Darrell Pursiful has written a post “Melchizedekian (and Other) Priesthood” in response to my post on Jesus and Melchizedek. In his post, Darrell introduces several ideas worthy of consideration. In this post, I would like to join Darrell in his discussion of non-Aaronite priesthood and pursue some of his suggestions.
In his post, Darrell wrote: “There are, in fact, several hints in the Bible about a non-Aaronic priesthood associated with the tribe of Judah in general and the Davidic line in particular.” As an example of a non-Aaronite priesthood, he mentions the Levite in Judges 17:7. He wrote:
In Judges 17:7, there is mention of a Judahite who was also a Levite: “Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the clan of Judah. He was a Levite residing there.”
The key factor in this verse is the expression “residing there.” These words mean that the Levite was a ger, a resident alien who was living in Judah. Thus, the text may be understood in two different ways:
First, since Levites did not possess land of their own, they would live within the territory of other tribes as resident aliens (gerim). For this reason, the Levite mentioned in Judges 17:7 may not have been a man from the tribe of Judah, but a man from the tribe of Levi who was living in Judah.
Second, it is possible that a Levite was a person who dedicated himself to the service of Yahweh irrespective of tribe affiliation. Thus, a Levite could be from the tribe of Judah, as Judges 17:7 indicates. Samuel functioned as a priest and later is called a Levite even though his family are said to be Ephraimites (1 Samuel 1:1).
Since Micah, a man from Ephraim, appointed his son to be a priest of his idol (Judges 17:5), it is very possible that one did not have to be a Levite to be a priest. These references to Levites may indicate that in pre-monarchic Israel, the Levites and the tribe of Levi were two different groups.
Another point Darrell raises in his post is the issue of David’s priesthood. Darrell quotes 2 Samuel 6:17, a text which declares that “David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord.” The evidence that David acted as a priest is found in the next verse, 2 Samuel 6:18: “When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts.” In Israel, one of the functions of the priests was to bless the people (Numbers 6:22-27).
Solomon also acted as a priest. During the dedication of the temple, Solomon prayed before the altar of the Lord (1 Kings 8:54), blessed the people (v. 55) and offered peace offerings before the Lord (v. 63). In the post-exilic period, at the time when only priests could offer sacrifices before the Lord, Solomon’s altar becomes a platform (2 Chronicles 6:13) and the mention of the peace offerings is removed from 2 Chronicles 7:5.
On the significance of the omission of the words that said that Solomon “sacrificed peace offerings to the Lord” in 2 Chronicles 7:5, Gray (232, note a) wrote:
“This phrase of MT is omitted from the parallel version in II Chron. 7:5 in accordance with the view of the late priestly writer that sacrifice was the monopoly of the priests.”
So far Darrell and I agree. There were priests in Israel who were not descendants of Aaron. Levites from different tribes exercised the duties of the priesthood. In addition, before the Josianic reforms, other people could offer sacrifice, and Elijah is a good example (1 Kings 18:30-38).
Darrell and I differ on two small points: I do not think there is evidence of numerous examples of intermarriage between the descendants of David and the descendants of Aaron. It is true that the case of Joseph and Mary in the New Testament could be cited as an example, but off hand, I do not remember many examples in the Old Testament.
Second, I do not believe the Rechabites were priests. The Rechabites were the descendants of Jehonadab, the son of Rechab (2 Kings 10:15-17). The Rechabites had made a commitment to keep the desert way of life because they believed that was the best way to worship the God of Israel. Although their practices were similar to the Nazarites, the Rechabites lived nomadic lives that were characterized by the rejection of sedentary life. Jeremiah used the Rechabites as an example of a people dedicated to the Lord.
As for Zechariah 6:13, that is a problematic text that deserves a post all of its own. I may return to the issues raised by Zechariah 6:13 at a later time.
I want to thank Darrell for his very stimulating post.
John Gray, I & II Kings. Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1970).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Aaron, David, Levites, Priesthood, Rechabite