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Exodus 13:13 tells us that donkeys were unclean animals and their first-born were not allowed to be presented to God. Donkeys required a lamb to redeem them. And since Israel was a spiritual donkey in its character, the Passover lamb was required to redeem Israel from Egypt and to present the nation to God as His "son" (Hos. 11:1).
Many years later, Jeremiah called the people of Judah and Jerusalem "wild donkeys". Jer. 2:23, 24 says,
" (23) How can you say, 'I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals'? Look at your way in the valley! Know what you have done! You are a swift young camel entangling her ways,(24) a wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, that sniffs the wind in her passion. . ."
Both camels and donkeys were unclean animals. Such was the heart of the nation toward God. Jesus said of the priests and leaders in Matt. 23:24, "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" They were concerned about gnats getting into their mouths, because gnats were considered unclean, but they had no problem swallowing unclean doctrines called "camels."
For all of their supposed knowledge of the law, the priests were worse off than the people, because in all of their study of the law, they should have known better. To whom much is given, much is required. The problem really goes back as far as Aaron, who made the golden calf for the people (Ex. 32:4). When Aaron died 40 years later, the priesthood fell to Phinehas, who had been promised "an everlasting priesthood" (Num. 25:13) for his zealous defense of the law.
But the priestly dynasty of Phinehas ended with Zadok four centuries later in the early days of Solomon. The end of the Phinehas priesthood had been prophesied two generations earlier when the prophet confronted Eli, the high priest, and told him that his dynasty would soon end because he allowed his corrupt sons to steal the offerings and to have sexual relations with the women who served at the altar (1 Sam. 2:16, 22).
A nameless prophet then confronted Eli and told him in 1 Sam. 2:30,
"I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father [Phinehas] should walk before Me forever; BUT NOW the Lord declares, FAR BE IT FROM ME--for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed."
It appears, then, that God broke His promise to Phinehas. But this would only be the case if the Hebrew word olam (translated "forever") truly meant "time without end." The fact is, it does not. The word olam means "an age, an INDEFINITE (unknown) period of time." God promised Phinehas that he would have a priesthood that was olam. It would go on for an indefinite and unknown period of time, but not necessarily forever.
The fact is, the prophet told Eli that it would end because that dynasty was corrupt and unclean in the sight of God. Not long afterward, Eli's sons brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle (1 Sam. 4:3), expecting it would save them, because when they moved the Ark, they prayed, "Rise up, O Lord! And let Thine enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Thee flee before Thee" (Num. 10:35).
Their prayer was answered to the letter. 1 Sam. 4:10 says that "the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent." Israel then discovered who the enemy of God really was according to the law in Lev. 26:41, and it was NOT the Philistines.
When Eli heard the news of Israel's defeat and of the death of his two corrupt sons, he fell over backwards from where he was sitting and "his neck was broken" (1 Sam. 4:18). Thus, the law of Exodus 13:13 was fulfilled, where it says of the first-born donkey, "but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck."
This shows that Eli was held responsible for the actions of his sons, because he refused to correct them. His sons had the character of wild donkeys described in Jer. 2:24.
This provides us with a good illustration of the application of the law. It shows that Exodus 13:13 was not only about literal donkeys, but also about a stiff-necked people having a donkey character. Every time Scripture speaks of Israel being stiff-necked (Ex. 32:9; 33:3; Deut. 9:6), God was calling them unclean donkeys in need of redemption.
This story of the temporary priesthood of Phinehas has broader implications as well, for the last of his line was Abiathar. Solomon deposed him as high priest (1 Kings 2:27) and replaced him with Zadok (1 Kings 2:35). Zadok was of a different family, not of Phinehas. He was a type of the Melchi-Zadok Order, which was called to replace the corrupt priesthood of Levi itself when Jesus came as High Priest of that Order.
Jews today are making preparations to rebuild a temple in Jerusalem and re-establish the old order of Levitical priests made up of Jews named Cohen ("priest"), or some derivative of that name (Kahn, Kagan, etc.). They are really attempting to re-assert the priesthood of Phinehas that was disqualified in the days of Eli. They do not believe in the Melchizedek Order, and they reject the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Christian Zionists have been tricked into supporting this wild donkey priesthood on the grounds that God gave Phinehas the priesthood "forever." They apparently do not understand the meaning of the Hebrew word olam, nor do they understand how Zadok replaced the line of Abiathar as a type of Melchizedek priest.
The Melchizedek Priesthood is based upon Zadok, whose name means "righteousness." The Phinehas priesthood is based upon Phinehas, whose name means "mouth of a serpent."
When Zadok replaced Abiathar, it was still in the overall context of the Levitical priesthood, for both lines were of Aaron. But the change spoke prophetically of a greater change of priesthood that was yet to come, where the Old Covenant priesthood of Aaron would be replaced entirely by the Order of Melchizedek. This Order was not based upon genealogy, for Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, yet qualified as its High Priest.
Ezekiel 44:10-15 prophesies of the Melchizedek priesthood by contrasting the idolatrous priests of Phinehas with the righteous priests of Zadok. Though it uses Old Testament terminology, it speaks of a New Testament change of priesthood described in the book of Hebrews.
One final point: This change of priesthood has another application as well. The Pentecostal priesthood must be replaced by a Tabernacles priesthood in the same way. Anyone who is as corrupt as the sons of Eli--those who take offerings by force and who think they can have sex with anyone they wish--are wild donkeys and will not qualify as priests of God and of Christ in the Age to come (Rev. 20:6). That is, unless they truly repent and are redeemed by the Lamb of God.
If they do not repent, God will find a way to break their stiff necks. When Jesus speaks of oppressive religious rulers receiving "many lashes" (Luke 12:47), those lashes are God's way of breaking necks in a merciful way. Two verses later Jesus calls this judgment a FIRE (vs. 49). In 1 Cor. 3:15 Paul also likens it to a fire, saying that they shall be "saved yet so as through FIRE."
The fire of God is designed to break the heart, rather than to break the physical neck. In fact, God's merciful fire will cause all men to bow their knees before Jesus Christ and to declare Him Lord (Phil. 2:10, 11). Their declaration will not be through the mouth of a serpent, but as the result of a genuine change of heart. That is how God is glorified.