The Rise and fall of the Levitical priesthood

In a previous article, we introduced the importance of studying the priesthood. The priesthood is a story of us, sin, forgiveness, and service. Here we wish to lay a bit of groundwork about the priesthood, and examine why something far greater was necessary.

While the Patriarchs functioned in a priestly fashion (see Genesis 8:17-20; 12:1-9; 14:18-20; Job 1:5; 42:1-9), it is Aaron and his lineage that devoted their lives to the priestly service.

The Demand for Priests

Sin is serious. It creates a separation between the Creator and his creation (Isaiah 59:2). The Bible declares all guilty of sin (Romans 3:23), and the earned result of that sin is death (Romans 6:23). Forgiveness requires the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22), and it is in the sacrifice of life that God offers atonement (Leviticus 17:11). A sacrifice was necessary for forgiveness, and a priest was necessary for sacrifice.

The Distinctiveness of Priests

God didn’t just allow anyone to serve him. The entire tribe of Levi was set apart to stand before the Lord and to minister to him (Deuteronomy 10:8-9). Everything about a priest was distinctive. His elaborate dress demonstrated God’s holiness (Exodus 28:1-4, 36, 40). He was excluded from war (Numbers 1:3, 47-52). They were wholly dedicated to the Lord: “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine” (Numbers 3:12 ESV).

The Downfall of Priests

The priests were human, and suffered the same weaknesses (Hebrews 5:2-3). But the history of the priesthood is riddled with failure. Aaron quickly descended into idolatry (Exodus 32:1-6). His sons, Nadab and Abihu, sinned in offering unauthorized fire (Leviticus 10:1-7). Eli’s sons engaged in great wickedness (1 Samuel 2:22-25). The weakness of men was the weakness the law (Romans 8:3). It should have been evident that something greater was needed.

The Desire for a Better Priest

In order for a change in the priesthood to take effect, there must of necessity be a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12). God promised that there would be a better law coming (Jeremiah 31:31-34), a “new covenant.” This new covenant with a new priest would be wonderful.

The Old Testament is filled with prophecy concerning this “better priest.” He would be a ruler (Genesis 49:10), a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18-19), and a priest (Ezekiel 21:25-27; Zechariah 6:12-13). He would serve not after the Levitical order, but after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:11-28).

Psalm 110 was quoted by Peter as the culmination of his gospel sermon, declaring Jesus as risen savior, crowned king, and ministering priest. Thank God for our perfect providing priest!

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