There were especially two points which we made in the last letter: one was the fact that the offices of priest and king were kept rigidly separate from each other in the Old Testament; the other was the fact that the office of prophet was a separate office on the one hand and was, on the other hand, shared by both i kings and priests. In this letter I want to look into the duties of these officebearers a bit; and, if there is time, I want to begin to apply this whole matter to the New Dispensational Church.
First of all then, what were the specific duties of the officebearers in Israel?
It will probably be wise to start with the prophets.
There is no need, I think, to discuss this subject in any detail, for the whole office of prophet (especially as far as the function of this office is concerned) has been developed by Rev. Hoeksema both in his Dogmaticsand his Triple Knowledge. And this is true not only of the office of prophet, but of all the offices. We will limit our discussion only to such matters as relate directly to our subject and purpose.
In keeping with the main idea of the Hebrew word for prophet, the prophet was directly appointed by God as the means through whom God brought His Word to His people. The office of prophet was the instrument of divine revelation. God made Himself known to His people through the prophets.
In the dispensation of types and shadows, God revealed Himself directly through various events in Israel’s history such as the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, the miracles which took place in the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the defeat of the Canaanites, the establishment of the throne of David and Solomon, etc. But the prophets interpreted these events for the people and explained their meaning in connection with the promise of God. But the prophets also spoke the Word of God more generally. If you read the books of the prophets you cannot help but be struck by the fact that the prophecies soared far beyond Israel’s boundaries and history. What the prophets spoke concerned all the nations which surrounded Israel, soared far into the future, even to the end of time to reveal what God had in store for His people in all ages and entered even into the final age which shall only be realized when the promise was to be fulfilled completely in the day of the Lord.
But in addition to all this, the prophets often functioned as pastors to God’s people. The prophet Elisha always strikes me as being an outstanding example of this. He followed upon Elijah, the prophet of judgment who spoke of God’s wrath against an apostate nation. But one of the closing revelations of God to Elijah concerned the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And Elisha was sent to bring the Word of God in a very pastoral way to that remnant according to the election of grace. There are no miracles in all the Old Testament which more closely resemble the miracles of our Lord Himself than do the miracles of Elisha. And such glimpses as we have of his life are usually glimpses which reveal him as a man who lived in close and intimate contact with the Godly people who remained in the apostate northern kingdom. He brought God’s Word to God’s people in their everyday life.
This office of prophet, however, was shared by the kings and priests. They too brought the Word of God. While the prophets occupied a special office in distinction from the other offices, their office was also, in a certain sense, shared. The fact is that the kings and priests brought the Word of God to Israel (and were thus prophets too) in connection with the specific functions of their offices. The priests were busy in the service of God in the tabernacle and temple. All the ceremonies of the worship of God in the tabernacle and temple were so many Words of God to His people. It was especially in connection with these Words of God in the temple service that the priests functioned as instruments of divine revelation. There were exceptions. David consulted Abiathar the priest concerning matters pertaining to his own course of action when he was fleeing from Saul because David was far from the temple. But these exceptions were due to the fact that these offices were types and the lines were not always clearly drawn.
But the office of priest was itself clear. The priests represented Israel before the face of God. And they represented Israel especially by bringing Israel’s sacrifices to God and, by sacrifices, imploring God’s mercy upon Israel. They were the office of mercy therefore; and bringing Israel’s sacrifices to God, they obtained mercy for the other people.
The same was true of the office of king. Israel did not, as such, sin when the nation asked for a king. Already while Israel was east of the Jordan God had spoken of the time when Israel would be ruled by a king. Israel’s sin was asking for a king like the other nations; and in asking for such a king, rather than a king of God’s choice, they rejected God. See Duet. 17:14-20.
But when God gave Israel a king of His choice, He gave a king who could rule, in the strictest sense, over the theocracy. I.e., he was a king who would represent God in the nation and God’s rule among the people. Such a king, therefore, was required to fight Israel’s battles against all the enemies of the nation who threatened to destroy God’s heritage. Such a king was to insure the boundaries of Palestine promised to the old patriarch Abraham and his seed. Such a king had to represent right and justice in the nation in the relationships of the people among themselves. Heruled. And he ruled in such a way that the life of the nation was governed by God’s law and God’s truth.
These kings were also prophets. But they brought the Word of God, as a rule, in connection with the specific office which they held. And because this was the case, they themselves were also dependent upon the Word of the prophets. David consulted prophets—as, e.g., when he determined to begin building the temple. Hezekiah and Josiah consulted prophets at crucial times in their reign. And God Himself sent prophets to them to bring specific Words of God from God’s mouth to these kings in connection with their work.
It is, however, interesting that the prophecies of David and Solomon (in Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs) sometimes soar beyond the limitations of their offices as kings so that they are all but prophets in their own right when they penned the Words of the revelation of God found in these books.
Now all of this has its New Testament counterpart.
And centrally all these offices were fulfilled in Christ. The Old Testament offices were only dim and fleeting shadows of the one office which Christ held.
Centrally, and of basic significance is the fact that Christ is God’s prophet. He was eternally anointed to this office, and He was (and is) the One through Whom alone God’s Word could come to God’s people. This is because of the fact that Christ does not merely bringGod’s Word to His Church. After all, His earthly ministry was rather limited. He preached publicly for only about three and one-half years. He met only a limited number of people. And when all His ministry was over there were really only about one hundred twenty people in church. He is God’s prophet because He is the Word of God. He is, in His own person and natures, in His work which He performed through His cross and resurrection and ascension, the Word of God. Thus there can be no revelation of God apart from Christ. All revelation is centrally through Him. This was not true only in the years of His earthly ministry; it was always true, is always true, and will be true into all eternity. Christ was speaking through the types and shadows of the Old Dispensation. Christ was speaking through the prophets. Christ speaks through the Church. And only Christ can speak because Christis the one Word of God.
He is the Word of God also as King and Priest. He, in our place, brings the perfect sacrifice for sin and implores God’s mercy upon us. He gains that mercy from God and brings it to us that we may, for His sake, be the objects of mercy. He fights against all the enemies of His people and secures for them the destruction of all those who oppose us. He gains for us the glory of His own everlasting kingdom. He rules over His people with truth and justice. He makes His kingdom the perfect kingdom of God’s righteousness where God is all in all.
And in doing all these things, He remains our prophet. Both as Priest and King, He brings God’s Word. Or, to be more exact, as Priest and King, He is God’s Word; and as God’s Word, He brings that Word to us by bringing Himself.
Thus Christ is the only Officebearer in the Church. This was according to God’s purpose from the very beginning of time—even from eternity. God realizes all His purpose in Christ. God eternally intends to set Christ as the One great Representative in the house of God Himself. And Christ is God’s Representative because He is Himself God—in our flesh, and realizes all God’s purpose in the new house of God in the everlasting glorified creation.
But while the Church is still on earth it is also true that Christ is God’s only Officebearer. All the work of the Church is done by Christ. This was sharply brought home to me once again the other day when a colleague and I were discussing the many things we would like to do but didn’t seem to have the time to accomplish. He remarked: “Isn’t it always true that we never finish our work really, but that the work of the kingdom nevertheless always gets done?” How true this is, Timothy. And there is a great deal of comfort in this, for in the consciousness that Christ alone does the work which has to be done in the Church can we labor with the assurance of blessing.
All the work is done by Christ. Through us, no doubt. But by Christ, for all that. Whether we are ministers, elders, or deacons, Christ is doing the work that needs to be done. He is doing it all perfectly and completely so that it is all accomplished, all done without mistake, all perfectly executed so that God’s purpose is realized.
And with this I must close for the time being. We shall have to discuss how this relates to the offices in the New Testament Church in our next letter.