Priest or prophet?

By Mark Morgan | Jeremiah

Dec 08
Prophet or priest:

Jeremiah: priest or prophet?

Have you ever wondered what a prophet of God did when he wasn’t prophesying?

Of the people who we know as prophets, many seem to have been used by God on only a few occasions.  For example, Abraham, Oded (2 Chronicles 28:9), Uriah (Jeremiah 26:20) and various other prophets who aren’t even named.

Other prophets in the Old Testament had various jobs that we do know something about:

  • Samuel was a Levite (1 Chronicles 6:22-28; 33-38), but also seems to have been selected by God as a priest, given his work in the temple/tabernacle and the offering of sacrifices.
  • Elisha was called when ploughing (1 Kings 19:19) and is later found in the army of Israel (2 Kings 3:9-12).
  • Amos was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore fig trees (Amos 7:14).
  • Jeremiah was a priest, but there is no indication of him working as a priest beyond this (Jeremiah 1:1).
  • Ezekiel was a priest, but living in captivity (Ezekiel 1:3).
  • Daniel was a court official and ruler in Babylon (Daniel 1:19-21; 2:48; 6:2-3, 28).

Various other prophets seem to only appear in the record as prophets, so we don’t really know if they had “ordinary jobs”.

Let’s look in particular at the prophet Jeremiah.  He is introduced as a priest (Jeremiah 1:1), but how did he fit in his work as a prophet with his work as a priest?

When we look at this question, we find that much more is made of his position as a prophet than as a priest.  There are even cases where the title “prophet” is used in preference to “priest” which could have been used.  Two examples of this are:

  • In Jeremiah 29:29, we are told that Zephaniah the priest read a letter to Jeremiah the prophet.
  • In Jeremiah 37:3, we are told that Zephaniah the priest and another man were sent to Jeremiah the prophet.

After being introduced as a priest at the start of the book of Jeremiah, he is never again spoken of as a priest, but he is frequently called a prophet:

  • 2 Chronicles 36:12
  • Jeremiah 20:2; 25:2; 28:5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 15; 29:1, 29; 32:2; 34:6; 36:8, 26; 37:2, 3, 6, 13; 38:9, 10, 14; 42:2, 4; 43:6; 45:1; 46:1, 13; 47:1; 49:34; 50:1; 51:59
  • Daniel 9:2

It seems likely that God’s work for Jeremiah as a prophet would often have conflicted with the work he “should” have been doing as a priest.

At times, God instructions were for Jeremiah to go and do something, with the implication being that it must be done immediately:

  • Go and proclaim in the hearing of the people of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 2:2)
  • Go and proclaim these words to the north (Jeremiah 3:12)
  • Go and buy a linen loincloth (Jeremiah 13:1); go and take it to the Euphrates (Jeremiah 13:4); go and recover it (Jeremiah 13:6)
  • Go and stand in the People’s Gate and all the gates of Jerusalem and proclaim (Jeremiah 17:19)
  • Go down to the potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:2)
  • Go and buy a potter’s flask (Jeremiah 19:1)
  • Go down to the house of the king of Judah (Jeremiah 22:1)
  • Go and speak to Zedekiah, king of Judah (Jeremiah 34:2)
  • Go and speak to the house of the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:2)
  • Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 4:5; 35:13)
  • Go and speak to Ebed-melech (Jeremiah 39:16)

Doing work like this when he should have been on duty as a priest would probably have caused trouble in his relationship with the other priests.  Not only that, but many of his comments were critical of the priests (as was discussed in an earlier article “Priests in Jeremiah’s day”), so it is very likely that he would not have been welcome amongst the other priests during most of his 40-plus years of working as a prophet.  We know that there was at least one period of time when he was banned from entering the temple (Jeremiah 36:5), while at other times he was imprisoned (Jeremiah 32:2; 33:1; 39:15).  At times, the hatred of other priests saw Jeremiah beaten and only avoiding death through the support of other officials (Jeremiah 20:2-3; 26:7-9).

Working as a prophet of God was often difficult and prophets were always unpopular.  Would you be happy if God spoke to you and wanted you to be a prophet?

Two passages to think about:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Isaiah 6:8

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:10-12

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