Priesthood, Part 3: Priestly Duties in the Outer Court
The last several months, we have been looking at the priesthood. This month we want to look at the duties of the priests. It is important for us to understand the tabernacle (which later became a permanent structure called the temple) and the priesthood so we, as believers in Yeshua, can understand how we are to live and how we are to worship. When we study the duties of the priesthood, we will see that it leads to the path of worship. The earthly temple may be gone, but the heavenly one is not and as priests we must serve in the heavenly temple. When we think of the priests, we generally think of the sacrifices, but that was only part of what they did. The priests were responsible for the upkeep of the temple. So we are going to take a closer look at the duties of the priesthood and see if we may have the same duties as they did; and to do this, we must look at the different parts of the temple.
The Outer Court
For this study, we will be looking at the tabernacle which was in the wilderness at the time of Moses, but there is little difference between the tabernacle and the temple. Upon entering the gate of the tabernacle, one would arrive at the outer court. It is here at the gate that our worship begins. The Psalmist writes, “Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors that the King of glory may come in! Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.” The Psalmist also writes, “How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord.” And how are we to enter in but with thanksgiving and praise? The gate or the door into the tabernacle is very significant because Yeshua said that He was the Door (gate) and there is no other way to enter in except through Him. Yeshua said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” The gate was the only way into the tabernacle.
The curtains of the outer court were made of fine white linen and were seven-and-a-half feet tall. The linen curtains speak of the robes of righteousness the bride of Yeshua will wear on her wedding day. Remember, we saw that these robes were worn also by the priests and they were called garments of splendor, beauty, and glory.
When surveying the outer court, you would see the Bronze Altar and the Bronze Laver. The outer court was the place for atonement, worship, and cleansing in preparation to meet God. The altar of sacrifice, as it was also known, was made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze, which is a picture of Yeshua bearing the sins of man on the cross. The blood of the sacrifices was poured out upon the ground at the base of the altar, which was a picture of the shedding of Yeshua’s blood being poured out for us. The altar was the place where the people came to draw near to God. We see this throughout the Torah that God’s people, like Noah and the Patriarchs, would build an altar and sacrifice to God for one reason or another; but through this they would draw near to God. It was only through their sacrifices that they could draw near to God. Their sins had to be atoned for. Scripture tells us that there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood.
The two types of basic sacrifices were the sin offering and the peace offerings (which not only included the peace offerings, but also the grain offerings and burnt offerings). Since Yeshua, we no longer need to bring a sin offering because it is through the blood of Yeshua that we can now draw near to God. His atoning sacrifice for our sins was once and for all. Now, we cannot confuse the sin offering with repentance. We still need to turn from our sins. Paul writes In Romans 6:1-2, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not saved by the law but by grace? May it never be!” He also says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment.” Sin separates us from God, but repentance brings us back into that right standing with Him. Isaiah writes, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins are scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool if you consent and obey.”
This is what the Bronze Laver represents: sanctification. Sanctification is an ongoing process. It is the process of being cleansed from sin initially when we accept Yeshua’s sacrifice for us, but then it is a continual cleansing of our sins when we confess them before God. The Bronze Laver was a large basin for ceremonial washing. It was made of bronze and mounted on a base and lined with mirrors which the Israelite women donated to the building of the Tabernacle. Could this be what James meant when he said that we are to be doers of the Word and not just hearers? For anyone who just hears the Word and does not do it is like a man who looks into a mirror and then forgets what he looks like. When Yeshua prayed for His disciples He prayed, “Father sanctify them in the truth: Thy Word is truth.” It is by Yeshua’s blood we are cleansed initially, but it is in the keeping of His word that we remain clean. The sword of the Spirit, which is part of our defense against the evil one, is the Word of God and Scripture tells us, “He saved us not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” We are to continually renew our minds through the Word of God. The priests bathed their entire bodies in the laver when they were ordained, but after that, they only washed their hands and feet before going into the Tabernacle so that they would not die. The tabernacle was a place of holiness and so the priests were to remain in a state of cleanliness when offering the sacrifices. Yeshua tells His disciples that they have already been made clean because of the Word and only their feet needed to be washed. What did Yeshua mean by this? When we accept Yeshua’s sacrifice (the lamb for the sin offering) on our behalf, and we repent of our sins (that is, a heartfelt turning away from what is opposed to God’s Word), living by the whole Word of God’s counsel, we are totally washed by His blood, as if we ourselves went to the Bronze Laver. We are cleansed. But as we go day by day, we stumble, we fall, and we may drift away; so we need to be cleansed from our actions which are represented by our feet. Our feet can lead us to do good or to do bad, as it is written in Romans, “Their feet are swift to shed blood,” and again, “How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news.” We are to make straight paths for our feet.
You see, accepting Yeshua’s sacrifice on our behalf should make us broken and contrite to think that a holy God loved us so much that He took our place, He took our punishment. So that should lead us to the peace offering or the thanksgiving offering, which it can also be called. A peace offering was always made with the sin offering. You see, true repentance will always lead us to true thanksgiving. The Psalmist writes, “To Thee I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord.” True repentance bears the “fruit of repentance” which are our righteous deeds, represented by our white garments. No longer do we do those dead works and ungodly deeds. The writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Messiah, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God.” The Word of God is alive and active; it is a two edged sword and when we read God’s Word and apply it to our lives, then the Word cleanses us because it changes us. So we see the Laver represents the waters of baptism. Paul continues to write in Romans 6:2 after he says that we should not continue in sin, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Messiah Yeshua have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
The Laver represents water, the waters of life. John writes, “This is the One who came by water and by blood, Yeshua the Messiah.” And again, “For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” We have seen that the outer court consists of the gate which leads to life and the altar which leads us to the wells of salvation. Why the wells of salvation? Because salvation is redemption and when we repent of sin and turn from our ways, then we are redeemed based on Yeshua’s sacrifice and His shed blood which cleanses us from our sin. The songwriter writes, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stain.” We see then that our duty as priests is first to be holy and righteous in Yeshua. Next, we must assist others as they draw near to God, leading them to repentance and accepting Yeshua’s sacrifice on their behalf.
So now that the Temple is not here, does that mean we no longer have sacrifices? Let’s take a closer look.
Today‘s Sacrifices of the Priesthood
When the Temple was destroyed, the sages had to figure out what would replace the sacrifices. Well, the morning and evening prayers always coincided with the morning and evening sacrifices. So they figured that would still remain. The three things that replaced the sacrifices were then teshuvah (repentance), tzedakah (righteous deeds, charity), and tephillin (prayer), all three representing the sacrifices, all three steps of holiness. The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the High Holy Days. It is a time to consider your deeds. It is a time for teshuvah, tzedakah, and tephillin. It is believed, traditionally, that on Rosh Hashanah the books are opened in heaven and this is the time for us to be sure that our names are written in the Book of Life before they are closed at the end of Yom Kippur. There is so much written in God’s Word about these subjects, so we will only briefly look at all three. We have already looked at repentance, so now we are going to look at only one righteous deed, for there are so many. We are going to look at charity.
Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for righteous. When we repent of our sins, then we go from doing dead works to righteous deeds, one being giving. Paul talks about charity. In Philippians he says, “But I received everything in full, and have abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice.” For the disciples of Yeshua, charity is not an option. Yeshua placed great emphasis on the commandment of charity; many of His parables and teachings centered on this important topic. In fact, Yeshua taught that if someone asks of you, you are to give to him and do not turn him away. We are commanded especially to give to those who cannot repay us. He taught that our money is not our own, but that it belongs to God, and we cannot serve two masters. He told the rich, young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor and then come follow Him. Paul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. But when we give, we should do it in secret not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing. The sages taught that there are nine levels of charity. Yeshua and His disciples would have known this teaching, for they taught from the same nine steps.
Scripture tells us that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual service of worship. You see, as true disciples of Yeshua, we too must lay down our lives as He did. He is our example. Yeshua said that we are to follow Him. Scripture makes it clear that if we choose to save our lives we will lose them, but if we choose to lose our lives then we will save them. As priests, we must lay down our lives on the altar of God and let God consume us. You see, the sacrificial altar now represents Yeshua and we are to lay our lives upon Him. Scripture tells us, “It is no longer I who lives but Messiah Yeshua who lives in me.” Our lives are now hidden in Him. Yeshua was the perfect Lamb of God. He was without blemish, which was required by God’s law, and we too are to be without spot or wrinkle as we lay our lives down upon the altar. Is this not the Bride that Yeshua is coming back for? There is no other way to get into God’s presence unless we enter in through the gate (door), Yeshua, and then first stop at the altar, laying our lives down, crucifying the flesh, submitting to God’s will, not ours, and then off to the Laver to be washed and to drink from the wells of salvation. You see, our lives, every moment that we live, is worship to God. True worship to God is not through ceremonial rituals. This was Paul’s main argument. True worship to God is from the heart that is totally surrendered to God which leads to total devotion. So everything that we say or do must be done in the name of the Lord, giving glory to Him with praise and worship and adoration. This begins our path of worship. This begins our duties in serving God.
Next month we will be looking at the holy place as we continue our path to worship. Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on September 12th which begins the High Holy Days which go till Yom Kippur September 22nd. Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? If not, why not consider your deeds and repent? Give your life over to Yeshua and begin to walk in newness of life. Maybe you have already accepted Yeshua as your Lord and Savior, but you are not walking holy and blameless. Maybe Yeshua is not really the center of your life or maybe you have not yet crucified the flesh; then repent, consider your deeds and turn for the good. We all need to stop at the Laver daily and be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. If we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us of our sins.