Leviticus 8-10: The Priesthood

God shares more details on the priesthood and reveals the death of two of Aaron's sons.
Photocredit: Dietle


Chapter 8 takes us through the actual ceremony God stipulated in Exodus 29 to anoint Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. Moses gathered the whole congregation to witness the anointing so everyone would see that Aaron and his sons were set apart. This chapter, while a bit repetitive for readers, serves to confirm that Moses followed God's instructions pertaining to the installation of Aaron and his sons as the priesthood; for a discussion on God's instructions see Exodus 28-31: The Priesthood. Likely, the point of the repetition is to allow us to see both what God instructed and what was carried out to erase any doubt that Aaron's line was authorized by God to serve as priests. Repetition is also often used to add emphasis. It is clear that God wanted us to know that Aaron and his sons were called to be priests and how they were consecrated for that position. As far as the anointing and consecration of Aaron, the only thing we learn is that during the 7 day process, he and his sons were required to stay in the tabernacle. Staying inside the tabernacle kept the new priests clean during the process because they could not come into contact with anything unholy there.

First Offerings

Once the consecration was over, Moses tells Aaron to prepare for offerings and records for us the first offerings given. These offerings were much like a dedication ceremony; I suppose the closest thing we could relate to the event today would be a grand opening. The first offering given was a sin offering for Aaron, which is telling. Aaron had been in the tabernacle for 7 days being consecrated, but he still needed to atone for his sin. The Bible does not contradict the possibility that Aaron's sins were not absolved during the consecration process; however, the fact that God specifies how sin offerings should be given from priests let' us know that God expected them to have fault and to stumble at times. This sequence of events shows us that even though Aaron was deemed holy by God, he was not perfect, nor did God expect him to become perfect.We are also shown one reason why we needed Jesus to assume the position of high priest. Neither Aaron nor his sons were perfect people. Before they could atone for someone or for the congregation, they had to atone for their own sin. If the priest didn't atone for himself, wasn't clean, or made a mistake during the offering, the sacrifice was not accepted by God. This left Israel vulnerable to losing contact with God everyday. Thankfully, today, we have Jesus who is sinless (therefore not indeed of atonement), always clean, and never makes mistakes.

After making the sin offering with a calf for himself, Aaron made a sin offering on the behalf of the people. Perhaps this was in repentance of the golden calf incident. For the people, he offered a goat followed by both burnt and meat offerings. When he had completed the series of offerings, Aaron blesses the people. Perhaps to back up Aaron's blessing or to show His approval, the glory of the Lord appears. As a fire, He consumes the burnt offering from the altar and the Israelites fall on their faces to praise God.

Laws for the Priest

Unholy Offerings

We saw in Exodus 30:9, strange incense was not to be offered to God. Only that which He commanded was permissible as an offering. For some reason, however, Aaron's sons—Nadab and Abihu—break this command. When they offer up their strange fire, God comes out from the fire and devours them. The fire was considered strange, because it came from somewhere other than the holy altar God has designated.[1]

A Question on Funerals

When Moses and Aaron find the two, Moses discerns what has occurred and suggests that the two sons had not glorified God. Aaron holds his peace and does not mourn in the tabernacle; he seems to know that this is not behavior God would accept. Moses calls Mishael and Alzphan, the sons of their uncle, Uzziel, to transport the bodies outside of the court. At this point Aaron and his other two sons are instructed that mourning rites are not to be carried out, because it will bring about God's wrath.

This is interesting, since today, most funerals are held in a church, granted the priest does not move the body and no one rips theirs clothes (as was part of the Israelite custom[2]). While our churches are far from the tabernacle and temple God instructed the Israelites to build, they are where most people expect to find the presence of God—of course God is anywhere His believers are, but that's a topic for another post. We know from the passage that God didn't want the dead bodies in the tabernacle and will see in Leviticus 11 that dead bodies are unclean. In Leviticus 21, priests are explicitly told not to touch the dead unless they are blood relatives. Considering what happened during the Ebola outbreak and the plagues of Europe, we have evidence that God knew what He was talking about when He pronounced the dead bodies unclean. While this particular incident may have been slightly different in so much as Nadab and Abihu had directly offended God,—their death was not like the death of someone who was murdered or died of old age—the next few chapters of Leviticus confirm that God didn't want anything unclean in the tabernacle, which included dead bodies. So, why do we have funerals at churches? Where did the custom of looking about the dead lying in the casket come from?

The Bible doesn't really tell us how to handle deaths. When people die in Genesis and Exodus, no rituals are given. We see that Abraham purchases a cave in which to bury Sarah and eventually his descendants are also buried there. Jacob asks to be buried in Canaan and Joseph asks to be transported back when the Israelites return. Even as God commands Aaron not to partake in mourning rites, we see that some form of tradition was present at the time. It is possible that after 400 years in Egypt, the Israelites adapted some of Egypt's funeral rites. We know that the Egyptians had elaborate funerals and beliefs about the afterlife, but we also know that God commanded the Israelites not to be like the Egyptians or the Canaanites and not to participate in pagan activities. Yet, God only forbids the priests from mourning Nadab and Abihu. The community is still permitted to mourn. though it doesn't say how. The idea of wearing all black or facing bodies in a certain direction in the cemetery do not seem to be present in the Bible. The habit of wearing black stems from the Roman Empire.[3] Originally, Christian funerals had no set rituals; it was much later than the tradition moved to churches and required preachers.[4] The tradition of repast, or a meal after the funeral, and neighbors bringing food to the home seems as though it could stem from God's command to take care of widows and orphans.

Wine and Food

When the priest entered the tabernacle, they were not to drink wine or other strong (i.e. alcoholic) beverages. We wouldn't want an intoxicated priest trying to offer up sacrifices, plus since drunkenness is described unfavorably throughout the Bible, this would also prevent the priest from effectively atoning for someone since he would need atoning for himself.

Food, specifically grain offerings, on the other hand, had to be eaten in the tabernacle. The breast and shoulder the priests received from sacrifices were to be shared with their families and could be eaten in any clean place. After the death of Nadab and Abihu, Moses sees that the remains of a sin offering have not been eaten by Aarons other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, but were burnt instead. Moses confronts them about this behavior and Aaron explains that they see the tabernacle as unclean due to Abihu and Nadab, not wishing to further defile the tabernacle, they burned the offering instead of partaking in it. Moses finds this to be an acceptable answer.


  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg 192. 2014
  2. Rich, Tracey R. "Life, Death and Mourning". Judaism 101. 2011
  3. "Why We Wear Black to a Funeral". Une Belle Vie Memorial Urns. 2015
  4. "What is the Origin of Church Funeral Services". Opposing Views. 2015

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