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Verses 1-38

The Priest and His Consecration

Exodus 29-30

We now study the consecration of the priest himself. Strange if God has constructed a tabernacle, given a specification for an ark, detailed the shape and colour of the priestly robes, and omitted to say anything about the priest himself. Let us see how the case stands both historically and spiritually.

We have already seen that the priest did not officially appoint himself; in no sense did he rush into the priest's office; nay, more, at the very time of his appointment to the sacerdotal function he was absolutely unaware that the dignity was about to be conferred upon him. This we saw in our comment upon the twenty-eighth chapter and the first verse: "And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office." His sons were also appointed to the same high dignity. There is nothing in this appointment that should startle students of history. It is an appointment which is taking place every day in every circle and department of progressive human life. God appoints all men to their places. The conferring of honour is an expression of the Divine sovereignty. We do not know for what purpose we have come into the world until that purpose is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. That we have come for some purpose is a thought which should make us sober, watchful, expectant; that should touch our every thought with the solemnity and urgency of prayer. The uppermost question should be, "Lord, what was I made for? What is the fire which burns upon the altar of my life?" You, it may be, have been called to be great intercessors, having power Divinely given to hold the Almighty in long converse about human life, human sin, and human destiny, and may have the wondrous faculty which is best expressed to the dulness of our minds by the act of turning back the Divine purpose, when it is one of destruction, and begetting in the Divine mind a purpose of clemency and mercy. These things are of course, in the very necessity of the Deity; but our relation to them is sometimes best expressed by an accommodation of language which permits the Almighty to be represented as if he had been overthrown by human plea, and turned to more compassionate moods by human intercession. Others have been consecrated poets, painters, preachers, tradesmen; but every man is consecrated in the Divine purpose. We can have nothing common or unclean; nothing secular; nothing that is disregarded by the Almighty. If he thought it worth while to make us, he suffers no loss of dignity by appointing us, directing us, taking care of the life which he filled with the pulses of eternity. How we fall into recklessness, and fear, and many a snare by the evil thought that the Almighty had no purpose in making us, has never spoken of us in the radiant cloud which he has gathered around him like the walls of a sanctuary, but has left us poor, blind, homeless orphans without centre, outside the infinite gravitation which binds the universe to his heart You mock God by such wildness of conception. He gathereth the lambs in his bosom. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. There are vessels of honour and vessels of inferiority, but the great house is our Father's, and every one of us has a place in it and an appointment to fulfil, and blessed is he who with loving obedience and consent falls into the rhythm of the Divine movement, singing morning, noon, and night, "Not my will, but thine be done." Then is life a revolution round the eternal throne, and every life an opportunity for reflecting the Divine lustre upon lives that may be below it. There is a heredity of a spiritual kind, a succession priestly, artistic, philanthropic, evangelistic. Men are set in bands, classes, groups, why not say they are fashioned into constellations? every great grouping of stellar light and beauty having its appointed place, and though all the constellations fly so fast their wings never overlap, and there is no tumult in the infinite hurrying. We are called to this place because to this faith. To realise it is to be calm to seize that doctrine is to have bread to eat at all seasons, and a vision of heaven even when the darkness of the night is sevenfold.

A very solemn view of life is presented by this incident. Aaron was unaware what was passing in the cloud. Our life is being secretly planned for us. Up in the cloud the Lord is talking about his children on the earth. He is naming them by name, appointing coats and garments, ephods, crowns, mitres, and functions of usefulness and dignity for them. We cannot hear the converse, but we are the subjects of the marvellous talk. What is to become of the old man, and the little child, and the traveller whose journey will be done tomorrow, and the warrior who lifts his great sword for the last stroke in the Master's name? We are being spoken of. Said One: "I go to prepare a place for you." God would seem to have but one thought: love to man, redemption of the creature who bears his likeness. Wait until you get the message from the mount. We may begin to feel, before we hear the actual words, that we are about to be called to some great destiny, there are premonitions. Some of us have experienced almost miracles of prescience; we have felt the inspiration before it has fully seized us. Blessed are those servants who rise morning by morning expecting the day's message for the day's own work. Let your attitude be one of expectancy, and let the expectancy be like a prayer that pierces without violating the sacred cloud.

Notice, in the next place, the most important thought that has yet come before us. The consecration of the priest is identified with what we may imperfectly describe as the creation of sin. Mark, not the commission of sin with that we have been but too familiar; but its Divine creation. That is a startling term, but my meaning of it is justified by the Bible itself. A time had come in human history when actions had to be spiritually defined, classified, and set in a new relation towards the personality and government of God. This will throw light upon many a mystery in the book of Genesis. In Genesis there was no sin as we now understand that pregnant term. That is a key to the Divine administration in the book of Genesis. Murder in the days of Cain and murder after the giving of the law were two different things. If we omit to use that all-opening key we shall feel ourselves in the book of Genesis in the midst of confusion which defies settlement into order. You blame Jacob for coveting the birthright of Esau, forgetting that there was no covetousness when Jacob did so. Covetousness, in the now legal sense of the term, was an after-creation. We must not take back with us sentiment which has been established and cultivated by the law into the book of Genesis, and judge antediluvian and patriarchal times by a standard of which they knew nothing. To get a right seizure of the genius of the book of Genesis, you must in mind detach that book from all the other books, and read only according to the immediate light of the particular time. It was bad for Cain to commit murder it would be unpardonable for us to commit it. God did not treat the murderer Cain as he would treat a murderer of the present day. What was punished in those ancient times was the broad and vulgar crime about whose horribleness there could be no doubt, and the punishment was as broad as the crime. The two must be studied in their relation and harmony. How did God punish antediluvian and patriarchal crime? By floods of water, by tempests of fire. Wondrous is the adjustment of the answer to the aggravation! Deceit, covetousness, self-seeking, meanness, lying, and many other vices, had not in the book of Genesis been defined, and consequently were looked upon in many cases as necessary weapons of defence. The word kill would, in its highest sense, have to be explained to the persons to whom it was addressed. The word lying or falsehood would have to be expatiated upon and made clear, by expository and illustrative remark, to the individuals who first heard the word. They lied that they might win; they employed deceit as they would employ a weapon of defence, or an instrument of assault, a shield, or a spear. There is what may be called a chronological morality in the sense which is now present to our minds: hence the wondrous speech of Christ "It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you," that is the sum total of my meaning. After this interview upon the mountain, all human actions received a new definition. The spiritual element was introduced. Murder, incest, violence, rudeness of behaviour all these are left behind among the vulgarities of the age to which they first belonged. But now we begin to come into the heart, into the innermost places of the thought, yea, before the thought has shaped itself into expressibleness, criticism Divine is brought to bear upon it, and so brought that the trembling, fearing heart exclaims, "Thy word is exceeding powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow." This is the meaning of development. That great process can never be got rid of; it is the central line in revelation as it is in nature. The apostolic argument goes wholly in this direction. Look at Romans 4:15 : "Where no law is, there is no transgression." Where was the law in many a case which has startled and confounded us in the book of Genesis? There was no law as that term is now understood. With this view accords the testimony of 1 John 3:4 : "Sin is the transgression of the law." But the Apostle Paul has just said, "Where no law is, there is no transgression." See how this is confirmed by Romans 3:20 : "By the law is the knowledge of sin." The most distinctively illustrative statement upon the matter is made by the Apostle Paul in Rom 7:7 this expresses the whole thought: "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." So then the law created sin in its legal and spiritual sense. Until the law is revealed to a man he does not know precisely what he is doing in the judgment of God. He must learn what life is; he must have revelations addressed to him upon morality, even though he be prepared to resent the notion of revelation upon transcendental spiritual realities.

Mark how the history accumulates, how grandly it masses itself into unity and significance. The moment when sin was enlarged and defined and made matter of law, a new agency was needed. Up to this time there has been no priest, as that term is historically understood. There was a marvellous Figure, half-God, half-man, a Symbol rather than a person, that seemed to point to mysteries yet to be revealed himself the greatest of mysteries, for that Melchisedec had no beginning and no end, neither father nor mother, neither beginning of days nor end of life. But now we come into concrete instances, and out of our own ranks is a man selected who was to be separate from us legally and functionally for ever. Is this poetry to be lost upon us? Is this sublime development to draw up out of our view without leaving its appropriate impression, infinite in meaning and in solemnity? These are the lines which prove the inspiration of the Scriptures. A new definition of life, action or conduct, is made up in the mount, and let us suppose there is no action upon the earth to correspond with it, not "What an oversight!" but "What an offence!" would then be our exclamation. But as God becomes narrower in his judgments, more penetrating, more critical, more discriminating, he adapts himself to the new morality, the more spiritual conception and criticism of conduct. Grace and Law were both in the mount, even Moses and the Lamb were both there! Then came the mystery of sacrifice, blood, expiation, atonement, daily sacrifice, continual shedding of blood, piercing criticism into every action of the human life, a great tumult, an infinite mystery charged with intolerable pain.

Before the law was made known to the people the atonement was provided for sin. Behold, then, the goodness of God! Whilst the people were at the base of the mountain, not knowing what was being done, an atonement was being provided for the sin which would follow upon a revelation of the more critical and spiritual law. Is there any line in all the holy testimony which enlarges this thought and glorifies it? Verily there is: "The Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world." The Atonement was not an after-thought, a mere expedient devised in reply to a set of circumstances which the Divine omniscience had not foreseen. Before the sin was committed, the Cross was erected; before the sinner had defied his Maker, his Maker had become the sinner's Saviour. Who can outrun the love of God? "Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound." Sin is not an accident something that has come into the universe without being expected. It was foreseen from the beginning; Grace was ahead of it, and God will overthrow it Instead of being surprised into despair by our sin, let us be surprised into praise by God's prevenient love.

In the Christian dispensation both the law and the priesthood are abolished. Sinai is but a hill left for the tourist, as the brazen serpent is but Nehushtan, a piece of brass intended to be used for common purposes, and the mantle of Elijah is now but a perished rag. We have come to another point in the Divine development of events; now we have new heavens and a new earth. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." "We are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." That is the Christian position. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." We, too, have a Divinely-appointed Priest "No man taketh this honour unto himself but he that was called of God, as was Aaron; so also Christ glorified not himself to be made an highpriest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee." There is one Mediator between God and man. The Aaronic thought is completed in the Christly intercession. We now come not to man, but to God through the appointed way. Jesus Christ is Priest, Jesus Christ is Advocate. "This Man, because he continueth for ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood." From the beginning to the end the line is one heightening, broadening, glorifying, until it is lost in the ineffable lustre of the upper kingdoms.

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