Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 29, 1964
NUMBER 25, PAGE 2,12a

Priestly Qualifications And Responsibilities -- I

C. G. (Colly) Caldwell, In

In an examination of the pages of sacred history, the student learns that from a time shortly following man's first transgression against his Maker the human family has sought through the exercise of the priestly function to accomplish a reconciliation with Jehovah. Even Cain, whose offerings were not respected by the Lord, recognized his need and attempted to atone for his faults through the offering of the fruit of his labors (Gen. 4:3). From that time to this, the men of every age and nation have performed their rites of mediation. Often these activities have been characterized by ignorance, greed, or idolatry, but such has never eliminated from the consciences of the participating individuals the need for the function.

The right of one frail sinner to stand before the great God of heaven in behalf of other sinners could not have been originated and instituted except by the offended Deity. The very nature of reconciliation demands that the terms be stipulated by the one against whom the transgression was made. The philosophies and sciences of human wisdom could only, at best, leave doubt in the minds of their followers as to the efficiency of their own mediation. God's priesthoods, on the other hand, are not productive of such doubt. This has been their real beauty from the beginning, for Jehovah, himself, signified by His own will the rules governing those who stand before Him in this capacity.

Pre-Sinaitic Priests

In the days before Sinai many individuals performed priestly functions in the tendering of worship and the offering of sacrifice: Abel (Gen.. 4:4); Noah (Gen. 8:20); Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 13:18); Isaac (Gen. 28:25); But the first official recognition of the "office" of priest is found when Melchizedec is identified as "king of Salem, priest of the Most High God" (Gen. 14:18). To him even Abraham (whose faith prompted the great promise of a territorial, national, and spiritual blessing through his offspring) paid his tithes. The Christian should especially remember Melchisedec for it was after the order of his priesthood that Messiah, the new High Priest, came (Psa. 110:1-4; Hob. 5:4-8; 7:18, 17).

Another thought is suggested in the case of Melchisedec. According to history often in the days before the consecration of the Levitical order, the king, as head of the nation, assumed the role of priest for his people. Especially was this true during national festivals. Actually this was in accord with the general spirit of the times in reference to the priestly practices. In that age it was generally accepted that the head of the family unit, the father, intercede on behalf of his family. This was true although we find no specific individual in a family especially designated to perform the function (for example, both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices while their father yet lived).

The concept of one man reigning as king and priest simultaneously was not, however, accepted in every society for Jethro, father-in-law to Moses, was priest in the land of Midian (Ex. 3:1), and there is no indication that he served as head of the government. Likewise, while Joseph was in the land of Egypt, Potiphar, priest of On (or Heliopolis), is mentioned as performing the duties of priest (Gen. 41:45) while the governmental regents, according to the scholars, were of the Hyksos dynasty of Pharoahs, the Shepherd Kings.

As there were no specific priests designated, so was there no specific place of sacrifice. God had not yet set apart a particular tabernacle or temple. The altar might have been built anywhere. These two liberties, pertaining to persons and places, made convenient the acceptable worship of the same God by peoples of different races, cultures, and climes.

Jehovah Specifies A Priesthood

Four hundred thirty years after the sojourning of the children of Israel had begun, the Lord led His people out of the land of Egypt (Ex 12:40, 41), across the Red Sea (Ex. 14:13-31), and up to the foot of Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1, 2). Having called Moses into the Mount, Jehovah delivered to him the Law under which the Israelites were to live. Having thus designated a chosen people and having ordained a specific Law, He set forth the blueprint of His tabernacle and demanded observance of His pattern. The tribe now chosen to function in the service of God's house was Levi. Of this tribe He consecrated the family of Aaron to enter His tabernacle and perform the sacred rites of the priests. No others could accomplish their function.

Qualifications Of The Aaronic Order

Having been initiated into the priestly office by a series of rites established and ordained by Jehovah (washing in the laver at the door of the tabernacle, donning the priestly garments, being anointed with oil, and offering the consecrating sacrifices — Ex. 29), everything pertaining to their lives was to show them set apart from the other people to a life peculiarly dedicated to Jehovah. As a sign of their sanctification there were placed upon them a number of qualifications which of necessity were to be maintained (Lev. 21, 22). These regulations may be summed up into three primary categories.

God ordained first of all that His priests could do no sacrificial service before Him while afflicted with bodily defilements. The body of the man who stood before Jehovah had to be clean. It could not be a body of a leper or infectiously diseased man. It could not be infested with a running issue or covered with scabs. It could bear no cuts inflicted into the flesh. Neither could it touch the dead bodies of men nor feel the unclean creeping things. The priest's body was required to be free from physical defilement.

These men were also to live in purity of character forming virtuous habits that they might be examples of righteousness before the people. To accentuate the necessity of keeping the priestly family upright before the nation, special penalties were placed upon it to guard against indiscretion. For example, when the daughter of a priest played the harlot, her punishment was not the usual penalty of the law (that is, death by stoning), but rather she was made subject to the more severe, excruciating death by fire. This penalty was exacted because in her sin she had not only transgressed the law but also profaned the name of her father, a holy man of God. As the nation looked upon their priests for mediation, it was obligatory that those priests set the precedent for righteous living.

Third, their service was to be done in the strength of a whole man. The priest could be neither blind nor blemished in the eye. He could be neither lame nor broken footed. The Lord was so specific in ordering that His priestly servants be physically whole that He forbade even a man with a flat nose to be consecrated for such service. These men must be whole and strong in their service to Jehovah.

Responsibilities Of The Aaronic Order

As there were certain prescribed qualifications to be maintained, so were there very definite duties laid down for the priest to accomplish. Theirs was not a life of ease or merrymaking. It was a life especially dedicated to work — Jehovah's work. The obligations of the Aaronic order were numerous but as in the case of qualifications, the majority of these might be summed up and categorized in three groups.

Their first obligation was, of course, to offer the sacrifices for the people. (Lev. 1-4). These sacrifices actually fell into four types of offerings (given at different times; an interval which formed the real base of all the Jewish or Mosaic worship: 1) sin offerings, for atonement; 2) burnt offerings, for consecration; 3) peace offerings, for harmony; and 4) meal offerings, for special festival occasions. This placed upon the priest the responsibility of knowing the laws governing these different sacrifices, of preparing the offerings, of making the formal dedication to God, and of killing and disposing of the sacrifices when made. Without the offering of sacrifices there would be no purpose in any other act.

The priests were also responsible for the maintenance of the sanctuary (Num. 4:5-15; 18:1,5,7). It was theirs to guard the area inside the wall of the tabernacle of Jehovah and to care for the altar and other articles of furniture contained therein. This was necessary in order to guard against profanation of the holy place which would bring down the wrath of God upon the people.

And third, it was the duty of the priests to teach the law to the people. It was given to them to read God's Book to the people and to instruct them in observing His law. It was theirs to let the people know their responsibilities before Jehovah and the penalties for failure to meet it.

Punishment For Priestly Failure

As is always the case when added responsibility is taken by any man in any field of endeavor, his punishment for failure is increased. When a man accepted the position of priest, he added to his ordinary obligations as a citizen of Israel the duties and responsibilities of his new office. In this office he became not only responsible for himself, but to a great extent for the people whom he served. His personal calamity in case of failure to live up to the requirements of his office was, in many cases, complete. Eli's sons were put to death for impurity in lying with women at the door of the tabernacle (I Sam. 2:12-36). Jehovah completely withdrew himself from the priests of Israel for turning the people to idols (Hos. 5:1-6). The priests of Jerusalem were made contemptible in the sight of the people for profaning the covenant of the fathers. They appeared as those in whose faces Jehovah was smearing dung at they raised their hands is hypocritical prayers (Mal. 2).

But personal calamity was not the only punishment for priestly failure. When the priests led the nation into sins of idolatry and disobedience, the punishment went out upon the whole of the land. Because of the sins of the priests, prophets, and national heads "shall plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest," prophesied Micah (Mic. 3:11-12), and every word of it was fulfilled in the destruction of that city by the invading forces of Chaldea. Perhaps the prophecy was made more clear by the Chronicler as he named the destructive force, Babylon, at the head of which Jehovah would come guiding them to the overthrow of the temple and the breaking of Jerusalem's walls (2 Chron. 36:1421). No allowance was made for error. No allowance could be made for if the priests failed the means of mediation and reconciliation with God would be cut off.

2941 Grape Street Abilene, Texas