Foreshadows in the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King
We are in the middle of the Advent season and going through different aspects of the anticipation of the coming of the promised Christ. Last week we looked at the “Need for the Incarnation.” This week we will look at how we see hints of the promised Messiah in the Old Testament. The hints are sometimes referred to as “foreshadows,” and they point to what this Messiah would be like. These foreshadows are not perfect, just as a shadow approaching you does not perfectly represent the person casting the shadow. But just as an approaching shadow points the way to the person casting the shadow, the hints we see in the Old Testament point us to ultimate reality that they imperfectly represented: a coming perfect Messiah.
First, we will look at how the prophet Moses hinted at an even greater coming Prophet, one who would perfectly obey God and perfectly speak His Word. Second, we will see how the priest Aaron (and his descendants, the Aaronic priests) hinted at an even greater coming Priest, one who would perfectly obey God and perfectly mediate the relationship of man to God and God to man. Finally, we will see how King David hinted at an even greater coming King, one who would perfectly obey God and perfectly rule on the throne of King David, with an everlasting kingdom and rule.
A foreshadow of a Prophet
Last week, when we looked at the need for the Incarnation, we saw the Fall of mankind into sin. Adam originally had a good relationship with God and could hear from Him, but that relationship was severed when Adam disobeyed God. That said, God still chose to communicate His word through people, despite their sin.
In the story that unfolds in the Old Testament, you see God speaking through certain individuals for specific purposes. These people whom God would speak through are called “prophets” (or “prophetesses,” if the individual was a woman). A true prophet did not have control over what God said through him; a true prophet/prophetess spoke what God wanted to tell people when God decided to speak through him or her.
- Moses: a true prophet
Exodus 19:1-7 (ESV)
1 On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.
Throughout the Exodus and the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness, Moses is continually hearing from God and telling the Israelites what God has said. Over and over we read about God instructing Moses to speak to the people, to instruct the people, and to warn the people. Despite being initially reluctant to obey God’s call, Moses was a faithful representative of God.
- Moses: a sin-stained prophet
Numbers 20:2-3, 6-12 (ESV)
2 Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!
6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.
10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”
Earlier in the account of the Exodus, God instructed Moses to strike a rock so that water would come out so the Israelites could drink. The Israelites were continually complaining to Moses about not having stuff, and this time God tells Moses to take his staff and “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.” It appears that Moses is taking liberty to do something that he had done before for God, this time does not obey God’s instruction for how to give water to the Israelites. Instead of speaking to the rock this time, Moses strikes the rock. Water does come out, but that was not what God had instructed Moses to do. Because of Moses’ disobeyed God, God told him that he would not personally bring the assembly into the promised land.
Moses was arguably the greatest prophet in the Old Testament, yet he was imperfect. He was imperfect because of the sin nature into which all descendants of Adam are born. That said, Moses prophesied that there would be a greater prophet who would come after him.
Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (ESV)
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
Moses was imperfect, but the coming Prophet would speak all that God command Him to speak. All people must listen to this Prophet, and if they do not, God will require it of them. This greater Prophet, this promised coming One, would perfectly express God’s Word to God’s people.
A foreshadow of a Priest
When mankind Fell into sin, we didn’t merely damage our line of communication between God and us. God is perfect and holy, and He is not cool with sin. Because God is perfectly good, He requires sin to be atoned for, and He requires sin to be atoned for in the manner He prescribes.
In the Old Testament, the people who would atone for sin through sacrifices are called “priests.” In Old Testament Israel, God gave exact ways to do different types of sacrifices, both for individuals and for the entire people of God. Furthermore, these sacrifices could not be done by just anyone; God gave the responsibility of the priesthood for Israel to a specific person and to his sons: Aaron.
- Aaron (and his sons): an atoning priest
Leviticus 16:1-5, 32-34 (ESV)
1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.
Aaron was Moses’ brother, and God chose Aaron and Aaron’s sons to be the priests who would mediate the relationship between sinful man and holy God by atoning for the sins of Israel. There are many ways that God gave to atone for different types of uncleanness and sin that are explained in detail the book of Leviticus. You also see instructions for atonement in various parts of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. My goal tonight is not look at specific sacrifices, but rather to look at the person to whom God gave the responsibility of the priesthood, Aaron, and see how he pointed to the need for an even greater coming Priest.
The Aaronic priests could not decide how they wanted to atone for sin; they had to perform the sacrifices exactly as instructed to by God in His Law. There is an account in Leviticus when two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, tried to offer incense to God in a manner He had not prescribed, and God killed them. Many people today view God as some sort of heavenly pixey-dust sprinkler, but that is not the picture we get of God in the Bible. God is holy, set apart, and people must be cleansed of sin and uncleanness so they can be close to Him. God gave exact instructions to Aaron and his sons to atone for sin and uncleanness in the people of Israel.
- Aaron (and his sons): a sin-stained priest
Numbers 20:22-24 (ESV)
22 And they journeyed from Kadesh, and the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24 “Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.
We read about this account earlier tonight. Moses rebelled against God’s command about how to bring forth waters from the rock, and Aaron was right by Moses’ side. Earlier in the account of the Exodus from Egypt, we see Aaron personally help the Israelites make a golden calf so that they could worship an idol.
Aaron and his sons were whom God chose to be the priests for the Israelites, but they were clearly stained with the same sin-nature that every natural descendant of Adam has. The priests had to make atonement for their own sins as well as for those of the people.
Hebrews 5:1-4 (ESV)
1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
The Aaronic priests in the Old Testament atoned for sin, but their atonement was temporary. As people sinned, there had to be continual sacrifices to atone for the continual sin. The order of the Aaronic priests was an imperfect priesthood, but they did accurately show the necessity for atonement for sin. There is a hint of a greater Priest who would come, however.
Psalm 110:4 (ESV)
4 The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
David calls the man in this psalm “my Lord” (cross reference verse 1). This Priest is not of the imperfect Aaronic priesthood; He is of the priestly order of Melchizehek, a man to whom Abraham tithed after rescuing his nephew Lot from enemies who had captured him. This coming One is not plagued with the imperfections of the Aaronic priests, and in fact is prophesied to be “a priest forever.” This coming Priest would permanently atone for sin and perfectly mediate the relationship between God and man.
A foreshadow of a King
When we Fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, we rejected the rule of God and attempted to be our own rulers. As you look at human history, this has had horrible consequences. After God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden, the first recorded narrative in the Bible is the story of Cain and Abel, in which Cain murdered his brother. As the story of the Bible continues, you see mankind incapable of controlling our sinful desires.
As we look at the Bible, we see that God ordained rulers, people who would enforce laws to attempt to restrain the sin nature within people. The ultimate ruler for any particular group of people is the sovereign king, the one who made decisions for and protected his people by commanding the military of the people. The only way a sovereign king could rule justly, however, is if he was ruling according to God’s Law. In the Bible there are numerous narratives of bad rulers who did not rule according to God’s Law, but there are a few good rulers who were faithful to God (to greater and lesser extents). In the Old Testament, the best human king over God’s people was undoubtedly King David.
- David: a king after God’s own heart
Before we look at David specifically, I’d like to note a prophecy near the end of Genesis, in which Jacob blesses his son Judah with the following:
Genesis 49:10 (ESV)
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Hundreds of years after this prophecy from Jacob, after coming out of bondage in Egypt and eventually settling in Canaan, the people of Israel demand that the prophet Samuel appoint a king to rule over them like the rest of the nations. Samuel tries to warn them about the negative aspects that come with having a king (with the implication being that it would be better to voluntarily have God directly rule over each of their hearts), but the people insist that they want a king and the Lord tells Samuel to appoint a king for them. Samuel appoints Saul to be king, but Saul disobeys God.
1 Samuel 13:13-14 (ESV)
13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
God eventually tells Samuel to go to the house of Jesse and anoint a new king for Israel.
1 Samuel 16:7, 11-13 (ESV)
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
God chose David not because he was “ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome,” but because David was a man after the Lord’s own heart. Saul had been an externally impressive man, but he was a bad king who blatantly disobeyed God twice and eventually went to a medium to try to get counsel from the then dead prophet Samuel. In contrast to Saul’s lack of faith in and faithfulness to the Lord, when God looked at David He saw a man who would trust Him. After Saul died, David became king over Judah and then over all of Israel.
King David was promised that his throne would be established forever. Referring to David’s son (Solomon) and David’s lineage, the prophet Nathan said:
2 Samuel 7:14b-16 (ESV)
…When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
- David: a sin-stained king
2 Samuel 11:1-5, 14-15 (ESV)
1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. 5 And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
…[King David has Uriah come back from the field to try to get him to sleep with his wife, but Uriah will not partake of such pleasure while his comrades are in the field of battle]…
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.”
A large portion of the Old Testament narratives about the kingdom of Israel and later the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah are focused on or refer to King David. As a whole, David is seen as a very good king who was usually faithful to the Lord. That said, David clearly was an imperfect king, plagued with the same sin nature into which all descendants of Adam are born. David sins, and he sins big time: adultery with another man’s wife and then murder to cover up his adultery. Because of his sin nature, David did not rule himself or his people perfectly. There are promises that there will be a better king, though, of David’s lineage.
Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
A King, of the line of David, is prophesied by the prophet Isaiah. This coming One is not plagued with the imperfections that even King David, a man after God’s own heart, had. This coming King would perfectly rule His own human nature by perfectly obeying God’s Law. More than that, this coming King would perfectly rule all peoples. This promised King is, in fact, the most sovereign king of all, for He is the Sovereign God Himself.
As I bring this to a close, remember back what happened in the Fall. When, in Adam, we disobeyed God, our positive relationship with Him was severed. As sinners, we know longer hear from Him as we ought, we no longer can approach Him as He must be approached, and we do not rule ourselves rightly. If we were going to hear from God, He had to give His Word through prophets. If we were going to approach God rightly, we would have to have our sin atoned for by priests. If we were going to reduce sin in society, we had to be ruled by kings.
However, even the best prophet, the best priest, and the best king in the Old Testament were all imperfect. That said, in the Old Testament we see more than imperfect prophets, priests, and kings. We see foreshadows of a coming One who would be a perfect Prophet, a perfect Priest, a perfect King. These hints are somewhat fuzzy, but just as a shadow leads to the one casting the shadow, these hints point toward a coming Messiah. This Messiah would perfectly express God’s Word because He is the Word. This Messiah would perfectly mediate the relationship between God and men because He Himself is both God and Man. This Messiah would perfectly rule by God’s Law because He is the God who established His Law.
The Old Testament is full of hints pointing to the Incarnation, when God would put on human flesh to become the perfect Prophet, Priest, and King. If we study the Old Testament, we can see how these hints show us that the entire Bible is pointing towards the Messiah, the centerpiece of history. I pray this fills us with wonder as we ponder the awesome wisdom of God in planning out a perfect redemption story that He brought about at the perfect time in His story.