God’s Companions
October 28, 2020

All Levitical sacrifices are food rites. Sometimes, Yahweh alone eats from His altar-table (the ‘olah, “ascension offering”). Sometimes, He shares His bread with the priests (certain forms of the hattat, “sin offering”). Sometimes, the food gets split three ways, among Yahweh, priests, and worshipers (shelem, “peace offering”). The sacrifices of the ordination rite culminate in a meal, the first of many meals Aaron and his sons eat in the holy place. Among other things, the ordination rite is designed to make Aaron and his sons Yahweh’s table fellows, His companions who break bread with Him.

If ordination is a typological ritual foreshadowing baptism, then the sequence implies that baptism should culminate with Eucharist. If a priest goes through all the other rites of ordination, but didn’t share a meal at the doorway of the tent, he hasn’t been ordained. Similarly, if a person is washed with water but not given a place at the Lord’s table, then baptism isn’t fully baptism. When an infant is baptized in the Orthodox churches, he or she receives a crumb of bread and a drop of wine. That’s the right instinct, even if the child doesn’t fully commune for another year or more. From the model of the Aaronic ordination, baptism isn’t simply the doorway to the Eucharistic feast; Eucharist is an integral component of baptism.

Specifically, the newly ordained priests eat the flesh of the ram of filling, along with the bread of the tribute offerings that accompanied it. These foods are “holy” and therefore off-limits to everyone except priests (Exodus 29:33). The bread has been waved as a wave offering before Yahweh (Exodus 29:23-24), then eaten by the priests. In other words, the bread has gone up and then come down to become food for priests. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the priests eat the bread of heaven. Like the church, the priests eat the bread that has gone up to heaven and then returned as food for the world.

None of the ram of ordination is to remain until morning (Exodus 29:34). If any is left after the priests eat, it has to be burned, presumably outside the camp. The disposal of leftovers is identical to the peace offering for thanksgiving, the todah (Leviticus 7:15, 17). Votive or freewill peace offerings could be eaten on the day of sacrifice or the second day (Leviticus 7:16). The priestly meal thus has echoes of Eucharist, of thanksgiving. Conversely, todah offerings have overtones of priestly ordination. When David longs to return to the altar to offering thanksgiving offerings, he’s longing to be restored to his “priestly” status as a worshiper among the people of Israel (Psalm 50:14, 23; 56:12; 69:30; 116:17).

The ordination rite lasts for seven days (Exodus 29:35-36). During that week, Aaron and his sons offer a bull for a sin offering every day to purify and cover the altar. Each day, they also anoint it to consecrate it. After seven days of sacrifice and anointing, the altar is “most holy,” which means “contagiously holy”: “whoever touches the altar shall be holy” (Exodus 29:36-37). The focus on the altar is somewhat surprising. While these seven days are set apart to “fill the hand” of Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:35), it is equally a seven-day period for consecration of the altar. As has been evident throughout, there is a “kin” relation between the altar and the priesthood. Their consecration is the altar’s, and vice versa. 

However we understand the focus on the altar, the seven-day breadth of the ritual is noteworthy. It’s another indication that this rite is a repetition of creation, another hint that Aaron and his sons are becoming new men through the ritual. It’s also a hint that Aaron and his sons are entering into Sabbath. They aren’t just new Adams of the first day, but are “consecrated” - made holy - to be men of the seventh day. The tabernacle as a whole is a Sabbath zone, a holy place in a permanent holy time. In all of Genesis, only one thing is made holy (qadash), the seventh day of ceasing (Genesis 2:3). As soon as Israel gets to Sinai, the firstborn, the people, and especially Aaron and his sons are consecrated (10x in Exodus 29). Priests are elevated to share Sabbath rest and rule with Yahweh, made holy as the Sabbath is holy. As the priests are animate altars, so they embody Sabbath. 

Exodus 29:35-37 closes out the prescription for the rite of ordination. The chapter begins with “now this is the thing which you should do” (Exodus 29:1; vezeh haddaver ‘asher-ta’aseth). Verse 38 marks the beginning of a new section with a similar phrase: “not this is what you should do” (vezeh ‘asher-ta’aseth). That is, the last thing section of the ordination rite is about the “seven days.”

Verses 1-37 move, in a general way, through the creation week: First materials are assembled, then Aaron and his sons are separated and elevated to be lights in the firmament, then they eat in the new Eden of the tabernacle, and continue for seven days. Wherever a priest is made, behold, a new creation!

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