IN early times the patriarchs were priests over their own households, and God's original design was that the eldest son should take his father's place as priest of the family; but the plan of God was often thwarted by the sins of the eldest son. The Lord's words to Cain would indicate that he was debarred of his inherited position on account of sin:“
If thou doest well, shalt thou not have the excellency? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” (Gen. 4:7) Sin prevented Cain from having “
On account of sin, Reuben, the first-born of Jacob, lost “
the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power,” which was his inherited right. (Gen. 49:3,4) When but a youth, Joseph cultivated those traits of character that gave him “
the excellency” above his brethren. It is very probable that the coat of many colors given him by his father, (1 Chron. 5:1,2) was interpreted by his brethren as indicating his accession to the priesthood.
God gave His First-born for the redemption of the world; and for that reason in God's plan the first-born always inherited special privileges. To him came a double portion of his father's estate, the priesthood, and, the first-born in the descent from Isaac, the honor of being the progenitor of the Messiah. If the first-born proved unworthy, his inheritance was given to others, as in the case of Reuben, where Judah became the progenitor of Christ, Joseph received the double portion, and Levi received the priesthood. (Deut 21:17; 1 Chron. 5:1,2; Num. 3:6,9) The first-born was so often unworthy on account of sin that when the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, He said, “
I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the first-born of Israel:therefore the Levites shall be mine.” (Num 3:12,13) It was because the tribe of Levi stood true to God in time of a crisis, that God chose them to serve before Him; (Duet. 33:8-11) and when the service of the sanctuary was established, the priesthood was given to Aaron and his sons, and the remainder of the tribe of Levi were to do the work of the sanctuary under the direction of the priests. (Ex. 28:1) Aaron was appointed to officiate as high priest and his sons as common priests, the eldest son to take the office of high priest on Aaron's death. (Ex. 29:29)
The consecration to the priest's office was a most imposing ceremony. Aaron was clothed in the garments which were made for him under God's direction. Several sacrifices were slain, and the blood of the ram of consecration was touched to the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the great toe of the right foot of both Aaron and his sons, signifying that their ears, hands, and feet were consecrated to the service of God. Unleavened bread, denoting “
sincerity and truth,” 1 Cor. 5:8) and the right shoulder of the sacrifice of consecration, were all put upon Aaron's hands and upon his sons' hands. The priests were to typify the One of whom Isaiah said, “
The government shall be upon His shoulder.” (Isa. 9:6) They were to bear the burdens of the people. The anointing oil and the blood was then sprinkled upon Aaron and his sons, typifying the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit, which alone could fully qualify them to fill the holy office. (Ex. 29:5-35)
The priesthood remained unbroken in Aaron's family until the sins of Eli and his sons made it necessary to change, and for a time Samuel, an Ephrathite, filled the office of leading priest in Israel. (1 Sam. 1:1,19,20) Abiather was thrust out of the office of the priesthood in fulfillment of the prophecy given to Eli. (1 King 2:26,27) But Zadok, who filled the office of high priest in the time of David and Solomon, was thought by many to be a grandson of Eli. As the Israelites departed from the Lord, the priesthood became corrupt, until in the time of Christ it was bought and sold for money.
God designed that the high priest should more nearly represent Christ than any other priest. The work of every priest was a type of Christ's work, but the common priests performed work only in the court and the first apartment of the sanctuary, while the high priest officiated not only in the court and the first apartment, as well as the common priests, but went alone into the holy of holies, (Heb. 9:7) Aaron at times offered burnt-offerings on the brazen altar in the court. (1 Chron. 6:40)
It was impossible for one man to perform all the work of the sanctuary that typified the work of Christ, and for that reason there was a company of common priests to assist the high priest. It is always a rule that a higher official can fill the offices below him. The high priest offered burnt-offerings in the court and sin-offerings in the first apartment. Paul speaks of the high priest offering the sin-offerings where the blood was taken into the sanctuary. (Heb. 13:11) In the sin-offerings for the priests and the congregation the blood was taken within the sanctuary. Lev. 4:3-7, 13-18) It seems very fitting that the high priest should offer the sin-offerings for the common priests and the entire congregation. In most of the sin-offerings the flesh was eaten in the holy place, and the blood was not taken into the sanctuary. (Ex. 30:7,8) While the high priest could perform any work in the first apartment that other priests could perform, there was a daily service in the first apartment of the sanctuary that none but the high priest could perform. He alone could burn incense upon the golden altar before the Lord, and trim and light the lamps on the golden candlestick. Each morning and evening, twice every day throughout the entire year, the high priest officiated in the first apartment of the sanctuary. (Ex. 30:7,8)
The crowning service of the whole year was on the tenth day of the seventh month, when the high priest entered the holy of holies alone to make atonement for the sins of the people. Upon his breast in the stones of the breast-plate were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes, typifying Christ our High Priest as He thinks upon us individually, and confesses our names as they come up in review before God.