We are not told what Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle to do, Lev. 9:23. Some of the Jewish writers say, “They went in to pray for the appearance of the divine glory;” most probably they went in that Moses might instruct Aaron how to do the service that was to be done there—burn incense, light the lamps, set the show-bread, etc., that he might instruct his sons in it. But, when they came out, they both joined in blessing the people, who stood expecting the promised appearance of the divine glory; and it was now (when Moses and Aaron concurred in praying) that they had what they waited for. Note, God’s manifestations of himself, of his glory and grace, are commonly given in answer to prayer. When Christ was praying the heavens were opened, Luke 3:21. The glory of God appeared, not while the sacrifices were in offering, but when the priests prayed (as 2 Chron. 5:13), when they praised God, which intimates that the prayers and praises of God’s spiritual priests are more pleasing to God than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.
When the solemnity was finished, the blessing pronounced, and the congregation ready to be dismissed, in the close of the day, then God testified his acceptance, which gave them such satisfaction as was well worth waiting for.
I. The glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people, Lev. 9:23. What the appearance of it was we are not told; no doubt it was such as carried its own evidence along with it. The glory which filled the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34) now showed itself at the door of the tabernacle to those who attended there, as a prince shows himself to the expecting crowd, to gratify them. God hereby testified of their gifts, and showed them that he was worthy for whom they should do all this. Note, Those that diligently attend upon God in the way he has appointed shall have such a sight of his glory as shall be abundantly to their satisfaction. Those that dwell in God’s house with an eye of faith may behold the beauty of the Lord.
II. There came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed the sacrifice, Lev. 9:24. Here the learned bishop Patrick has a very probable conjecture, that Moses and Aaron staid in the tabernacle till it was time to offer the evening sacrifice, which Aaron did, but it is not mentioned, because it was done of course, and it was this which the fire that came out from the Lord consumed. Whether this fire came from heaven, or out of the most holy place, or from that visible appearance of the glory of God which all the people saw, it was a manifest token of God’s acceptance of their service, as, afterwards, of Solomon’s sacrifice, 2 Chron. 7:1; and Elijah’s, 1 Kgs. 18:38.
1. This fire did consume (or, as the word is, eat up) the present sacrifice. And two ways this was a testimony of acceptance:—(1.) It signified the turning away of God’s wrath from them. God’s wrath is a consuming fire; this fire might justly have fastened upon the people, and consumed them for their sins; but its fastening upon the sacrifice, and consuming that, signified God’s acceptance of that as an atonement for the sinner. (2.) It signified God’s entering into covenant and communion with them: they ate their part of the sacrifice, and the fire of the Lord ate up his part; and thus he did, as it were, sup with them, and they with him, Rev. 3:20.
2. This fire did, as it were, take possession of the altar. The fire was thus kindled in God’s house, which was to continue as long as the house stood, as we read before, Lev. 6:13. This also was a figure of good things to come. The Spirit descended upon the apostles in fire (Acts 2:3), so ratifying their commission, as this spoken of here did the priests’. And the descent of this holy fire into our souls to kindle in them pious and devout affections towards God, and such a holy zeal as burns up the flesh and the lusts of it, is a certain token of God’s gracious acceptance of our persons and performances. That redounds to God’s glory which is the work of his own grace in us. Hereby we know that we dwell in God, and God in us, because he hath thus given us of his Spirit, 1 John 4:13. Now henceforward, (1.) All their sacrifices and incense must be offered with this fire. Note, Nothing goes to God but what comes from him. We must have grace, that holy fire, from the God of grace, else we cannot serve him acceptably, Heb. 12:28. (2.) The priests must keep it burning with a constant supply of fuel, and the fuel must be wood, the cleanest of fuel. Thus those to whom God has given grace must take heed of quenching the Spirit.
III. We are here told how the people were affected with this discovery of God’s glory and grace; they received it, 1. With the highest joy: They shouted; so stirring up themselves and one another to a holy triumph, in the assurance now given them that they had God nigh unto them, which is spoken of the grandeur of their nation, Deut. 4:7. 2. With the lowest reverence: They fell on their faces, humbly adoring the majesty of that God who vouchsafed thus to manifest himself to them. That is a sinful fear of God which drives us from him; a gracious fear makes us bow before him. Very good impressions were made upon their minds for the present, but they soon wore off, as those commonly do which are made by that which is only sensible; while the influences of faith are durable.