The Hebrew Scriptures show us three great venues of covenant community leadership. When things got going, leadership resolved into three offices, authoritative ministers to shepherd, supply and save His people: Prophet, King and Priest. One of the glaring asymmetries between guys and gals in the Old Testament is how God called only men to the latter two offices. God’s masculine call may be especially curious when it comes to priests (Exodus 29:9, 29–30; 40:13–15).
Priests were there to be present with the people, helping them in their spiritual walk. When things worked right and the priests were doing their job, one can imagine a good deal of counseling coming from them, as people brought their sacrifices and their problems to the tabernacle, and then, temple. Priests needed sensitive wisdom as they brought the law to bear on the life knots into which God’s people tend to often get tied.
Priests also prayed for the people as the priests made their sacrifices for them. Whereas the king ruled for them and protected them, he was necessarily distant. And the prophet came from the Divine throne room, advising the people, but largely the king, as to God’s will according to past promises, the current covenant, and future hopes. But the priest was there to intercede for the holy subjects, to bring much needed petition before God for them and to rejoice with them in the answers the Lord would grant in a regular way.
So why not women?
One would think many of these things a woman could be quite good at, maybe even do better than many men. Why wouldn’t God use the fairest of all creation, “the last and best of all His works” for these needed tasks?
The answer lies in one word, the one priestly function that was the most important thing that a priest did, the sine qua non of priestliness. What is it, you ask? REPRESENTATION.
The priest was there to represent the people to God, and to represent God to the people. Representing was the priest’s raison d’etre. And that foundational function was established for man, so men could become men. As Adam was formed to represent Eve and the rest of the human family to God, in their creation (e.g., Genesis 5:3) and their sin (e.g., Genesis 3:9, Romans 5:12-21), and so as a husband is to represent his wife in dealing with the Lord (e.g., John 4:15-16), and so as men in a church are to represent the people in intercession (e.g., 1Timothy 2:8), so God arranges His people to encourage men to this masculine feature.
This is essential for all men who want to be masculine to see. Do you want to be manly? Be willing to step forward in appropriate moments to represent the close women in your life. Rather than hanging back to see how it turns out, stand up when no one else wants to and take the lead to resolve the issue. Instead of making sure the appropriate party in your family feels the blame for some wrong, assume the priesthood for your family and make sacrifice for them. Go to God for them and accept for the sin, not the blame, but the responsibility.
Represent. And you will be being a man. And women, don’t begrudge your men this work, but encourage them to it. Your life will be much better for it.
Are you ready to see men represent well and appropriately?
does this mean that in the New Covenant church women can not represent others through intercessory prayer?
Good question. Certainly NT women should pray, as the Apostle Paul implies with “women praying or prophesying” (1Corinthians 11:5, 13). It is good for women to intercede for others, as it is good for all Christians to do (Ephesians 6:16-18). This is not about what one gender can or cannot do. Gender is expressed in specialties. As part of the man’s representational calling, he is given a special place of intercession for those he represents. So, for example, when Paul gets gender specific about church in 1Timothy 2, he calls on the men to pray (v8) and the women to adorn themselves with good works (v10). He is not telling the women never to pray, or the men not to do good works. Rather he is giving men a sense of their task to represent their folks, and there is a special place for intercession in doing that. I hope that men can be encouraged by the power released when they do.
Another real eye-opener. Thanks so much!
This is a neat post. Also, note, that in the Old Testament, the priest is the sacrifice.
In Exodus, God kills the firstborn of the Egyptians. He explains the principle: “All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.”(Exodus 34:19-20)
God has a right to kill all the firstborn, but as He did with Isaac, He provides a substitute. “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the LORD” (Numbers 3:45). So, you see, the Levites are the sacrifice. That is why they must be unblemished like a sacrificial animal. This is not about denying a disabled person or a woman an interesting job.
This is one of those symbolic laws that prefigure Christ, the representative firstborn of all creation, who would be at once priest and sacrifice. In His masculine representative role, Christ fulfilled priest and sacrifice. Women and men both have equal access to God through Christ, are co-heirs with Him, and are all a kingdom of priests. But since gender does not pass away, one would expect the masculine representational sacrifice to continue in some form among men and women in the new covenant.
Perhaps even more intriguing is what is found in (NKJV) Leviticus 6:29 “all the males among the priests may eat it” speaking about the sin offering (in this passage – and there are numerous passages about the sin offering).
Why can only the males among the priests eat the sin offering? Weren’t all the priests male anyway? Previously, in verse 25 it says the priest “who offers it for sin shall eat it” even further restricting who gets to partake, although I suppose one could fathom that this verse 25 requires the offering priest to eat of it, but not necessarily restricting others from doing so.
On gender, the essence of this site, the point comes up regarding holiness. Were women in the old testament not holy? This appears to be a supposition in Leviticus 6:18 “All males among the children of Aaron may eat it. It shall be a statute forever in your generations concerning the offerings made by fire to the LORD. EVERYONE WHO TOUCHES THEM MUST BE HOLY” (emphasis added).
How does Christ resolve such gender distinction in what appears to be a gender restricted factor of holiness? As the author points out here, all have equal access to the LORD through Christ – who died for all. As He said, tetelestei the Greek for “it is finished”.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Glenn.
On Lev 6:29-recall that tithes and certain sacrifices constituted the income of the priests as they had no land of their own to work (Lev 6-7). Consequently, the priests’ families also ate the holy things (Lev 22). So Lev 6:29 is limiting eating this particular sacrifice to the priests themselves, rather than them with their families. It is not implying that there were non-male priests. Lev 6:18 is similarly referring to only the priests themselves.
You are right to ask, “were women in the Old Testament not holy?” Yes! Women in the Old Testament were certainly holy! You can understand these verses this way: Every priest must be holy, but not every holy person is a priest. That women had equal access to “setting themselves apart” in holiness can be seen in the laws for becoming a Nazirite, open to both women and men (Num 6). Christ acknowledged, in many ways, that the law was right in showing us women as equally made in God’s image (Gen 1:27).