God sets apart the priests for his service.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Bring Aaron and his sons, along with their sacred garments, the anointing oil, the bull for the sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of bread made without yeast, and call the entire community of Israel together at the entrance of the Tabernacle.”
So Moses followed the Lord’s instructions, and the whole community assembled at the Tabernacle entrance. Moses announced to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded us to do!” Then he presented Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. He put the official tunic on Aaron and tied the sash around his waist. He dressed him in the robe, placed the ephod on him, and attached the ephod securely with its decorative sash.
All the men from the tribe of Levi were dedicated for service to God, but only Aaron’s descendants could serve as priests. They alone performed the sacrifices. These priests had to cleanse and dedicate themselves before they could help the people do the same.
Leviticus 8 and 9 describes their ordination ceremony. Aaron and his sons were washed with water (Leviticus 8:6), clothed with special garments (Leviticus 8:7-9), and anointed with oil (Leviticus 8:12). They placed their hands on a young bull as it was killed (Leviticus 8:14) and on two rams as they were killed (Leviticus 8:18-19, 22). This ceremony showed that holiness came from God alone, not from the priestly role. Similarly, we are not spiritually cleansed because we have a religious position. Spiritual cleansing comes only from God. No matter how high our position or how long we have held it, we must depend on God for spiritual vitality.
Why were priests needed in Israel? From the time of Adam’s fall, sin has separated man from God, and people have needed mediators to help them find forgiveness. At first, the patriarchs—household leaders like Abraham and Job—were priests for their houses or clans and made sacrifices for their families. Later, when the Israelites left Egypt, God chose Aaron and his descendants to serve as priests for the nation. The priests stood in the gap between God and the people. They were the full-time spiritual leaders and overseers of offerings. The priestly system was a concession to people’s inability, because of sin, to relate to God individually and corporately.
In Exodus 19:6, God called the Israelites to be a kingdom of priests; ideally they would all be holy and relate to God on behalf of the whole world. But sin continued to wreck this plan. When Christ came, this priestly system was transformed. Jesus Christ himself became our High Priest. Now all believers can approach God through him. Now, “you are royal priests, a holy nation. . . . As a result, you can show others the goodness of God” (1 Peter 2:9).