Priesthood Primary Sources

  1. Exodus 32
  2. Numbers 16
  3. Numbers 18
  4. Numbers 25
  5. Ezekiel 44:10–16

Exodus 32

VII. Israel’s Apostasy and God’s Renewal of the Covenant

The Golden Calf. 1When the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.” 2Aaron replied, “Take off the golden earrings that your wives, your sons, and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4He received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf. Then they cried out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5On seeing this, Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast of the Lord.” 6Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought communion sacrifices. Then they sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

7Then the Lord said to Moses: Go down at once because your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly. 8They have quickly turned aside from the way I commanded them, making for themselves a molten calf and bowing down to it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” 9I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are, continued the Lord to Moses. 10Let me alone, then, that my anger may burn against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.

11But Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying, “Why, O Lord, should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he brought them out, that he might kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning wrath; change your mind about punishing your people. 13Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” 14So the Lord changed his mind about the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.

15Moses then turned and came down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, front and back. 16The tablets were made by God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17Now, when Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “That sounds like a battle in the camp.” 18But Moses answered,

“It is not the noise of victory,
    it is not the noise of defeat;
    the sound I hear is singing.”

19As he drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing. Then Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets down and broke them on the base of the mountain. 20Taking the calf they had made, he burned it in the fire and then ground it down to powder, which he scattered on the water and made the Israelites drink.

21Moses asked Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you should lead them into a grave sin?” 22Aaron replied, “Do not let my lord be angry. You know how the people are prone to evil. 23They said to me, ‘Make us a god to go before us; as for this man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ 24So I told them, ‘Whoever is wearing gold, take it off.’ They gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

25Moses saw that the people were running wild because Aaron had lost control—to the secret delight of their foes. 26Moses stood at the gate of the camp and shouted, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” All the Levites then rallied to him, 27and he told them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Each of you put your sword on your hip! Go back and forth through the camp, from gate to gate, and kill your brothers, your friends, your neighbors!” 28The Levites did as Moses had commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people fell. 29Then Moses said, “Today you are installed as priests for the Lord, for you went against your own sons and brothers, to bring a blessing upon yourselves this day.”

The Atonement. 30On the next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a grave sin. Now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I may be able to make atonement for your sin.” 31So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Ah, this people has committed a grave sin in making a god of gold for themselves! 32Now if you would only forgive their sin! But if you will not, then blot me out of the book that you have written.” 33The Lord answered Moses: Only the one who has sinned against me will I blot out of my book. 34Now, go and lead the people where I have told you. See, my angel will go before you. When it is time for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.

35Thus the Lord struck the people for making the calf, the one that Aaron made.

Numbers 16

Rebellion of Korah. 1Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and the Reubenites Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peleth, son of Reuben took 2two hundred and fifty Israelites who were leaders in the community, members of the council and men of note, and confronted Moses. 3Holding an assembly against Moses and Aaron, they said, “You go too far! The whole community, all of them, are holy; the Lord is in their midst. Why then should you set yourselves over the Lord’s assembly?”

4When Moses heard this, he fell prostrate. 5Then he said to Korah and to all his faction, “May the Lord make known tomorrow morning who belongs to him and who is the holy one and whom he will have draw near to him! The one whom he chooses, he will have draw near to him. 6Do this: take your censers, Korah and all his faction, 7and put fire in them and place incense in them before the Lord tomorrow. He whom the Lord then chooses is the holy one. You Levites go too far!”

8Moses also said to Korah, “Hear, now, you Levites! 9Are you not satisfied that the God of Israel has singled you out from the community of Israel, to have you draw near him to maintain the Lord’s tabernacle, and to attend upon the community and to serve them? 10He has allowed you and your Levite kinsmen with you to approach him, and yet you seek the priesthood too. 11It is therefore against the Lord that you and all your faction are conspiring. As for Aaron, what has he done that you should grumble against him?”

Rebellion of Dathan and Abiram. 12Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, but they answered, “We will not go. 13Are you not satisfied that you have brought us here from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us perish in the wilderness, that now you must also lord it over us? 14Far from bringing us to a land flowing with milk and honey, or giving us fields and vineyards for our inheritance, will you gouge out our eyes? No, we will not go.”

15Then Moses became very angry and said to the Lord, “Pay no attention to their offering. I have never taken a single donkey from them, nor have I wronged any one of them.”

Korah. 16Moses said to Korah, “You and all your faction shall appear before the Lord tomorrow—you and they and Aaron too. 17Then each of you take his own censer, put incense in it, and present it before the Lord, two hundred and fifty censers; and you and Aaron, each with his own censer, do the same.” 18So each of them took their censers, and laying incense on the fire they had put in them, they took their stand by the entrance of the tent of meeting along with Moses and Aaron. 19Then, when Korah had assembled all the community against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting, the glory of the Lord appeared to the entire community, 20and the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 21Stand apart from this community, that I may consume them at once. 22But they fell prostrate and exclaimed, “O God, God of the spirits of all living creatures, if one man sins will you be angry with the whole community?” 23The Lord answered Moses: 24Speak to the community and tell them: Withdraw from the area around the tent of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.

Punishment of Dathan and Abiram. 25Moses, followed by the elders of Israel, arose and went to Dathan and Abiram. 26Then he spoke to the community, “Move away from the tents of these wicked men and do not touch anything that is theirs: otherwise you too will be swept away because of all their sins.” 27So they withdrew from the area around the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. When Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing at the entrance of their tents with their wives, their children, and their little ones, 28Moses said, “This is how you shall know that the Lord sent me to do all I have done, and that it was not of my own devising: 29if these die an ordinary death, merely suffering the fate common to all humanity, the Lord has not sent me. 30But if the Lord makes a chasm, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them with all belonging to them, and they go down alive to Sheol, then you will know that these men have spurned the Lord.” 31No sooner had he finished saying all this than the ground beneath them split open, 32and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their families and all of Korah’s people with all their possessions. 33They went down alive to Sheol with all belonging to them; the earth closed over them, and they disappeared from the assembly. 34But all the Israelites near them fled at their shrieks, saying, “The earth might swallow us too!”

Punishment of Korah. 35And fire from the Lord came forth which consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.

Numbers 18

1The Lord said to Aaron: You and your sons as well as your ancestral house with you shall be responsible for any sin with respect to the sanctuary; but only you and your sons with you shall be responsible for any sin with respect to your priesthood. 2You shall also present with you your kinsmen of the tribe of Levi, your ancestral tribe, that they may be joined to you and assist you, while you and your sons with you are in front of the tent of the covenant. 3They shall discharge your obligations and those with respect to the whole tent; however, they shall not come near the utensils of the sanctuary or the altar, or else both they and you will die. 4They will be joined to you to perform the duties associated with the tent of meeting, all the labor pertaining to the tent. But no unauthorized person shall come near you. 5You shall perform the duties of the sanctuary and of the altar, that wrath may not fall again upon the Israelites.

6I hereby take your kinsmen, the Levites, from among the Israelites; they are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord for the labor they perform for the tent of meeting. 7But you and your sons with you must take care to exercise your priesthood in whatever concerns the altar and the area within the veil. I give you your priesthood as a gift. Any unauthorized person who comes near shall be put to death.

The Priests’ Share of the Sacrifices. 8The Lord said to Aaron: I hereby give to you charge of the contributions made to me, including the various holy offerings of the Israelites; I assign them to you and to your sons as a perquisite, a perpetual due. 9This is what you shall have from the oblations that are most holy: every offering of theirs—namely, all their grain offerings, purification offerings, and reparation offerings which they must return to me—shall be most holy for you and for your sons. 10You shall eat them in a most holy place; every male may partake of them. As holy, they belong to you.

11This also you shall have: the contributions that are their gifts, including the elevated offering of the Israelites; I assign them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual due. All in your household who are clean may eat them. 12I also assign to you all the best of the new oil and of the new wine and grain that they give to the Lord as their first produce that has been processed. 13The first-ripened fruits of whatever is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; all of your household who are clean may eat them. 14Whatever is under the ban in Israel shall be yours. 15Every living thing that opens the womb, human being and beast alike, such as are to be offered to the Lord, shall be yours; but you must redeem the firstborn of human beings, as well as redeem the firstborn of unclean animals. 16For the redemption price of a son, when he is a month old, you shall pay the equivalent of five silver shekels according to the sanctuary shekel, that is, twenty gerahs. 17But the firstborn of cattle, or the firstborn of sheep or the firstborn of goats you shall not redeem; they are holy. Their blood you must splash on the altar and their fat you must burn as an oblation of pleasing aroma to the Lord. 18Their meat, however, shall be yours, just as the brisket of the elevated offering and the right thigh belong to you. 19As a perpetual due I assign to you and to your sons and daughters with you all the contributions of holy things which the Israelites set aside for the Lord; this is a covenant of salt to last forever before the Lord, for you and for your descendants with you. 20Then the Lord said to Aaron: You shall not have any heritage in their land nor hold any portion among them; I will be your portion and your heritage among the Israelites.

Tithes Due the Levites. 21To the Levites, however, I hereby assign all tithes in Israel as their heritage in recompense for the labor they perform, the labor pertaining to the tent of meeting. 22The Israelites may no longer approach the tent of meeting, thereby incurring the penalty of death. 23Only the Levites are to perform the labor pertaining to the tent of meeting, and they shall incur the penalty for the Israelites’ sin; this is a permanent statute for all your generations. But they shall not have any heritage among the Israelites, 24for I have assigned to the Levites as their heritage the tithes which the Israelites put aside as a contribution to the Lord. That is why I have said, they will not have any heritage among the Israelites.

Tithes Paid by the Levites. 25The Lord said to Moses: 26Speak to the Levites and say to them: When you take from the Israelites the tithes I have assigned you from them as your heritage, you are to make a contribution from them to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe; 27and your contribution will be credited to you as if it were grain from the threshing floor or new wine from the vat. 28Thus you too shall make a contribution to the Lord from all the tithes you take from the Israelites, handing over to Aaron the priest the contribution to the Lord. 29From all the gifts to you, you shall make every contribution due to the Lord—from their best parts, that is the part to be consecrated from them.

30Say to them also: Once you have made your contribution from the best part, the rest of the tithe will be credited to the Levites as if it were produce of the threshing floor or the produce of the vat. 31You and your households may eat it anywhere, since it is your recompense in exchange for labor in the tent of meeting. 32You will incur no punishment when you contribute the best part of it. But do not profane the holy offerings of the Israelites or else you shall die.

Numbers 25

Worship of Baal of Peor. 1While Israel was living at Shittim, the people profaned themselves by prostituting themselves with the Moabite women. 2These then invited the people to the sacrifices of their god, and the people ate of the sacrifices and bowed down to their god. 3Israel thereby attached itself to the Baal of Peor, and the Lord’s anger flared up against Israel. 4The Lord said to Moses: Gather all the leaders of the people, and publicly execute them before the Lord, that the blazing wrath of the Lord may turn away from Israel. 5So Moses told the Israelite judges, “Each of you kill those of his men who have attached themselves to the Baal of Peor.”

Zeal of Phinehas. 6At this a certain Israelite came and brought in a Midianite woman to his kindred in the view of Moses and of the whole Israelite community, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7When Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he rose up from the assembly, and taking a spear in his hand, 8followed the Israelite into the tent where he pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman. Thus the plague upon the Israelites was checked; 9but the dead from the plague were twenty-four thousand.

10Then the Lord said to Moses: 11Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned my anger from the Israelites by his being as jealous among them as I am; that is why I did not put an end to the Israelites in my jealousy. 12Announce, therefore, that I hereby give him my covenant of peace, 13which shall be for him and for his descendants after him the covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was jealous on behalf of his God and thus made expiation for the Israelites.

14The name of the slain Israelite, the one slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri, son of Salu, prince of a Simeonite ancestral house. 15The name of the slain Midianite woman was Cozbi, daughter of Zur, who was head of a clan, an ancestral house, in Midian.

Vengeance on the Midianites. 16The Lord then said to Moses: 17Treat the Midianites as enemies and strike them, 18for they have been your enemies by the deceitful dealings they had with you regarding Peor and their kinswoman Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite prince, who was slain at the time of the plague because of Peor.

Ezekiel 44:10–16

Levites. 10As for the Levites who went far away from me when Israel strayed from me after their idols, they will bear the consequences of their sin. 11They will serve in my sanctuary only as gatekeepers and temple servants; they will slaughter burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people. They will stand before the people to serve them. 12Because they used to serve them before their idols, thus becoming a stumbling block to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn an oath against them, says the Lord God, and they will bear the consequences of their sin. 13They shall no longer come near to serve as my priests, nor shall they touch any of my sacred things or my most sacred offerings, for they must bear their shame, the abominations they committed. 14Instead I will make them responsible for the service of the temple and all its work, for everything that must be done in it.

Priests. 15As for the levitical priests, sons of Zadok, who took charge of my sanctuary when the Israelites strayed from me, they may approach me to serve me and stand before me to offer the fat and the blood—oracle of the Lord God. 16They may enter my sanctuary; they may approach my table to serve me and carry out my service.