‘But … the sons of Zadok … shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord GOD: They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table, to minister unto me, and they shall keep my charge’ (Ezek. 44:15–16).
Tremendous privileges are reserved, according to prophet Ezekiel, for the sons of Zadok. We have only quoted here one of four passages in which Ezekiel describes their special role and position (the others are 40:46; 43:19; 48:11) and yet the list of promised privileges is considerable. These four passages raise two questions:
- When and how will these promises be fulfilled, and, importantly:
- Who was Zadok?
How and when will the blessings be received?
The first question can be answered from the context in which these passages are found: all of them are situated in the part of the book of Ezekiel that deals with the future restoration of the people of Israel and the millennial blessings that will ensue (chapters 33 to 48). In particular:
- Chapters 33 to 39 deal with Israel’s national new birth and re-gathering and the victory of their last enemies (Edom and Gog).
- Chapters 40 to 48 — where the prophecies regarding the sons of Zadok are found — deal with the millennial blessing that ensues: the temple built, sacrifices instituted and the land distributed.
All of these will take place literally. Literal Israel will be brought into its literal land, a literal temple will be built and literal sacrifices offered to God. These sacrifices which the sons of Zadok will present are commemorative. Whilst in the past, Levitical sacrifices pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the sacrifices brought in the millennium will commemorate the same work of Christ.
Who was Zadok?
There are eight or nine men called Zadok in the Old Testament. But, as we will see, there can be little doubt that the Zadok referred to by Ezekiel is the priest who lived at the time of David. He was a descendant of Aaron, Eleazar and Phinehas (1 Chr. 6:50–53). His name is derived from the verb ‘to justify’ and his father was called Ahitub, which means ‘brother of goodness’.
Possibly, the Zadok mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12 is the same person (but we cannot be sure). If so, he would have shown devotion to David early in life. He is described as ‘a young man’ who was among those who came to David to Ziklag (vs. 1, 28).
Then we certainly encounter ‘our’ Zadok on the (second) occasion when David arranged for the ark of the covenant to be brought to Jerusalem. This time, he made sure that the ark was carried, as prescribed, by the Levites: ‘for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever’ (1 Chr. 15:2). David called Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, and commanded them and the chosen Levites to sanctify themselves and to bring up the ark to the prepared place (vs. 11–12).
It seems that, at this time, both were regarded as ‘high priests’ (hence the expression ‘the priests’ (see also 2 Sam. 8:17), probably due to the fact that the tabernacle was still in Gibeon (where Zadok remained in 1 Chronicles 16:39) whereas the ark of the covenant had been brought to Jerusalem (and possibly Abiathar remained there). Later, in the days of Solomon, these things were rectified and Zadok became ‘the priest’, i.e. the sole high priest (1 Ki. 2:35).
But Zadok was not only characterised by outward privilege such as noble ancestors, a good name, and high profile service, but also — and more importantly — by faithfulness to the Lord and decision of heart. This attitude was evidenced beautifully more than once in his life, but first and foremost on the occasion of David’s flight from Absalom his son (2 Sam. 15).
Faithful at the time of Absalom’s rebellion
David, faithful and a model in so many ways, tragically fell in the matter with Bathsheba. At a time when he should have been in battle for the Lord and His people he had remained in the comfort of his home and succumbed to temptation (2 Sam. 11). He repented thoroughly, confessed his guilt, and by the Lord’s mercy was granted forgiveness (Ps. 32) but God’s governmental ways had to run their course in discipline, one aspect of which was that David was ousted by his own son Absalom.
David receives report that the mass of the people has been influenced by Absalom: ‘The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom’ (2 Sam. 15:13). The king and his faithful followers left Jerusalem and crossed river Kidron ‘towards the way of the wilderness’ (v. 23). It was a time of decision. The current of the day was in Absalom’s favour — but Zadok was one of those who swam against the current. The next verse tells us: ‘And behold, Zadok also, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God; and they set down the ark of God’.
Zadok, in arranging for the ark to be brought to David, expressed full allegiance to God’s anointed, and his desire that God’s nearness and blessing might be with the king. But David refuses the offer. He does not want the ark to be associated with his failure and the resulting discipline (v. 25). At the same time, he expresses his confidence in God and his subjection under His hand: ‘If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation’ (vs. 25–26).
During the time of David’s exile, upon his request, Zadok remains in Jerusalem to act as the king’s confidante (v. 27). This shows the confidence David had in him.
Another detail is provided in the same verse: Zadok was not only priest but also prophet: ‘Thou art the seer’. Zadok was a man who not only approached God in priestly service but also stood before God, to receive His word, as a prophet. David relied on him to send him a signal when, in good time, he would be able to return to Jerusalem.
Faithful at the time of Sheba’s rebellion
Later, when David had returned to Jerusalem, there was a ‘man of Belial’ who aspired to the throne and attempted a new conspiracy (2 Sam. 20:1). At this time ‘all the men of Israel went up from after David, following Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah clave to their king’ (v. 2). Zadok, again, is found amongst the faithful and trusted men of David (v. 25).
Faithful at the time of Adonijah’s rebellion
Towards the end of David’s life, Zadok’s faithfulness was, once more, ‘tried with fire’ (1 Pet. 1:7), like gold. David was aged, very weak and looked after by Abishag (1 Ki. 1:1–4). At this time, Adonijah (son of David and brother of Absalom) ‘exalted himself’, saying, ‘I will be king’ (v. 5) although David had sworn that Solomon was to be his successor (vs. 13, 30). At this point we see a remarkable difference between the two priests, Zadok and Abiathar. So far, both had repeatedly been mentioned together and as being on David’s side: at the time of Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam. 8:17; 15:24, 29, 35; 19:11) as well as at the time of Sheba’s rebellion (2 Sam. 20:25). But now the time has come for the wheat to be separated from the chaff: Adonijah ‘conferred with Joab … and with Abiathar …: and they following Adonijah helped him’ (1 Kings 1:7). Most likely, they were driven by ambition and relied on the prospect of positions and favours if they helped Adonijah to power (whereas Solomon, if he were to become king, would not owe them anything). How refreshing to read in the next verse: ‘But Zadok the priest, … and the mighty men whom David had, were not with Adonijah’. Again, Zadok is on the right side — this time in contrast to his colleague-priest Abiathar. Zadok was not swayed by the ‘very comely man’ Adonijah but marked by faith allegiance to David.
King David, though weak and at death’s door, rises to the occasion. He knows who he can trust: ‘Call me Zadok the priest …’ (v. 32). He gives command that Solomon should be king and that Zadok should have the honour of anointing him. Zadok is rewarded already during his lifetime. Solomon becomes king: ‘And Zadok the priest the king put in the stead of Abiathar’ (1 Ki. 2:35).
Zadok’s descendants in history
Zadok’s descendants to date who have found place on the pages of inspired history include some very encouraging examples, notably:
- Azariah: At the time of king Hezekiah, one of the great revivals in the history of Judah took place. One of the things recovered at this time was liberality in giving. The people made a new start in terms of contributing material things for the Lord’s interests. At this time, Azariah made a remarkable statement: ‘Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, … the Lord hath blessed his people’. The inspired report makes the point that this priest Azariah was a descendant of Zadok (2 Chr. 31:10). The faith of his forefather was well alive in him.
- Ezra the scribe: At the time of Artaxerxes, Ezra became a prepared and suited instrument in God’s hand in the process of teaching and restoring the remnant of His people in Jerusalem. Ezra was a great-great-great-grandson of Zadok (Ezra 7:1–2). God, in His grace, raised up Ezra, this ‘accomplished scribe of the law of the God of the heavens’ who had purpose of heart (vs. 10–12), no doubt as another gracious reward for Zadok’s faithfulness.
Yet, we may ask, what happened at the time of Malachi? Where, among the priests, were the sons of Zadok? The first nine verses of Malachi 2 present a sobering picture in relation to the state of the priesthood at that time: ‘And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. …. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts, … ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law’ (vs. 1, 8, 9). No exception is mentioned, no son of Zadok comes to the fore, all seems lost — but not forever, as we will see in a moment.
Zadok’s descendants in the future
Brighter days will yet dawn on the sons of Zadok. Ezekiel mentions them four times in his prophecies that describe the future millennial kingdom of Christ: Israel will be born again to new life, the dispersed tribes gathered together, the enemies subdued and, most important of all, Messiah will be present among them. The temple will be built and the sacrificial system instituted. At this point, the sons of Zadok are mentioned and special blessing is granted to them — in recognition of the faithfulness of their forefather in the midst of rebellion and unfaithfulness. This matter of faithfulness against a backdrop of unfaithfulness is stated explicitly twice:
- ‘But … the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me’ (44:15). Note also the contrast with the preceding verses, beginning with verse 10: ‘And the Levites that are gone away far from me…’.
- ‘The sons of Zadok; which have kept my charge, which went not astray when the children of Israel went astray’ (48:11).
The Lord is faithful, and He loves to reward faithfulness. The blessings bestowed on the sons of Zadok are impressive. Let us take a brief look at the four passages in Ezekiel where they are mentioned.
The first one (Ezek. 40:46) states that the priesthood will be formed — not of an arbitrary family among the descendants of Aaron or even Phinehas — but of the very family of Zadok.
The second reference (Ezek. 43:19–27) discloses a further detail, namely that the sons of Zadok will be given a bullock (young bull) for a sin offering. This speaks of the sacrifice of Christ who bore the sins of His people. They will use the blood to sanctify the altar and burn the bullock in the appointed place as a sin offering. This opens the way for another sin offering (the kid of a goat) to be brought as well as burnt (speaking of God’s appreciation of Christ’s complete devotion to Him in death) and peace offerings (expressing communion between the Israelites and their God).
The third passage (Ezek. 44:15–16) includes an impressive list of privileges. First, the sons of Zadok will be in proximity to God, able to approach Him. This is in contrast with the Levites who had fallen into idolatry. While the latter will be permitted to slay sacrificial animals and minister unto the people who brought them (v. 11), it will be expressly prohibited for them to ‘draw near’ to God or to ‘do the office of a priest’ (v. 13). In marked contrast, the sons of Zadok will minister, i.e. have the privilege of being involved in worship service, standing in the presence of God. In commemoration of the work of Christ on the cross, they will offer blood — speaking of the immense price paid for the redemption of His people — and the fat of the sacrifices — speaking of the holy energy and devotion of Christ in offering Himself spotless to God. The thought of proximity is further underlined by the statement ‘they shall enter into my sanctuary’. They will also do so in the enjoyment of fellowship: ‘approach unto my table’. Their linen garments will tell the tale of a purified priesthood. The remainder of the chapter outlines the way of life that would be in line with such privilege.
Finally, the last mention of the sons of Zadok (48:10–11) states that they will receive the ‘heave-offering’, a portion of the land of 25,000 by 10,000 cubits (around 7 by 3 miles, or 12.5 by 5 kilometres) — with the sanctuary at the centre. Hence, they will occupy the area immediately surrounding the dwelling place of God. What privilege, what divine response, what gracious reward for the faithfulness of Zadok!
 In 1 Kings 4:4, Zadok and Abiathar are referred to as priests again: ‘Zadok and Abiathar were priests’ — although not as ‘the priests’ as before (2 Sam 15:35; 19:11). There is no doubt that Solomon had removed Abiathar from office: ‘Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest to Jehovah’ (1 Ki. 2:27). It seems that, in view of Abiathar’s faithfulness in times past, Solomon did not want to deprive him of the dignity of priesthood, although he had removed him from the office of priesthood.
 Ezekiel 48 describes how the land of Israel will be distributed between the various tribes: it will be divided into rectangular areas or strips, starting with Dan in the north and ending with Gad in the south. Towards the centre (with seven tribes to the north and five to the south), there will be an area for the Levites and the princes, at the centre of which there will be the millennial temple. Surrounding this temple, which will be filled with the glory of the Lord, there will be the said area reserved for the sons of Zadok.