A Kingdom of Priests

Last week during the class “Guiding Principles for the People of God in a Postmodern World” I led a session on “A Kingdom of Priests.” What I attempted to do was trace this biblical-theological thread from Genesis to Revelation. The texts I chose to highlight were: Gen 1-2; Exod 19:5-6; Ps 110; Heb 5:1-10; 1 Pet 2:4-10; Rev 20-22. In preparing for this, I came across a helpful description of what it meant for Israel to be a kingdom of priests in Douglas Stuart’s commentary on Exodus in the New American Commentary series. Stuart summarizes it in four terms (the terms in parentheses were my attempt to make them all start with “i”)

  1. Live (Incarnate)Israel would be an example to the people of other nations, who would see its holy beliefs and actions and be impressed enough to want to know personally the same God the Israelites knew.
  2. Proclaim (Invite)Israel would proclaim the truth of God and invite people from other nations to accept him in faith as shown by confession of belief in him and acceptance of his covenant.
  3. IntercedeIsrael would intercede for the rest of the world by offering acceptable offerings to God (both sacrifices and right behavior) and thus ameliorate the general distance between God and humankind.
  4. Preserve (Inscribe)Israel would keep the promises of God, preserving his word already spoken and recording his word as it was revealed to them so that once the fullness of time had come, anyone in the whole world could promptly benefit from that great body of divinely revealed truth, that is, the Scriptures.

What do you think of this summary? And how does this description relate to the church today? Based on 1 Pet 2:9-10 we would obviously want to argue for some continuity, but are there any discontinuities that must be recognized?

8 thoughts on “A Kingdom of Priests”

  1. Seems like Israel were ‘missional’. I suppose the last one ‘inscribe’ would need some sort of New Covenant progression since we’re not writing the Bible anymore.

  2. Stephen,

    As is often the case, so much depends on what one means by missional. Of course, there are some OT scholars who would deny that Israel had any sort of missional role to the Gentiles, but that would be another post altogether.

    And yes, I agree that there is a clear progressive element to “inscribe.” My initial thoughts on this have been to see a role for the people of God to record (in a non-authoritative sense) the works of God in their midst as a testimony to all of God’s mighty deeds. Such “inscribing” would take different forms, from oral to written to visual, etc.

  3. The primary way Israel was to reach the nations was by their holiness. That is why the constant charge by the prophets is Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. They were not unique in their holiness, but played the harlot. Christ as the true Israel is faithful to the Father and by virtue of him we can and should be holy as he is holy.


  4. i like the list. i guess ultimately, i’d like to see a little more added about the role of the High Priest in regard to the other priests…and thus tie in again to Christ.

    as far as discontinuities…the greatest one i see is that the “new american commentary series” uses the NIV (though i do enjoy the series). 😉

  5. A missional Israel has interested me for some time, i like the summary statements, they seem to fit neatly in the “Kingdom of Priests” picutre. Yet, one question i have is that no where (other than Jonah?) does God send Israel to explain or proclaim the Law or the Covenant to the nations. Or is that a false presumption?

  6. I like the list. I found Matt’s response to Stephen helpful in pointing out how we continue to “inscribe” God’s mighty deeds through testimony. Excellent point.

    As for the mission discussion. Has anybody read Christopher Wright’s latest book “The Mission of God”? It is excellent and goes a long way to answer the question about Israel’s mission.

    Finally, I wonder if there is some discontinuity in #3? The NT seems to put forth the idea that acceptable sacrifice(s) to God is our right behavior. So the “both sacrifices and right behavior” is collapsed into one. Christ has completely fulfilled and made obsolete the cultic sacrificial system. Of course, this is hinted at in the OT when the prophets would condemn Israel for offering what seem like acceptable sacrifices but are rejected because they failed to uphold justice and the like.

    So the 1 Peter 2 passage Matt cites is, in context, about living rightly before God (1:22-25; 2:11ff). The call to “offer spiritual sacrifices” is not a slight revision of some OT cultic but instead the exhortation to treat others in certain ways.

    The discontinuity may be pushed further if you see the idea that ameliorating the distance between the rest of the world and God is only through the one acceptable sacrifice of Christ. Thus, our right behavior goes to further the gospel cause but in itself does not ameliorate anything. The NT doesn’t flatten out the point that much (for some may point to a verse such as 1 Cor 7:14 to prove otherwise) but I do see it as the general thrust.

  7. I think often of how Israel was to live. I keep reading Exodus and Deuteronomy.

    It seems to me that the point of Ex 20-23.19 (Decalogue & Covenant Code) is to establish the covenant and give examples of how to practice it, respectively. That Ex 23.20-33 follows, in which Israel is then promised blessing for obedience that occurs in conjunction with gradually “driving out” the inhabitants or subduing the inhabitants (“I will give them into your hand” v.31) suggests an initial purge of paganism and evil from the land to make it a holy place for them to dwell exclusively.

    When the covenant is renewed, following the golden calf episode, a slightly different instruction is given. In Ex 34.11ff the future seems to include a mixed group of people in the land and Israel is instructed not to be snared by their gods or make covenants with the people there. The instructions that follow, that mirror the Decalogue and Covenant Code (commandment against idolatry, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Sabbath, Feast of Weeks, etc.), now seem to be given with a more explicit intention that their pagan neighbors will see such things.

    This change occurs between the first and second writings of the Decalogue. Note the speech by Moses to YHWH in 33.12ff. Moses understands Israel to be a “distinct” people. YHWH is going to do “marvels” (34.10) in Israel’s sight that “all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD” (34.11).

    Hence what appears to be happening is that YHWH is going to use an errant Israel, in perhaps an even greater display of his marvelousness, through re-establishing a covenant with them and having them obey him in the sight of the pagans. This, I think, is different than what would have happened had they *not* disobeyed in the wilderness. In that scenario, the pagans would have been completely expelled from the land. Is it possible that Israel’s disobedience actually results in benefits to the Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, etc?

    Of course the same idea is conveyed in Deut 4:5-8 which is about the closest thing to a witness statement we can get.

    Thinking proleptically, I can’t help but see here that the OT also begs for fulfillment. God intends to make a people who will be a kingdom of priests and not fail (as Israel did in the Golden Calf episode). I think this is what Peter is getting at in 1 Pet 2.9ff (and 1:1-4). God in Christ has formed a holy people that will be more effective in mission than Israel was, and perhaps could have been. I think this is what Paul is getting at in Gal 3.19ff. To go further, I would offer this interpretation. Israel as the son of God (Ex 4.22-23) failed, where Jesus as the Son of God succeeds. Now we who have been justified through faith in Jesus’ blood and who through baptism have been united with Jesus in his death and resurrection can carry out a priestly mission to the world, in Christ.

    So what you offer as point 1 I can agree with as long as you follow the biblical trajectory to Christ.

    Point 3 I’m unsure about because I’d have to be reminded of where the OT has Israel making sacrifices for others. I always thought that Yom Kippur was for cleansing the temple and the people due to a theology of sacred space.

    I think Sailhammer’s Appendix A in his OT Theology is helpful here as well. Following Schmitt’s study he argues that the purpose of the Pentateuch is to encourage confidence in God and an expectation of his future work in Israel.

  8. This summary is every that the church should be now. I see everyone of those elements repeated and expanded in the NT, beginning with the Great Commission and the life of the church in Acts and the Epistles.

    Then the great truths of Eph. 2:4-10 and 1 Pet. 2:4-12 come to mind.

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