Chapter 1: Introducing the Priests
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 comes to 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 and the challenge is to resist the temptation of going down too many rabbit holes and focus on what matters! A lot of the Prophets book was to do with setting the scene and providing historical and cultural context, so to speak, that is often just as applicable when we consider Priests (and Kings when we get to it), and will only be repeated in brief summary form here, and there will also be less going off on tangents and doing deep dives. Also, prophets not only did stuff but they said a lot that is worth noting and weighing. While priests spoke, their words and even actions outside of carrying out their regular priestly duties, as has been recorded in the Bible, are relatively few and there are many whose names we don’t know as well as some who are named in order to provide a complete genealogy (something the Bible deems significant) but otherwise no more is said. Ideally, readers of this book should read the Prophets book first, although when it comes to background material particularly pertinent to Priests and that not having been dealt with in the Prophets book, when this is identified, the author will provide it as best he can or at least say where the pertinent information can be found.
As with the Prophets, this Priests book will be Old Testament focussed, and for a very good reason – this was the period when most priests of the Bible can be found. Moreover, much of the information pertaining to priests can be found in more obscure, less studied (at least by many of this readership) parts of the Bible. 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 from the line of Aaron and their Levite counterparts. Prophets, kings and priests have a nice ring about it, not least because we find in Jesus that all three offices were perfectly combined, who did and will do what is required in the way God intends. While often operating in tandem in OT days, those roles were meant to be complementary, and sometimes were, although sometimes these 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, can 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, the very One who was their longed-for Messiah.
Concerning this book, as far as the Old Testament 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, much of our story regarding priests follows after God called Abraham (Genesis 12) to be the Father of a great nation, but specifically after Moses leads Israel out of Egypt, through the Wilderness and dying just before Israel took possession of the Promised Land under Joshua. Israel is God’s specially chosen nation and the main focus of the OT, is on Israel. As far as this Book goes, the priests most of interest are those who came into being after Moses received the Law and Covenant from God on Mount Sinai.
Regarding those first eleven not do with Israel per se chapters of the Bible, these are significant because it tells us the origins of much that is significant and we gain important insights into the war going on between God and His angels and Satan and his angels, and one that continues right up to Jesus comes back to Earth, as shown in temptation of Adam and Eve by the serpent in Chapter 3, the sexual liaison between heavenly beings and women in Chapter 6 and the building of the Tower of Babel in Chapter 11. But going back to Abraham, who we are introduced to at the end of Chapter 11, and Israel, the nation that arose from him, through Isaac, Jacob (the Patriarchs) and Jacob’s twelve sons (who between them founded the twelve Tribes of Israel, often mentioned by name throughout the OT), first living in but not possessing the Promised Land and then living in Egypt, until 430 years later when numbering 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, which they did after 40 years. It was during their 40-year sojourn in the Wilderness that the Priesthood of Israel was instituted, with priests coming from the Tribe of Levi and specifically descendants of Aaron. While all priests were Levites, only a select few were priests, but with the remainder of Levites assisting priests in their duties.
Summarising, the time between when God created the World (if we take the Bible literally) up to the time of the NT covers a period of 4000 years. The first half is covered in Genesis 1-11 and the other half in the rest of the OT and the Apocrypha. We are living in the remaining 2000 years where the Bible stops and await the return of the Messiah. We might then divide that period into four roughly equal parts, where at different times Patriarchs, Prophets, Kings and Priests all had important parts to play, often operating at the same time, but in terms of who dominated, as far as Israel goes, it was:
- 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
It is worth keeping 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 prophets, priests and kings 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 priests can be clearly seen. As we have noted, when it comes to naming priests, less are named than in the case of prophets and kings, which is not surprising, as when priests are mentioned it was often in context of them carrying out priestly duties, and they were merely carrying out what the Law and prevailing circumstances required of them.
An attempt at defining what was a true prophet of God (YHWH) was made 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. One of the beautiful things about prophets and those who were acting prophetically is they came from all walks of life. The same exercise concerning priests is easier as their roles and responsibilities were well defined, as were who qualifies to become priests, notably the first qualification was through ancestry, whereas prophets were divinely appointed. Given God made clear what he required in the giving of the Law, the priest’s role was themselves to carry out and ensure was carried out by the people 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.
When seeking a dictionary definition of priest, we find typically words like “an ordained minister of the Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican Church, authorized to perform certain rites and administer certain sacraments” or “an officer or minister who is intermediate between a bishop and a deacon” and as for biblical validity, this is something to discuss, BUT these are NOT priests of the Bible. A more general definition is “a religious leader authorized to perform the sacred rituals of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities” and that does include priests of the Bible. The Bible, has a lot to say about the Levitical priesthood, the main topic of this book. A simple answer may be something along the lines of an intermediatory been YHWH and those the priests represent.
Regarding priests, the central focus in Bible times on where the priests operated and what they did was the Temple (and before that, the Tabernacle), with most priests coming into their own (at least as far as Israel and this book concerned) when there was one and are hardly mentioned when not, and unlike with prophets and kings, priests and their Levite associates had clearly defined roles, yet of interest to the author, was when one or other priest said or did something significant, worth noting. But what about when there was no Temple, e.g. during the Exile and after AD 70, and will there be a Temple sometime in the future? What of priests who are not Levites? All these aspects we will address. Whether we recognise it or not, most Christians defer to priests even if 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? And what of “the priesthood of all believers” and the role of the Lord Jesus Christ, sometimes referred to as our “Great High Priest”? All of these points that we have raised thus far will be considered in more detail later.
This book is, for convenience for author and readers, and logistic purposes, divided into two parts:
This comprises 16 chapters to cover various aspects of the priesthood and what relates to it. It is important we cover the content of Part 1 before we get to considering named priests in Part 2. The reason is this is necessary background in order to understand the situations in which priests operated.
Chapter 1: Introducing the Priests
Chapter 2: Priests in context
Chapter 3: Priests from Adam to Moses
Chapter 4: Moses, the Law and the Covenant
Chapter 5: The Tabernacle
Chapter 6: The Aaronic Priesthood
Chapter 7: The Levites
Chapter 8: The First Temple
Chapter 9: The Second Temple
Chapter 10: Priests after the Old Testament
Chapter 11: The Third Temple
Chapter 12: The Priesthood of all believers
Chapter 13: Priests (ministers, pastors) today
Chapter 14: Jesus the Great High Priest
Chapter 15: Prophets of the Bible re-visited
Chapter 16: Kings of the Bible anticipated
This also contains 16 chapters, each one to do with a named priest who did something significant. Interestingly enough, many of these names may not be known by many, but as Bible students, intent on digging deep into the word, we will find there are precious lessons to learn from each of them.
Chapter 17: Melchizedek
Chapter 18: Aaron
Chapter 19: Nadab
Chapter 20: Eleazar
Chapter 21: Phinehas
Chapter 22: Eli
Chapter 23: Abiathar
Chapter 24: Zadok
Chapter 25: Jehoiada
Chapter 26: Azariah
Chapter 27: Hilkiah
Chapter 28: Joshua
Chapter 29: Eliashib
Chapter 30: Ezra
Chapter 31: Zacharias
Chapter 32: Caiaphas