In the Bible, the high priest was the Old Testament mediator between God and the people of Israel. He performed religious rituals including sacrifices as well as the annual expiratory sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. He is also called the Chief Priest (2 Chronicles 24:6; Jeremiah 52:24). The high priest was held to a higher form of ritual purity than were other priests.
"He could have no contact with dead bodies, including those of his parents. Nor could he rend his clothing or allow his hair to grow out as signs of mourning. He could not marry a widow, divorced woman, or harlot, but only an Israelite virgin (Lev. 21:10–15). Any sin committed by the high priest brought guilt upon the entire nation and had to be countered by special sacrifice (4:1–12). Upon a high priest’s death manslayers were released from the cities of refuge (Num. 35:25, 28, 32)."1
The high priest was established by God through the revelation of Moses. He served in the tabernacle and later in the temple. The high priest would enforce the covenant between God and man and he represented Israel. His sins reflected on Israel. He was to point the people of Israel to God.
The high priest in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of the true priesthood of Christ as is revealed in the book of Hebrews.
- 1. Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.