Exodus 29 Ordain-ary People

Questions: Why do we ordain priests? How does that relate to consecrating altars? Why do we need rituals anyway? “Read More” to pursue answers.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Exodus 29:1-46

This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests

After preparing the clothes for Aaron, God tells Moses how to prepare Aaron for the clothes. The ritual is fairly elaborate, and I’m sure it must’ve been impressive even on its own merits, over four major phases:

* Bull: sin offering
* Ram 1: burnt offering
* Ram 2: ordination
* Bread: wave offering (with ram’s breast)

However, the biggest impact must surely have been from knowing it is a ritual that will be repeated endlessly into the future:

The priesthood is theirs by a lasting ordinance. In this way you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

Paradoxically, the ritualization of the priesthood both exalts and diminishes Aaron. On the one hand, the clothing and ceremony grant Aaron a huge amount of status, yet at the same time they also invest that status in the role (and the robes), not merely in Aaron the person. Conversely, Aaron’s own pre-existing prestige lends weight and validity to the position, as do his subsequent actions (hopefully) — yet we are continually reminded than the mandate is larger than the man.

Of course, that’s probably true of every institution (including the primordial one: marriage). I’m often made aware of that in my day job at Apple. On the one hand, I incur a certain amount of prestige by being “Apple-badged.” But, at the same time I have an obligation to use that prestige to further enhance Apple’s image, by lending my own gifts and reputation to (in my tiny corner of the world) improve Apple’s standing among my target market (i.e., geeks :-).

To be sure, corporate relationships typically last less than a human lifetime: I probably won’t stay at Apple until I die, after all. However, Aaron’s relationship to the priesthood explicitly transcends his lifetime:

Aaron’s sacred garments will belong to his descendants so that they can be anointed and ordained in them.

Thus, God is not merely formalizing what Aaron is already doing, He is institutionalizing the role that Aaron plays in the community, so that will outlast (and perhaps transcend) Aaron’s human limitations. Similarly, when we ordain priests (or ministers) today, we are investing them with the honor that their predecessors have won for that office, with the understand that their actions will either increase or decrease the honor transmitted to their successors.

Same with parents. In fact, one could consider marriage an ordinary ceremony for future mothers and fathers in the exact same way.

Intriguingly — unless I’ve missed something — Moses first uses the altar to consecrate the priests, and only then uses the priests to consecrate the altar.

Purify the altar by making atonement for it, and anoint it to consecrate it

It does seem to send a strong message that people precede places in God’s hierarchy of value. Yet, both the priest and the altar appear subordinate the primal purpose of allowing people to relate to God:

For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before the LORD. There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.

Which is pretty much what God says at the end of the chapter:

“So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.


God, I pray you’d make me faithful to all the institutions that have vested (a piece of) their honor in me: marriage, Apple, MIT, Caltech, BCG, Harvest Church. Help me to wisely receive and wield the trust I’ve been given, that I may bring honor to them as they have brought to me. Remind me that I am — maybe not merely, but still largely — a link in the chain, and the purpose of the chain is ultimately to bind people to you. Thank you for sending Jesus to bind up what has broken, and unmendable. In His name I pray, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is from the song Ordinary People by Danniebelle Halle.