It need scarcely be said that everything connected with the priesthood was intended) to be symbolical and typical — the office itself, its functions, even its dress and outward support. The fundamental design of Israel itself was to be unto Jehovah “a kingdom of priests and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). This, however, could only be realized in “the fullness of time.” At the very outset there was the barrier of sin; and in order to gain admittance to the ranks of Israel, when “the sum of the children of Israel was taken after their number,” every man had to give the half-shekel, which in after times became the regular Temple contribution, as “a ransom (covering) for his soul unto Jehovah” (Exodus 30:12-13). But even so Israel was sinful’ and could only approach Jehovah in the way which He Himself opened, and in the manner which He appointed. Direct choice and appointment by God were the conditions alike of the priesthood’ of sacrifices, feasts, and of every detail of service.
The fundamental ideas which underlay all and connected it into a harmonious whole were reconciliation and mediation: the one expressed by typically atoning sacrifices, the other by a typically intervening priesthood. Even the Hebrew term for priest (Cohen) denotes in its root-meaning “one who stands up for another, and mediates in his cause.” For this purpose God chose the tribe of Levi, and out of it again the family of Aaron, on whom He bestowed the “priest’s office as a gift” (Numbers 18:7). But the whole characteristics and the functions of the priesthood centered in the person of the high-priest. In accordance with their Divine “calling” (Hebrews 5:4) was the special and exceptional provision made for the support of the priesthood. Its principle was thus expressed: “I am thy part and shine inheritance among the children of Israel;” and its joyousness, when re. realized in its full meaning and application, found vent in such words as Psalm 16:5-6, “Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.”
But there was yet another idea to be expressed by the priesthood. The object of reconciliation was holiness. Israel was to be “a holy nation” — reconciled through the “sprinkling of blood;” brought near to, and kept in fellowship with God by that means. The priesthood, as the representative offerers of that blood and mediators of the people, were also to show forth the “holiness” of Israel. Everyone knows how this was symbolized by the gold-plate which the high-priest wore on his forehead, and which bore the words: “Holiness unto Jehovah.” But though the high-priest in this, as in every other respect was the fullest embodiment of the functions and the object of the priesthood, the same truth was also otherwise shown forth.
The bodily qualifications required in the priesthood, the kind of defilements which would temporarily or wholly in. interrupt their functions, their mode of ordination, and even every portion, material, and color of their distinctive dress were all intended to express in a symbolical manner this characteristic of holiness. In all these respects there was a difference between Israel and the tribe of Levi; between the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron; and, finally, between an ordinary priest and the high-priest, who most fully typified our Great High-priest, in whom all these symbols have found their reality.
Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, its Ministry and Services, pp. 60-62.
Next: Appendix II