Toward the end of Ezekiel, the “prince” is described, the descendant of David who will rule Israel in accordance with the law of God. It’s interesting however that he is given particular liturgical duties. After the vision of the temple is described in detail, the prince is said to have rights to eat of the holy bread in the presence of the Lord (44:3). Likewise, the prince leads the congregation in offering sacrifices and celebrating the feasts and appointed seasons “to make atonement for the house of Israel” (45:16-17). The prince’s role seems to be as a representative of the house of Israel. He has not been merged into the priesthood, but as the representative of Israel, he is granted specific privileges which verge on priestly duties. Whereas the people must enter and exit through separate gates, the prince may come and go through the gate where the priests come and go (46:1-11).
The word here for “prince” is from the root word “lift up” [NASA]. The prince is literally “one who is lifted up.” He has been raised to a position of authority and responsibility. The same word is used to describe the 12 princes descended from Ishmael in Genesis, and later it is the word that describes the “leaders” that are appointed to represent and lead the 12 tribes of Israel (Numbers 2-3). Interestingly, a hint of Ezekiel’s prince is seen even as early as Numbers 7 where those previously appointed/named princes of the tribes offer sacrifices on behalf of their respective tribes. Likewise, it’s these princes of the tribes whose duties include dividing the land of promise (Num. 34).
Later, at the dedication of the temple, Solomon assembles these “princes of the fathers” (1 Kgs. 8:1), again suggesting that these princes play a role in Israel that is both judicial and liturgical. Of course leaders like Abraham, Samuel, David, and Solomon play similar roles. Melchizedek is both priest and king.
No huge or final conclusions here, but tentative ideas for further study: First, what sorts of direction does this provide for civil rulers today? The Magisterial Reformed instinct to see political rulers as having responsibility for the spiritual well being of their subjects, to defend the church, and assist the church in preserving and spreading the gospel, seems to fit with this framework. Magistrates really are deacons.
Second, we might turn the equation around and also apply this to church polity…. Or at least ask the questions: are these princes the equivalent of elders or bishops in the NT or something else? Again, the dual roles of liturgical leader/representative judge seem consonant with this OT pattern.
Last, since The Prince who sits on the throne of David is ultimately Jesus Christ who is both High Priest and King of Kings, Lord of all civil and liturgical affairs, it shouldn’t be so surprising that we would mimic Him in our lives. He has made us “priests and kings” to our God after all. And perhaps there is something mutually benefiting, mutually establishing in these roles as well that we’ve lost in the post-Enlightenment world.