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?

Jewish Dress and Custom – A Study of Haluk, Tallit, Kanaf, Tzitzit, and Tfillin

It is interesting to do a short study on the clothing that Jewish men would have worn during Jesus’ day and then to ask ourselves if the mental pictures that we have of Jesus matches our findings. What did Jesus and the other Jewish men in Israel wear and look like and how does that add to our knowledge of Bible stories when we understand the Jewish customs of that time period? As usual, the more we know about the culture of the Bible the more alive the Scriptures become.

Man with Haluk, Tallit, Kanaf, Tzitzit, and Tfillin (phylactery)

Man with Haluk, Tallit, Kanaf, Tzitzit, and Tfillin (phylactery)

Jewish men during the time of Jesus wore two garments for every day use. The first one, a linen undergarment or undershirt, was called “haluk” (or chaluk). It was long, like a night shirt and fell halfway between the knees and ankles. You wore this garment at home, or to work in, but not in public. Mark 14:51-52 describes a young man (probably Mark) escaping from the soldiers and having his haluk ripped off, making him naked. The fact that he only had his undergarment on suggests that the disciples were sleeping somewhere nearby when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Also, in John 19:23, the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ haluk, his linen tunic, at the crucifixion.

The second garment that they wore was an outer garment that went over the haluk. This garment was called “tallit” and was usually white, made of wool, and had holes in it for your arms and head. This was the garment that was worn out in public. Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 5:40 to give someone your haluk as well as your tallit, takes on new meaning as Jesus would have been saying, “Give them everything you have!”

Because of Numbers 15:37-41, Jewish men always wore tassels on the corners of their tallit. The tassels were called, “tzitzit” (pronounced seat-seat) or “tzitziot” (plural). There were to be four tzitzit, one on each corner of your robe, and each tassel was to have a blue cord in it. The blue cord represented royalty. The tassels were to be a visual reminder of God and His commands and His authority. The corner of the robe with the tassels on it was called, “kanaf”or “kanafim” (plural). This Hebrew word also meant, “wing”. Two Bible stories come to mind that involve the corners and the tassels on them. The first one is the story of David and Saul in 1 Samuel 24:1-4). David cut off the corner of Saul’s robe in the cave where David was hiding. David was not just cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe. By cutting off the kanaf and the tassels (tzitzit) that symbolized God’s authority and protection, David was saying, “God has taken His hand off of you and you no longer have His authority on your kingship.” The second story concerning the tassels is in Matthew 23:1-7, where Jesus criticized the Pharisees, not for wearing tzitit, but for making them extra long.

TzitzithIt is interesting to note the effort to which Jewish people would got to tie their tassels in a certain way. There were were eight strings on each tassel and five knots were tied in the cords. The five knots represented the five books of the Torah and the four spaces between the knots represented the four letters in God’s unspeakable name. Also, the Hebrew language attaches numeric value to each letter in their alphabet (e.g. echad, the first letter in the alphabet corresponds to 1). The numeric value of the Mishnaic spelling of tzitziot is 600, and if you add to that the 8 strings and 5 knots, you get 613, or the total number of all the oral laws in the Mishnah, or all the laws of Moses. The detail to which they went is an example of their devotion to their God.

During New Testament times, tzitziot took on and additional and more important meaning. As the Jews began to look for the Messiah, prophets began to give clues as to what attributes the “coming one” would have. In Zechariah 8:23-24, it was prophesied that the Jews would take hold of the Kanaf of the Messiah’s robe because they had heard that God was with Him. Also, in Malachi 4:2, it declares that the coming Messiah would have healing in his Kanaf (wings), which, if you will remember, is the same word as the corners of His robe. The Jewish people knew that the Messiah’s tallit and tziztit would be special.

Now, let’s fast forward to Jesus’ day and read these scriptures: Matthew 9:20-22, Matthew 14:35-36, Mark 5:24-34 and Luke 8:42-48. The common people believed that when the Messiah came he would have special powers in the corners of His robe. In the story of the woman with the bleeding disease, she would have thought, “if I can just get to touch a tziztit or if I can just touch the corner of His robe, I can be healed.” She was totally convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and demonstrated her faith by grabbing the corner of His robe. Jesus then acknowledged that He was the Messiah and did have healing powers by saying, “Your faith has made you well.”

One other subject that we could discuss would be the phylacteries or boxes (called, “tfillin”) that the Jews of Jesus’ day put scriptures in and then wore on their foreheads to remind them of the command that God gave them in Deuteronomy 6:8. Would Jesus have worn a tfillin? Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus that had him wearing tassels or tfillin?

The main conclusion that we can draw is that Jesus would have dressed like the other men of his day and would have fit into the customs of His Jewish peers. He was Jewish to the core and did what the Scriptures and His traditions told him to do. Because we look at the Bible from a 21st century perspective, and because our mental picture of Jesus often comes from a Middle Ages era European artist’s depiction of Him, our ideas of what He looked and dressed like are skewed. Once again, learning about the culture during Bible times doesn’t necessarily change the story, but it sure gives it more depth and meaning and this study of Jewish custom and dress is a perfect example.