Kings and priests of the Bible

My major project for the next few months is to write another book that few will read but for those who do (hopefully) they will be blessed. Here is the draft of the first chapter …

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 following them who know what they were talking about when it came to 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, that is just as applicable when we consider Kings and Priests, and will only be repeated in brief summary form here, and with less going off on tangents and down rabbit holes. Also, prophets not only did stuff but they said a lot that is worth noting and weighing. While kings and priests spoke, the words the Bible recorded is relatively few and it is their actions that particularly interest us. 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 or at least say where this can be found.

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, Kings and Priests were the dominant figures. While modern society has its own professional class, such as doctors, teachers and lawyers, one gets the impression that in Ancient Israel many of these functions were discharged by priests. Prophets, kings and priests have 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), who did and will do what is required in the way God intended. While often operating in tandem in OT days, those roles were meant to be complementary, although often were 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, have been 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. As a significant aside, the first eleven chapters of Genesis also covered a two-thousand-year period (according to Bishop Ussher, it began October 23, 4004 BC, when God created “the heavens and the earth”) and can be seen as a seedbed for what is to follow, right to the end of the Book of Revelation. While we have something to say about this period, our story truly begins when God called Abraham (Genesis 12) to be the Father of a great, specially chosen nation, but even before Abraham there were prophets, priests and kings. The nation grew from him, through Isaac, Jacob (the Patriarchs) and Jacob’s twelve sons, living in but not possessing the Promised Land and then Egypt, until 430 years later when it numbered well over a million, was led out from Egypt, where they had settled, by Moses, a prophet, to go 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, and were often operating at the same time, in terms of dominance as far as Israel goes, 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, although it is noted that there are many mentioned only in passing but, since these are mentioned, the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible deemed it significant. While most of the kings we will refer to will be by name, when recorded (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 usually priests to go with it. While most of the kings identified were from the twelve tribes of Israel, notably Judah (with priests exclusively meant to be from the tribe of Levi), in the case of kings in particular, the part played by kings of other nations was also often significant. Often more significant were the kingdoms these kings ruled over, and a view will be taken how much to cover.

Finding out about ancient kingdoms is just as significant as the kings that ruled over these, who are either mentioned directly in the Bible and more often indirectly. To do so with sufficient justice is a huge undertaking and beyond the scope of this book, even though there is much in the public domain and through the Internet that can aid our investigations. The author began to do so in his Prophets of the Bible book and will continue to do so in this book, when considered helpful to the subject in hand. As an entrée into our investigation is the central focus, of the Old Testament at least, of Israel, which replaced and sometimes existed side by side some of the land often referred to as Canaan. For all sorts of reasons, the land of Canaan assumes huge strategic importance during the times we are about to consider, not just the lands surrounding it (with their kings) but the empires, such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, all having designs on controlling Canaan’s land and Israel. The author will do what he can to explain the relevance of this, without going anywhere near deep enough.

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 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 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 and like us all were a mixture of good and bad. In fact, good and bad could be regarded as two ends of a continuum and only God can say where each lay. Also noteworthy are kings of the Bible, even if appointed by popular consent, as well as most who happened to be the next in line because their father was king, were usually powerful and autocratic. While some were benevolent, many were not; some were strong and some weak; some exercised a lot of power and authority and some did not; some prospered and some did 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 for all nations other than that of Israel, in Bible times, it was not God’s intention for Israel to have a king, other than Him who, if only they could see it, was far better than any earthly king, especially with all their demands on their subjects. Before Saul, Israel was led by tribal elders aided by prophets and priests.

As fascinating (at least to this author) kings and priests and what was happening around them at the time are, the reason we study them is because it is instructive to do so. As our text reminds us, we who are men (and women) of God might thereby be furnished unto all good works. And one more thing to point out, is the Bible is selective in what it tells us. While outside the remit of this book, much can be gleaned studying other e.g. historical sources. One of the beautiful things about the Bible is it is a true account, and such study reinforces what it teaches. Even so, knowing only so much can be frustrating when we want to know more and may resort to the temptation faced by many a preacher of speculation in order to fill gaps in knowledge. In fact, this is the same challenge all historians have to face. But then the Bible is not about kings and priests but rather it is about God and His dealings with humankind and how we ought to respond. Besides missing details we might love to know, some of what we read is X-rated, albeit not gratuitous, i.e. containing scenes of sex and violence, but remember, it is meant to help us understand God and His ways better and draw us closer to Him.  

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) to be a lot more involved than is 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, but not to be ignored is God revealing what he thought about things going on. The same exercise concerning priests is easier as their roles and responsibilities were well defined, which is discussed in more 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 (chapters 6 and 7 are particularly large because there are so many kings and so much to say about them with the challenge of having to be selective in what to say), 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. Because the Bible is not set out chronologically, it is inevitable this book darts backwards and forward. One lesson to consider in our final chapter is how (in God’s eyes) kings and priests affect not just Israel but also the Church (the author’s special focus).

Today, we have kings, loads of them, with that of Israel seemingly relatively unimportant. As for the job spec and significance of the kings of the Bible, often it does not say – they just appear, play their part in the narrative, exercise varying degrees of influence and authority, then die or disappear, to be replaced by another. The kings of today are a whole lot different to Bible times – or are they? Given there is nothing new under the sun, we could conclude, other than the packaging, nothing has changed. Conspiracy theorist types might reckon many are mere puppets of even more powerful entities that pull the strings and looming in the background is the “Babylonian system” introduced in Genesis 11 with Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, referred to by prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel and finally in Revelation 13, 17 and 18 when all is revealed and we see how God wins in the end. Then there is the veneer of democracy when in theory the people decide who is to rule over them and determine various checks and balances, while the reality is a hidden hand linked to the Babylon system that truly calls the shots and God’s people need to be faithful and overcome. And then there is the theological question of our submitting to authority (or not) and what to make of passages like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, especially when the Judeo-Christian consensus that those of us living in the West had once taken for granted and taken comfort in has been replaced by something that is sinister.

As for priests, the central focus in Bible times was the Temple (and before that, the Tabernacle), with priests coming into their own (at least as far as Israel was concerned) when there was one and hardly mentioned when not, and unlike with kings, having clearly defined roles. But what about when there was no Temple, e.g. during the Exile and after AD 70, including the future? Whether we recognise it or not, most Christians defer to priests even when not fully sanctioned in the NT. They could either be those titled priests, as with Anglicans or Catholics, or pastors or ministers, as with the rest. What part do priests today play and what is the scriptural position? All of the points raised in thus far will be considered further in Chapters 11 and 12, but first we need to lay out the chapters of this book …

Chapter 1: Introducing Kings and Priests (this chapter)

Chapter 2: Kings and Priests: from Genesis to Judges

Chapter 3: Israel: Law, Covenant, Tabernacle and Priesthood

Chapter 4: Levi, Aaron and their families

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 previously

Chapter 10: King and Priest: Melchizedek and Jesus

Chapter 11: Kings and Priests: New Testament and now

Chapter 12: Drawing lessons and applying them today

Finally, a few words about how reading this book can be approached. Firstly, dividing it into chapters, and sections in chapters, presented challenges, but it needed to happen and this is the best we could come up with. Just as with the prophets, kings and priests are all over the place and often can be slotted in, in different sections, such that reader forbearance is appreciated. To identify a lot of the subject matter, the author did keyword searches e.g. “king” and “priest”. For the most important source was the Bible and, while extra biblical material is referred to in order to strengthen the content, the Bible was the main and, importantly, by far more relevant than other sources used. It also carries a weight and authority that other sources do not – it is divinely inspired! While the KJV may not be divinely inspired, it is the version used when quoting from the Bible. It is recommended, it be used along with other versions or even, if appropriate, the original languages or use of lexicons. In chapters 2 to 11 especially, readers may gain added benefit by reading the relevant sections beforehand and then in tandem with what is written here (including doing word searches on the online KJV Bible).

Arguably, the presence and contribution of prophets, kings and priests dominates much of the OT story, such that if we were to ignore such, we would end up having little left. We have already dealt with prophets in Prophets of the Bible but will need to revisit the subject in this book because of how they interacted with kings and priests, which was significant. After all, much prophecy was directed at kings or at least the kingdoms over which they ruled. As far as Israel was concerned, this was a good relationship when kings were godly, but often that was not the case and Israel reaped the consequences. Often, the kings in terms of whether good or bad reflected how it was with those they ruled over. As for priests, their role was quite different but also complementary. Priests, in effect, represented God to the people and the people to God. The prophets’ job was often delivering a “Thus saith the Lord” type word; telling the people things God wanted them to heed. Just as we see today’s “prophets” are often spurned by the priestly class, the same could be said for ancient Israel.

We look forward to the return of the King (Jesus) when the offices of prophet, king and priest will be discharged through Him in perfect harmony. In fact, just as the OT looks forward to the coming of the Messiah (Jesus, if only the Jewish people had realised it) the NT looks forward to the coming again of the Messiah, which is our great hope. Concerning prophetic and priestly perspectives, a richer more balanced understanding of the Bible, particularly the OT, will be gained if we consider both as valid and, moreover, complementary. For example, the books of Kings and Chronicles cover events in the same period and, while some overlap, bring out different points. One explanation for this is the former was written by a prophet and the latter by a priest (likely Ezra) and were focussing on different things. This only goes to enrich our Bible study experience, especially if our goal is to see things in God’s eyes.

While we will return to the relationship between prophets, kings and priests in our final chapter, it is worth setting a marker given that we live in a day when there is the modern-day equivalent of kings, often with varying degrees of autocracy and benevolence, and depending on one’s theological outlook, it may be argued that true prophets of God no longer operate and the office of priesthood (other than that of Christ and all believers) has been abolished. Even so, the NT makes the point there are apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists, as well as elders and deacons. Nevertheless, over half of the “church” is overseen by “priests” and most of the other half by ministers, often combining a number of these offices as well as that of administrator and even general dogsbody. As for prophets, while these tend not to be recognised in non-Pentecostal or non-charismatic settings, arguably there are those who have a prophetic voice who are often operating in tension with priestly types, partly because they have different perspectives to offer us (priests perhaps focusing on leading the sheep and prophets warning them and telling them what God is saying, just as was the case in OT times, which in the author’s opinion is not only much needed but is also something we can expect). And the glorious truth remains: Jesus who is prophet, king and priests perfectly combines all offices.     

While Kings and Priests of the Bible may be seen as a poor man’s commentary (let’s face it – we are spoiled for choice given how many incredible works in the Rolls Royce category around, penned by the holy and learned men down the ages, a lot of these we can still lay our hands to, including these days much that is free and online, although the author is unaware of any that tries to systematically go through all prophets, kings and priests in the way he has attempted), but in his case it has been written by a nobody, even though that same nobody has spent a lifetime studying the Bible, having read it, cover to cover, many times over (and is ever learning), spending time to ponder on things like meaning, significance and context, as well as reading the “wisdom” of learned and holy folk across the whole ecclesiological spectrum down the ages (noting that no group knew all there is to know!), and picked up on prophets, priests and kings whilst doing so. It is well for all of us to be reminded and to take heart: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.

As for the approach adopted writing this book, it was dominated by first and foremost checking out references to kings and priests or kingly and priestly related activity, and doing so as if a beginner trying to find out what the Bible actually teaches and trying to put aside pre-conceived notions (a challenge to be sure). The author is also anti-religious establishment and in popular parlance is a layman, but who loves to associate with the remnant, i.e. the true and faithful Church. In fact, the future well being of the world depends more on the remnant, who are sold out to serving God alone, than the professing church, and it is such that he is wanting to inform and encourage. While there are many aspects relevant to the Christian life, not least prayer, fellowship and doing good, the author is of the view that one of the most important is having a sound understanding of what the Bible says. He is grateful that from childhood there were those around him who took seriously the teachings of the Bible and encouraged him to study this for himself. His desire is to do the same thing himself.

The author would love people to read what he has written but it is not meant to be an ego trip, having received too many rebukes by the Almighty in recent days to realise it is not about him, but rather about Him. If he helps to educate a few as to how kings and priests of the Bible contributed to God’s story, and gets them to study the Bible for themselves, then it is job done and he can die a happy man. The dance, fight or call it what you will, goes on and the best we can do is our bit and pass the baton onto the next generation, noting how ever bad things appear, God wins in the end. This book can be used as a reference work, as a guide to delve into, to help support serious, systematic study, or like most books, can be read through from beginning to end. The best that can be said is the author has given it his best shot, mindful despite knowing a lot he could still be only paddling in the shallows. He prays that those who read it are educated, be inspired to learn more and be blessed in doing so.

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