Scanning along my bookshelves, I noticed several interesting A-Z reference catalogues for various Bible concepts. For instance, John Heading’s Directory of New Testament Churches1 lists every local assembly mentioned in the New Testament, from Achaia to Troas. Other reference works cover The Kings of Judah and Israel2 (from Abijah to Zimri) and The Titles of Christ (from Alpha to Well-beloved).3
‘What about biblical priests?’ I wondered. ‘Is there an encyclopaedia of priests available?’ I searched high and low but found no such book – either in my collection or on Amazon. So, I decided to compile my own ‘Who’s Who of Bible Priests’, from Aaron to Zadok.
In terms of Bible occupations, being a priest is a highly significant role. Priests appear throughout the Bible record; from Genesis to Revelation, the word occurs over eight hundred times. Along with prophets and kings, priests formed an integral part of the fabric of Israelite society.
Priests were called, Heb. 5. 4, cleansed, Lev. 8. 6, clothed, Exod. 28. 1-43, and consecrated, Lev. 8. 12, for service to God. They worked with and among ‘holy things,’ 1 Chr. 23. 13; 1 Cor. 9. 13. They carried out God’s instructions on behalf of His people, Heb. 7. 27. Additionally, priests had a pastoral responsibility, in caring for fellow Israelites, 5. 2. A variety of other duties included teaching, 2 Chr. 15. 3, medical diagnosis, Lev. 13. 3, and building surveys, 14. 44. A priest clearly needed to be an all-rounder.
Priesthood was a distinct role in the Old Testament. Only certain people were able to serve as priests. In the earliest part of the Bible, there were patriarchal priests like Noah and Job. One man in the family served as a priest. Among the children of Israel, there were national priests descended from Aaron. One family in the nation served as priests. Finally, there was a unique king-priest, called Melchizedek, Gen. 14. 18. He was one man in the world who served as a priest in his distinctive order, Ps. 110. 4.
In the New Testament, all believers are priests, Rev. 1. 6; 1 Pet. 2. 5. Although this was God’s original intention for Israel, Exod. 19. 6, their sinfulness prevented such an all-inclusive priesthood. However, in the church, God’s purpose will not be frustrated. We are all priests – young and old, brothers and sisters, Jews and Gentiles – without reference to gift, experience or education.
As holy priests we worship, 1 Pet. 2. 5, giving to God what His glory demands. As royal priests we witness, v. 9, giving to men what God’s grace provides. During the Reformation Martin Luther rediscovered this truth that all believers are priests. He said, ‘This word priest should become as common as the word Christian, because all Christians are priests’.4
For this reason, it will be important to consider the priests of Jehovah in the Old Testament to learn practical truths about our priestly service for the Lord today. Some priests were godly men, others less so. Nevertheless, all their experiences are recorded ‘for our learning’, Rom. 15. 4.
Further, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is a priest, Heb. 5. 5, 6. This is the key truth underpinning the Epistle to the Hebrews. Christ’s priestly work is far superior to that of Aaron or Melchizedek, the two most influential priests in the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus serves in the heavenly sanctuary, 8. 2, and His work has eternal value, 10. 12.
The Hebrew Christians were completely familiar with Jewish ritual. All the priestly metaphors and allusions were apparent to them. For us to have a genuine, deep appreciation of the priesthood of Christ, His person and work, we need to study Old Testament priests.
So, our A-Z of Priests starts here. Aaron is first up, in the next issue.
John Heading, Directory of New Testament Churches, Precious Seed Publications, 1990.
Christopher Knapp, The Kings of Judah and Israel, Loizeaux Brothers, 1983 (reprint of 1908 edition).
James Large, Titles and Symbols of Christ, AMG Publishers, 1994 (reprint of 1888).
Martin Luther, The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained, 1859. Available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/29678