You shall command
by Mark Huey
Tetzaveh begins to stipulate many of the steps required of Ancient Israel, to become the kingdom of priests and holy nation that God wants it to be. He communicates through Moses many of the particulars that separate the Levites out from the other tribes. Aaron and his sons are specifically designated to perform some critical priestly tasks, including the consecration of the high priest. In our Torah reading for this week, we see the instruction,
“Then you shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram. You shall slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the lobes of his sons’ right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet, and sprinkle the rest of the blood around on the altar. Then you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments and on his sons and on his sons’ garments with him; so he and his garments shall be consecrated, as well as his sons and his sons’ garments with him” (Exodus 29:19-21).
While reading this portion a number of times, I was overwhelmed by the minute details that were listed for the various garments and implements used by the high priest in his ministerial functions. The variety of colors, different material types, precious metals and stones, and their locations on the specific garments, were very intriguing. Of course, all of the possible typology was not overlooked.
Much speculation has been given about how all of the colors and material types could be symbolic of the different aspects of the Messiah and His work as the High Priest. Some of this speculation might, however, take us away from the bigger Biblical picture—which is that in spite of such detail, the Levitical priesthood would be insufficient for offering people permanent atonement and forgiveness for sins (cf. Hebrews 9:9). The details of the Levitical priesthood, seen in Tetzaveh and throughout various Torah portions (notably in Leviticus and Numbers following), are to cause Believers to appreciate the priestly service of Yeshua the Messiah—which now does offer permanent atonement and forgiveness for sins.
It is quite beneficial for us to contemplate the symbols that we read about in Tetzaveh, and their foreshadowing of what was to come in the Messiah’s ministry. Among the most notable of the symbols we encounter is the fact that the high priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year, with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed in two places on his apparel. First, the names of the twelve tribes were engraved on two onyx stones that were placed on the shoulders. Wearing these indicated that the high priest was bearing their weight on himself:
“You shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, according to their birth. As a jeweler engraves a signet, you shall engrave the two stones according to the names of the sons of Israel; you shall set them in filigree settings of gold. You shall put the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of memorial for the sons of Israel, and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for a memorial” (Exodus 28:9-12).
Secondly, the breastplate of judgment had twelve precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes. This was placed over the high priest’s heart and was a constant reminder of their presence before God:
“Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually. You shall put in the breastpiece of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD; and Aaron shall carry the judgment of the sons of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually” (Exodus 28:29-30).
In these two very symbolic ways, we are today reminded of the role of our High Priest, Yeshua. Yeshua the Messiah is the High Priest who is seated at the right hand of His Father in Heaven, interceding for all of those who have placed their trust in Him:
“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer” (Hebrews 7:25-8:3).
Further on in Tetzaveh we see a very dramatic event take place, when the high priest and his sons are anointed and then consecrated for their ministry service:
“You shall slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the lobes of his sons’ right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet, and sprinkle the rest of the blood around on the altar. Then you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments and on his sons and on his sons’ garments with him; so he and his garments shall be consecrated, as well as his sons and his sons’ garments with him” (Exodus 29:20-21).
Here, the blood of the ram anoints not only the high priest and his sons, but they are also sprinkled by a mixture of the blood and anointing oil. This procedure should give us a vivid impression of the identification that the Holy One requires of the high priest and his sons, with the requirement for a blood sacrifice. As Believers, this reminds us of the Messiah’s dual ministry—not just as High Priest when He ascended into Heaven—but also as the bloody sacrifice required to atone for the sins of fallen humanity. At the time of His crucifixion, perhaps it is possible that various disciples and followers of His were reminded of Exodus’ images of the high priest and his sons being consecrated—among the many thoughts that were in their minds.
Only by appreciating the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrifices offered to consecrate Aaron and his sons—can we really appreciate the priestly service of Yeshua, and the sacrifice that He has offered for us. The author of Hebrews teaches what the blood of the Messiah is really all about, connecting it with the dedication of the Tabernacle that we read about in Tetzaveh:
“But when Messiah appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:11-14).
May we all be thankful that Yeshua was willing to offer Himself up for us, atoning for our sins! He had much more than the bloodied garments of the high priest and his sons to contend with. It was His willingness to suffer and die for us, that we can now have permanent forgiveness before the Father, which the previous Levitical service as important as it was could not provide.
 Exodus 28:1-43.