leviticus 10:11). The priests were to be teachers of the Law of
Counselling and Encouraging the People
Deuteronomy 20:2-4 gives us further insight into the duty of the priest:
2 And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come
forward and speak to the people 3 and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O
Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies:
let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them,
4 for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you
against your enemies, to give you the victory.’ (Deuteronomy 20)
In times of crisis such as a battle, the priest was to be present to encourage
the people and to remind them of the presence of the Lord going before
them. The priest was to stand before the people and give them courage to
face these challenges in the strength of the Lord.
The role of the priest was to represent God to the people. This was done
through offering sacrifices, receiving offerings, judging, teaching,
encouraging, and purifying the people so that they could be right with God
and enjoy the fullness of His blessing. This was a very important role in
Israel, as the health of the nation depended on the work of the priests on
their behalf.
The role of priest was to be exercised by Aaron and his descendants only.
Anyone outside this family line who chose to exercise the priest’s functions
was to be put to death:
10 And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard
their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to
death. (Numbers 3).
Those who were legitimate priests in the line of Aaron were to take their
role seriously. They were to be careful to exercise their functions exactly as
God required and as revealed to them by Moses. Any disrespect shown to
God in this matter was punishable by death. We have an example of this in
Leviticus 10:
1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer
and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire
before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire
came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died
before the Lord. (Leviticus 10)
We see here that Aaron’s sons offered incense that was not commanded by
God through Moses. The anger of the Lord fell upon them, and they died
because they had chosen to do things their own way and not according to
the standards God had laid out. This was a clear revelation to the remaining
priests of the seriousness of walking in absolute obedience to the Lord in
their service.
The High Priest
We have seen so far that there were two groups of priests. The Levites were
from the tribe of Levi and assisted the priests who were from the family of
Aaron. Among the priests, however, God chose one man to be known as the
High Priest. He was dressed differently from the other priests, wearing a
special breastplate with the names of the children of Israel carved on twelve
stones. He also carried in his robe two stones known as the Urim and
Thummim by which he could discern the will of the Lord. The High Priest
alone could enter the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle once a year to offer
sacrifices for the nation. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of this when he
6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go
regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but
into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year,
and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the
unintentional sins of the people. (Hebrews 9)
The High Priest oversaw the work of the priests and had special obligations
before God on behalf of the nation. He alone was given this privilege to
enter the Most Holy Place.
As the people of God sat at the foot of Mount Sinai on their way to the
Promised Land, God revealed His purpose to them for the priesthood. He
had chosen a family of priests who would act on behalf of the families of
Israel for their spiritual wellbeing. It was to these individuals alone that God
had given the task of administering the affairs of the tabernacle. There were
strict punishments for those who dared to exercise these functions without
God’s authority.
It is quite clear from this that the function of priest now rested in the hands
of a select few, chosen by God for this task. These priests alone would
handle and oversee the sacred things of God.
For Consideration:
What aspects of the role of priest are similar to the role of pastor today?
What aspects of the priest’s role are different from the pastors role today?
Why was it important for the Lord to centre religious duties and obligations
around the priest? How would this guard the integrity and purity of the
How serious a matter was it to disregard the procedures laid out by God
through Moses? How important is it to maintain the purpose of God in our
worship today? Are there examples of churches wandering from the
purpose of God?
For Prayer:
Ask God to give you a respect for the spiritual leadership He has placed
over you?
Take a moment to pray that your spiritual leaders would be faithful to do
things God’s way and to teach only the truth He has revealed clearly in His
Ask God to show you the role He has for you in His kingdom.
rom the time of the establishment of the priesthood until Israel’s
entrance into the land of Canaan, there were two high priests. Let’s
take a moment to consider these two men and their contribution to
the spiritual life of Israel in the wilderness.
Aaron was the first high priest. He was the brother of Moses. His role was
contested by Korah in Numbers 16. God punished Korah and his followers
for refusing to accept Aaron as His choice for priest by allowing the earth to
open and swallow them alive (Numbers 16:29-30).
As if the death of Korah and his followers was not enough, Numbers 17
recounts the story of how God confirmed Aaron as priest calling for the
chiefs of all the tribes of Israel to bring a staff to Moses. These staffs were
marked with the names of each chief and placed in the tabernacle. When the
people went to the tabernacle the next day, Aaron’s rod had produced
blossoms and bore ripe almonds. This miraculous event proved once again
that God had chosen Aaron and his family to represent them as priests.
As High Priest, Aaron had the privilege of going up the mountain with
Moses into the presence of God. Speaking to Moses God said:
24 And the LORD said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing
Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break
through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.”
(Exodus 19)
Notice that while the other priests were not permitted on the mountain lest
they die, only Aaron, as the High Priest was given this wonderful privilege.
On another occasion, the Lord gave Aaron and his sons the privilege of
seeing His presence from a distance on the mountain of Sinai:
9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the
elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There
was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the
very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the
chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and
drank (Exodus 24)
As high priest, Aaron had these privileges of meeting with the Lord in a
special way.
In the absence of Moses, Aaron would take on the role of leader and judge
of the people. Speaking to the people of Israel before he went up into the
mountain to be with the Lord God, Moses said:
14 “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron
and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.
(Exodus 24)
Of course, the judgement of Aaron was not always wise. We read in Exodus
32 how the people grumbled because Moses was so long on the mountain.
They petitioned Aaron as their spiritual leader to make them a god they
could see. Aaron submitted to their plea and made a golden calf for them to
Aaron also had difficulty with his own sons. Leviticus 10 recounts the story
of how his two sons Nadab and Abihu were exercising their priestly duties
when they decided to offer “unauthorized fire” before the Lord. Their
disregard for the command of the Lord and their disrespect for His ways
brought the fire of God’s judgement upon them and they died. As you can
imagine this would have been a very difficult blow for Aaron as high priest
and father of these two boys.
Aaron is portrayed as a man who interceded for his people. When his sister
Miriam was struck with leprosy for her opposition to Moses, Aaron pleaded
with God for her restoration. God listened to their prayer and their sister
was restored to health (Numbers 12).
When the congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in
Numbers 16 the Lord sent a plague to consume them. Moses told Aaron to
take his censor and move out among the people to appease the wrath of
God. Aaron did so and as Aaron pleaded with God for the forgiveness of
the people, the Lord heard his prayer and stopped the plague. That day
14,700 people died. We can only imagine how many more would have
perished had it not been for the intercession of Aaron on their behalf as high
According to Exodus 16:34 it was Aaron who placed a jar of manna in the
ark of the covenant for safekeeping and remembrance of the provision of
God in the wilderness. Only Aaron as high priest would have been given
access to the ark and its contents.
God gave a special blessing to Aaron to speak over the people:
22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23“Speak to Aaron and his
sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say
to them, 24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his
face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up
his countenance upon you and give you peace. 27 “So shall they put
my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Notice that as Aaron pronounced this blessing over the people, God
promised to bless them. This is an indication of the authority the Lord gave
to Aaron as His representative.
Aaron would die in the wilderness. Numbers 20:22-28 describes how the
role of High Priest would be passed on to his son Eleazar. God called Moses
to take Aaron and his son Eleazar up to Mount Hor where Aaron would die.
Aaron’s robe was to be taken from him and put on his son who would from
that point on take his fathers role as High Priest: