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Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Hebrew kohen; Greek hiereus . There are four characteristics of the priest. He was
(1) chosen of God;
(2) the property of God;
(3) holy to God;
(4) he offered gifts to God, and took back gifts from God (Hebrews 5:1-4).
Numbers 16:5, "Jehovah's ... holy ... chosen ... come near": Numbers 16:40, "offering incense" (symbolizing the people's prayers, Psalms 141:2; Revelation 8:3) is exclusively the priest's duty (2 Chronicles 26:18). All Israel was originally chosen as a kingdom of "priests" to the Gentile world (Exodus 19:6); but Israel renounced the obligation through fear of too close nearness to God. (Exodus 20:16), and God accepted their renunciation (Deuteronomy 18:16-17; Deuteronomy 5:24-28). Moses became the mediator with God for them. The Aaronic priesthood became the temporary depository of all Israel's priesthood, until Christ the antitypical High Priest came; and they shall hereafter resume it when they turn to the Lord and shall be "the priests of Jehovah, the ministers of our God" to the Gentile nations in Christ's millennial kingdom (Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 66:21). All the elect saints (not ministers as such) from Jews and Gentiles are meantime called to be priests unto God (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9), and being transfigured shall reign with Christ as king priests (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6).
Israel, the spiritual and the literal, shall resume the priesthood which God from the first designed for His people. Thus there will be a blessed and holy series; Christ the royal High Priest, the glorified saint king-priests, Israel in the flesh mediating as king-priest to the nations in the flesh. The notion is contrary to Scripture that Christ is High Priest, and Christian ministers priests. For the other priests were but assistants to the high priest, because he could not do all. The Lord Jesus needed no assistant, so is sole representative of both high priest and priests. Aaron's priesthood has passed away: Christ's priesthood, which is after the order of Melchizedek, does "not pass from one to another" (Hebrews 7:24, aparabaton teen hierosuneen ), for "He ever liveth," not needing (as the Aaronic priests, through inability to continue through death) to transmit the priesthood to successors (Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 7:25). Christian ministers are never in the New Testament called by the name "priests" (hiereis ), which is applied only to the Aaronic priests, and to Christ, and to all Christians; though it would have been the natural word for the sacred writers as Jews to have used; but the Holy Spirit restrained them from using it.
They call ministers diakonoi , hufretai , presbuteroi ("presbyters"), and leitourgoi ("public ministers"), but never "sacerdotal, sacrificing priests" (hiereis ). The synagogue, not the temple, was the model for organizing the church. The typical teaching of Korah's punishment is the same; not satisfied with the Levitical ministry, he usurped the sacerdotal priesthood (Numbers 16:9-10); his doom warns all Christian ministers who, not content with the ministry, usurp Christ's intransmissible priesthood (Hebrews 7:24). Unfortunately "priest" is now an ambiguous term, representing presbyter (which the Christian minister is) and sacerdotal priest (which he is not). Priest, our only word for hiereus , comes from presbuteros , the word chosen because it excluded a sacerdotal character. Translated 1 Corinthians 9:13 "they who offer sacrifices live of the temple, and they who wait at the altar are partakers with the altar," a part going to the service of the altar, the rest being shared by the priests. Numbers 18:8, etc.: "so they who preach the gospel ... live of the gospel," proving that as sacrificing was the temple priest's duty, so gospel preaching is the Christian minister's duty.
Κohen is from an Arabic root, "draw hear," or else kaahan "to present" (Exodus 19:22; Exodus 30:20-21). The priest drew near when others stood far off; the priest representing the people before Jehovah, and preparing the way by propitiatory sacrifices for their approach to God, which transgressions debarred them from; "keeping charge of the sanctuary for the charge of Israel" (Numbers 3:38). Mediation and greater nearness to God is the radical idea in a priest, he presenting the atonement for the congregation and the gifts of a reconciled people (Numbers 16:5; Numbers 17:5), and bringing back from God blessing and peace (Leviticus 9:22-23; Numbers 6:22-27). In the New Testament on the contrary the separating veil is rent, and the human priesthood superseded, and we have all alike, ministers and laymen, boldness of access by the new and living way, consecrated through Christ's once torn flesh (Hebrews 10:19-22; Romans 5:2). The high priest bad access only once a year, on the day of atonement, into the holiest, and that after confessing his own sin as well as the people's (Hebrews 7:27), and laying aside his magnificent robes of office for plain linen.
Κohanim (Κohan , plural) is applied to David's sons (1 Samuel 8:18), probably an honorary, titular priesthood, enabling them to wear the ephod (the badge of a priest, 1 Samuel 22:18) in processions (2 Samuel 6:14) and join the Levites in songs and dances. Keil explains it "confidants" with the king, as the priests were with God; 1 Kings 4:5, "the king's friend." David's sons were "at the hand of the king" (margin 1 Chronicles 18:17, compare 1 Chronicles 25:2), presenting others to him, as the priest was mediator presenting others to God. But the use of kohanim in 1 Chronicles 25:16, just before 1 Chronicles 25:18, in a different, i.e. the ordinary sense, forbids this view. The house of Nathan (related to Nethinim, expressing dedication) seems especially to have exercised this quasi-priestly function. Zabud, Nathan's son, is called cohen in 1 Kings 4:5, "principal officer."
The genealogy, Luke 3, includes many elsewhere priests: Levi, Eliezer, Malchi, Jochanan, Mattathias, Heli (compare Zechariah 12:12). Augustine (Quaest. Divers., 61) writes: "Christ's origin from David is distributed into two families, a kingly and a priestly; Matthew descending traces the kingly, Luke ascending the priestly, family; so that our Lord Jesus, our King and Priest, drew kindred from a priestly stock (he supposes Nathan married a wife of Aaronic descent), yet was not of the priest tribe." The patriarchs exercised the priesthood, delegating it to the firstborn or the favored son, to whom was given "goodly raiment" (Genesis 27:15; Genesis 37:3). Joseph was thus the sacerdotal, dedicated ("separated") one, the "Nazarite" (nazir ) "from, or among, his brethren" (Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:16). Melchizedek, combining kingship and priesthood in one, as the Arab sheikh does, had no human successor or predecessor as priest of "the Most High God, the Possessor of heaven and earth." (See .)
Job (Job 1:5), Jethro (Exodus 2:16; Exodus 3:1), and Balaam represent the patriarchal priest (Numbers 23:2). At the Exodus no priest caste as yet existed. Yet sacrifices continued, and therefore some kind of priest (Exodus 5:1-3; Exodus 19:22). The head of the tribe, or the firstborn as dedicated to Jehovah (Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:12-13), had heretofore conducted worship and sacrifice. Moses, as Israel's divinely constituted leader, appointed "young men of the children of Israel to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings of oxen unto Jehovah" (Exodus 24:5-6; Exodus 24:8), and sprinkled the consecrating blood himself on the people. The targums call these young men the firstborn sons; but all that seems to be meant is, Moses officiated as priest, (Aaron not being yet consecrated), and employed young men whose strength qualified them for slaying the sacrifices. The law did not regard these acts as necessarily priestly; Leviticus 1:5 implies the offerer slew the sacrifice.
When the tabernacle was completed, and Aaron and his sons were made priests, Moses by Jehovah's command performed the priestly functions of setting the shewbread, lighting the lamps, burning incense, and offering the daily sacrifice (Exodus 40:23-29; Exodus 40:31-32). But at the consecration of Aaron and his sons Moses officiated as priest for the last time (Leviticus 8:14-29; Exodus 29:10-26). The "young men" (Exodus 24:5; compare Judges 17:7) represented Israel in its then national juven escence. (See PRIEST; LEVITES.) The term "consecrate" (qadash ) is appropriated to the priest, as tahar the "lower term" to the Levites. Their old garments were laid aside, their bodies washed with pure water (Leviticus 8:6; Exodus 29:4; Exodus 29:7; Exodus 29:10; Exodus 29:18; Exodus 29:20; Exodus 30:23-33); so all Christians as king priests (Hebrews 10:22; Ephesians 5:26), and anointed by sprinkling with the perfumed precious oil (Leviticus 8:4; Leviticus 8:18; Leviticus 8:21-23; Leviticus 8:30), but over Aaron it was poured until it descended to his skirts (Leviticus 8:12; Psalms 133:2); this anointing of the priest (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) followed the anointing of the sanctuary and vessels (Exodus 28:41; Exodus 29:7; Exodus 30:30; Exodus 40:15).
By laying hands on a bullock as sin offering, they typically transferred their guilt to it. Besides, with the blood of the ram of consecration Moses sprinkled the right car (implying openness to hear God's voice, Isaiah 1:5; Psalms 40:6, Messiah), the right hand to dispense God's gifts, and the foot always to walk in God's ways. Finally, Moses "filled their hands" with three kinds of bread used in ordinary life, unleavened cakes, cakes of oil bread, and oiled wafers (Leviticus 8:2; Leviticus 8:26; Exodus 29:2-3; Exodus 29:23), put on the fat and right shoulder, and putting his own hands under their hands (so the Jewish tradition) made them wave the whole mass to and fro, expressing the nation's praise and thanksgiving, testified by its gifts. The whole was repeated after seven days, during which they stayed in the tabernacle, separate from the people. So essential was this ritual that to "fill the hand" means to consecrate (Exodus 29:9; 2 Chronicles 13:9 margin).
Moses, as representing God, consecrated, exercising for the time a higher priesthood than the Aaronic; so he is called priest (Psalms 99:6). The consecration was transmitted from father to son without needing renewal. The dress was linen drawers "to cover their nakedness" (Exodus 20:26; Exodus 28:39-40; Exodus 28:42), in contrast to the foul indecencies of some Egyptian rites (Herodot. 2:60), and of Baal Poor's worship. Over the drawers was the cetoneth or "close fitting cassock of fine linen", reaching to the feet, woven throughout (compare John 19:23). This was girded round the person with a needlewrought girdle, with flowers of purple, blue, and scarlet, mixed with white. Linen was used as least causing perspiration (Ezekiel 44:18). Their caps of linen were in the shape of a flower cup. When soiled their garments were not washed but torn up for wicks of the lamps (Selden, de Synedr. 13:11). The "clothes of service" (Exodus 31:10; Exodus 35:19; Exodus 39:41; Exodus 28:35; Exodus 28:39; Leviticus 16:4) were not, as Smith's Dictionary supposes, simpler, but were "garments of office."
They laid aside these for ordinary garments outside the sanctuary (Ezekiel 42:14). They drank no wine in ministering (Leviticus 10:9), that they might be free from all undue artificial excitement. No direction is given as to covering the feet. The sanctity of the tabernacle required baring the foot (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15). The ephod , originally the high priest's (Exodus 28:6-12; Exodus 39:2-5), was subsequently assumed by the priests (1 Samuel 22:18) and those taking part in religious processions (2 Samuel 6:14). Except for the nearest relatives they were not to mourn for the dead (Leviticus 21:1-5, the highest earthly relationships were to be surrendered for God: Deuteronomy 33:9-10) nor to shave the head as pagan priests did, nor make cuttings in the flesh (Leviticus 19:28). The priest was to be without bodily defect, symbolizing mental and moral soundness (Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:14; Leviticus 21:17-21).
The priest was not to marry a woman divorced or the widow of any but a priest. The high priest was to marry a virgin. As the priestly succession depended on the sureness of the genealogy, these genealogies were jealously preserved and referred to in disputed cases (Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64); the mothers as well as the fathers were named. The priests' duty was to keep the altar fire ever burning (Leviticus 6:12-13), symbolizing Jehovah's never ceasing worship; not like the idol Vesta's sacred fire, but connected with sacrifices. They fed the golden, candlestick (or lamp) outside the veil with oil, offered morning and evening sacrifices with a meat and drink offering at the tabernacle door (Exodus 29:38-44; Exodus 27:20-21; Leviticus 24:2; 2 Chronicles 13:11). They were always ready to do the priestly office for any worshipper (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 12:6; 1 Samuel 2:13).
The priest administered the water of jealousy to the suspected wife and pronounced the curse (Numbers 5:11-31). Declared clean or unclean, and purified ceremonially, lepers (Leviticus 13; 14; Mark 1:44). Offered expiatory sacrifices for defilements and sins of ignorance (Leviticus 15). The priest as "messenger of Jehovah of hosts" taught Israel the law, and his "lips" were to "keep knowledge" (Malachi 2:7; Leviticus 10:10-11; Deuteronomy 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:10; Jeremiah 18:18; Haggai 2:11; 2 Chronicles 15:3; 2 Chronicles 17:7-9; Ezekiel 44:23-24). They covered the ark and sanctuary vessels with a scarlet cloth before the Levites might approach them (Numbers 4:5-15).
They blew the "alarm" for marching, with the long silver trumpets which belonged to them in a special way (Numbers 10:1-8); two if the multitude was convened, one if a council of elders and princes (Numbers 10:10); with them the priest announced the beginning of solemn days and days of gladness, and summoned all to a penitential fast (Joel 2:1; Joel 2:15). They blew them at Jericho's overthrow (Joshua 6:4) and the war against Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 13:12; compare 2 Chronicles 20:21-22); 3,700 joined David (1 Chronicles 12:23; 1 Chronicles 12:27). An appeal lay to them in controversies (Ezekiel 44:24; 2 Chronicles 19:8-10; Deuteronomy 17:8-13); so in cases of undetected murder (Deuteronomy 21:5). They blessed the people with the formula, Numbers 6:22-27.
SUPPORT. The priest had
(1) one tenth of the tithes paid to the Levites, i.e. one percent on the whole produce of the land (Numbers 18:26-28).
(2) A special tithe every third year (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12).
(3) The redemption money, five shekels a head for the firstborn of man and beast (Numbers 18:14-19).
(4) Redemption money for men or things dedicated to Jehovah (Leviticus 27).
(5) Share of war spoil (Numbers 31:25-47).
(6) Perquisites: firstfruits of oil, wine, and wheat, the shewbread, flesh and bread offerings, the heave shoulder and wave breast (Numbers 18:8-14; Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 6:29; Leviticus 7:6-10; Leviticus 10:12-15). Deuteronomy 18:3, "the shoulder, cheeks, and maw " (the fourth stomach of ruminant animals esteemed a delicacy) were given in addition, to those appointed in Leviticus (compare Numbers 16:19-20).
Of the "most holy" things none but the priests were to partake (Leviticus 6:29). Of the rest their sons, daughters, and even home-born slaves, but not the stranger and hired servant, ate (Leviticus 10:14; Leviticus 22:10-11). Thirteen cities within Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon (whereas the Levites were scattered through Israel) with suburbs were assigned to them (Joshua 21:13-19). They were far from wealthy, and were to be the objects of the people's liberality (Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27-29; 1 Samuel 2:36), and were therefore tempted to "teach for hire" (Micah 3:11). Just after the captivity their tithes were badly paid (Nehemiah 13:10; Malachi 3:8-10). In David's reign the priests were divided into 24 courses, which served in rotation for one week commencing on the Sabbath, the outgoing priest taking the morning sacrifice, the incoming priest the evening; the assignment to the particular service in each week was decided by lot (1 Chronicles 24:1-19; 2 Chronicles 23:8; Luke 1:5; Luke 1:9). Ithamar's representatives were fewer than Eleazar's; so 16 courses were assigned to the latter, eight to the former.
Only four courses returned from Babylon (Ezra 2:36-39): 973 of Jedaiah, 1,052 of Immer, 1,247 of Pashur, 1,017 of Harim. They were organized in 24 courses, and the old names restored. The heads of the 24 courses were often called" chief priests." In the New Testament when the high priesthood was no longer for life, the ex-high priests were called by the same name (archiereis ); both had seats in the Sanhedrin. The numbers of priests in the last period before Jerusalem's overthrow by Rome were exceedingly great (compare Acts 6:7). Jerusalem and Jericho were their chief head quarters (Luke 10:30). Korah's rebellion, with Levites representing the firstborn, and Dathan and Abiram leading the tribe of Jacob's firstborn, Reuben, implies a looking back to the patriarchal priesthood. The consequent judgment on the rebels, and the budding of Aaron's rod, taught that the new priesthood had a vitality which no longer resided in the old (Numbers 16). Micah's history shows the tendency to relapse to the household priests (Judges 17; 18).
Moloch and Chiun had even a rival "tabernacle," or small portable shrine, served by priests secretly (Amos 5:26; Acts 7:42-43; Ezekiel 20:16; Ezekiel 20:39). After the Philistine capture of the ark, and its re. moral from Shiloh, Samuel a Levite, trained as a Nazarite and called as a prophet, was privileged to "come near" Jehovah. The Nazarite vow gave a kind of priestly consecration to "stand before" Him, as in the case of the Rechabites (Amos 2:11; Jeremiah 35:4; Jeremiah 35:19; 1 Chronicles 2:55). The independent order of prophets whose schools began with Samuel served as a counterpoise to the priests, who might have otherwise become a narrow caste. Under apostate kings the priests themselves fell into the worship of Baal and the heavenly hosts (Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 8:1-2). The prophets who ought to have checked joined in the idolatry (Jeremiah 5:31). After Shiloh Nob became the seat of the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21:1).
Saul's massacre of priests there (1 Samuel 22:17-18) drove Abiathar to David (1 Samuel 23:6; 1 Samuel 23:9), then at Saul's death 3,700 under Jehoiada and Zadok (1 Chronicles 12:27-28). From all quarters they flocked to bring up the ark to Zion (1 Chronicles 15:4). The Levites under Benaiah and Jahaziel, priests with the trumpets, ministered round it in sacred music and psalms; but the priests generally ministered in the sacrificial system at the tabernacle at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:5-6; 1 Chronicles 16:37-39; 1 Chronicles 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:3). David purposed, and Solomon at length accomplished, the union of the two services in the one temple at Jerusalem. After the return from Babylon the Levites took a leading part with the priests in teaching the people (Nehemiah 8:1-13).
The mercenary spirit, of many priests, and their low estimation as "contemptible and base before all the people," Malachi glances at (Malachi 2:8-9; Malachi 1:10). Their former idolatry had given place to covetousness. They had sunk so low under Antiochus Epiphanes that Jason (the paganized form of Joshua) and others forsook the law for Gentile practices. Some actually ran naked in the circus opened in Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 4:13-14). Under the Maccabean struggle faithfulness to the law revived. At Pompey's siege of Jerusalem they calmly carried on their ministrations in the temple, until slain in the act of sacrificing (Josephus, Ant. 14:4, section 3; B. J., 1:7, section 5). Through the deteriorating effects of Herod's and the Roman governor's frequently changing the high priests at will, and owing to Sadduceeism becoming the prevailing sentiment of the chief priests in the times of the Gospels and Acts (Acts 4:1; Acts 4:6; Acts 5:17), selfishness and unscrupulous ambition and covetousness became their notorious characteristics (Luke 10:31).
In the last Roman war the lowest votaries of the Zealots were made high priests (Josephus, B. J. 4:3, section 6; 6:8, section 3; 5, section 4). From a priest Titus received the lamps, gems, and costly garments of the temple. The rabbis rose as the priests went down. The only distinction that now these receive is the redemption money of the firstborn, the right of taking the law from the chest, and of pronouncing the benediction in the synagogue. From some of the "great company of the priests" who became "obedient to the faith," the occurrences in Matthew 27:51; Matthew 27:62-66, the rending of the veil and the application to Pilate as to securing the sepulchre, were learned and recorded. These events doubtless tended to their own conversion.
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Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Priest'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/fbd/p/priest.html. 1949.