As we close up this fifth complete week since the Feast of First Fruits, we are getting closer and closer to our destination. We aren’t simply heading for Mt. Sinai, or even the the tippy-top of Mt. Sinai. As the people will learn on Shavuot itself, the true destination is actually even higher than the top of the Mountain.
Here’s a quick recap of where we’ve been on the Way:
Day 1: We learned about the nature of our powerful redemption, and what it means to be free from Egypt.
Week 1: We learned about Yah’s promise of spiritual healing, if His people would only listen and obey.
Week 2: We learned about supernatural provision in the form of manna, but also that man cannot live by bread alone. Yah was teaching us about the weekly Seventh Day Sabbath, and what in means to enter into that rest.
Week 3: We learned about where to find living water, even when we find ourselves in the driest of places.
Week 4: We learned that Yeshua, who has been present with us on the Way from the moment the Blood of the Lamb was put on the doorpost, will eventually defeat all evil. We just have to do our part of praising Yah, and resting in the truth of His power and might.
Week 5: We see the need for a body of believers, united and sharing authority with Yah—but not lawlessly. We take orders from the head, and only the head.
We’ve also been reminded that Shavuot is not one day—it is truly the celebration of counting each and every day, and each and every weekly Sabbath until that day. Shavuot is both a training exercise and an obstacle course known as the Way. Mastering the principles being taught on the Way, through repetition each and every year, is what matures us as believers. Knowing Yah’s name, not through endless studies of ancient vowel pointers and tongue-twisters, but through the grace and loving-kindness He’s showing on us on The Way, is the true point of the entire exercise. The giving of “Commandments” is coming soon, but the entire time He has already been teaching us His Torah.
So here we are in Exodus 18, andI keep realizing how little time is left and how much there is still to learn. If you just joined this series already in progress, I encourage you to start at the beginning, even as the Feast of Shavuot is rapidly approaching. Each of these daily posts build on one another, to some degree at least.
Jethro is described as the Priest of Midian, which begs the question: What is a priest, anyway? There have only been three priests mentioned in Scripture up to this point.
In Genesis 14:18, we read “Melchizedek, king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the Most High God.” As the Book of Hebrews mentions, we have no earthly idea of who this guy is—no lineage or insight as to how he knows Elohim, or how exactly he became a priest. Abraham has great respect for him, so that’s good enough for me.
In Genesis 41:45, we read “And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to as a wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On.” Potipherah may be a man or a woman—it doesn’t say. Either way, Ephraim and Manasseh (Joseph’s two young boys) are Potipherah’s grand-children before they are adopted by Jacob and become an integral part of Israel. This lawless and pagan spiritual heritage is a huge part of our baggage that we are trying to leave in the wilderness as we walk on the Way.
Finally, we get to Jethro, the Priest of Midian. Unlike the other two priests, we can at least extrapolate the spiritual heritage of Midian. He was a son of Abraham, through Keturah—Abraham’s wife after the death of Sarah. Scripture says that Abraham “gave Isaac all that he had”—especially meaning all of the spiritual inheritance and promises of becoming a Holy Nation, but also all of his wealth.
So, we are left with that. Not a whole lot to work with. The Levitical priesthood, which doesn’t really get going until AFTER Shavuot, gives us a lot more information. That entire order of priests is limited to a specific bloodline, the bloodline of Levi. Even young Samuel, as he was somewhat of an understudy to Eli, never became an official priest—that career path was forbidden because he was not of the proper bloodline. After Sinai, Yah is determined to limit and control who could officiate animal sacrifices, blow the silver trumpets to call an assembly, and who would run the entire earthly Tabernacle/Temple system.
We’ve talked about the “Sin of Jeroboam” before, but the three categories of law he broke were all related to the priesthood. He changed the designated physical location for earthly sacrifices away from Jerusalem. He changed the dates of Yah’s appointed times. And in order to facilitate these two sins, he also had to expand this false priesthood to any and all applicants, regardless of a connection to Levi. As we read scripture, we see the tentacles of this sin spread throughout time—not just the obvious perversion of the Pope and his false system, not just the sister perversion of many Christian denominations, but even many (not all) of the Sadducees and even High Priests in Yeshua’s day were political appointees–not authorized to run the Temple through the very Torah of which they claimed to be authorities! To paraphrase 1979 Al Pacino, “I’m out of order? You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They’re out of order!” No wonder Yeshua was flipping and whipping as he cleaned out his Father’s house before Pesach.
So, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that we as His redeemed, are a Levitical priesthood, and should therefore be sacrificing animals on altars. Most of us are not invited to join that particular insider organization—and if you are a “Cohen” by blood—power to you. I’ll let you work that out with Yah—this article is for the rest of us. Here are three key verses that show that there is more to being a priest before Yah, even if you aren’t set apart as a Levite for physical temple services.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ “ (Exodus 19:5-6) But that’s lesson 38.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
“And they sang a new song, saying, worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)
So then, what are the duties of a non-Levitical priest? I like to think of a priest as a conduit or a pipeline, from Heaven to the world. I used to think of it more like a vessel, but a vessel is just meant to hold things, a conduit is more about the flow. This flow, too, goes both ways. It reminds me of this dream of Jacob’s:
“And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, YHWH stood above it and said, “I am YHWH, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” (Genesis 28:12-13)
Jacob sees ladders, I see pipelines. Stick with me. The upward flow contains prayers and supplications—all the offerings that would be offered by fire if we were actual Levites. (In Hebrew the phrase “Burnt offering” simply means rising upward like a column of smoke.) Upward flow also contains icky junk—both our own and from those that we rub shoulders with. Burdens, sins, gossip, fear, just about every Facebook post about Covid-19—all of that needs to go up, up, and away.
The downward flow is the key aspect of “The Lord’s Prayer”, “Let your kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.” This is truly just another way of “declaring His Holy Name”. Our lives should look like Yah to the world, and since He is not a man—our lives should look like Yeshua’s. Paul says this in Romans 10:3-4, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Messiah Yeshua [living like Messiah] is the goal of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
And John says the same thing:
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.” (1 John 2:3-7)
There is a related principle that I should have brought up back on Day 1. It’s crucial to Shavuot, and we’ve missed it. Here it is from Exodus 15:13, the Song of Moses. “You have led in your STEADFAST LOVE the people whom you have redeemed; you are guiding them by your strength to your Holy abode.” This both speaks of where we are heading, as well as the manner by which He operates.
The word for “steadfast love” or often translated as “loving kindness”, really demonstrates what the downward flowing pipeline should look like to the world. One could argue that this concept, from the Hebrew word chesed (Strongs H2617) could be the most important posture that a Priest of Yah can operate in.
He shows us forgiveness, for example, so we are called to forgive others.
He blesses us financially, so we are called to give.
He offers us life, so we are called to increase and multiply.
He puts his Name upon us, so it is our duty to declare that Name to the whole earth.
He adopted us, so we are called to adopt others.
He clothes us and feeds us, so we are to never say “no” when we are asked to help likewise.
He carries our burdens so we are called to carry the burden of others.
We reap what we sew, so we better be sewing Kingdom seeds.
“Freely we have received; freely give”.
This is the nature of chesed. This is the the Way.
The opposite of chesed would be to hide our light under a basket.
Or to bury our talents.
Or to camp by bitter [stagnant] waters instead of perpetually flowing living waters.
Or to have an ‘evil eye’. (See, Ananias and Saphira’s example of Yah’s deadly judgement because they lied about money they had publicly pledged to Yah.)
Even when we take credit for our generosity, or pray long and loud prayers to Yah for all to hear, or pour ashes on our heads to show our holiness to others, or sit ourselves at the head of the table—all of this interrupts the flow of His chesed from Heaven to earth.
This ‘interruption of the flow’ is also why I personally like the pipeline analogy. When our lives (the pipeline) are bent with anger, or kinked with pride, or clogged with sin, or capped with unbelief—the flow is reduced to a trickle, or sometimes nothing but dust comes out. No matter how much we pray that Yah would open up the tap at the source, the flow just won’t come through a broken hose. Let me tell you a secret. Yah’s tap is already opened at full blast—the kinkiness of our hoses is our problem and His Torah is the instruction guide that came with the hose. This is why many of us become out-of-control firehoses when we first discover the instruction manual. It’s hard to avoid. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore so is hose control. It comes with practice, failure, and time.
Here is Psalm 136, in its entirety—a Psalm for us, the non-Levitical priesthood of Yah.
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
To him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;
To him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;
To him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;
To him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever;
The sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever;
The moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;
To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever;
And brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures forever;
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever;
To him who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever;
And made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever;
But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever;
To him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever;
To him who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures forever;
And killed mighty kings, for his steadfast love endures forever;
Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures forever;
And Og, king of Bashan, for his steadfast love endures forever;
And gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures forever;
A heritage to Israel his servant, for his steadfast love endures forever.
It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever;
And rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever;
He who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Tomorrow, we pack up from Rephidim and travel to the Wilderness of Sinai. Our people will be camped here for an entire year, so we’ll have have lot to cram into the next two weeks of counting toward Shavuot.