What does priesthood in the Old Testament have to do with church leadership today?
Quite a lot, as it turns out—though perhaps not in the way you would assume!
Priestly leadership isn’t about becoming a priest; it isn’t even about becoming a caregiver or counselor for the people of God.
To understand the implications of Old Testament priesthood for the church today, let‘s first take a look at an overlooked aspect of priesthood in the Old Testament.
Priests as Teachers
During the time of the Exodus, God consecrated priests to bless the people, to represent the people, and to offer sacrifices for the people (Exodus 28:9-12; Leviticus 4—16; Numbers 6:22-27). Yet there was another responsibility placed upon priests that was no less significant than these ritual roles. God commanded the priests and Levites to teach the Torah. This responsibility included priestly proclamation of the Torah in difficult legal cases—but it extended far beyond the clarification of verdicts in complicated courtroom situations. From the earliest stages of Israel’s history as a nation, the role of teaching “all the statutes that the LORD has given” was central to the priesthood (Leviticus 10:11). In his address on the plains of Moab, Moses explicitly assigned to the priests the privileges of instructing the people, safeguarding the Torah scrolls, and superintending the copying of these scrolls (Deuteronomy 17:18; 31:9-13; 33:10).
God’s Truth Conveyed to God’s People through the Exposition of God’s Word
Priests were not merely mediators of God’s blessings or representatives of God’s people. The priests and their Levitical compatriots were also called to be expositors of God’s written Word. Any ritual role that a priest possessed was relativized by his precedent identity as a follower and faithful teacher of God’s Word. The presentation of difficult cases before a judicial bench of priests and a judge provided not only a courtroom where righteous judgments could be handed down but also a classroom where the people could be reminded anew to remain faithful to the covenant (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). Because his judgments were grounded in faithful proclamation of God’s Word, the verdicts that a priest declared in these cases were never merely the priest’s opinion. His verdicts were the truth of God conveyed to the people of God through the exposition and application of the Word of God.
Portions of this post are excerpted from my book The God Who Goes Before You: Pastoral Leadership as Christ-Centered Followership.You can order the book here.
Think About Leadership and Priesthood:
Today, every believer in Jesus Christ participates together in his priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Because God’s revelation is available to every believer who shares in this holy priesthood, any believer may receive a word from God that calls others to deeper faithfulness and holiness. Are you tempted to ignore admonitions from faithful Christians in your church simply because you know more about the Bible and theology than they do? If so, remember Richard Baxter’s admonition to pastors who pride themselves in their theological scholarship: “Take heed. … The devil is a greater scholar than you.” You and every Christian in your congregation are equal participants in a common priesthood and have access to God’s truth through his Word and his Spirit. What can you do to be more open to the reality that God may convey his truth to you through believers who may know far fewer theological facts than you?