Podcast Episode

The Dangerous Gift of God’s Presence

In the second movement of Leviticus, Aaron and his sons agree to the terms of their covenant with Yahweh, signing up to be the gatekeepers of Heaven and Earth. But then Aaron’s sons offer unholy fire before Yahweh—and then they die. What’s going on here? A seven-day ceremony of consecration and celebration ends with everything going terribly wrong. Join Tim and Jon as they kick off the second movement of Leviticus, discussing the theme of holiness and a very difficult part of the story.

Episode 4
1hr 4m
Jun 20, 2022
Play Episode
Show Notes


God wants to install a new human representative to steward and care for the Eden spot, the Heaven and Earth spot, right in the center of his people. He gives them everything they need to succeed, and they blow it. … That same fire that came out and ate the offering a few sentences ago comes out from before the presence of the Lord and eats them, and they die in the presence of Yahweh.


  • Moses ceremonially purifies the priests and “offers” them to God—a symbol of total devotion and surrender—and he puts blood on Aaron’s right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe. This represents the loyalty of Aaron and his sons to Yahweh in all that they hear and do and how they walk.
  • After their consecration, Aaron and his sons sit at the doorway of the tent of meeting, feasting on consecrated bread. They momentarily embody the ideal humanity: dwelling and feasting in Yahweh’s presence as gatekeepers of the crossover between Heaven and Earth.
  • The death of Aaron’s sons can feel harsh to us, but they had agreed to the terms of a covenant. Only a day after signing on to be the highly responsible people who represent Yahweh to the people and the people to Yahweh, they profane Yahweh’s holy space.

Inaugurating the Priesthood and Tabernacle

In part one (00:00-15:55), Tim and Jon recap the story of Leviticus we’ve covered so far in this series. Leviticus (like the rest of the Bible) is all about God and humanity dwelling together, and here we find the terms Israel must abide by to play host to Yahweh.

For the first time since the garden of Eden, Yahweh is preparing to dwell in physical proximity to humans in the tabernacle. It’s far more limited than the garden—the space itself is limited, and Israel’s means of engaging Yahweh are limited too. However, Israel doesn’t see those limitations as a bad thing; getting to host Yahweh is cause for celebration.

In the first movement of Leviticus, the narrator describes the five offerings Israel regularly made to Yahweh. In this episode, we kick off the second movement of Leviticus, where we’re tracing the theme of holiness. The second movement begins with the seven-day inauguration of the Levitical priesthood and the tabernacle. The eighth day should have been a day of massive celebration, but instead, something goes terribly wrong, re-alienating Israel from Yahweh.

Echoes of Genesis

In part two (15:55-23:5), the guys dive into the second movement of Leviticus (Lev. 8-16). Leviticus is already at the center of the Torah, and these chapters are at the center of Leviticus. It’s the center of the center—the heart of the story of the Torah. And this section is all about how God wants to install a new human representative to care for the place where Heaven and Earth meet—in this case, the tabernacle.

Unfortunately, God’s chosen representatives blow it after just seven days, and Yahweh must deal with the fall out. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s supposed to. Here we encounter one of the melodic refrains of the Hebrew Bible: In response to human folly, Yahweh de-creates and then recreates (similar to the first several chapters of Genesis, where human violence results in Yahweh de-creating and purifying his world with a flood). But God always saves a remnant (like Noah and his family) that emerges from de-creation and atones for the sins of the many with a sacrifice. This melody is so prominent in Leviticus 8-16 that even the narrator’s word choice utilizes vocabulary from Genesis 1-9.

The Eighth Day

In part three (23:52-50:02), Tim and Jon begin discussing Leviticus 8-10, which is connected to Exodus 28-29 (the description of the garments worn by priests). The priestly garments were designed to shine and sparkle, making priests look god-like when they wore them and playing up their role as images of God.

In Leviticus 8, Moses ceremonially purifies the priests and “offers” them to God—a symbol of total devotion and surrender, not unlike the offerings themselves. Moses puts blood on Aaron’s right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe, representing Aaron’s and his sons’ loyalty to Yahweh in all that they hear and do and how they walk.

After their consecration, Aaron and his sons sit at the doorway of the tent of meeting and feast on consecrated bread. There, all Israel can see them as they momentarily embody the ideal humanity: dwelling and feasting in Yahweh’s presence as gatekeepers of the crossover between Heaven and Earth.

On the eighth day, Aaron and his sons begin their work, and fire from Yahweh consumes their first offerings (Lev. 9:24). It’s a moment of great celebration—Yahweh has accepted their offerings! And the God who was once unapproachable is now approachable.

However, if you’re picking up on the storyline of the Bible, you won’t be surprised to know the celebration doesn’t last long. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, enter Yahweh’s presence with incense and die.

Wait—why did they die? On the heels of Yahweh’s detailed instructions for his own worship, Nadab and Abihu concoct their own liturgy and take up a role that, for now, had been reserved for Aaron.

Unholy Fire

In part four (50:02-01:03:48), Tim and Jon further explore the death of Nadab and Abihu, which, at first glance, can feel harsh to us.

Leviticus 10:3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said, ‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’” Aaron remained silent.

Aaron’s sons had agreed to the terms of a covenant. Only a day after signing on to be the highly responsible people who represent Yahweh to the people and the people to Yahweh, they profane Yahweh’s holy space. Aaron’s silence is notable and reminds us of Abraham’s silence when God requests the life of Isaac. Their silence acknowledges God’s justice in his judgment of human sin.

Right after this, Yahweh makes a new rule that the priests are not to get drunk before entering his holy space, implying that Nadab and Abihu’s foolishness was because they were drunk.

Referenced Resources

  • Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, Makoto Fujimura
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Adieu” by Evil Needle
  • “Drowning In You” by L'Indécis
  • "Covet" by Beautiful Eulogy

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Tyler Bailey. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman and Ashlyn Heise.

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Scripture References
Exodus 32
Genesis 3
Genesis 1
Genesis 1-3
Genesis 8:20-22
Exodus 28:2
Leviticus 10:1-2
Genesis 3:17-19
Genesis 12
Exodus 17
Exodus 28
Leviticus 1-7
Genesis 4-5
Genesis 6-9
Leviticus 11-15
Exodus 28-29
Leviticus 16
Exodus 40
Genesis 22:1-19
Leviticus 10
Genesis 4
Genesis 37-50
Exodus 11
Psalms 133
Genesis 1-9
Leviticus 1:1
Leviticus 17-27
Leviticus 8-16
Leviticus 9:24
Exodus 17:6
Exodus 16:13
Genesis 3:8-24
Leviticus 7
Leviticus 25-27
Leviticus 25:1
Leviticus 10:4-5
Leviticus 8
Genesis 1:14-15
Leviticus 8:23
Leviticus 9:22
Genesis 9:18-24
Leviticus 10:3
Leviticus 10:8
Leviticus 10:10-11
Ezekiel 44:18
Exodus 40:34–35

The Dangerous Gift of God’s Presence

Series: Leviticus Scroll E4

Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie

Jon: We're reading through the book of Leviticus. Israel is in the wilderness. They've made a covenant with God, and God has given them a sacred tent where he will dwell with them a new Eden. And after all the instructions, we've reached the moment we've been waiting for: the inauguration of this tabernacle and of the Levitical priests.

It's a massive seven-day party, a celebration of what Yahweh has done for his people. [00:00:30] And at the end of the week, fire comes out from God's presence and consumes everyone's offerings. It's intense and it's wonderful.

Tim: The divine fire eating the gift of Israel is a good thing 'cause it brings blessings and communion between God and his people. Awesome. This is like the garden of Eden on the first day. What a great setup. But later that day ...

Jon: Yeah, later that day, Aaron's two sons, they're priests but they decide that they're [00:01:00] gonna go into the most holy place, and they're gonna go in on their own terms.

Tim: These two guys, who represent all those people, just decide to remake the liturgy by doing what's good in their own eyes.

Jon: They bring an alternative liturgy, dishonoring God. And that same fire that was so wonderful … 

Tim: That same fire that came out and ate the offerings comes out and eats them, and they die in the presence of Yahweh.

Jon: We've been here before. God appoints a people to represent him [00:01:30] and instead of trusting God and following his commands, they choose death. It's Adam and Eve at the tree. It's Israel on Mount Sinai making the golden calf. And here at the inauguration of the tabernacle, the priesthood fails.

Tim: God wants to install a new human representative to steward and care for the Eden spot. Right at the center of his people, he gives them everything they need to succeed and they blow it.

Jon: I'm Jon Collins. This is BibleProject podcast and today [00:02:00] Tim Mackie and I begin the second movement of the Leviticus scroll. We look at this difficult story, we trace the pattern of election and failure, and we ask, what is Yahweh to do? Thanks for joining us. Here we go.

Hey, Tim.

Tim: Hey, Jon. Hello.

Jon: Hello, and welcome to Leviticus.

Tim: (laughs) [00:02:30] Yep. That's a way to greet somebody.

Jon: (laughs) 

Tim: Hello, and welcome to Leviticus.

Jon: Welcome to an ancient scroll that describes priestly ... A priestly tech manual.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. Otherwise known as The Priestly Tech Manual for Ancient Israelites.

Jon: Yes. Now, however, we've been … 

Tim: Yes.

Jon: ... a few episodes into this. And you've been making this really wonderful case. Not a case. You've been painting this picture.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Showing that this [00:03:00] is way more than … 

Tim: Oh, yeah.

Jon: ... a priestly tech manual.

Tim: That's right. Yeah. It's a story. It's a part of the story that begins with the opening of Genesis, and then the first main arc of the narrative comes to a close with Deuteronomy with the death of Moses. But then even then, that's just the first big bundle of what we call the story of the Torah from creation to the death of Moses. And then that ranges forward into the history [00:03:30] of Israel that launches out through Joshua, Judges, Samuel and then Kings, ending with the exile of Israel in Babylon. And Leviticus fits squarely within that developing storyline and all the motifs and patterns.

So Leviticus is a story. It just is a lot of long speeches about priestly tech stuff. Which is why most of us get lost.

Jon: Yeah. And the story in particular here is the story [00:04:00] of whether or not Israel is gonna be able to use the tabernacle. Because the Exodus scroll, previous scroll, ended with God giving Moses the designs of the tabernacle and then coming down to enter it.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: In fire. (laughs) 

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: And glory. But there's a problem. The scroll ends with Moses not being able to go in.

Tim: Correct. Yeah.

Jon: And that's a problem because this is the place where you're able to go and meet with God.

Tim: Yeah. For the first time since [00:04:30] the garden of Eden in the story of the Torah, God is taking up a permanent residence among a chosen people. So God appointed Adam and Eve as the caretakers and priestly stewards of the garden of Eden, which was a Heaven-and-Earth spot filled with the wind of divine glory where God walked with his people in the garden. So that was all lost and forfeited, and so this is ... The tabernacle is the next time that permanent residence [00:05:00] of God takes up dwelling among his people.

However, it's a limited space. It's a very bounded space within the center of the people of Israel, and it's not all of creation and all of the nations. It's one limited space within one family of people. But those limitations aren't viewed, at this moment, as a bad thing. We're just celebrating 'cause Israel gets to play host to God's presence, which is good news and it's dangerous, which is what Moses is [00:05:30] facing there at the end of the Exodus.

Jon: God's presence with them is good news.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: But it's also dangerous.

Tim: Yeah. God's presence among them can give them life out of death, provide water out of a waterless desert, can provide sky goo bread that appears every morning. It can deliver them from their enemies, whether by bringing them through the waters like with Egypt or delivering them in the narrow place in the desert like with the Amalekites. Those are both deliverance stories [00:06:00] in Exodus 17.

So Yahweh's presence means life for the people, but that source of life living among Israel is also a source of danger. And that's something we really begin to explore in our first conversations about Leviticus over the last, you know, few episodes.

Jon: In all those stories, God's presence was with them but in a different way. Like, there was the clouds and the fire.

Tim: Yeah, leading them ahead.

Jon: Leading them.

Tim: Yes, that's right.

Jon: Now, God has come down more intimately. [00:06:30] In the camp.

Tim: Yeah. But first and importantly, the cloud and fire leading Israel through the wilderness moved up and then really unleashed on the top of Mount Sinai. (laughs)

Jon: Thunder.

Tim: Yeah. Thunder and fire and lightning. And God, there, invited all the people to come close to him so that they could become a nation of priests and a holy people set apart from among the nations. That is the story that's continuing now as God moves down off the mountain and [00:07:00] then took up residence in the tent, the sacred tent among the people. And it's both good and dangerous, which is what we're gonna see and what we focus on here today.

But I guess, actually, the Leviticus scroll begins first with that good danger kind of tension, but then chapters 1 through 7 of Leviticus are one long speech from God to Israel through Moses that are an invitation, a divine gift telling [00:07:30] the Israelites how they can approach the source of all life and beauty and power and goodness, even though they are frail and mortal and morally corrupt. But God wants them to come near, and so he gives them the gift of the corban.

Jon: The corban.

Tim: Yes, the corban.

Jon: Which is translated offering. But means the drawing near thing.

Tim: Yes. Yeah. Qarab is the verb to come near, and Leviticus 1:1 begins [00:08:00] saying, "When ..." I don't know why I didn't draw attention to this. I think in prep for the Day of Atonement conversations that we're gonna have in a couple episodes, I recalled this, the first line of Leviticus. (laughs) This is so great. You know, our translations are wonderful, but there are just sometimes where they can't show us everything that's going on in Hebrew.

So Leviticus 1:1 begins, "Then the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, " [00:08:30] When any man among you brings an offering to Yahweh,"'" so ... And that's just the opening of chapters 1-7.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Though the man there is the word “’adam.”

Jon: If any Adam, ‘adam.

Tim: If any Adam brings near, that's qarab the verb. And then the word “offering” is corban. It's the same letters, Q-R-B, in English but as a noun. So when any ‘adam brings …

Jon: Brings something near to God.

Tim: ... near [00:09:00] the thing for coming near to Yahweh. And that right there is a great example of how what we see as a priestly tech manual, that line is linking the beginning of the Leviticus scroll to the crisis of the loss of Eden at the beginning of the Genesis scroll. 'Cause what did Adam and Eve lose? They lost nearness.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And they were exiled from the Heaven-and-Earth spot. "And when an Adam wants to come near, here's how you do it," Yahweh says. Now, it's gonna be an Israelite ‘adam, and [00:09:30] that has to do with the selection of this family from among the nations, but yeah, this whole section is a gift, God's gift to Israel of their bringing gifts to him.

Jon: And we looked at the five offerings, the five bringing near things in the last episode, and that was wonderful. If you ever wondered what's the deal with these animal sacrifices that's a great primer. Those five offerings made up what we're calling the first movement of Leviticus.

Tim: Yes. Yeah.

Jon: Leviticus [00:10:00] has three movements. So we're about to step into the second movement of Leviticus.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: And you also showed us that this three-part structure of Leviticus is like a sandwich. You've got the first part and the last product are like the pieces of bread in a sandwich.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Yeah.

Jon: And remind me again. How are they connected?

Tim: Yeah, in a really cool way. So chapters 1 through 7, what we call chapters 1 through 7, are all about Yahweh giving the gift of the coming near things, [00:10:30] the offerings, to Israel as their means of coming near. So the five offerings are all about Yahweh wanting to repair the relationship with his people. The only way you know that the relationship has been broken in some way is by reading the Exodus scroll 'cause that was the failure of the golden calf. So part of why Moses can't go in, is because this was a tenuous relationship between Yahweh and his people. So chapters 1 through 7 are the list of sacrifices, [00:11:00] and that movement ends with a little summary sentence that says, "These are the instructions about," and then it list the five kinds of offerings, "that Yahweh commanded Moses on Mount Sinai." That's how that chapter 7 ends.

Chapters 8 through 16 shift. There's a narrative about how now that the offerings have been set up and given to the people, now Moses and Aaron ordain the priesthood and they inaugurate the tent.

Jon: This is the second movement, the middle movement.

Tim: [00:11:30] Yep, the middle movement begins in chapter 8 and then goes through 16, and what we're gonna focus on now and the next few episodes. It begins with a story, not a tech manual but a story, about the tent and the priesthood being ordained and inaugurated. And it's a seven-day inauguration. Come on. And then on the eighth day, which is supposed to be the day of great celebration, something terrible happens. And that's in Leviticus 10. We're gonna talk about it just in a little bit here.

[00:12:00] And that terrible thing creates a crisis. It pollutes the holy place of the tent with the dead bodies of rebellious priests.

Jon: Yikes.

Tim: And it's kinda like the golden calf like, "We just kicked off the relationship."

Jon: Uh-oh. And it goes wrong immediately.

Tim: It goes wrong immediately. So now here, we just inaugurated the Eden in the middle of Israel. Relationship's set up and immediately, it goes wrong. It's a part of a larger pattern in the Hebrew Bible.

[00:12:30] So that creates a crisis that has to be resolved, and it's addressed and resolved through what we call Leviticus 11 through chapters 15. Chapters 11 through 15, which is all about restoring the holy space at the middle of Israel by dealing with ritual impurity in among the people.

Jon: This is the Day of Atonement.

Tim: No.

Jon: No? Oh.

Tim: This is the ritual legislation … 

Jon: Oh.

Tim: ... about the laws of purity and impurity.

Jon: Oh, okay.

Tim: We're gonna have a beefy—

Jon: This is the real weird stuff.

Tim: [00:13:00] Oh yeah, like childbirth, male and female reproductive fluids, skin disease.

Jon: Oh, yeah.

Tim: Kosher animal laws, we're gonna get into it.

Jon: (laughs) 

Tim: So that was there. And what that whole section is about, here's all the ways that Israel can become polluted through contact with death and impurity. And this is gonna make the whole camp of Israel a really unwelcome spot for the presence of Yahweh, who's the source of all life and holiness. And so that crisis [00:13:30] is gonna be resolved through the last part of the second movement, which is the Day of Atonement.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Which is about the purification and atonement for Israel's impurities and sin.

Jon: So that's the center.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: The second movement we're going to … 

Tim: Yep.

Jon: ... talk about now. You were gonna tell me the relationship between the first movement and the third movement.

Tim: Oh, yeah. Okay, so here's the third movement. Third movement is chapters 17 to 27, and here the focus shifts to the lifestyle, the ways of living that the Israelites are to engage in as a holy people set apart [00:14:00] to Yahweh.

Jon: Uh-huh.

Tim: So different than purity and impurity, and we're gonna have a whole conversation about holiness and impurity and all that. But 17 to 27 is about reforming the people to become a holy, set-apart people among the nations. And that concludes with the last three literary units of Leviticus, chapters 25, 26 and 27, all begin and end with that same little phrase that was at the conclusion of chapter 7: “These are the [00:14:30] instructions that Yahweh commanded Moses on Mount Sinai.” So it's like literary thread, as it were.

The final three units of the Leviticus scroll are linked together into a triad through this unique phrase, and then all of those link back uniquely to the end of chapter 7. So that forms 1 through 7 as a unit. It forms 17 to 27 as a unit, and then it sets apart chapters 8 to 16 in the middle, if that makes sense.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And it's easier looking at a chart, [00:15:00] which we are right now. (laughs) 

Jon: (laughs) 

Tim: But we're back to scroll technology and the way big sections of scrolls were woven together not by chapter and verses, but by literary patterning and repetition of key words. And when you find a high density of repeated words, that one spot in a biblical scroll, it's usually a sign you're at some sort of macro juncture between the big parts, or the movements, of that scroll.

Jon: Cool.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: [00:15:30] All right, that's the bird's-eye view. We're gonna jump into the second movement of Leviticus.

Tim: Yes, we [00:16:00] are.

Jon: We've learned how to draw near with the drawing near things.

Tim: (laughs) Yeah.

Jon: And things are about to get awesome before they stop being awesome.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. They're gonna be wonderful for a period of seven days.

Okay, so Leviticus 8 through 16. This section at the heart of Leviticus is at the heart of the triad—

Jon: 8 through 16?

Tim: Chapters 8 through 16.

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: Yep. Leviticus 8 through 16 are at the center of Leviticus. Leviticus [00:16:30] is at the center of a triad that we call Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers … 

Jon: Right.

Tim: ... that is at the center of the Torah.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So in other words, the Torah itself actually has a big three-part structure. It has Genesis and then matching the other side Deuteronomy, and they're uniquely matched in really important ways. And then in the middle is a triad. So it's a big triad. In the middle of which is a triad.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: In the middle of which is Leviticus, which is itself a triad. [00:17:00] And in the middle of the middle of the middle is this section that we're looking at right now. So that's a literary design way that biblical authors communicate. It's very common in biblical literature to place—

Jon: To have this much symmetry.

Tim: This much symmetry. It's a way of inviting the reader to match the parts on the outer sides—to compare them and meditate on the differences and similarities, but also to pay attention to what's in the middle. Because what's in the middle is often of pivotal importance for understanding [00:17:30] all of the matching parts on the outside. And so—

Jon: This is the middle.

Tim: This is the middle. And what it is, is it's about how God wants to install a new human representative to steward and care for the Heaven-and-Earth spot, the Eden spot, right at the center of his people. He gives them everything they need to succeed, and they blow it.

And so what God has to do is deal with the fallout of their blowing it in a culminating act of de-creation [00:18:00] and re-creation. And if that sounds like the opening section of Genesis, that's 'cause it is the themes of the opening section of Genesis. It's also the narrative arc of the center of the center of the center of the Torah.

Jon: When you say the opening scenes of Genesis, you're talking about the story of Adam and Eve?

Tim: I'm talking about creation in seven days.

Jon: Creation in seven days.

Tim: God completes the order of the cosmos.

Jon: Genesis 1.

Tim: Then he appoints priestly representatives, Adam and Eve.

Jon: Genesis 1 and 2.

Tim: Yep. To steward the garden of [00:18:30] Eden. They blow it royally.

Jon: Genesis 3.

Tim: Through folly, and then there's a great fallout of that folly into rebellion and increasing violence and the spread of death in the land through blood.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Um—

Jon: Four and five.

Tim: Yep, leading up to the need for Yahweh to purify the land of all the innocent blood in an act of judgment and mercy.

Jon: Yeah. This is the flood.

Tim: He brings the flood, but out of the flood he selects a remnant that is righteous, [00:19:00] who is delivered and then comes out of that deliverance by offering a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the many.

Jon: Cool. So this is what you've called the melody.

Tim: Yes.

Jon: Which is then simplified to creation.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Installment of human partners. Election, you might call it or … 

Tim: Yeah, yeah. The election.

Jon: ... choosing—

Tim: Choosing of a partner. Yeah. 

Jon: Um, and then there's a test. There's failing the test.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: There's often sibling [00:19:30] rivalry.

Tim: Yeah. Well, after someone fails the test and forfeits this great opportunity God gave them, then there's usually multiple narratives about the fallout.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: That's what you could call that, the increased ripple effect of that folly into greater patterns of violence and death.

Jon: Which then will eventually lead to some sort of de-creation.

Tim: Yes. Yep. So creation to failure, leading to a de-creation. Yeah.

Jon: So you're saying that same melody is alive here.

Tim: Oh, it ... Yes. And [00:20:00] the actual vocabulary of Genesis 1-9 is woven deeply into Leviticus 8-16 in order. It's literally watching the vocabulary of Genesis 1-9 … 

Jon: Oh, wow.

Tim: ... used in sequence. In Leviticus 8-16. So just real quick, it begins with a seven-day ordination ritual.

Jon: And the Bible begins with the seven-day ordination ritual of sorts—

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: Of creation.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: That's exactly what it is. Yeah. On the final day, [00:20:30] Yahweh's presence comes to take up residence in the tent.

Tim: And also on that day the priestly representatives who are at work in that space, the two sons of Aaron, do something really, really dumb and ... Not just dumb. Like, intentionally violating the—

Jon: They do it on the seventh day?

Tim: It's actually the eighth day.

Jon: The eighth day. Okay.

Tim: The eighth day. Yeah. So the two sons of Aaron, on the eighth day, do something that violates the liturgy of [00:21:00] the Eden space that they just agreed to.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And so their dead bodies are now polluting the holy space with death.

Jon: Now Adam and Eve, they don't die in the garden of Eden.

Tim: No.

Jon: And their dead bodies aren't pulled out … 

Tim: No.

Jon: … by rope. 

Tim: No, that's right. That's right. So yeah, I'll just summarize 'cause I wanna read this story together in a few minutes. But what happens is their dead bodies are laying there in the tent, and they have to be taken outside the camp.

Tim: And then you get all these chapters that come right after that about [00:21:30] pure and impure animals you're not supposed to eat, and one of the most unclean animals in chapter 11 is the snake. 'Cause it crawls on its belly. It's exactly the phrase from Genesis 3.

And then you get all of these narratives about the spreading defilement of death and impurity among the people that all requires seven-day washing periods, where you have to go put your body through the waters in cycles of seven [00:22:00] days. And it's exactly the language of the flood story, which began with periods of multiple seven-day periods as the—

Jon: It was a washing of sorts.

Tim: And it was a washing. And then Noah has to wait for multiple sequences of seven days as the waters recede.

Jon: Yeah, that's right.

Tim: Then he gets off the boat. He offers the same sacrifices that people are supposed to offer here in Leviticus for when they're purified.

Jon: Yeah, what kinda sacrifice does he do when he gets off the boat?

Tim: For him, it's the same animals and birds.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: And that's exactly [00:22:30] what is here in this section of Leviticus.

Jon: Oh, wow.

Tim: Purification offerings as animals and birds. And then it leads up to the great Day of Atonement, when all of the impurities that heap up over Israel through the course of a year are both exiled from the camp through the scapegoat, and then a righteous representative who’s blameless is offered up and brings its blameless life up before God through the purification sacrifice.

Jon: Then how does that connect to the Genesis narrative?

Tim: Oh, it's about the offering of Noah. The Day of Atonement … 

Jon: Okay.

Tim: ... matches [00:23:00] the offering of Noah … 

Jon: Oh, okay.

Tim: ... that he gives on Mount Ararat after the flood.

Jon: All right.

Tim: Yeah. So anyway, that's just a creative way that the biblical authors are just recycling the same melody in multiple ways. But here, it's at the heart of the Leviticus scroll.

[00:23:30] So we'll talk about this more, but that's just kinda the overview. Now, for just this conversation, I just wanna focus on that [00:24:00] inauguration of the priesthood and then the terrible tragedy that happens.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: 'Cause that sets up a narrative crisis that's in need of resolution throughout the rest of this section of Leviticus. Okay, so Leviticus 8 begins ... Yeah, let's just read it, shall we? Anytime you can open up Leviticus and have a positive experience reading it, it's a good practice. Yahweh spoke to Moses saying, "Take Aaron and his sons with him and the garments."

Jon: Aaron's the high priest?

Tim: [00:24:30] Aaron is Moses' brother.

Jon: He's the one who screwed up the golden calf.

Tim: Screwed up with the golden calf. But he's appointed to be the high priest, the first high priest of Israel. And then his sons will inherit the office after him.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So take Aaron and his sons, he has four sons, with him and the garments.

Jon: That's the priestly-robe stuff.

Tim: Yeah. This whole chapter is hyperlinked back to Exodus 28 and 29, which laid out in detail [00:25:00] the description of the garments.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And then also the liturgy for the inauguration and ordination of the priesthood. So yeah, these garments, let's just recall here, it's a beautiful white linen underrobe then this really cool, like, purple and blue shirt. The tunic, robe, and the shirt are all made of one piece so that it can't be torn.

Tim: It's also made of linen so that you never sweat.

Jon: (laughs)

Tim: (laughs) 

Jon: That's nice.

Tim: That's one of my favorite ones.

Jon: [00:25:30] Breathable.

Tim: Oh, that ... Yes. Okay, so functional, but it's also an allusion back to the Eden story because once Adam and Eve are exiled from Eden, God says to Adam, "By the sweat of your brow you'll work the land."

Jon: Oh, okay.

Tim: And the priests are supposed to be really comfortable when they're working in the Eden tent.

Jon: They're a new humanity.

Tim: Yeah, no sweat.

Jon: No sweat.

Tim: (laughs) 

Jon: Nice.

Tim: Ezekiel draws attention to that. No sweat in the tabernacle. And then there's this beautiful breast piece that has these, like, gold [00:26:00] filigree, like, gold thread weaving it together. And then there's 12 precious gems on which are inscribed the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. Then the priest wears this beautiful turban and then has this golden crown plaque on it that says, "Set apart as holy to Yahweh."

Jon: Yep.

Tim: So this is a pure white linen, but then blue and purple and scarlet, which are colors of royalty, and then [00:26:30] a golden crown. This is both a new ‘adam, a new human, but an ideal Israelite representing all the tribes of Israel. I mean, in the ancient imagination this is a human who looks like a god. A sparkly, shiny one.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Like the sky rulers above in Genesis 1.

Jon: They're embracing that identity.

Tim: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, this is a human who's transcending the normal limitations of the mortal, frail, [00:27:00] naked human.

Jon: But by putting on a costume.

Tim: But by putting on a costume that in the opening and closing of the description in Exodus it says, "These clothes are for kavod and tipharet.” I know you know one of those words. Kavod.

Jon: Kavod. 

Tim: Kavod. 

Jon: Glory.

Tim: Glory.

Jon: Heaviness.

Tim: Or ... Yes, heaviness. Uh, weightiness. Another English word that gets us close to the meaning of kavod is “honor” and “exalted one.”

[00:27:30] And so these clothes are a physical manifestation or display of the high, exalted status of this one.

Tim: But also, beauty.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: This is the first ... The tabernacle and the clothes of the priest are the first things described in the Bible that are just aesthetically beautifully just for the sake of being beautiful. It's kinda cool to think about.

Jon: Nothing else in the tabernacle is described that way?

Tim: Yes. That's what I'm saying. The [00:28:00] tabernacle itself … 

Jon: Oh, the tabernacle itself.

Tim: ... and the clothing of the priest … 

Jon: Ah, yes.

Tim: ... are the first time that the Bible begins to meditate on the nature of aesthetic beauty … 

Jon: Interesting.

Tim: ... as a good onto itself.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Okay. There's something there.

Tim: There's something really significant there. Yeah, you know, I was actually ... That was first really explored for me in a contemporary way through an artist, a visual artist, who's a follower of Jesus. His name is Makoto Fujimura.

Tim: He's done a lot of writing. In [00:28:30] fact, we were just talking to a friend who just read his recent book.

Jon: Right.

Tim: I think it's called Art and Faith?

Jon: Yeah. Have you read that yet?

Tim: No.

Jon: Yeah, it's on my list.

Tim: No. Yeah, totally. Yeah, Art and Faith. Yeah, so Makoto is trying to articulate in our day and time a theology and a philosophy of aesthetics that's rooted in imagination, fueled by the biblical story. And the tabernacle and the priestly clothing is an ancient expression of that same desire.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: To [00:29:00] articulate a theology of beauty. And it's so fascinating to me that it's a Heaven-on-Earth spot and a Heaven-and-Earth role for a human that are the focus of the attention. Anyway, I think that's kinda cool.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Okay, so that's our little recall of Exodus 28 and 29. So back to Leviticus 8. God says to Moses, "Take Aaron and his sons and all those garments ..." Ooh, the anointing oil. Oh, man. Dude, I've been collecting [00:29:30] all this—

Jon: We are crawling through this sentence. (laughs) 

Tim: Totally. I've been collecting all this stuff about oil and anointing that would be so cool to talk about one day.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Yeah. "Also, take the bull of the purification offering and two rams," those are gonna be for other offerings, "and then a basket of bread and get all the people together at the doorway of the tent of meeting." So that's what Moses does. He gets the priests; he dresses them all up in their special glory garments.

Jon: Yeah, the glory garments.

Tim: He gets the [00:30:00] animals for the offering, the bringing near things. 'Cause here's an ideal representative human about to come near.

Jon: Yep.

Tim: For the first time. I mean, Moses tried, and it didn't work.

Jon: But just one of the offerings.

Tim: With the purification offering and two other animals.

Jon: Two other animals.

Tim: Yep, and a gift offering.

Jon: Which is the bread?

Tim: Which is the bread.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Yeah. Or the grain. 

So Moses brings them near and he makes them pass through the water. He washes them with water. Yeah. They go through a little flood. A little cleansing flood. They put on all the glory garments. [00:30:30] Moses takes anointing oil and he pours it over the tent. He starts daubing. Isn't that the term when you take fingers in a liquid and then begin touching it to something?

Jon: Dabbing?

Tim: Dabbing? Daubing?

Jon: Daubing?

Tim: There's daubing, dabbing. 

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Tomato, tomato. And the moment he touches the oil to the tent, it makes it holy. He consecrates it. We're gonna have a long conversation about that term in the next conversation.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So then he takes some of that [00:31:00] oil and he sprinkles it on the altar seven times. And it becomes holy. Then he takes that oil and he pours it on Aaron's head. So good. Psalm 133 is a meditation on this.

Jon: Is this the first time in the Bible we have someone being anointed with oil?

Tim: Yes.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Yes, yes.

Jon: Interesting.

Tim: Super important.

Jon: Yeah?

Tim: The word anoint is mashach, and so this is the first appointing of a mashiach [foreign language 00:31:26].

And Aaron will be the first person in the Bible called, [00:31:30] which gets transliterated into English as messiah.

Jon: To anoint is to mashach.

Tim: To mashach. Yep.

Jon: That's to, like, glob oil onto someone's head.

Tim: To pour oil on someone as a symbol of the overabundance of Heaven raining down on one person to appoint them as a representative of all creation. Yeah. But oil is like the super dense form of—

Jon: Of life.

Tim: Of life.

Jon: Yeah, yeah.

Tim: And abundance. Yeah, yeah. [00:32:00] For lots of symbolic reasons that we'll talk about one day, but—

Jon: Well, and lots of practical reasons too.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Oh man, in our kitchen, olive oil—

Jon: Oh, boy.

Tim: And now avo—

Jon: Avocado oil.

Tim: And now avocado oil.

Jon: (laughs)

Tim: Oh man, I—

Jon: Game-changer.

Tim: Yes. We use it on everything.

Jon: (laughs) 

Tim: We use it on everything.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. My son ... This is so weird to me, I think, 'cause when I was a kid, it was just different. But my son just loves a bowl of pasta and olive oil. That's all. He'll [00:32:30] just ... He just thinks that's the best stuff ever.

Jon: Yeah, it's just carbs and fat.

Tim: And olive oil is an interesting flavor 'cause it's a combination of not savory, but like a ... its own category with a little bit of bitterness. But somehow, it's not ... Oh, I love it.

Anyway. Okay, so the anointing oil, it's gets poured over the head of Aaron, and Psalm 133 likes to imagine it dripping down the beard and off the edges of the beard onto, like, [00:33:00] the jewels and the gold breastplate.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. Then Moses brought near that bull for the purification offering. He slaughters it. He takes the blood, puts some around the altar, purifying it. He pours it out, the rest, on the base to make atonement for it. That is for the altar.

Jon: To make atonement for the altar.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: I'm trying to upload all these past conversations … 

Tim: Totally.

Jon: ... 'cause it's so hard.

Tim: Yeah. And we'll have 'em again.

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: We'll have 'em again. So purifying [00:33:30] something is taking it from a state of impurity to make it pure. And actually, the next episode—

Jon: We'll talk more.

Tim: We'll talk more. To atone for it is to let the life of an animal conquer the death and impurity that the altar has contracted. The altar's been vandalized by Israel's sin and impurity, and it needs to be conquered by life. And that's what the blood of the bull does.

Okay, sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Just ... I'll just say that sentence [00:34:00] and there's ... It raises a million questions that we'll talk about in the next, in the next one.

Jon: And then you also used the word about holiness. Like, he's making this holy.

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: And that means ...

Tim: Yeah, a person, place, or thing that's dedicated solely to the presence and service of Yahweh and no other.

Jon: To be able to be near in the presence.

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: And partnership with Yahweh.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So this altar, this tent, and these priests are being purified and set apart as holy and separate, dedicated only [00:34:30] to the service of Yahweh in the Heaven-on-Earth spot. Yep.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: That's it. Then he presents one of those rams as a going-up, an ascension offering.

Jon: The olah.

Tim: The olah. So it's an act of total surrender.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: That's what the olah is. So the priest and the place were just purified and atoned for. Now, they're being surrendered over like the ram, wholly offered up to God. Then he takes the blood of a second ram [00:35:00] and after slaughtering it, he takes the blood and he puts it on the right earlobe of Aaron, on the thumb of the right hand—

Jon: What verse is this?

Tim: This is in verse 23. 

Jon: Oh.

Tim: He takes the blood of that second ram and he puts that blood on the earlobe of Aaron.

Jon: Oh yeah, the lobe of Aaron's right ear.

Tim: On the thumb of his hand.

Jon: His right hand.

Tim: And on his big toe.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Yeah, yeah.

Jon: That's random.

Tim: (laughs) 

Jon: (laughs) 

Tim: Hearing.

Jon: Hearing.

Tim: Doing [00:35:30] and walking. Listening, acting and going. These are core biblical images.

Jon: And there's a purification going on of Aaron. 

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: In a way symbolizing those three aspects of being.

Tim: Yeah. He and his sons' ears are being set apart to hear the command of Yahweh.

Jon: Wow.

Tim: Alone.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: No other command, just the command of Yahweh. And how you hear it? Only doing the commands of Yahweh with your hands [00:36:00] and only walking in the commands of Yahweh with your feet. Yeah, isn't that rad?

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: It is cool.

Tim: Yeah. It's like a consecration, a setting apart, of every aspect of their lives: their minds, their bodies, and their life choices. Yeah, your ear, your hand, your finger. There's a new liturgy ritual for us.

Jon: I know, I was thinking about that.

Tim: (laughs) 

Jon: Imagine doing that at ... Maybe not use blood.

Tim: Yeah, maybe some—

Jon: Maybe, maybe just use oil. (laughs) 

Tim: (laughs) [00:36:30] Totally. Yeah.

Jon: But that'd be a powerful symbol.

Tim: Yeah. Then he takes the gift offering of grain and bread, and he takes that and they put it in the hands of Aaron and his sons. And Aaron and his sons take these loaves of bread, and they lift them up as an act of surrender, and they wave them back and forth ... This is called the wave offering.

Jon: Oh, that's a new one.

Tim: Yeah. It's the first time that it's, it's happening in the Torah right here. So ... And just imagine somebody, you know.

Jon: Just swaying with some ... a breadbasket.

Tim: Yeah, just swaying [00:37:00] with your hands up ,with bread in the hands and you're saying, "Thank you." And also, “This is yours. But you're giving it to us." Yeah, so it's ... You take a moment to raise it up to the sky.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. So cool.

Jon: Imagine doing that before a meal. As you pray.

Tim: Yeah, totally. Then Moses took some of the anointing oil ... Remember from the beginning? Some of that oil.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: That super dense symbol of God's life and blessing poured out from the heavens. Then he took some of the blood [00:37:30] which is from that animal, you know, which is—

Jon: And that represents the life of the animal that's atoning for you.

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: Substituting for you.

Tim: That's right, but also where I'm going is the origin of this. Oil is a symbol of a heavenly blessing coming from above.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Blood is the symbol of an earth creature that comes from the dirt.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And so what Moses does is he takes some of the oil and some of the blood and he mixes it into a bloody oil.

Jon: Ooh.

Tim: Then he puts that on Aaron.

Jon: Huh.

Tim: And on his sons [00:38:00] and on their garments.

Jon: Wow.

Tim: And then Moses says, "Hey, you guys. Here is some of the leftover meat from that first offering, from that bull. And this is called your ordination meal.” So you take some of what Yahweh invited you to give, and he gave it back to you.

“And so sit here by the door of the tent for seven days. Don't leave the door of the tent. Just stay right here, camped out.” So the Israelites can see them. They're in front of the door.

Jon: [00:38:30] Yeah. They just sleep in there?

Tim: Yeah. It says, "Don't go out of the doorway of the tent for seven days until your ordination is complete."

Jon: Yeah. It's a public spectacle.

Tim: Yeah. So this is a new creation of a subset of Israel to become an idealized ‘adam, humanity.

Jon: Because creation was ordered in six days. On the seventh day completed, God rests. And then creation's inaugurated, essentially.

Tim: Correct. Yeah, with humans as his partners [00:39:00] and rulers, male and female. And so now here, the symbolic Israelites and symbolic humans are to sit at the doorway that is the portal between Heaven and Earth.

Jon: The door, yeah.

Tim: At the door. And be there for seven days, eating of the gift of food that Yahweh has given to them, to just enjoy it for seven days of rest.

Jon: Have you ever thought about the door as a theme video?

Tim: Yes. Yeah.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Yeah. I have now. Not when we started the project, but—

Jon: Yeah. I didn't see it on our list, our long list.

Tim: Oh, our new list? [00:39:30] Yeah, yeah. Gosh. It's all so intertwined. Okay, there it is. And chapter 8 ends saying, "This is Moses and Aaron did."

So chapter 9 begins on the eighth day. So we just went on a creation cycle.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Order has been established, a little liturgical order.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: With our human representatives. I mean, it's all there. So the eighth day, it's like all right, now let's get to work.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: We just set apart this new creation space as wholly dedicated to Yahweh. [00:40:00] Now, let's get busy.

Jon: The eighth day, in a way, would be Adam and Eve in the garden told to work it.

Tim: Yeah, to ... Yeah, exactly. To begin their work. Yep.

So their first work is going to be another set of coming near things, another set of offerings. So he's to take for himself a calf and a bull and a ram and bring them into the tent. And they are come to purify themselves but also to make atonement for the priesthood and the people.

Jon: [00:40:30] Yeah.

Tim: So on the seven-days ordination, we were setting apart the tent and the priesthood. Now, the first day on the job, we're—

Jon: Now they're acting on behalf of the people.

Tim: Yeah. Now they're gonna make atonement on behalf of the people. So they get a whole bunch of descriptions that are very similar to the ordination 'cause the liturgy of the animal sacrifices, it's a lot when you first take it in. But once you get it, it's just the same thing over and over and over and over again.

So what Aaron does is he makes all the offerings that Yahweh tells him to do. This is key. [00:41:00] 9:22: "Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. Then he stepped down after making the purification offering and the ascension offering and the peace offering, and Moses and Aaron went into the tent."

Jon: Yeah. Hurray.

Tim: “And when they came out, they blessed the people, and the glory of Yahweh appeared. And fire came out from Yahweh, and it ate up the ascension offering, and the people saw it and they fell on their faces.”

Jon: So wait, it wasn't the altar fire that [00:41:30] burnt up the offering.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: It's like … 

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: ... Yahweh fire comes.

Tim: Yeah, the Yahweh ... Remember, the glory already came over the tent.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Back when Moses couldn't go in. So it's hovering there. But it becomes visible to the people in some dramatic way, so much so that it shoots a lightning bolt.

Jon: (laughs) That's what we're supposed to imagine here?

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: The divine glory cloud that is over the tent appears to the people in a new way. 'Cause they freak out. And it shoots [00:42:00] a lightning bolt.

Jon: They freak out here?

Tim: The glory appeared to all the people. Fire came out from before Yahweh, ate up the offering. The people saw it. They shouted and fell on their faces. Yeah.

Jon: Shouted and fell on their faces means they were scared?

Tim: Uh, it's interesting. It's actually ... it's the verb ranan, which is usually a shout of joy.

Jon: Hmm.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: So it's celebrating.

Tim: Celebrating.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. Yahweh accepts our surrender.

Jon: Yeah. Okay.

Tim: Yeah. Our priestly representative has just surrendered all of us and made atonement for all of us as a people of God. [00:42:30] And Yahweh—

Jon: This is the moment where they're reveling in the fact that God's presence, while dangerous among them is now approachable.

Tim: Totally.

Jon: And they're safe.

Tim: He told us to come near in this way by bringing these offerings and appointing these priestly representatives.

Jon: And here we are.

Tim: And we did it exactly the way he told us to do it.

Jon: And the glory of the Lord appeared.

Tim: Yeah. The divine fire eating the gift of Israel is a good thing. 'Cause it brings blessing. And [00:43:00] communion. (laughs) 

Jon: Communion.

Tim: Yeah, between God and his people. Awesome. It's wonderful. So this is like the garden of Eden on the first day.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: What a great setup. But later that day, Leviticus 10. “Two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, they picked up some fire pans,” We would call them censers. Uh, if you've ever been to a Catholic mass or a Greek Orthodox or just an Orthodox Christian liturgy—

Jon: Let's say I haven't.

Tim: Okay. [00:43:30] It's a golden little ... I don't even know what to call it other than calling it a censer.

Jon: A censer. I'm gonna image search this thing.

Tim: Yeah. It's a little pan that you put incense, block of incense powder, and then you light it on fire and—

Jon: Is this with a C or an S?

Tim: With a C. C-E-N-S-E-R. Censer.

Jon: Oh. It's like a little lamp?

Tim: Yeah, it looks like a little lamp pan.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: But—

Jon: Okay, I've seen these.

Tim: Yeah. And usually, it's held by chains.

Jon: Yep.

Tim: And so once the [00:44:00] incense is burning, then the priest can swing it around.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And it starts to spread the smoke of the incense.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Okay. So here's the thing. If you go back and look at the instructions God gave to Aaron, Aaron, their dad, was the only one ever told to pick up one of these and to walk into the tent.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Aaron's sons were not told to. It's not their job yet. It's their dad's job. But Nadab and Abihu—

Jon: What do their names mean?

Tim: Oh. [00:44:30] Nadab means “noble.”

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Or “willing one.” And Abihu means “he is my dad.”

Jon: Okay. (laughs)

Tim: (laughs) So Noble and He Is My Dad.

Jon: All right.

Tim: The sons of Aaron pick up incense censers.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: And put fire in them.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: And then they put incense. “And so they offered esh zarah, strange fire,” unauthorized fire, fire that is not supposed [00:45:00] to be in this place.

Jon: This is their rogue liturgy.

Tim: They just decide to make up their own liturgy and they decide to take upon themselves the role that for right now only belongs to their dad. Think of Adam and Eve. They're appointed to rule.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: They're gonna need the knowledge of good and bad to rule. Question is, how will they get it?

Jon: I see. And they're ... If they're gonna be the high priest, they're gonna need this censer thing.

Tim: Yeah. They're gonna do this one day. But right now, up to this point, only their dad [00:45:30] has been told to do this thing.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And they just somehow get it in their minds that like, "We're gonna do it now." So they offer unauthorized fire.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Which we might think on the surface like, "Oh, all right. You know."

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: It's a technicality.

Jon: Come on. Yeah.

Tim: But remember—

Jon: Time out.

Tim: Who are these people? They're more than just random people. They're in office. They're a role.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And their role among the people is to be set apart for the hearing the doing and the walking [00:46:00] out of only the commands of Yahweh. Remember the blood and oil on their earlobe and—

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So there's a uniquely high bar of accountability that these are the people who steward and are in closest proximity to the good and dangerous presence of Yahweh. And on the first day on the job, they decide that the way Yahweh defined the role descriptions is not how we're gonna roll.

Jon: They're gonna fast track this thing.

Tim: Yeah. And it's, it's this interesting [00:46:30] parallel of children, like, trying to take the role of their parents. Usurp the role of their parents. A lot like what's going on with Ham and Noah after the flood. (laughs)

Jon: Oh, that's a rabbit hole.

Tim: Yeah. But watch. Just wait for it.

Jon: You're talking about the nakedness?

Tim: Noah plants a garden after the flood and he gets drunk.

Jon: Yep.

Tim: And exposed in his tent. And one of his younger sons of his many sons ... one [00:47:00] of the youngest sons named Ham comes and does something inappropriate to his father in the tent.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And whether that's to his father or to his father's wife.

Tim: This is a whole debate. Because of drunkenness … 

Jon: Okay.

Tim: ... there's nakedness and exposure and an illicit grab for power on the part of a child.

Jon: Which is very vague.

Tim: It's very vague.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Intentionally worded vaguely.

Jon: And here we've got a vague, strange fire.

Tim: Here we have a vague, strange fire with sons [00:47:30] trying to usurp what is right now, for the moment, the unique prerogative of their dad.

Jon: This is the meditation literature stuff, where the story of Noah—

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: You know, who knows? What a weird, kinda random story. But then when you see it hyperlinked to this story it begins to take more shape.

Tim: Yep. In more ways than one, that little odd story with Ham and Noah has been worded and designed with an eye towards things happening here in Leviticus.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: One of them is this story right here.

Jon: All right.

Tim: In other words, that [00:48:00] story was designed and either written or edited in a way to make it hyperlink forward. But you would only know it once you get to this story and then reflect backward. So here's two sons trying to usurp the place of their dad with this strange fire, and so that same fire that came out and ate the offerings sentences ago, that same fire comes out from before the presence of the Lord and eats them.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And they die in the presence of Yahweh. So they're in [00:48:30] the tent. The fire bolt comes out of the holy of holies. I don't know, it doesn't say. And they're zapped inside the tent. Yeah. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what Yahweh said." And it's a little multi-line poem.

Yahweh says, "By those who come near to me, I must be treated as holy. And in front of all of the people, I will have kavod.” So Yahweh's kavod just appeared to all the people. [00:49:00] And they all shouted and honored it and fell down and said, "Yahweh's in our midst." But then these two guys, who represent all those people, just decide to remake the liturgy by doing what's good in their own eyes. 

And Yahweh's holiness, which consumed their offering and act of surrender and God's fire was a blessing, here that fire is also dangerous because by those who live nearer to Yahweh, if you don't live by his commands, then you'll find [00:49:30] yourself consumed. It's this paradox of the fiery presence of Yahweh as both a gift and dangerous. 

[00:50:00] So this is severe.

Jon: Right.

Tim: But it's also not an average Israelite who just did what—

Jon: This isn't how God treats people when they don't do the purification offering correct or something.

Tim: Yeah. There's a lower bar of accountability and degrees of intentional and unintentional sin, and there's ways to account for all of that.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: But this is like the most accountable people in Israel. 

Jon: The people who are like ... They are dressed [00:50:30] up as the true humans.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Who are—

Tim: That's it.

Jon: Then on behalf of God are going to reclaim his human-divine partnership.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: And they're goin' rogue.

Tim: They're going rogue. So what God says is, "Hey, listen. Like, you guys signed up for this. Aaron and your sons, like, you just went through this ritual and said you'd be dedicated to hearing, doing, and walking in my ways." And so what's interesting is after Moses says that, that little poem of Yahweh to Aaron, [00:51:00] we read that Aaron was silent. Just like Abraham on Mount Moriah.

Jon: Really? There's a detail that he was silent?

Tim: Abraham says nothing. He just does what God says. In Genesis 22, Abraham's sins catch up with him and God demands the life of his firstborn son through Sarah. And noticeably, Abraham is silent.

Jon: Noticeably. 

Tim: Before God. Yeah, he just ... It just says, "Abraham woke up and he starts doing what God says." And the only [00:51:30] time Abraham speaks is when his son asked him, "Where is the lamb?" And what Abraham says is, "God will see to it, my son." So Abraham is silent before God. He doesn't protest God's request of his son's life. And I think that silence of Abraham, which is about his submitting to the will of Yahweh and surrendering what is most precious to him. And Yahweh has mercy, right? Gives his son back to him through the death of a substitute ram. Here, [00:52:00] a father loses his firstborn sons and he is silent, too, 'cause he recognizes that Yahweh's judgment is right. So I'm not saying any of this is easy for me as a 21st century person to process.

Jon: Right.

Tim: I have a different ... But what I'm saying is I'm trying to hear this story on its own terms. And interestingly, a father loses his sons. And he doesn't protest. Which I think is a symbol in the narrative of ... [00:52:30] that he says, "Yeah, my sons blew it. And they got what was coming to them." Isn't that interesting? So this is day one.

Jon: Yeah. This is how it begins.

Tim: Yeah. So this is like Adam and Eve blowing it and it leads to them a cycle of sin that spills over to their kids and they lose one of their sons. Cain and Abel. They lose Abel.

Abraham's sins catch up with him that cause him to surrender one of his sons, but he gets them back. Jacob's sins catch up with him and he loses Joseph. [00:53:00] And he has to let go of Benjamin for a time, only to get both back. But he thinks both of them are probably gonna die. And now, here's the two sons of Aaron who die. There's this theme.

Sorry, and then ... Sorry, I forgot Passover, which is about the surrender of the firstborn, but God provides the mercy of the blood of the Passover lamb as a substitute. So we're working a theme here about the death of the firstborn or the death, the death of the beloved son.

Jon: Yeah. So—

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: [00:53:30] That's another thing.

Tim: Yeah, it is. (laughs)

Jon: (laughs) Wow.

Tim: It's like the Bible's a unified story.

Jon: (laughs) Wow.

Tim: So this narrative right here is the Leviticus version of the repetition of the failure of Adam and Eve and the cycle of ... It's the failure of the golden calf, the moment we just agreed.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: We just set up the Eden situation and wow, we're, like, basking in the glory. We blow it [00:54:00] big time. So that's the story. So—

Jon: Is that how it ends?

Tim: No. What happens is Moses gets some of Aaron's nephews to come pick up the dead bodies in the tent and to take them outside the camp.

Jon: Oh, right.

Tim: Just like Adam and Eve were exiled as the living dead, as it were. To go outside the camp. So now the dead bodies are carried outside the camp. 

And then, dude, the next thing Yahweh says to Aaron is, "Hey. I make a new rule today. No getting drunk before you [00:54:30] come into the tent."

Jon: (laughs) 

Tim: (laughs) Leviticus.

Jon: So this ... Okay. So this is the hyperlink back to Noah.

Tim: Exactly.

Jon: And it doesn't say earlier that they were drunk.

Tim: No.

Jon: So you're supposed to get to here and go, "Oh."

Tim: Oh. Oh yeah, why did they exercise such poor judgment?

Jon: Oh, interesting.

Tim: The sons of Aaron. Ah. So again, the narrative doesn't say they were drunk. They just get a rule of ... a narrative about them doing something really stupid right after they were told.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Like, what to do. And then what Yahweh says [00:55:00] to Aaron after that is, "Yeah, don't get drunk before you come into the tent."

Jon: No more drinkin' on the job.

Tim: Yeah. (laughs) And here's another reason why. You need to have a sober, you need to be in your right mind to have this job, you guys, 'cause your job isn't just to go in and out of the tent.

Jon: You're not just performing rituals for the sake of performing rituals.

Tim: In these next sentences, Leviticus 10:10-11 are the ski jump that launch you into the next part of the book.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Here's what Yahweh says to Aaron [00:55:30] also: "You also need to not drink any wine so that you can make distinctions, separations, between what is holy and what is common. And between what is pure and what is impure so that you can teach the sons of Israel all the statutes that Yahweh has spoken through Moses."

Jon: Understanding.

Tim: Understanding and separating. It's the word “separate” that ... This is how God creates in Genesis 1. [00:56:00] He separates day and night. He separates the waters above and below. He separates the waters from the land. The priests are to imitate God. They're an image of God.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And part of their job is to become teachers of the people through word and deed about the order of creation into holy and common, into pure and impure. Yeah.

Jon: The verse says, "Make a distinction between." That's the word “separate”?

Tim: It's the word “separate.”

Jon: Okay.

Tim: [00:56:30] Make a separation.

Jon: Make a separation between what is set apart to be near God, in God's presence, at God's disposal to work with, and the ordinary.

Tim: Yes. Yep. That's called the common or the profane.

Jon: The common.

Tim: Yeah. And we're going to have a long conversation about these terms in the next episode. (laughs)

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So in other words, think of the Adam and Eve parallel. Wisdom.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Don't get drunk. Don't consume the fruit of the garden. Taking inappropriately [00:57:00] from the fruit of the garden will obscure your judgment.

Jon: And you won't be able to know good from bad.

Tim: And you won't be able to know good from bad. So what I need are some humans who will not take of the food that is good in their own eyes. But trust me to give them their food, like you did for seven days during the ordination ritual.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And by trusting me to provide your food, you will begin to learn wisdom. And as you do so, you will become teachers to the people about what is holy and what [00:57:30] is common and about what is pure and what is impure. So we're working the themes and the language of the garden of Eden story here. And its later repetitions in the melody. Isn't this fascinating?

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So this is now gonna be what the central section of the book is about. Now we have tragedy and crisis in the tent. We have dead bodies polluting the tent that is set apart as a space dedicated to the presence of the God of life. So now we gotta deal with that. I mean, it's literally ... It's like (laughs) [00:58:00] someone invites you over for dinner ... Oh, okay. Here it is. Have you ever house-sat for somebody?

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Okay. I have too, and I've, I've actually blown it house-sitting for somebody before. And, uh, they'd brought me over to the house for dinner. Did this happen in college? Oh my gosh. It's all coming back to me. And somebody brought me over to dinner at their house. I was gonna house-sit for them for the week, and they had two very, very active dogs.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Very active dogs.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And so they gave [00:58:30] me all the instructions. And I had just started a new job working at a restaurant in downtown Portland and so I wasn't in the home as much as I thought I was gonna be that week. And so the dogs ... (laughs)

Jon: Did they tear something up?

Tim: Well, the dogs ended up pooping in the house.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: And no matter how much I tried throughout the course of the week, I couldn't get the smell out of the house.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: 'Cause I was at work more than I thought I was gonna be. And so anyway, when they got back I—

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: You know. I had to [00:59:00] deal with that. But it was like they brought me into their home. Gave me their place to be and their food to eat for the week.

Jon: Yeah. Uh-huh.

Tim: And I just blew it.

Jon: (laughs) 

Tim: And so now, there's this, there was this rift, you know, that had to be made right.

Jon: A stench.

Tim: And a stench. A stench. And that's the scenario here. How do we get rid of the stench of death and rebellion and folly that have now vandalized the tent?

Jon: Yeah, and there's this sense of, you know, this [00:59:30] is God's solution. To bring these people near to him. To partner with him.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: And at the heart of this solution is priests. And at the heart of their vocation they screw up and there's death.

Tim: Yeah, yeah.

Jon: And so this whole thing that God's trying to do is corrupted.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. So Yahweh both brings judgment on the violators, [01:00:00] but then also there are two sons remaining, a remnant, and the dad, and he gives them a new command: don't eat of the fruit of a tree that will make you foolish. Obey my word, and that will be your wisdom.

So that you can teach the people wisdom about clean and unclean, pure and impure, you know, like what your sons just blew it with. And so that launches us into the next section of the book, which is gonna be about how to restore Israel and the [01:00:30] people to a place of purity and trusting obedience in the word of Yahweh. And that's what Leviticus 11 through 15 is all about. But for the moment, you know, this narrative closes with just a meditation on both the potential and possibility of what's possible when God shows up to live with his people, but also of the folly of the human heart and mind.

Jon: And the seriousness of being his—

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Set apart, his partners.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. So yeah, there [01:01:00] you go, man. We're at the heart, the center of the center of the center of the Torah. And yet we feel like we're still working the same ideas as pages one through three of Genesis.

Jon: It's as bad as ever.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. So that's how this section concludes, but it really just opens up the door to the next section which is, again, in God's mercy, he provides a way forward even when humans have proven really stupid and shortsighted, which is sobering news but it's good news.

Jon: [01:01:30] Thanks for listening to this episode of BibleProject podcast. Next week, we'll stay in this movement of Leviticus, and we're gonna get to a series of laws that are some of the hardest parts of the Hebrew Bible to read through.

Tim: Food, childbirth, sex, and skin disease. This is the subject matter of Leviticus 11 through 15. 

So here's what I have found. If you just read them at the surface level, really you'll get nothing out of it. And I got nothing out of these chapters for years. When you see how they're [01:02:00] deeply woven into the vocabulary and themes of the Torah that have been on recycle over and over and over again, all of a sudden, all these features of these chapters just begin to pop with significance.

Jon: Today's show was produced Cooper Peltz, edited by Dan Gummel and Tyler Bailey. Our show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Ashlyn Heise and MacKenzie Buxman provide the annotations for our annotated podcast in our app.

BibleProject is a crowdfunded nonprofit. We exist to experience the Bible as a unified story [01:02:30] that leads to Jesus. Everything what we make is free because of the generous support thousands of people just like you. So thank you so much for being a part of this with us.

Sharon: Hi. This is Sharon, and I'm from Indonesia.

Chloe: Hi, everyone. This is Chloe, and I'm from Temecula, California. I first heard about BibleProject through my local church, and we actually use a lot of your Bible studies for our high school group.

Sharon: I first heard about BibleProject from my teacher in school. I use BibleProject for studying important topics in the Bible and as an outline to learn more [01:03:00] about the Old and New Testament.

Chloe: I use BibleProject to get closer to Jesus and to understand the Bible better.

Sharon: My favorite thing about BibleProject is the simplicity in delivering the message without reducing the truth.

Chloe: I love linguistics. I love what you guys do, and you're so appreciated. We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.

Sharon: We're a crowdfunded project by people like me. Find free videos, study notes, podcast, classes and more—

Chloe: At bibleproject.com.

10 Episodes

Episode 10
What Does Leviticus Teach Us About Jesus?
How do you clean a tabernacle? What does “laying of hands” represent? Is the scapegoat a hyperlink to Cain and Abel? How was it even possible for Israelites to follow the law? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to your questions about the Leviticus scroll. Thanks to our audience for your insightful questions!
59m • Oct 12, 2022
Episode 9
The Law of the Blasphemer
Blasphemy, principles of restitution, jubilee, exile, and the mercy and justice of God—it’s all there in the final lines of the scroll of Leviticus. Join Tim and Jon as they talk about the great gift and responsibility of carrying Yahweh’s name and discuss the wisdom and surprising hope of the Law that’s finally fulfilled in Jesus.
1hr 9m • Jul 25, 2022
Episode 8
What Israel's Feasts Teach Us
Are there specific times humans can meet with God in special ways? For ancient Israel, the answer was yes. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they explore the final movement of Leviticus, talk about the Sabbaths and festivals ancient Israelites celebrated every year, and discuss the significance of rituals and liturgies that allow us to see our time as a significant part of God’s story.
1hr 1m • Jul 18, 2022
Episode 7
Why Is the Sabbath So Important?
Throughout the Leviticus scroll, Yahweh instructs Israel, “Be holy as I am holy.” But what does that actually mean? As we enter into the third and final movement of Leviticus, we’ll find that living holy lives had everything to do with how Israel treated others and utilized their time, a theme reinforced by the continual command to honor the Sabbath. Join Jon and Tim as they explore the wisdom we can find in these ancient laws.
1hr 9m • Jul 11, 2022
Episode 6
What Is the Day of Atonement?
At the center of the center of the Torah is the Day of Atonement. What is the significance of this day the biblical authors have placed at the heart of the Torah? What does this day accomplish? And what’s with the sacrificial goat and the scapegoat? In this episode, Tim and Jon explore the Day of Atonement and the ultimate atonement accomplished by Jesus on the cross.
1hr 9m • Jul 4, 2022
Episode 5
Purity and Impurity in Leviticus
Childbirth, non-kosher food, sex, death, disease—they’re all considered impure in the book of Leviticus. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they discuss the levitical laws of purity and impurity and how they create a way for humanity to share in God’s own life and form a surprisingly beautiful backdrop for Jesus’ miraculous healings.
1hr 6m • Jun 27, 2022
Episode 4
The Dangerous Gift of God’s Presence
In the second movement of Leviticus, Aaron and his sons agree to the terms of their covenant with Yahweh, signing up to be the gatekeepers of Heaven and Earth. But then Aaron’s sons offer unholy fire before Yahweh—and then they die. What’s going on here? A seven-day ceremony of consecration and celebration ends with everything going terribly wrong. Join Tim and Jon as they kick off the second movement of Leviticus, discussing the theme of holiness and a very difficult part of the story.
1hr 4m • Jun 20, 2022
Episode 3
What Did the Burnt Offerings Really Mean?
What is the significance of the offerings described in Leviticus? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they walk through the five offerings ancient Israelites made to Yahweh and see how the purpose of these practices sound a lot like the teachings of Jesus. Even here in Leviticus, Yahweh’s hope for his people is the same: love God and love your neighbor.
53m • Jun 13, 2022
Episode 2
What Is Atonement?
A God who wants nothing more than to dwell with humanity, a way forward to a repaired relationship between Heaven and Earth, atoning sacrifices meant to communicate grace (not punishment)—you’ll find all of this in Leviticus. While the laws governing Israel’s sacrificial system can be some of the most challenging parts of the Bible to read, they’re an integral part of the unfolding story of the Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the surprising beauty of sacrifice and atonement in the opening movement of Leviticus.
1hr 14m • Jun 6, 2022
Episode 1
How God Reveals Himself in Leviticus
"Holiness" is a word we frequently associate with the Bible, but what does it mean? As we pick up the story from where we left off in Exodus, we find even Moses unable to enter God’s presence—and a whole bunch of laws about situations many of us have never considered. What is going on in the scroll of Leviticus? And why is it important? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they dive into the first movement of the Leviticus scroll, where we’ll trace the theme of sacrifice.
1hr 5m • May 30, 2022
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