God reveals Himself and His plan for the world and humankind in ways that address our minds and our hearts with powerful images of beauty, brokenness, need, redemption, love, and forgiveness, among many others. Some of these images of our relationship with God are contained in religious metaphors that God uses to speak to us. In this article, we will reflect on the religious metaphors of priesthood, offerings, and sacrifices.
In the book of Exodus, we find for the first time an idea that runs throughout the Bible: God has chosen a people to be His own possession for the purpose of manifesting to the world His redemptive plan. Eugene Merrill says that Israel’s exodus is the most significant historical and theological event of the Old Testament because it marks God’s mightiest act on behalf of His people, an act that brought them from slavery to freedom, from fragmentation to solidarity, from a people of promise (Hebrews) to a nation of fulfillment (Israel).
Through Israel, God will establish His kingdom by making every man and every woman into priests who will serve the King of kings. They will not serve Pharaoh anymore but will be consecrated to the service of the Lord.
“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; 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. (Ex. 19:5–6)
It is by way of this religious metaphor of priesthood that God gives to His people a new identity. They are now a people chosen to accomplish the plans of God. This new nation will represent the inevitable reality of a restored world that serves the purposes of the Creator. Furthermore, in this same metaphor those who are now in Christ also find—as the Hebrews did when they came out of Egypt—a new identity, a new purpose, and freedom from the slavery of sin and guilt.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10)
The people redeemed by the Passover lamb in Egypt and the people redeemed by Christ at the cross will together live to proclaim the wonders and excellencies of the One who saved them from the darkness of separation and brought them into the light of grace and communion. The religious metaphor of priesthood represents their new position as God’s treasured possession, but it also gives His people a mission to accomplish, a new purpose to make the name of the Lord known in all the earth.