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A Kingdom of Priests

 A Kingdom of Priests

After God delivered the nation of Israel from Egyptian bondage and before He gave them the Law, He expressed His intent or goal for that nation:  “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).  In the New Testament, a very similar promise is given to God’s new nation, the church (1 Peter 2:5-10). Such verses clearly set forth the identity and mission of God’s people.

“You yourselves have seen what I did”: 19:4

“Whatever moral endeavors we may make can never be more than a response to what God has already done for us” (Walking in the Ways of the Lord, Christopher J. H. Wright, p. 133). Like the Israelites, we have experienced an amazing deliverance.  Jesus died for our sins (Romans 5:6-8).  We have equally seen the dramatic end of bondage in our lives (Titus 3:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).  An amazing transformation has taken place.  Like that which happened to Onesimus, where he moved from useless to useful (Philemon 11).  And this is something we could have never done for ourselves.  It was accomplished by nothing less than the power of God and our submission (Romans 1:16).

“For all the earth is Mine”: 19:5

This statement should have reminded Israel to keep their perspective wide.  That is, they were to be His special possession, but not His only possession.  The rest of the nations were accountable to Him as well.  He wanted to use the nation of Israel as not only the means to bring the Messiah into the world, and thus salvation for all men (John 3:16), but equally as a real example of what a community or nation can be like if they will only submit to God.  They are to be His floor model.

“A Kingdom of Priests”: 19:6

“A priest in Old Testament Israel was someone who stood in between God and the rest of the people.  He was a mediator in both directions.  On the one hand he represented God to the people, in both his life and example, but especially through his responsibility for teaching the Law (Leviticus 10:9-11; Deuteronomy 33:8-10; Jeremiah 18:18; Hosea 4:6; Malachi 2:1-9).  Through the priest, then, the people could know God.  On the other hand, he represented the people before God, since it was his task to bring the sacrifices and to make atonement for the people at the altar.  Through the priest, the, the people could come to God” (Wright p. 134).

  • In like manner, each Christian is a priest and is expected to know why they believe and have the ability to explain and defend such beliefs to others (1 Peter 3:15).
  • In 40 years of being a Christian I have observed a couple of things that seemed to make a big difference in whether or not someone remained faithful.  (1)  Understanding why and what you believe and taking the time to see the wisdom behind either God’s positive or negative commands.  Realizing that God’s commands are in my best interest, not only for eternity but for today as well (Deuteronomy 5:33; 6:24).  (2)  Remembering the history of God’s people and being very aware of  the common temptations that have derailed previous generations (1 Corinthians 10:12), seeing and avoiding buying into such trends in your own lifetime.  For example, the idea that we do not have to obey God’s law closely, for grace will just cover us, is neither true nor new (Jude 4).  (3)  Being very aware of your deliverance.  Remembering that without God, you will naturally gravitate, not towards the good, but towards the bad (2 Peter 1:9; Romans 1:18ff).
  • Though a group of actual priests existed in Israel (the Levites), even during this time God expected each Israelite to personally know God’s law (Deuteronomy 6:5).  One of the perennial dangers we find in the Old Testament is when the general population seemed to allow the priests to be the ones who should know what the Bible says (Hosea 4:6).  While a strong eldership and good preaching are essential in the life of a congregation, what really keeps a congregation faithful in the long run is where each member takes the time to develop an accurate understanding of the truth (2 Timothy 2:2; 15; 4:3), and has a love for it. 

 “And a Holy Nation”: 19:6

Observe that Exodus 19:5-6 is addressed to the entire Israel community and not just to some small elite group among them.  As a whole community they were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  Israel was expected to accurately represent the true God to the nations around them, so that other nations would come to know Him.  “The word (holy) does not mean that the people of Israel were to be extra-specially religious.  Rather it has the sense of distinctiveness and difference” (Wright p. 135).  That is an importance observation.  So holy does not mean superstitious, mysterious, weird, or people who use a lot of religious words that do not seem to make any sense.  Primarily it means a people who have set themselves apart from sin:

  • “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statues” (Leviticus 18:3).
  • “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).   The false prophet Balaam was reminded of this, “Behold, a people who dwells apart, and will not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9).

I find it interesting that God speaks of the selfish and sinful ways in Egypt and Canaan has “statues”.  Yet this should not surprise us, for ungodliness is often codified in a culture, it becomes “law”, is viewed as the acceptable or right thing to do.  In fact, you will be considered odd if you don’t do it. “What!... you don’t…..”.  Presently in American culture there are certain practices that if you don’t engage in them you are often viewed like someone who doesn’t stand for the National Anthem.  

Holiness

As noted previously, holiness does not mean weird, mysterious, or anti-social.  “The outworking of this characteristic affected every dimension of national life, including their religion, but permeating social, economic, political and personal affair also.  This is most clearly seen in Leviticus 19, a chapter fully of very practical laws for daily life, all under the heading, ‘You shall be holy, as I, Yahweh your God, am holy’” (Wright p. 136).  Such a chapter is also in stark contrast to the previous chapter, in which God revealed the depravity of the Canaanites.  So, holiness includes:

  • Keeping God’s law: 18:4-5
  • Remaining sexually pure and avoiding what happened to the Canaanites where they effectively had removed all such boundaries, and in which they abused family members, committed adultery and only respected their own selfishness (18:7-24).
  • Respecting the value of human life (18:21).
  • Respecting (shall reverence) the authority of parents (19:3).  
  • Reserving your allegiance and worship for God alone (19:4).
  • Compassion for the needy (19:9-10).
  • Honesty in business transactions (19:11).
  • Telling the truth (19:12).  Keeping your commitments.
  • Being a good employer (19:13).
  • Valuing the life of someone who is disabled (19:14).
  • Maintaining justice and fairness in your courts (19:15). 
  • Avoiding gossip (19:16).
  • Correcting your neighbor when needed (19:17), rather than simply hating him and saying nothing.
  • Staying away from the occult (19:31).
  • Treating the stranger properly (19:34).

I have observed that often people want a religion, but they want a religion that is more theoretical than practical.  Mystery, but no conviction.  Cool ceremonies. By contrast, as I read such passages, basically holiness is acting with real integrity as defined by the Creator in every aspect of your life.   Mark Dunagan@frontier.com