Your Dumb and Dirty Pastor, Leviticus 8

A common, recurring dream for many people is that one where you somehow find yourself in a public place in your underwear. You are embarrassed and desperate, hoping that no one will notice. Psychologists say that this dream means that you feel exposed and vulnerable in some area of your life. Maybe there is some secret you are hiding, hoping that no one will find out. 

Being caught in public in your underwear is not a recurring dream. It’s an embarrassing nightmare. 

If you have some version of that recurring, embarrassing nightmare, please catch the opening scene of Leviticus 8. 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread.

Leviticus 8:1–2 (ESV)

New Branam International Commentary: Get Aaron and his sons together. Bring some sacrifices and a change of clothes.

And assemble all the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” And Moses did as the Lord commanded him, and the congregation was assembled at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

Leviticus 8:3–4 (ESV)

New Branam International Commentary: Get everyone in the neighborhood together so they can watch.

And Moses said to the congregation, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded to be done.” And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him and tied the skillfully woven band of the ephod around him, binding it to him with the band. And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Leviticus 8:5–9 (ESV)

New Branam International Commentary: Change your brother Aaron’s clothes and wash him off – IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY! Insert “this is awkward” meme or emoji here.

As has been done today, the Lord has commanded to be done to make atonement for you. At the entrance of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the Lord has charged, so that you do not die, for so I have been commanded.”

Leviticus 8:34–35 (ESV)

New Branam International Commentary: Let’s do this every day for a week! 

Leviticus 8 is a recurring, embarrassing week.

Thank God I’m Baptist! 

Aaron the Dirty Human

Leviticus 8 is the formal inauguration and ordination of the priests in Israel and most notably the first high priest. So that we can appreciate the gravity of this moment, let’s take a mental walk through history and name some significant people who served as firsts.

  • 1789-1797, George Washington was America’s first president. 
  • April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American to play in Major League Baseball.
  • July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the moon.

We always remember the first. 

So who is God’s choice to be the first High Priest?

Aaron! Golden calf Aaron! When confronted about the golden calf, Aaron told Moses that he threw gold jewelry in fire and “out came this calf (Exodus 32:24).” That dumb, dirty liar Aaron is going to be the first high priest.

Wouldn’t you agree that the selection of Aaron as high priest #1 is an immediate problem?

Putting the high priestly garb on Aaron will make him easily the most recognizable person in Israel. So before he dons the glory of God, Moses does something that reminds every onlooker that beneath it all, Aaron is just another dirty human. 

How? 

Moses washes him and makes him change clothes.

Your Dumb, Dirty Pastor

Making the correlation between pastors and Levitical priests is problematic, but there are some significant parallels nonetheless. One parallel we can draw is a problem that both pastors and Levitical priests share. They are all dirty humans. 

Before Aaron stands before the people in holy robes, he stands before them in his underwear, getting washed down. He’s you exposed, feeling vulnerable and embarrassed in a public place – but this is not a dream. 

So let’s dress down your pastor for a moment. Let’s take away everything that makes him the most recognizable human in your church.

Let’s take away his title. Let’s get him off the stage and put him in a pew. Let’s take away the Sunday garb and see him on a Saturday at Wal-Mart right after he mowed grass. Talk to his friends who knew him before he became your pastor.

And if you see him there, you realize two things about him. 1) He’s just another dude. 2) He’s got the same problem as the rest of us. 

He’s as dumb and dirty as you. And like you, he’s in desperate need of the grace of God.

The Spectacular Sins of Pastors

I think in our heart of hearts, we know that our pastors are dumb and dirty. So here’s my next question. If we know that, why is it so shocking when spiritual leaders do things that other humans do? Why are their sins so spectacular?

I think the simple, Biblical answer is that to whom much is given, much is required. Pastors and spiritual leaders are called to shepherd people’s souls. In the church, they carry authority and should be people with spiritual maturity (1 Tim. 3). That’s no small thing, and so the Bible does call them to greater accountability.

As James warns:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

James 3:1 (ESV)

So there is a sense in which their sins are more spectacular. At the very least, they are more disappointing. 

But I think another reason their sins are so spectacular is that they don’t meet our expectations. 

We do want something of them that is “out of this world.” We want something supernatural. We want them to show us God. But we go about it all wrong.

So let’s join the congregation of Leviticus 8 just after Aaron is toweled off. Let’s let his hair air dry and put some product in it later. But for now, how will we dress him. What would you put on him? Speaking from experience, allow me to articulate some things people put on pastors.

What do you put on your pastor?

Is it too much to ask that the preacher be an amazing speaker? Hold my attention sir! Captivate me! Inspire me! Make me feel God with your words! Hit a homer every Sunday. And if you can’t, we will sense God’s call on our lives that we must go somewhere else “to be fed.” 

Let’s put on the pastor some incredible business skills. Do we not want the church to grow? And although we use a massive number of volunteers who may or may not show up, communication needs to be perfect. 

He needs to be a good fundraiser. Though most of us don’t give much money, the church needs to have lots of money. And if the giving is down, let’s wonder why? Who’s mad at the pastor? What did he do wrong?

Wear that Rev!

And he needs to be a good prayer nurse. I think I’ve prayed for every gallbladder in town.

Let’s dress him in “amazing” and “available.” He needs to be funny but not wordy. Yes, he needs to spend more time with his family, but he better be there for mine. 

Every sermon should help me. Every decision should please me. Every prayer should heal me. 

Other people can give their time, but there should be plenty of things going on at the church that I like. 

And if he can’t handle it, we shall be led by the Lord to find another pastor who’ll proudly wear my expectations.

People Don’t Dress the Priest

Leviticus 8 sends a strong, authoritative message to the watching congregation. The people don’t get to dress the priest. 

Aaron doesn’t even get to dress himself.

Every dumb and dirty person is disqualified. Stand down.

Dressing the priest is the work of God alone. He chooses the outfit. Notice the emphasis in the text on every piece of clothing being placed on Aaron is done so by God’s command.

And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him and tied the skillfully woven band of the ephod around him, binding it to him with the band. And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Leviticus 8:7–9 (ESV)

I think in our heart of hearts, we know good and well that our pastors are imperfect. And so we try to put on them things that would be glorious to us. We want a pastor with charisma. We want them to be the life of the party. We want a person who makes all of us feel as if we are their best friend and we always have their full attention.

So I think it is only in the glory of God and the humor of God that he puts the priest in his underwear and sprays him down with a water hose in front of the whole congregation. 

Leviticus 8 is a sobering reminder that your pastor/priest is as dumb and dirty as the rest of us. But it is also a reminder that dressing in your expectations is not what he, nor you, really needs. 

In Leviticus 8, God strips away any glories the priest would put on himself, as well as those glories that people would put on him. God sends a message with Leviticus 8 that says that the priest/pastor doesn’t need to be dressed up by you as much as he first needs to be washed by me.

Dressed to be A Different Sort of Leader

It’s only what God puts on him and does to him that counts. And there are so many things that God puts on him that have purpose and meaning (see also Exodus 28). I don’t have time to dive into the depths of these spiritual values, but I want you to notice what becomes glorious to God about the priest.

We should want for the man of God what God wants for the man of God.

It is God who has cleansed Him. So instead of wanting a pastor with more personality, why not look for one who can’t get over his salvation?

Instead of charisma, how about charismata (gifts of God’s grace)?

In Leviticus 8:11 God anoints the priest. Instead of wanting him to be a captivating speaker who “feeds you,” pray that he would be captured by the power of God and filled with the Holy Spirit.

The anointing means that he may be “your pastor,” but first and foremost, he is consecrated as God’s man.

On the breastplate, the priest bore before the Lord the names of the tribes of Israel (Lev. 8:8, Exo. 28:29-30). Instead of criticizing your pastor for his lack of visitation time, why not encourage him in his prayer time?

Are we more concerned that he be on time for every surgery than we are that he brings the names of every person in the congregation before God in prayer?

Does he know the Lord? Does he love the Lord? Is he prayerful? Does he pray for me? Is he filled with the Spirit? Is he in the Word of God?

You see, if we take off of the pastor/priest all of the things that we put on him, God gives us another sort of leader. God gives us a pastor/priest clothed in His graces rather than in the expectations of idolatrous people. 

Let’s not forget. The onlookers in Leviticus 8 are some of the same ones who encouraged Aaron to make the golden calf. If they are capable of making an idol of a cow they are also capable of making an idol of a priest. And you are equally as capable of making an idol of a pastor.

It happens all the time. Just watch what happens when a pastor falls. People fall away. Why? Because he was their god, not their pastor. They can’t separate his mistake from their faith. So seeing Aaron washed helps the congregation realize, the only reason this guy is here is because of God. And if he doesn’t make it, God will wash another one (See 1 Cor. 1).

So in Leviticus 8, getting the priest dressed is God’s business. Idolatrous hands off. What we need for this dumb, dirty man to lead us to the altar is something only God can do.

What’s Best For You?

The best your pastor can give you comes from you asking God to do deep things in him.

I think we capture a glimpse of these tensions between our expectations and God’s provisions in Acts 6. Some people felt neglected in the daily distribution. And the way the story is written, there is this expectation that the apostles would fix it and get to it. Meet our demands!

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

Acts 6:1 (ESV)

But the answer of the apostles is telling. Instead of trying to meet organizational expectations, they articulated spiritual priorities.

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.

Acts 6:2 (ESV)

They didn’t minimize the need. Instead, the church made an organizational decision to address it. But they never wavered from putting priority on only what God could give them. And look at the result.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 6:7 (ESV)

Suppose we were more concerned to see in our pastors what only God can put on them rather than what we would put on them. In that case, I think we would see fewer churches built on the personality and charisma of a pastor and more churches that operated in charismata (the grace gifts of the Spirit). We would see fewer church organizations that displayed the leadership skills of a pastor and more church organisms (living bodies) that demonstrate the power of God. (See Mike Cosper’s (Christianity Today) Podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill)

As Aaron walks away from the scene in Leviticus 8 no one will say, “Wow, look at Aaron.” Instead, everyone will say, “Wow, look at what God has done for Aaron.” He is not robed in idolatrous expectations. He is an otherwise dirty human cleansed and transformed by the graces of God.

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