They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

A Kingdom of Priests


‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
–Exodus 19:4-6

When God made a covenant with his chosen people at Mt. Sinai, he told them that he wanted them to be a “kingdom of priests”. That phrase sounds very poetic and significant, but we tend to read right over the phrase because the words, “kingdom” and “priest” are so foreign to our modern thinking. In America we certainly don’t identify with Kings or Kingdoms and our Protestant faith contains little contact with priests. What was God saying? The answer comes out of the culture of that day and it is very revealing as to what our responsibilities are as partakers in that same covenental promise. Let’s look at the words, “kingdom” and “priest” to see what they meant in that ancient culture.

First, the word kingdom in English implies a territory or a piece of land. To the Hebrews, the word kingdom is much more encompassing. The kingdom was not only the territory, but it was also a place in time where the King of the kingdom was ruling or reigning. The kingdom was where the king was “kinging”, where his will was being done and people were obeying him and making him king. It was not just the boundary lines, it was what was happening withing the boundaries. The kingdom comes and is evident when the king’s will is being done. The kingdom can be any place that the king (God) is in charge (e.g. Luke 17:21).

Now that we’ve established what the kingdom is, then what does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? Priests during the time of the Hebrew Testament were representatives of the God they served. All the nations had priests that served their various deities. This was a concept that was very familiar to the Israelites because every god of wood and stone was represented by a priesthood. What was the function of these priests? First of all, they dressed very differently than the normal lay person. They were set apart for their service to their god and had very high standards of conduct. Their number one mission was to put their god on display. If you wanted to know what the god was like, you just looked at the priests. They were also the mediator between the god and the people. They were to meet the people’s needs on the god’s behalf and show them how compassionate he was and his concern for the poor. All welfare was done through the temple and the priests.

In light of these qualities and responsibilities, how are we as a community of believers to be a kingdom of priests? We must be noticeably different; set apart from the people around us that don’t know our King. We have to live under higher moral standards, live holy lives that are different and that set us apart. Our mission as priests is also to demonstrate what God is like. Think about the display God could have put together to show himself, but instead he picked us. “You want to see what I’m like , look at my priests that represent me”, God says. Will the people you meet this week know what God is like by the way your represent him?

Like the priests, we are also to be the mediator between God and the people that don’t know him. We are to be sensitive to the poor and disenfranchised and are to meet human need on God’s behalf. We can’t do that by just praying for people; it has to be a hands on process of meeting those needs.

If we go back to Exodus 19, we will see that God called the whole nation of Israel to be priests to represent him. Although He separately established the Aaronic priesthood, He wanted everyone to think of themselves as priests. To remind them to do this He gave them a command in Numbers 15:37-40:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.

The Israelites were to wear tassels with a blue cord on the corners of their garments. Why? When they looked at the tassels they would be reminded of their role and position and would remember to keep His commands. The tassels were a visual aid to them that they were set apart. There is much more to say about the tassels (see “Of Wool and Linen” and Jewish Dress and Custom) that reminded them that they were priests.

Was this command only for the Old Testament time period? Are we under a different set of rules? 1 Peter 2:9-12 says exactly what God was saying to the Israelites at Sinai. We are to be a kingdom of priests and are to live such good lives among out pagan neighbors that they will experience our good deeds and give glory to our God (also see Philippians 2:15-16). Revelation 1:5-6, speaking of Jesus, also says that He has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His Father. The Bible is all one story and the mission is the same from Genesis to Revelation – ”make my name known”.

In summary, the concept of being a kingdom of priests is a huge and daunting responsibility. He has sent us, His followers, to represent Him to the people that don’t know about Him and to tell them what the King and the kingdom is like. They will know what He is like by the way we act and the way we treat them. We represent the God of the universe! He is sending us out to a hurting and broken world that desperately needs to know about His love and His compassion towards them. Will we go? Will we live our lives in such a way that they will know without a shadow of a doubt how great and loving our God is?

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Part 3

Christ, the King

Part 3 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13

In our third post we will tackle the second phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come (tamklikh malkhutkha), thy will be done (yei’ase retzonkha), on earth as it is in heaven (ba-shamayim u-va’aretz). The teachings of Jesus on the subject of the “Kingdom of God”, or the “Kingdom of Heaven” are found in many places in the gospels and have been discussed and debated extensively throughout the centuries. In this post, we will not try to cover all the many facets of this important subject, but we will attempt to understand what Jesus would want us to know about praying for His Father’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done.

It is interesting to note that Jews had been praying for God’s Kingdom to come long before Jesus put it in His model prayer. An ancient prayer, called the, “Alenu” (which is still prayed in synagogues today), has the following lines concerning the Kingdom:

“Therefore we do wait for you, O Lord our God, soon to behold your glory….when the world shall be regenerated by the Kingdom of the Almighty…. So will they (the world) accept the yoke of your Kingdom and You will be King over them forever….for yours is the Kingdom and to all eternity shall you reign in glory. The Lord shall reign forever and ever, and the Lord shall be King over all the earth.”

As we shall see, knowing that this was how they prayed and how they viewed God’s Kingdom will really help us to understand the Lord’s Prayer. We have always been taught that, “Thy Kingdom come”, meant God’s second coming, as in “Come soon Lord!” This may well be a part of the meaning, however, the Kingdom is much more complex than just His second coming and contains several paradoxes that are hard to comprehend. Let’s look at the paradoxes as they are presented in the gospels.

First of all, we know from Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God has already come in the person of Christ (Luke 11:20). Yet, in the Lord’s prayer it sounds like we are to ask for it to come, and speaks of a future time when it will show up. In essence, the Kingdom is both “already” and “not yet”.

Secondly, we know that the Kingdom of God is near as Jesus stated in (Mark 1:15). Yet, in (Luke 19:11-27) Jesus told a parable to a crowd of people that were expecting the Kingdom of God to appear immediately, telling them that the Kingdom was not near but was to appear at some time in the future. So, the Kingdom is near, but far away.

Thirdly, it also seems from the gospels that the time of the coming of the Kingdom is unknown and unknowable (Matthew 24:36), but yet in Matthew 24:3-35 and Luke 21:5-36, Jesus gives us the signs that tell us when the Kingdom will be coming! The Kingdom then is unknown, yet known.

Finally, read Luke 17:20 where it says that, “the Kingdom of God is within you”, yet it is also described as an outward event that we can see with our eyes. The Kingdom is both within and without.

In light of these apparent paradoxes, how do we know what we are praying for when we pray for his Kingdom to come? The answer lies in the ancient prayer that we cited at the first of our post. The ancients prayed that all the world would come to know, worship, and serve the Jewish God and that the people would be subject to His rule and reign. By praying for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done here on earth, we are praying for the gospel to go forth and for people to be subject to His Kingship with all that entails. Instead of just standing by waiting for the world to come to know Him, we are to be actively making His Kingdom come by bringing people to a knowledge of Him and to worship Him as their Lord and King. To have a Kingdom, you have to have a King, and subjects who obey the King and live according to His laws. Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer, was talking about Gods’ rule and reign over the daily lives of His people and not just a future time when He would show up in power at the end of time.

This makes perfect sense when added to the next line in the Lord’s Prayer, “On earth like it would be in Heaven”. As His disciples, we are to expand His reign over the earth so that His will is done, just like it would have been done in heaven. To say that, “His will be done”, implies that we have a choice whether to obey God’s will or not and we must accept responsibility for what we do here on earth. Even here, there is a paradox as God is sovereign and directs history – His will is always done. Yet somehow, we are free to oppose His will and His plan for us. It is all God and we are unable to add anything to the equation, yet He demands our obedience. We live our daily lives between these two stones. This tension is exemplified in the phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven”. Our lives here on earth and the way we live them is what fits us for heaven, but our purpose is for His Kingdom to come here on earth. We must be about doing His will and letting people know about His Kingdom while we are here on earth.

To sum up these first three sections of the Lord’s Prayer: We pray to, “Our Father“ (not my father – think community), “who is in heaven”, and sovereign over us, and pray that “His name would be made Holy” in our lives and actions and that we would do nothing to make it unholy. We pray for,”His Kingdom to be made known” to all people here on earth, and for us to be obedient subjects to His will “just like it would be done in heaven”. These three petitions, “Hallowed be your name”, “Your Kingdom Come”, and “Your will be done”, have long been called the, “Thou” petitions because they focus on our thoughts and prayers towards our Heavenly Father.

In our next post we will turn our attention to the three ”We” petitions, where we ask God to help us in our daily lives.

Solomon the Wise??

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day…So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
— 1 Kings 3:5-9

A careful re-reading of Deuteronomy chapter 17 recently, revealed some errors in my previous thinking concerning Solomon’s reign as king over Israel and made me wonder how wise he really was, according to the Scriptures. From earlier teaching, I had always been told that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived and was left the impression that he was a very great and competent king.

My first wrong assumption was that God did not want the Israelites to even have a king (See also my earlier post, “And the King Will Take a Tenth“). Contrary to this, God anticipates that the Israelites will want a king and so he set out the parameters and qualifications of a king. In Deuteronomy 17 God says, when (not if) you get a king, here is what he must be like. Verse 15 speaks directly about a later king of the Jews, Herod, because he was not a Jew, but an Idumean. The Jews were correct to despise him because he was not one of them and according to the qualifications, he should not have been their ruler. Solomon passed this test as he definitely was a Jew.

Deuteronomy 17:16 says that the king of Israel must not acquire great number of horses for himself and must not make anyone go back to Egypt to get them. If you look at 1 Kings 4:26, it says that Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses and owned twelve thousand horses. All the best horses came from Egypt and Solomon sent many expeditions to Egypt to get horses and other goods (1 Kings 10:28-29).

Deuteronomy 17:17 says that the king of Israel must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray. We read in 1 Kings 11:3 that Solomon had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines and that his wives led him astray. It goes on to say that he did evil in the eyes of the Lord by doing this.

Deuteronomy 17:17 also says that he must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. In 1 Kings 10:14-29 it describes Solomon’s affinity for wealth. The Jewish Bible portrays the rejection of his penchant for wealth by saying that he accumulated 666 talents of Gold, yearly. By using the numbers 666, they were saying, in an editorial way, that he was doing something evil.

Solomon apparently never followed God’s command in verse 18-20 either. He was supposed to completely write for himself, on a scroll, the whole Torah and then read it daily for the rest of his life. If he had done this, as God required, he would have seen his mistakes in Deuteronomy and repented. Solomon obviously considered himself better than his subjects, which it also told him specifically not to do. Because Solomon failed to heed and obey God’s explicit commands, the kingdom was torn away from his descendants and Israel plunged into chaos that from which they never recovered:

The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
–1 Kings 11:9-13

Solomon also really messed up when he hired foreigners to come in and build the Temple. It was not appropriate to Hiram and the Sidonian craftsmen to construct large parts of the Temple. The Jews had plenty of quality craftsmen. By doing this, it allowed these foreign men to bring in their foreign gods and intermarry with the Jewish people. This mistake eventually allowed Jezebel, who was a Sidonian, to play a shameful part in Jewish history.

Although Solomon was obviously a very smart man, almost everything he did ended up bringing disaster on the Jewish nation. Solomon is proof that wisdom is not enough We must read the Book or we will end up like Solomon; even though wise in a worldly sense, still failing miserably in God’s eyes.