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Little Priests

June 29, 2013

What is a priest? In the Bible, the priest is essentially a servant of the King. We are familiar with certain functions, such as the priest’s need to sprinkle blood on the altar, or to offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people, or even their role as the primary teachers of the scriptures (Deut. 33:10). One role, though, that we are less familiar with is that of guardian (Num. 18). In terms of the Levitical priesthood, we find that the priests were to kill anyone who tried to encroach on God’s holy dwelling place (inside the tent of meeting). Numbers 25 gives us the example of Phinehas, who killed a man and woman who tried to bring false worship into the tabernacle. In one sense, they were to keep people out for their own protection. Getting too close to God without being properly sanctified brought particularly deadly sanctions. In another sense, they were to kill those who were trying to attack the worship of God. So, for instance, while it is highly unlikely that any Israelite did not understand that he could not enter the tent of meeting, the priest was there at the entrance, just in case, to take their slaughtered animal for sacrifice and to tell them exactly what to do. But, if someone did try to attack the tent of meeting, or force their way inside, the priest was “packing.” This was nothing new, though. From the get go, Adam was placed into the garden (which was the sanctuary – the place where God met with His people) and was told to keep (guard) it. Adam was not simply a gardener or farmer, as is often considered, but he was primarily a priest. He, of course, failed in his duty when he allowed Satan to come into the sanctuary and deceive his wife.

The priesthood is the primary stage in the three-fold development of Israel: priest, king, prophet. Many of us are familiar with this as it relates to the sections of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch is considered the priestly section, the middle is full of the wisdom and kingly literature, and the last part is made up of the prophetic books. This, though, is not random; there is a specific order of development. The priestly stage is the primary stage (or the infant stage, you could say) because it is the stage where the law is given. Israel is told to do this and do that. There is no room for broad interpretation – especially as it relates to the worship of God. They either obeyed or they didn’t. This is because Israel was being trained – she was an infant. As she got older, though, she was given more freedom and was allowed to use wisdom and discernment to make decisions. The kingly stage was established when Israel was given the Promised Land and began influencing the nations from her exalted position at the center of the world. The prophetic stage followed as Israel progressed (was forced) out into the surrounding nations.

If you think about it, this three fold development applies to individual lives as well. We begin life as priests – we’re told exactly what to do, praised when we obey and disciplined when we do not. We have defined boundaries, and we primarily move within a very restricted world (we go where our parents go, essentially) As we grow, we are given more rules, but we are also given more freedom – all in order to prepare us for the next stage. As kings, we move out into the world, get married, have children, go to work, build houses, build up communities and acquire possessions. We take all the rules and instruction we received as priests and apply them to the more complicated choices we make as kings. Finally, we progress into the prophetic stage. We’ve raised children and watched them move into their kingly stages. More importantly, we’ve acquired enough knowledge, maturity and wisdom to become elders in the church and community. The words we speak are prophetic because they carry the weight and authority that only comes with maturity.

This threefold stage applies to the church as well, although this is much harder to see, given the way that most churches are structured nowadays. For instance, ideally the elders of the church would fall into the prophetic stage. This fits perfectly with the qualifications found in I Timothy 3. Unfortunately, many of churches have trended in a younger direction – much to their detriment. On the other end of the spectrum (and getting to the main point of my post), the modern church fails to recognize the priestly role of the children:

Psalm 8:1-2

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
      Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

There’s one more responsibility of the Levite: that of singer. In I Chronicles 6, we find that David placed the Levites in charge of the service of singing in the house of the Lord after the ark had rested there. This last part is key because it clues us in on an important change in levitical responsibilities. In 2 Samuel, the ark returns to Jerusalem after having been possessed by the Philistines. Once the ark is back in Israel’s possession, David is able to conquer all the enemies of the land. Interestingly enough, his final battle is against giants descended from Goliath, the giant of his very first battle. Immediately after this battle is won, David sings a song praising God for delivering the enemy into Israel’s hand (2 Samuel 22). It’s at this point that the ark finds rest, because the battle’s have been won and the land has been cleared of the enemy. God has won and there will be no more war. This explains the somewhat confusing story found in the last chapter of 2 Samuel, when God is angered at David’s census. The reason God is angry is because a census means that David is mustering an army – and there is no more need for war… at least not that type of war. As if to prove this point, we find in I Kings 6 (which is really the first event in Kings – the first 5 chapters are genealogies) David is setting aside the Levites for the service of singing. The point seems to be that now that the land is cleared and the city of Jerusalem is established and is awaiting the construction of the temple, the battles will no longer be physical, but spiritual. The armies are no longer mustered for going to war, but there is also no need to defend the throne of God from physical armies either. The weapons of physical war (spears) have been replaced with the weapons of spiritual war (song).

Of course, a cursory reading of the Psalms makes this point obvious. Over and over we see the importance of singing to the Lord. In one sense, this is the primary way we express our delight in the Lord and His goodness to us, but it serves other functions as well: It proclaims to the world these truths, it encourages our brothers and sisters who are in distress, and it brings devastation to the Lord’s enemies. On a practical level, this means that it is never ok to bomb an abortion clinic – we do not fight in this manner. What is appropriate, though, is for the church to gather outside the abortion clinic and sing psalms (and really, it’s as simple as that… instead of holding anit-abortion signs, we should probably just be holding psalters). As I’ve already stated, we progress through various stages in life – priest, king, then prophet – but we never leave our previous stages behind… we absorb them into our new level of maturity. So, for instance, even though singing is technically a priestly function, we are to never stop singing once we become kings. We become better singers, write new songs, and arrange these songs more beautifully. In one sense,  because we are united to our King, we are like him in our function as “prophet, priest and king.” Still, though, it is true that the varying roles and abilities to fulfill these roles avail themselves to us at different points in our life (and in the life of the church).

With that in mind, then, one of the roles that is severely neglected in the church is the child’s role as liturgical singer. The first thing we have to get past is our idea of what singing is. Again, there is a wide degree of maturity when it comes to singing. The most skilled (mature) are those who have spent many years honing their craft, learning the parts, developing their ear and training their bodies to produce beautiful sounds. Yet, the Bible doesn’t require only this type of singing – everyone is required to sing. On the other end of the spectrum, then, is the infant’s laughter, gurgling, cries, and shouts… or, as the scriptures put it, “joyful noises.” This is age-appropriate singing. The second thing we must come to grips with, therefore, is that these noises are a GOOD thing in worship and should be welcomed. Our tendency is to stifle our babies when they make noise, which is why we normally shuffle them off to a nursery during the worship service (there’s obviously some grace here, though – especially for new mothers. Having a nursery is not an evil thing, but can be put to good (yet temporary!) use for the young mother and father who are struggling to train their children). The necessary alternative to this behavior, though, is to recognize that the service is lacking something important and beautiful when those “noises” are not present. If we attended a worship service where there was no prayer, it would feel weird… we should feel the same way about the joyful noises of our babies.

Finally, we must recognize that when our children are not allowed to participate in the worship of the Lord in their appropriate ways, we are doing the church a huge disservice. There is still an enemy in our midst, and his number one goal is to destroy the mission of the church. One way he has done this is by deceiving the church into thinking that children are not mature enough to worship God. This is very similar to his very first deception: “Did God really not say that you cannot eat of any tree in the garden? You will surely not die if you do.” In the same manner, the father of lies asks “Did God really say that all of creation is to worship Him? Surely they are not old enough to make a difference. Surely God does not desire their participation.” Satan is smart because he knows that the babies have a very specific role in the worship of God: To still the enemy. If Satan wants to attack the church, he has to get through the children first… which is pretty easy when the children are not present. People of God, you’re children have a job to do. Do not prevent them from doing it! If we want to see the world changed, then it must start with the church. And the church must be unified and working at 100%. If the Miami Heat had only trotted out 4/5 of their starters, then the San Antonio Spurs would be the current NBA champions. It’s time to recognize the important role of our children in worship. It’s time to anoint them to their priestly service (Baptize them!) and put them on the front lines. The world depends on it.

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