With 46 verses to preach in Exodus 29, it was inevitable that some elements that were originally planned for the sermon would end up on the cutting room floor. I’ll highlight three brief elements here that I had hoped to elaborate on to a greater degree in the sermon.
Exodus 29 is part of a narrative unit that contains God’s instructions to Moses up on Mt. Sinai (Ex 25-31). All seven of those chapters are entirely God speaking, without interruption or response from Moses. So, to put Exodus 29 in context, these are only the instructions for the consecration of the priesthood, not the actual consecration itself.
Most of Exodus 25-31 is fulfilled later on in Exodus, after the brief narrative interlude in chapters 32-34 (the golden calf narrative). Moses was instructed to build an Ark, a table, a candlestick, a Tabernacle (Ex 25-26). Later, Moses builds the Ark, table, candlestick and Tabernacle, exactly according to specifications (Ex 36-37). Nearly every part of chapters 25-31 have a counterpart where the commands are fulfilled in Exodus 35-40, with one major exception: the priesthood.
In fact, Aaron and his sons are not officially ordained until the book of Leviticus, in chapters 8-9. There, we see the fulfillment of the commands from Exodus 29. It would be a fruitful exercise to read Leviticus 8-9 immediately after listening to the sermon on Exodus 29.
This demonstrates how tightly the books of Exodus-Leviticus (and really, the entire Pentateuch: Genesis through Deuteronomy) are interwoven. Exodus looks forward to Leviticus, and Leviticus is dependent upon Exodus.
Hands upon the Head
Three times in our passage it tells us that Aaron and his sons had to lay their hands upon the head of the animals that were to be sacrificed (29:10, 15, 19). The Hebrew literally reads that they “lean” their hands upon the head of the bull/ram. In the sermon, I briefly mentioned that the likely meaning for this was the transference of guilt/sin and identification with the animal. This was a summarized version of a much larger discussion that was originally intended.
There are several main views about what this symbolic act could mean.
1) Ownership. Some scholars suggest that leaning the hands upon the head signifies ownership of the animal being sacrificed. The worshiper is signifying to others that the animal that is about to be slaughtered belongs to him. He is the one who brought the offering and will reap the benefits of it.
2) Identification. Others believe that by leaning the hands upon the head, the worshiper is identifying with the animal about to be killed. That animal being killed is symbolically “identical” to the individual doing the slaughtering (usually the layman did the actual killing, not the priest).
3) Transference. Still others think that the exact nuance for this act is the transference of sins from the worshiper to the animal. The guilt or sin of the individual is transferred from person to beast right before the beast is sacrificed (see Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 151 for more discussion on these options).
It seems to me that there is quite the overlap between all three of these options, and none of them need to necessarily exclude all the others. It is hard to see how the sins can be transferred to the animal without some level of identification with that animal. Other passages may be instructive. Notice how in Lev 16:11 the Sin Offering is enacted by Aaron “for himself” (then later 16:15 for the people). Then in 16:21, Aaron lays both hands on the head of the goat and confesses the sins of the people, which are then “put… on the head of the goat.” These passages seem to give strength especially to the last two of those views, the identification with the animal and transference of sin upon the animal. Ownership may be implied by the act, but the act itself seems to symbolize especially the last two options, which is what I quickly presented in the sermon (see Kaiser, “Exodus,” 116).
Yahweh vs Israel
Finally, I ran across some excellent thoughts in Durham’s WBC commentary on Exodus and Stuart’s NAC commentary. Both observed that the first 19 chapters of Exodus indicate proof of Yahweh’s presence primarily by what Yahweh does. The chapters that follow the advent upon Mt. Sinai demonstrate that Yahweh is present by what Israel does, first in the way they live, and second in the places, symbols and acts of their worship (Durham 397, Stuart 632).
Of course, I’m sure this isn’t meant to say that Yahweh does not act at all in the latter half of Exodus, or that Israel has no need for obedience in the first. It merely emphasizes the focuses in both of the halves in comparison to the other. The section of Exodus in which we are now in has a great focus on Israel revealing Yahweh’s realness and presence in the way they obey the covenant and follow God’s directions.
Isn’t that how it is with us, too? We don’t see God physically manifesting Himself in our world during our day and age. He doesn’t part seas before our eyes, or send plagues of frogs, or burn bushes without burning them. At least, not in the same way we see in Exodus!
God has designed it so that we Christians are to help manifest Him before others. We are “little Christs” who live Jesus and share Jesus to the nations. We are entrusted with the great privilege and responsibility to share the Gospel with others and demonstrate proof of God’s presence in the way we act and live.