This past Sabbath one of the deacons in our congregation spoke on the royal priesthood, a deeply interesting topic, and he cited a verse in Ezekiel 44 that discussed the promise that Zadok had for an eternal priesthood in the millennium. Ezekiel 44:15-16 tells us: ““But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood,” says the Lord God. “They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall come near My table to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge.”” Strangely enough, at least to me, the speaker did not discuss why it was that Zadok received the promised priesthood and the circumstances of it, but instead went to Numbers and discussed the story of his illustrious ancestor Phineas the son of Eleazar, who won the priesthood through his bravery and courage in standing before the gap and putting a couple of evildoers to death whose flagrant behavior threatened divine judgment upon Israel based on the evil counsel of the wicked prophet Balaam.
And, admittedly, that is an excellent story. But it is not how Zadok got his priesthood. As we are not used to paying much attention to the priesthood of Aaron in the contemporary period, it is something that was of immense importance in the Bible. Even as late as the time of Jesus and a generation or so afterward, the identity of the Zadokites was of such immense importance that one of the Jewish parties illegitimately labeled themselves the Sadducees in order to wrap themselves with the legitimacy that came from that family of priests that long held the office of High Priest until the Hellenistic period. If it does not mean much nowadays to label oneself as a Zadokite priest, it certainly meant a great deal to the people of the second temple period, who may have been trusted to be aware of the long-term honor for the line of Zadok and its loyalty to God that Ezekiel spoke of.
Let us go to the beginning, though. Who was Zadok? Zadok is first mentioned in 2 Samuel 8:17 as being a priest on an equal level with Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, who had been a longtime loyal friend of David’s from the time when he was on the run from Saul. During the rebellion of Absalom David sent Zadok back into the city to keep the worship system going even if David himself was in exile seeking to win back his kingdom. Zadok’s son Ahimaaz had a recognizable running style and provided news of the defeat of Absalom to David. All of these incidents demonstrate that Zadok and his family was of considerable importance during the time of David and that they were certainly close to the center of power as priests, perhaps in something that looks like a co-high priesthood.
It was the behavior of Zadok during the attempt of Adonijah to seize the throne during David’s dotage, though, that earns Zadok his priesthood. In 1 Kings 1:8 it is ominously noted that Adonijah did not invite Zadok the priest, Benaiah the son of Jeoiada, Nathan the prophet, Bathsheba, or the mighty men who belonged to David to his coronation, and it is the clever Nathan the prophet who, along with Bathsheba, helped to ensure the enthronement of Solomon as had been promised by God by bringing the matter to David’s attention. The response by David to this is notable, and written in 1 Kings 1:28-53, and is worth quoting in full: “Then King David answered and said, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. And the king took an oath and said, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life from every distress, just as I swore to you by the Lord God of Israel, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so I certainly will do this day.” Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the earth, and paid homage to the king, and said, “Let my lord King David live forever!” And King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. The king also said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and take him down to Gihon. There let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel; and blow the horn, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ Then you shall come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, and he shall be king in my place. For I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and Judah.” Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king and said, “Amen! May the Lord God of my lord the king say so too. As the Lord has been with my lord the king, even so may He be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.” So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and took him to Gihon. Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound. Now Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished eating. And when Joab heard the sound of the horn, he said, “Why is the city in such a noisy uproar?” While he was still speaking, there came Jonathan, the son of Abiathar the priest. And Adonijah said to him, “Come in, for you are a prominent man, and bring good news.” Then Jonathan answered and said to Adonijah, “No! Our lord King David has made Solomon king. The king has sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites; and they have made him ride on the king’s mule. So Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king at Gihon; and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you have heard. Also Solomon sits on the throne of the kingdom. And moreover the king’s servants have gone to bless our lord King David, saying, ‘May God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and may He make his throne greater than your throne.’ Then the king bowed himself on the bed. Also the king said thus, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has given one to sit on my throne this day, while my eyes see it!’ ” So all the guests who were with Adonijah were afraid, and arose, and each one went his way. Now Adonijah was afraid of Solomon; so he arose, and went and took hold of the horns of the altar. And it was told Solomon, saying, “Indeed Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon; for look, he has taken hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’ ” Then Solomon said, “If he proves himself a worthy man, not one hair of him shall fall to the earth; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” So King Solomon sent them to bring him down from the altar. And he came and fell down before King Solomon; and Solomon said to him, “Go to your house.””
This scene has all of the classic drama of the harem competition of oriental monarchies. Adonijah tries to manufacture his own coronation, since David is so feeble and has lost a grip on the kingdom, but fails to invite enough people, and those who are clearly on the outs with Adonijah are able to rally the king for a clear decision as to his will as to who would succeed him, which is done with a great deal of ceremony that is clear to the people and sufficiently clear that those who picked the wrong brother in the succession context try to go home to avoid being labeled as being traitors to the new regime. Solomon, a rather canny fellow himself, tells Adonijah to go home and mind his own business lest he be put to death, and his further attempts to intrigue for the throne by urging his stepmother Bathsheba to ask for the hand of Abishag on his behalf end with his just execution for treason. And in the aftermath of Solomon’s coronation and establishment as king over Israel Zadok is rewarded with the sole high priesthood for his loyalty to David and Solomon, while Abiathar is removed from the priesthood but keeps his life because of the loyalty he showed to David in his youth.
If I had to guess a reason why it was that this story was not mentioned by the deacon who gave the sermon yesterday, it is because the story of how Zadok got his priesthood is a story full of deep political involvement in the questions of power and succession. In such a time as our own, those who do not want to encourage the fierce political feelings of the brethren would not want to point to a story like this one which demonstrates the way that showing the “right” political loyalty had long-lasting consequences. Zadok’s loyalty to Solomon, a deeply political choice that had a high degree of risk–the people who supported Solomon, had they not been sustained by David and by God–could have found themselves on the short list for execution by Adonijah’s regime had it been able to take power. We cannot deny that questions of loyalty to political groupings have been necessary at times for believers to answer, and they have had serious and sometimes fatal consequences for those who chose wrongly. In times such as our own, we cannot forget these lessons, for even priests with no political ambitions for themselves cannot escape the political tensions and partisan battles of times of crisis such as we are now experiences, however much we would want to avoid it if we could.