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Shemot/Exodus 28:41 And you shall anoint them, and you shall fill their hand, and you shall consecrate them, and they shall officiate as priests to Me.
Moshe is part-way through his forty days alone with HaShem, up Mt. Sinai, receiving instructions for building the Tabernacle and all its furniture, installing the priests and conducting the basic ritual for the worship or service of G-d. Following a description of the clothing to be made for and worn by the priests, Moshe is given these instructions for setting Aharon and his sons - Moshe's elder brother and nephews - in place as the High Priest and priests of the about-to-be-built Tabernacle. Commenting on the sound of the words, Gunther Plaut points out that the three verbs "anoint ... ordain ... consecrate" form "a rising trilogy of near synonyms". The grammar confirms that by the move from Qal (light, simple) to Pi'el (intense) voices as the sequence proceeds.
The first verb - , the Qal affix 2ms form of the root , to anoint, with a vav-reversive to make it a future command, "and you shall anoint" - is the first step: Moshe is to pour oil over the heads of Aharon and his sons.Rashi points out that it is Aharon and his sons that are to be anointed, not the garments that they are wearing. When new priests are set in, even if they are wearing the same garments, or if Aharon and his sons need new garments, the priest is anointed, just once at the beginning of his service. Plaut explains that this is a "common procedure in antiquity to induct priests or kings into office. Pouring oil upon the head of the chosen in a special ceremony became the sign of having been favoured by or set apart for the deity." Friedman, on the other hand, is definite that "later it is used for kings - Saul and David are both referred to as the L-rd's anointed (1 Sam 12:3, 24:6; 2 Sam 19:21). Later still, Jewish ideas of a coming messiah (another word from the same root) developed out of this royal role of anointing. But here in its first occurrence in the Torah, it is understood that the original use of anointing is for ordaining the high priests." Nahum Sarna says that "this symbolic ceremony effectuates the transition from the profane to the sacred".
The second verb - , the Pi'el affix 2ms form of the root , to fill, again with a vav-reversive, so "and you shall fill" - is the next step. Most scholars (and translations) treat it as an idiom, "to ordain", but acknowledge the original meaning of the words. Rashi generalises that "any 'filling of hands' in Scripture is an expression of inauguration, when one enters a matter to be acknowledged as holding it from that day on."Hirsch gives the meaning: "invest with full powers", while Plaut explains that "the candidate was given a tool for or symbol of the office" to which he was being installed. Umberto Cassuto1 confirms that by reporting, "an expression corresponding to this idiom, word for word, is found in Akkadian in the sense of installing, the original meaning being to fill the hands of the appointed person with the material for the work entrusted to him and the tools required for executing it." On a more practical level, Ibn Ezra offers a different interpretation2: "during the days of 'filling' his hand, the priest learns the procedures, to accustom his hand to them, so that his hand will be completely full with its procedures and lack nothing."
The expression "to fill the hand" occurs in a number of other contexts, with the same meaning: to complete or make ready. For example, Ezekiel speaks about the altar in his vision of the Temple: "Seven days they shall purge the altar and cleanse it; thus shall it be consecrated" (Ezekiel 46:24, JPS). The Hebrew of the last phrase is , literally "and they shall fill its hand"; it shall be ready for service. Similarly, when Moshe addresses the Levites after the killing of 3,000 Israelites in the midst of the episode of the Golden Calf, saying: "Dedicate yourselves to the L-rd this day" (Shemot 32:29, JPS), the Hebrew text reads , literally, "fill your hand today to Adonai", reflecting that the swords in their hands have been used for HaShem's judgement and the need to end the killing.
The third verb in the set - , the Pi'el affix 2ms form of the root , to be holy or sacred, with a third vav-reversive so here "and you shall consecrate" - also has a number of options. Cassuto proposes "you shall sanctify them for their service by means of these symbols", while Ibn Ezra understand this to be declarative: "and so declare them to be consecrated" - Aharon and his sons become sanctified because you tell them they are! Sarna suggests that this is "not a third distinct ceremony, but summing up the consequence of the set of rituals", possibly on the basis that the following chapter then contains the consecration ritual in great detail including the seven days of ordination at the end of which they are fully consecrated to serve. Cassuto underlines that by referring to the last phrase in the verse - "and they shall officiate as priests to Me" - in this way they shall be enabled to minister in My worship and serve as priests to Me.
Given the three steps above, on what basis are we - as believers in Messiah - consecrated to the worship and service of G-d? John claims that it is Yeshua Himself who "has made us a kingdom, priests to His G-d and Father" (Revelation 1:6), but how has this happened? The first step is that we have been anointed by G-d and sealed in Messiah: "He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is G-d, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge" (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, NASB). As we share our faith, Rav Sha'ul's prayer for us is that "the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ" (Philemon 6, ESV); as he wrote to the congregation at Colossi: "we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of G-d" (Colossians 1:9-10, ESV). This is filling our hands with the materials and the tools that we need to do the work to which we have been called. Rav Sha'ul wrote that the process of coming to know G-d is that "you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our G-d" (1 Corinthians 6:11, NASB). 'Justified' means "declared righteous" and we have been declared righteous in the name of Yeshua - made holy, called holy. This happened when we became believers: we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, because we have "passed from death to life" (John 5:24). We are no longer sinners, captives to sin and death; we are saints - righteous in Him - who do still sometimes sin, but that is no longer our basic nature.
Moshe was "faithful, as a steward in G-d's house" (B'Midbar 12:7) and, in that role, he followed G-d's instructions to anoint, ordain and consecrate Aharon and his descendants as the priests of Israel so that they should worship G-d and declare His truth to the people. Although the Temple service no longer exists, the role of priest in Israel continues to this day: taking the first reading from the Torah in the synagogue on Shabbat and the feast days, the ceremony of redeeming the first-born, and blessing the people in G-d's name as Aharon and his sons were instructed.
Yeshua, who the Scriptures declared to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek - that is, without ordination by man - and "as Son, was faithful over G-d's house" (Hebrews 3:6, CJB) following G-d's plan to anoint, ordain and consecrate those who would believe in Him and receive Him as Saviour and L-rd in their lives to be priests in the kingdom of G-d, so that we should worship G-d and declare His truth to the whole world. We too may pray and intercede for the people; we too may pronounce blessing over people in the name of Yeshua as we work to establish His kingdom and share the good news of the gospel in every far-flung corner of the globe and the streets where we live.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
2. - Cited by Michael Carasik in The Commentators' Bible
Further Study: Ephesians 1:4-6; Romans 8:28-30
You have been equipped with everything you need and have been sealed and
commissioned to worship G-d and serve Him in this world. G-d says so! What
are you waiting for?
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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