The Old Testament Foundation
What Jesus was teaching was not substantially different from what the Old Testament had required of spiritual leaders. It was new in that it focused the qualifications and service on Him. A survey of various leaders and of passages about leaders will make it clear that there is a continuity between the testaments.
Although there are many leaders in the Old Testament that provide good lessons on the theme, Moses remains the consummate leader. He was a Lawgiver, Prophet, Priest, Judge, Prince--the Mediator of the Old Covenant and thus the theocratic administrator par excellence. Note the following key points.
1. His Call to Service. There were two stages to His call, the presumptuous act and the humble submission. Exodus 2 records the early attempt by Moses to become the deliverer in his own strength, but his murder of the Egyptian and failure to gain a following only led to his fleeing for his life. The question the Hebrews asked him is critical for any aspiring leader: AWho made you a prince and a judge over us?@ (Exod. 2:14). At that stage, no one.
Exodus 3 and 4 record the details of Moses= legitimate call by God. The LORD singled out Moses for the task, but found a hesitant response. At the center of the issue is faith in the sufficiency of God, for the work was His from beginning to end. Moses asked, AWho am I that I should go?@ And in so many words God answered, AIt doesn=t matter who you are--I AM; and I am with you.@ God=s call was to bring God=s provision for success.
2. His Spiritual Character. Several important ideas emerge about this man. First, God said that Moses was Afaithful in all My house@ (Num. 12:7). There is nothing more important for God's servant than faithfulness. Second, even though he had all the comforts and opportunities of Egypt, he preferred to suffer affliction with the people of God than enjoy Athe pleasures of sin for a season@ (Heb. 11:25). He identified with the people in bondage, enduring what they endured. Third, although he was well-trained and gifted in so many ways, he was meek and longsuffering. His patience can be seen on every page that describes his leading through the wilderness; his meekness can be illustrated by his willingness to receive constructive suggestions from others (Exod. 18). Moses was a leader who was truly spiritual, a true servant of the LORD; no doubt his character was developed in great measure by his communing with the LORD, Aface to face@ (Num. 12:8).
3. His Mediation of the Covenant. As the mediator of the Old Covenant Moses was God=s servant; and so he was the first in Scripture to have the title Aservant of the LORD@ ( >ebed Yahweh ), a title that reminded leaders that this was a theocracy and that they could never rise higher than being God=s servant. And so we find Moses constantly doing what the LORD told him to do, following the LORD, whether it was the pillar of fire and smoke or a direct command that led him. But the most significant mediatorial work of Moses was his intercessory prayer. Throughout the wanderings we find him Afalling on his face@ before the LORD (e.g., Num. 16:4). But the prime example of true mediation is the account in Exodus 32 were Moses interceded for the nation, offering his own life in place of theirs (vv. 31-32). As the mediator Moses thus becomes a type of Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant. One clear support for this link is Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses says that God will raise up a prophet like him, and that the people must Ahearken to him@; in the New Testament the voice from heaven saying over Jesus Ahear him@ is probably a link to this text (see Matt. 17:5).
4. His Failures. With great privileges of leadership come high standards. Twice Moses was confronted by God. First, at the beginning of his service he had not complied with the sign of the covenant--circumcision for his sons--and God met him to kill him (Exod. 4:24-26). The second time that God confronted him was when he lost his patience and struck the rock; God condemned this act, saying, AYou believed not in me to sanctify me in the eyes of the people@ (Num. 20:12). The passage taught that those who lead the people of God were to display by their actions the holiness of God, and not make the service base or profane.
5. His Spiritual Influence. Moses had a tremendous impact on the religious life of the nation. According to the biblical tradition he was enabled to select the elders and organize the solving of problems through them (Exod. 18:25); model the office and ministry of the prophet for all prophets to come (Deut. 18:15 and 17); train and ordain the priests with an initial walk-through for their ministry (Lev. 8,9), and instruct in what would become the basic ritual for their ministry (Leviticus); and organize all worship for the nation (Exod. 35-40). Perhaps the key to Moses= success was his own spiritual concern, best exhibited in his strong desire to know God better: AShow me your glory@ (Exod. 33:18).
The People of God
Before we consider the different kinds of leaders that Israel had it will be well for us to ask, Who actually were the ministers of God on earth? There would be designated leaders to be sure, but the people as a nation were the ministers. When God formed Israel into His covenant people at Sinai, He designated them as a Akingdom of priests@ (mamleket kohanim) in the world (Exod. 19:6). Driver notes that this means that they were Aa kingdom whose citizens are all priests, living wholly in God's service, and ever enjoying the right of access to Him.@ This expression captures their mission in the world. Whatever was true of the priesthood was in general to be true of Israel as a nation. The nation had a mediatorial work among the nations--people were supposed to be able to get to God through Israel who had the Word and the Covenant. Even condemned Canaanites who came to faith in the LORD could escape the judgment (Josh. 2:12-14). Ultimately, the nation=s purpose was to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant and be a channel of blessing to every family in the earth (Gen. 12:3). This they would do, in part, by preaching peace to the nations (Deut. 20:10), or by carrying the warning of judgment and the message of God=s compassion to people far off (The Book of Jonah). Being a kingdom of priests was also a constant reminder that they were servants--a kingdom has a king, and the LORD was their king, calling them into His service.
At Sinai God also designated Israel as Aa holy nation@ (goy qadosh). As a holy nation the people were set apart to God as His own, set apart from the rest of all the nations. This was an honor and a duty, an honor because they were God=s peculiar treasure, and a duty because they were under the obligation to make the title a reality. Thus, all the Levitical traditions were designed to enable Israel to maintain the status of a holy nation, to set them apart to God, to make them conform to God=s standards, so that they might do God's work. Their mission as a kingdom of priests would fail if their nature was not holy--and it did fail.
This consideration of Israel as a kingdom of priests is important for two reasons. First, it provides an important link for the modern household of faith, for the Church now is the kingdom of priests and the holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9). The Akingdom@ was taken from disobedient Israel and given to another Anation@ that would produce fruit, an elect nation from all the nations. Thus, as with ancient Israel, so today, believers are the ministers--the spiritual leaders of the world. The second reason this discussion is important is that it reminds us that the chosen leaders of the congregation must not only minister to the needs of the people but must equip the people to do the work of the ministry.
The Story of Joseph
The nation of Israel had for their edification the marvelous story of Joseph. In addition to everything else that the story taught, it portrayed the ideal leader for the people of God. That is why Joseph is presented in such a good light. It is not that he never did anything wrong in his life, but that such things are not to the point of this presentation. Accordingly, Gerhard von Rad has observed that there are many similarities between the story and the wisdom literature of the Book of Proverbs. If, as many believe, proverbs in the ancient world were originally designed to train the youthful prince for the task of ruling over the nation, then this linking between the passages is very significant. The most striking similarities are: Joseph feared the LORD more than the people (cf. Prov. 1:7; 2:4-9); he gave wise counsel (16:13; 16:29); he avoided the adulterous woman (6:24-29); he was diligent in his preparation when there was plenty (21:5; 24:27); and he did not act out of revenge against his brothers (20:22; 24:29). To this may be added major themes such as the problem of the suffering of the righteous, the emphasis on the LORD as Creator and Sustainer of life, the conflict between the righteous and the wicked, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. In the final analysis, it was clear that Joseph possessed the wisdom of God.
This portrayal of Joseph, therefore, provided Israel with the ideal pattern for leaders--the story is archetypical. Of course, many students of the Bible have been able to see similarities between Joseph and Jesus, the Wisdom of God. But for our purposes, the following main points in the story are important:
1. Chosen by God. Joseph knew from the dreams of his youth that God had chosen him as the leader (Gen. 37:5-11). Moreover, the meaning of the two dreams was very clear to his brothers and his father. The brothers were so filled with envy and hatred that they could not see that they too would be Astars@ (v. 9), only that they would bow to Joseph. But Joseph never forgot the dreams that were his calling; they reminded him of his destiny that could have been lost if he had slept with Potiphar=s wife (Gen. 39), and they sustained him even while in prison (Gen. 40). He never lost sight of God=s plan for his life.
2. His Faithfulness. Joseph illustrates an integral part of developing effective leadership--being faithful in whatever task God has given. He is first faithful in the Alittle things@ and ultimately given responsibility over bigger things. His father sent him to learn of the welfare of his brothers (Gen. 37:12)--not a wise choice by Jacob since Joseph had already brought back a report of their evil doings (Gen. 37:2). Amazingly, many interpreters like to criticize Joseph for being a tattle-tale. How silly that is. The text does not paint him in that light at all. Joseph simply did what he was told; he had his father=s welfare to safeguard. Joseph, through obedience to his father, showed that he could be trusted.
Such faithfulness will be met by opposition from those who are unfaithful. This conflict is as old as Cain and Abel. Here the brothers treat Joseph roughly and sell him into slavery in Egypt, thinking they have brought his dreams--and God's calling of Joseph--to an end. From this leaders would learn that they will be opposed when they do what is right (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12; and note 2 Tim. 3:12-17 and Acts 20:30).
Joseph faced another test of his faithfulness, a test of a different kind. When he prospered in the house of Potiphar, Potiphar=s wife tried to seduce him (Gen. 39:7). But because Joseph knew that God had been blessing him, and that this blessing was evidence that God was going to fulfill his calling, he was able to resist the woman (Gen. 39:9). His faithfulness landed him in prison again, but so might his unfaithfulness had he slept with the woman. Nevertheless, he knew that he was where God would have him be, spiritually and physically (cf. Phil. 1:12-17). And the fact that he was quick to interpret the dreams of the cup-bearer and the baker (Gen. 40) shows that he had not lost faith at all--he knew he could interpret dreams correctly. Thus, God would elevate His faithful servant to his leadership position.
But even when he was on the throne Joseph remained faithful to his God and to his Hebrew heritage. When interpreting the dream of Pharaoh Joseph made it clear that it was God who would do it, not he (Gen. 41:16). The response of Pharaoh indicates that this pagan king got the message (Gen. 41:39). But even in his glory Joseph never lost sight of who he was and what he was to do. The naming of his boys with Hebrew names (Gen. 41:51,52), Manasseh and Ephraim, although interpreted as compensation for the trouble he had been through, signified the close ties with his Hebrew family and a reminder of his task (Gen. 45:7).
3. His Wisdom. Throughout the story Joseph demonstrates his wisdom--serving his father, ruling Potiphar=s house, resisting temptation, advising Pharaoh, and laying up food in the time of plenty for the years of famine. But the greatest display of wisdom for the purpose of God's program for Israel came in the testing of his brothers (Gen. 42-44). Joseph might have concluded that the dreams he had were fulfilled when his brothers came and bowed before him to obtain food from Egypt. But Joseph had a higher responsibility as leader: he had to determine if the brothers were qualified to share in the leadership of the people of God. We shall return to this part of the story at the end of this chapter; here it is sufficient to say that Joseph put his brothers in every kind of situation to see if they had changed or if they would do the same things that he remembered their doing. His first test, keeping Simeon in Egypt and sending the men home with the money, was designed to awaken their consciences. And it worked. His second test, lavishing favor on his full brother Benjamin, was designed to see if there was still jealousy over favoritism of Rachel=s son. And it worked too. The third test, the cup in Benjamin=s sack, was designed to see if the brothers, if given a chance to be rid of Rachel=s other son, would abandon him too. And this worked as well, very well, for Judah was willing to take Benjamin=s place. Greater love has no man than this. That is why the scepter would remain with Judah. But once Joseph determined that they had changed, he could reveal himself and bring them down to Egypt.
4. His Forgiveness. Unlike so many leaders, Joseph was magnanimous in his forgiveness and generosity. There was never any desire to retaliate and make them pay for what they had done. In fact, when the brothers came to him with this concern, it upset Joseph terribly (Gen. 50:17). His response was, AAm I in the place of God? You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good@ (Gen. 50:19,20).
Joseph was so convinced of the sovereignty of God, how the plan of God had worked out through all the strange turns in his life, that he was able to set their fears aside. It is only when a leader truly acknowledges the sovereignty of God that such forgiveness and compassion may be given; but those who think that they by their own power have become leaders or have been successful in some work may find it difficult to show such compassion and understanding. How people deal with opposition reveals a good deal about their faith; and that revelation is most telling when they deal with it from a position of strength. Joseph knew that he was merely a servant of the LORD, even though he ruled the world; rather than play God and exact justice, Joseph saw his task as that of redeeming, healing, and preserving. Having experienced God's favor again and again, and acknowledging that it was God who had brought him to this hour, Joseph could only be compassionate, forgiving, and magnanimous. If it is hard to know what to do in such cases, it is always safe to err on the side of grace and love.
The Elders of Israel
As with any nomadic or semi-nomadic group, the tribes of Israel naturally had elders. When Moses first returned from the back side of the desert he tried to convince these natural leaders that God had sent him, for such elders were the most powerful and influential people of the tribes. But these elders were not ready to make the kind of spiritual decisions their position required, for they were primarily concerned with surviving under bondage.
But Exodus 18 records how elders were chosen to help Moses lead the people of God now that they were a new nation. Moses' father-in-law, a priest in his own right, observed that Moses was wearing himself out, and so he made the suggestion that individuals must share in the ministry of such a vast people--even a holy nation needed guidance and instruction. Several important purposes come through for these elders: (1) they were to judge cases, (2) they were to bear the burden of the people (Num. 11:17), and (3) they were to share in the sacrifices (Ex. 18:12). In Exodus 18 the term Ajudge@ (shaphat) means to make a decision (like an umpire). Using the Law these elders were to hear cases and make wise decisions. Thus, Numbers explains that they carried the burdens of the people. Naturally, to do this they would have to know the Law well. That is why the Mishnah asserts that the Law and its meaning were taught by Moses to the elders (tractate Pirqe Aboth).
Exodus 18:21 lists four qualifications for elders who can judge the people. It is interesting to note that the stress is on moral and spiritual qualifications of the leaders, an emphasis that the New Testament will carry forward with the choice of deacons (see Acts 6:3) and elders (see 1 Tim. 3:1-3).
1. Able (khayil). The first description is a powerful one--able or capable. The term appears throughout Judges and Ruth with the ideas of moral and physical efficiency. It has often been translated Avalor@ (as in Amighty man of valor@ [Judg. 6:13]; or Awoman of valor@ [Prov. 31:10]). The term would portray a person of influence, respect, virtue and substance--a true aristocrat. The Aelder,@ then, was an accomplished and respected leader of the community.
2. Fearers of God (yir=e =elohim). Here is the central religious qualification. A God-fearing person is one who truly believes in the LORD and seeks to live a life of obedience to His commandments. It does not mean that the person is sinless; but it does mean that the person is a true worshiper. Whenever the Bible uses the expression Athe fear of the LORD@ there are certain characteristics and actions that follow, such as Athe beginning of wisdom,@ or Ashunning evil,@ or Aavoiding the congregation of the wicked,@ or Agiving praise to God.@ The disobedient, irreverent, and foolish cannot make a pretense of fearing the LORD.
3. Faithful (=anshe =emet). The third qualification is literally Amen of truth.@ The term =emet can certainly be translated Atruth@; but that does not communicate very well the point of the expression. The verb related to this word has the idea of Areliable, dependable, faithful@ as a constituent part of its meaning; the noun Atruth@ may very well signify that which is reliable or dependable. The two aspects of the word apply to this standard: the elders certainly were to exemplify the Truth--God=s revelation--by believing it, living it, and making decisions based on it; but this would also mean that people could rely on them for faithful decisions. If people cannot count on spiritual leaders to apply the truth faithfully, or if people do not believe the leaders, then those leaders must not serve.
4. Haters of Dishonest Gain (sone=e basa>). The leaders must reject (=hate) bribes. There would be no fair decision if the judges took bribes, or if in a less blatant way they were showing partiality in their decisions. The Scripture was to be interpreted correctly and applied evenly (but see Mal. 2:9 and Jas. 2:4). God wanted no arbitrary decisions and no favoritism by the leaders of the community. Spiritual guidance was to be just and impartial; and an improper concern for gain would be a warning that such was in jeopardy.
It is interesting to read how the Jews interpreted and applied these foundational qualifications for their elders, who actually had to be Aordained@ to serve. From several Jewish listings on the ages that people pass through, we may observe a consistent understanding that Ayouth@ ends at about the age of 40, and at that stage one enters into a time of understanding and counsel (see Philo, De Opificio Mundi I, 35-36; Aboth 5:21). Someone would have been considered an Aelder@ (i.e., an older person) from the age of 40, but this did not constitute that person as an Aelder@ of the people in the technical sense. The requirement of wisdom, that is, the understanding to provide counsel and give judgment, was necessary for one to be considered a prospect for the office of elder. To become an Aunderstanding counselor@ one would have to study Torah and Talmud before taking a place on the Sanhedrin. The evidence indicates that obtaining such a position was difficult (see the analogy in Sanhedrin 11:1 and 86b).
The Jewish teachers captured the significance of the position and its requirements. They knew that the elder had to be personally and spiritually mature, have wisdom and understanding, know the Law and the customs very well, and be personally living in obedience to the teachings. So we may summarize the foundational teachings on elders by noting the following:
They were to be people who were successful in life, to whom the community could look for leadership, whose decisions could be accepted and respected as wise, who were capable.
They were to be devout worshipers of the LORD, seeking to live in obedience to the Law, and conducting their personal, family, and business matters in a way that was honoring to God and beneficial to the community.
They were to be dependable people, both in their consistent participation in leadership and in their standard of counsel and decision as right and true.
They were to make their decisions in leadership and judgment fairly, not giving way to preferences or favoritism, and not taking bribes or payoffs.
In all probability, no elder was able to live up to all of these consistently; but an elder was to be characterized by such standards in general, and to strive for them and promote them. Israel was less interested in whether a person was studious, talkative, or of a quiet nature, than in the basics of wisdom, maturity, dependability, and integrity. Such qualities do not come early in life; so the young were to be trained so that someday they would exhibit these qualities and they themselves lead others
Another group of spiritual leaders in Israel were the priests. It will not be important here to detail the different functions of priests and Levites, nor to concern ourselves with the hereditary nature of the priesthood and the selection of the family for the High Priest. These are important considerations, to be sure, but the ministry and the character of priests is our main concern.
In general, the priests were chosen and ordained (Lev. 8) in order that they might serve at the altar of the LORD (Num. 18:7; see also the many details of that serving regulated in Leviticus 6 and 7). The main term we translate Aminister@ in Hebrew is a word that means Aserve@ (sharat). The title Aminister@ often carries the connotation of a lofty position, but is essentially a designation for one who is a servant of the LORD.
According to Deuteronomy 33:10 there were three main tasks for the priests to do, and unless they could fulfill these they could not serve as priests. They are:
1. Teach the Word of God--the Law and the Commandments. The primary function of the priests was to teach. They probably began with the Book of Leviticus, the manual for the priesthood and for worship, for that would instruct in all phases of holy living and worship. But the whole Law was their text. Apart from holy days the priests would only be on duty in Jerusalem two weeks out of the year; the rest of the time they served the communities where they lived (not owning land themselves). Malachi reiterates the point by saying, AThe lips of the priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth people should be able to seek instruction, because he is the messenger (mal=ak) of the LORD of hosts@ (2:7).
In establishing this point Malachi explains that God had made a covenant with Levi (i.e., the priestly tribe). This covenant was to be one of Alife and peace@ (ha-khayyim wehasshalom). In other words, by their teaching, their leading of the ritual at the altar, and their conduct, they were to establish and maintain the people in a relationship with the LORD that was characterized by life and peace. Malachi adds that God gave life and peace to those early priests so that they might fear the LORD--and they feared His name. Thus, in the beginning the priests were living the covenant they communicated. Malachi explains the outcome of this: ATrue [faithful] instruction was in his [their] mouth and nothing false was found on his [their] lips; he [they] walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from sin@ (2:6). When the system was working correctly, the priestly benediction would be efficacious: AThe LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace@ (Num. 6:24-26). People would leave the Sanctuary knowing that they were at peace with God and could enjoy His blessings in life because of the faithful teachings centered on the ritual.
Unfortunately, the priests did not always measure up to this standard. Malachi=s oracle is actually a rebuke of the priests for turning many away from the truth by their teaching, and causing many to stumble over the Law. It appears that the priests did not know the Scriptures, permitted all kinds of violations of the Law, and showed partiality in the way they applied the teachings.
We may draw several observations here about the teaching ministry of the priests: (1) it was to be a faithful teaching and applying of the Scriptures, (2) it was to lead to the conversion of many from sin and to inspire obedience to the Scriptures, (3) it was to be a teaching that led to spiritual life with the peace of God bringing blessing, and (4) it was to be lived by the teacher.
2. Burn Incense, or Pray. Along with the ministry of teaching, the priests were to burn incense (qetorah) at the altar of incense. A regular part of the work was to take coals off the high altar and carry them in a pot to the little golden altar in front of the veil. There the priests would put blood on the horns of the altar (signifying efficacious power) and incense on the coals for a sweet aroma. The whole activity accompanied and symbolized the work of intercessory prayer for the people. Psalm 141:2 links the incense with the prayers to show us this point; and Revelation twice connects the altar of incense and the incense itself with prayers (Rev. 8:3; 5:8). The High Priest had on his breastplate the stones that represented the tribes of Israel, likewise signifying that he daily bore them up before God. Because of these things along with the ritual of the sacrifices and the proclaiming of the blessing, we must conclude that intercessory prayer was one of the main functions of the priests.
3. Offer Sacrifices, or Lead People to God through Worship. The most obvious duty of the priests was the administering of the ritual of sacrifice. The text in Deuteronomy uses kalil, a synonym for the burnt offering; Leviticus uses the normal terminology for all the sacrifices. But the priests took their part in the rotation and were on duty in the Sanctuary for whatever sacrificial needs were required, whether a vow, or a praise, or a confession, or some other purification ritual. Thus, they had to be sanctified and qualified for the task, and follow the procedure to the letter since they were symbolizing holiness to the LORD. Here more than any other place they would be seen as corporate leaders of worship and service, especially when after the atonement was made they declared the benediction (Lev. 9 and Num. 6).
To these descriptions of the ministry of the priests we may add several basic qualifications for the priesthood found in the Hebrew Scriptures:
1. Called by God. God chose the priests for this service; they could not choose it for themselves, nor were others permitted to usurp the office. Of course, in the Old Testament this election was of the whole tribe of Levi, but the point still stands. In fact, under the Aaronic system the point is even stronger--they could not do anything else because God called them to be priests.
2. Holiness. The Law said that they were to be holy. The High Priest symbolized this for the lot of them, wearing a sign on his turban that declared Aholiness to the LORD.@ Their clothing of white linen and their activities in service all were to conform to the standard of God=s holiness.  Again and again God said AI must be sanctified by those who draw near my altar@ (=a technical expression for serving priests). Zechariah 3 shows how if such ministry was to continue God would have to cleanse the priests of sin, removing the filthy garments and robing with the clean robes of office. And in Leviticus 8 we discover in the ordination of the priests all the details of washing, robing, sanctifying, and preparing for ministry. In the ritual of the ram of consecration (millu=im) the flesh of the animal was placed in the hands of the priest, signifying the Afilling@ of the hands, i.e., what the priest would be about in the service. Then, some of the blood was put on the right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe, meaning that the priest was completely set apart to God and no longer a common person. What the priest listened to, what he did, and where he went, was to be governed by complete sanctification.
3. Faithful. The requirement of faithfulness indicates that priests also were to be servants of the LORD--they were to be obedient to the prescriptions of the Law. In Leviticus 10 we read how Nadab and Abihu offered Astrange fire@ on the altar. AStrange@ (zar) normally indicates pagan or foreign; thus, they probably brought some incense from a source other than Israel's altar. God destroyed them for it. The meaning of this text would be comparable to Paul=s warning that if anyone should Apreach another gospel . . . [he should be] eternally condemned@ (Gal. 1:8,9). The point of Israel=s ritual was that there was only one way to God, only one atonement prescribed by Him. The priests were to preserve the way to God by their sacrifices (=sound doctrine), to teach that there was only one way to get to God by faith, and to show through worship that they could rejoice in that great provision. God would tolerate no other way.
4. Sobriety. This requirement comes from the story of Nadab and Abihu as well. It looks very much like they had been drinking, for in the middle of the legislation about them we find the ruling that priests must not drink wine or strong drink (i.e., barley beer) when on duty in the Sanctuary. The Law did not prohibit these drinks; in fact, wine was important for libations and for Passover meals. But the Law did forbid drunkenness; and it did instruct abstention for Nazirites under their vows, rulers making decisions, and priests leading the corporate worship.
5. Exemplary Marriages. Another important requirement for priests concerned their marriages (Lev. 21 and 22). We have to remember that the priesthood was a hereditary office, and so marriage rules were more stringent, especially for the High Priest who could only marry a pure virgin. But in general the holiness laws required that a priest be married properly and living out the role of the divine plan, probably because marriage in many ways represented the essence of the divine covenant made with the fathers (which stressed producing a holy seed). All Israelites were to marry in the faith and produce a godly seed; but the priests were to lead the way in this aspect of covenant faithfulness.
6. Physically Well and Whole. Personal well-being was another requirement. If a man was physically deformed in some way he was not permitted to take the office of priest. Because in the New Testament the priesthood with the Levitical ritual is not operative, we must look for the theology behind the laws and then see how that theology is taught in the New Testament. The theological idea that emerges concerns glorification--only that which is perfect will enter the presence of the Holy God. In the Church no minister is disqualified for a physical defect; but the glorious hope is that no one will go into the heavenly Sanctuary, into the presence of God, deformed.
These, then, were the major rulings for priests in Israel. Of course, what the Law prescribed is what God was looking for. We have already seen with Nadab and Abihu, two men who were on the mountain with Moses (Exod. 24), that the priests could quickly corrupt the ministry. In the days of Samuel the sons of Eli were taking what they wanted from the sacrifices (thus showing no respect for the LORD) and introducing cult prostitution into the Sanctuary (1 Sam. 2:12-17; 22-25). Later, when Jeroboam went north to make his sanctuary with altars in Bethel and Dan, he took all sorts of people, not Levites, and made them priests (1 Kings 12:31). This was all part of his false worship that God judged. A man of God strongly declared to Jeroboam that the bones of the priests would be sacrificed on the place where false worship was going on. This was a stronger judgment than that pronounced on Eli and his family, namely, that he would be removed from office because his family was corrupt (1 Sam. 2:27-36; and 1 Kings 13:1-3). Often in the history of Israel the priesthood was corrupt and unprepared for service. When Hezekiah wanted to celebrate Passover there were no consecrated priests to do it; so after consulting with the LORD he used Levites, being told it was better to have Passover without qualified priests than to cancel it again (2 Chron. 30). Other notable passages show Jeremiah the prophet constantly at odds with the priests and rulers of worship (Jer. 20), as well as the oracles of Malachi against the priests. Nonetheless, in all the events described, and in the Law and the Prophets, it is clear what God wanted in those who led corporate worship, who prayed for the people, and who taught the Scriptures.
The laws of the sacrifices provide a good little glimpse of the balance required with the spirituality of the priests. They were to safeguard the worship to ensure it was done correctly--proper animals, correct precautions and procedures, and correct evaluation of worshipers (through liturgies at the gate and confessions). They were to assist the worshipers in their spiritual journeys. For example, if someone were bringing a sin offering, the priest would hear the confession, determine the sincerity and humility, and then accept the offering on God's behalf. They would burn part of the sacrifice to signify that God accepted it, and they would eat a part to endorse the acceptance of the sacrifice. In other words, by word and deed they were to convince the worshiper of forgiveness. Should a priest sin, he would have to take the part of the worshiper, and another priest officiate, for no priest could eat his own sin offering, i.e., accept his confession and declare his own forgiveness. This gave to the religious leaders an accountability and a community that all, priest and lay alike, were on a pilgrimage to God.
To summarize the teachings about priests in the Old Testament, we may highlight the following:
CHOSEN BY GOD
They were elected by God to be the priestly servants, and could do no other than fulfill the divine call.
Through an elaborate ritual of ordination they were set apart from common life to live a life of holiness to the LORD; motivated by the fear of the LORD and enjoying the life and the peace that God gives, they more than any others were to live exemplary lives.
TEACHERS OF THE LAW
They were to know the Scriptures, teach them impartially, convert sinners, and be able to counsel from them; their charge to communicate life and peace to the people was to find its greatest expression in the overflow from their own life of obedience to the truth.
They were to bear the people up regularly through faithful intercessory prayer, entering into the suffering of the people in their mediation so that people found help in time of need.
They were the leaders of corporate worship, interposing the sacrifices appropriately for the people, hearing the confessions, providing the atonement, keeping the access to God always open, actively organizing and leading the music, and by their own lives showing spiritual growth; they themselves were to follow the leadership of the High Priest, thus demonstrating discipleship to the people.
The qualifications and characteristics of prophets and prophetesses are a little more difficult to discover than the priests and elders because the Bible does not lay out this material systematically. The prophets are on the whole an unusual lot: they could be life-long prophets or serve only one mission; they might do mighty works or no miracles at all; they could be normal people or rather unusual characters; they might write Scripture or leave no written oracles at all. But the basic theme that describes all true prophets is that they were people called by God to speak His Word with divine authority.
1. The Tests of Prophets. There are two important tests set forth in the Law. The passage in Deuteronomy 13 says that even if a prophet came with dreams, or miraculous signs and wonders, and even if what he predicted came to pass, his message had to harmonize with the Word of the LORD. The text says, Athe LORD your God is testing you to see whether or not you love Him with all your heart@ and Athat prophet or dreamer must be put to death . . . he has tried to turn you away from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow@ (vv. 3-5). A similar qualification would be made in the New Testament for testing the spirits (i.e., the teachers): do their teachings harmonize with the clear revelation of God? (1 John 4:1-3).
The other test is in Deuteronomy 18:18-22. This passage records the LORD=s alternative to pagan magic ritual and divination--He would raise up a prophet to communicate divine revelation. This little section captures the essence of prophetism: AI will put my words (debaray) in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.@ Moreover, the words that he spoke were authoritative and binding: Awhosoever shall not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.@ And finally, the test of whether or not the prophet is a prophet of the LORD or a false prophet would be whether or not what he predicted came to pass. Of course, not all prophets predicted things, and not all were alive when their predictions came to pass. But the point of the test is that the words of the prophet must be true, first harmonizing with the previously revealed truth, and then coming to pass as (or if) predicted. It was, after all, the Word of the LORD.
2. The Ministry of the Prophets. True prophets preached and applied the Word of the LORD so that people would live in obedience to Him, and they predicted the future as proof of the authenticity of their messages. In their mission to speak the Word of the LORD, their ministry might take one of several important forms:
a) The prophets at times would announce the decision of the Heavenly Council (see 1 Kings 22:19; Jer. 23:18,22). To do this the prophet was either caught up into it or allowed to hear the decision.
b) The prophet at times would predict impending judgment or salvation, either immediate or eschatological. Usually the salvation followed the immediate disaster caused by sins. Many of their predictions were not fulfilled in the lifetime of their audience; but enough were fulfilled to let people know that they were true prophets.
c) The prophet would interpret the history of Israel and reiterate the Law as the explanation of God=s dealings with His people.
d) The prophet spoke for God in the theocracy and therefore was over other positions. Prophets anointed kings and priests and judges, were constantly at odds with Israel=s leaders (at times at the cost of their lives), and even deposed them.
e) The prophet would exhort and influence behavior in moral teachings and exhortations. The prophets came on the scene primarily to rebuke sin and warn of judgment; their words of comfort and encouragement applied to the remnant, those who responded well to the Word of the LORD.
f) Prophets wrote Holy Scripture. From Moses to Malachi the Word of the LORD was declared and written by the prophets, or the Asons of the prophets@ who may have collected the oracles, so that all could hear God=s word and therefore be held accountable to obey.
3. The Authority of the Prophets. It should be clear now that the authority of the prophets was the Word of the LORD. The prophets were merely messengers, spokesmen and women for God. They had no authority in and of themselves; their authority was in God's Word. Therefore, throughout the Bible the prophet would announce the message with AThus says Yahweh@ (some 3800 times). I would take the perfect tense (=amar) in most occurrences of this clause to be an instantaneous perfect, i.e., the action is accomplished at the moment of speaking--the LORD was speaking through the mouth of the prophet at that moment. At other times the Word came to the prophet with the instruction to go and tell what the LORD had said. So the prophets spoke the Word, wrote it, and even performed it through their lives and the lives of their families (thus becoming incarnate words). The prophets= claim was that God was the author of their message (see Exod. 4:15; Deut. 18:18; Jer. 20:7-9; and 2 Sam. 23:2).
The Hebrew term dabar is an active idea; it can be translated Aword, event, thing.@ God=s Word was active and effectual--in creation, in salvation, in judgment, in comfort, in rebuke, in prophecy. It was powerful because it was the Word of the Living God and not merely because of the way it was chanted, sung, rhymed, or given with ecstasy. Because the Word of God had been breathed out by the Spirit of God (2 Tim. 3:16), it was efficacious--it would not return to Him void (Isa. 55:11).
The communication of this AWord@ from God could be varied. Most often it was publicly declared. It created doom as it foretold devastation; it stirred hope and comfort as it promised relief. But since it was often communicated as an oracle, with visions, or in dreams, the people would acknowledge that it was God's Word. And almost all the oracles were set in poetic form, so that to be a prophet was to be a poet as well. This additional feature made their messages more memorable. But always what was said or enacted harmonized with the Law. The prophet-historians knew the international scene well, and they knew Israel's calling and promised future. They were astute analysts of the nation's economy and condition. Consequently, their Word from God was always practical and timely, applying the Law to current events. Nevertheless, it was the eternal Word of the LORD and so became in-scripturated for subsequent generations to use--it was authoritatively binding on all people forever.
It is clear that Israel=s prophets and prophetesses were unique people. Some aspects of what they did have been made available to the Church through the spiritual gift of prophecy, but much of what they did has not. The prophets were raised up for a period of time, but then eventually diminished with the coming of the LORD. But even when they were active they were never part of the official Temple Astaff,@ and in fact often not welcomed by the priests. God raised them up to declare His Word when there was a great need for that message.
No one set of descriptions and qualifications will describe all the prophets. They were people in all walks of life (some actually priests as well) that God called to speak for Him in bold and often dangerous ways. Once the Old Testament canon drew to a close, they seem to decline as the powerful driving force of the theocracy, much of their work being taken over by scribes and teachers of the Law. And, of course, the ultimate fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18 is Jesus Christ, the Prophet like Moses, who was the full disclosure of the Godhead, the living Word. He alone is the Teacher with authority; He alone can generate new revelation.
There are, nonetheless, several basic principles that can be drawn from the ministry of prophets:
CALLED BY GOD
They were chosen by God for their tasks, sometimes from the beginning of their lives, and were not able to cease ministering or refuse to do it if God had decreed it.
SPEAKERS FOR GOD
They were mouthpieces, speaking God=s Word, whether it was moral preaching or predictive prophecy; their messages were not their own ideas, their authority not their own.
FAITHFUL TO GOD
They too were to be faithful to their task of delivering the message, and obedient to the revealed Word of God, not turning aside nor taking bribes, and not becoming a false prophet.
SUFFER FOR GOD
They were ridiculed, threatened, opposed, punished, and slain because they told the truth and declared unpopular messages; they had to be willing to pay the price (sometimes God had to prepare them for this [see Jer. 1:17-19]).
The central figure in the theocratic administration was the king. Although there was only one king, what was required of him is instructive for a study on theocratic leaders. In many ways the monarch had the greatest influence on the people, for good or evil. Accordingly, the Book of Kings will constantly remind us of the king=s influence--Ahe did that which was evil@ or Ahe made Israel to sin.@ Kingship was focused in the Davidic Covenant which set forth the requirements for such rulers to follow. In the New Covenant Jesus Christ is the eternal King; He is the true spiritual leader, and as such is the pattern for all to follow.
In Israel there were several basic requirements for kings:
1. Elected by God. Here again the leader was chosen by God. For kings this worked a little differently than for priests and elders. For a king to be legitimate (recall the words of the prophet: AThey have set up kings but not by me@ [Hos. 8:4]) he had to have been anointed by a prophet of the LORD. David was anointed by Samuel, and then through the Davidic Covenant every descendant of David was automatically included in the election of the House of David. The northern kingdom had a series of usurpers and murderers who came to power. They would not endure because they were not chosen by God.
2. Enabled to Rule. With the call from God came the enabling by God, often symbolized by the oil that was used in the anointing, but on occasion provided through the means of prayer (e.g., Solomon=s prayer for wisdom to rule). There is sufficient evidence in the Bible to suggest that the anointing with oil signified the Holy Spirit=s coming upon the king. The evidence throughout the Old Testament yields the conclusion that the Spirit did not permanently indwell every believer as in the New Testament after Pentecost, but rather selectively indwelt theocratic leaders--kings, judges, priests, prophets, Levites. With the coming of the Spirit the leader was empowered to do the work of the LORD; if the Spirit departed from such a person, it meant that that person was rejected from office and no longer able to lead God=s people. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit enters the believer=s life at the time of regeneration (i.e., causing regeneration) and seals that person for eternity (see 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13 and 4:30; and relate John 6:27). So there is a marked difference between the testaments, a movement from promise to fulfillment.
But in both testaments oil seems to be a symbol of the Spirit. This connection of oil and Spirit is made very clear in Zechariah=s vision of the olive trees with the direct pipes from the trees to the lamps (Zech. 4). The interpreting angel explains the meaning of this: A[This work is] not by might, nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD.@ And the New Testament equates oil and the Spirit in its teaching of Athe anointing of the Spirit@ (e.g., 1 John 2:20).
We cannot be sure of what effect the Spirit had on each king chosen; some in the Davidic line were not even believers, and some who were believers were disobedient to their calling. For many the Scripture is silent. But we may say that works done for God--always, any works done for God--were empowered by the Spirit of God. Likewise, the ministry of the Church is dependant upon the power of the Holy Spirit, directly or indirectly through the functioning of spiritual gifts.
3. Obedient to the LORD. The most important quality, then, was this matter of obedience. If the king disobeyed the LORD, he betrayed his calling and quenched any divine help that might be there otherwise. Here too the king was to be Athe servant of the LORD.@ Unfortunately, the kings of Israel could rule others, but could not rule themselves. The Davidic Covenant made it clear that if they wanted to be retained in service they had to obey the Law. Again and again the picture of the ideal king is one who would have a righteous administration (Pss. 45, 72, 101), one who would vindicate the poor and the needy, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger--what Jesus would later do as part of His earthly ministry, and what James would describe as pure religion. Kings had to remember that the nation was not a monarchy but a theocracy, and that they were to serve God in administering justice and equity throughout the land. They were but servants.
One quickly gets the impression that the title Athe servant of the LORD@ (>ebed Yahweh) was the highest title any individual could have. It certainly was the most elusive, given human nature=s propensity for disobedience. Moses was the servant of the LORD. Joshua was the servant of the LORD. David was the servant of the LORD. Hezekiah was the servant of the LORD. Messiah Himself would be known as the servant of the LORD, demonstrating once and for all what that meant. And then Paul, making the one necessary substitution, called himself the Abond-servant of Jesus Christ@ (thus equating Jesus with Yahweh). Success in the service of God demanded that the servant serve the LORD.
Chosen by God, anointed by His power, and obedient to His Law, the kings were more than military conquerors and political administrators. They were the recognized leaders of God=s program on earth. They enacted religious reforms; they purified worship from false religious practices; they led the congregation in the festal processions and pilgrimages; they organized temple music and guilds of musicians; and they by their own faith and worship could inspire the nation to serve the LORD faithfully. If the king, with the sanction and the support of the prophets, served the LORD, he would be the most powerful influence for righteousness in the land; if he did not, the nation would crumble and fall in ruins.
From the material on the kings we may glean the following points:
The kings were chosen by God=s prophets and anointed with oil, signifying that they had the divine right and the divine enablement to rule; the choice was God=s, even within the Davidic family, as God looked on the heart and not the outer appearance.
THE SERVANT OF THE LORD
The kings could never take the power to themselves, usurp other offices, or disobey the Word of the LORD; the blessings of peace and prosperity in their reigns would come through piety and obedience; disobedience and unbelief would bring God=s rejection and political disaster.
All the decisions and actions of the king--including warfare--were to be in behalf of righteousness and justice and truth; they were to love justice and hate evil,
a balance that required wisdom from above; they were to make sure that all people enjoyed their God-given rights. The bottom line was whether or not the king championed the needs of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the fatherless and the foreigner in the land (something James would repeat as pure religion). Without this, the king was not righteous, even if a great warrior.
The term "faithfulness" (or the adjective "faithful") are derivatives of the Hebrew =aman, "to be firm, to support." The passive conjugation (niphal) carries the idea of that which is reliable, dependable, or faithful. To be faithful then signifies the joining of faith and obedience--trusting leads to trustworthiness.
The Hebrew idea of >ebed, "servant," needs to be understood today. The idea is bound up with the nature of the covenant in which Yahweh was the Lord, the great Suzerain, and His people were His servants. They were not free to worship or serve others; they were not free to make new laws or innovations; they belonged to God. The life of faith was to be a life of submission to the Great King Yahweh.
Brevard Childs makes a compelling case to show that when God told Moses to step aside and let Him destroy the people He was actually prompting Moses to intercede. After all, if God really wanted to wipe out the nation, it did not matter where Moses was standing. But be asking Moses to step aside, God was putting the future of the nation on Moses=s shoulders. It is a fascinating discussion of the difficult commandment of God (The Book of Exodus [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974], p. 567).
The essential sin of Moses was disobedience in the eyes of the people. He lost his temper ("you rebels"), personalized the work ("shall we bring water out of the rock") and struck the rock rather than speak God's word. The people did not see the "holiness of the LORD" in this--only a common human leader.
The Old Greek translation of Exodus 33:18 uses seautou--"show me the real You." The word "glory" (kabod) can mean the true nature as well as the glorious phenomena that accompanied His Presence (i.e., "the glory of the LORD"). Moses had seen the latter; he wanted more.
S. R. Driver, The Book of Exodus (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1911), p. 171.
The term qadosh means "set apart, distinct, unique, sacred." The idea can be understood better with two supplementary studies. First, the antonym of the word is khalal, "common, profane, ordinary." Second, the term "holy" derives from a study of the nature of God; and His holiness can only be understood by studying all of His attributes to see in what ways He is distinct. When the nation is termed "holy" it must mean that it was set apart to God's service and was to be distinct and separate from everything removed from and indifferent to God.
For guidance in discovering the meanings of the lessons in Genesis 37--50, see my treatment in Creation and Blessing, A Guide to the Study and Exposition of the Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), pp. 589-717.
Gerhard von Rad, "The Joseph Narrative and Ancient Literature," in Problems of the Hexateuch and Other Essays, translated by E. W. Trueman Dicken (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), pp. 292-300.
A study of the listings of verses in the concordances that mention the effects of fearing the LORD yields these ideas. The word "fear" in Hebrew includes two aspects, shrinking back in fear and drawing near in amazement and adoration. The term describes my response to Niagara Falls--desire to draw near in wonder, but keeping a healthy distance. Thus, in the Old Testament those who fear the LORD are true worshipers who hold the LORD in awe and reverence because of who He is.
The Mishnah lists the kinds of people ineligible for judging or witnessing in decisions: a dice-player, a usurer, a pigeon-flier, and a trafficker in Sabbatical year produce (Sanhedrin 3:3). The point is that such would be either unemployed or irresponsible, if not dishonest. People who take advantage of others, who live by the roll of the dice, or who show no communal responsibility make terrible elders.
This is the noun that is related to the same verbal form discussed above in footnote 6. The (hiphil) verb is translated "believe"; it may be a declarative use of the stem, i.e., "consider or declare something reliable or trustworthy." "Truth" would describe that which is reliable or believable. The noun can be used adjectivally in the Old Testament for "faithful"; here it would be an attributive genitive.
Hebrew khokmah is clearer than the English "wisdom." The term means "skill"; in the religious and ethical sense it would describe skillful living according to the Law of the LORD and the ethics of the community. One who is wise lives life skillfully, so that in the final analysis it is productive and beneficial to others. Worthy elders would be living out what the Book of Proverbs teaches (see also Hebrews 5:14).
The verb yoru, "teach," is connected to the verb yarah, meaning "to point, guide, direct." It may also be linked to the usage of "shooting" (arrows). The common translation "teach" would mean to guide, point, or direct someone in the right path. The noun torah, "teaching, law, Law," is used in the Bible for an individual teaching, instruction in the Book of Proverbs, the Law of Moses, or the whole Scripture. Teaching in itself was not enough; it was the subject matter that made the teaching the ministry.
The verbs in this verse should be classified as obligatory imperfects since the prophet is reminding them of what they were called to do but were not doing.
The verbs in the High Priestly blessing demand a careful study. They are jussives (forms of the verb used to express wish, desire, prayer, or oracle--Amay he do such and so@; but given the nature of this oracle from God, the time it was given [after the priest emerged from making atonement], and the meanings of the words in context ("I will put my blessing upon them"), they should be classified as jussives of declaration (as in "Let there be light") rather than a wish or a prayer. On the basis of the atoning blood the Priest would declare that God's grace and peace were upon the people. The authority to do this came from the LORD who gave the word and accepted the atonement. It is likely that Paul's salutations--"grace and peace to you"--are based on this passage in view of Christ's atonement that has given us the grace of God and eternal peace with God.
The idea of calling forth or declaring the blessing of God needs to be studied at some length (see Claus Westermann, Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978]). The idea of berakah is enrichment--spiritual, physical, or material--but this enrichment includes empowerment for fruitfulness.
The symbolism of clothing certainly has to do with righteousness, for it is the point of the story-vision of the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 3) and the hope of the psalmist (Ps. 132) that the priests will be clothed with righteousness. The symbolism of white linens was the most vivid way to portray this truth.
The vision of the prophet probably has more to do with the cleansing of the priestly nation in order to re-institute it for service. But the application to priests is certainly in line with this.
In this regard it might be fitting to mention that women were not permitted into the priesthood in Israel, even though women in priestly families received the benefits of such. One of the reasons for this is that priestesses in the ancient world did not marry (at least could not have children), but were given over to the temple service, often serving in the capacity of cult prostitutes. The Law of Moses creates a great distance between Israel priesthood and that, with the marriage of the priest being normal and pure.
A study of Jeremiah shows that the priests and prophets he competed with were promising the people peace and security, even though they were living sinful lives and worshipping the Queen of Heaven.
There are some 38 named prophets in the Old Testament, three named prophetesses, and a number of unnamed people who are simply referred to as "a man of God" or "a prophet" of "the sons of the prophets." Not all prophets wrote Scripture, but their words were the authoritative Word of the LORD; and all Scripture came from the prophets.
The main method of delivering the Word of the LORD was the public oracle. However, signs (miraculous or otherwise) and dramatic, even personal events brought the messages home vividly.
For example, we can see the authority of Nathan over David, Elijah over Ahab, or Isaiah over Hezekiah and Ahaz, as well as the prophetess Huldah over the king and priest in her day (2 Kings 22). Their authority was in the Word of the LORD and not in themselves. In a theocracy, God and His revealed Word is the authority.
Studies on the creative power of the Word of the LORD demonstrate that because of divine inspiration the Word is not merely truth, but the effectual instrument of truth. The Word regenerates, creates, convicts, condemns, comforts, heals, enlightens, darkens, and guides. Ultimately it is the power of God behind His Word that ensures that it will not return to Him void.
With Jeremiah the call was made before he was born; with Isaiah it came while he was serving in the Temple. There is insufficient evidence to trace through all the prophets' calls, but one common starting point is, "The Word of the LORD came to (PN), saying."
According to Jeremiah 20, when the prophet tried to cease speaking in the name of the LORD, the Word was like a burning fire within him and he could not contain it. The apostle Peter will say that this Word came not by the will of man (2 Pet. 1:20,21).
They might, however, be very successful kings. Omri receives only a brief negative report in the Bible; but in the literature of Assyria he is recognized as a famous and powerful king.
The Holy Spirit would come upon leaders and leave leaders in the Old Testament, but this had little bearing on them salvifically. When the Spirit left Saul (1 Sam. 16:14) it signified that he had been rejected as king; when David prayed that the Spirit be not taken from him (Ps. 51:11), he meant that he wanted to remain as king and not be rejected like Saul. If a Christian prays Psalm 51, it must be prayed through the understanding of the New Covenant--a Christian can be rejected from serving the LORD, but cannot lose the Holy Spirit who seals us unto the day of redemption.