Tezavveh & Zakhor
For the week of March 7, 2009 / 11 Adar 5769
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 27:20 - 30:10;
Devarim / Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 15:2-34

Putting It On

For Aaron's sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty. And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. You shall make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked flesh. They shall reach from the hips to the thighs; and they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die. This shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him. (Shemot / Exodus 28:40-43; ESV)

My wife and I were recently treated to a two-night getaway at a lovely manor in the country. The high-quality restaurant had a dress code for the evening meal. It has always struck me how the putting on of nicer clothes makes such a difference in how we feel about ourselves and our surroundings, as well as on how others relate to us.

Years ago I had a friend who was a taxi driver. The company he worked for didn't impose a particular standard of dress, but when he started wearing suits; his customers began to treat him differently, calling him "Sir" for example.

I don't think that the wearing of nice clothes made my wife and I or my friend different people. Wearing nice clothes or a uniform doesn't transform a person into something he or she is not. At the same time how we present ourselves does communicate something about ourselves. It could be anything from our economic situation, the people group to which we belong, our likes and preferences, or our desires and intentions. Of course it is possible that what we wear may not be consistent with who we really are. If I wore a police uniform in public, I would be giving the false impression that I was a police officer. On the other hand, when a police officer wears a uniform, it not only communicates to others his authority, but reminds him to behave accordingly. The uniform communicates something whether it be true or false.

In the days of the Mishkan and the Temple, the priests were required to wear special clothing whenever they performed their duties. To fail to do so would have resulted in dire circumstances. It is not as if they were priests on the basis of their clothing. Not wearing their priestly garments would not make them less of who they were. Still, their clothing was a necessary part of their performing their priestly duty. Priests not only played a special role in the community, they had to look the part as well. They physically and mentally could have performed their duties in regular clothing, but they could not truly represent their position if they didn't take the time to put on their special priestly clothes.

One of the contrasts between the Old and New Covenants is a shift of emphasis from external forms to internal reality. Under both covenants what God is seeking to communicate both to and through us is very much the same, but how he does so is quite different. With the coming of the Messiah and the loss of the Levitical priesthood due to the destruction of the Temple, the external elements of worship and service to God have been internalized in those who trust and follow the Messiah. What was at one time necessary through things such as clothing and other objects is now experienced in and through the living out of our day-to-day lives.

As the priests had to purposely put on special clothing to fulfill their special role in the world, so we too must do the same, but not literally. Rather we are to purposely apply the elements of a godly lifestyle to our behavior (see Colossians 3:1-17). While it is not our deeds that make us God's children, godly living requires decisive, purposeful actions similar to the putting on of special clothing.

At times purposely putting on godly behavior can feel like play acting - more like a costume than a uniform. Being kind, generous, disciplined, and merciful - to name a few godly traits - may not seem natural to us. But we shouldn't think that just because we possess the inner reality of God's presence in our lives that godly behavior will automatically spring forth without our participation. It is similar to dressing up to eat in a fancy restaurant. If it is something we haven't done before or only done on rare occasions, it could feel quite strange. But it's not about feelings. Once we realize that we, like the priests of old, have a special place in the world, then we also realize that it requires our putting on special behavior.

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