Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
A family flee their war-torn nation and take a raft across the Mediterranean Sea towards safer shores. The raft sinks, but fortunately the family is rescued. However, as they have lost their identity papers, it is very difficult for them to persuade the authorities that they are genuine refugees.
Some in the group of returnees to Jerusalem face a similar difficulty. They claim to be from priestly lines, but cannot prove it (Ezra 2:61-62). Priests in Israel had to be certified by virtue of their pedigree: God had chosen the tribe of Levi to serve Him in the temple, and from them, the descendants of Aaron to be priests (Numbers 18:5-7). Some 600 years earlier, in the time of the judges, a Jew called Micah had built a religious shrine and appointed his son-and subsequently, a Levite outside the priestly line-to be priest. Both actions went against God's law (Judges 17).
The group of returnees who did not have family records to prove their status were probably genuine. But due to a lack of proof, the leaders exercise caution (Ezra 2:62). Zerubbabel orders them not to eat ″any of the most sacred food″ (v. 63). This food was part of the temple offerings and was reserved for priests (Leviticus 2:3, 10).
It was an offence for a person with uncertain priestly credentials to do what only priests were allowed to do, as there was always the possibility that people would claim to be priests to benefit from the religious system in Israel. While priests did not inherit any land, they were provided for through the temple offerings and tithes. In the confusion of a large group of people returning home, some with baser motives could take advantage of the situation to secure for themselves financial support for life. Given the lack of proper records, the only recourse was to determine the truth through the Urim and Thummim-likely stones on a high priest's breastplate that were used to find out what God was saying (Exodus 28:29-30).
It is good to take a moment to reflect on the fact that in the New Testament, through Christ's sacrifice and God's adoption of us, we are also ″a holy priesthood″ and ″a royal priesthood″ (1 Peter 2:5-9). Our credentials come not from our ancestry, but our relationship with Christ. By being united with Him, we can gladly come to the Lord's table to partake of the sacred meal that God has prepared for us. This is the amazing grace and mercy of God.
Think about the cautious approach taken for those who said they were priests but had insufficient credentials. How does it compare with the New Testament teaching that all believers belong to a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-5)?
While we are all described as a priesthood of believers, Peter refers to himself as an ″apostle″ and ″fellow elder″ (1 Peter 1:1, 5:1), which indicate special leadership and ministry positions. Is there a place for some people to be in spiritual leadership in a congregation of priests in Christ? See 1 Timothy 3:1-10; Titus 1:6-9.