Ram of Ordination
October 12, 2020

Aaron and his sons offer three offerings during the ordination rite: A modified form of the priestly purification offering (hatt’at); an ascension offering; and, at the climax, the  “ram of fillings” (Exodus 29:22; ‘ayil millu’iym). It resembled a peace offering, insofar as Aaron and his sons eat its flesh in the tabernacle court (Exodus 29:31-34). In other respects, however, the ram of fillings diverges dramatically from the standard peace offering (cf. Leviticus 3).

In Leviticus 3, three animals are designated for peace offerings: a male or female herd animal (Leviticus 3:1), a male or female lamb (Leviticus 3:7), and a male or female goat (Leviticus 3:12). No provision is made for the offering of a mature sheep, ram (Heb. ‘ayil). Apart from the ordination rite, the ram is only prescribed for the trespass offering (Leviticus 5:15-18). The ‘asham compensates for sacrilege, and the requirement of a goat in the ordination rite suggests that Aaron and his sons are making compensation before entering into their priestly vocation.

The peace offering is an individual offering, in which a single worshiper lays hands on the offering before slaughtering it (Leviticus 3:1-2). The ram of ordination is a collective offering; Aaron and his sons lay hands on the head of the ram (Exodus 29:19). The best analogy within the Levitical system is the sin offering for the assembly, in which the elders together lay hands on the head of a bull (Leviticus 4:15). 

Though it’s rare for a group of worshipers to lay hands on an offering, the notion of a collective offering is embedded in the sacrificial system. Priests offer an ascension offering of a lamb every morning and evening (Exodus 29:38-42); these offerings are turned to smoke on behalf of all Israel, though only the priests lay hands on them. The sacrificial system isn’t a one-offering-per-worshiper, or a one-offering-per-sinner system. One offering can atone for many at once. This has important implications for atonement theology, because it establishes not only a principle of substitution (the animal stands for the worshiper) but a principle of corporate substitution (one animal stands for the people). With regard to the ram of ordination, the hand-laying rite makes it clear that the sacrifice accomplishes something not just for Aaron but for Aaron and his sons.

The blood of a peace offering is splashed against the sides of the altar (Leviticus 3:2). By contrast, the blood rite for the ram of fillings is very complicated. Blood is applied in several directions:

1. Blood is placed on Aaron and his sons, on their right ear, thumb , and big toe (Exodus 29:20a).

2. The remaineder of the blood is splashed on the side of the altar (Exodus 29:20b).

3. Blood is taken from the altar, mixed with anointing oil, and then sprinkled on Aaron and his sons and their garments (Exodus 29:21).

Several details indicate that Aaron and his sons are being incorporated into the furnishings of the tabernacle. First, the blood is typically put on the altar, but the blood of the ram is initially put on Aaron and his sons. They stand in place of the altar. Second, the blood is placed on the priests’ extremities: Ears, thumb, and toe. These correspond to the horns of the altar, on which the blood of purification offerings is smeared (Leviticus 4:7, 25). Third, the blood is put on the altar, scraped off, and applied to Aaron and his sons. The rite establishes a blood kinship between Aaron and the altar. 

Finally, the ritual for the portions of the ram links the priests and the altar. The ram is dismembered, and the parts are placed in the hands of the priests-to-be (Exodus 29:22-24). Then Moses takes these parts from their hands and turns them to smoke as bridal food for Yahweh (Exodus 29:25). Like the altar, priests receive the sacrificial portions. A priest is, in short, an animate altar, consecrated to Yahweh’s service (Exodus 29:21).

The sequence is notable: Blood on priests—>blood on altar—> oil and blood on garments of priests. That is, the priests are first smeared with blood, and then sprinkled with altar blood mixed with oil. The first application of blood consecrates the priests’ bodies so they can touch holy things, walk on holy ground, and hear the instructions of Yahweh through their opened ears. The second application of blood consecrates their garments, their insignia of office. First comes atonement blood, and then that blood is energized by oil (= the Spirit) to qualify Aaron and his sons for priestly work. First the cross, then Pentecost. 

To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.