In the story of the Bible, all the main players are prophets, priests, or kings. While it might seem foreign to us today, those three roles are intimately connected to what it means to be people created in the image of God. Join Tim and Jon for the first episode of a new series on the royal priesthood!
The fact that there’s cherubim stationed at the borders of the garden, that at the very center are all of these sacred trees, the gift of eternal life … the fact that God commanded the human here and that everything depends on humans hearing the divine command, the fact that what Adam and Eve don’t do to each other is relay the word of God to each other in the garden—it’s where the prophetic part comes in, where Adam and Eve were supposed to, ideally, be partners together. In that moment with the snake, one should have told the other, “No, this is what God said.” It’s all about the word of God. And it’s about the word of God getting twisted by a deceptive figure … So the priestly kings and queens are exiled from the Eden space, and from then on, what you’ll meet is these royal prophet-priest roles all fragmented and broken out now.
In part one (0:00–19:00), Tim and Jon begin their discussion on the biblical theme of priesthood.
The word “priest” means different things to different people. For Catholics, Anglicans, or highly reformed traditions, priests hold a revered office, performing sacraments and rituals. For American Baptists or other less liturgical traditions, the office of a priest who mediates between God and humanity is emphatically nonexistent. Instead, pastors shepherd and guide the congregation.
Since the Protestant Reformation, many Protestant denominations have grown hostile to the concept of priests in defense of the “priesthood of all believers.”
Despite the different ways Christian denominations define the two, priests and pastors are functionally quite similar. In fact, most non-Christian religions include a similar role of a person in touch with the divine, from shamans to witch doctors to meditation guides. All people long for something more, and most attempt to connect with the divine in some way.
Priests play a huge role in the Bible, and the list includes people like Aaron, Eli, Samuel, Zadok, and Caiaphas. Although the word “priest” doesn’t occur in the Bible until Genesis 14, the concept emerges much sooner—from the very first chapters of the Bible!
In part two (19:00–29:00), Tim and Jon categorize all the major players in the story of the Bible into three roles: prophet, royal king or queen, or priest. All three roles have the dual job of representing a group of people before God while also representing God to the group.
In the ideal world of Genesis 1 and 2, humanity embodies the qualities of all three roles because people carry the image of God. However, under the curse of sin, individuals take on different pieces of what it means to fulfill humanity’s mission. For instance, a ruler might embody God’s authority without the righteous lifestyle of a priest.
More than any other character, David embodies aspects of all three roles, with Moses a close second.
In part three (29:00–34:30), Tim and Jon explore these three main roles as part of the image of God.
Prophets, priests, and kings only partially represent something core to them all: the concept of God’s word, presence, and power embodied in human form. Because the roles of prophet, priest, and king each represent a different aspect of the image of God, it’s difficult to speak about one without touching on the others.
Just like cars from Tesla, Honda, and Chevy each have their own unique identity and are also part of the greater group called automobiles, every person plays a unique role in redemption history while also being a member of the human race, whose purpose is to reflect God’s image.
When we only focus on the theme of priesthood in the Bible apart from its narrative dynamic that begins with humans as the image of God, we put the cart before the horse.
In part four (34:30–50:00), Tim and Jon go back to Genesis 1 and 2 to unpack the biblical origins of priesthood.
Then God said, “Let us make human in our image, according to our likeness; in order that they would rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the livestock and over all the land, and over every crawling thing that crawls on the land.” So God created human in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the land.”
God created humanity in his divine image to rule over creation.
In Genesis 1, it is clear that God alone has unique mastery and power over the chaotic nothingness and that he alone can speak reality into an ordered existence. But now, humanity is appointed as God’s delegated ruler, as an embodied physical image of his divine rule.
The words “image” (Heb. tselem / צלם) and “likeness” (Heb. demut / דמות) are most commonly used to refer to physical statues of stone or wood, and these words are usually translated “idol” or “statue.” One of the reasons God forbids the Israelites from making or worshiping idol statues is because statues are a false image of the divine. God has already given his image the world through humans.
[T]his unifying image in humankind has a sacramental as well as an essentially corporal function: Adam beings are animate icons … the peculiar purpose for their creation is “theophanic”: to represent or mediate the sovereign presence of the deity within the central nave of the cosmic temple, just as cult-images were supposed to do in conventional sanctuaries. [This means that] humanity is an inherently ambivalent species, whose … existence blurs, by design, the otherwise sharp distinction between creator and creation. — S. Dean McBride, “Divine Protocol: Genesis 1:1-2:3 as Prologue to the Pentateuch,” 16-17.
The royal-priest bears the image of God and is an incarnation (a physical manifestation) of his divine presence.
In part five (50:00–end), Tim and Jon zero in on a portion of humanity’s intended purpose in Genesis 2:15-17.
And Yahweh God took the human
and he rested him in the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.
and Yahweh God commanded the human, saying,
“From every tree of the garden
you may surely eat;
but from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad
you shall not eat from it,
for in the day that you eat from it
you will surely die.”
The word “work” has several meanings. This is the Hebrew word abad (עבד), and it means “to work,” as well as “to serve” and “to worship.” As we read this passage, we are meant to have all three meanings in mind.
These words, “to work” and “to keep” (shamar / שמר), are only used together elsewhere in descriptions of the priests and Levites working in and around the temple. In other words, the ideal vocation for humanity includes responsibilities we associate with priesthood.
[T]he tasks given to Adam are of a priestly nature: caring for sacred space. In ancient thinking, caring for sacred space was a way of upholding creation. By preserving order, non-order was held at bay … If the priestly vocabulary in Genesis 2:15 indicates the same kind of thinking, the point of caring for sacred space should be seen as much more than landscaping or even priestly duties. Maintaining order made one a participant with God in the ongoing task of sustaining the equilibrium God had established in the cosmos. Egyptian thinking attached this not only to the role of priests as they maintained the sacred space in the temples but also to the king, whose task was “to complete what was unfinished, and to preserve the existent, not as a status quo but in a continuing, dynamic, even revolutionary process of remodeling and improvement.” This combines the subduing and ruling of Genesis 1 with the ʿbd and šmr of this chapter. — John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 106-107.
Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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