The son of a prophet in due time may himself be a prophet.
The son of a king, provided he is the oldest son, may look forward to having his father’s throne.
But the son of a priest knows without having any doubt to becloud the issue that he will also be priest. In fact every son born in the tribe of Levi knew that his whole life was dedicated to service of God in the tabernacle or temple. H e had no problem to decide what his vocation would be. He had no choice in the matter. His work was all cut out for him by God Himself. For God set aside the whole tribe of Levi for this work and the house of Aaron for the priesthood.
However the priesthood of Aaron is not the first of which we may read in Holy Writ. The first priest to be designated as a priest is Melchizedek, who is called priest of the Most High God in Genesis 14:18. There is also reference before the days of Aaron to priests of the gods of the heathen. Joseph’s wife, according to Genesis 41:50, was Asaneth, the daughter of Potipherah, the priest of On. Although it must be admitted that the word priest here could also mean prince. But in Genesis 47further mention is made of priests of Egypt. The heathen nations did have priests who offered up sacrifices to their idols long before God set aside the tribe of Levi to serve Him in His tabernacle. But the first suggestion in Holy Writ of the work of the office of the priest is found in Genesis 4, where we have the account of Cain’s and Abel’s offerings to God.
That work of the priest which set him aside from all other men and all other offices undoubtedly was that work of offering up to God the gifts of the people. We would at this time like to point out that this work of offering up gifts is a broader idea than that of sacrificing. We have come to the point where we use these words interchangeably. I was even tempted a moment ago to say that the priest offered up the sacrifices of the people. That statement is not inclusive enough. All the offerings were not sacrifices, even though in a sense all sacrifices are offerings. Consider that the word sacrifice means literally a slaughter. It means the offering of that which has life and whose life is taken away by means of a slaughter. Gold and silver can be an offering, a gift unto God, but they can hardly be sacrifices. I say, we use those words interchangeably, and we have gotten to the point where by sacrifice we mean giving something up, parting with something. We speak of the sacrifices we make so that our children may have a good education, the sacrifices we make for the cause of God’s kingdom. And we mean that we go without things, we give them first to kingdom causes because we know that this is right. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you,” Matthew 6:33. And, by the way, this is a very important text for God’s royal priesthood. It is a truth by which he lives. It expresses the very activity of his life and his calling in the world. However, there is a marked difference between a sacrifice and an offering. Abel did come with a sacrifice when he brought an offering to God. And his offering was an act of faith. Cain deceived himself into thinking that he brought an offering; but because he despised the sacrifice that God had ordained and taught to Adam and Eve, when He slew a lamb and clothed Adam and Eve with the skin thereof, God rejected his offering. His heart was not right with God, and his offering made that plain.
This brings us to the truth that, even before Melchizedek, the work of the priest is presented to us in Scripture, even though the name priest is not used. Cain and Abel functioned in the office of priest. The one was God’s royal priest, the other was Satan’s shameful priest. But here already we do see man offering and sacrificing unto God. We can go back one step more and point out that Adam also performed the work of a priest and was in Paradise God’s royal priest. We do not refer then to the fact that Adam also must have sacrificed lambs unto God before Cain’s and Abel’s offerings and must have taught his sons to perform this priestly work before God. Certainly this matter of sacrificing a lamb unto God was not an invention of man. Man did not “hit upon” a matter that God found pleasing. Abel did not just happen to choose a sacrifice that pleased God; and God did not accommodate Himself to a human invention. Do not forget that Christ in Scripture is called the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. Long before Abel came with his sacrifice or offering of a slaughtered lamb, yea long before God slew a lamb to clothe Adam and Eve, long before Adam and Eve fell, even before they were created, in God’s counsel Christ was already the Lamb slain on Calvary’s brow for our sins. It was for that reason that God slew a lamb to teach Adam and Eve, and through them the whole Church, that we can approach Him, that our prayers can be heard, that there is salvation only through the death of the Son of God in our flesh. Adam learned this priestly work of sacrificing a lamb directly from God. And Adam as a faithful covenant parent in his prophetic office taught his children the work they were to perform in their priestly office. Both of his sons did not by faith embrace that truth. The one despised it and set his own priestly rules and expected God to accommodate Himself to man’s fleshly choices and thoughts. The other by faith took hold of the truth in Christ and sought forgiveness through His blood. And we may certainly say that Adam also functioned in that same office and sacrificed his lambs to God before the incident recorded of Cain and Abel.
But we said that Adam in Paradise already performed the work of priest as God’s royal priest. That means that before he fell and before he was driven out of Paradise Adam was in a royal priesthood. There was a priesthood before sin entered the world. Even as there was a prophetic office and a kingly office in Paradise before the Fall, so there surely was also a priestly office. As we have observed, when treating this prophetic office (see S.B. Vol. XXXVII, March 15, 1961, pages 277 and 278) the emphasis in Holy Writ is upon the priestly office. Not that the prophetic and kingly are of less importance, but we read in I Peter 2:9(from which our general theme is borrowed) the pointed words, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. . . .” Notice that the emphasis is upon the priestly office. Surely, then, we may say that this priestly office likewise was to be found in Paradise before the Fall. Man was created with mind, will and strength. He did not obtain a will after the Fall. But with all three in Paradise he stood in a threefold office.
It is to be understood that after sin entered the world the work of the priest, of necessity, underwent a change. That is equally true of the prophetic office. After the Fall God’s prophet has the calling to oppose the lie, to condemn it in no uncertain terms and speak of a Christ whose coming was not necessary until the entrance of sin. We say “not necessary until the entrance of sin” not because sin imposed something, upon God and made it necessary for Him to do something He did not intend to do. We mean that apart from the sin which He had decreed would come there is even in His counsel no reason for the decree of a Savior who dies on Calvary’s brow as the Lamb of God. And we may say that after sin entered the world there are sacrifices which the priest must offer up to God. There must now be a lamb that is slaughtered. There must be a bloody offering. This Adam never did. In fact Adam in Paradise before the Fall did not even have an altar in the literal sense of the word. Yet he was priest, and his prophetic office served that priestly office, while the kingly office became possible as God’s king of al1 the earthly creation only because of his priestly office.
But let us first consider this priesthood after the order of Aaron, for it is better known unto us, and then we can point out the differences between it and Adam’s priesthood before the Fall. After Mt. Sinai the sphere of labor of the priest was in the tabernacle—and later in the days after Solomon in the temple. The prophet went from place to place and went out to contact the people of God who were walking in sin or needed the comfort of God in their persecutions, captivities and afflictions. But the priest labored in the tabernacle and temple, to which the people came with their sacrifices and offerings and to hear the blessing of God pronounced upon them. And when we think of the priest in his sphere of activity, the tabernacle, we think immediately of sacrifices, and offerings. The reason for this matter of sacrifices is, as we already suggested, nothing less than SIN. Although Adam brought offerings to God, gifts which he presented to God this was not as a sacrifice for sin. In fact our word offer means literally, to bring unto or present. This is also true of the Hebrew words alah, which means to cause to go up—to go up to God—and qarab which means to cause to come near or to bring near—once again unto God, and also the Greek word prosphero which means to bear towards, and the word doron which means a gift.
All the temple service centered around this work of the priest. That which demanded man’s attention as soon as he came into the outer court of the tabernacle and the temple was the altar of burnt offering or the brazen altar. It stood out in bold relief there before the eyes of those who entered the temple, even as today the first thing to demand the attention of those who enter the house of God is the Bible on the pulpit. That altar was the Bible of the Old Testament in that it was the Word of God in Christ as the Lamb slain for the sins of the world. But this altar of burnt offering was nowhere to be found in Paradise, for no lambs needed to die, for the simple reason that death which is the wages of sin did not need to be paid, since there was yet no sin in God’s earthly creation. Instead of an altar upon which lambs died, Adam had a tree of life whose fruit had power to sustain his earthly life without end. It all goes to show that Adam’s priesthood was far different.
We might also point out that Adam lived in the Holy of Holies of God’s temple in Paradise. He had free access to the heart of that temple, for he went daily to the center or midst of the garden where the tree of life stood. And there he had fellowship with God without an altar. Sin had raised no barrier in that earthly creation. There was no veil between Holy of Holies and Holy Place. And from the heart of Adam there rose a sweet smelling savor of prayers that as yet did not need to include a request for the forgiveness of sins. But as priest Adam did offer up to God the whole earthly creation and did utter prayers of praise.