The City of God/Book XVII/Chapter 5
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Book XVII, Chapter 5
|Of Those Things Which a Man of God Spake by the Spirit to Eli the Priest, Signifying that the Priesthood Which Had Been Appointed According to Aaron Was to Be Taken Away.|
But this is said more plainly by a man of God sent to Eli the priest himself, whose name indeed is not mentioned, but whose office and ministry show him to have been indubitably a prophet. For it is thus written: “And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I plainly revealed myself unto thy father’s house, when they were in the land of Egypt slaves in Pharaoh’s house; and I chose thy father’s house out of all the sceptres of Israel to fill the office of priest for me, to go up to my altar, to burn incense and wear the ephod; and I gave thy father’s house for food all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel. Wherefore then hast thou looked at mine incense and at mine offerings with an impudent eye, and hast glorified thy sons above me, to bless the first-fruits of every sacrifice in Israel before me? Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I said thy house and thy father’s house should walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me; for them that honor me will I honor, and he that despiseth me shall be despised. Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thy seed, and the seed of thy father’s house, and thou shalt never have an old man in my house. And I will cut off the man of thine from mine altar, so that his eyes shall be consumed, and his heart shall melt away; and every one of thy house that is left shall fall by the sword of men. And this shall be a sign unto thee that shall come upon these thy two sons, Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them. And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to all that is in mine heart and in my soul; and I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before my Christ for ever. And it shall come to pass that he who is left in thine house shall come to worship him with a piece of money, saying, Put me into one part of thy priesthood, that I may eat bread.”
We cannot say that this prophecy, in which the change of the ancient priesthood is foretold with so great plainness, was fulfilled in Samuel; for although Samuel was not of another tribe than that which had been appointed by God to serve at the altar, yet he was not of the sons of Aaron, whose offspring was set apart that the priests might be taken out of it. And thus by that transaction also the same change which should come to pass through Christ Jesus is shadowed forth, and the prophecy itself in deed, not in word, belonged to the Old Testament properly, but figuratively to the New, signifying by the fact just what was said by the word to Eli the priest through the prophet. For there were afterwards priests of Aaron’s race, such as Zadok and Abiathar during David’s reign, and others in succession, before the time came when those things which were predicted so long before about the changing of the priesthood behoved to be fulfilled by Christ. But who that now views these things with a believing eye does not see that they are fulfilled? Since, indeed, no tabernacle, no temple, no altar, no sacrifice, and therefore no priest either, has remained to the Jews, to whom it was commanded in the law of God that he should be ordained of the seed of Aaron; which is also mentioned here by the prophet, when he says, “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I said thy house and thy father’s house shall walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, That be far from me; for them that honor me will I honor, and he that despiseth me shall be despised.” For that in naming his father’s house he does not mean that of his immediate father, but that of Aaron, who first was appointed priest, to be succeeded by others descended from him, is shown by the preceding words, when he says, “I was revealed unto thy father’s house, when they were in the land of Egypt slaves in Pharaoh’s house; and I chose thy father’s house out of all the sceptres of Israel to fill the office of priest for me.” Which of the fathers in that Egyptian slavery, but Aaron, was his father, who, when they were set free, was chosen to the priesthood? It was of his lineage, therefore, he has said in this passage it should come to pass that they should no longer be priests; which already we see fulfilled. If faith be watchful, the things are before us: they are discerned, they are grasped, and are forced on the eyes of the unwilling, so that they are seen: “Behold the days come,” he says, “that I will cut off thy seed, and the seed of thy father’s house, and thou shall never have an old man in mine house. And I will cut off the man of thine from mine altar, so that his eyes shall be consumed and his heart shall melt away.” Behold the days which were foretold have already come. There is no priest after the order of Aaron; and whoever is a man of his lineage, when he sees the sacrifice of the Christians prevailing over the whole world, but that great honor taken away from himself, his eyes fail and his soul melts away consumed with grief.
But what follows belongs properly to the house of Eli, to whom these things were said: “And every one of thine house that is left shall fall by the sword of men. And this shall be a sign unto thee that shall come upon these thy two sons, Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them.” This, therefore, is made a sign of the change of the priesthood from this man’s house, by which it is signified that the priesthood of Aaron’s house is to be changed. For the death of this man’s sons signified the death not of the men, but of the priesthood itself of the sons of Aaron. But what follows pertains to that Priest whom Samuel typified by succeeding this one. Therefore the things which follow are said of Christ Jesus, the true Priest of the New Testament: “And I will raise me up a faithful Priest that shall do according to all that is in mine heart and in my soul; and I will build Him a sure house.” The same is the eternal Jerusalem above. “And He shall walk,” saith He, “before my Christ always.” “He shall walk” means “he shall be conversant with,” just as He had said before of Aaron’s house, “I said that thine house and thy father’s house shall walk before me for ever.” But what He says, “He shall walk before my Christ,” is to be understood entirely of the house itself, not of the priest, who is Christ Himself, the Mediator and Saviour. His house, therefore, shall walk before Him. “Shall walk” may also be understood to mean from death to life, all the time this mortality passes through, even to the end of this world. But where God says, “Who will do all that is in mine heart and in my soul,” we must not think that God has a soul, for He is the Author of souls; but this is said of God tropically, not properly, just as He is said to have hands and feet, and other corporal members. And, lest it should be supposed from such language that man in the form of this flesh is made in the image of God, wings also are ascribed to Him, which man has not at all; and it is said to God, “Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings,” that men may understand that such things are said of that ineffable nature not in proper but in figurative words.
But what is added, “And it shall come to pass that he who is left in thine house shall come to worship him,” is not said properly of the house of this Eli, but of that Aaron, the men of which remained even to the advent of Jesus Christ, of which race there are not wanting men even to this present. For of that house of Eli it had already been said above, “And every one of thine house that is left shall fall by the sword of men.” How, therefore, could it be truly said here, “And it shall come to pass that every one that is left shall come to worship him,” if that is true, that no one shall escape the avenging sword, unless he would have it understood of those who belong to the race of that whole priesthood after the order of Aaron? Therefore, if it is of these the predestinated remnant, about whom another prophet has said, “The remnant shall be saved;” whence the apostle also says, “Even so then at this time also the remnant according to the election of grace is saved;” since it is easily understood to be of such a remnant that it is said, “He that is left in thine house,” assuredly he believes in Christ; just as in the time of the apostle very many of that nation believed; nor are there now wanting those, although very few, who yet believe, and in them is fulfilled what this man of God has here immediately added, “He shall come to worship him with a piece of money;” to worship whom, if not that Chief Priest, who is also God? For in that priesthood after the order of Aaron men did not come to the temple or altar of God for the purpose of worshipping the priest. But what is that he says, “With a piece of money,” if not the short word of faith, about which the apostle quotes the saying, “A consummating and shortening word will the Lord make upon the earth?” But that money is put for the word the psalm is a witness, where it is sung, “The words of the Lord are pure words, money tried with the fire.”
What then does he say who comes to worship the priest of God, even the Priest who is God? “Put me into one part of Thy priesthood, to eat bread.” I do not wish to be set in the honor of my fathers, which is none; put me in a part of Thy priesthood. For “I have chosen to be mean in Thine house;” I desire to be a member, no matter what, or how small, of Thy priesthood. By the priesthood he here means the people itself, of which He is the Priest who is the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. This people the Apostle Peter calls “a holy people, a royal priesthood.” But some have translated, “Of Thy sacrifice,” not “Of Thy priesthood,” which no less signifies the same Christian people. Whence the Apostle Paul says, “We being many are one bread, one body.” [And again he says, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” ] What, therefore, he has added, to “eat bread,” also elegantly expresses the very kind of sacrifice of which the Priest Himself says, “The bread which I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The same is the sacrifice not after the order of Aaron, but after the order of Melchisedec: let him that readeth understand. Therefore this short and salutarily humble confession, in which it is said, “Put me in a part of Thy priesthood, to eat bread,” is itself the piece of money, for it is both brief, and it is the Word of God who dwells in the heart of one who believes. For because He had said above, that He had given for food to Aaron’s house the sacrificial victims of the Old Testament, where He says, “I have given thy father’s house for food all things which are offered by fire of the children of Israel,” which indeed were the sacrifices of the Jews; therefore here He has said, “To eat bread,” which is in the New Testament the sacrifice of the Christians.
- 1 Sam. ii. 27–36.
- Ps. xvii. 8.
- Isa. x. 21.
- Rom. xi. 5.
- Isa. xxxviii. 22; Rom. ix. 28.
- Ps. xii. 6.
- Ps. lxxxiv. 10.
- 1 Tim. ii. 5.
- 1 Pet. ii. 9.
- 1 Cor. x. 17.
- Rom. xii. 1.
- John vi. 51.
- Heb. vii. 11, 27.
- Matt. xxiv. 15.