Exodus 29:1-3 hallow them, to minister unto me in the priest’s office
Fascinating! These verses are amazing! For over a week, the concept that a three animal sacrifice was required to sanctify the priests has been swimming around in my mind. There is plenty to ponder here.
For a Levite to be sanctified before God, to be sufficiently hallowed to act in the priest’s office, a sacrifice was required. It was a young bullock and two sheep and a basket with three different unleavened items: cake, bread, and biscuits. That is a lot to offer. When your son or grandson was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood, did anyone offer a bullock, two sheep, and a basket of goodies? Of course not. Well, what happened? At 12, 14, or 16, he had an interview with the Bishop and then he was ordained to office by the laying on of hands. No blood sacrifice. No unleavened bread. No washing nor anointing. No special priesthood clothing.
Yet, to sanctify a Levite from carnal to holy took the lives of three animals and three different kinds of bread offerings. There is a lot of blood in one bullock and two sheep! We are so used to drawing upon an infinite atonement that we take for granted the gap that has been filled by the Savior. Today, we are no better than the Levites of Moses’ day. Every time a priest is ordained, the grace and power of the atonement is drawn from heaven to sanctify the individual to act in God’s stead. It takes a lot. There is a great endowment of God’s grace to get us from mortal to priesthood worthy! We take it for granted. An interview and an ordination, and we are on our way—completely unaware of the great gap that has been filled. The atonement satisfieth the demands of justice (2 Ne. 9:26). We are always thinking about the atonement in terms of the repentant sinner, especially great sins which require a great sacrifice to meet the demand. But every man who is ordained to minister in the priest’s office has taken a large deposit out of the great and infinite bank account of the Son of God to pay off justice. It’s just another amazing thing to ponder about Christ’s atonement and God’s great goodness to those who try in their weak and mortal state to serve Him.
Exodus 29:4-9 Aaron and his sons are washed, anointed, and clothed in the garments of the priesthood
“No people in the world understand so well as do the Latter-day Saints the value of chastity… the washings and anointings, and the holy ordinances of the House of God are all designed for the purification and sanctification of the spirit and of the body of man. The earthly tabernacle that has thus been purified, sanctified and cleansed, is fitted to receive a resurrection in the celestial glory; to come forth from the grave, a glorious, resplendent, effulgent form, surpassing in its lustrous splendor, the brilliancy of the sun at noonday. It is with such a tabernacle as this, that the spirits of Saints, elected to a celestial glory, will be clothed.” (Contributor, vol. 1 (October 1879-September 1880), Vol. 1. Dec., 1879. No. 3, 57)
“In 1834 another revelation called for the Ohio Saints to build a house of the Lord, ‘in which house’, the Lord revealed, ‘I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high.’ (D&C 95:8) This irresistible promise of an endowment motivated the Saints to build the temple at Kirtland, Ohio. There Joseph Smith introduced the Church's first sacerdotal ordinances of washings and anointings. A pentecostal outpouring of the Lord's spirit accompanied the administration of these rites, which the Prophet called ‘an endowment indeed.’” (“The Sacred Departments for Temple Work in Nauvoo: the Assembly Room and the Council Chamber” by Lisle G Brown, BYU Studies, vol. 19 (1978-1979), Number 3 - Spring 1979 361.)
“Kimball had participated fully in the limited, preparatory ordinances of washings and anointings which had been administered in the Kirtland Temple in 1836. On 4 May 1842, however, Joseph introduced the full endowment ceremony and eight Church leaders, including Heber C. Kimball, Brigham Young, Willard Richards, George Miller, and Newell K. Whitney participated. This presentation was not done in the uncompleted temple, but in the upper rooms of Joseph's brick store on Water Street. While some few others received their endowments before the top story of the temple was completed during December 1845, most of the Saints in Nauvoo received their endowments from then until the general exodus west in 1846. (“Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years” by Stanley B. Kimball, BYU Studies, vol. 15 (1974-1975), Number 4 - Summer 1975, 459)
Exodus 29:10-28 The sacrifice of a bullock and two rams sanctifies the priests
The symbolism of these sacrificial rites has been lost on subsequent generations. Why a bullock and two rams? Why are the first and third divided and the second kept whole on the altar? There are more questions than answers. Yet, latter-day temple worship teaches us that symbolism is everywhere—that everything God does—He does for a reason. Some prefer to disregard animal sacrifice as barbaric and archaic, but what if we look for a spiritual reason in the sacrifices? What could they mean? Prayerful consideration suggests the following:
1. The bullock represents the dual nature of man: the spiritual and carnal. The liver, kidneys, fat, and caul (finger like projection of the liver) are located in the center of the animal. While not the heart, they were the center, core, or the innermost part. They were to be sacrificed on the altar in the presence of God while the rest of the carcass was to be burned outside the camp. One part is offered to God, the other part is burned outside the camp and called a sin offering. Anything outside the camp was symbolic of hell or outer darkness. It is as if the Lord is inviting the priests to offer their heart and soul upon his altar while rejecting and abolishing their carnal nature. That which is carnal, sensual, and devilish must be burned outside the camp for no unclean thing can enter the Presence of God. On the other hand, righteous priests must devote themselves to God and learn how to submit their will to his. As Neal A. Maxwell put it, “The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we 'give' are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us.”
2. The first ram represents the covenant of Abraham. The first ram is offered whole upon the altar suggesting that the animal was completely pure, signifying the sacrifice of the only perfect Being, the Son of God. Often, a lamb is used to represent the ultimate Sacrifice, but in this case the ram recalls the story of Abraham and Isaac, the latter being saved by a ram in the thicket (Gen. 22:13). Each priest is a descendant of Abraham, who, like Isaac, must be saved from death by the sacrifice of the Son of God. And so, the priests lay their hands on the head of the ram “transferring their sins, similar to the ceremony of the scapegoat” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 628). Each priest must transfer his sins to the head of the ram in order to be worthy to serve in the priest’s office. Also it is important for each priest to understand that all priesthood blessings are part of, and culminate in, the Abrahamic covenant, and that all the blessings of Abraham are to be received according to their faithfulness.
3. The second ram represents the dual nature of the priesthood: Aaronic and Melchizedek. This ram is divided in two pieces. One part is for God, and the other part is for the priests. The rump and right shoulder are offered on the altar. The breast and left shoulder are cooked in the holy place as food for the priests, “they shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket… to consecrate and to sanctify them” (v. 32-33). Joseph Smith said, “It is a very prevalent opinion that the sacrifices which were offered were entirely consumed. This was not the case; if you read Leviticus 2:2-3, you will observe that the priests took a part as a memorial and offered it up before the Lord, while the remainder was kept for the maintenance of the priests; so that the offerings and sacrifices are not all consumed upon the altar.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 172-173) Both are waved before the Lord in gratitude. They are called “the wave offering” or “the heave offering” or “the ram of the consecration.” That the priests should eat the breast and left shoulder is symbolic of the Aaronic priesthood—that their robes should be worn on the left shoulder as they work in the tabernacle, that they must consecrate their time to the service of the tabernacle. Therefore, the right shoulder and rear of the animal represent the priesthood of Melchizedek—a priesthood withheld from them because of wickedness. The blood of the animal is placed on the tip of the ear, thumb, and big toe of Aaron and his sons. We can imagine that they were reminded as the blood was placed upon their ear to “hearken to the word of the Lord,” as the blood was placed upon their thumb, that their “hands are to serve the Lord,” and as the blood was placed upon the great toe, that “they are to always walk in the paths of the Lord.” Latter-day parallels are easy to see in modern washing and anointing ordinances.
Exodus 29:21 take of the blood… and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it upon Aaron, and upon his garments
The symbolism here is obvious. The blood represents the sacrifice of Christ; the oil represents the justification by the Spirit, “by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:60). By these two media, Aaron and his sons “shall be hallowed” or made holy to serve in the priest’s office.
Exodus 29:34 if ought of the flesh… remain unto the morning… it shall not be eaten
If you hate leftovers, this commandment is for you. The Law of Moses strictly forbids the eating of leftovers—well, at least for the priests eating the lamb of the consecration. Remember that manna leftovers were forbidden as well, except on the Sabbath. (Ex. 16:16-26)
Exodus 29:38-39 thou shalt offer… two lambs of the first year day by day
Every morning and every evening, a lamb was offered in similitude of the Lamb of God. In Moses’ tabernacle, in Solomon’s Temple (when the priests were performing their duties), and in Herod’s Temple, the tradition held, “the sons of Aaron… burn unto the Lord every morning and every evening burnt sacrifices and sweet incense: the showbread also set they in order upon the pure table; and the candlestick of gold with the lamps thereof, to burn every evening” (2 Chron. 13:10-11). Scholars agree that the morning sacrificial lamb was offered at about 9:00 a.m. However, the timing of the evening sacrifice is debated. It would seem that the commandment required the lamb to be slain just before dusk.
In practice, the priests eventually offered the evening sacrifice at about 3:00 p.m. In 63 BC, during a battle with the Romans, the priests continued to offer sacrifice “each day, in the morning and about the ninth hour” [i.e. 3:00 pm] (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 14, 4:3). This curious tidbit must be understood symbolically. Counting daybreak from 6 am, the ninth hour is 3 pm— the time when Jesus died on the cross (Matt. 27:45-50). Christ, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, was on the cross for 6 hours. Placed there at the time of the morning sacrifice at 9 pm, he hung on the cross for 6 hours, dying at the time of the evening sacrifice—the little lambs acting as bookends of the crucifixion of Christ the Lamb.
Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things… But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Pet. 1:19-20)
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing (Rev. 5:12)
Exodus 29:40 flour mingled with… beaten oil; and… wine for a drink offering
Flour mixed with oil once baked is bread. Bread and wine as an offering sound a lot like something we call Sacrament! The Jews didn’t understand the symbolism. Many were offended when Jesus taught, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst… Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:35, 54). When we look closely at the Law of Moses, it’s there! It’s there in the sacrifices offered with the sacrificial lamb, unleavened bread and wine, representing the body and blood of the Lamb of God—a sacramental symbolism from the mouth of Moses.
Exodus 29:42-45 I will meet you, to speak there unto thee… And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God
If the goal of our discipleship is to dwell with God, then nothing has changed since Exodus 29. Amazingly, the sanctification and purification which came through the Law of Moses was enough to allow Jehovah to dwell with Israel. What a blessing! Joseph Smith was clear that all the ancient prophets had this one goal in view, to bring the people into the presence of God.
“God's goal is to make people holy like he is, he can teach them how to do it, and they are capable of receiving instructions. The Lord called Enoch's people ‘ZION because they were of one heart and one mind’ (Moses 7:18). Likewise, Moses' people were called to find unity with God by loving and following his direction. Sanctification—being made holy—requires submissiveness—a quality of the spirit involving unity with God. Sons and daughters who are malleable to their Father will grow up to be like their Father (Heb. 12:5-9). At Sinai, Israel was filled with desire and willingly promised full-hearted submission. To Moses they said: ‘Speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it’ (5:27). The people of Moses only partially fulfilled this promise, despite the fact that ‘Moses . . . sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; . . . [but they] could not endure his presence’ (D&C 84:23-24). Consequently, God resided in their midst, but behind the veil of the tabernacle rather than openly as he did with Enoch. Nevertheless, he was there.
“The Israelites set aside a special area in the camp where God was in residence. They set up his tabernacle there. They sanctified it, its vessels, altar, priesthood, themselves, and their firstborn sons and livestock. Then, as long as they did not pollute the building by uncleanness, it remained holy and God was in their midst, teaching by his presence what their ultimate option was. The camp, as the environment where God was in residence, was to be kept clean because of the presence of the Lord within it: ‘For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, . . . therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee’ (23:14). Zion was coming, but some time in the distant future. In the meantime God was sanctifying his people. So the challenge remained to be ‘an holy people unto the Lord thy God’ (7:6; 14:2). (Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 3: Genesis to 2 Samuel [Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985], 214-215)
Moses sought to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God, through the power of the priesthood, but he could not. In the first ages of the world they tried to establish the same thing: and there were Eliases raised up who tried to restore these very glories, but did not obtain them.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 159)
Moses did himself get into the presence of God, and he also led seventy elders who were so instructed and prepared that they could go into the presence of God to communicate with him; (Ex. 24:9-11) but the people were afraid of God, and when the Lord appeared to them on Mount Sinai, when they heard the thunders and saw the lightning and felt the mountain quake, (Ex. 19:16-20) they said to Moses, do not let the Lord speak to us any more lest we his people die; but do thou speak to us and be mouthpiece. (Ex. 20:18-21) They were not prepared to come into the presence of the Lord; they were not sufficiently pure, neither did they understand the laws and principles which God had communicated. But they murmured and murmured and that continually (Ex. 16:2, Num. 14:26-27) the same as we do. We see something of the same spirit, we are found sometimes murmuring against God, or at least against some of the revelations he has given unto us, or against the priesthood, and in many instances without cause. (Journal of Discourses, 21:241)