(Continued from page 460)Aaron and the priest's garment
The book of Leviticus contains no time span and details the means by which Israel could have access and fellowship with God, receiving its name from the fact that it deals primarily with the religious obligations of the priests, all of whom came from the tribe of Levi. Chapter 8 contains the record of the preparation for Aaron and his sons to enter the office of high priest and the priestly offices. No sooner had this taken place and the worship system with its sacrifices established, than a fire from the Lord consumed the burnt offerings (9:24). When the people saw it, "they shouted, and fell on their faces. "They knew that God was pleased with their worship and that the fire validated His acceptance of their offerings. The fire also served as a preparatory step for their entry into the land of Canaan. Once they were exposed to the Baal worship system practised there they would be told by the inhabitants of the land that Baal was the one responsible for fire. God had given them an advance demonstration that He is the one responsible for this physical element.
Immediately after this demonstration we read the account (Chapter 10) of Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron, who offered "strange fire" to the Lord. It would seem that after such an example of the power of God, and after very precise instruction from Moses as to how the priestly office was to be administered, that they would have refrained from so foolish an act. Nevertheless, they offered strange fire. Evidently, in being "strange," it was not in the prescribed fashion and could therefore have been of man's foolishly evil imagination or from Satan, and the outcome was an awesome lesson for the people for Leviticus 10:2 tells us:
"And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord."
We do not know what kind of fire this was but, whatever its actual nature, it was not a fire that would consume what they were wearing, nor was it one that would burn them to ashes, for verse 5 says that men "carried them in their garments (or coats)." Perhaps this gives a partial clue to the unique nature of God's holy fire, which can consume without burning (as in the burning bush in Exodus 3:2). Whatever kind of "fire" was witnessed by the Israelites, we know that it consumed the life force within the sons of Aaron and yet left their physical body intact! When Aaron saw this judgment on his sons he was moved with grief and began to grab his high priestly garment at the neck to "rend his garment," as was customary at that time to demonstrate utter grief and mourning. Moses quickly stopped him, commanding: "Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die" (vs. 6). When we go back into Exodus 28:321 to see the significance of this prohibition when we read the description of how the garment should be constructed:
32 "And there shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, as it were the opening of a coat of mail, that it may not be torn.
The high priestly garment was not to be torn, even in mourning, and Moses warned Aaron not to tear it "lest ye die." In Matthew 26:64 we read of the encounter between Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, and Christ, at the illegal kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53-65). Jesus had just answered the question as to whether He was the Son of God by stating (vs. 64):
Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
In response, verse 65 informs us, "Then the high priest rent his clothes." Orthodox Christian belief widely acknowledges that, when Caiaphas rent the high priestly garment, he ended the Jewish priesthood. A very few hours later, (Matt. 27:51) we read that "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." So, within the span of 24-hours, between the time when Caiaphas rent the high priestly garment and the veil of the temple was rent, Jesus Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice on the cross of Calvary and became our High Priest in the New Covenant:
"There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:121).
There is "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:51).
(Continued on page 462)