Up to now, pretty much everything in Leviticus has been addressed to the people of Israel - those who would bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle.
But now, God turns his attention directly to the priests. You can think of this section kind of like footnotes to what came before, providing more information to those who need to know about each of the offerings listed so far.
Two main topics make up this section: (1)the perpetual fire (2) the priest’s food.
First, we read that the fire on the altar at the entrance of the tabernacle is never to go out. We aren’t told why, but several reasons seem to apply. God will soon miraculously light the first sacrifice himself (Lev. 9:24). The priests must make sure that God’s fire never goes out. It is God who accepts the sacrifices burnt on this fire, so making sure that it is his fire that lights it is of utmost importance.
Additionally, smoke is a common symbol of God’s presence in the Old Testament. Since these sacrifices were the way Israel stayed in fellowship with God, the constant smoke from the fire would be a regular reminder of God’s presence among them. If the people ever doubted God’s nearness, they could look to the smoke from the altar and be reminded of his presence.
Finally, imagine the constant smell that would come from the altar. The smell of an open fire and roasting meat would fill the air. The never-ending fire and its accompanying smells would be a steady sign of the people’s need for forgiveness because of the stench of their sin. But it would also be a reminder that atonement had already been made.
Next, we see all these rules given to the priests about who can eat what, where, and when. Without getting into the details, we can see something truly amazing in these commands about food.
When we think about the sacrifices in Leviticus, we can’t forget that most of them ended in a meal. Other than a select few offerings, like the whole burnt offering, these sacrifices provided food.
The food that the priests ate from the sacrifices are called most holy. No one else is allowed to eat that food. That’s what most holy means. It is the most set apart food in Israel.
What’s amazing about the food that comes from some of these sacrifices is that they spread holiness. Whatever touches the holy flesh from the sacrifice becomes holy itself. How amazing is it then that the priests and their families would then ingest this holy food. It’s almost as if, symbolically, the priests were being made holy on the inside.
All of this is significant for those of us who believe in Jesus.
The only perpetual fire we read about in the New Testament is the fire of Hell. Jesus calls it an “unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12; Mk. 9:43). Elsewhere, the Bible calls it an “eternal fire” (Jude 1:7). Just as the sacrifices made on the altar were a picture of what each individual worshipper deserved because of their sin, the perpetual fire of Hell is what each of us deserves because of our own sin.
However, Jesus got on the altar in our place. He put himself in the fire so we wouldn’t have to. Now, just as the fire on the altar never went out, but always showed God’s presence with an atonement for his people, the New Testament tells us that Jesus never ceases to stand at God’s right hand, constantly interceding for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). His presence and his provision are truly never-ending.
The fire from heaven that fills the tabernacle today is not a physical flame, but the Holy Spirit living within us. As the priests were to never let the fire at the altar go out, we are commanded in the New Testament to never quench or extinguish the Holy Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19). And we also have a promise that the never-extinguished Spirit inside of us is a guarantee of God’s acceptance of us and presence with us (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14).
What is symbolically true of the priest’s food becomes actually true for us in Jesus. If an animal’s flesh became most holy after it was sacrificed as a sin offering, how much more holy is Jesus’ flesh who is our final and complete sin offering? So when we put our faith in this flesh, how much holier will we be made because of Jesus?
What’s more, it is not just a certain class of people who are allowed to eat from the sacrifice Jesus made. He tells all who believe in him to eat his flesh. We do this in the Lord’s Supper, taking hold of our sin offering, Jesus, through faith as we remember through the bread and cup.
And amazingly, the Holy Spirit actually makes us holy on the inside. He transforms us from the inside out, giving us a new heart and remaking us into the holy image of Jesus.
I pray that the Holy Spirit would give you eyes to see the God who is always present with us to make us holy through Jesus, the final holy meal we all can come to and eat.