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could better answer this end, than the ceremonies here prescribed ; while washing the body with water was physically necessary, and frequently used, in those warm eastern climes ; it was easily and commonly transferred, both among Jews and pagans to point out and enforce purity of heart, or to represent the importance of a mind cleansed from sin, in order to the acceptable service of God. This rite is so plain and significant, that it is adopted as a religious ceremony by the simple dispensation of the Gospel.
With respect to the garments, in which the priests were to officiate, it was proper that these should be regulated by the divine law, that no room might be left for the wild operation of human fancy, or the intrusion of heathen idolatry. The rites of pagan worship respecting the dress of the priests were in some instances highly indecent, and in all superstitious. It was fit that the ministers of Jehovah should be secured from the least participation in such idolatrous customs. It was fit that their whole apparel should display a decorum, a beauty, and a grandeur, becoming the presence of that King in whose court they attended, and fitted to impress both themselves and the people with the sacred importance of their character, and to inspire both with reverence and purity in the service of God. Agreeably, the holy scriptures represent these garments as designed emblems of those inward graces, which are the proper dress and beauty of the soul. The anointing of the priests with precious oil, in the name of Jehovah, was an expressive act, by which they were visibly dedicated to their office, invested with its authority, and encouraged them to expect a divine unction or benediction in discharging it. Agreeably, Jesus the Son of God is called the Messiah and Christ, both which signify the anointed,
and are explained by the declaration, that God anointed him with the Holy Ghost and with power.
The last part of this solemnity consisted of a threefold sacrifice. The first was a sin offering, to denote that they must in the first place be purged from their sins, in order to their acceptably appearing in the holy presence of God. The second was a whole burnt offering, an oblation of sweet savor, signifying that being now purified from guilt, they were received into the divine friendship, as a sweet savor of rest and peace, and were entirely devoted to the sacred office, as the burnt offering was wholly consumed on God's altar. The third was called the ram of consecration, or a peace offering. The blood of this victim was partly sprinkled on God's altar, as an offering to him, and partly on Aaron and his sons, as a consecration of them to the sacerdotal function. A portion of this sacrifice was reserved, to be eaten by the priests at the door of the tabernacle, to show that they were now admitted as guests at God's table. The application of a part of this blood to the right ears, hands, and feet of the priest strikingly admonished them that, being now consecrated to God, they must hear his word with attention, perform his will with promptitude and energy, and constantly walk in his statutes.
The official duties of this order consisted not only in presenting the victims appointed for every occasion, but in attending to all the other services of the temple. They were expressly charged to instruct the people in all God's statutes and were authorised to interpret and apply the laws to every dubious or controverted case.*
They were to sanctify the most holy things, to burn incense before the Lord, to minister unto him, and to
#Levit, X. XI. Deut. xvii. 9. 10. and xxxiii. 1O.
bless the people in his name.* Beside these common duties of the priestly office, there were two great prerogatives peculiar to the high priest, viz. the privilege of appearing before God in the most holy place on the day of atonement, and the privilege of consulting the divine oracle on important occasions, whether civil or religious. As mankind in the first ages had probably abused the easy access, which they had, to the visible presence of God; he thought it expedient in after times, to limit this presence to the holy of holies, and to appropriate the liberty of access to the high priest. In what manner this officer approached and consulted the oracle, and received its answer, on great questions, was formerly explained.
Beside this prime minister of religion, and the subor. dinate priests, who belonged to the family of Aaron, there was a third order of ecclesiastics, called Levites, comprising the remaining part of the tribe of Levi. These were inferior agents, who performed the more laborious services of the tabernacle and temple, and assisted in the great work of instructing the people. When God smote the first born of the Egyptians, and spared the first born of Israel, he claimed the special service of the latter, as a due acknowledgment for this distinguishing mercy ; but in place of this service, and as a memorial of this wonderful act of goodness, he accepted and consecrated these Levites in the room of all the first born of Israel. Accordingly, when the former were to be initiated into their office, the first born Israelites laid their hands upon them, to recognize the claim of Jehovah to their own personal service, to ratify the substitution of the Levites in their place, and to express their
Levit. ix. 22. Numb. vi. 23. Deut. xxi. 5.
solemn engagement to treat them as their representatives and ministers in the worship of God. These Levites were also dedicated to their employment by certain rights of purification and atonement, and by a public act of the high priest, offering them to the immediate service of Jehovah. These ceremonies tended to impress both them and the people with the awful dignity of their function, and to enforce that inward reverence and practical holiness, which become the public officers of religion.
Before I dismiss this topic, I would remark, that each of these religious orders had an important share in the civil and forensic administration. However improper such a mixture of political and spiritual employment may be in other establishments; in the Jewish state it was highly expedient; for religion was eminently the object and basis of the Hebrew commonwealth, it was essential to all its political interests; a departure from the true religion was high treason against the constitution and King of Israel. Most of their civil statutes were chiefly intended to guard and promote the pure worship of God. Hence the ministers of this worship would properly and even necessarily bear a part in explaining and executing those statutes. It was also most wise and salutary to exalt the credit and influence of these ministers, by thus clothing them with civil dignity; as this would heighten the effect of their religious ministrations, on which depended the welfare and even existence of their commonwealth.
Punishments inflicted on those, who assumed the priestly office. De
scription of the priestly garments.
AVING in our last lecture given a general account of the Jewish priests, of their qualifications, their induction to office, and their appropriate duties ; we shall subjoin some further observations on this distinguished order of men, tending at once to vindicate their appointment; and throw light on various passages of scripture.
We have already hinted that, before the establishment of the Hebrew ritual, the father of every family officiated as priest in performing its sacred rites, or in offering domestic sacrifices. Thus when Cain and Abel brought each of them an offering to Jehovah, it is probable that they delivered them to Adam, that he might present them as their common head. Thus Noah immediately after the preservation of his family from the deluge, offered a sacrifice for himself and his household ; * and Job “ offered burnt offerings for his sons and his daughters, according to the number of them all. This domestic function probably descended from the father to the eldest son. / “ When in process of time several families were united into one civil community, the chief magistrate of the society officiated as its priest.” Thus Melchizedek was both king and priest in Salem; and Mosest as under God, the
governor of Israel, acted as priest in the solemn national sacrifice offered on occasion of their first entering into covenant with God. On that occasion Moses took the blood of the sacrifice, and sprinkled it upon the altar, and † Job i. 5.
Exod. xxiv, 6, 8,
Gen. viii. 20.