Part of the law received on Mount Sinai related to the operation of what is referred to as the Priestly Law. In fact, the whole liturgy of Old Testament times is changed radically with the giving of the Law. Whereas before altars had been set up in places where contact with God had been made, and services had certainly been performed there is a lack of any evidence that shows any kind of substantial structure and rules. That changes with the giving of the Law. The new system is complex, and details were to be followed to the letter.
Look at the amount of material covered in the law regarding the Priests, and the Tabernacle, the movable temple that moved with the people during the Exodus. The chapters include Exodus 25 – 31and 35 – 40; Leviticus 1 – 27; Numbers 1 – 10. All those chapters are details of the law specifying the sanctuary in the wilderness, the sacrificial rituals, the priestly garb, the ritual cleanings, and other priestly duties.[i]
This staggering amount of scripture is too much to examine in this article, but we need to look at some key points.
Exodus 25 specifies the building of the tabernacle including the Ark of the Covenant, and other fixtures. As far as where to get the materials:
“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. (Exo 25:2 ESV)
These contributions could be acacia wood, gold, silver, bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns,lamp oil, precious stones and a host of other materials specifically named.
Look at the intricate design specifications for the Ark of the Covenant:
“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you. “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Exo 25:10-22 ESV)
The Ark was certainly a beautiful, intricate piece of work. Additionally are specifics for a table and a golden lamp stand for use next to the ark.
Then we have the specifics for the tabernacle itself, curtains of fine twined blue, purple and scarlet linens with cherubim worked into them with loops and clasps of gold is the start. There are frames of acacia wood and bases of silver, and much, much more. Read Exodus 26 for all the details. Exodus 27 has details for the bronze altar and the court of the Tabernacle and oil for the lamp.
The priests’ garments are particularly striking to me and they are detailed in Exodus 28:
These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. “And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. And the skillfully woven band on it shall be made like it and be of one piece with it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance. You shall make settings of gold filigree, and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings. “You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work. In the style of the ephod you shall make it—of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen shall you make it. It shall be square and doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth. You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold filigree. There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. You shall make for the breastpiece twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. And you shall make for the breastpiece two rings of gold, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece. And you shall put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece. The two ends of the two cords you shall attach to the two settings of filigree, and so attach it in front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod. You shall make two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. And you shall make two rings of gold, and attach them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, at its seam above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. And they shall bind the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, so that it may lie on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, so that the breastpiece shall not come loose from the ephod. (Exo 28:4-28 ESV)
Look at the grand ornateness of these vestments. Look at references to the symbolism of the pieces”. “Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance. There was a breastpiece of judgment.” The stones on the breastpiece were “like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes”
Look at this part of the liturgy. Part of Aaron’s vestment was a plate that he wore in front of his turban. The purpose of the plate was to bear the guilt from the people’s sacrifice :
“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD. (Exo 28:36-38 ESV)
Part of the vestments even included linen undergarments!
Exodus 29 specifies the ceremony that consecrates the priests. It is a beautiful ceremony with the killing of a bull and a killing of a ram and sprinkling of blood and a wave offering with fat and bread and cake and a wafer. The ram of ordination is boiled and eaten by those ordained along with bread from the basket at the entrance. What’s not eaten by next morning is burned up because it is holy. There is more to do in the consecration of the altar and the tent.
Exodus 30 gives specifications for an altar of incense and a census tax, the bronze basin and the anointing oil and incense.
Exodus 35 through 40 gives the details of the execution of these divine designs.
The culmination of these plans led to the actual presence of the Lord as evidenced as a cloud covering the tabernacle:
And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exo 40:33-38 ESV)
From its simple beginnings back in the book of Genesis where worship was sacrifice and prayer at spots where the patriarchs made contact with the Lord God we see a clear transition here today to a much more sophisticated liturgy.
In the beginning there were no ephods, and vestments with the urim and thummim and other symbols, there were no multicolored linens symbolizing various things. There was no priesthood delegated to specifics in the order of sacrifices and godly worship, but now with the giving of the Law all this and more were institutionalized by divine decree.
This shows growth from a simple to a more sophisticated liturgy. What also increased was the different types of offerings. The simple offerings of Genesis are replaced with basically five offerings. The burnt offering is still there.
Look at the detail and specifics in the instructions for a burnt offering. The animal is without blemish. It’s not defective or a leftover but a top choice animal. The animal is killed in front of the priest or by the priest. The blood is thrown against the altar. The aroma of this sacrifice is a sweet aroma to the Lord.
“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. “If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. And he shall cut it into pieces, with its head and its fat, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar, but the entrails and the legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. “If his offering to the LORD is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or pigeons. And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents and cast it beside the altar on the east side, in the place for ashes. He shall tear it open by its wings, but shall not sever it completely. And the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. (Lev 1:2-17 ESV)
The grain offering may have been what Cain was supposed to have carried out but did badly by not choosing the choicest crops. The law specifies a grain offering, some of which provided cakes for the priests to eat.
“When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the LORD’s food offerings. “When you bring a grain offering baked in the oven as an offering, it shall be unleavened loaves of fine flour mixed with oil or unleavened wafers smeared with oil. And if your offering is a grain offering baked on a griddle, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mixed with oil. You shall break it in pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. (Lev 2:1-6 ESV)
Then there is the Peace offering which was a sacrifice of thanksgiving:
“And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the LORD. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning. (Lev 7:11-15 ESV)
Then there are two offerings for sin: the sin offering was for unintentional sin. The guilt offerings are set for specific sins like doing illegal things with God’s altar or things, or when a person is unsure whether he has sinned.[ii]
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering. (Lev 4:2-3 ESV)
“If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the LORD, he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven. “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has indeed incurred guilt before the LORD.” (
Lev 5:15-19 ESV)
Worship in the old testament still centers around sacrifices but as we are seeing it is more complex. Now there is a tabernacle, a place of worship. Later the Temple in Jerusalem replaced this movable temple called the tabernacle. Now there are priests with specific duties. Now there are five types of sacrifices and they are geared to more specific reasons. There is even now the unintentional sin offering and the guilt offering for those who think they may have sinned but aren’t sure.
In addition to these changes to the Liturgy brought on by the Law are the Festivals but we will save those for part two of this post.
[i] OLD TESTAMENT LAW, Dale Patrick, John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1985, P. 145