Remembering that the laws were situated in a narrative framework, the narrative continues with the story of the ordination setting apart Aaron and his sons as priests. But these three chapters are set apart because while the rest of Leviticus has a narrative framework it is mostly legal material whereas these chapters are mostly narrative. As Wenham says, “The history provides a setting for the laws, not vice versa” (129).
Lev 8 spells out in more detail what Exodus ended saying shall happen (Exo 40:12-16). Those verses in Exodus lay out the parts of the ordination service that set apart Aaron and his sons as priests. There is a ceremonial washing element, they receive the priestly garments resembling the tabernacle (as Meredith Kline notes), and they are anointed with oil. Tremper Longman argues that it is possible that the narrative may not be in chronological order because Exodus 19:22-24 mentions priests (123). But such harmonization seems unnecessary since the author wanted it to be clear that no one in this kingdom of priests (Exo 19:6) would be permitted. Priests and people in Exo 19:24 then is simply two parts for the whole nation appropriate in the context like heavens and earth are two parts for the whole of creation.
The English chapter and verse numberings of Lev 8-10 are helpful to see the three-fold structure of this section. The sacrifices of Lev 1-3 also followed a three-fold arrangement. In Lev 8-10 the narrative approach can be seen by looking at key words and the order of events. In this approach to writing, not everything shows up in each panel. Take for example, chapter 8 begins “YHWH spoke to Moses” (Lev 8:1) and chapter 9 begins “Moses called Aaron” (Lev 9:1) but chapter ten is missing this element (and thus the problem that unfolds). It is not an accident that the verb in Lev 9:1 is “called” given this text is about ministry as priests. You can see a table of these chapters compared to each other in Wenham (133) and I have made a table based on it that you can download here.
Book One of Genesis also had a three-fold arrangement, ordination is a new creation event taking seven days (Lev 8), this time Aaron does not recapitulate the fall (Lev 9), but his two disobedient sons go the way of Cain (Lev 10). On day 8, Aaron’s sacrifices are accepted (Lev 9) but the following chapter (10) shows us the rejection of his sons’ offerings. Adam was the priest of the garden of Eden until driven out and Lev 10 even thematically resembles Gen 4 because Cain’s offerings were rejected.
Wenham notes that there is a chiastic arrangement in chapter eight as to the commandments and their fulfillment. The first command was about Aaron’s clothes (Lev 8:2) and the second about assembling the people (Lev 8:3), but the fulfillment sees the congregation assembled (Lev 8:4-5) before Aaron’s clothes (Lev 8:6-9). I have mentioned before that Aaron’s clothes are important because they represent the glory of the image of God (parallel to Moses having a shining face). So here again we have a creation allusion and thankfully Aaron does not lose the renewed image (Lev 10:6).
As in Exodus, Moses stands in for God. When Moses is satisfied you assume that God is too (Lev 10:20, which uses a verb meaning ‘to be good’), when Moses speaks it is the word of God (even when not explicitly said, cf. Lev 10:4, 6-7 as Wenham notes). And Moses acts as the priest until the ordination of Aaron and his sons is complete, while Aaron and his sons perform the role of the common worshiper. We should never overlook that the priests in this system were themselves needing forgiveness.
Then the death of two of Aaron’s sons near the end of this narrative is yet another reminder (after the Exodus golden-calf incident) that the priests needed to follow God’s worship regulations precisely. This is a theme we have highlighted repeatedly. In particular, the common phrase “as YHWH commanded Moses” is very prevalent in these chapters. Wenham mentions that chapter 8 closely quotes Exo 29 in order to stress their strict obedience to the commandments. Chapter 9 paraphrases Lev 1-7. The problem opening chapter 10 is that two of Aaron’s sons did something that was not commanded by God (Lev 10:1), but later in the chapter the participants do precisely what is right. This is further demonstration of the regulative principle of worship (as it has come to be known in Reformed theology). The regulative principle is that we not only forbid in worship what Scripture forbids but the only elements allowed in worship are commanded in Scripture.
We can see then how Moses points to Jesus Christ. Moses is the mediator who acts as priest until the priests are ordained. Jesus is the prophet greater than Moses who continues to ordain leaders in His church and He is a priest forever and is interceding on our behalf in the heavenly tabernacle. Jesus is the prophet like Moses whose words are the very word of God. Jesus is the priest greater than the priesthood of Aaron and his sons. Jesus is the very glory-image of the invisible God and He is the way to worship God. Jesus, the God-man, is the mediator that Moses and the priesthood foreshadowed between God and people. The main difference is that Jesus is without sin and the sacrifice of His death is once-for-all.
It is no accident that ordination services today remember our baptisms (a ceremonial washing), often include the giving of symbols of ministry (often garment related), and laying on of hands (something we have seen with the sacrifices in Leviticus). Today we have the priesthood of all believers (as well as the prophethood of all believers) but Christ still sets some apart by ordination to serve in particular ways, especially to regulate worship according to the word of God and to teach the word of God.