The Ministry Of Priests And Prophets

The Ministry Of Priests And Prophets

As we read through the Old Testament we discover that God used various channels through which he conveyed His mind to His people Israel, the most prominent of these channels being the priests and the prophets.

The ministry of these men was entirely different in its nature, yet they were complementary to each other. Both were critical to the spiritual health of God’s people. In this study we wish to examine these ministries and apply some practical lessons that will help us to understand the nature of the ministry and ministers in the Church today.


The Exposition of the Law

When the Law was given to Israel through the instrumentality of Moses, he gave responsibility to the priests to maintain the Law. We read “Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel.” Deut. 31:9. It was placed in their custody, in order that they might administer it faithfully to the nation of Israel. The ministry of the priest was to be strictly based on what was written. The priests were also responsible for the exposition of the Law to the people of God, and to bring it before them again and again. One could say that theirs was a repetitive, consecutive, expository type of ministry. We have an example of this in the book of Nehemiah where we read: “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people;…and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” Neh. 8:5-8.

This was the very essence of priestly ministry – to keep bringing the Law before the people, and to cause them to understand. The priests were the scholarly type who could bring judgment to bear based on what was written.

The Application of the Law

Apart from the exposition of the Law, the priests were also expected to be intimately familiar with the Law so that they could give judgment when situations arose that required some special insight. Hence we read “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” Mal. 2:7 Thus when the people encountered specific situations, the priest was expected to bring scripture to bear, and to give advice accordingly. We see an example of this as Haggai wrote “If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean.” Haggai 2:12-13. In this case the priest was expected to have the ability to apply not only the letter of the Law but the spirit thereof.


The ministry of the prophets was entirely different in its nature from that of the priests. Whereas the priests were the scholarly types bringing the Law to bear in an expository, consecutive, repetitive way, by way of contrast, in most cases, with a few exceptions, the prophets were of the rustic kind, whose ministry was not of the expository kind like that of the priests, but they came with a direct message from God to meet the needs among the people. In most cases the prophets came with stern words of rebuke and chastisement to the people of God when they had turned away from the Lord. It was the prophets who spoke for God in days of departure. Needless to say, the prophets were not popular, and they suffered much from their brethren because of their faithfulness to God.

Not only did the prophets announce threats of impending judgment because of the backsliding of Israel, but they blended this with messages of hope and prospects of future glory. They not only applied the microscope to the current needs, but they lifted the telescope to look beyond the present distress, and to tell of the blessings that lay ahead. Unfortunately, in most cases, their ministry was ignored, and they themselves vilified, and the judgment they predicted fell upon the wayward people



The ministry of the priests and prophets of the past has its counterpart in our day and generation and both are much needed. There is an urgent need for the scholarly exposition of scripture in a consecutive, and repetitive way – to borrow the words from Nehemiah – “they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” This type of ministry is foundational to the stability and spiritual health of the Lord’s people both personally and collectively, and opportunity must be given for its exercise among us. Unfortunately, in our day, there is not the appetite for serious study of the word of God that once marked previous generations, and the trend is to a lighter type of Christianity where scripture takes second place to experiential Christianity. This is a dangerous trend and we need to make every attempt to encourage the younger generation in particular, to heed the exhortation of the apostle Paul to young Timothy “Let no man despise thy youth….Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee… Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” 1Tim. 4:12-16.

A word of caution is necessary at this point. Many assemblies recognizing the need for scholarly, consecutive, repetitive ministry have, perhaps unintentionally, closed the mouth of the prophets who can bring messages from the Lord with some immediacy, to address current needs. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that expository ministry of a scholarly kind, though much valued, is to be given, to the exclusion of the ministry of the ‘prophets,’ who may not be the scholarly type, but who have a message from God. Indeed it is at our peril that we close off the opportunity for the Spirit to bring a direct message to us. One can recollect occasions in one’s experience where a timely word was given to address situations in an assembly that the preacher could not possibly have known about, and which brought closure to some crisis. We must not neglect the repetitive call given in the letters to the seven Churches of Asia Minor “Him that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.” There are ways in which this spiritual balance can be achieved in the ministry. For example, in the assembly where I fellowship, the Lord’s Day evening meeting is given over entirely to the exercise of the ministering brother, so that the Spirit can speak to us with some immediacy, whilst the mid-week meeting has tended towards ministry of a consecutive, expository type. This arrangement works very well, and we have seen the benefits of taking this path in relation to the local assembly ministry.

In closing, we make an appeal to our brethren, to be balanced in their approach to ministry, and to accommodate the gifts which the Spirit has given to the Church, whether it be in the giving of expository ministry, or the challenging words of the prophets among us with their direct appeals to our hearts and consciences. Both are critical to our spiritual health and stability.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

William Burnett

William Burnett was born and raised in Scotland, and spent his entire professional life in the Oil refining industry. He was seconded to Canada by his employer in 1972, and accepted early retirement in 1994. He has been a "tentmaker," - working in business, whilst ministering among the assemblies - since his late teen years. Early retirement has enabled him to undertake a much wider sphere of itinerant ministry throughout North America, and abroad. He also sits on the board of Counsel Magazine, and contributes regularly to various publication, including Uplook, Precious Seed and the Choice Gleanings Calendar. He and his wife Beth reside in Oakville, Ontario, where they are in happy fellowship in Hopedale Assembly. They have three married sons, and eight grandchildren.