Tetzaveh (You shall command)
“Set-Apart Unto Him”
This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, is in many respects a continuation of the previous reading, Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), where the willing heart contributions for the materials needed for the construction of the Tabernacle and its accouterments were freely given. Now that the various elements have been offered and gathered, certain individuals gifted with “the spirit of wisdom,” ruach chokmah (hmkx xWr), begin the crafting of different aspects of what the Lord required for Ancient Israel to approach Him in worship:
“Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me. These are the garments which they shall make: a breastpiece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me” (Exodus 28:1-4).
As you read the minute details of the garments required for the high priest in Exodus ch. 28, one theme continues to present itself as the various instructions unfold. It is apparent that the Holy One of Israel desires to have a specific group of people who are called to be consecrated unto Him as priests. The verb kahan (!hK), used in the Piel stem (intensive action, active voice), means to “perform the duties of a priest” (CHALOT, 152). It is employed throughout our parashah:
· “You shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve Me as priests [kahan]” (Exodus 28:41).
· “Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them to minister as priests [kahan] to Me: take one young bull and two rams without blemish” (Exodus 29:1).
· “I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests [kahan] to Me. I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the Lordtheir God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:44-46).
While reflecting upon Tetzaveh throughout this week, many thoughts came to my mind about our role as Believers, functioning in a priestly calling and being set-apart for specialized service to the Lord. Consider how the author of Hebrews writes that the Mosaic Tabernacle in the wilderness is a replica of what exists in Heaven, with Yeshua the Messiah presently interceding before the Father as our ultimate High Priest:
“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. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘That you make all thingsaccording to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain’ [Exodus 25:40]”(Hebrews 8:1-5).
In the admonition given by God to Moses in Exodus 25:40, he is told to “make all things according to the pattern which was shown on the mountain.” God is very serious about His people honoring Him and fulfilling His will for proper worship. Consequently, the descriptions of what the Heavenly Tabernacle and its various components looked like, and the role, duties, and responsibilities of the high priest—are most significant for us to consider. As Believers in Yeshua, we all constitute a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6; cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10), and we have a unique and sacred call to minister unto Him and serve others, representing the King of Kings in our fallen world.
A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation
As to my knowledge, I am not a descendant of Levi and nor do I know of anyone named Cohen (or a close derivative) in my family tree—and I suspect that this is the same for many of you as well. But this does not mean that as Believers we cannot learn important things from the priestly instruction witnessed in this week’s Torah portion. The Levitical priesthood is a very specific group within the community of Israel, called to an almost lifetime set of duties before the Heavenly Father—not too unlike the way members of royalty are born and have no choice but to serve their countries. On a much lesser scale, non-Levites within Israel, which is basically everybody else, have a macro-priestly calling with general duties incumbent upon them as they serve God.
Many of us ask ourselves about the role of a Believer who is called out to “minister unto Him,” and how this applies to the great majority of followers of the Messiah of Israel. We together all compose a unique Kingdom of priests that is to serve the masses of humanity, as we testify of God’s goodness, holiness, and the salvation available in the Messiah Yeshua. The Apostle Peter attests to this reality:
“But you are a chosen race [Isaiah 43:20], a royal priesthood [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], a holy nation [Exodus 19:6], a people for God’s own possession[Isaiah 43:21; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy [Hosea2:23]” (1 Peter 2:9-12).
Peter testifies to the fact that all Messiah followers—be they Jewish or non-Jewish—compose “a chosen people” (NIV) who have been designated to testify to the world about the God of Israel. It does not matter whether you are named Cohen or Levi. What truly matters is that you have been “born from above” into this priestly service.
As I considered these texts and read the Haftarah selection from Ezekiel 43:10-27, I was reminded of a book that I read several years ago which addressed the very topic we are considering this week:
“‘You shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me,’ declares the Lord God, ‘a young bull for a sin offering’” (Ezekiel 43:19).
When I read the reference “to the levitical priests who are of the stock of Zadok, and so eligible to minister to Me” (NJPS), I was reminded of a book entitled The Sons of Zadok by C.R. Oliver. His insights clarified many things through his study of this topic. I remembered Oliver concluding that it was a much higher privilege to be “called out” to minister unto the Lord, as opposed to be simply ministering unto the needs of humanity. This distinction was something I had never considered before, but upon reflection and considering the Scriptural references, I was convinced that his conclusions had merit. What was notable, of course, is that these conclusions came from a Christian teacher who was certainly not proclaiming any knowledge of the Messianic movement. And yet, as a servant of the Most High, he was clearly articulating the differences.
The emphasis of Oliver’s conclusions came through his study on the life of the Prophet Ezekiel, and specifically from the text of Ezekiel 44:15-16:
“‘But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood,’ declares the Lord God. ‘They shall enter My sanctuary; they shall come near to My table to minister to Me and keep My charge. It shall be that when they enter at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering in the gates of the inner court and in the house. Linen turbans shall be on their heads and linen undergarments shall be on their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat. When they go out into the outer court, into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers; then they shall put on other garments so that they will not transmit holiness to the people with their garments. Also they shall not shave their heads, yet they shall not let their locks grow long; they shall only trim the hair of their heads. Nor shall any of the priests drink wine when they enter the inner court. And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman but shall take virgins from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest. Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. In a dispute they shall take their stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances. They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts and sanctify My sabbaths. They shall not go to a dead person to defile themselves; however, for father, for mother, for son, for daughter, for brother, or for a sister who has not had a husband, they may defile themselves. After he is cleansed, seven days shall elapse for him. On the day that he goes into the sanctuary, into the inner court to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin offering,” declares the Lord God. And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel—I am their possession. They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. The first of all the first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from all your contributions, shall be for the priests; you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house. The priests shall not eat any bird or beast that has died a natural death or has been torn to pieces’” (Ezekiel 44:15-31).
As I read these verses, and then followed the context of what Ezekiel was prophesying, I realized how the above passage details the operative Temple in the future Millennium—and the service of the priests who will be called out to serve. These priests will serve in the same capacity which is originally described in much of this week’s Torah portion. They will serve within an order where Yeshua the Messiah Himself is present. With the Lord’s direct oversight of this operating priesthood—I am sure that He is going to explain many aspects of priestly work and service to us that we have never even dreamed of! Perhaps at the very least in this future time, Yeshua will reveal to us instances in past history where the service of the Levitical priesthood was of absolute importance to Ancient Israel. A great part of the future age, after all, is being shown those moments where God’s hand of protection and guidance was present—without explicit human knowledge of it (cf. Ephesians 2:7).
Minister Unto Him
Our collective job as “ministers unto Him” is to continually be a light whichpoints all to the Holy One of Israel as the Source of all things. We are to be praying unceasingly, as the Lord presents all sorts of opportunities for us to share who He is and what He has done for us through His salvation and saving grace available in Messiah Yeshua. The Scriptures speak constantly of what it means to be “called out” unto Him. Consider some of the key words of admonition that Paul gives to the Thessalonicans:
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-23).
Here, Paul encouraged the saints to rejoice always, and pray without ceasing while giving thanks for all things. When you think about these comments, they are not just directed to the specific “priests” in the crowd, but instead to all who had the ears to hear. Paul himself was of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5), and was no Levite. The call to serve as priestly representatives of God is directed to all who have the privilege of knowing Him, and conveying this knowledge to the others who need it! Later, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul made some strong recommendations about rejoicing, and how Messiah followers should guard their thoughts:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:4-9).
These are some important instructions about how we should conduct our lives—and even our thoughts. When Paul comments about rejoicing always, and in letting one’s prayers and requests made known toward God always, I believe he is describing the life, thoughts, and actions of a person who has been called into the priesthood as exemplified by a son of Zadok. I believe that God is calling all of His children to this level of commitment to His ways.
Having been a part of the growing Messianic community since 1995, I can clearly declare that the Lord is bringing all of His people into a priestly service with a passion that rivals the zeal of some of the ancient sons of Zadok. The Lord knows that when you come into the Messianic perspective that you will be challenged, and that we each have to make some critical decisions. Are you going to choose to minister unto Him, or are you going to fall into some of the old traps of conformity that your family and friends may want you to pursue? Are you going to be able to endure through the pressures and challenges of being part of a still-emerging movement, or quit and go back to what you might find to be more comfortable?
Dwelling Among His People
We each have to choose whom we will minister to. This week we can be reminded that the pattern has been established in the Heavenly realm and replicated in the wilderness. At the appropriate time, Solomon was blessed with the opportunity to build a more permanent dwelling for the Lord on the Temple Mount. Centuries later, after the Messiah Himself took on human flesh, He became our perfect sacrifice and now functions as our High Priest in Heaven before God the Father. The Apostle Paul writes how we function as a tabernacle for the Spirit of God, appropriating some of the concepts that are stated at the end of this week’s Torah portion:
“Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ [Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27]” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
“I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me. I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the Lordtheir God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:43-46).
The Lord wants us to understand that His desire is to dwell among His people, within the hearts of human beings. The only way that this can occur, though, is by each of us recognizing Yeshua the Messiah as our Savior, being washed clean from the stains of sin upon our hearts and minds, and then committing ourselves to a path of holiness and good works. We are to function as a living sacrifice, the worship of which is evidenced in our committed service to our fellow brothers and sisters (cf. Romans 12). Truly, when this manifests itself within the Body of Messiah, then we can positively impact other people who can likewise be used to further the Kingdom of God here on Earth! We can then be acceptable in His sight.
May we each be called into that place of service as He dwells among us and in us and operates through us, as we are set-apart unto Him!