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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

High Priest

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In Hebrew "THE priest," and in books after the Pentateuch "the great priest," "the head priest," or "chief priest" (2 Kings 25:18). In Leviticus 4:3 and elsewhere "the priest that is anointed," for he alone of the priests was anointed on the head in consecration, "the crown of the anointing oil of his God" Leviticus 21:12), i.e. the holy oil was poured on his head like a crown (Exodus 29:7), a uniquely-compounded ointment (Exodus 30:22-33) which it was death to imitate or to put upon a stranger. Certain priests, "apothecaries ", manufactured it (Nehemiah 3:8); this oil was wanting in the second temple. The anointing of the ordinary priests was limited to sprinkling their garments with the anointing oil (Exodus 28:41 ff; Exodus 29:21; Leviticus 8:30), which does not sanction the Jewish tradition that the oil was smeared on the forehead of the ordinary priests with the finger.

The high priest's special designation, "the priest that is anointed" (Leviticus 4:3), implies a marked distinction between his anointing and theirs, besides what was common to both, namely, the "sprinkling." Love is compared to it, streaming down from Aaron's head upon his beard, then to his skirts (Psalms 132:2). Christ, the antitypical High Priest, was anointed with the fullness of the Spirit (Daniel 9:24; Acts 10:38; John 3:34); from Him the Spirit in measure streams on His members who touch by faith the hem of His garment (Matthew 9:20; John 1:16). Besides the girdle common to all the priests the high priest wore also the curious girdle of the ephod. Of eight articles of priestly dress the coat or tunic, girdle, breeches, and bonnet or turban belonged also to the common priests; the breast-plate, ephod with the curious girdle, mitre (instead of the ordinary priest's turban) and robe of the ephod were peculiar to the high priest.

The breast-plate (choshen , "ornament," literally) was two spans' long by one broad, but doubled it became a square, fastened by rings and chains of gold to the two onyx stones on the shoulders, and beneath with two other rings and a lace of blue to two rings in the ephod above the curious girdle. On it were the 12 stones in four rows, with the 12 tribes engraven in the order of the encampment; just as the names of the 12 tribes were on the 12 pearl gates, and in the 12 foundations (of precious stones) of the New Jerusalem wall the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb. He represented the whole chosen nation as "a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6). In other nations the priesthood was dissevered from every other class, but in Israel Levi held the priesthood rightfully belonging to all, and only delegated to one tribe and family as representing the whole; as Numbers 8:10 proves.

This trust was delegated to Levi only until all the children of God could exercise it suitably. Christianity restores the suspended relation of God's people as all king-priests unto God (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). In the Jewish church there was a delegation of the priesthood to one tribe and family; not so in the Christian church, which unites under the antitypical Melchizedek the kingdom and priesthood which were distinct in Israel. United to Messiah, the spiritual Israel the church shall form one grand heavenly king-priesthood as literal Israel shall be the earthly king-priesthood among the nations (Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 66:21). Christian ministers as distinct from laymen are never called in New Testament hiereis , "sacerdotal priests," as the Jewish priests were. The high priest alone entered the holy of holies once a year; but we have "boldness to enter" it through the rent veil of Christ's flesh continually (Hebrews 10:19-20).

He alone consulted God by the mysterious Urim and Thummim; we have truly our fellowship with the Father of lights (1 John 1:3; 1 John 2:20; James 1:17-18), having our "unction from the Holy One" and knowing all things. The high priest's death prefigured Christ's who sets the bloodstained captive free (Numbers 35:25). The first separation of Aaron to the priesthood, which previously belonged to the firstborn, occurs in Exodus 28, after the directions for the tabernacle and its furniture. Previously Moses bidding him lay up the pot of manna before the Lord implied that the ark would, when made, be under his charge. His being taken up with Nadab and Abihu to see the glory of the God of Israel foreshadowed his hereditary priesthood; also Exodus 27:21; Exodus 27:29:9; Exodus 27:29:24. Josephus, Septuagint, and Scripture favor the view that the 12 breast-plate stones were the Urim and Thummim.

Answers were given by Jehovah to the high priest (John 11:51) while wearing them and the ephod (1 Samuel 14:3; 1 Samuel 14:18-19; 1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:9; 1 Samuel 23:11-12; 1 Samuel 28:6; 2 Samuel 5:23; Judges 20:28). "Judgment" was the breast-plate's chief significance (Exodus 28:30), "Aaron shall bear the judgment of ... Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually," namely, the judicial sentence of justification, often represented by a particular kind of robe (Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 62:8). So the white linen robe expresses the righteousness or justification of the saints (Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 19:14). Joshua the high priest represented the nation on its trial before God, at first in filthy garments to represent its guilt, Satan accusing; then by Messiah's intercession justified; therefore the filthy garments are removed and a change of raiment is given and a fair mitre put on his head (Zechariah 3).

Thus "the breast-plate of righteousness" or "judgment" symbolizes Israel's 12 tribes accepted on the ground of the high priest's sacrificial intercession before God (Numbers 23:21). Thummim expresses perfections, Urim lights. Israel's perfect justification in "the Lord her righteousness" and her consequent ultimate prosperity are thus symbolized (Isaiah 60:1; Isaiah 62:1-2). Levi the priest tribe is called "God's holy one," privileged to bear the Urim and Thummim because of proved faithfulness (Deuteronomy 33:8). Israel's justification in the person of her high priest is the ground of her receiving through him communications of God's will. Her children's being "taught of Jehovah" is so connected with "His laying her stones with fair colors" (Isaiah 54:11-17). S. Clark (Speaker's Commentary) thinks that some means of casting lots were kept in the bag formed by the doubled fold of the choshen or breast-plate, and that these were the Urim and Thummim: Exodus 28:15-30,"thou shalt put in the breast-plate of judgment the Urim and Thummim."

But this passage suits at least as well the view that the Urim and Thummim were the 12 precious stones put into the piece of cunning (skilled weaver's) work, and representing Israel "perfected" and "shining with light" because justified before God, as the view that they were some distinct means of lot casting, inside the fold of the choshen . (See URIM AND THUMMIM.) The ephod consisted of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and "fine twined linen," wrought in "work of the skilled weaver"; the high priest's distinctive vestment (1 Samuel 2:28; 1 Samuel 14:3; 1 Samuel 21:9; 1 Samuel 23:6; 1 Samuel 23:9; 1 Samuel 30:7) to which "the breast-plate of judgment" was attached (Exodus 28:6-12; Exodus 28:25-28; Exodus 39:2-7). It consisted of a back piece and a front piece joined by shoulder straps; Exodus 28:28 translated "two rings of gold shalt thou make, and put them on the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, low down in the front of it, near the joining, above the band for fastening it" (Speaker's Commentary).

Below the arms the two pieces were kept in place by a band attached to one of the pieces ("the curious girdle of the ephod"), "of the same work, of one piece with it" (Exodus 39:8). Two onyx stones, each inscribed with the names of six tribes, clasped together on the shoulders the back and front pieces. An ordinary linen ephod was worn by other priests (1 Samuel 22:18); by Samuel, only a Levite (2 Samuel 2:18); and by David (2 Samuel 6:14). The robe of the ephod (meiyl ). A simple, sky-blue frock, without seam or sleeves, drawn over the head, visible above and below the ephod, the elaborate texture of which it set off as a ground work; translated Exodus 28:32, "its opening for the head shall be in the middle of it," a round hole not connected with any slit before or behind. The skirt was ornamented with pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, a small golden bell being attached between each two of the pomegranates (Exodus 28:33-35).

The bells' sound heard from within the veil by those outside assured them that the high priest, though out of sight, was ministering in their behalf, and acceptably before God, for otherwise he would have been smitten with death, which the sounding bells showed he was not. The mitre or turban, a twisted band of linen coiled into a cap, with the gold plate in front fastened to a blue lace or band (which went round the mitre) and engraved with Holiness to the Lord. Rabbi Eliezer in Hadrian's reign saw it at Rome, probably with the other temple spoils deposited in the Temple of Peace. Four garments were common to all priests. "The coat of fine linen embroidered," rather "woven in diaper work," the threads of one color being diapered in checkers by the ordinary weaver (Exodus 28:39; Exodus 39:27): a long tunic worn next the skin, the sleeves of which appeared from under the ephod..

"The girdle (abnet) of needlework" ("of the work of the embroiderer," Speaker's Commentary) was of three colors, the texture loose, wound several times round the body, the ends hanging to the feet but thrown over the shoulder in active work. The breeches or drawers, of linen. The bonnet or turban, of linen, for the head, but not in cone shape as the high priest's mitre. The high priest's successors were inaugurated by wearing these eight articles of dress seven successive days. (See DRESS OF PRIEST.) They were kept in the Baris built by Hyrcanus for the purpose, and called Antonia by Herod, to be along with the high priesthood at the king's disposal. The high priest in his robes of glory and beauty in Josephus' time entered the temple before all the people on the great Day of Atonement, then in secret in obedience to the law (Leviticus 16:4; Leviticus 16:24) assumed his linen garments alone and made expiation; afterward resuming his splendid robes, he appeared before the people (Bell. Judaeorum 5:5, 7). (See DAY OF ATONEMENT.)

A sagan or deputy, next in dignity to the high priest, was often appointed; "the second priest" (2 Kings 23:4; 2 Kings 25:18). He was memunnek , "prefect of the temple," and officiated in the absence of the high priest. Annas was deposed by Valetins Gratus (A.U.C. 779), and Joseph or Caiaphas, his son-in-law, was made high priest (John 18:13). Annas retained in the Jews' feeling the lawful high priesthood, and had influence enough to get his five sons successively appointed; as sagan he evaded the Roman deposition and kept his power. Any blemish or illegitimate birth debarred from the high priesthood. So Christ (Hebrews 7:26). The epistle to the Hebrew explains the antitypical meaning of the high priesthood, realized in Christ. He was" appointed" and "called of God" (Hebrews 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:4-5), "after the order of Melchizedek," (Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:15; Hebrews 7:17; Psalms 110:4).

Superior to the Aaronic priests (Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 7:16; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:1-2; Hebrews 8:6) in that He was "consecrated with an oath" (Hebrews 7:20-21), has an intransmissible priesthood (margin of Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 7:28), was "holy, harmless, and undefiled," and without "infirmity" (Hebrews 7:26-28), "faithful to Him that appointed Him" as the "Son," whereas Moses the lawgiver was but a "servant"; needed no sacrifice for Himself (Hebrews 7:27); Himself the sacrifice, purifying "the heavenly things" (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:26), "better" than the sacrifices which "purified the patterns of things in the heavens" (Hebrews 7:23); not often, but offered once for all (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:25-26; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:1-2; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:9-10; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 10:17-18); "making him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience," which the law sacrifices could not (Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:1-2; Hebrews 10:16-22).

"A merciful and faithful high priest, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17). "Obtained eternal redemption for us "(Hebrews 9:12). "Passed into the heavens" (Hebrews 4:14) "to appear in the presence of God for us," as our advocating high priest within the heavenly veil (Hebrews 9:24; Hebrews 7:25). "Tempted Himself in all points like as we are, yet without sin," He is able to succour the tempted (Hebrews 2:18); "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and so having the needful qualification of a priest, that He "can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way" (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 5:2). "Blesses in turning men from their iniquities" (Acts 3:26; Numbers 6:23-26). At once the King and the Priest upon His throne (Zechariah 6:13). As the priests' geneaology had to be traced, so Christ's divine sonship and human descent from David. Their bodily soundness typifies His faultless perfection without blemish or spot (Hebrews 7:26).

The high priest's obligation to marry a wife in her virginity answers to the bride of the Lamb (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 14:4). The high priest's ephod of gold, blue, and purple represents the lovely graces of His manhood. The firm and orderly setting of the precious stones in the breast-plate answers to the firm union of Christ's people, His jewels, to Himself; earth and hell cannot sever them (Malachi 3:17). The high priest's consecration at the tabernacle door with washing in water, arraying in priestly vestments, anointing with costly oil, and sanctifying with sacrifices, answer to Christ's baptism with water, anointing with the Holy Spirit, and clothing with His curiously wrought body (Hebrews 10:5; Psalms 139:15). Like the high priest, Christ sacrificed for, prays for, blesses, instructs, oversees the service of His people in the spiritual temple, blows the gospel trumpet, judges.

Having such a "high priest passed into the heavens," "over the house of God," we ought to "hold fast our profession," "without wavering," ever "drawing near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" (Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 10:21-23). The epistle to the Hebrew is the New Testament Leviticus, unfolding the spiritual and everlasting meaning of the legal priestly types fulfilled in Christ. His true sphere of priesthood is in heaven, for "if He were on earth He would not even be a priest" (Hebrews 8:4; Hebrews 7:13-14), being of Judah, not Levi the priestly tribe, whose functions He never assumed on earth because His was an infinitely better priesthood. His sacrifice on the cross on earth was a priestly act "without the gate"; but the crowning work, the bringing of the blood into the holy of holies, He could not do on earth, but could and did bring it into the better holy of holies above. He appeared to John in His high priestly long white garment and golden girdle (Revelation 1:13).

The gold, purple, etc., of the ephod typify the unsearchable riches of Christ. His robes are "for glory and beauty" to His saints; what He is, they are by union with Him (Isaiah 28:5; Isaiah 62:3). The names of Israel's twelve tribes on the high priest's shoulders and breast, as a memorial before the Lord continually, imply that the weight of our salvation is upon His shoulders, and our names on His heart before God (Song of Solomon 8:6), not one name is wanting (Isaiah 49:16; John 10:3; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12). His are the Urim and Thummim, "lights and perfections," while He bears the judgment of His Israel before the Lord continually (Psalms 72:1). The curious girdle typifies His alacrity in ministering as our High Priest, as one girding up the loins for action (Hebrews 10:7; Luke 9:51). Faithfulness and righteousness were His girdle (Isaiah 11:5).

The bells on the hem sweetly sounding from within the veil typify the gospel joyful sound (Psalms 89:15); the pomegranates represent the fruits which accompany the gospel preaching. The plate with "Holiness to the Lord" implies "He is made unto us sanctification" (1 Corinthians 1:30). Aaron was washed because sinful, Jesus was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness." Aaron was anointed with oil, Jesus with the Holy Spirit without measure (Acts 10:38; John 3:34). Aaron was consecrated with the blood of beasts, Christ with His own blood. The high priest could only marry a virgin or a priest's widow, typifying Christ's wedding to His Godhead our manhood in purity, and also wedding to Him the church and its members individually as "a chaste virgin" (Revelation 14:4; 2 Corinthians 11:2). His not going out of the sanctuary to mourn for the dead typifies that death and mourning shall be abolished by Christ, that where He is they cannot come (Revelation 21:4; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 25:8).

To draw nigh to God by any other high priest, or to say self-sufficiently" all the congregation are holy," incurs Korah's guilt and penalty (Numbers 16). Phinehas, son of Eleazar, is the last of Eleazar's line before Eli (Judges 20:28). Eli in 1 Samuel 1:3, the next, is of Ithamar's line. Josephus supplies the interval by stating that Joseph Abiezer, i.e. Abishua, was the last high priest of Phinehas' line before Zadok. How the transfer to Ithamar's line occurred we do not know; possibly by Abishua's son at his death being under age, and Eli so succeeding. Down to David the high priests officiated in Shiloh in Ephraim, Joshua's tribe; under David and thenceforth in Jerusalem of Judah, David's tribe: the secular power from the first influencing the ecclesiastical. During the captivity of the ark and its neglect in Saul's days Samuel the prophet stands prominent as the interpreter of God's will, and Ahiah the high priest is more in the background (Judges 20:27-28; 1 Chronicles 13:3; 1 Samuel 7:2; 1 Samuel 14:18). (See ABIATHAR in relation to Zadok.)

The high priest at Solomon's dedication of the temple in the 11th year of his reign was probably Zadok's grandson, Azariah, son of Ahimaaz, for Zadok was old at Solomon's accession (1 Kings 4:2; 1 Chronicles 6:9-10); the notice that he executed the priest's office in Solomon's temple must refer to the Azariah of 1 Chronicles 6:9, not of 1 Chronicles 6:10. The non-mention of his name at the dedication shows how the royal power overshadowed the priestly. From David to Jeconiah there are twenty kings, but from Zadok to Jehozadak but 13 high priests, in 1 Chronicles 6:8-15. The six first tally well to the six first kings, Amariah the sixth priest answering to Jehoshaphat the' sixth king from David; also the five last tally to the five last kings, Hilkiah son of Shallum, fourth from the end, tallying to Josiah, the fourth king from the end. There are but two names for the intervening 240 years, Ahitub and Zadok.

The histories supply four or five for the interval. Jehoiada in Athaliah's and Joash's reigns, Zechariah, his son Azariah in Uzziah's reign, Urijah in Ahaz's reign, and Azariah under Hezekiah. Josephus (Ant., 20:10) brings up the number to 18. (See AHAZ; AZARIAH.) Seraiah ends the series, taken by Nebuzaradan and slain by Nebuchadnezzar, along with Zephaniah, the second priest or sagan (2 Kings 25:18). Seraiah's son, Jehozadak or Josedech, was carried captive (1 Chronicles 6:15). Excepting Jehoiada, who overthrew Athaliah, and Azariah who withstood Uzziah, the kings took the lead in great religious movements. David arranged the temple service and 24 priest courses; Solomon dedicated the temple; Jehoshaphat directed Amariah and the priests as to teaching the people; Hezekiah led the reformation, and urged on Azariah; Josiah encouraged the priests in the service of the Lord's house.

On the other hand the priests truckled to the idolatrous Manasseh; the high priest Urijah was Ahaz' ready tool in copying the Damascus altar, supplanting Jehovah's brazen altar (2 Kings 16:10-16). No instance is recorded of consulting the Lord by Urim and Thummim after David. The prophets seem to have superseded the high priests as media of revealing God's will (2 Chronicles 15; 2 Chronicles 18; 2 Chronicles 20:14; 2 Kings 19:2; 2 Kings 22:12-14; Jeremiah 21:1-2). Yet Nehemiah seems to have expected the return of a "priest with Urim and Thummim" (Nehemiah 7:65). The early cessation of responses proved by this favors the view that consultation was not the essential but the incidental use of "the breast-plate of judgment." Josedech died in Babylon. His son Jeshua cooperated zealously with Zerubbabel in the restoration of Israel's temple and polity along with Haggai and Zechariah. His successors were Joiakim, Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan (Jonathan), and Jaddua. (See ELIASHIB; ALEXANDER.) (Nehemiah 13:4-7; Nehemiah 12:10-11).

Josephus (Ant., 11:8, section 5, etc.) states that Jaddua's brother Manasseh was at Sanballat's request made the first high priest of the Samaritan temple by Alexander the Great. Simon the Just, second after Jaddua, was reputed the last of the Great Synagogue and the finisher of the Old Testament canon. Jesus and Onias adopted the Greek names Jason and Menelaus, and to gain the Syro-Greek kings' favor began to forsake the Jewish laws for Greek customs. A gymnasium at Jerusalem was built for the apostate Jews, and they endeavoured to conceal their circumcision when stripped at the games. This paved the way for the attack on Jehovah's worship by Antiochus Epiphanes the Old Testament Antichrist (1 Maccabees 1; 2 Maccabees 4:12-15).

This attack roused the national zeal for their religion, and a brilliant succession of high priests arose in the Asmoneean family who combined civil rule and independent sovereignty with the high priesthood. Judas Maccabeeus (Josephus, Ant. 12:10, section 6) was high priest of the nation, but more probably Jonathan his brother was "the first of the sons of Asamoneus who was high priest" (Life, section 1). They were of the course of Joiarib, the first of the 24 courses, (1 Chronicles 24:7). The Asmonaean dynasty lasted from 153 B.C. down to Aristobulus, Mariamne's brother, murdered by Herod 35 B.C. The independence of the Asmonesan priest kings lasted until Pompey took Jerusalem and removed the diadem from Hyrcanus. Herod deposed and substituted high priests at will. In the New Testament we see Annas high priest at the beginning of John Baptist's ministry with Caiaphas second priest, but Caiaphas chief and Annas second at our Lord's crucifixion.

Ananias, the same perhaps as Ananus murdered by the Zealots before Jerusalem's fall; was the one to whom Paul hastily said, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall!" (Acts 23) Theophilus, son of Ananus, was the high priest from whom Saul received the letters of authority, for persecution, to the Damascus synagogue (Acts 9). Phannias was the last, dragged reluctantly by the Zealots and chosen by lot, "a mere rustic who scarcely knew what the high priesthood meant." This shocking impiety, to them a subject of sport, drew tears from the other priests who beheld their law turned into ridicule (Josephus, B. J. 4:3, section 8). So ended the high priesthood, which had lasted for at least 14 centuries and comprised upward of 76 high priests! But One in whom the priesthood found its perfection had come, and the types in spite of Jewish resistance must withdraw before the Antitype who abideth for ever.

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'High Priest'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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