Moses the Priesthood
October 19, 2020

Aaron and his sons have been washed, invested, and anointed. They’ve offered a purification offering, an ascension offering, and the ram of ordination. Blood from the ram has been smeared on their right ear lobes, their right thumbs, and their right big toes, consecrating their ears, hands, and feet to holy uses. All this is part of the rite of “filling the hands,” but in a sense it’s all preparation for the actual filling of their hands. Once they’re consecrated, Moses can put things on their palms.

What does he put there? We might count seven parts of the ram (Exodus 29:22):

1. The ram’s fat.

2. The ram’s fat tail.

3. The fat that covers the entrails.

4. The lobe of the liver.

5. The two kidneys.

6. The fat of the kidneys.

7. The right thigh.

Three forms of bread are added: a cake, a cake with oil, a wafer (Exodus 29:23). At that point, Aaron and his sons literally have their hands full (Exodus 29:24).

Moses is then instructed to “wave them as a wave offering” before Yahweh (Exodus 29:25). Is Moses presenting the priests with their sacrifices as a wave offering? Are Aaron and his sons supposed to do something with the stack of fat, flesh, and bread? Grammatically, Moses is the only actor. He’s the one who puts (2d singular of sum) the things on their palms, and he’s the one who “waves” (2d singular of nuf) them before Yahweh. Typically, a wave offering includes a gesture; something is lifted up before Yahweh, in acknowledgement that it comes from him, then lowered, a gesture marking the reception of a gift. But Moses can’t lift Aaron and his sons, and all of the sacrificial material is on the palms of the priests. Here, the “wave offering” must consist of a presentation. Instead of waving an offering, Moses waves the priests-with-their-offerings. The priests themselves are Moses’ “sacrifice” to Yahweh.

What does the hand-filling rite mean? It might indicate that Aaron and his sons will receive sacrificial portions as payment for their priestly service. Their hands are filled with “perquisites.” One of the animal pieces laid in their hands - the right thigh - does become a priestly portion. For the most part, though, the pieces they hold are the same portions of the animal that will be placed on the altar and turned to smoke for Yahweh (as Moses does, Exodus 29:25).  Their hands are filled both with the tools of their sacrificial practice, and with the gifts they receive for their labor. As I argued in an earlier essay, they are animate altars, receiving sacrificial portions. Altars are tables, and so the priests are animate tables, laid with Yahweh’s food and their own.

The priests will eventually receive both the breast and the right thigh of every peace offering (Leviticus 7:28-34). The breast is given to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the whole priesthood, while the right thigh belongs to the individual priest who offers the offering. In the ordination rite, Moses plays the role of priest and so takes a portion of the animal for himself. It would seem more appropriate for him to take the right thigh; but that is placed on Aaron’s palms and then turned to smoke on the altar. Instead, Moses takes the breast and waves it as a wave offering (Exodus 29:26). He goes on to consecrate the breast as a “portion forever,” a heave offering (terumah)” for Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:28). That is, he consecrates it as a portion given to the priesthood as a body. Moses takes that portion in this case because he’s not just functioning as an individual priest. Until Aaron and his sons form a priesthood, Moses is the priesthood in himself.

This points to Moses’ unique role in Israel. He incorporates Israel as a whole into his body, and his life prophesies the Passover and exodus of Israel. He is a priesthood-in-person, until he confers that priesthood on his brother and nephews. Moses’ role in Israel is a type of Jesus’ representative role in the church. He too incorporates all into His one body; He is a priesthood-in-person, who distributes priestly responsibility and privileges to his brothers. Unlike Moses, Jesus doesn’t give up His priestly role when He confers it; we are priests only insofar as we remain in Him. Moses is emptied; the greater Moses remains inexhaustibly full even as He pours Himself out in us.

To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.