The Old Testament Priesthood
Ever since sin entered into the world there have been priests. “In the beginning the head of each family was considered ruler and priest of his own household.” This headship role was fulfilled by a man who had the leadership responsibility in his family. “Every man was the priest of his own household.” This patriarchal order continued until the time of the Exodus when God delivered His chosen people Israel from slavery in Egypt. At that time the Lord sanctified the first-born males for His service (Ex 13:1, 2, 12). Then He brought Israel to mount Sinai where He instituted a covenant with His people based on the sanctuary services. God here covenanted with Israel that they were to be a “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19:5, 6). Did this covenant allow every Israelite to function as a priest in the sanctuary services? The responsibility to officiate as priest was at first limited to the first-born (Num 3:12, 8:1-18), but after the golden calf idolatry it was assigned to the males of the family of Aaron of the tribe of Levi (Ex 28:1, 41, 43; Num 3:10). Yet Israel continued to be a “kingdom of priests” even though not every person officiated as a priest, because those who performed as priests represented the families and the nation. In this “kingdom of priests,” leadership responsibilities were divided among the priests, elders, rulers, prophets, and later on judges and kings. The priests led out in the religious matters, performing the sanctuary services and providing religious teaching. The elders, males occupying positions of leadership, assisted with governing the nation (Ex 24:1, 9, 14; Num 11:16; Neh 13:29), along with rulers who were responsible for groups of thousands, hundreds and tens (Deut 1:15). Then there were the prophets, both male and female, specially called by God as messengers to speak His word, counsels, warnings, and judgments. Later, judges and kings were chosen to lead the whole nation. Despite these various leading roles,...
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