Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel; Entrance of Aaron and his Sons upon their Office. - Lev 9:1-7. On the eighth day, i.e., on the day after the seven days' consecration, Aaron and his sons entered upon their duties with a solemn sacrifice for themselves and the nation, to which the Lord had made Himself known by a special revelation of His glory, to bear solemn witness before the whole nation that their service at the altar was acceptable to Him, and to impress the divine seal of confirmation upon the consecration they had received. To this end Aaron and his sons were to bring to the front of the tabernacle a young calf as a sin-offering for themselves, and a ram for a burnt-offering; and the people were to bring through their elders a he-goat for a sin-offering, a yearling calf and yearling sheep for a burnt-offering, and an ox and ram for a peace-offering, together with a meat-offering of meal mixed with oil; and the congregation (in the persons of its elders) was to stand there before Jehovah, i.e., to assemble together at the sanctuary for the solemn transaction (Lev 9:1-5). If, according to this, even after the manifold expiation and consecration, which Aaron had received through Moses during the seven days, he had still to enter upon his service with a sin-offering and burnt-offering, this fact clearly showed that the offerings of the law could not ensure perfection (Heb 10:1.). It is true that on this occasion a young calf was sufficient for a sin-offering for the priests, not a mature ox as in Lev 8:14 and Lev 4:3; and so also for the burnt-offerings and peace-offerings of the people smaller sacrifices sufficed, either smaller in kind or fewer in number than at the leading feasts (Num 28:11.). Nevertheless, not one of the three sacrifices could be omitted; and if no special peace-offering was required of Aaron, this may be accounted for from the fact, that the whole of the sacrificial ceremony terminated with a national peace-offering, in which the priests took part, uniting in this instance with the rest of the nation in the celebration of a common sacrificial meal, to make known their oneness with them.
After everything had been prepared for the solemn ceremony, Moses made known to the assembled people what Jehovah had commanded them to do in order that His glory might appear (see at Exo 16:10). Aaron was to offer the sacrifices that had been brought for the reconciliation of himself and the nation.
Accordingly, he offered first of all the sin-offering and burnt-offering for himself, and then (Lev 9:15-21) the offerings of the people. The sin-offering always went first, because it served to remove the estrangement of man from the holy God arising from sin, by means of the expiation of the sinner, and to clear away the hindrances to his approach to God. Then followed the burnt-offering, as an expression of the complete surrender of the person expiated to the Lord; and lastly the peace-offering, on the one hand as the utterance of thanksgiving for mercy received, and prayer for its further continuance, and on the other hand, as a seal of covenant fellowship with the Lord in the sacrificial meal. But when Moses says in Lev 9:7, that Aaron is to make atonement for himself and the nation with his sin-offering and burnt-offering, the atoning virtue which Aaron's sacrifice was to have for the nation also, referred not to sins which the people had committed, but to the guilt which the high priest, as the head of the whole congregation, had brought upon the nation by his sin (Lev 4:3). In offering the sacrifices, Aaron was supported by his sons, who handed him the blood to sprinkle, and the sacrificial portions to burn upon the altar. The same course was adopted with Aaron's sin-offering (Lev 9:8-11) as Moses had pursued with the sin-offering at the consecration of the priests (Lev 8:14-17). The blood was not taken into the sanctuary, but only applied to the horns of the altar of burnt-offering; because the object was not to expiate some particular sin of Aaron's, but to take away the sin which might make his service on behalf of the congregation displeasing to God; and the communion of the congregation with the Lord was carried on at the altar of burnt-offering. The flesh and skin of the animal were burnt outside the camp, as in the case of all the sin-offerings for the priesthood (Lev 4:11-12).
The burnt-offering was presented according to the general rule (Lev 1:3-9), as in Lev 8:18-21. המציא (Lev 9:12): to cause to attain; here, and in Lev 9:18, to present, hand over. לנתחיה, according to its pieces, into which the burnt-offering was divided (Lev 1:6), and which they offered to Aaron one by one. No meat-offering was connected with Aaron's burnt-offerings, partly because the law contained in Num 15:2. had not yet been given, but more especially because Aaron had to bring the special meat-offering commanded in Lev 6:13, and had offered this in connection with the morning burnt-offering mentioned in Lev 9:17; though this offering, as being a constant one, and not connected with the offerings especially belonging to the consecration of the priests, is not expressly mentioned.
Of the sacrifices of the nation, Aaron presented the sin-offering in the same manner as the first, i.e., the one offered for himself (Lev 9:8.). The blood of this sin-offering, which was presented for the congregation, was not brought into the holy place according to the rule laid down in Lev 7:16., but only applied to the horns of the altar of burnt-offering; for the same reason as in the previous case (Lev 9:8.), viz., because the object was not to expiate any particular sin, or the sins of the congregation that had been committed in the course of time and remained unatoned for, but simply to place the sacrificial service of the congregation in its proper relation to the Lord. Aaron was reproved by Moses, however, for having burned the flesh (Lev 10:16.), but was able to justify it (see at Lev 10:16-20). The sin-offering (Lev 9:16) was also offered "according to the right" (as in Lev 5:10). Then followed the meat-offering (Lev 9:17), of which Aaron burned a handful upon the altar (according to the rule in Lev 2:1-2). He offered this in addition to the morning burnt-offering (Exo 29:39), to which a meat-offering also belonged (Exo 29:40), and with which, according to Lev 6:12., the special meat-offering of the priests was associated. Last of all (Lev 9:18-21) there followed the peace-offering, which was also carried out according to the general rule. In המכסּה, "the covering" (Lev 9:19), the two fat portions mentioned in Lev 3:3 are included. The fat portions were laid upon the breast-pieces by the sons of Aaron, and then handed by them to Aaron, the fat to be burned upon the altar, the breast to be waved along with the right leg, according to the instructions in Lev 7:30-36. The meat-offering of pastry, which belonged to the peace-offering according to Lev 7:12-13, is not specially mentioned.
When the sacrificial ceremony was over, Aaron blessed the people from the altar with uplifted hands (cf. Num 6:22.), and then came down: sc., from the bank surrounding the altar, upon which he had stood while offering the sacrifice (see at Exo 27:4-5).
After this Moses went with him into the tabernacle, to introduce him into the sanctuary, in which he was henceforth to serve the Lord, and to present him to the Lord: not to offer incense, which would undoubtedly have been mentioned; nor yet for the special purpose of praying for the manifestation of the glory of Jehovah, although there can be no doubt that they offered prayer in the sanctuary, and prayed for the blessing of the Lord for the right discharge of the office entrusted to them in a manner well-pleasing to Him. On coming out again they united in bestowing that blessing upon the people which they had solicited for them in the sanctuary. "Then the glory of Jehovah appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the face of Jehovah and consumed the burnt-offering and fat portions upon the altar" (i.e., the sin and peace-offerings, not the thank-offerings merely, as Knobel supposes, according to his mistaken theory). The appearance of the glory of Jehovah is probably to be regarded in this instance, and also in Num 16:19; Num 17:7, and Num 20:6, as the sudden flash of a miraculous light, which proceeded from the cloud that covered the tabernacle, probably also from the cloud in the most holy place, or as a sudden though very momentary change of the cloud, which enveloped the glory of the Lord, into a bright light, from which the fire proceeded in this instance in the form of lightning, and consumed the sacrifices upon the altar. The fire issued "from before the face of Jehovah," i.e., from the visible manifestation of Jehovah. It did not come down from heaven, like the fire of Jehovah, which consumed the sacrifices of David and Solomon (Ch1 21:26; Ch2 7:1).
The Rabbins believe that this divine fire was miraculously sustained upon the altar until the building of Solomon's temple, at the dedication of which it fell from heaven afresh, and then continued until the restoration of the temple-worship under Manasseh (Ch2 33:16; cf. Buxtorf exercitatt. ad histor. ignis sacri, c. 2); and the majority of them maintain still further, that it continued side by side with the ordinary altar-fire, which was kindled by the priests (Lev 1:7), and, according to Lev 6:6, kept constantly burning by them. The earlier Christian expositors are for the most part of opinion, that the heavenly fire, which proceeded miraculously from God and burned the first sacrifices of Aaron, was afterwards maintained by the priests by natural means (see J. Marckii sylloge diss. philol. theol. ex. vi. ad Lev 6:13). But there is no foundation in the Scriptures for either of these views. There is not a syllable about any miraculous preservation of the heavenly fire by the side of the fire which the priests kept burning by natural means. And even the modified opinion of the Christian theologians, that the heavenly fire was preserved by natural means, rests upon the assumption, which there is nothing to justify, that the sacrifices offered by Aaron were first burned by the fire which issued from Jehovah, and therefore that the statements in the text, with reference to the burning of the fat portions and burnt-offerings, or causing them to ascend in smoke (Lev 9:10, Lev 9:13, Lev 9:17, and Lev 9:20), are to be regarded as anticipations (per anticipationem accipienda, C. a Lap.), i.e., are to be understood as simply meaning, that when Aaron officiated at the different sacrifices, he merely laid upon the altar the pieces intended for it, but without setting them on fire. The fallacy of this is proved, not only by the verb הקטיר but by the fact implied in Lev 9:17, that the offering of these sacrifices, with which Aaron entered upon his office, was preceded by the daily morning burnt-offering, and consequently that at the time when Aaron began to carry out the special sacrifices of this day there was fire already burning upon the altar, and in fact a continual fire, that was never to be allowed to go out (Lev 6:6). Even, therefore, if we left out of view the fire of the daily morning and evening sacrifice, which had been offered from the first day on which the tabernacle was erected (Exo 40:29), there were sacrifices presented every day during the seven days of the consecration of the priests (ch. 8); and according to Lev 1:7, Moses must necessarily have prepared the fire for these. If it had been the intention of God, therefore, to originate the altar-fire by supernatural means, this would no doubt have taken place immediately after the erection of the tabernacle, or at least at the consecration of the altar, which was connected with that of the priests, and immediately after it had been anointed (Lev 8:11). But as God did not do this, the burning of the altar-sacrifices by a fire which proceeded from Jehovah, as related in this verse, cannot have been intended to give a sanction to the altar-fire as having proceeded from God Himself, which was to be kept constantly burning, either by miraculous preservation, or by being fed in a natural way. The legends of the heathen, therefore, about altar-fires which had been kindled by the gods themselves present no analogy to the fact before us (cf. Serv. ad Aen. xii. 200; Solin. v. 23; Pausan. v. 27, 3; Bochart, Hieroz. lib. ii. c. 35, pp. 378ff.; Dougtaei analect. ss. pp. 79ff.).
The miracle recorded in this verse did not consist in the fact that the sacrificial offerings placed upon the altar were burned by fire which proceeded from Jehovah, but in the fact that the sacrifices, which were already on fire, were suddenly consumed by it. For although the verb תּאכל admits of both meanings, setting on fire and burning up (see Jdg 6:21, and Kg1 18:38), the word literally denotes consuming or burning up, and must be taken in the stricter and more literal sense in the case before us, inasmuch as there was already fire upon the altar when the sacrifices were placed upon it. God caused this miracle, not to generate a supernatural altar-fire, but ut ordinem sacerdotalem legis veteris a se institutum et suas de sacrificio leges hoc miraculo confirmaret et quasi obsignaret (C. a Lap.), or to express it bore briefly, to give a divine consecration to the altar, or sacrificial service of Aaron and his sons, through which a way was to be opened for the people to His throne of grace, and whereby, moreover, the altar-fire was consecrated eo ipso into a divine, i.e., divinely appointed, means of reconciliation to the community. The whole nation rejoiced at this glorious manifestation of the satisfaction of God with this the first sacrifice of the consecrated priests, and fell down upon their faces to give thanks to the Lord for His mercy.