priesthood

1 Kings 14, Ezekiel 44

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Kings 14 and Ezekiel 44.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 44.

Despite the fact that Judah’s exile in Babylon had barely just begun, God continued speaking through Ezekiel about what the future temple and worship in Israel should be like. Remember that this exile would last for 70 years so none of the things Ezekiel talked about in this chapter could or would happen for several decades.

With that in mind, it seems a little absurd to be speaking in so much detail about God’s standards for Israel’s future. It would be like going to prison for 30 years for tax fraud and, while you are there, planning to start a new corporation when you’re released and writing the employee personnel manual for that corporation as if you had 100 employees. Who would do that? It seems like a complete waste of time and energy.

So why would God, of all people, do that? Because his plans for Israel were fixed and his word was certain. There should be no doubt in the mind of any Israelite that their society would be restored and that worshiping God would be at the center of it. Rather than wait for things to develop on their own or for people to make up regulations and laws on the fly, God planned it all out in advance and revealed it to Ezekiel long before any of it would happen.

The last 2/3rds of today’s chapter, Ezekiel 44, talks about how the Levites and priests would minister before the Lord. In verse 28 God said, “‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” Levi’s tribe was the only one of Israel’s twelve tribes that did not have a geographic place assigned to it. The men of Levi were to fan out to all the tribes of Israel and live among the cities, towns, and villages of all the people. They could buy their own land and even farm it, but they were not given any land to possess as every other tribe and family was. When it was their turn to minister before the Lord in the Temple, they would come to Jerusalem and live in those rooms that were described in chapter 42 of Ezekiel and alluded to here in Ezekiel 44:19. Yes, the temple had something like a hotel in it where their priests would live temporarily during their duties in Jerusalem. But the rest of the year they lived among the rest of God’s people in cities, villages, and countrysides.

What did they do when they were not on temple duty? Well, many of them ran family farms or had other side businesses, but their main task was to serve God’s people in non-temple ways. Those were discussed in this chapter as well:

First, they were teachers. Verse 23 says, “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” Second, they were judges. Verse 24 says, “In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances.”

These two duties could keep the priests busy throughout the year depending on how many other priests lived near them and what the population density was around them. Any side businesses they had were to take the backseat to God’s original call on their tribe to be priests.

That brings us to the compensation portion of this chapter. After stating that God would be the inheritance of the priests in verse 28, he spelled out specifically how that would work in verses 29-31: the priests would live off of the offerings God’s people made in worship to Him. Verse 29a says they will eat what the people bring that is edible. Verse 29b says that the priests will own anything that has been devoted to the Lord by his people. And verse 30 commanded the people to bring “the best” and “the first portion” of what they produced.

Pastors like me are not priests but we do many of the functions God gave to priests in verses 23-24. Furthermore, the New Testament drew from the principles in this chapter (and many others) and commanded God’s people to support their church leaders financially. We depend on the tithes, offerings, and gifts that you give to the church for our livelihood. If you and others don’t give, or just give the leftovers, not the first portion as commanded in verse 30, we have to figure out how to do without the things we need to live and do ministry. The point of this devotional, then, is to say that all of us should be giving faithfully to God’s work and that our giving should come first, not after we’ve paid the bank for a house or a car or a boat or whatever. If you give what you can after you’ve paid your obligations, God’s work will have very little because most people don’t save anything at all.

Again, verse 28 says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” It is a great privilege to have the Lord as your portion in life. I once heard John MacArthur say that being a pastor is like being paid to give your full attention to growing in Christ and living the Christian life. I fully agree with him and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to do this. But we pastors are dependent on the financial support of God’s people. Not all churches believe in or practice tithing but all of us depend on the generosity of God’s people. So, I encourage you to make giving to the Lord’s work a priority in your life. God’s work depends on it and this is the way God established to fund his work.

Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, Psalm 134

Today, read Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, and Psalm 134.

This devotional is about Psalm 134.

When I was a very young adult, I took on a second job to pay off some credit card debt. I worked as a night auditor at a hotel on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The work was easy and the hotel was usually pretty quiet but the hours were tough. I started work at 11 p.m. and my shift finished at 7 a.m. That was after a week of working full-time in another job and going to seminary. I was young but it was pretty hard on my body; fortunately, after about 10 months I had paid off the credit card debt and was offered a different job that paid better than my full-time job, so I was able to leave the overnight shift.

The song here in Psalm 134 is for the guys who worked the night shift in God’s temple. Leviticus 6:9c says, “The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” Three times in that paragraph (vv. 9, 12, 13) the Lord said some variation of, “the fire must be kept burning continuously” and twice he said, “it must not go out” (vv. 12, 13). Someone needed to tend to the fire, then, and this song addressed those priests. It calls on them to “praise the Lord” (v. 1a, 2) and reminded them that they were “servants of the Lord.”

The night shift is unpleasant. You work all night then try to sleep during the day but I could usually only sleep for four or five hours, no matter how tired I was. I also had a low-grade headache while I was awake which made it even harder to concentrate than just sleep deprivation did. The priests who worked that night shift might not have been in much of a mood to praise the Lord. This little song was something they could sing to remind them that they were serving the Lord as they tended to the fire overnight. It called on them to ignore their circumstances and focus on the greatness of God and to praise him because of his greatness.

Do your circumstances make you grumpy? Do you feel like complaining rather than praising the Lord? Remember that we are his servants as we go about our lives and that it is a privilege to serve the Lord. So remind yourself of this passage when you don’t feel like praying or praising God; learn a song that you can sing to yourself to refocus your mind on God’s greatness and praise him accordingly.

Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76

Today’s readings are Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76.

This devotional is about Exodus 28.

Exodus 28 described the uniform that the priests were to wear. Most of the garments that made up this uniform were for all the priests when they ministered in the Holy Place (vv. 43). Some pieces were reserved for only the high priest to wear (v. 15). Besides a description of each piece in the uniform, this chapter tells us the following:

  • The purpose of these garments was to give them “dignity and honor” (vv. 2, 40).
  • The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones and warn over the priest’s heart (vv. 9-12).
  • The breast piece was designed to make decisions for Israel and that was to be warn “over his heart before the Lord” (v. 30).

The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones which were warn over the priest’s heart. This should have helped him be conscious of what he already knew which is that he represented the people before God. Every time he put on the ephod, he had something tangible to remind him of his responsibility for all of Israel’s people. Likewise, every time he put on the breast piece, he had a physical reminder that God was the king of Israel and he was making the decisions for his people. Still, the best human priest could only imperfectly remember the people and his responsibility to them and the Lord and his way of revealing his will.

Aaron was a man, just like every other priest. As a man, he felt responsible for the work he was supposed to do. But he also experienced the concerns of everyday life--anxiety, perhaps, fear, loneliness, doubt, greed, envy, lust, and more. There were some times and some priests, I’m sure, where very little thought was given to the people or to the Lord’s will because the priest was preoccupied with his own stuff.

Jesus, our perfect priest, however, did not suffer from the sinful and/or selfish concerns that every other priest wrestled with as he did his duty for God. Jesus needed no reminder that his priestly ministry was for the people. The Bible tells us that his people were chosen by name to be in Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus was able to reveal God’s will like no other priest because he was God in the flesh. He did not need the Urim and Thummim over his heart to know and be conscious of God’s will; he knew God’s will intimately because he was the one willing it. Likewise, he did not need a reminder of the people whose sins he atoned for because he knew perfectly and completely each one of us. As the perfect man, because of his divinity, he was and is able to be our perfect priest without being distracted by his own human “stuff.” Instead of bearing a category representing us over his heart, he made atonement for and intercedes for us because we are in his heart.

Praise Jesus for fulfilling the symbols in this passage perfectly as our great high priest.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Psalm 9

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Psalm 9.

This devotional is about Ezra 9.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Sometimes you don’t get a choice; Ezra didn’t get one.

Things were going well in Jerusalem, finally. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, they were rebuilding God’s temple and had a new priest teaching the law and calling people to obedience. They had cash to pay for the work and had just received God’s protection as a large group of them returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in Ezra 8. That was the good news, after long last.

Now the family leaders of Israel came to Ezra with “the bad news.” And, it was terrible news--the people of Israel had disobeyed God’s commands and had married women from the unbelieving nations around them (v. 1-2). As if that kick to the gut wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a steel-toed boot carrying tetanus: “And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” The men who should have been teaching and warning and leading by example against this sin were instead the trendsetters in Israel.

I’ll be honest with you; had I been in Ezra’s situation, my instinct would be to distance myself from it. If we were there, you might have heard me say, “That’s on you. May God deal with you for it. It isn’t my fault you disobeyed.” Well..., I would have been speaking Hebrew, so it would have sounded much different than that to you. But, the point is, I would be inclined to move away from this issue.

Ezra was a much better spiritual leader than I am. [I can imagine your collective statements of, “Duh!”] He was offended on God’s behalf about this (vv. 3-4). But, instead of denouncing the people like a prophet would, he led them in national repentance owning their sins with his language:

  • “OUR sins are higher than our heads” (v. 6)
  • “OUR guilt has reached to the heavens” (v. 6)
  • “WE have forsaken the commands you gave (vv. 10b-11)
  • “Here WE are before you in OUR guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

Did Ezra really believe himself to be guilty of this? Did he really think--given that he knew about Noah and Lot--that God would include Ezra in his judgment if it came? Of course not. But, he was a priest not a prophet. It was his job to reconcile the people with God.

And, Ezra knew that God’s people were interconnected. In order for God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the whole nation to happen, the nation had to survive so that God would bless it. That’s a main reason why God gave the command not to intermarry--so that Israel would survive as an independent nation instead of being absorbed into other nations and cultures. Think about the other nations listed in verse1: “the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.” Only the Egyptians remain from that list. The rest were absorbed into other nations through intermarriage just like this. Israel remains to today, too, but this disobedience could easily have caused Israel’s extinction. Furthermore, intermarriage with other nations and cultures would have corrupted Israel’s worship just as Solomon worshipped other gods to please his foreign wives.

We’re not ethnically interconnected like Israel was ,but the truth is that we’re interconnected spiritually. It goes against the culture of “rugged individualism” that we’ve inherited as Americans* but we are the body of Christ. The legs of a person’s body may be strong enough to run a marathon but if that person has a heart attack while running, the whole body dies. Even those strong, tan legs will fall.

So, sins that are widespread among our church body affect us all. We need each other and God has given us the ability through spiritual gifts to help one another. But we can also harm one another bigly. One aspect of spiritual leadership, then, is to lead in what might be called “corporate repentance” for widespread disobedience in a church, a family, or any other group of professing believers.

*Apologies to those who read this in Kingston, Ontario and elsewhere in the world.

Hebrews 7

Here we go with today’s reading, Hebrews 7.

We are far removed from the world of animal sacrifices in the temple and the priests who offer them but this letter was written to “Hebrews” not to “North Americans.” Priests and their work was important to Hebrews because their law and their worship revolved around the temple and its sacrifices.

Imagine that someone told you to move whatever you had in terms of money out of dollars and into something new like Bitcoin. I am not recommending that you do that nor am I giving you any financial advice at all. But if someone whose financial acumen you respected told you to move to Bitcoin, I think you still might have a hard time doing that. Dollars are all we’ve ever known, right? So could it really be a good idea to move away from all of that?

That’s sort of what it was like to tell a Jewish person to forget about the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews in this chapter argues to them that there is a priesthood that is older than Aaron’s priesthood in the law of Moses. To return to our analogy, then, the author of Hebrews is not arguing for Bitcoin but for gold. Gold has been used for currency long before money came along and the value of our money used to be based on gold. Spiritually, then, Jesus is less like Bitcoin and more like a return to the gold standard. His priesthood, symbolized by Melchizedek, predated and was superior to Aaron’s priesthood (vv. 1-10), was spoken about during Aaron’s priesthood (v. 15-17, 20-21), and is superior to Aaron’s priesthood because he represented a better covenant than Moses’ covenant (v. 22).

The Hebrews who read this letter were drawn in faith to the promises and person of Jesus but they were uncertain about leaving Judaism behind. Judaism felt like a reliable currency for them; it wasn’t, really, but it was all they knew. The author of Hebrews was concerned that his readers were trying to keep a foot in both worlds; that is, they wanted to be Christian and Jewish at the same time. His warnings, one of which we looked at yesterday, were written to urge them not to turn their backs on Jesus to return to Judaism. Now, here in chapter 7, he urges them to turn their backs on Judaism and go completely with Jesus.

Verses 23-28 brings this discussion of priests to a point where we Gentiles can see the importance of Jesus’ priesthood. Verses 24-25 tell us that Christ is a permanent priest. Since there is no longer any “changing of the guard” now that Christ is our priest, we can be certain that our salvation is eternal because “he always lives to intercede for” us (v. 25b). In addition to being our permanent priest, Jesus’ priesthood is perfect. His perfect moral nature (v. 26) means that he is always qualified morally to be our priest. Because he was the perfect sacrifice, too (v. 27b-28), our sins are atoned for permanently.

Our eternal salvation is secure eternally because our priest is permanent and perfect. Although we have not yet been perfected, we don’t need to worry that our sins will cause us to fall out of God’s favor because Jesus’ perfect sacrificed atoned for all our sins--including those in our future and his perfect priesthood causes him to intercede on our behalf perpetually. If you struggle with assurance of your faith, the priesthood of Christ is just the doctrine for you. God gave us the perfect sacrifice that we could never offer and the perfect person to speak to God on our behalf when we sin.

Hebrews 5

These chapters in Hebrews are short--aren’t they--compared to Matthew? So, today’s short chapter to read is Hebrews 5.

The comparison of Jesus to the OT priests started in chapter 4 and continued here in chapter 5. In today’s reading the author of Hebrews was concerned for us, his readers. We might think of Jesus, he reasoned, as someone who was harsh because he was holy. Our conception of Jesus might be that he despises us as moral weaklings because he is so strong, so perfect in his moral vision and action.

The chapter started out, then, with a concession to our thinking. High priests in the Old Testament were chosen from “among the people” (v. 1). They were guys just like us with the same struggles and frustrations and problems. As a result, a priest like that was “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” (v. 2). After all, before he can atone for anyone else’s sin with an animal sacrifice, he had to admit to his own sinfulness by offering a sacrifice for himself (v. 3).

Still, not anyone can become a priest; you can’t even volunteer for the job (v. 4), so Jesus was chosen by God to become our high priest just as Aaron and his family were originally chosen for that task (vv. 4-6). So why should we expect Jesus to have any compassion on us since he was not merely one of us and was chosen especially by God for this task? Verses 7-9 answer that question. I wrote provocatively yesterday that “Jesus had it easy” but I’ve felt that way many times as a Christian. If I was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), then it would be easy to obey God and always do the right thing. It’s an excuse I’ve made for my own sins and failings in life, but it feels true.

The author of Hebrews, however, wants none of this nonsense. As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus felt the power of temptation more.. uh... powerfully than me because he resisted completely rather than giving in early like I often do. Furthermore, Christ had to face every trick and attack and ally the devil has ever had because there was so much at stake in his earthly life. So Jesus life, while lived in joy, was also more difficult and frustrating than you or I can possibly imagine. Verse 7 describes a man who was tormented emotionally by the thought of the cross--not the pain of suffering but the trauma of death. Death is complete separation from life and the living but Jesus was the author of life, the one who breathed it into Adam’s nostrils. Now the creator and giver of life, the one who came to give it “more abundantly” was going to be cut off from life by death, the penalty of sin. That included physical death but also spiritual death--separation in relationship from God the Father and the Holy Spirit for a time. Jesus prayed fervently--in Gethsemane for sure, but probably elsewhere, too--for some way to avoid all this lifeless separation. The end of verse 7 says that Christ “was heard because of his reverent submission” but God did not grant his request! Think about this the next time God answers your prayer with a “no”--Jesus knows what that feels like! He experienced the pain and disappointment of sincerely, humbly, deeply asking for something that God was not willing to grant. Why? Verse 8: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Just as you don’t always give your kids what they want because what they want is not what is best in the long term, so God denied Jesus’ request for salvation from death so that he could accomplish salvation, yes (v. 9) but also so that he could completely understand what it means to submit to the difficult will of the Father.

He is the one who prays for us when we ask for help in temptation. He’s the one who aches for us when we are brokenhearted, bereaved, or beaten down by life’s struggles, disappointments, and worries. Really, now, would you rather have another sinner representing you before God as your priest? Or would you rather have someone who bravely faced and defeated the most powerful temptations and the most personal, difficult struggles that humanity could ever know? Be encouraged; whatever you’re facing in life, Jesus is praying for you and representing you before the Father. There’s nobody better or more qualified to do it.

2 Kings 11–12, 2 Timothy 2, Hosea 3–4, Psalm 119:121–144

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 11–12, 2 Timothy 2, Hosea 3–4, Psalm 119:121–144. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Hosea 3-4.

Hosea 4:6a is probably the best known saying from the book of Hosea: “…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” That passage is often quoted like a proverb even in our secular world. They way that it is used in the secular world suggests that more education is the answer for every human problem. If people were just more knowledgable, they would not be “destroyed.” 

I do think that knowledge is important and, perhaps, you could extend the application of this verse into a principle that ignorance in general is damaging. But that is not the immediate message the Lord was sending through Hosea. The knowledge God's people lacked was the knowledge of him, their God. This verse comes in the larger context of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and their covenant with him (3:1, 4:1b-2). Toward the end of verse 1, the phrase “no acknowledgment of God in the land” could (should) be translated, “no knowledge of God in the land” as in the ESV. One of the charges the Lord brings against his people, then, is that they do not know him (v. 1). The consequence of not knowing him in v. 5 is that “my people are destroyed.” 

And why did the people lack knowledge? Verse 6b says, “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” The Lord traced the ignorance of his people back to the unfaithful teaching of the priests. One of the role of the priests was to teach God’s law to his people but the priests had “ignored” God’s law. Whatever they were teaching was so much less than the greatness of God for verse 7 says, “they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful.” 

I don’t talk much about church history, but tomorrow is October 31 which is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. These 95 theses were points of debate that Luther, a committed Catholic monk at that point in his life, wanted to discuss. You can see the 95 Theses, translated into English here. They were mostly about the sale of indulgences. Instead of seeking true repentance from the heart, the church was teaching that people had to do penance for their sins and that penance could be done by buying indulgences. Some of Luther’s theses complained that the church was neglecting the teaching of God’s word in order to teach about indulgences. Some of his language echoes the thoughts we read here in Hosea 4:6-8. Theses 53 and 54 read, “53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others. 54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.” 

It seems that spiritual leaders in all ages and eras can be tempted to move away from teaching about God to teaching something else—idolatry, indulgences, relational skills, health & wealth, psychology, or whatever. The result is that God’s people no longer know him; having been deprived of his word, they have no means by which to know what he is truly like.

This is why it is important to teach God’s word in our churches and to read God’s word on our own. I hope these daily readings (most importantly) and my devotionals have helped you know God better. I hope today’s message will do that, too. Are you planning to be here to hear it?

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 9, Psalm 45, Song of Songs 7, Hebrews 7

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 9, Psalm 45, Song of Songs 7, Hebrews 7. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Hebrews 7.

Unless you have a Roman Catholic background, priests have probably not occupied much of your attention during your life. But if you were Jewish, especially during the time when the New Testament was written, priests were very important to your religious practice. If you loved God, loved the temple, or thought the life of priests was something to be envied, you were out of luck if you weren’t from the tribe of Levi. The only people who could serve the Lord as priests were those who were born into priestly families, that is families from the Levite tribe. The author of Hebrews, however, wanted to point out that there were different kind of priesthoods. Yes, there was the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants, but before Aaron came along there were other men who served as priests. One of them, Melchizedek, is brought up in this passage and is compared to Christ throughout this chapter. By the end of the chapter, however, Melchizedek is forgotten and Christ is exalted as the greatest priest of all. First, unlike any other priest, Jesus lives forever so his priesthood is likewise permanent (v. 24). In other words, Christ’s priesthood is superior because it transcends death.The result of his permanent priesthood is his ability to save us completely. Although we sin with astonishing regularity, we do not need to worry that someday we’ll sin but there will be no one to secure God’s forgiveness for us because he is dead. Instead, we can be confident that when we come to God through Christ, our salvation is eternally secure because Christ “always lives to intercede” for us (v. 25). Christ is a superior priest because his priesthood will never suffer a gap caused by death.

Second, Christ’s priesthood transcends disqualification. Because of who Jesus was—God in the flesh—he will never be disqualified from saving us because of his own sin. This makes his priesthood superior to anyone else’s because every other priest had to atone for his own sin before he could ask God to do anything about our sin (vv. 26-27a). 

Third, Christ’s priesthood transcends disappearance. Other priests had to keep offering sacrifices because they didn’t really atone for anything. The forgiveness they secured was on credit, waiting by faith for Christ to really pay for them. In order to teach his people that animal sacrifices were not a permanent solution, God ordered that the sacrifices be offered daily. In other words, their power to forgive disappeared almost immediately. Christ’s sacrifice, since he was offering himself instead of an animal, did not disappear for according to verse 27b: “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” 

You may not think of priests very often, but you need a faithful one who is pleading with God, based on his perfect sacrifice, for your sins constantly. And Christ met our need (v. 26a) in every way because, unlike any other priest, Christ cannot die, will not disqualify himself by sinning, and won’t see the value of his sacrifice disappear. Yesterday’s devotional referenced the doctrine eternal security but today’s explains why we are secure. Not only is Christ’s sacrifice perfect and potent enough to save us forever, he advocates for us forever as our perfect priest.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.