Prophets and Priests - the Order of Precedence
Joshua 4:15-17
And the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying,…

Here a layman commands a priest. It was not a case of royal supremacy exactly, nor did he govern them by virtue of his being the civil head of the community; but because, though layman (he was of the tribe of Ephraim), he was a prophet. "The Lord spake to Joshua," and therefore Joshua could command even the priests of God. We have here not a question of arehaeological interest merely. It is a live question of today. Rome goes in for having an order of priests; Protestantism for an order of prophets - i.e., speakers forth of God's messages to man. They want a prescriptive class, elevated above their fellows, "ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices to God;" we want, not men ordained, but men inspired, who, fresh from the vision of God and converse with Him, will be able to tell us what He is, and feels, and wants. Are they or we following the more excellent way? Let the subordination of the priest to the prophet here help us to the answer. It may do so, for observe -

I. THE PRECEDENCE HERE IS the constant precedence. Aaron was older brother and high priest. Moses was the prophet who "spake with God face to face." The order of the names invariably is "Moses and Aaron:" prophet first, priest second. In all the subsequent centuries you find prophets foremost, priests subservient. The greatest men of Israel - those who sustained their patriotism, kindled their devotion, fed the flame of hope, those who led them in the path of duty, and were the reformers of religion - were prophets, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Daniel. Ezra was the only priest who, without being a prophet, can be classed with them. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were priests and prophets, but it is in the latter character they rendered their grandest service. We must not depreciate the services of the priesthood. Perhaps the tone of Dean Stanley's lecture on the Jewish Priesthood ('Jewish Church,' vol. 2:356) is too disparaging. They tended to keep alive devotion, to familiarise men with the great idea of access to God, they guided men in the ways of gratitude and trust. Still the teachers, inspirers, leaders of souls were the prophets; and throughout all Old Testament history down to the time of the Maccabees, it is the prophetic order that keeps alive piety in all its grand activities. And if we had applied the same terms on the Christian dispensation it might be shown that the greater of the two services has been that rendered by men of the prophetic, rather than that rendered by men of the priestly, stamp. Athanasius, Augustine, Tertullian, St. Bernard, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley - those that can speak out the heart and the will of God - have, according to a law of moral gravitation, found a higher level than the most devoted and self forgetful of ecclesiastics. Anyhow, here the prophet commands, and the priest obeys. Observe secondly -

II. THIS ORDER OF PRECEDENCE IS THE NATURAL ORDER. The rank of priest is high - an ambassador of man in the court of heaven. But the rank of prophet is higher - an ambassador of God. The priest's grandest work is supplication; the prophet's is to mediate the promises, commands, requirements of God. For the former office the requirements were low - a certain lineage, freedom from physical defect, familiarity with ritual, rubric, and law. For the office of the prophet far higher requirements were made - purity of heart, to see God; the open ear, that could hear His voice; the heart of love, that could enter into His purposes; the courage which could confront men with the Divine behest. The priest could be made by man - the prophet only by God. The former had outward and visible ordination; the latter was ordained by the laying on of the unseen hands of the great God Himself. One reason why communities that have degenerated in faith are so emphatic in their doctrines of holy orders is that the priest is easily made, his work easily done, his claims easily asserted and enforced. But to make men prophets, or catch the inspiration of heaven, is not at all so easy. It takes a happy concurrence of grace and nature, a "bridal of the earth and sky," to make him. Naturally, therefore, because the prophet's is a higher taste demanding higher powers, the prophet ranks before the priest. Lastly, observe as the conclusion of the above -

III. PROPHETS ARE THE GREAT WANT OF THIS AND EVERY AGE. True priests are invaluable: such as by their pity and their love are spontaneous, fervent intercessors for their fellow men. We should covet to be such: whether in or out of "orders," we may belong to "the Royal Priesthood," whose mark is not an official garb, but a compassionate heart. But the great want is prophets - not prophets of the almanack sort, dealing with the curious questions of the future; but prophets of the Bible sort - pre-eminently engaged with "present truth" and present duty. The great want of the age is not priests at the altar, but inspired men in all the pulpits of the land - men who, walking with God, can bring to us the truth, the consolations, the requirements of God, with the authority of those who have learned from His lips what they address to our ears. Such men would speak "with authority" which all would recognise without needing demonstration of it. Their lips would feed many. Their utterances would find or make a way into all hearts. And reason approving, the heart accepting, the conscience endorsing, all their words, the people of our land would become "obedient to the heavenly vision" and "walk in the light of the Lord." Not after formal authority of the priest, but after the living inspiration of the prophet, let us all aspire. - G.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Joshua, saying,

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