Day 54: Deuteronomy 8-11; Not Because of Righteousness…

Sometimes I read things in the Bible and laugh… the way things are said, the way that God explains something… just seems a bit funny.  I try to imagine myself being one of the original hearers of that message and what I would think.  Deuteronomy 8 starts with this:

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’  Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.”

As I was reading it, I laughed.  Its like telling someone, “you’re going to do this job.  There is no pay and you have to deal with everyone’s complaints and its going to be awful… oh yeah, and God will be with you.”  I was thinking… maybe you could lead with that first part next time… it might make me a bit more willing to hear it!  Haha!

Yet, even in this apparent humor, there is something very important here, which really becomes the basis for the doctrine of salvation by grace (sola gratia) and the doctrine of election.  God says, “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness.”  One of the sins that Israel falls into later is living in the idea that the covenant is all about them because of who they are, but God is clearly saying here that it doesn’t have anything to do with them. God chose them, not the other way around.  God chooses us… not the other way around.  It doesn’t have anything to do with how good we are, were, or will be.  We are offered the gift of grace, to be united with Christ through His blood because of God’s great love for us!  Because He chose us.

Later in this reading we see something else that is abundantly important.  God tells the people of Israel to “circumcise your hearts.”  The sign of circumcision is something that God commanded the people to do as a sign of their participation in the covenant.  Like our infant baptism, this happens to babies without their say or any action from them… again, the idea of our inclusion not because of our own righteousness.  However, it isn’t the circumcision of the flesh that is important… it is the “circumcision of the heart” that means something.  As part of the covenant, the people are called to “be holy as God is holy.”  They are called to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind.  They are called to keep these things on their hearts, and to make them a part of our everyday lives.  It isn’t about the physical act, its about the spiritual transformation that takes place.

Finally, another rather important thing that comes up here.  As you were reading Deuteronomy 11 you probably noticed the repetition some things that you read from yesterday in Deuteronomy 6.  Repetition in the Bible always indicates something that is very important.  I talk about this in another blog post on my personal blog, Worship Discussions.  This section of Deuteronomy is spoken with the bookends of the words of the Shema, which we talked about yesterday.  These words are very important.  God is impressing upon the people of Israel the importance of placing His Words on their hearts; that these Words need to go with them and be with them, at the center of every aspect of their life.  It is repeated time and again at the beginnings of each paragraph:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always…”

“You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today…”

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul…”

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes…”

And finally to end the chapter and this section of Deuteronomy:

“you shall be careful to do all the statutes and the rules that I am setting before you today.”



Day 45: Numbers 18-20; Moses' fumble

After a great deal more of seemingly the same stuff, lots of laws for priests and laws for cleansing, we get to a story that is probably very familiar to us.  I remember this story first from a Sunday School lesson.  Ah… flannel graph… what an invention!  As I remember the story, Moses got all angry at the people and struck the rock in anger, but water came out anyways because God is cool and all that.  But God punishes Moses for not listening by not letting him go into the promised land.  What was the moral of the story?  We need to make sure that we do things the way God tells us, or else we will get punished, even if God still makes things happen.

As I read this again, in light of all of the other things that we have read in the past month and a half, I don’t know that this story, or any Biblical Story, can really simply be reduced down to some pithy moral statement…  I’m sure that it applies, or at least make some sense… but I’m not in favor of limiting meaning, especially in Biblical narratives.

There is a lot more here about the faithfulness of God, if we read it in the context of everything else we have read, than about God’s punishment of Moses.  This story shows God to be faithful and loving, despite our failings.  One could thing, however, that as Moses disobeyed God, there has to be some sort of a consequence, because God is Holy and completely opposed to sin.  And there is, we see this in the punishment of Moses and Aaron.  But this story is not necessarily about the punishment as it is about a faithful God once again providing for a people that are continuously unfaithful to Him.

On a side note, the other story about the interaction between Israel and Edom is almost like a family update on what’s going on with the sons of Isaac.  Remember back to Genesis 25 and Genesis 27, the accounts of Jacob and Esau, and the things that happened.  Abraham tells Esau that he will live by the sword, and we learn that there will be contempt between Jacob and Esau for generations to come, much like that of the contempt between Isaac and Ishmael.  This story is very much playing out of this sibling rivalry, hundreds of years old.



Day 44: Numbers 15-17; Grumble, grumble, grumble…

So Israel has disobeyed… or rather not trusted God and have thus been sent back into the wilderness for 40 years.  Even so, God is still giving them laws, ways to live rightly and fulfill the covenant.  He even commands something as obscure as tassels on their garments.  These weren’t just nice decorations, but to serve as a reminder of who they are and the life they are to live.  The writer uses the words that we are “not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.”  This is really strong imagery that I think evokes the contrast between faithfulness to God and unfaithfulness being related to a prostitute.  This image is expanded throughout the Old and New Testament as the people of God are related to the Bride of God, and later the Bride of Christ.  The people of God are seen as the image of a young girl that God picked up out of the mud and cared for.  She repaid Him not with love but with unfaithfulness… yet the more beautiful image comes in that God continues to pursue her, forgiving her even in her disgusting state of uncleanly, unfaithfulness.  If you’re interested in this, Jeremiah 2-3 and especially Ezekiel 16 both take up this theme.

In any case, the tassels were meant to be a way of reminding the people of who they were as God’s people and how they were to live.  Below is a picture of a rather modern version of what something like this would look like.  I found this on a website called British-Israel.

Hebrew Tassels

In other news, it appears that the whole ordeal with the promised land we read about yesterday is not yet completely over.  Once again, the people of God, or at least some of them, take up the grumbling.  It seems that they are blaming Moses for their return to the wilderness while also trying to grab power from the Priests.  Clearly God doesn’t like this.  Again, I am reminded here of myself… when things don’t go right, how do I tend to react?  Our culture like to teach us that its never our fault, its always someone or something else’s fault.  I know I am guilty of this.  Again we see the imagery of atonement here.  Something is needed to stop the plague that is coming over the people for grumbling.  Aaron runs out into the people, between those that are dead and those that are still alive.  Again… this is interesting imagery of the atonement… one that foreshadows the atonement to come.  Christ, while we were still sinners, dead in our transgressions, runs out into the world and offers Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Echoes of Ephesians 2 ring in my head.  For it is by grace that you have been saved.  Thanks be to God.



Day 43: Numbers 12-14; Opposition

I wonder if you were feeling the same thing that I was feeling as we read this story today.  I was thinking to myself, I know this story!  Finally something familiar!  And yet in many ways it seems quite unfair what happened to the Israelites.  They didn’t really know any better… they were just going on the majority of the reports received from the spies.  I mean, if someone misinformed us about something in our world today it would most likely be a reason for innocence if we were to do something wrong, right?  Well, apparently not.  I do seem to remember a saying from my youth, “Ignorance is no excuse for the Law.”

Sometimes I just have to wondering then, what it would take to convince this rabble of complainers we call Israel that God is all powerful, in control, and will take care of them.  To date, they have seen the wonders of God through the plagues that led to their freedom, walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, got water from a rock, mana and quail to eat, seen God’s presence as they moved, on the mountain, and around the Tabernacle.  God has helped them to defeat attackers, and forgiven them more times than they’ll ever be able to count.  And yet, still they complain and worry about these people.  We hear that the land is great, but the cities are so fortified and the people are large.  One of the phrases used to describe these people in verses, is that they are the Nephilim, the sons of Anak.  This would have made sense for us, but for a reference we have to go all the way back to Genesis 6.  The word Nephilim means “giants” and, if we read Genesis 6 we see that they are the product of the union of “the sons of God” and women of the earth.  They produced “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”  One of these is apparently Anak and clearly is renowned.  Not much is known about what this really means.  Some scholars contend that they were angels or fallen angels.  In any case, the it was not good and led eventually to the flood.

But to put this in perspective.  Prior to the destruction of Egypt’s army in the Red Sea, the land of Canaan would have been easy pickings for the Egyptian military.  Egypt was far more advanced and far more powerful than any of the nations that lived in Canaan, and God defeated them without seemingly raising a finger.  So when God gets angry at them, it is fairly understandable.  “I’ve done all of this for you, and still you can’t trust me?  What’s it gonna take Israel?!?!?”

It’s easy for me to sit behind my computer screen and question the decisions of a fledgling nation though, making myself look good.  Yet, the reality is that I have been that person too… we all have.  There have been times in my life when God has called me to something, to conquer the proverbial Canaan if you will.  I’ve seen God work in my life, and in the lives of people around me.  I know that God is always with me and will take care of me through everything.  Even knowing that though, I found myself thinking that perhaps Egypt was better.  Maybe my life of slavery to sin, not following God’s will was better… even if it was slavery.  It took a while for me to come around.  I wandered for a while, until God said it was time for me to get back too it.  “You’ve wasted enough time Jon, time to go conquer Canaan.”

So here I am… 2 years into Seminary…  It’s certainly not easy, but I know God is with me!

Maybe there is something God is calling you to as well?



Day 42: Numbers 9-11; Complaining against God

There are two things in today’s reading that, when set up against each other, strike me as being quite ironic.  I often shake my head when reading passages such as these, and chuckle to myself, knowing all to well that I tend to be just like the Israelites.

The first this we read today is how, at the will and movement of God in the cloud, the people of Israel made camp or packed up and got ready to move.  For all we know this cloud/pillar of fire as been with the people since they went out of Egypt almost two years ago.  I think the only exception to this would have been the time that they were camped at Mount Sinai, when the presence of the Lord could be clearly seen and heard on top of the mountain.  All of that time, perhaps maybe 6 months, they were camped at the base of that mountain, offering things for the building of God’s dwelling place, and hearing the Word of the Lord spoken through Moses.  They even agreed that they would follow all the ways of the Lord as He had prescribed.

Fast forward to what we just read… the people have just celebrated the Passover, remembering all that God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt… and immediately they start to complain… about how much better it was in Egypt just because they got what they wanted… Meat.  God has been giving them mana every day, sustaining them as they were in the wilderness.  He has shown His power to them and even His forgiveness after the whole golden calf debacle.  Yet still they complain, so much so that God anger is kindled against them!  Foolish Israelites… we would never do such things now days.

Or would we?  I think about this story in relation to my own life and wonder if I would have been one of the complainers, or if I would have been one of the content people (if there were in fact any of them in the whole camp).  I’ve seen God do some amazing things in my life.  I’ve seen how He has guided me and have received His forgiveness a hundred times over… yet I wonder, “Do I too often complain about my place in life?”  I am certainly more well off than anyone in this nation of nomads.  Perhaps there is a lesson here in contentment, and in thankfulness.  It is interesting, the name that is given to the place where they eat meat and then God sends a plague: Kibroth-hattaavah.  This name means “graves of craving” or “graves of lust.”  Somewhat appropriate I think, but I wonder if there isn’t something in that name that would apply to us as well.  Do we get caught in the desire to always want more, to never be content?  While I wouldn’t want to slice any Bible reading down to a simple morality lesson… I do wonder what our cravings, our lusts, or discontentment is doing to us… giving us life?  or digging our grave?



Day 40: Numbers 5-6; Significance of Blessings

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

There are several other parts of this particular reading that are significant.  Many of them have to do with the continuing theme of clean and unclean; Holy and common.  In reality, much of what we are reading in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy have to do with this theme.  God has chosen this people, elected them to be His own, and is not describing for them how they should live as people set apart for God.  They need to be free of uncleanliness… and follow certain ways of living.  For those that chose to be set apart from the people that are set apart, there is an entirely different set of rules.  The Nazirite Vow is something that is most notably found in the story of Sampson, which we will cover sometime in the next month or so.

One of the more important parts of this particular reading today, and probably one of the most well known also, is that of the blessing given to Moses for Aaron and the priests to use to bless the people.  I would like to clarify some words in this, bringing in the full range of meaning for them from the Hebrew language and culture:

Bless (יְבָרֶכְךָ֥): To Bless, to Kneel.  The idea of the blessing is not simply a nice word to send you away with or a polite goodbye.  To bless someone is something akin to the transfer of power.  Sending someone away, like at the end of a worship service, is actually to impart the name of (and therefore power of) that one on to them.  In some aspects, it would be like literally writing the name of the one giving the blessing on the forehead of the one being blessed.  As Christians, we believe that the words of blessing, though spoke by the pastor, are actually God’s words empowering us and sending us out in His name.

Keep (וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ): to keep, guard, observe, give heed, protect.  The idea here can be seen in the greater meanings listed.  It the idea is the protection of God.  We not only go out in the power and name of God, we also go out in God’s eternal protection as well.

Shine (יָאֵ֨ר): to be or become light, shine, to be illuminated.  There are several ideas for this particular word.  One would be the idea of us being illuminated by God, shining forth His light in the world to which we go.  The other would be that God illumines our path and brightens our way as we go.  In any case, this is all about the light of God acting on us.

Gracious (וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ): to be gracious, show favor, pity, be shown consideration.  The idea of grace is much more well rounded than I think ours is in modern Christianity.  We’ve made grace to simply be about “me and Jesus” and how God just washes away our sins.  While this is true in every respect, grace has so much more to do with God’s favor toward us, unmerited by our own actions, but having everything to do with the nature of God as being “Gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”  (Exodus 34; Nehemiah 9; Psalm 86, 103, 145; Joel 2; Jonah 2, 4).

“lift up his countenance” (יִשָּׂ֨א): to lift, bear up, carry, take, support, sustain, endure, forgive.  The word countenance actually has to do with the turning of ones face or facial expression towards another.  This is why we sometimes say “The Lord turn His face towards you.”  But as you can see, it is much more than that even.  This particular phrase is about (amongst other things) God’s eternal faithfulness towards us and the fact that He goes with us, supporting and sustaining us, even carrying us.  There is beautiful imagery here that is caught up in the “Footprints” poem.

Give (וְיָשֵׂ֥ם): to put, place, set, appoint, make, direct, lay hands on.  Words like this often get us caught in our contemporary context.  The word “give” brings up images of birthdays, Christmas, and offering plates.  Yet the meaning is so much greater.  God goes with us, as we saw with the last word, appointing and directing us.  This idea, in many ways, represents the idea of touch.  While unfortunately the idea of touching another has been much corrupted in our culture (sexual imagery, inappropriate actions, etc.), what is being conveyed here is the most appropriate, loving, gentle embrace… the wrapping of Gods arms around us as He appoints for us…

Peace (שָׁלֽוֹם): completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, tranquility, quiet, safety, soundness, contentment, friendship.  Again, a word that brings with it connotations.  Yet this isn’t just worldly peace, the cessation of war, or end of violence, this is indeed the ushering in of the true Kingdom of God in which all things are brought to their fully reconciled and redeemed state.  In many ways this is a return to Eden (though I don’t really like that phrase)… when all of creation will again be made right.  The Lion will lay down with the Lamb.  Swords will be beaten into plow shares.  Brother will lay down against brother.  And all will worship together before the Lord.

Amen.  Maranatha!  (Come Lord Jesus)



Day 39: Numbers 3-4; Duties and Tasks

I think I can be quite honest in saying today that I don’t honestly remember reading these chapters in the Bible ever.  I think that they were some of the chapters that got glazed over in my 90 day journey through the Bible a few years ago.  It would seem that there is not a great deal of interest in all that these chapters have to offer.  I have to admit too, that I am at a loss for what to write about.  That being said, when things like this happen, I turn to some good friends of mine… the Church Fathers, Calvin, and other theological writers for wisdom and guidance.

People tend to cringe when they here names like “Basil” or “John Calvin” or “Chrysostom” or “Athanasius” but let me assure you that these folks, even as they have been dead for many hundreds, or even thousands of years, are actually wonderful conversational partners when it comes to particularly unfamiliar, or perhaps confusing parts of the Bible.  They may not always be the easiest to read, but they were faithful in writing down those things that they learns and what was revealed to them through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Much like the Levites, and all the related groups within that clan, these Theologians were faithful to the duties and tasks to which they were called.  Our faith, how and what we believe, have been largely shaped by the works of these and many others throughout the ages.  While nothing that they write stands on the same level as the Bible, there is a reason why Augustine’s Confessions is the #2 all time best selling book (second only to the Bible of course).

Turning to a somewhat familiar name in the history of Church writings, John Calvin would point out to us that the whole of the book of Numbers stands in harmony with the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.  What we are reading here is a continuation of the laws that were passed down and the explanation of how the people were to live.  The Tabernacle was place Holy unto the Lord and all that was within it was considered Holy.  Therefore the people of Israel could not just walk into it.  Indeed, the duties of the Levites were to guard the Tabernacle on all sides, to shield the people from it as a way of protecting the Tabernacle from defilement, but also as a way of protecting the people from inadvertently getting themselves killed by wandering too close.

I think it is important in looking back on the wisdom of others to have a more contemporary voice in the mix as well.  Dr. David Stubbs is a professor at Western Theological Seminary, where I am attending, and he has written a commentary on the book of Numbers as part of a whole series called the “Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible.”  Dr. Stubbs makes two points that are very important here.  The First is the duties of the priests.  He groups them into four headings: to serve, to protect boundaries, to mediate across those boundaries, and to represent.  The service part seems fairly self explanatory as they are charged with the care for and transport of all things related to the Tabernacle.  We spoke of protection in Calvin’s points in the last paragraph as well.  The third part, the mediation across the boundaries takes the protection of the Tabernacle suggests that it is the job of the priests to “extend the holy into the common and help the common to move toward the holy.”  The final category is that of representation before God.  This happened in ways of representation, but also as substitution.  What is important, Dr. Stubbs points out, is that in this duty of representation and substitution, “the priests do not undercut the calling of all the people to be a priestly kingdom, but represent it.  And as the priest is to the people, so Israel is (ideally) to the nations.”

Another major theme here that Dr. Stubbs writes about is the “redemption of the Firstborn.”  Remember that in Exodus 22, after the Passover and the giving of the Ten Commandments, “God claims for himself the firstborn of humans and animals, as well as first fruits of crops.”  These are gifts that would be understood to be the best gives, the most precious gifts.  For them, this would have been one of the signs of faithfully serving the Lord.  While the nations of the world often did things like this in the form of sacrifice, sometimes even human sacrifice, God does not delight in death, nor does he need animals sacrificed to him, but rather desires and delights in “our obedient and faithful dedication as well as the acknowledgement of His claim over all aspects of our lives and possessions.”

But here in Numbers, God states that the Levites will themselves be given in place of the first born of the nation. This is again a foreshadowing… the substitution of someone or something for something else.  The firstborn were still dedicated… we see this happen time and again in Scripture… but often were not given up after this point.  We see this ultimately in the substitution of Christ, who fulfills the role of priest in His life and ultimately the sole sacrifice for the true redemption of the world in His death.  However, once again we remember that the call on our lives, to live as the covenant people of God, does not change.  We too are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” as Peter writes.  We no longer have to guard the boundaries between God and humanity as that barrier was torn open at Christ’s death.  We do, however, still traverse that boundary, mediating and representing God to all that we meet.  And we may not offer our firstborn or the first fruits anymore, but we will give back, and we are still called live for God in the words of Romans 12, “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  In Jesus’ death we are all consecrated for service to the Lord, not in death, but in the New Life we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.

**Citation for quotes:  Stubbs, David L.  Numbers (Grand Rapids: BrazosPress, 2009), 43-50.



Day 31: Leviticus 8-11; Holiness Codes (Part 1)

The last verses of Leviticus 11 really sum up where we are going for the next couple of days.  They read, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.  For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Before we go into that though, (which we will be talking about for the next couple days) there is the story of Aaron’s consecration, and also of his sons’ death.  We read that Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons go through the whole consecration ceremony that was originally described in Exodus 29, and that in doing so they are ordained as priests.  After this happens, we see once again the manifestation of the glory of the Lord coming to rest on the temple.

tabernacle

With God’s presence clearly seen, it is somewhat of a mystery as to why it is that Aaron’s sons would do something so obviously flawed to them as offer inappropriate sacrifices before the Lord.  They are consumed with “the fire of the Lord,” yet another image of God’s holiness.  It was interesting to read yesterday in Leviticus 6, in relation to this, that the fire of the alter of burnt offerings was never to go out.  God’s refining, purifying fire never goes out… There is never a time in our lives when God says its ok for us to sin, even if it is just a little sin.  The fire of God is always active and ever consuming.  We see here that God does not stand for sin, for us to act contrary to His commands.  It is wholly against and contrary to His nature.  What we don’t read in this passage is the motive or the attitude of Aaron’s sons when they do this wrong thing.  Did they even know?  Were they doing it on purpose?  This is something that the writer, presumably Moses, chose not to include in this narrative.  I guess we could ask ourselves if it really matters what our motive is… sin is sin.  Thanks be to God that we ourselves have been consecrated in the blood of Jesus and our sin has been washed away!

A little side note to all of this (we will get to the Holiness codes of conduct and stuff tomorrow)…

I think it is important for us to understand some of the back ground of the narratives in the Old Testament, these stories that we are reading that sometimes seem so distant to us.  To do this, we must understand better the nature of the Hebrew worldview… it may actually enlighten our own perceptions of the world as well…

For the Hebrew people, the world was not as cut and dry as we like to think it is now days.  Western culture especially has a very hard, mechanistic worldview in which everything is a secular, physical, and material.  In many ways we look at the world through a deistic perspective… “God is out there somewhere, but this physical world is not His realm.”  We talk about all things spiritual as being mystic… other… out there… not normal reality.

Not so the Hebrew people.  For them, the realities of the physical and the spiritual world were very intertwined.  They believed, as maybe we should, that the physical world is really a manifestation of the Glory of God, an eruption of God’s majesty.  God wasn’t just over and above the world that we live in, He is alive and active in it.  For them, the whole world was a sacred place; a place in which God could be manifested in a tree, a rock, some sand, the water, or in the sky, rain, etc.  It isn’t that any one of these was God, nor did any one thing contain God, but God is present in all of creation.  So really then, in a world in which God is revealing God’s self to God’s chosen people, every place, event, and object had the ability of being an encounter with God, or in Theological terms, a “Hierophany.”

With this being the case then, we move on to the stories, the details, and the narratives of the Old Testament.  If God is present everywhere, and the world is a sacred place, manifesting God’s glory, then every move one makes, every action taken, every activity participated in has very real religious implications.  In fact, it could be said that every activity is a religious activity.  What would life be like for us if we thought this way?

To take this a step further then, the goal of life for the Hebrew people would be to be as close to the center of this religious life, as close to the presence of God, as they could possibly be.  Now this center really wasn’t a single place for quite some time.  If you remember with me, when God reveals Himself to Abraham, a stone is set up as a way of remembering, and Abraham dwells near to that place.  He wants to be close to that “center” as he can be.  Why?  Why couldn’t he just travel back whenever he wanted?  Well… with all the world being sacred, and the understanding that God sustained the world, these people believed that they needed to be as close to the center as they could be to keep their link with the Divine.  If they lost that link, they would loose their lives, their purpose, their everything.  This is why Moses pleads with God to go with the people of Israel when they leave Sinai in Exodus 33, because if they leave that center and God doesn’t go with them… they would die.

So, what does this have to do with the Tabernacle?  Well, God agreed to Moses and said He would go with, and then commands the creation of a dwelling place.  This would become the center for the people of Israel… religiously and quite literally as the people camped around it.  In today’s reading we see that the glory of the Lord comes down into the Tabernacle and dwells there.  Upon the completion of the Tabernacle, it became, for Israel, the very center of the universe… the hinge on which all other things turned.  We talked about this several days ago at the end of Exodus… The Tabernacle is the place at which Heaven meets Earth… it is the One True Center, around which all the other centers, those hierophanies (the burning bush, Jacobs ladder, water from a rock, etc.) came around.  This was their link to the Sacred, to God and to life.

So… to get back to the Narratives of Scripture then, what is the point of telling these?  The reality is that these were passed down orally for many hundreds of years before they were written down.  This includes the instructions for the making of the Tabernacle and those genealogies that we all “love” to read.  But for the Hebrew people, this was all about connection to the center.  When they told the stories, they relived the experiences, became part of that time and that place… when the glory of God descended on the Tabernacle… when God appeared in the burning bush… when Abraham saw the smoking fire-pot and passed between the animals…  As they relived those connections to the Center, to the divine, they also participated in and received the blessings given to their Fathers and Mothers at that time.  They became part of the narrative and found, as we should find, their story in the greater story of God’s actions and working in redemptive history.  And, just to toss something else out there… this changes the whole meaning of “honor your father and mother” when you consider your father and mother to be not simply your parents, but everyone that was ever in your family tree.

A special thanks to Professor Travis West for a great class yesterday on this!  More to come on this in the future as well!



Day 30: Leviticus 5-7; Laws for Offerings (Part 2)

Well, part two is seemingly similar to part one and as I was reading and reflecting on this I didn’t necessarily know exactly what it was that I was going to write about today.  However, I started to think about these sacrifices and the people of Israel.  Have you ever considered how much blood would have been poured out on this alter?  The sheer enormity of the population of Israel coupled with the propensity of the human race to sin constantly, would mean that these priests were likely busy 24/7.  Which would mean that wherever the Tabernacle was set up, and wherever the alter of burnt offerings stood, would have been saturated with blood… blood of the covenant… cleansing blood.  Wow… and yuck…  We don’t like to think about blood in our culture.  Some people even freak out when they see it, even a drop of it, but for these people, this was their life and their connection to God… and their forgiveness.

alter

Upon some further reflection here, there is a lot of language that might be semi-familiar to us… like the echo of a friend’s voice, it is distant, but somewhat recognizable.  Blood is one of those things.  What do you think of when you hear the phrase “blood poured out”?  Images of the crucifixion, the sacrifice of Jesus, and perhaps the words of some great hymns come to mind for me.

How about the idea of the grain offerings?  Perhaps this is a bit more distant.  The echo of an echo.  Here the priests are taking unleavened bread and offering it to God.  In that act, the bread is broken… and some of it is given to the priests to eat… as a way of sustaining them.  Perhaps that sounds more familiar?  Perhaps “this is my body broken for you?”  Perhaps the words of institution of Communion from 1 Corinthians 11 come to mind?

We hear this: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Jesus wasn’t doing anything “new” when he was introducing the elements of what we know as “The Last Supper” or “The Lord’s Supper” or “Communion” or “Eucharist.”  The disciples would have recognized this… which is why Jesus this is a “New Covenant” in the blood of Christ.  For us and for our salvation, it only took the blood of One for us to receive forgiveness.  For us and for our salvation, His body, the bread of life was broken for us.  While they wouldn’t have known this then, it is for us now a foreshadowing (amongst other things) of what we now experience in Jesus Christ.



Day 29: Leviticus 1-4; Laws for Offerings (Part 1)

We’ve made it four week today!  To me it doesn’t really seem like that long ago that we started.  I don’t know about you, but it seems like just yesterday that 2013 started, and now its almost February.  One thing that this means though, is that we are entering into the Books of Leviticus and Numbers… some of the most difficult books to read if you ask me.  This is where I’ve always fallen away from the reading because it seems so dull and so completely out of touch with our lives today.  My hope is that through some discussion and reflection, we can discover more to these books than some outdated laws and sacrificial rites that we don’t follow anymore.  I will confess though, that I am a bit out of my league here as far as what I know about these things.  Throughout the next few weeks I will be drawing on a lot that I have learned from my Old Testament classes at Kuyper College and Western Theological Seminary.

As we get into these laws and regulations set down by God, I think that it is appropriate to start with a foundation of perspective in regards to what we are reading here.  While It is entirely true that God set these laws down as a way for the people of Israel to live, they are also meant to be a foreshadowing of things to come.  If you remember with me, ever since the incident in the Garden of Eden when humanity rebelled and fell into sin, God has been working towards restoration.  The whole course of redemptive history is about God’s work towards restoration and ultimately reconciliation.  Redemptive history isn’t simply about God bringing Jesus for the sake of individual salvation, but about God working His will to restore His creation to the perfection it was created in and for.  We see examples of this throughout the Bible, some that we have just read in Exodus about what happens when animals do bad things and whatnot.  We’ll read more about this in Leviticus and Numbers as well.

Much of what we are about to read is about living in right relationship with neighbors, with creation, and with God.  The Law was one way that God could set down a code of conduct for the people of Israel in which He could instruct them to live differently, as a testament to God.  The people of the earth would see them and through them see the Glory and Love of God.  This is perhaps one reason why the rules seem so strict and precise.

The alter of burnt offering

The Hebrew Sacrificial rite was one of the ways in which people were to show their desire to live in right relationship with God.  A way of atoning for sin had to be established for God’s people.  Again we see the symbol of blood, as we saw in The Passover which we read about in Exodus 12, and in the consecration of the Priests which we read about just a couple of days ago.  That symbol of blood, death for life, is a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice that would come in the form of Jesus Christ.  See… the killing of animals was never meant to save… but as a way of showing faithfulness, and of creating an understanding of the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice.  When we look at these laws of Leviticus we are given the setting, the background, and the context for the that “once for all sacrifice” of Jesus Christ, the Messiah… the only true way of redemption, atonement, and reconciliation.