PRIESTHOOD RESTRICTIONS UNDER THE LAW OF MOSES
When the Israelites were at Mt. Sinai, Jehovah gave this message to them through Moses: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The Lord had big plans for Israel, and that included someone serving as priests.
By God’s decree, who was allowed to serve as a priest under the law of Moses? The Levites (Deuteronomy 18:1). Not every person from the tribe of Levi was permitted to do so, though. Only Aaron and his descendants were authorized to function as priests. In fact, we sometimes read this simple language: “the priests, the sons of Aaron” (Leviticus 21:1). “Then the LORD said to Aaron . . . you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity associated with your priesthood . . . Therefore you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood . . . you shall serve. I give your priesthood to you as a gift for service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death” (Numbers 18:1,7). An “outsider” was one who did not meet the Lord’s criteria for serving as a priest.
Not only must a priest be a Levite and from the family of Aaron, only males could be priests. What about their age? For anyone who served in the tabernacle or later in the temple, the minimum age was thirty (Numbers 4:3,23,30,35). In addition, those men who had a physical defect were not allowed to function as priests (Leviticus 21:16-23).
Korah led a group of rebels who were “seeking the priesthood” (Numbers 16:1-3,10). How did things turn out for them? They were put to death. Later, after Solomon died, the first king of the Northern Kingdom, Jeroboam, allowed any willing person to serve as priest in Israel. The Bible says that “this thing was the sin of the house of Jeroboam” (1 Kings 13:34,35). Those who tampered with God’s instructions paid a price.
When God established the guidelines for the priesthood, He did not survey the people to ask what they wanted. He did not take a vote to see which people were most popular. He did not leave it in the hands of the people to come up with their own qualifications and use their own common sense to arrange a priesthood. No, God spoke His will on the matter, and no one dare alter, change, or distort what He said about it (Deuteronomy 4:2).
Surely there were some talented Israelite women who could serve as effective priests. Not with God’s approval. Surely some non-Aaronic men who were wise in business matters could make great priests. Not with God’s endorsement. Surely some of the teenage boys with great potential should be put into the priesthood. Not with God’s “Amen.” God’s way is best, every time. Are we listening and learning?
— Roger D. Campbell