A Kingdom of Priests to the Nations
(1) In the third month of the departure of the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt, on that day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai, (2) they set out from Rephidim and came to the wilderness of Sinai, and they camped in the wilderness. Israel camped there in front of the mountain. (3) Moses went up to God, and the LORD called out to him from the mountain saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and relate to the sons of Israel: (4) ‘You yourselves saw what I did to Egypt: I lifted you up on the wings of eagles and I brought you to me. (5) Now, therefore, if you will listen carefully to my voice and keep my covenant, then you will be to me a special treasure among all the people groups, for all the earth is mine. (6) But you – you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will say to the sons of Israel.”
Last week’s text from Isaiah 61 depicted a Messiah who would bind up the brokenhearted and raise up those who mourn in Zion. He would bit by bit lift them up out of their mourning and replace their sackcloth and ashes with a turban of joy and a robe of vigorous praise. That in itself is a beautiful image, but it does not stop there. There is an outward benefit of their inward healing. This healing and re-invigorating work of the Messiah leads the people to rebuild the areas that had been ruined and desolate. Moreover, the people the Messiah heals are publicly acknowledged as blessed of God. They are prosperous, and in their prosperity they employ the people of the world as their shepherds and farm workers. Then in verse six it says, “As for you, you will be called priests of the LORD; ‘Ministers of our God’, it will be said of you.” This is the detail I would like to focus a lot of attention on today, particularly when it is read in juxtaposition with today’s reading in Exodus 19:1-6.
- So in reading Exodus 19 and Isaiah 61, the questions that arise in my mind are these:
- What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests?
- Why a kingdom of priests, rather than a kingdom of kings?
- If the point is ruling the world, subduing all things not Israel and imposing Israelite mastery on the world, why this image?
- And why is this image picked back up in Isaiah 61:6? Are there other more subtle points of contact between Isaiah 61 and Exodus 19?
- What is God’s vision for Israel, and what place does Israel have within God’s world?
- How is this vision carried over and developed in Christianity?
- Finally, what does all this have to do with communion?