Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Prophets and Priests and Kings...Oh My!

By way of background as we look at another theme in the Book of Ezekiel (God's scolding of Israel's shepherds in Ezekiel 34), there are three distinct leadership roles in the Old Testament. First, there was the role of the prophet -- someone who would receive the Word of God and communicate it to the people. Prophets gave leadership in the realm of truth.

Second, there was the role of the priest -- someone who would bring people into the presence of God by offering prayers and sacrifices. Priests were the mirror image of prophets. Prophets spoke to people on behalf of God; priests spoke to God on behalf of people.

Third, there was the role of the king -- someone who would lead the people into battle and protect them from their enemies. He was also responsible for leading the people in the right paths.

These three leadership roles are woven through the entire Bible story. The prophet brought God's truth to the people. The priest brought the people of God into the presence of God. The king was supposed to lead the people in the right way of living. You could say the prophet was about revealing, the priest was about reconciling and the king was about ruling. These three functions, when properly combined, reveal God's plan for stable leadership.

Ideally, these three roles provided a system of checks and balances for Israel. The king ruled, but the prophet spoke the Word of God -- sometimes confrontationally -- to the king. Nathan is a good example of this with David. Elijah spoke this way with Ahab (with decidedly different results). Same with Jeremiah and King Zedekiah. Prophets were supposed to hold kings accountable.

Also, the king ruled from the palace, but when he came to the temple, he was not allowed to offer a sacrifice. Only a priest could do that. So, a king could not enter the presence of God without the help of a priest.

By the way, God's people still need balance in these three areas of leadership today.