Sunday, March 21, 2010

You shall be a royal priesthood

Before the establishment of the priesthood of Aaron in Exodus 28, God made a conditional promise to Israel that they would all be a nation of priests. He said to Moses,
Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and announce to the sons of Israel, “You have seen as much as I have done to them – to the Egyptians. And I took you as upon wings of eagles, and led you to myself. And now, if in hearing, you should hear my voice, and guard my covenant, you will be to me a prized people from all the nations. For all the earth is mine. And you shall be a royal priesthood and a holy nation.” These words you shall say to the sons of Israel.

Exodus 19:3-6 (AB)
The condition was that Israel must hear God’s voice, or specifically to be willing to hear God’s voice and thereafter keep his covenant. This hearing and keeping referred to the Ten Commandments and the Law which God was about to deliver. Moses was given three days to purify the people and prepare them to hear God’s voice. The people were told to abstain from sexual activity and to wash their clothes. They were warned not to approach the mountain but to keep their distance lest they die. On the third day, near dawn . . .
. . . there were voices, and lightening, and overcast clouds upon Mount Sinai; the voice of the trumpet sounded greatly, and all the people in the camp were terrified. And Moses led the people for a meeting with God from the camp. And they stood by the mountain. The Mount Sinai smoked entirely on account of God coming down upon it in fire. And the smoke ascended as smoke of a furnace. And all the people were exceedingly amazed. And there were the sounds of the trumpet advancing strong – exceedingly. Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.

Exodus 19:16-19 (AB)
From Mount Sinai and in the hearing of all the people, God spoke what we know as the Ten Commandments.
All the people perceived the voice, and the lamps, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking. And fearing, all the people stood afar off. And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and do not let God speak to us lest we might die.” And Moses says to them, “Be of courage! Because God came to you to test you, so that there might be fear of him in you, that you should not sin.” And all the people stood afar off. But Moses entered the dimness where God was.”

Exodus 20:18-21 (AB)
Never again in the Old Testament does it refer to a royal priesthood. Upon hearing God’s voice, Israel had refused to hear God’s voice. They told Moses, “Do not let God speak to us.” Not only did they refuse to listen, they refused to obey. Exodus 32 gives the account of Israel’s worshiping a golden calf in violation of at least the first two of the Ten Commandments.

One might suppose that Israel was innocent by virtue of their ignorance at this point since Moses had not yet descended the mountain with the tablets of the Law. Nevertheless, Exodus 20:18 makes it clear that “All the people perceived the voice.” In the Septuagint, which was the Scripture available to the writers of the New Testament, the word translated perceived is the same word that Paul used when he said, “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” 1 Corinthians 9:1 (AB)

“Perceived” is a good translation of the word because it implies understanding. Although Israel understood that they were not to make an idol nor worship another god, they deliberately chose to do those very things. Israel entered an unending cycle of rebellion, retribution, repentance, and reconciliation but they never attained the promised royal priesthood.

How is this relevant today? According to Peter, the royal priesthood now belongs to “. . . the ones at some time or another not a people, but now a people of God; the ones not being shown mercy, but now are shown mercy.” 1 Peter 2:10 (AB) That is to say, that the royal priesthood promised to Israel in Exodus 19:6, and rejected by Israel in Exodus 20:19, now belongs to “the living stones being built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, well-received to God, through Jesus Christ.”

The writer of Hebrews, alluding to the events at Sinai, and warns us, saying:
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:25-29 (NASB)
How might we refuse the one who is speaking? In the case of Israel, their first refusal was a refusal to hear God personally. They said they would listen to Moses, but they did not want God to speak to them.

Having once heard the calling of the Holy Spirit, do we now prefer, as did Israel, to listen to men? Do we establish leaders in the model of Moses, rather than living as brothers in Christ? Do establish idols whereby we favor the physical objects of the shakable kingdom over our relationship to Christ and his unshakable kingdom?

If we prefer to hear from men than from God, have we not also rejected the royal priesthood?

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