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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
In ancient religions, priests were mediators between the people and their gods. They were religious officials whose duty was to pass on the instructions of the gods to the people and offer the people’s sacrifices to the gods (Genesis 41:45; Genesis 47:22; Exodus 2:16; Exodus 18:1; 2 Kings 11:18; Acts 14:13).
The earliest priest of the one true God that the Bible mentions is Melchizedek. He was God’s representative to whom Abraham offered gifts, and the worshippers’ representative through whom Abraham drew near to God (Genesis 14:17-24). Such priests were rare, as God had not yet instituted an organized religious system. Among the ancestors of Israel, the head of the family usually acted as the family priest (Genesis 8:20; Genesis 22:13; Genesis 31:54; Genesis 46:1). Before Israel was formally established as God’s people by covenant, Moses served as the nation’s priest (Exodus 3:13-15; Exodus 3:18; Exodus 24:2; Exodus 24:6; Exodus 24:8; Exodus 24:12).
Aaronic (or Levitical) priesthood
At the establishment of Israel’s religious system, Aaron and his sons were the priests, Aaron being set apart as the high priest. In the generations that followed, only male descendants of Aaron could be priests. Those who belonged to the same tribe as Aaron (the tribe of Levi), but who were not of Aaron’s family, were responsible for many of the practical aspects of Israel’s religious affairs, but they were not priests (Exodus 6:16-25; Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 3:2-3; Numbers 3:9-10; see ).
Priests mediated between the people and God. They presented the people’s sacrifices to God (Hebrews 8:3; see ), and passed on God’s instruction to the people (Malachi 2:7). They were to be the teachers and moral guides of the nation (Deuteronomy 27:9-10; Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Deuteronomy 33:10). They also carried out daily functions in relation to the altar in the tabernacle courtyard (Leviticus 6:12; Leviticus 6:14) and the altar and lamp inside the Holy Place (Exodus 27:20-21; Exodus 30:7-8). Only priests could enter the Holy Place, and only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place. Even then he could do so only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:2-3; Hebrews 9:6-7; see ).
As religious officials representing the people, priests wore clothing that set them apart from others. An ordinary priest’s clothing was fairly plain, consisting of a full-length long-sleeved white coat and a white cap (Exodus 28:40-43). The high priest’s clothing, by contrast, was both distinctive and colourful.
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Priest'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/bbd/p/priest.html. 2004.