In reading Isaiah 56:6,7, it seems to indicate the allowance of foreign peoples serving as priests at the temple. This, it seems, would be in direct contradiction to the Levitical priesthood. The word used here is שרת (šrt), which means serve/minister/attend. Most often this term is used to describe "priestly" duties. From the NET Bible:

6 As for foreigners who become followers of the Lord and serve him, who love the name of the Lord and want to be his servants – all who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it, and who are faithful to my covenant (Bold added)

Is this really what the verse is saying? Does it contradict Levitical law?


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Isaiah chapters 56-66 were, apart from some minor insertions from other periods, written shortly after the Return from Exile by an anonymous source now known as Third Isaiah. The returning Jews were grateful to the Persians who, as foreigners, liberated them and undertook to rebuild the Jerusalem temple. This gratitude is demonstrated by the lavish praise God is described by Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55) as heaping upon the Persian king, Cyrus:

Isaiah 44:28-45:1: That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;

Having owed so much to the Persians, it is plausible that the Jews would tolerate them in the temple or perhaps even serving as priests. Plausibility is, of course, not proof. Nathan MacDonald (Priestly Rule page 27) says there is considerable disagreement among interpreters as to whether the oracle in Isaiah 56 envisages foreigners serving as priests. He says (page 29) the passage can and has been read as a promise that foreigners will take up priestly roles, and that the earliest textual evidence is that the passage was understood in antiquity as a promise that foreigners would have a priestly role in the temple. MacDonald's own preference is to regard the intention of the writer as an expression of general devotion.

Isaiah 60:7 and 66:21 are also capable of being read as promises that foreigners would have a priestly role in the temple. If indeed these passages promise that foreigners could serve as priests, they would seem to contradict Levitical law, but the Levis were already in decline, with the house of Zadok in the ascendancy.

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