Chapter 1: Introducing Kings and Priests
Kings and Priests of the Bible is a sequel to Prophets of the Bible. The latter was a monumental labour of love and, while the former is also a labour of love, based on a lifetime of studying the Bible and listening to them who know what they were talking about concerning Kings and Priests, it is unlikely to turn out to be quite so monumental, at least in terms of number of words written, but we shall see; for we have only just begun! A lot of the Prophets book was to do with setting the scene and providing historical and cultural context, so to speak, and will only be repeated in brief summary form here, and there will also be less going off on tangents and down rabbit holes. Ideally, readers of this book should read the Prophets book first, although when it comes to background material that is particularly pertinent to Kings and Priests, when this is identified, the author will provide it as best he can.
Just as with the Prophets, this Kings and Priests book will be Old Testament focussed, and for a very good reason – this was the period when the vast majority of kings and priests of the Bible can be found. While tribal elders and civil servant types had important roles, Prophets, Priest and Kings, were the dominant figures. It has a nice ring about it, not least because we find in Jesus that all three offices were perfectly combined (as we will discuss in Chapter 10). While often operating in tandem in OT days, those roles were meant to be complementary, but often not done in perfect harmony. At least, that was until the NT when Jesus came to planet Earth. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” John 1:1,14. But as we, who have the benefit of hindsight, were to be reminded: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” John 1:11, for Israel was to reject their prophet, priest and king Messiah.
Concerning this book, as far as the OT and in particular the nation of Israel is concerned, the focus of our attention will be on a two thousand period when one or other of these offices dominated. While we will have something to say about the period before, our story begins when God called Abraham (Genesis 12) to be the Father of a great and specially chosen nation. The nation grew from him, then Isaac, Jacob (the Patriarchs) and Jacob’s twelve sons, living in but not possessing the Promised Land, until some four hundred years later when it numbered well over a million, it was led out from Egypt by Moses, a prophet, where they had settled, to go and possess the land God promised Abraham. If we divide the period into four roughly equal parts, we see Patriarchs, Prophets, Kings and Priests all having important parts to play, often occurring at the same time, but in terms of dominance we have:
- 500 years – Abraham to the Exodus – Patriarchs
- 500 years – Exodus to Saul – Prophets
- 500 years – Saul to the Exile – Kings
- 500 years – Exile to Jesus – Priests
We will consider the named and unnamed kings and priests, and the intention is, just as we did with the prophets, to cover the vast majority of them, even the more obscure ones. While most of the kings we will refer to will be by name (at least as far as Israel is concerned) and with a story to tell, even if a relatively minor one, in many cases, as far as priests were concerned, the priestly office was a lot more significant than whoever filled that office. While we will consider many kings, not of Israel, because the Bible does so, the priests mentioned in the Bible were mainly confined to Israel, even though the other nations had their religion and therefore priests to go with it. While most of the kings identified were from the twelve tribes of Israel, notably Judah (with priests exclusively from the tribe of Levi), in the case of kings in particular, the part played by kings of other nations was also often significant.
It is worth bearing in mind that the Bible is mostly concerned about God and his interaction with his creation and, in particular, the nation of Israel (Old Testament) and the Church (New Testament) although never replacing Israel. Named individuals were mainly of interest because of the part they played in advancing (or not) God’s plans and purposes. We do so mindful that the lessons we learn from studying the lives of kings and priests of the Bible are meant for our spiritual edification, just as 2 Timothy 2:16-17 reminds us. One of the many wonderful aspects of the Bible is that it tells us what God deems important, usually from His perspective, and it does so with outright honesty, such that character flaws in even the best examples of king or priesthood can be clearly seen.
One interesting feature of kings were those who were good and those bad, including the good becoming bad and the bad good. Also noteworthy is kings of the Bible, even if appointed by popular consent, as well as most who were the next in line because of birth, were usually powerful and autocratic. While some were benevolent, many were not. This had a bearing how their kingdom fared. It took Israel 1000 years before it got its first king and while kings were the norm in Bible times, it was not God’s intention for Israel to have a king, other than Him, who was far better than any earthly king.
An attempt at defining what was a true prophet of God (YHWH) was attempted in Prophets of the Bible and turned out (at least in this author’s experience) as more involved than is often commonly recognised, but in essence it was about conveying to the people what God was telling them through the prophet including what was to happen in the future. The same exercise concerning priests is easier as their roles and responsibilities were well defined, as discussed in detail in Chapters 3 and 4. Given God made clear what he wanted in giving the Law, the Priest’s role was to carry out and ensure carried out the Law’s specific requirements, and when that did not happen or God had something special to tell the people, the Prophet had an important role to play. As for kings, as we will see in Chapter 2, they were around from the early chapters of Genesis but did not rule over Israel until the time of Saul, discussed in Chapter 5. In effect, kings ruled over anything from small cities to great empires.
This book is divided, for reasons of convenience, into twelve chapters, albeit not equal in length, given that the Bible has a lot to say in particular concerning the kings of Israel and also of Judah (following the division of the kingdom of Israel, soon after the death of Solomon), but with the intention of systematically covering what the author wanted to share, bearing in mind the need to personally apply what we learn from our study of the kings and priests of the Bible. One lesson to consider in our final chapter is the important notion (in God’s eyes) of kings and priests applying to Israel and the Church.
Chapter 1: Introducing Kings and Priests (this chapter)
Chapter 2: Kings and Priests: from Genesis to Judges
Chapter 3: Israel: Law, Covenant and Tabernacle
Chapter 4: Levi and Aaron
Chapter 5: Saul, David and Solomon
Chapter 6: Kings of Israel
Chapter 7: Kings of Judah
Chapter 8: Priests after the Exodus
Chapter 9: Kings not of Israel, not covered earlier
Chapter 10: King and Priest: Melchizedek and Jesus
Chapter 11: Kings and Priests: New Testament and now
Chapter 12: Drawing lessons and applying them