William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.Leviticus Chapter 10
THE PRIESTHOOD FAILING AND JUDGED.
Here we have a signal crisis in Israel, the utter ruin of the priesthood before God, however much and long He might bear with them in His long-suffering; as in Exodus 32 is seen the ruin of the people with even Aaron at their head.
It is alas! the humbling tale of man failing everywhere and from the first. So it was with Adam and Eve in the paradise of Eden when all around was good, and they themselves innocent. But the serpent tempted through the weaker vessel, and both fell through unbelief of God and His word. So, though in another way of shame, broke down Noah, after the mercy shown to him and his in the deluge. The governor in the earth renewed under sacrifice failed to govern himself, object of pitiful shame to some, but of scorn to others - his own near kin shameless and dastardly. Need one point out the blots on the fathers, or the sons of Israel? Cannot all see in the light of scripture the mournful dereliction of the kings, not only from the first but also of the most honoured, David and Solomon? Then if divine patience forbore till "there was no remedy," and if world-power, on their ceasing for the time to be God's people, was given to the Gentiles, what became of the golden head, of the silver breast, of the brazen middle, and of the iron legs with the feet of iron and clay? Were they not all morally viewed as "four great beasts"? as empires lacking intelligence of God, and dependence on Him?
The Second man is the blessed contrast of them all and in every respect. He Who is both Son of man and Ancient of days, as Rev. 1 proves, will surely have dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages shall serve Him as no world-ruler ever made his own, and this an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away. Him too will .Jehovah set as His king on His holy hill of Zion, great David's greater Son Who played Jehovah false in nought small or great, and will judge uprightly but cut off all the horns of the wicked when the horns of the righteous are lifted up. He also shall build the temple of Jehovah, and be a priest upon His throne, with counsel of peace between Them both. The government shall be upon His shoulder Who had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth. For indeed unlike Adam that sinned, He had proved Himself altogether victor over the Serpent in the wilderness when without food for forty days. Thence He began His public service, and closed it holy, guileless, undefiled, not swerving however He might suffer (as He did to the uttermost) under God's judgment of our sins on the cross unto God's glory, the perfect manifestation and deepest issue of divine love to us, lost as we were heretofore.
Let us turn from the adorable Lord to the priests just consecrated.
" 1 And the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, took each of them his censer, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and presented strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded them. 2 And there went out fire from before Jehovah, and devoured them, and they died before Jehovah. 3 And Moses said to Aaron, This [is] what Jehovah spoke, saying, I will be hallowed in those that come near me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron was silent" (vers. 1-3).
Grace had wrought wondrously through righteousness just before. No token could match what was given in Jehovah's acceptance of the sacrifice. It was not only that the glory of Jehovah appeared to all the people. There came forth fire from before Jehovah, and consumed upon the altar the Burnt-offering and the fat; and when all saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. Who should have appreciated this so signal mark of Jehovah's grace? The priests above all. They were the very men who even at such a time betrayed the unbelief and ingratitude of their hearts. The elder sons of Aaron took each of them his censer, and put fire therein and laid incense thereon, "which He had not commanded." Oh, what contempt of fire from Himself! It was insulting to the divinely given supply and to the sacrifice it consumed. Strange fire, the ordinary fire of nature, was good enough for the incense in the sanctuary! It was headless profanity, and heartless indifference to Jehovah's favour and glory.
Cain was the leader in that evil "way" against which Jude warns solemnly, as a woe that concerns Christendom. But he was in nature. The priests were not so much here in law as in grace, for such was sacrifice at least typically; and the circumstances were beyond measure awe-inspiring. But Nadab and Abihu turned their back on the Burnt-offering which the fire from Jehovah was consuming, and presumed to burn incense separated from the provision Jehovah had just given, from the sacrifice which gives man his only acceptance atoningly. If the priest's lips should keep knowledge, how much more should he draw near with reverence and fear! Was this the beginning and bearing of the priests toward Jehovah? But Israel's God, and our God, is a consuming fire. "There went out fire from before Jehovah, and devoured them, and they died before Jehovah." Their judgment was immediate and final; all the more awful, because it was in presence of His grace reigning through righteousness in the sign before all the people.
Grace was never meant to dispense with holiness, but to produce and nourish it. So we read in Titus 2:11-12; and again our very chastening under His fatherly hands is declared in Hebrews 12:10 to be for profit, in order to the partaking of His holiness. Without faith in Christ and His suffering work for our sins, all is vain; but with it we are exhorted to pursue peace with all, and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord. It could not, ought not, to be otherwise.
"And Moses said to Aaron, This is what Jehovah spoke, saying, I will be hallowed in those that come near me, and before all the people I will be glorified." If it be in His saving grace instructing and forming us in practical righteousness, it must be in judgment; and judgment will not be less terrible, because it may be hidden for the present. "Of some men the sins are manifest beforehand, going before to judgment; and some also they follow after." In Israel, as an earthly people under Jehovah's public government, it was consistent to impress priests and people alike with a sense of Him with Whom they each had to do. God in no case can be a consenting party to His own dishonour. So we see at the beginning of the church's history in Acts 5. Was it not divine wisdom, as well as mercy, in thus dealing with man, at the very beginning of God's ways, first with the priests in Israel, afterward with those just favoured with the presence of the Holy Spirit? It was God no doubt vindicating in both cases holy but despised majesty. It was man judged in this world, because of the sin in deed and in word, which unbelief laid them exposed to, and all the more because they failed to bear in mind the nearness into which His favour had brought them.
Here in Israel "Aaron was silent." So, we may perhaps say, was the Advocate with the Father, when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit, and the indignant apostle was led of Him to pronounce sentence of death on the spot. Nor was it otherwise, though not so conspicuously at Corinth when many among the saints were weak and infirm, and not a few falling asleep. For there is sin unto death; and we too in this case are not to pray for life. We need spiritual discernment for such a thing.
THE PRIEST ABOVE GRIEF.
Our relationships whether with God or with man determine our duties. The more intimate they be, the call is proportionate. Jehovah had chosen Aaron and his sons to draw nigh to Him, as none could even of the tribe which had charge of the sanctuary. Therefore would He be sanctified in the persons so privileged, who must walk consistently with holy nearness. If they became through any cause insensible to His majesty, He would not fail to make them feel that they had to do with One Who never slumbers or sleeps, dwelling among the sons of Israel, after having brought them forth out of the land of Egypt to walk among them as Jehovah their God. If the priest forgot what is due to Him, what could be expected of the people? There must be on the one hand no respect of persons: God cannot abdicate; on the other the priest typically stood for Christ Who acted for man with God in His grace. And what can be more heinous then to despise grace? In the most solemn way the elder sons of the high priest had profaned the name of Jehovah. Now "if one man sin against another, God will judge him; but if a man sin against Jehovah, who shall intreat for him?" Even Aaron held his peace.
" 4 And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Uzziel uncle of Aaron, and said to them, Draw near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp. 5 And they drew near, and carried them in their vests out of the camp, as Moses had said. 6 And Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and to Ithamar his sons, Uncover not your heads nor rend your clothes, lest ye die, and lest wrath come on all the assembly; but your brethren, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which Jehovah hath kindled. 7 And ye shall not go out from the door of the tent of meeting, lest ye die; for the anointing oil of Jehovah [is] upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses" (vers. 4-7).
Even in circumstances so unexpected and appalling, all things must be done decently and in order. The guilty priests forthwith perished for their profanity before the sanctuary; and the Levites, their near of kin, must carry them forth out of the camp. And so they did in their vests. It was all the more an affecting and impressive sight. We do not hear the like in any other instance; but this was only right in presence of a sin so unexampled and heinous.
Nor was this all. Moses proceeds to lay an injunction on the priestly family, which was followed up afterwards in detail (Lev. 21), and worthy of all heed. The priests of Jehovah were liable to the ordinary sorrows of humanity; yea their office, as we have seen, laid them open to peculiar dangers from which others were exempt. But their position of nearness to Jehovah precluded them from the usual manifestation of grief. The occasion was a crucial one, and the word plain and imperative. Natural feeling might plead loudly; but what had nature to do with nearness to Jehovah in the sanctuary? It was He Who deigned to bring them nigh to Himself. Only grace conferred such a title. They were in themselves sinful men, and deserved to be far from His presence like others. What possible claim of his own had any sinner to draw near Him?
It is true that the sanctuary as a whole and in all its parts was significant of what God is in Christ. In the holiest the ark and its covering mercy-seat, with the veil; in the holy place the golden table with its twelve loaves, the golden stand with its seven lamps, the golden sitar of incense, and the screen of the door as well as the hangings, and the very sockets, boards, bars and pillars, to say nothing of the anointing oil, or the cloud that covered the tent of meeting and the glory that filled the tabernacle. But what did any then know of their meaning? Even now that the true light already shines, how few saints read all or any of these things aright?
But this they all had heard and sung, from the passage of the Red Sea, "Who is like thee, Jehovah, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" If they understood not that the sanctuary and its vessels and appurtenances spoke only of what God is to His own in Christ, and what He is for them to God, they could not be ignorant from Sinai, that fear was owed by all, and that holiness especially befits the priests that draw near to Jehovah (Exodus 19:11-25). "Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thy house, O Jehovah, for evermore" (Psalm 93:5).
The Hebrew in the charge to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar is open to the question, whether it means letting the hair loose, or uncovering their heads; for both were-signs of mourning. The A.V. prefers the latter, the R.V. the former. Certain it is that the command forbids any such token of grief in those who drew nigh to Jehovah He claims and must have on their part what is due to His presence. If the death of Christ was the basis of all blessing there, the death of the first man can have no place before Him. The sorrows and horrors of sin are supplanted by the witness, as yet unbelieved by man, of grace reigning through righteousness unto life eternal by Jesus Christ our Lord; believers should enjoy it. Divine righteousness shines in the sanctuary.
Yet, far from suppressing grief in others, the whole house of Israel was encouraged and expected to bewail the solemn fact before all, the burning which Jehovah had kindled. Nature is there allowed to vent its feelings.
Again, the priests were forbidden to go out from the door of the tent of meeting on pain of death; for the anointing of Jehovah was on them. They were not their own but His; and they had that unction which pointed to the gift of the Spirit, and is absorbed in God's will and glory.
1 John 2:20 sets out clearly and beyond controversy that even the babes (παιδία) of God's family are thus characterised by the last inspired apostle, writing expressly to warn the saints against the seductions of the last time. How striking that he should comfort, not the τεκνία or entire family, but the least mature part of that family, with the assurance of possessing the great distinctive privilege Christ went on high to send down to be in and with them, as they wait for His coming, with all the power of the world and the wiles of Satan arrayed against them. If the babes have, as he declares, an unction from the Holy One, and in virtue of His indwelling energy can be said to know all things, how much less can it be denied to the young men and the fathers in the household of faith?
The Gospel of John (in John 14 to 16) affords direct proof, that it is not merely an immense power and privilege, "an unction from the Holy One," but the Holy Spirit personally given and sent. How momentous for faith is this fact! The Lord Himself has made it clear and certain. For He calls Him "another Advocate" (John 14:16) given that He may abide with them for ever; and He says that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, should teach them all things, and bring to their remembrance all that He had told them. It is therefore, not merely a gift, but a Giver, a Divine Agent personally present and active (ver. 26). In John 15:26-27, this is made still more emphatically evident: "But when the Advocate shall have come, whom I will send to you from my Father, the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, He shall bear witness concerning me; and ye too bear witness because ye are with me from the beginning." More explicit if possible is John 16:7-8: "For if I go not away, the Advocate will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And having come, he will convince" (or, afford proof), etc. Again (in vers. 13, 14), "But when he shall have come, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak from himself, but whatsoever things he shall hear, he will speak; and he will announce to you the things to come. He will glorify me, because he will receive of mine, and will announce [it] to you." The proof of personal presence and action is abundant and conclusive. What can be more precious or comforting?
THE PRIEST TO BE ABOVE EXCITEMENT.
We have seen how the priest is called to respect the presence of God supremely, even if death touch ever so closely: Jehovah will be hallowed in those that come near Him. None can enjoy this privilege without the obligation it involves. Not only is sense of bereavement allowed, but bewailing is enjoined on all others even where it was the evident stroke of God. For He abides in His own majesty above sin and its effects; and those chosen to minister in the sanctuary must yield witness to that nearness by their bearing according to His will.
They were no less warned against all natural excitement in the performance of their proper functions. Permissible at other times, it is strictly precluded from the sanctuary. The injunction is remarkable as the first to Aaron after his consecration.
" 8 And Jehovah spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 Thou shalt not drink wine nor strong drink, thou nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tent of meeting, lest ye die: an everlasting statute throughout your generations, 10 and that ye may put difference between the holy and the unholy, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and that ye may teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which Jehovah hath spoken to them by the hand of Moses" (vers. 8-11).
Literal as the prohibition was to Aaron and his house, it has of course a large and momentous meaning figuratively to the Christian. "Wine and strong drink" cover the wide circle of all incentives to fleshly exhilaration. The most refined are as much proscribed as the gross, and manifold are its kinds which lie between. The first man, in his evil or its consequences, its sorrows or its joys, has no right to intrude into the sanctuary.
There is One, and but One, Who suits God's presence; but He is the Second man. Only the offering of Himself for us truly fits us for it. His sacrifice is our sole, our sufficient, and our perfect title to draw near; and this is most pleasing to the God Who gave and sent Him expressly for this end, though for others worthy of both. Therefore God would have us filled with His praise when we thus approach. Have we not boldness to enter into the holies in virtue of the blood of Jesus, a new and living way which He dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh? Nor this only; for we have Himself there, a Great Priest over the house of God. We have thus the same object of delight as our God and Father. What communion! The Holy Spirit too, Who beareth witness with our spirit that we are His children, is our power of worship; as it is written, we worship by God's Spirit, and boast in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in flesh (Php 3:3). Does He not abide in and with us for ever for this as for all else? It is heavenly joy.
But for this very reason fleshly pleasure, human gratification, earthly satisfaction, natural joy, all that answers spiritually to the effect of wine or strong drink on those who thus indulge, is abhorrent to God's presence. There is, there ought to be, joy in the Holy Spirit. And so the Ephesian saints were exhorted to be filled with the Spirit, speaking to themselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with their heart to the Lord, giving thanks at all times for all things to the God and Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. God cannot but be jealous that the Holy Spirit be honoured here as Christ is on high; and the Spirit is here to glorify Christ. Yet praise should be holy.
But it is easy to be excited by a multitude keeping holiday, by a grand building with religious associations, by music pathetic or overpowering, to say nothing of the display of wealth, rank, or fame. Even if one begin in the Spirit, how readily one may slight the divine thanksgiving and praise by admiration of the singing or even the music! Fine appeals may be a feast to the taste, and eloquence may fire the spirit; but these excitements, what are they but veritable draughts of wine and strong drink? They are alien to the sanctuary and forbidden.
Nor is this only aimed at, but its consequence. The priests were charged to "put difference between the holy and the unholy, and between the unclean and the clean." No doubt here was a question of meats and drinks, of ordinances of flesh, as Hebrews 9:10 calls them in accordance with Israel's standing as an outwardly holy people. Equally sure is it that we as Christians are sanctified by the Spirit to obedience and sprinkling of Christ's blood, which imports a far deeper and higher holiness typified thereby. Excitement would unfit for spiritual discrimination. Practical life would thus be ruined as well as worship. It was not so that the apostle sought the Corinthians, as he tells us in 1 Cor. 2. Nor did he gratify Athenian vanity by his appeal in Acts 17 but spoke to conscience.
So here we see the type pursued in this abstinence, "that ye may teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which Jehovah hath spoken to them by the hand of Moses." Still more is spiritual abstraction needed for the vast and profound range of Christian truth.
THE PRIESTS DUE.
The next direction is positive rather than negative; it expresses, first, the communion of the priests, of the high priest and his sons, as far as this could be with the offerings to Jehovah; then of their families. Eating is the well-known sign of fellowship, as none can deny.
" 12 And Moses spoke to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons that were left, Take the meal-offering that is left of Jehovah's fire-offerings, and eat it with unleavened bread beside the altar; for it [is] most holy. 13 And ye shall eat it in a holy place, because it [is] thy due and thy sons' due, of Jehovah's fire-offerings; for so I am commanded. 14 And the breast of the wave-offering and the shoulder of the heave-offering ye shall eat in a clean place, thou and thy sons and thy daughters with thee; for thy due and thy sons' due [are they] given of the sacrifices of peace-offerings of the children of Israel. 15 The shoulder of the heave offering and the breast of the wave-offering shall they bring with the fire-offerings of the pieces of fat to wave as a wave-offering before Jehovah; and they shall be thine and thy sons' with thee for an everlasting statute, as Jehovah commanded" (vers. 12-15).
As the priests were those chosen for the services of the sanctuary, their failures and their dangers were measured by that standard in a way peculiar to themselves. Again also they had privileges, or dues, in which others could not share, suitable to such as drew near into the divine presence. The measure for an Israelite was what Jehovah claimed from man; for the priest there must be fitness Godward. Certainly no less than this is the holiness of the Christian; for he is a priest more really and fully than Aaron himself, for whom the office was but shadowy and ceremonial. Christ is the truth; and as in all other respects, so evidently and expressly in priesthood for the heavens now, as by-and-by for the earth also when He sits on Zion's throne. He therefore makes priesthood as real for the Christian as sonship is, though unbelief in Christendom makes the priestly place a vague name for all but the clergy.
Thus is confounded priesthood with ministry, which is in its worst form to repeat the gainsaying of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Of this imposture the Epistle of Jude declares the woe and end. But unbelief cannot alter or efface the truth; and Christians are shown in the N.T. to be the only persons on earth who now exercise priestly functions. They, having the only Great Priest over the house of God, are exhorted to approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, "sprinkled as to our hearts from a wicked conscience, and washed as to our body with pure water" (Hebrews 10:21-22). Who but they have the entrance with boldness into the holies in the power of the blood of Jesus? For any minister to claim this as the title, and the exclusive title, of his class, is to convict himself of presumptuous ignorance and profanity. It is meddling with Christ's rights, and with His grace to His own.
Christ as the Burnt-offering rose up wholly consumed to Jehovah. Man was in no way to partake: "It shall be accepted to make atonement for him" (Leviticus 1:4). "The priest shall burn all on the altar" (9). With Christ as the Meal-offering or Oblation, it was different; for here it is He, as alive in flesh and obedient in holy love, yet offered up to Jehovah. Of the fine flour with the oil, but all the frankincense put on it, the priest took his handful, and burnt it on the altar to Jehovah. The remainder was for Aaron and his sons, who were the priestly company and symbolise `' all the saints" here below. "Most holy" as it is, and thus rebuking every thought that tends to lower the Word become flesh, it was priestly food. Jehovah has the memorial thereof, a Fire-offering no less than the Burnt-offering; but the priest partook of the rest. If Jehovah had His delight in that blessed life of absolute devotedness to His will, have not we who believe and know ourselves brought to God (purged from every sin) the privilege of enjoying that oblation in peace and thanksgiving?
But it was to be eaten "in a holy place," as only the priests partook of it, not even their families. It is only in God's presence that we can enjoy in communion what Christ was each day on earth and all through to God: elsewhere we reason or imagine, and in either way must sully what is "most holy." It is the power of the Spirit that enables the believer to appropriate Christ thus, without mingling his own thoughts. For none rightly knows the Son but the Father; and before Him we presume not, but receive what He gives in unfeigned faith and worship. All the frankincense was for Jehovah.
On the other hand, while ver. 13 restricts the remainder of the Meal-offering to the eating of the priests "in a holy place," ver. 14 opens participation in the due portion of Peace-offerings for their sons and daughters to eat freely, but "in a clean place." For this they had the wave-breast and the heave-shoulder. They were all entitled to share the joy of counting on the affections and the power of Christ as their portion.
In Lev. 7 we see liberty to enjoy a more widely extended fellowship; for the offerer and his guests had the remainder as a feast. Thus Jehovah, the offering priest, the priestly house as a whole, and the offerer with his company, had each the appropriate part, in a communion large and varied, yet nicely ordered of God. Christ in His fulness answers to its every part: a striking contrast with the first and sinful man in his narrow selfishness or vain lavishness. Only "cleanness" was indispensable. "As he who called you is holy, be ye also holy in-all conduct, because it is written, Be holy, because I am holy." The simplest believer, however unintelligent of his high and holy privileges, is responsible to cleanse himself from every pollution of flesh and spirit, in order to enjoy it. Grace when believed produces vigilance in our new responsibilities as God's children; but the forgetfulness or abuse of it admits of licence and leads to lawlessness.
It is of much interest to notice these varied ordinances introduced at this time. Jehovah intended the sin and the judgment of the elder priests with which the chapter opens to be deeply felt, and thus work for God like all else. Therefore also He would sanction no feeling of distrust in Himself, nor consequently of dependency on themselves. On the contrary, by guarding against excitement in His presence, He forearms them of a snare dishonouring to Him and perilous to them. And He follows up that holy caution with reminding them of the privilege peculiar to those who draw near Him in the sanctuary, that it is theirs to eat the remainder of the Meal-offering without leaven beside the altar; for it is most holy. It is Christ as God saw Him incarnate here below in the beauty of holiness; and He thus gave them to have communion with Him in His own delight in the Son. Christ's manhood, a continual savour of rest to Him, was all the more acceptable; indeed it explains, if it does not wholly account for, God's complacency in men, rather than angels, as a multitude of the heavenly host unjealously expressed it in praising God.
Not less admirable in its place is the festive and more unrestricted privilege of the other "due," for their sons and their daughters to join their priestly sires in partaking of the wave-breast and the heave-shoulder, when the children of Israel offered Peace-offerings to Jehovah; but this necessarily was not in the holy place, but "in a clean place." Grace maintains purity, but considers those who enter not into the fuller privileges it confers. They may and should enjoy all that God gives them.
NOT EATING THE SIN OFFERING.
In the opening of the chapter we have seen God's great dishonour by man's great transgression, in presence of signal grace and not merely of creature responsibility. To this the priests were exposed, and therein the elder sons of Aaron fell. It was despising the Burnt-offering, and God's fire in its acceptance. Then came instruction to guard them against the expression of grief or the allowance of excitement. In these others might indulge, but not those who had the privilege of drawing near to His sanctuary. Their communion too with the holy oblation to Jehovah, and with the more freely enjoyed sacrifices of Peace offerings, was duly explained. There remained the solemn injunction that the priests should eat the Sin-offering. Their failure in this respect closes the chapter, deeply appealing to us who, though of a heavenly calling, are no less apt to forget what it speaks to our souls and means before God.
" 16 And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin-offering, and, behold, it was burnt) up; then he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons [that were] left, saying, 17 Why have ye not eaten the sin-offering in the place of the sanctuary? For it [is] most holy; and he hath given it to you, that ye might bear the iniquity of the assembly, to make atonement for them before Jehovah. 18 Behold, its blood was not brought in within the sanctuary: ye should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded. 19 And Aaron said to Moses, Behold, today have they presented their sin-offering and their burnt-offering before Jehovah; and such things as these have befallen me! And had I today eaten the sin-offering, would it have been good in the sight of Jehovah? 20 And Moses heard, and it was good in his sight" (vers. 16-20).
Thus the rest of the priestly house, though not guilty of the error fatal to Nadab and Abihu, broke down in a weighty part of their obligations; and all this was, sad to say, at the very start. So humiliating is God's history of man everywhere and at all times, as we may trace from the first Adam to the Second man Who never failed. How blessed for God is His coming and work, and for us who so deeply need it!
Perhaps it would not be possible to find a more wholesome warning for our souls in relation to our brethren, alike set free by the work of Christ to draw near to God, and exhorted as having boldness to enter through the rent veil into the holies by virtue of His blood. It is no presumption, but the "boast of hope" which we are called to hold firm unto the end, that we are in very deed His house, as truly as, and far more blessedly than, the priests were Aaron's. It is a real and rich part of the harvest of blessing we reap through redemption; for the Aaronic house was comparatively imperfect.
But if we are entitled even now to far greater boldness and access in confidence through the faith of Him, we are bound to identify ourselves in grace with the failures of our brethren, as they with ours. None but the Saviour could atone for us. His sufferings on the cross could alone avail to bring us to God. Whatever we had been, He now did reconcile us in the body of His flesh through death; and in Christ Jesus those who were far off are become nigh by His blood, Who is our peace and made the most opposed one, having broken down the middle wall of partition and annulled the enmity in His flesh, that He might form the two in Himself into one new man. Thus it is through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Yet as a fact we all and often offend; and we are exhorted to confess our sins or offences ta one another. Is this all? Far from it, we have to fulfil the type before us, to eat the Sin-offering in the sanctuary, to make the offence of a saint our own seriously in grace before God.
This goes far beyond the kindest feeling. It is so both in the deep sense of what is due to God, and as if we ourselves had offended. This is to bear the iniquity of the assembly, savouring the things that are Christ's, not those of men who would palliate and excuse. Hence it was to be eaten, not in a clean place only like the Peace-offering, but in the holy place. Propitiation had its unique moment; but priestly grace has also its due place and season in nearness to God.
It is equally plain as in the call for the priests to eat the residue of the Meal-offering, that eating the Sin-offering was only for them, not for their sons and their daughters. How many real believers who have now the title of priests (for it is certainly what the atoning work of the Lord Jesus gives to all that are His) fail to make it good as a matter of communion and practice! For this reason they can not appropriate the spirit of these commandments of Jehovah for the priests. They are thankful for the mercy of God in Christ's death, though even there it is rather as the offering for sin and trespass of which they feel the necessity, than as the Burnt-offering in its acceptance. Hence they fail through their weakness of faith, to know what answers in their case to eating, either of the Meal-offering on the one hand, or of the Sin-offering on the other. Both can be eaten in the holy place only; and the entry there they have not learnt and made their own as a present reality. They are therefore in this respect more like the sons and the daughters of the Aaronic line-than the priests themselves. But even so they partake (if feebly enough) of the witness of Christ's love and power, and this in the communion of saints as the Peace-offering means. But blessed are they who know what it is to approach God through Christ, and can identify themselves with Him on behalf of one overtaken in some fault (Galatians 6:1).
So the Lord, when indicating by His symbolical action in John 13 the gracious but indispensable work He, on departing to the Father, was about to carry on for saints, lets them know that they too were to wash one another's feet. In this it is communion practically with Himself. But here we are as apt to fail through ignorance or carelessness, as Peter did doubly on that occasion.
The apostle Paul too at a later day, who could not but censure the insensibility of the Corinthian saints in 1 Cor. 5, had the joy of learning that they were made sorry according to God, as he expresses it in 2 Corinthians 7:9. "What earnest care it wrought in you, yea what clearing of yourselves, yea what indignation, yea what fear, yea what longing, yea what zeal, yea what avenging. In everything ye approved yourselves to be pure in the matter." Again, to the Galatian saints he writes, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ," instead of meddling with the law of Moses to the hurt of themselves and of each other. Individual responsibility remains true: each shall bear his own burden; but grace would bear one another's burdens.
Intercession with our God and Father is a precious privilege which it is our shame to neglect. It keeps God's rights undiminished, and exercises the heart in saintly love. Let us never forget that grace condemns evil far more profoundly than law did or could; but it holds fast Christ in life and death and thereby the erring believer's title, as it is in unison here below with what He is doing on high as Advocate with the Father. It delivers from a hard spirit on the one hand, and from a merely human leniency on the other; neither of which is compatible with Christ. His alone it was to atone; but He also felt and confessed the evil, and herein as priests we are called in the presence of God to bear the burden on our souls and to mourn for a brother's sin as our own.
And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.
So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said.
And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled.
And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses.
And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying,
Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:
And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;
And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.
And Moses spake unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left, Take the meat offering that remaineth of the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: for it is most holy:
And ye shall eat it in the holy place, because it is thy due, and thy sons' due, of the sacrifices of the LORD made by fire: for so I am commanded.
And the wave breast and heave shoulder shall ye eat in a clean place; thou, and thy sons, and thy daughters with thee: for they be thy due, and thy sons' due, which are given out of the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel.
The heave shoulder and the wave breast shall they bring with the offerings made by fire of the fat, to wave it for a wave offering before the LORD; and it shall be thine, and thy sons' with thee, by a statute for ever; as the LORD hath commanded.
And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt: and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron which were left alive, saying,
Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD?
Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the holy place: ye should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded.
And Aaron said unto Moses, Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD; and such things have befallen me: and if I had eaten the sin offering to day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the LORD?
And when Moses heard that, he was content.