A priest cares for the spiritual lives of the people. The job of a priest in the Old Testament was to read the spiritual posture of God’s people and attend to their fears and sorrows. Priests called the people to see themselves as they really were—needy but loved, frail but protected, prone to wander but kept. They served God’s people by reminding them that they were made for worship.
What does it mean to care for someone else? It means to provide for their basic needs. To protect and guard them from hard or dangerous things. To seek their happiness. To create an environment in which they can flourish. And to do these things intentionally, consistently, and without lapse.
That is what the priests did for the people of Israel. They were specifically selected, as a tribe (the Levites), and then appointed individually from there to be spiritual caretakers of God’s chosen people. They bore the responsibility of caring for the spiritual well-being of an entire nation, according to the Old Testament covenant which was closely tied to their physical well-being as well. Keeping the covenant was important for the people’s stability and future, and the priests guided them in this. God’s covenant and law were the foundation of Israel’s government, their safety, and their surety. Being spiritual caretakers of a nation was no small task.
But priesthood wasn’t just a task; it was a gift given by God.
The appointment to priest didn’t make a man any better than the rest of the people, but it did set him apart. Priests served as flawed, sinful men responsible for their own repentance and atonement as they also bore responsibility for the people’s repentance and atonement. They were handed the responsibility and privilege of purifying the people through sacrifice and offerings. By so doing the priests kept the house of God pure, for nobody could enter God’s presence without purification. The priests protected both the people and the temple, each for the sake of the other.
By protecting God’s house, the priests did what caretakers must—they created an atmosphere in which the people could flourish spiritually. They could flourish in worship and knowledge as the priests led them. They could find security by knowing that God was honored rightly and worshiped in His proper place. They could flourish in hope because the priests, foremost of all, looked ahead to the hope of God’s promises—first for a promised land, and then for a promised Messiah.
The priests tended to spiritual needs of the people in every way and they were happy for it, because in doing so they brought people who would otherwise be unclean and wandering, to purity and closeness. They made a way for people to find freedom from sin, knowledge of God, and joy in worship.
Written By Barnabas Piper