Apart from having a Handel coronation anthem named after him,1 Zadok the priest is most distinguished for officiating at the start of king Solomon’s reign, during the planning and construction of the temple at Jerusalem.
Various priests are mentioned throughout 1 and 2 Samuel; it seems there were several priestly communities, for example at Nob, 1 Sam. 21. 1; 22. 11, Shiloh, 14. 3, and Gibeon, where Zadok lived, 1 Chr. 16. 39. Some of these named priests were from the Ithamar family tree (particularly Ahimelech and Abiathar, 1 Chr. 24. 3-6) but Zadok belonged to the alternative Eleazar/Phinehas line, to whom an everlasting priesthood was promised (Num. 25. 13, see earlier YPS article on Phinehas).
Zadok’s name means righteousness, which reminds us of the necessity of spiritual purity in our service for God. There were many wicked priests, like Eli’s immoral sons, but an effective priest must have ‘clean hands and a pure heart’, Ps. 24. 4. How glad we are to know that ‘Jesus Christ the righteous’ is our High Priest in heaven!
Zadok emerged during the early days of David’s kingdom, 2 Sam. 8. 17, a period associated with victory, prosperity and godliness.
Because David acknowledged Zadok as ‘a seer’, 2 Sam. 15. 27, he must have combined the sacred roles of priest and prophet. The man appreciated the value of spiritual vision, not just personally but for all the people of God, ‘where there is no vision, the people perish’, Prov. 29. 18.
In a moment of national crisis, Zadok accompanied the ark, 2 Sam. 15. 24. Recognizing its importance as a symbol of the promises, propitiation and presence of God, he desired to be near both the ark and God’s anointed king, David. Similarly, we must remain in close communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, whom the ark typifies. As Zadok was marked by faithfulness, both to David and to God, it is likely that he is the ‘faithful priest’ of prophecy, 1 Sam. 2. 35, anticipated in an era of priestly failure. Can we become more like Zadok – ‘faithful amidst unfaithfulness’?
Zadok’s son, Ahimaaz, is described by David as ‘a good man’, 2 Sam. 18. 27. Remarkably, Ahimaaz is the only Old Testament character to receive this delightful accolade.2 David instinctively recognized that Zadok’s son would be the bearer of good news. This reminds us of the importance of a spiritual education programme for children, Prov. 22. 6. Such care for the young is particularly vital for leaders – and here Zadok succeeded where Eli failed. Good priests should be good parents. Note: this also applies to New Testament priests!
Zadok’s greatest moment arrived when he anointed Solomon as Israel’s king. Solomon was a man of peace, the son of David ascending to his father’s throne, 2 Sam. 7. 12. This was the fulfilment of a divine covenant, and Zadok had a part in realizing it. As Dale Ralph Davis observes,3 ‘God was the One who would establish David’s dynasty, and yet that assurance seems to call for a component of human responsibility’. Our God is so gracious that He allows mortal men to assist in ratifying His sovereign purposes.
During the struggle for the succession to David’s throne, there were two senior priests – Zadok and Abiathar. Whereas Abiathar rashly backed Adonijah rather than Solomon, Zadok wisely waited for guidance from David, then faithfully supported Solomon’s rightful claim to the kingdom. Zadok’s loyalty was rewarded; he became the leading priest at the start of Solomon’s reign, 1 Kgs. 2. 35.
Zadok must have been present during the long planning and construction phases of the temple at Jerusalem. With what excitement he must have anticipated the house of the Lord! Some of this joyful expectation is captured in the language of the Psalms, e.g. Ps. 122. 1. It is, however, unclear whether Zadok actually served in Solomon’s temple; perhaps he did not live long enough to experience this privilege. However, his immediate descendants ‘executed the priest's office in the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem’, 1 Chr. 6. 10. But there is more to come: Zadok’s future descendants will serve in the millennial temple, Ezek. 44. 15, as a reward for their faithfulness in a day of departure.
Zadok the Priest, HWV 258, is one of four anthems by Handel, traditionally performed at the coronation of every British monarch.
There are only three ‘good men’ named in the whole of scripture – the New Testament characters Joseph of Arimathea and Barnabas complete the trio. A rare accolade indeed!
Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Kings, Christian Focus Publications, 2002.