/ Christ in the Old Testament / Andrew Kerr

Explanations & Ephods

Some words, in English, like "synod" are hard to understand. Another strange Hebrew word "ephod" has an air of obscure incomprehensibility about it.

I doubt, however, if this is just a case of semantics. The debate about this term (a special garment worn by priests - Exodus 28:4 & 1 Samuel 2:18) has led to much creative, unhelpful, speculation in the minefield of Old Testament interpretation.

Those who love the Psalter should sit up at this point: the historian informs us that, as the Ark came into Zion, King David donned an ephod at the worship-of-Jerusalem inauguration.

Many scholars still embrace an old liberal view: that, contrary to command, David acted as priest by offering sacrifice to herald a new order of Melchizedekite priest.

A handful of conservatives dare to swim against this tide: yet blunt denial of facts, dilution of a sacrificial act, or restriction to an historical once-off, fails to satisfy.

Is there an answer to the problem or more acceptable solution - which explains David's sacrificial act but stops short of boldly declaring this king a priest?

What follows is just a tentative attempt to make sense of the biblical texts while maintaining the position that Priest-Kingship belongs only to Jesus Christ...

Not for a second do I think David took on the office of a priest. God afflicted Uzziah with leprosy for daring to offer incense:

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, 18 and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God." 19 Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. 20 And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. 21 And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land - 2 Chronicles 26:16-21

It seems clear that, according to Zechariah, triple-office (munus triplex) status for a king in David's line was a bridge-too-far for man & kept-in-reserve for Messiah Jesus:

And the word of the LORD came to me: 10 "Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon, and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. 11 Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 12 And say to him, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. 13 It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both."' 14 And the crown shall be in the temple of the LORD as a reminder to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah - Zechariah 6:9-14

Nor do I think this was some spontaneous royal gesture - David didn't just reach over his shoulder into his wardrobe and happen to put his hand on an ephod.

There is another possibility which I suggest takes account of more of the facts and upholds the unity, integrity and harmony of Scripture...

The King, you recall, was a covenant Head of State. Israel, don't forget, was a realm of royal priests. The King wore an ephod to offer sacrifice on behalf of the nation.

All worshippers in Israel offered sacrifice - beasts were brought, sin confessed, guilt imputed and the substitute animal put to death: after this a Levitical priest took over, brought flesh and blood inside the tent and presented it to God, just as Moses has prescribed, as Levitical rites inform. In one sense all Israel presented sacrifice. In another sense no non-priestly Israelite performed sacrifice.

Wearing a linen ephod, therefore, openly identified David as both a royal and also a priest (just as all other Israelites were royal priests - with a small 'p') - unlike over-reacher Uriah, David laid no claim to a public office of Messianic priest-kingship (in the order of Melchizedek - Psalm 110, incidentally, could only be written of Christ: Jesus made this point plain to Pharisees, for David called Him Lord). Yet, in the son of Jesse's act of solidarity and representative identification with the entire nation of Israelite royal-priesthood, we do see a type of one ultimate, Royal would-be Priest (with a capital 'P') - at Calvary, in love, Christ gave Himself for us!

The comment of Baldwin on this passage would seem to back this up: speaking of David "He even replaced his royal robes by a linen ephod, the priestly dress, which as king of a kingdom of priests he was entitled to wear, and which was particularly appropriate for a festal ceremony."

If this is correct - it dovetails nicely with the context described by the narrative as the Ark is brought from the house of Obed-Edom to its resting place in Jerusalem:

And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn - 2 Samuel 6:14-15.

This seems to me a far better way to reverently read the text (please excuse the split infinitive) - I could be wrong & may not be correct: this is not speculative but a sincere attempt to make sense of a slightly tricky text. Some may not agree - yet Calvin seems to concur: his sermon on 2 Samuel 6 indicates as much:

"Well, the Scripture does not express every point in detail. What we must understand is what we are told here, that David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Well that was not legitimate for him. The priest had to fulfil that function, and it would have been a serious matter to usurp the priest's position. We know what happened his successor who wanted to burn incense alone ..He also was king yet God did not spare him, but smote him with leprosy and left him in perpetual shame. But David did not sacrifice with his own hand, for often the Scripture will use the expressions such as 'the saints have sacrificed', which means they have followed the means which were ordained by the Law."

It is slightly disconcerting, if not disappointing, to see not a few conservatives happy to 'toe the line' with a more radical scholarly consensus - whatever we conclude about the answer I propose, it should teach us to be wary about how we handle Scripture:

For one thing it is both wrong-headed and daring to set Scripture against Scripture (in this case that would mean pitting Samuel against Zechariah) - a far wiser course it to  delaying a decision, keep judgment in abeyance, while racking our brains, crying out for light to God, in order to find harmonization of uncertain texts with other clearer texts (the Sola Scriptura principle). Not only that, but we also want to make sure that we make adequate allowance for the progressiveness of revelation - the unfolding story of the Law, Prophets and Writings, could never be completed until wonderfully fulfilled in most-excellent, far-excelling, God-Man-Mediator-Messiah, Jesus. The answer that we reach must be theologically sound and not jar with truth we know - there must be a happy marriage between systematic theology and the biblical theological timeline. It is the way of piety and true devotion that kneels humbly before Scripture - reverent submission eschews quick, easy, radical or dubious answers.

This should also remind us of our union with Christ - not even primarily that we are one with Him: rather, that before faith graciously formed the bond, by which we have a portion in His cup, the Lamb-of-God-slain before He erected the earth, took our flesh to Himself, to be identified with us - dying in our stead, to purge away our guilt, as Mediator of the Elect.

If sometimes the definition of the term synod can be difficult for the uninitiated, the wonder of  ephod-wearing causes saints to gasp - dereliction not dance marks out our Priest-King Christ.

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr

Pastor of Knockbracken in Belfast - Husband of Hazel, Dad to Rebekah, Paul and Andrew, Lover of Skiing, Walker of Lucy (our Bernese Mountain Dog), with a Passion for OT - in Deep Need of Grace

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