“Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5:3).
A Biblical priest had several important responsibilities. As mentioned earlier, an Old Testament priest served as an intermediary who represented God before the people of Israel and the people of Israel before God. In addition, priests were also responsible for…
- Teaching the Old Testament Law. “…you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses” (Leviticus 10:11 ESV).
- Ministering to the LORD. “From among the Israelites take your brother Aaron and his sons with him, that he may minister to Me in the priest’s office…” (Exodus 28:1 AMPC).
- Exercising oversight. “Amariah the chief priest will be over you in any matter concerning the Lord, and Zebadiah son of Ishmael, the leader of the tribe of Judah, will be over you in any matter concerning the king, and the Levites will serve as officials before you” (2 Chronicles 19:11 NIV).
- Seeking God’s direction. “When direction from the Lord is needed, Joshua will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will use the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord—to determine his will. This is how Joshua and the rest of the community of Israel will determine everything they should do” (Numbers 27:21 NLT).
We can summarize these responsibilities with a verse that also applies to anyone who seeks to represent God in an honorable manner: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23).
Yet despite these things, a priest was a fallible human being, just like anyone else. This explains why the High Priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins as mentioned in the verse quoted above. Once the priest completed that atonement process, he was then permitted to minister on behalf of others.
Finally, this reference to “sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people…” (NIV) carried significance that extended to the High Priest’s clothing…
“This was shown forth in the very garments he wore when he offered the national atonement once a year. On the shoulder of the ephod (Exod. 28:10) were two onyx stones, on which were engraved the names of the twelve sons of Jacob, the representatives of all the tribes of Israel, of Levi the priestly tribe as well as the others. As he stood before the mercy-seat interceding, he bore all these names before the Lord.” (1)
(1) B. W. Johnson, The People’s New Testament [Hebrews 5:1-3]. Public Domain http://www.ccel.org/ccel/johnson_bw/pnt.html