From Munson's post cited earlier in this series
Which One Are You?
Church leadership focused on the message
leads through communication
Prone to Sin:
Church leadership focused on the people
leads through relationships
care and shepherding
smaller audiences (one-on-one)
Prone to Sin:
tolerance of sin
lack of truth
self-righteous w/compassion or love
Now there's something basic that needs to be established about what priests did in the Mosaic covenant. It's popular in at least neo-Calvinist scenes to say priests about relationship but a steady survey of the priestly role would lead a person to conclude that a lot of the priestly vocation involved knowing how to slaughter animals quickly. In case you haven't read Leviticus, go back and read the whole thing, it's more fun to read than people claim it is. Numbers ... is a bit less exciting but Leviticus and Deuteronomy are actually fun!
Permit us to skip secondary literature and go to a few direct citations from biblical texts.
On teaching in the OT
For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts ...
Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the Lord and say, "Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us."
Then the Lord said to Aaron, "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.
2 Chronicles 17: 7-9
In the third year of his reign he [Jehoshaphat] sent his officials Ben-Hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah to teach in the towns of Judah. With them were certain Levites—Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah and Tob-Adonijah—and the priests Elishama and Jehoram. They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people.
2 Kings 17:28
So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the LORD.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.
Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.
2 Chronicles 15:1-4
The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, but when in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them.
Anyone notice a pattern here about what priests are described as doing? It looks curiously as though priests did (and were supposed to do) a lot of teaching of the people. Not merely priests were considered as having a teaching role. The scribes had a role (anyone can consult Jesus' conflicts with the scribes and Pharisees and the teachers of the Law). Sages also had this role (see the epilogue of Ecclesiastes and we'll see that Qoholeth was considered the greatest sage of his time and that he made a point of teaching the people).
What else did priests do.
Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes ine very town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess teh land the Lord your God is giving you.
If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge--whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults--take them to the place the Lord your God will choose. Go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the Lord will choose. Be careful to do everything they instruct you to do. Act according to whatever they teach you and the decisiosn they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God is to be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.
Priests were supposed to teach the laws of the God of Israel to the people. They were supposed to offer sacrifices. They were supposed to assess cases of leprosy and disease to prevent plagues from breaking out in the community. They were supposed to help adjudicate cases that were too difficult for tribal elders to handle. If they were not sure themselves how to handle a particular case they were to enquire of the Lord but they were not permitted to use any forms of divination that were used by priests in other religious or cultic practices. For that matter no one was to emulate those practices.
Deuteronomy 18: 9-13
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.
Why would the priests or the people be tempted to do that? Well, if people come to you with situations that the case law of the Torah doesn't address; if kings or judges come to you with a question about a military or economic situation or civil or criminal case that presents a problem and the case law of the time doesn't address the issue what happens? Well, if you were a bad Israelite priest you might resort to sorts of divination that were forbidden.
Let's consider the case of the daughters of Zelophehad. Who's that?
Zelophehad had only daughters and no sons, a big problem regarding inheritance in that time and culture. It was big enough an issue to get discussed here and here. Moses brought their case before the Lord and who was Moses? Well, he was unique but he could be considered a prophet and a judge not just someone who delivered the Law. The case of the daughters of Zelophehad necessitated consulting the Lord and adding to the existing case law. If the case law available at the time had covered this situation there would have been no real need to consult Moses and for Moses to consult the Lord.
So we've seen that the scriptures indicate a wide range of activity for the priest. It does not appear that the role of the priest is mainly one-on-one or more personal. Who was supposed to release the scapegoat into the wilderness? There's not much in Leviticus 16 that looks like it's Aaron dealing with personal, one-on-one spiritual relationship stuff. It's not that a priest can't do that it's that if Jesus is our High Priest that priestly role wasn't just confined to one on one stuff, was it?
Now something that is absolutely right in the grid of sins toward which priests were prone is an absence of truth. We've seen that the prophets testify against the truthfulness of the things that priests taught and their ethics. But priests were apt to be guilty of overlooking sin through stuff like nepotism and accepting bribes. Tolerance of sin might not be a sin unique to the priests. Every single group of leaders in Israel was apt to overlook sin. Because the priests were not given an inheritance they had no land to pass on to their children.
The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.
This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s name always.
If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the Lord will choose, he may minister in the name of the Lord his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the Lord. He is to share equally in their benefits, even though he has received money from the sale of family possessions.
So if they have no inheritance they live on food offerings. Unsurprisingly Leviticus is full of detailed instructions about which offerings the priests can and can't eat. Consult Leviticus 6 for just a small sample. Now if a sin of priests was to tend to be light on sin that could certainly happen but if you're paying attention to how the cultic sacrificial system worked sacrifices for sin and various offerings were literally the meal ticket of a tribe that was formally barred from being able to inherit land. How soft on sin were priests apt to get if they were to live off of offerings?
Well, if we survey the great swath of biblical literature the way priests adapted to living off of sacrifices was not exactly going easy on sin. Sometimes the people were tempted to cut corners on what kinds of offerings were offered to the Lord. Sometimes people offered sacrifices to other gods.
If you'd like some specific cases When your meal ticket comes through the sacrificial system
A good deal of what some believe constitutes a "prophetic" role taken by pastors is more demonstrably illustrated to be things done by priests if we take the scriptures at their most literal level. So if what gets described in Munson's shorthand as "prophetic" fits what the Bible actually describes about the priesthood then what were prophets supposed to actually do? To be continued.