“When the fire has consumed the burnt offering on the altar, the cohen, having put on his linen garment and covered himself with his linen shorts, is to remove the ashes and put them beside the altar. Then he is to remove those garments and put on others, before carrying the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.“-Leviticus 6:3-4
Concerning the priestly procedures for the morning and evening OLAH, we are provided an interesting detail.
While performing the first part of his duty consisting of removing the ashes and stoking the altar fire in the morning, the priest was to wear the typical outfit of white linen garments.
We are told he has to remove the ashes from the burnt offering and neatly pile them up besides the Brazen Altar.
However, we are next told that BEFORE transporting the ash heap to another location designated as a “clean place”, the priest is to change into another set of garments.
Why was it necessary for the priest to have to change his clothing?
Most folks would probably assume that it was simply to prevent the ashes from dirtying the priestly garments.
While that may have been part of it, that wasn’t the main reason.
The main reason has to do with that one little but oh so important phrase we studied earlier in great detail: OUTSIDE THE CAMP.
Recall that during the days of the Wilderness Tabernacle, “outside the camp” referred to an area beyond where all the hundreds of thousands of tents of Israel resided.
The tents were set up in a circular pattern around the Tabernacle.
So OUTSIDE of this area, there was one little spot considered “clean” where the priest dumped the ashes.
Keep in mind that when I say “clean”, I mean “not defiled” or “common”.
This spot where the ashes were dumped was not holy but it wasn’t unclean either, a distinction that we will be getting into soon.
So getting back to my main point, the priest was to wear his official priestly garments only INSIDE the camp of Israel because if he wore them OUTSIDE the camp, there was great danger his garments could become defiled.
So this was the reason for changing clothes: to prevent defilement.
Now one interesting incidental tidbit is that the priests were to wear garments woven from the highest quality and most expensive fine linen (some of the items also had wool mixed in with them).
How did this ragtag mob of desert wanderers who were not too long ago slaves get a hold of this fine linen?
This point reveals much about the lifestyle of the Israelites during their wilderness sojourn.
During the Exodus, the Israelites actually did an awful lot of trading and conducting of business with the surrounding nations.
Egyptian, Canaanite, and Hittite records testify to this fact.
Keep in mind that the population of Israel was about 3 million people and it wasn’t like they moved constantly.
They usually stayed in one spot for at least a year and depending on the location sometimes even longer.
There weren’t too many locations that provided suitable pasture for the animals, plains large enough to camp in, and an abundant water supply to meet all of the people’s needs.
And it wasn’t like the surrounding nations weren’t aware of Israel’s existence.
There’s no way you can hide the whereabouts of a moving population of about 3 million people.
Now here’s another point I think a lot of people overlook.
Although formerly slaves, when Israel left Egypt, they left rich.
Recall that they had been given literally tons and tons of gold and silver when they left Egypt.
So in addition to the animals they used to barter for necessary household goods and the items needed for sacrificial purposes, they also had plenty of precious metals with which to purchase linen with, a common item sold by traders at the time.