God had given Moses orders to consecrate Aaron and his sons to the priests’ office, when he was with him the first time upon mount Sinai, Exod. 28:1-29:46; where we have also the particular instructions he had how to do it. Now here we have,
I. The orders repeated. What was there commanded to be done is here commanded to be done now, Lev. 8:2, 3. The tabernacle was newly set up, which, without the priests, would be as a candlestick without a candle; the law concerning sacrifices was newly given, but could not be observed without priests; for, though Aaron and his sons had been nominated to the office, they could not officiate, till they were consecrated, which yet must not be done till the place of their ministration was prepared, and the ordinances were instituted, that they might apply themselves to work as soon as ever they were consecrated, and might know that they were ordained, not only to the honour and profit, but to the business of the priesthood. Aaron and his sons were near relations to Moses, and therefore he would not consecrate them till he had further orders, lest he should seem too forward to bring honour into his family.
II. The congregation called together, at the door, that is, in the court of the tabernacle, Lev. 8:4. The elders and principal men of the congregation, who represented the body of the people, were summoned to attend; for the court would hold but a few of the many thousands of Israel. It was done thus publicly, 1. Because it was a solemn transaction between God and Israel; the priests were to be ordained for men in things pertaining to God, for the maintaining of a settled correspondence, and the negotiating of all affairs between the people and God; and therefore it was fit that both sides should appear, to own the appointment, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 2. The spectators of the solemnity could not but be possessed, by the sight of it, with a great veneration for the priests and their office, which was necessary among a people so wretchedly prone as these were to envy and discontent. It was strange that any of those who were witnesses of what was here done should afterwards say, as some of them did, You take too much upon you, you sons of Levi; but what would they have said if it had been done clandestinely? Note, It is very fit, and of good use, that ministers should be ordained publicly, plebe praesente—in the presence of the common people, according to the usage of the primitive church.
III. The commission read, Lev. 8:5. Moses, who was God’s representative in this solemnity, produced his orders before the congregation: This is the thing which the Lord commanded to be done. Though God had crowned him king in Jeshurun, when he made his face to shine in the sight of all Israel, yet he did not institute or appoint any thing in God’s worship but what God himself had commanded. The priesthood he delivered to them was that which he had received from the Lord. Note, All that minister about holy things must have an eye to God’s command as their rule and warrant; for it is only in the observance of this that they can expect to be owned and accepted of God. Thus we must be able to say, in all acts of religious worship, This is the thing which the Lord commanded to be done.
IV. The ceremony performed according to the divine ritual. 1. Aaron and his sons were washed with water (Lev. 8:6), to signify that they ought now to purify themselves from all sinful dispositions and inclinations, and ever after to keep themselves pure. Christ washes those from their sins in his own blood whom he makes to our God kings and priests (Rev. 1:5, 6); and those that draw near to God must be washed in pure water, Heb. 10:22. Though they were ever so clean before and no filth was to be seen upon them, yet they must be washed, to signify their purification from sin, with which their souls were polluted, how clean soever their bodies were. 2. They were clothed with the holy garments, Aaron with his (Lev. 8:7-9), which typified the dignity of Christ our great high priest, and his sons with theirs (Lev. 8:13), which typified the decency of Christians, who are spiritual priests. Christ wears the breast-plate of judgment and the holy crown; for the church’s high priest is her prophet and king. All believers are clothed with the robe of righteousness, and girt with the girdle of truth, resolution, and close application; and their heads are bound, as the word here is, with the bonnet or diadem of beauty, the beauty of holiness. 3. The high priest was anointed, and, it should seem, the holy things were anointed at the same time; some think that they were anointed before, but that the anointing of them is mentioned here because Aaron was anointed with the same oil with which they were anointed; but the manner of relating it here makes it more than probable that it was done at the same time, and that the seven days employed in consecrating the altar were coincident with the seven days of the priests’ consecration. The tabernacle, and all its utensils, had some of the anointing oil put upon them with Moses’s finger (Lev. 8:10), so had the altar (Lev. 8:11); these were to sanctify the gold and the gift (Matt. 23:17-19), and therefore must themselves be thus sanctified; but he poured it out more plentifully upon the head of Aaron (Lev. 8:12), so that it ran down to the skirts of his garments, because his unction was to typify the anointing of Christ with the Spirit, which was not given by measure to him. Yet all believers also have received the anointing, which puts an indelible character upon them, 1 John 2:27.