You Are Priests of the Lord
Today we will consider the biblical story of God’s priesthood and how this finds a fulfillment in us today. We are called priests of the Lord, but what does that really mean? How does this designation affect us today?
Priesthood in Eden
- God created many animals in the sky, in the sea, and on the land.
- Genesis 2:15 — God created man and gave him charge over all living creatures. Adam was put in the Garden of Eden to work and keep it.
- “Work and keep/guard”: exact same Hebrew words are used to describe the duties and purpose of the Levites and the priests in Numbers.
- Possible/probable: Eden is the original “temple” of God that must be guarded. However, man allows the snake and sin into the garden - the sanctity of the garden is ruined. No longer safe for God to dwell there with man (visa-versa).
Israel’s Distinction in Exodus
- Exodus 29:45-46 — God brought Israel out of Egypt so he could set his presence among them and dwell with them. Many of the descriptions of the designs in the tabernacle and the temple are very reminiscent of Eden. The same is true of the descriptions of the land of Canaan (cf. Deuteronomy 11:10-12). The Eden/temple project has been re-started.
- Exodus 19:4-6 — Many peoples, God owns the whole earth, but Israel - if obedient - will be a special possession: a kingdom of priests. Side bar: if God’s goal for all Israel is for all of them to be priests, what exactly is a priest? Consider a very big picture view of priests from two other passages.
- Hebrews 5:1-2 — priests act on behalf of men in relation to God. They represent mankind before God’s throne… bringing gifts and sacrifices to God for the people. Ensuring the gifts and sacrifices are appropriate.
- Malachi 2:6-7 — priests were to guard and preserve knowledge of the law and of the Lord. They are messengers of the Lord to turn people from sin. People should seek instruction from their mouth.
- *God desired to setup the entire nation of Israel among all peoples to function as this priesthood. What an honor they were given - to represent the people to God, and to represent God to the people. I am not sure Israel ever grasped what an honor this was. They should have fallen on their faces and asked, “Who are we that we could be your priests?” To my knowledge of their history, they never met God’s desire. (Though, possible hints with Solomon and then later with the Jews being the primary proclaimers of good news after Jesus)
Sons of Aaron As Priests
Among the people of Israel, the sons of Aaron were given the honor as serving as God’s priests to the Israelites. This honor had to be taken really seriously. The holy was taking up residence among his unholy people and that carried great dangers, so they needed to protect the people of Israel. When the first priests - Nadab and Abihu - offered profane/strange/common fire before God, they died for it. This illustrates the care required.
- With respect to sacrifices and worship, the priests had to be experts in the law. People would bring offerings and the priest had to protect the people by knowing what could and couldn’t be allowed and what sacrifices were necessary in different circumstances. They had to help the people distinguish between what was common and holy (as the priests during the days of Ezekiel failed to do).
- With respect to morality, the priests had to teach people God’s laws (cf. Malachi 2:6-7; Deuteronomy 17; 21:5; 31:9; 2 Kings 17:27-28).
- Within the camp, the Levites and the priestly families lived in tents completely surrounding the tabernacle on all sides to protect anyone unclean or foreign from approaching God (cf. Numbers).
- The priests had to be personally and completely devoted to this life. This was not a job you could check out of. They would sin, just as others would. They would have to offer sacrifices for their sins, just as others would. But, they had serious rules they had to maintain their purity for service in the priesthood. They could not bury their own dead family members; they couldn’t make weird cuts in their hair (probably greater symbolism or explanation here); they couldn’t marry anyone - had to marry a virgin; they couldn’t serve if they had any deformity or bodily uncleanness (cf. Leviticus 21-22:16). A complete life devotion and separation from what was common and unclean was required.
Some Priestly Successes
Of course, Jesus is the ultimate example of what a good priest does. Consider a few other partial human successes with the priesthood from the sons of Aaron.
- Moses (not a son of Aaron, but was a priest per Psalm 99:6): whenever the people sinned, he put himself between them and God and begged for God’s mercy toward them. In the golden calf incident, Moses told God to blot him out of his book if God would not forgive the Israelites. Those people were stubborn and rebellious, but Moses loved them with his whole life.
- Phinehas (Numbers 25): a Hebrew brought an idolatrous Midianite woman into the camp in the site of the congregation. This was a big no-no. A plague broke out among the people. Phinehas acted quickly and boldly by grabbed a spear and thrusting the man and his Midianite woman through. Still, 24,000 people died.
- Azariah and Eighty Other Priests (2 Chronicles 26:16ff): when King Uzziah wanted to offer incense to God, they stopped Uzziah even though he was quite angry about it.
King Uzziah’s anger over the priests preventing him from offering incense leads us to an important point: being a faithful priest was not easy because people don’t always like priests who stand up for the right thing. One of a few examples of this is Ahimelech and the 85 others with him in 1 Samuel 22. Ahimelech defended David before Saul, and Saul had one of his men kill Ahimelech and the 85 other priests there. Then he went to the city with the priests families nearby and killed men, women, children, and animals.
Many Priestly Failures
Though there were a number of priests who properly honored and respected the position God had put them in, many of the priests from Aaron’s lineage failed in numerous ways.
- 1 Samuel 2-4 — Eli’s sons took whatever meat of the sacrifices they wanted and they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle.
- Ezra 9-10 — priests had married foreign women.
- Isaiah 28:7 — priests were often found drunk.
- 2 Chronicles 29:34 — very few priests, not enough to properly observe the Passover, the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests.
- Many priests were greedy for unjust gain (cf. Jeremiah 6:13; 8:10; 23:11; Micah 3:11).
- Priests attacked Jeremiah when he preached God’s displeasure with Jerusalem and God’s judgment (cf. Jeremiah 20:1; 26:11).
- Many priests did not know the law, didn’t teach it, and did violence to the law in how they interpreted it to the people (cf. Jeremiah 2:8; 5:31; 11:18; Ezekiel 7:26; 22:26; Hosea 4:4-6; Zephaniah 3:4). In the days of Josiah, Hilkiah the priest FOUND the Book of the Law - it had been lost and forgotten for hundreds of years (cf. 2 Kings 22-23).
- *Obviously, God was not pleased with the state of his priesthood. So, he began looking forward to a time when he would have numerous faithful priests.
All God’s People As Priests
- Isaiah 61:6 — one day, all the people who God’s servant (Jesus) redeems will begin rebuilding and they will all be called “priests of the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 33:17-22 (vs. 22 esp.) — this is a merging of God’s covenant with Abraham (offspring like the sands of the sea), with David (a son to reign as king forever), and with the Levites. God looks forward to a day when he will multiply the offspring of David and of his priests like the sands of the seashore.
- (Ezekiel 44: God’s priests in his new temple will serve properly)
- Fulfilled (sounds much like Exodus 19:4-6)
- Revelation 5:9-10 — Jesus is our high priest, but by his sacrifice he has redeemed us from sin, death, and uncleanness and qualified us to live under God’s kingdom and to be priests of God. We cannot serve without his sacrifice.
- 1 Peter 2:9 — we are a royal priesthood to proclaim the praises of our God.
- (maybe a “not yet” future fulfillment seen in Revelation 20?)
- We have been granted a tremendous honor. Of all people on earth, God has chosen us to be his priests. We are to pray for people before God and bring God’s message to people. Who are we that we should be chosen to mediate between people and God like this? What an honor! Let’s consider three transforming conclusions/applications from this.
- Be singularly devoted to a distinct holiness (cf. example in Leviticus/Numbers, etc.).
- Often, priests were impure. Often they were lacking in dedication. They were not living out holiness and thus they were not ready to serve when God needed them.
- “Christian” means little today, so maybe thinking of ourselves as “priests” will mean something more and motivate us. Let’s ask what kind of life a priest of God should lead. What kind of life someone would lead if they were serving in the very presence of the living God - because that’s the reality. There are things priests of God should not watch or say. There are places priests of YHWH should not go. There are jobs and hours that it is not wise for priests of God to work. There are people/enemies of God priests should not associate with, befriend, date, or marry.
- Love and be gentle toward the ignorant (cf. Hebrews 5:1-2, etc.).
- Moses is not even our prime example (Jesus is), and yet, as I consider the love with which Moses loved Israel even in their hardened rebellion, I am ashamed of myself. He was so patient and so loving.
- Jesus was that example, yet so much more. He walked in our shoes and endured our temptations and our sufferings so he could sympathize with our weakness. He actually gave up his body as a sacrifice so we could be delivered from our ignorance and rebellion.
- This is the example of love we have. I fall so short of this love for the ignorant. I fall so short of this gentleness for the wayward. We must be holy, but we must be loving and gentle toward those we bring to God.
- Guard knowledge and proclaim God’s praises (cf. 1 Peter 2:9, etc.).
- It is so sad how many priests didn’t know the law and demanded a certain price before they would ever teach it.
- If we love people, we need to be experts with respect to knowing God and knowing what is pleasing to him. We are all priests of God cannot get by on the knowledge of other leaders (“I don’t know about that resurrection stuff, but John has that figured out - I’ll just trust him.” “I don’t know about that gospel stuff, but Rick knows it.”). We cannot do that.
- We must see ourselves as representatives of God who are praising God and urging others to bring their praises and gifts to him.
We are not called to pick the right religion and church and get saved and go to church so we can go to heaven and not hell. In Jesus, God took up residence among us. Through the first fruits of the Spirit, God’s presence is with us today. At the coming of Christ, Revelation speaks of a day when God will take up residence among us once again. Of all people on earth, God has chosen us to be his priests to prepare people for that day. We must urge people to be set apart for the coming of the holy one. Let us reflect a proper holiness, reverence, dedication, and joy for the honor God has given us. Let’s work and keep guard this garden. Let’s proclaim his praises to the ends of the earth.