3

In Exodus 19:22 (NASB)

Also have the priests who approach the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them.

Who were the priests?

2

It is true that the passage of Ex 19-23 describes the establishment of the Israelite covenant which never mentions a formal priesthood. That had to wait until the levitical covenant was established as per Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11; see also Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8, Num 25:12, 13, Ps 106:30, Num 18:19.

However, we note that priests had discharged priestly functions previously such as:

  • Melchizedek, Gen 14:18
  • Jethro, Ex 2:16, 3:1, 18:1

So, what are we to make of Ex 19:22 - who were the priests? It was not the entire nation of Israel as per Ex 19:6 but possibly the appointed priest of each family as implied in Ex 24:5.

Ellicott suggests this:

(22) The priests.—This has been called an anachronism, since the Levitical priesthood was not as yet instituted. But the Israelites, like all other ancient tribes or races, must have had priests long ere this, appointed upon one principle or another. It is a reasonable conjecture that hitherto the heads of families had exercised sacerdotal functions.

The Pulpit Commentary has a similar suggestion:

Verse 22. - Let the priests also. It has been objected, that no priests had been as yet appointed, and that we have here therefore an anachronism. But every nation in ancient times had priests, appointed on one principle or another: and the Levitical priesthood must be regarded as having superseded one previously existent, not as the first priesthood known to Israel. We have a second mention of priests, previous to the appointment of Aaron's sons to the office (in Exodus 24:5), which confirms the present passage.

Barnes also reaches the same conclusion

The priests also - Sacrifices had hitherto been offered by firstborn, or the heads of families.

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Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament offers this answer:

The priests were neither "the sons of Aaron," i.e., Levitical priest, nor the first-born or principes populi, but "those who had hitherto discharged the duties of the priestly office according to natural right and custom" (Baumgarten).

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