One of the compelling images I recall from childhood is the opening scene of Branded. This Western TV drama starred Chuck Connors as a United States Army officer unjustly charged with cowardice. Week after week the series opened with Jason McCord, Connors’ character, being drummed out of the service at a remote post in the American West. As the garrison assembles, McCord is marched to the front and center of the formation, where his commander removes from him every vestige of his connection with the Army – his hat, rank insignia, and even the buttons on his coat. Last of all the commander removes McCord’s sword from its sheath, breaks it over his knee, and tosses the broken hilt out of the fort’s gate. The shamed officer then walks out of the fort as the doors close behind him. Now on his own, branded for life with the mark of a coward, he must find a way to clear his name.
What if someone had exonerated Jason McCord? Such things have happened before. There is provision in the law to excuse an offender, either when the accusation is proven unjust, or when a duly constituted authority bestows clemency in an act of mercy. The law, however, remains in effect. Should another man, or even the same man, desert his post in an act of cowardice, he would be guilty of the same offence. Even if the entire United States Army deserted, requiring the President to recruit an entirely new force, the deserters would still be guilty according to the statutes and regulations governing the military service. And should the law change somehow, perhaps refining the definition of cowardice and clarifying the penalties, the law would still be in effect, and those subject to it would be wise to learn the changes lest they find themselves inadvertently in error.
How interesting that such a principal gleaned from a 1960s TV Western is actually a principal of the Word of God. While some may argue that the Law of God has no application at all in an age when Messiah Yeshua has won forgiveness for all who believe on Him, in actuality His work of redemption secured a prophesied change in the Law, not its abolition.
The provisions of the Law, or Torah, under our consideration are those which establish the Aaronic Priesthood. That is the primary subject of Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10). The Torah portion begins with instruction about the menorah (lamp) of the Tabernacle:
You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the Lord; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout their generations for the sons of Israel. Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. (Exodus 27:20-28:1 NASB, emphasis added)
The Lord says something very important here: that Aaron and his sons are to keep the menorah burning continuously, and that it is a perpetual statute. This means that the Lord’s command is to last forever, and that it is a permanent obligation both for the people of Israel to bring the right kind of olive oil for the menorah, and for the sons of Aaron to burn it before the Lord. Those words, perpetual statute, and similar words (such as a “statute forever” in the King James) refer to specific things in the Torah of Holy God. Three of them are in this Torah portion, referring not only to the menorah, but also to the proper clothing the priests are to wear when ministering at the Altar (Exodus 28:40-43), and to the procedures for consecrating the priests (Exodus 29:1-9). A quick search of the Torah reveals 16 instances of these words, referring for the most part to the service of the Priesthood and to the Appointed Times (Shabbat and the Feasts of the Lord) (Leviticus 23). Particularly interesting is this passage:
If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the Lord, just as you do so he shall do. As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you. (Numbers 15:14-17 NASB, emphasis added)
This instruction of YHVH informs our understanding of how those not descended physically from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may join in the family and nation of Israel, participating as full members thereof and abiding by the same standards of conduct required for the native born Israelites. It is this principle of adoption that receives its seal through the redemptive work of Messiah Yeshua, a work that enables all persons to become Israelites and citizens of His Kingdom by believing on Him.
But what does this principle of adoption have to do with the Priesthood? It has everything to do with it. The one change to the Law of God is the promised change to the Priesthood brought into effect by Messiah Himself.
A cardinal principle of Scripture is that if God is to do something, He will explain it to His people first (Amos 3:7; Genesis 6:13; 18:17-18; Jeremiah 23:22; Daniel 9:22; John 15:15). If God is going to make a change to His Law, He will tell His prophets. This is particularly critical concerning the Priesthood, the special class of people whom YHVH selected to mediate between Himself and His people. As we have seen, Aaron and his descendants constituted that special class, and God commanded that they would minister as His priests forever. The only thing that could remove them from that privileged position would be their own actions to disqualify themselves. Has that ever happened? Yes, more than once.
The first instance of a change in the Priesthood happened on the very day the Tabernacle was dedicated. According to Leviticus 10, on that day Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, brought unauthorized incense into the Tabernacle. They suffered instant death by the Hand of the Lord because they had disobeyed His strict commands about the holy service. This was no arbitrary retribution; the Lord had provided ample warning of the protocols required of His priests so that they could come near to His holy Presence. When Nadab and Abihu disregarded the Lord’s instructions, they suffered the consequences, and as a result Aaron was left to establish the Priesthood with only his two younger sons, Eleazar and Ithamar.
The next change occurred three centuries later, after Israel was established in the Promised Land. At that time Eli the High Priest served as judge over the people. The Scripture tells us that Eli’s sons acted wickedly, even though they were priests. Because of that, the Lord passed judgment on them:
Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel? Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?’ Therefore the Lord God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever’; but now the Lord declares, ‘Far be it from Me—for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will break your strength and the strength of your father’s house so that there will not be an old man in your house. You will see the distress of My dwelling, in spite of all the good that I do for Israel; and an old man will not be in your house forever. Yet I will not cut off every man of yours from My altar so that your eyes will fail from weeping and your soul grieve, and all the increase of your house will die in the prime of life. This will be the sign to you which will come concerning your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: on the same day both of them will die. But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always. Everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and say, “Please assign me to one of the priest’s offices so that I may eat a piece of bread.”’” (I Samuel 2:27-36 NASB)
The fulfillment of this prophecy began soon thereafter, with the deaths of Hophni and Phinehas in battle against the Philistines. If was not complete until about 120 years later, after the tenure of Samuel as the last Judge of Israel and the reigns of kings Saul and David. As David neared death, his son Adonijah attempted to make himself king with the help of Joab, commander of the army, and Abiathar the High Priest. When David learned of this, he ordered that his designated heir, Solomon, be anointed king immediately. Zadok, priest of the line of Eleazar, carried out this task, and thus Solomon became king. As Solomon consolidated his reign, he dispensed justice against those who had attempted to keep him from his inheritance as David’s heir. Joab and Adonijah were executed, but Abiathar received a difference sentence:
Then to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth to your own field, for you deserve to die; but I will not put you to death at this time, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before my father David, and because you were afflicted in everything with which my father was afflicted.” So Solomon dismissed Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord, which He had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh. (I Kings 2:26-27 NASB, emphasis added)
Notice that the son of David dismissed the priest because he refused to recognize his rightful position as heir to the entire kingdom. This is significant; the great change in the Law concerns the very same action by Messiah Son of David toward the priests who did not faithfully discharge their duties. That change is prophesied through Ezekiel regarding Messiah’s Millennial Kingdom:
Thus says the Lord God, “No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the sons of Israel, shall enter My sanctuary. But the Levites who went far from Me when Israel went astray, who went astray from Me after their idols, shall bear the punishment for their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house and ministering in the house; they shall slaughter the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them. Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn against them,” declares the Lord God, “that they shall bear the punishment for their iniquity. And they shall not come near to Me to serve as a priest to Me, nor come near to any of My holy things, to the things that are most holy; but they will bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the house, of all its service and of all that shall be done in it. But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood,” declares the Lord God. “They shall enter My sanctuary; they shall come near to My table to minister to Me and keep My charge. It shall be that when they enter at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering in the gates of the inner court and in the house. Linen turbans shall be on their heads and linen undergarments shall be on their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat. When they go out into the outer court, into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers; then they shall put on other garments so that they will not transmit holiness to the people with their garments. Also they shall not shave their heads, yet they shall not let their locks grow long; they shall only trim the hair of their heads. Nor shall any of the priests drink wine when they enter the inner court. And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman but shall take virgins from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest. Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. In a dispute they shall take their stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances. They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts and sanctify My Sabbaths. They shall not go to a dead person to defile themselves; however, for father, for mother, for son, for daughter, for brother, or for a sister who has not had a husband, they may defile themselves. After he is cleansed, seven days shall elapse for him. On the day that he goes into the sanctuary, into the inner court to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin offering,” declares the Lord God. And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel—I am their possession. They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. The first of all the first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from your contributions, shall be for the priests; you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house. The priests shall not eat any bird or beast that has died a natural death or has been torn to pieces. (Ezekiel 43:9-31 NASB, emphasis added)
This prophecy indicates that the Aaronic Priesthood will become the Zadok Priesthood in the Millennial Kingdom. Notice that this is not a complete disqualification and replacement of Aaron’s descendants, but rather a narrowing of the Priesthood to those descended from Aaron through Zadok. Notice also that the regulations for the Zadok Priesthood are the same as those for the Aaronic Priesthood. In other words, the requirements and standards do not change. The only thing that changes is the personnel who are qualified for the Priesthood. Interestingly enough, this change in personnel applies not only to the physical line of Aaron and Zadok, but to those adopted into that line. It would seem, according to Isaiah, that the Priesthood, like the nation of Israel itself, will consist not only of natural born sons, but also of others whom God Himself has chosen and grafted into the position:
“For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:18-21 NASB, emphasis added)
As if these changes were not enough, YHVH has directed a further change to the Priesthood. The position of High Priest was promised to Aaron’s descendants, but according to Scripture God is inaugurating a new High Priest not of Aaron’s line. The new High Priest is Messiah Himself, known by many names, including the Branch, and Joshua (Yeshua). The Prophet Zechariah saw His commission as High Priest in a vision in which Joshua, the High Priest at the time, represented Messiah:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the Lord was standing by. And the angel of the Lord admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here. Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. For behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave an inscription on it,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree.’” (Zechariah 3:1-10 NASB, emphasis added)
The word of the Lord also came to me, saying, “Take an offering from the exiles, from Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah; and you go the same day and enter the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah, where they have arrived from Babylon. Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ Now the crown will become a reminder in the temple of the Lord to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen the son of Zephaniah. Those who are far off will come and build the temple of the Lord.” Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And it will take place if you completely obey the Lord your God. (Zechariah 6:9-15 NASB, emphasis added)
Who is this great High Priest? He is Messiah, the Priest of the Order of Melchizedek:
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; in holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew. The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath. He will judge among the nations, He will fill them with corpses, He will shatter the chief men over a broad country. He will drink from the brook by the wayside; therefore He will lift up His head. (Psalm 110:1-7 NASB, emphasis added)
This passage should be familiar to those who have read the book of Hebrews (see Hebrews 5:1-10, 6:13-20, 7:1-28). Contrary to popular understanding, Hebrews is not about how Christ Jesus overcame and did away with the Law, but rather how He fulfilled the requirements to become the new High Priest of God’s holy Law. As the Zechariah prophecies state, the High Priest Joshua (Yeshua) must walk in YHVH’s ways and perform His service, things which are spelled out in detail in His Torah and reiterated by His prophet Ezekiel. How, then, can this holy standard be abolished if Messiah the High Priest is to administer it? And if it is abolished, what point is there in having a High Priest, for there is nothing for Him to administer and no need for Him to mediate between God and man. Indeed, it was for this very reason that He Himself was branded on our account:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 KJV)