Pragmatic questions regarding the Aaronic / Levitical priesthood

(Billie Corbett) #1

I have been a believer for nearly 5 decades. Over time I have a couple nagging, pragmatic questions that arise when I read in the Old Testament regarding God’s commands concerning the establishing of the Tabernacle sacrifices and the ordination of the Priests etc.

As a woman who has been responsible for my own hygiene and the hygiene of a large household, it has always twigged me regarding God’s commands because of the permanent staining properties of oil and blood. As well as, the smells and the attraction of insects like flies to bad odours.

The priests were commanded to have their turbans anointed with oil and their garments sprinkled with blood. There was no recorded directive about washing these garments. Over time they would have become very stained and defiled with blood…and oil. They would have become crusty and smelly. Is this to be a visual demonstration of our sin and defilement? Or was it to be a demonstration the holiness of God through the High priestly office?
The other thing that puzzles me is related to the daily sacrifices…The constant blood splashed against the altar would have created a putrid smell over time, plus, it would have attracted a multitude of flies .(especially in the heat). Please explain how this would have been dealt with…since it isn’t explicit in the text.

(SeanO) #3

@Billie Given the emphasis on being ‘clean’ and washing, I think it is certain that the altar / garments were cleaned. In fact, it is almost inconceivable that they would not have cleaned them. Below are a few articles discussing how there may have been a drainage system that aided in keeping things clean once the temple was more established.

Regarding Beit HaMikdash , the whole place was covered with aqueducts and water channels from the surrounding rivers/lakes. These would lead the blood (and other remains) outside.

For example, the Mishna in Yoma 5, 6 talks about the blood flowing away and outside into the Kidron river, and even sold to farmers as fertilizer.

Although we do not have archaeological evidence that can be used to support the idea that there was a drainage system connected to the altar in the Temple of Herod, we do have some Jewish documents that support that idea. Scholars who have studied those sources comment that according to that tradition the base of the altar had two holes, into which the blood of the sacrifices was poured. The holes led to a channel of running water flowing through the court of the Temple down to the Kidron Valley, outside the city. According to the tradition, this water was sold to gardeners, who used it as fertilizer. In this particular case we have a sewer system used to keep the Temple area clean. Some scholars believe that this tradition is, at least to some extent, historically accurate. If that is the case, we have extrabiblical materials supporting the idea that the Temple had a drainage system used to dispose of the sacrificial blood properly. This was most probably the case in the Old Testament sanctuary and Temple.

(Billie Corbett) #4

Thankyou for adding your interest to my question.
From the context of the scripture, related to this topic, all things related to the consecration of the priests and their garments is to make them holy to the Lord.
I know from experience how badly oil and blood permanently stain clothing. It takes a trememdous amount of effort, with a lot of experience / knowledge to remove these stains from clothing. Even so, sometimes the artlicle of clothing will be destroyed from being presentable…and there by earns a new role as household chore clothing.
Being a visual person, in my mind’s eye, find myself seeing the priests originally beautiful garments, looking a right tip.
There isn’t any indication in the text to imply these garments were washed.
I’d like to make sense of these matters, as I feel a sense of revulsion when I visualize the priests and the scene. If the purpose was to create a revulsion for the odious of sin … that makes sense.
But, if it was to demonstrate the perfection and holiness of God…it doesn’t make sense.

(Billie Corbett) #5

CThank you, SeanO for your response.
While I appreciate your thoughtful reply and interesting references, I guess I was looking for a answer from the scriptures. (Which I pretty much know aren’t easily forth coming, since I am very familiar with the whole scripture.)
As you will see from my response to another kind individual…
part of my question has to do with my own physical, emotional, mental revulsion to the images that are created in my mind based on the description of the text. (Whether it’s the priest’s clothing or the daily sacrifices.)
Is there any reference you know of in the scripture to confirm what you have cited from other sources?

(SeanO) #6

@Billie If God did not allow the priest to enter the tabernacle unwashed and if it made you unclean to touch dead things, why on earth would God not provide a way for the tabernacle itself to be kept clean - especially from the leftovers of sacrificed animals? The Bible does not always tell us something explicitly, but we can infer it from the context. Such care was given to the tabernacle - whole clans were devoted to the different portions of it.

Exodus 30:20 - Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die.

Numbers 19:11 - Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days.

The Levites filled the priestly roles in Israel and bore the responsibility of caring for the tabernacle. The Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites had specific roles within the Levite culture. The Kohathites, for example, had charge of caring for the objects associated with the sanctuary: “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things” (Numbers 4:4–14). The Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Showbread, and other holy items were the responsibility of the Kohathites (Numbers 10:21; 1 Chronicles 9:32). The Gershonites took care of the decorations in the sanctuary—curtains, ropes, and coverings (Numbers 4:24–26). The Merarites had the task of maintaining and carrying from place to place the pillars, bases, frames, pegs, and cords that created the structure of the tent of meeting. Since the Israelites were often on the move, the tent of meeting often had to be taken up and moved. Each clan had its responsibility to the sanctuary of God.

(Billie Corbett) #7

Thank you, SeanO.
What are your thoughts on the priestly garments?

(SeanO) #8

@Billie Are you referring to whether or not they washed them? It would make zero sense to me for a priest to bathe in a pool to cleanse their body so that they could serve in the tabernacle and then put on a smelly, gross garment. That is so purpose defeating that I just can’t even see it happening. I have no idea how they cleaned them, but surely they did somehow. It would dishonor God to wear something ragged or that had a foul stench.

When I think of the intricacy and detail given to the design of the tabernacle, I must imagine people who are striving their utmost to present themselves before God as well as possible. Imagine if we went to meet the President - we would wash and dress neatly and have everything pressed - it’s only rational that they would not have let the garments become nasty.

(Jimmy Sellers) #9

26 The priest ⌊who offers the sin offering⌋ must eat it in a holy place—in the tent of assembly’s courtyard. 27 Anything that touches its flesh will become holy, and when ⌊some of⌋ its blood spatters on a garment, what was spattered on it you shall wash in a holy place. 28 And a clay vessel in which it was boiled must be broken, but if it was boiled in a bronze vessel, then it shall be thoroughly scoured and rinsed with water. (Le 6:26–28LEB)

I know that this not a blanket statement to wash the garments every time you wear them but I believe that in would support the idea of personal hygiene and cleanliness. :grinning: As I read this I see the garments being boiled and not the sacrifice and certainly not the priests.
Hopefully this helps the conversation.

For what is worth I have thought the same thing. I have even wondered if we still did this is our western version of worship what would attendance look like?

(Daren) #10

I think the hyssop and lye is significant in this discussion. Hyssop has many cleansing properties and is used ceremonially and functionally. David says, “Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean.” (Ps 51:7) Hyssop and lye (made from ashes) are likely both referenced in cleansings of Num 19. Anyone have more details of hyssop, or how ashes can be used to make lye soap? I’ve exhausted my knowledge on this topic.

(Billie Corbett) #11

Thank you, so much for your response. I appreciate your use of scripture to open this up a bit better. (Plus, I really appreciate your sense of humour as a post script! :blush:) (I for one would be hugely challenged to attend a worship service involving the old testament requirements.)
My pragmatic curiosity has not been satisated though. The reference spoke of boiling a garment. My household knowledge of removing blood from clothing involves applying cold water quickly before it sets.
(There are other ways…but, I dont think the Israelites would have had these modern cleansing agents.) Hot water will set blood into fabric…making a permanent stain.
What about the anointing of oil? Oil is almost impossible to get out of fabric. (I have found only special stain removers will remove oil stains.)
My understanding of the anointing oil is that it was aromatic, (so that would not be a difficult to accept for the wearer…
(The symbolism of the aromatic nature of the anointing oil is fairly easy to understand.)

(Billie Corbett) #12

Yes, I am referring to whether they washed them. Another person has provided a scripture to get a sense of washing the garments…but, the whole anointing process would have made a mess of the priestly garments. The consecrating process is what set them apart as being holy. (The priestly articles of clothing) It doesn’t make sense to me to anoint with oil and sprinkle blood on them…to consecrate them…only to wash out the elements that made the holy to the Lord.
I hope you can understand my reasoning for my question.

(Billie Corbett) #13

Thank you for this insight. It does add to the discussion and broadens my understanding.

(SeanO) #14

@Billie Yes, I see your point. Why wash off the thing that sets you apart. Something to consider is that as NT believers we recognize the blood of animals cannot save you, but rather it served as a reminder of sin. What God truly wanted, as King David says in Psalms 51, was a contrite heart.

Hebrews 10:1-4 - The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Psalms 51:16-17 - You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

Good find on @Jimmy_Sellers’s part with the verse about cleaning off the blood from the garment.

(Billie Corbett) #15

Yes, thanks for understanding my point. :blush:
(It will take me a while to get used to articulating my thoughts accurately in a written format.)

The point is that the blood, consecrated the clothing. Once consecrated these articles of clothing were holy to the Lord.
This is where I find it confusing…as to cleaniness, hygiene, perfection and purity of presentation, when the anointing oil and blood would then, destroy the beautiful presentation and “cleanness”.

(Daren) #16

Oops, I referenced Lev 19 earlier, but it should have been Numbers 19. I have fixed the post now. Sorry.

(Billie Corbett) #17

Thanks for the correction.