The term Priesthood of Melchizedek has differing meanings for various religious streams. Since the beginning of human history a priesthood of the Most High God has been in existence, from the creation of Adam to the present day. In the days of old a priesthood of the firstborn sons was ordained, apparently by HaShem (God) Himself.
The Christians tout Jesus as such a priest, but not truly understanding from where it derives. Such a priesthood is fraught with responsibility and burdens unfamiliar with many God-fearing people. Torah obedience is the yoke of that priesthood, faithfulness to the Mosaic Covenant a requirement. Contrary to certain teachings it true purpose has never been hidden.
Many have read the account in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) of harsh judgment HaShem imposed upon Israel first King – Shaul – for assuming certain priestly functions but are bewildered when King David acts in a similar fashion and has no rebuke, in fact King David laid upon the Ark of the Covenant with no harm come to him – strange indeed. But once one understands the implications of this priesthood, these strange occurrences can be perhaps understood. The following article from Orthodox Rabbi Ariel bar Zadok is offered as a starting step towards that understanding.
Priests of Israel, and Priests from Israel
by Ariel Bar Tzadok Copyright © 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.
There are priests, and then there are priests.
Aaron, and his sons, were chosen by God to serve as His priests in the Tabernacle, and in the later Temple in Jerusalem. The sons of Aaron are the priesthood of the children of Israel. However, prior to God’s selection of this special family from the Tribe of Levi, God chose another family, and also ordained them to be priests.
This other family, however, were not chosen, like Aaron, to begin a new priesthood, but rather to continue, and maintain an already existing one. When this other priesthood started, the Bible does not say. Our earliest reference to it begins with the Patriarch Abraham. He encountered a priest of this earlier priesthood, and, through him, made an offering to this priest’s God. This God was not yet known as YHWH. This God’s Name was El Elyon (the Highest God). The name of the priest was Melchizedek (the king of righteousness).
Torah legend expands on the simple encounter between Melchizedek and Abraham recorded in Genesis. According to legend, (and apparently later confirmed in the Book of Exodus), while Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe for El Elyon, Melchizedek also gave something in return to Abraham. Melchizedek ordained Abraham to be a Melchizedekian priest. The legend says that Abraham passed on this ordination to his son, Isaac. Issac then passed it down to his son Jacob, who passed it on to all twelve of his sons, and their descendants.
At Mt. Sinai, God speaks, and refers to the entire children of Israel as being a nation of priests. But just what kind of priests are they? The entire nation, through the original election of their patriarch Abraham, had become a nation of Melchizedekian priests.
All Israel became a nation of priests, whereas Aaron’s family became the priests of the priests. Aaron’s family priestly responsibilities are clearly spelled out in the Torah. Not only were the sons of Aaron responsible for the ritual offerings of YHWH, they had a possibly even greater responsibility to serve as the nation’s teachers.
The greatest role of the sons of Aaron was to teach all the Children of Israel the ways of YHWH, and how to live them. The priests of Aaron, as seen throughout many Biblical examples, were the teachers who taught the nation Torah, and they, (for the most part), were also the prophets who brought to the people the Living (prophetic) Words of YHWH. Aaron’s descendants, which included the major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, served as the light to the Children of Israel.
While the Torah elaborates in detail the responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood, what then were the responsibilities of the Melchizedekian priests, (the entire House of Israel)? Like Aaron’s sons, Jacob’s children were required to live by a priestly code of conduct that separated them from the rank-and-file laymen of the rest of humanity. This “Melchizedekian” code of conduct we know today as the Laws of the Torah, still observed faithfully by all Jewish individuals who seek to walk in accordance to its ancient traditions, and modern-day interpretations of practice.
Yet, there is much more to being a priest than to live by the priestly code. Aaron’s priestly code was a means to an end, and not an end in itself. If this is true about the Aaronic code, is it also not true about the Melchizedekian code? But, of course, it is.
Torah, and mitzvot were given to Israel for a purpose. They too serve as a means to an end. So then, what is that end? What is the purpose of Israel, and its keeping of the commandments of YHWH? How does Israel fulfill its ministry of being a nation of priests? Aaron, and his sons, served as priests to Israel; to whom is Israel, as a nation, supposed to serve?
Like the sons of Aaron who taught Israel, the entire House of Israel was to serve as teachers, and as a light to all the nations of the Earth. In other words, the Melchizedekian priesthood of Israel is charged to serve all humanity, and to bring to the world the Living (prophetic) Word of YHWH. Over the many centuries since Sinai, this is exactly what Israel has done.
Israel, as a nation, was chosen by God, to be His Nation of Priests, to serve as a light, and role model to all humanity as to how to properly treat, and respect our fellow human beings.
Alongside this fundamental social message, Israel was to introduce to all humanity, the experience of the Divine Singularity. In other words, Israel was not to be just like all the other nations, and their religions, each one claiming, “my god is bigger than your god, my religion is better than yours.” This type of silly religious expression only shows how terribly, spiritually immature such beliefs are.
Israel was not made a nation of priests to argue about religion, or to debate religious concepts. On the contrary, Israel’s message was simple. The message is that throughout all the universe, there is but One Singularity. Everything in existence is part and parcel of the underlying Singularity. Everything emanates from a Singular Source; essentially everything is part of the greater Whole.
All physical perceptions of separation, and division are only superficial. This is called the Secret of Unity (Sod HaYihud). All is in The One, and The One is in all. This is a reality that needs to be experienced. It cannot be learned through proclamation, even though the Torah faithful do proclaim the words numerous time daily.
Just like Aaron’s sons brought Israel closer to God, Israel, in turn, is to bring all of humanity closer to God. This is the purpose, and role of the Melchizedekian priesthood of greater Israel. With this being said, and the identity of the priesthood now clear, let us discuss what exactly is the role of the individual priest.
Priests are civil servants. They are called upon to perform an arduous, often difficult, and mostly thankless job. The priest’s job is to be on-call always, to be ready to serve at every moment. The priest often receives no thanks, and certainly no reward (in this world) for a job well done.
A calling into the priesthood can be compared to a military draft. One is chosen; one does not have a choice. One follows orders, one does not give them. So too a priest is one that serves, he is not one to be served. The priest is always “on the bottom,” holding things up. He is never “on top” looking down on anyone, or anything.
The priest’s job is a combination of teacher, and repairman. The priest has to get down and dirty, in order to serve, and to assure that the work he does for humanity is established, bringing greater good to the world. Thus, to be a priest is a lot of work. There is no glory in it, any more than being drafted for a suicide mission into a hot combat zone.
Being a priest certainly transforms an individual, but unfortunately there are all too many mistaken beliefs about what this transformation really is. For starters, no priest is better than anyone else. By being a priest, one is by no means smarter, wiser, or more physically attractive. A priest is not wealthier, and indeed should not be pursuing wealth. God is their wealth.
If a priest lives up to his calling, then indeed, he can draw closer to God. If, however, on the other hand, the priest fails to live up to his obligations to both God, and to humanity, then he will not come any closer to God, any more than the one who is the furthest away from experiencing the Divine Singularity.
Living up to being a priest is a great responsibility. It is also a great burden. This is why the Laws of Torah are called a yoke. Yokes are not easily carried, they weight heavy on one’s shoulders. The role of the priest is to serve as the bridge that unites Heaven and Earth. The priest shows the way. Yes, there is indeed a heavy weight on the shoulders of each and every priest. The whole world depends upon him. No wonder why so many want to flee the burden.
The priest is the teacher, the worker, and the soldier. The priest does what he has to do, not for the sake of reward, but rather for the sake of fulfilling one’s duty. Above all, a priest is zealous to fulfill his duty, to serve humanity, and not be served in like kind. This is how he fulfills his duty in serving God. This is what defines the role, and responsibility of being a nation of priests.
Aaron has his place in Israel. Israel (Melchizedek) has its place in humanity.