Podcast Episode

Doomed to Fail?

The origins of Israel’s royal priesthood are anything but glamorous. From Moses rejecting God five times to Aaron creating an idol while God is instructing Moses about priests, the Levitical priesthood seems doomed from the start. In this episode, discover just how important the failed priesthood is to the story of the Bible.

Episode 3
Mar 15, 2021
Play Episode
Show Notes


This critical portrait is going to continue. Aaron’s failure with the golden calf, the failure of his sons––the moment they set up the tent in Leviticus, they blow it. And then we’re going to meet a descendant of Aaron down the line, a guy named Eli, who allows his two corrupt priestly sons to steal people’s offerings and have sex with women in the courtyards of the tabernacle. This is the depiction of the Israelite priesthood in the Hebrew Bible. Somebody’s got an agenda here to tell us that the ideal that the priesthood is supposed to represent is good, but the institution of Israel’s priesthood, from its origin moment, never fully attained to that.


  • Exodus 4 introduces Aaron’s role (and the later priesthood he represents) as a divine concession to Moses’ unbelief and stubbornness.
  • Everything from the tasks assigned to priests to their specifically designed clothing is meant to convey God’s own beauty and glory and carry the blessings of Eden forward into humanity.
  • Aaron fails again and again in Exodus. The royal priesthood of Aaron is doomed from the start. If there is going to be a priest who will unleash the blessings of Eden within humanity once more, he’ll have to come from an entirely different line.

The Physical Embodiment of God’s Presence

In part one (0:00-15:00), Tim and Jon lay the groundwork for the eventual call of Aaron as high priest of Israel, starting with Adam and Eve being called to fulfill a priestly role within the garden of Eden.

All humans are created by God to fulfill a priestly role, but after the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden only some humans live as priests. To be a priest is to be a “heavenly official,” standing at the bridge between heaven and earth, ushering humans into the presence of God. This is part of what it means for humanity to bear the image of God—it’s far more than just representing him. To bear God’s image is, on some level, to flow out from and physically embody God’s presence in the world.

In Genesis 2, humans are pictured as hybrid creatures of heaven and earth. With the fall of humanity in Genesis 3, the humans are exiled from the garden, and the rest of the story of the Bible is humanity’s quest to experience the blessings of Eden again.

God promises to make a nation of priests from the family of Abraham who will mediate Eden’s blessings to the world. Anyone who blesses Abraham’s family will be blessed, and anyone who curses them will be cursed.

In Genesis 14, we meet the very first priest-king in the Bible, Melchizedek, who blesses Abraham. And later in the story of Abraham’s family, the temple is pictured as a micro-Eden full of priests.

The biblical authors very quickly set up a dire situation in the storyline: Abraham’s family is flawed. In order for them to be the vehicles of God’s blessing to the world, their sins will need to be covered.

The First Time God Gets Angry

In part two (15:00-24:00), the team picks up the biblical storyline in the book of Exodus. Abraham’s family has spent several hundred years in Egypt enslaved to Pharaoh, a man intent upon cursing God’s chosen people.

Pharaoh’s final attempt to destroy the Israelites is by killing all their baby boys, but this plot becomes his downfall. One of those baby boys is spared—Moses, who will eventually lead God’s people out of Egypt.

In Exodus 2, Moses flees from Egypt to the wilderness of Sinai where he meets his future wife, Zipporah, whose father, Jethro, is the priest of Midian.

While shepherding Jethro’s sheep, Moses meets Yahweh at the s’neh tree (the “burning bush”) on Mount Sinai and is commissioned both to Israel and to Pharaoh. Moses objects five times and God answers four times by telling Moses his name, “I Will Be” or “I Am.” (At the third and central objection, God responds by giving Moses four signs to prove to Israel that he is sent by God.)

Moses’ last rejection is climactic, both in his utter refusal to go to Egypt and in Yahweh’s extreme response—the first time God gets angry.

Exodus 4:13-17
But he said, “Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will.”
Then the anger of Yahweh burned against Moses, and He said,
“Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite?
I know that he speaks fluently.
And moreover, look, he is coming out to meet you;
and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.
You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth;
and I, even I, will be with your mouth and with his mouth,
and I will teach you what you are to do.
And he shall speak for you to the people;
and he will be as a mouth for you
and you will be as God to him.
And this staff you will take in your hand, with which you shall perform the signs.”

This narrative is key, as it introduces Aaron’s role (and therefore the later priesthood he represents) as a divine concession to Moses’ unbelief and stubbornness.

By calling Aaron a “Levite,” the narrator is letting us know this is the origin of the Levitical priesthood. It is not a glamorous beginning, coming out of Moses’ failures. The biblical authors will continue to be critical of the line of Israel’s priests as the story goes on.

A Kingdom of Priests

In part three (24:00-35:00), the team discusses Moses’ choice to abdicate the honor—leading God’s people from Egypt—that would have been solely his had he not resisted God. Now he will share that honor with Aaron.

“Aaron’s first introduction into the narrative of the Pentateuch comes in conjunction with Yahweh’s burning anger and as a concession for Moses’ apparently faithless resistance to Yahweh’s instructions… Moses was punished for his unwillingness to accept Yahweh’s commission and was likewise denied the honor that would have come with it… ‘The glory of fulfilling the task did not belong to Moses alone, but was shared in part by his brother Aaron.’ The author seems to be portraying the scenario as gradually deviating from what Yahweh initially envisaged or what the ideal scenario might have been had Moses not responded with such resistance.” – Joshua G. Mathews, Melchizedek’s Alternative Priestly Order, p. 83-84

This is a replay of Adam and Eve’s failure in the garden. Once again, God’s chosen representative has failed to fulfill his calling, even in front of a magnificent tree brimming with God’s own life and presence. Moses fails his first test, which is to trust God.

Moses’ actions continually deviate from Yahweh’s directions in Exodus 3-7.

  • Moses is to gather the elders of Israel, and he does!
  • Moses is to go to Pharaoh with the elders of Israel, and he does not. Aaron ends up replacing the elders instead of accompanying them.
  • Moses’ and Aaron’s words to Pharaoh deviate as well. They add to God’s words the mention of a “feast to Yahweh” and a threat that Yahweh will bring a plague or sword. Yahweh said nothing about this.
  • Moses and Aaron perform no signs and wonders when they first come to Pharaoh, resulting in unbelief and Pharaoh increasing the brick quota of the Israelites.

From the start, Aaron fails to fulfill his calling as a priest in the way God had dictated, which results in more suffering for the Israelites.

When the Israelites finally leave Egypt, they meet with God at the same place God first met with Moses, Mount Sinai, and the Lord tells them he will make them a kingdom of royal priests (Exodus 19:5-6). God invites the entire nation of Israel into a new Eden opportunity, to live and work as priests in his presence.

Exodus 24:15-18
Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of Yahweh settled on the mountain of Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. And to the eyes of the sons of Israel, the appearance of the glory of Yahweh was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. Then Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

This is a climactic point within the Exodus narrative. Moses becomes a picture of the human image of God resting with God, calling back to the story of creation in Genesis 1 as he ascends into the heights of the mountain on the seventh day. No wonder he starts glowing with God’s glory!

For forty days and forty nights, God speaks to Moses in seven distinct sections regarding instructions for the tabernacle. At the center of these instructions is a long speech detailing the clothing of the priests. These clothes are only to be worn when priests are fulfilling their “Adam and Eve” roles inside the micro-Eden, the tabernacle.

The Failure of the Shining Prophet-Priests

In part four (35:00-end), Tim and Jon take a closer look at God’s instructions for the priests’ garments.

The priests’ garments are made of white material accented by gold and jewels, many of which only appear in the Eden narrative and in John’s description of the new heavens and new earth in the book of Revelation. The clothes are a trigger to think back to the Eden narrative. Priests represent the new adam, shimmering royal-priestly humans who enter into the Eden space through prayer and sacrifices.

While God gives Moses instructions for the priests up on the mountain, Aaron, Israel’s first priest, is failing God and Israel down below. During those forty days, Aaron creates an idol of Yahweh’s likeness.

The author of Exodus poses a juxtaposition for readers. Priests fulfill a role of demonstrating God’s own beauty and glory, in an ideal world. But Israel’s priesthood is full of compromise (Leviticus 10, 1 Samuel 1-4).

When Moses intercedes with God on behalf of Aaron and the people, he offers his own life (Exodus 32:31-32). Even though Moses forfeited his calling at the burning bush, it’s as if Moses can’t help but be what God called him to be: a shining prophetic priestly intercessor.

Interestingly, the quality of shining appears to be more than just an aspect of the priestly garments. It’s also part of the uncorrupted image of God, like when Jesus is transfigured on the mountain (Matthew 17:2).

The Hebrew Bible is clueing us in to what’s ahead. The royal priesthood of Aaron is doomed from the start. If there is to be a priest who will unleash the blessings of Eden within humanity once more, he’ll have to come from an entirely different line.

Additional Resources

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Aarigod” by Forest Lore

Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Scripture References
Genesis 2:16
Genesis 5:1-3
Genesis 11:10-11
Genesis 22:14
Genesis 25:1-2
Exodus 18:11-12
Genesis 3:14
Exodus 4:13-16
Exodus 3:16
Exodus 5:4
Exodus 19:5-6
Exodus 24:15-18
Exodus 28:2
Genesis 1:2
Genesis 2:12
Exodus 28:9
Revelation 21:19
Leviticus 10:1-2
Exodus 34:29-30
Matthew 17:2
Philippians 2:15
Genesis 1:16-17

10 Episodes

Episode 10
Why Melchizedek Matters
Of all the people in the Hebrew Bible, why is Melchizedek so crucial for understanding Jesus? In this episode, join Tim, Jon, and special guest Dr. Josh Mathews as they take a deep dive into the Hebrew Bible, the book of Hebrews, and the life of the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek in relationship to the ultimate priest-king, Jesus.
1hr 3m • May 3, 2021
Episode 9
Jesus, Melchizedek, and the Priestly Line
Jesus is our priest, our atoning sacrifice—and our brother? In this episode, join Tim, Jon, and special guest the Rev. Amy Peeler, Ph.D., as they discuss the book of Hebrews and how the many characteristics of God found in this epistle set him apart as wholly other and also form our identities as his followers.
1hr 2m • Apr 26, 2021
Episode 8
Mark of the Priest or Mark of the Beast?
Thanks to our audience for all your incredible questions! In this week’s episode, we tackle questions like: How could God break his covenant with the tribe of Levi? What’s the connection between the forehead markings of priests and followers of the beast? And why did offering his own sacrifice cost Saul his kingship? Listen in to hear the team answer your questions.
47m • Apr 19, 2021
Episode 7
We Are the Royal Priesthood
After Jesus’ disciples receive the Holy Spirit, they become God’s temple and the physical embodiment of Jesus on Earth. This has huge implications for our understanding of what it means to be the church today and live in unity. Dive into this discussion with Tim and Jon as they unpack what it means for followers of Jesus to be the royal priesthood, now and in eternity.
51m • Apr 12, 2021
Episode 6
The Priest of Heaven and Earth
What does it mean for Jesus to be humanity’s cosmic priest? It means he intercedes on behalf of humanity and so much more! Through Jesus, God has forever included humanity into his own self. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they discuss Jesus’ ascension and the eternal union of Heaven and Earth.
1hr 2m • Apr 5, 2021
Episode 5
The High Priest Showdown
Why were the Levitical priests always getting mad at Jesus? Jesus identified himself as another of God’s anointed priests—except he came in his own authority. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss how Jesus fulfills Moses’ prophet-priest role and the priest-king role we saw in David.
57m • Mar 29, 2021
Episode 4
David, the Leaping Priest-King
What will God do with the continually failing Levitical priesthood? God announces that he will elect his own faithful priest from a household that can be counted on. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they follow the royal priesthood all the way to David, anointed priest-king of Jerusalem, fulfillment of Melchizedek’s role, and foreshadowing of the coming priest-king Jesus.
1hr 1m • Mar 22, 2021
Episode 3
Doomed to Fail?
The origins of Israel’s royal priesthood are anything but glamorous. From Moses rejecting God five times to Aaron creating an idol while God is instructing Moses about priests, the Levitical priesthood seems doomed from the start. In this episode, discover just how important the failed priesthood is to the story of the Bible.
49m • Mar 15, 2021
Episode 2
Who Was Melchizedek?
What do Abraham, Melchizedek, and David all have in common? They’re part of the unfolding theme of the royal priesthood in the Bible. In this week’s episode, join Tim and Jon as they explore how this theme is part of humanity’s quest to get back to the blessings of Eden.
44m • Mar 8, 2021
Episode 1
Priests of Eden
In the story of the Bible, all the main players are prophets, priests, or kings. While it might seem foreign to us today, those three roles are intimately connected to what it means to be people created in the image of God. Join Tim and Jon for the first episode of a new series on the royal priesthood!
1hr 2m • Mar 1, 2021
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