Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What's the book of Leviticus All About? Clearly nothing there for us; or is there?

An Introduction to the Book of Leviticus

(I am indebted here to the publishers of the New American Standard Bible for the following comments on this, the third book of Moses.)

Leviticus is a record of God’s guidance to the people of Israel that He had redeemed and freed from bondage and slavery in Egypt. It tells them how He wants them to worship, serve and obey Him. He wants them to be holy, as He is holy.

It took one night to get them out of Egypt, but they required forty years to get Egypt out of them. This speaks of man’s stubbornness and humanity, as well as God’s patience with His beloved.

There is no question that the book is primarily about how the Israelites are to fulfill their calling as people of the Book. The English title of Leviticus may be misleading in that the book is less about the Levites as a whole, but rather more about the Levite priests and how they are to carry out their calling.

There is sufficient evidence both in the document and outside it to establish Moses as the author of the text.

The entire book takes place while the children of Israel remain camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, in the first month of the second year.

There are many types and allusions to the person and work of Jesus Christ in Leviticus.  These include references to the five offerings, the high priest, the seven feasts, and much more.

At the highest level, the book is divided into two major sections. Chapters 1 through 17 (which we will cover in this volume of our study) focuses on Sacrifice.  It tells how God was to be approached by the sacrificial offerings, the mediation of the priesthood, by the purification of the nation from uncleanness, and by the provision for national cleansing and fellowship. The blood sacrifices were to remind them that because of sin God Who is Holy requires the costly gift of life, as a substitute. Chapters 18 through 27 focuses on Sanctification. Being holy is being “set apart” or “separated”. The Israelites were to be set apart from other nations unto God. Holiness is talked of 87 times in the book, both with reference to ceremonial (ritual) holiness and moral (purity of life) holiness. Without it, Israel cannot have a walk of fellowship with their Redeemer.

The key chapter is Leviticus 16 which describes The Day of Atonement that we know of today as Yom Kippur – the most important single day of the year for the Hebrews. It was the only day the High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for all the sins of the people so that they may be cleansed.

The key verses of Leviticus may well be Leviticus 17:11 which talks about the life of the flesh being in the blood and given to us on the altar to make atonement for our souls; and Leviticus 20:7,8 calling us to consecrate ourselves therefore and be holy, as He is holy, and keeping His statutes and practicing them, for He alone can sanctify us.

And perhaps the key word in the whole book is “Holiness” – especially in reference to the Holiness of God. The book goes on to show us how we, an unholy people, can approach the Holy God in an acceptable manner and then remain in continued fellowship.  For that, a blood sacrifice is required for access into His presence, and obedience is required to remain there.  (But what does that mean today?)

Join me for the next little as we study this book that was written for Israel and see how it applies to us today.  You can be notified each time I post the next installment of the study by signing up at the right  side of this page.  And as always, I would welcome your comments or questions. 

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Imagine Having To Assemble Outside Your Church Because God's Glory Had Filled It

The Cloud Guided; God’s Glory Filled
Exodus 40:34-38:

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
36 Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out;
37 but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up.
38 For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Thoughts on the Passage
We need to distinguish between the cloud that hovered above the Tent of Meeting of the Tabernacle, admittedly quite low it appears, having settled on top of it, and “the glory of the LORD” that actually entered the Tabernacle and filled it.  Both the low cloud outside the structure, but more significantly God’s glory inside it, that prevented Moses from entering the Tabernacle at this time.  And the same thing happened when Solomon completed building the Temple (see I Kings 8:10-11). The priests could not enter in, because of the very same thing – God’s “Shekinah Glory” returned to fill the Temple.

Robert Jamieson proposes that Moses’ inability to enter the Tabernacle because of God’s glory having filled it is an indication of man’s incapacity, in his present state, to look upon the unveiled perfections of the Godhead. Yet, because of God’s sacrifice of His Son, we can all do so by faith.

When God moved the cloud, the people made their way forward across the desert and they moved the Tabernacle with them. And this cloud, which looked like a cloud during the day and literally a cloud filled with fire by night, could be seen by all of the children of Israel. Robert Jamieson suggests this was the cloud that had remained for the most part up in summit of the mount where Moses had previously met with God. Now it comes down to dwell among them, the people of Israel.

As Chuck Smith points out, the key thing for us to grasp here is how awesome it must have felt to be aware of God’s very presence at all times. You would go to sleep at night looking at the fire above the Tabernacle and wake up in the morning seeing the heavy cloud.

When the cloud started to move, everything connected with the Tabernacle had to be folded up or packed and carried along the journey until the cloud stopped again. Imagine not knowing when you would set up camp that evening, but you had to wait for God to stop the cloud. When that happened, you’d stop, step up the Tabernacle again, and watch the cloud come land on it.

Smith also takes us back to verse 34 where “the glory of the LORD” filled the Tabernacle. Can you imagine seeing that? Can you imagine just waiting for God to act at that moment? Can you imagine, he asks, “opening our hearts to Him through worship and praise” throughout that experience?

Imagine next Sunday, or whatever your day of corporate worship is, to go to your place of worship and find everyone surrounding the building and not being able to get in because “the glory of the LORD” had filled it. After all, this is the place you and I go to in order to worship God with others. It need not be the only place. But here, many of us temporarily focus on the idea of meeting with God. Wouldn’t it be great to see His glory filling it and to have it captivate our hearts in such a way that we would never be the same again?

David Guzik has us consider another perspective of this passage by pointing to God’s obvious pleasure with the obedience of Israel. This was not so much about God’s authority over them, as it was that they “really did believe Him and love Him”. There is a big and real connection between their obedience and this remarkable display of His glory.

But Guzik is also quick to point out that the Israelites didn’t directly “earn” this display of glory with their obedience, but rather their obedience “welcomed it”.  We don’t earn our rescue, our salvation, or even more of His love. Yet, walking in obedience brings a certain blessing.

Without some aspect of God’s glory being present, the Tabernacle would only be, says Guzik, a fancy tent and the same can be said of our churches or of our homes.

Back in Exodus 29:45, God had made a promise that read as follows, “And I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God.”  And the book of Exodus ends with the fulfillment of that promise. Guzik writes quoting Cole, “YHWH is living among His people: the theology of the presence of God has become the fact of His presence.”

He goes on, “The Book of Exodus ends with great hope and trust in God. Though Israel was in the middle of a desolate desert, had fierce enemies in the Promised Land, and was weak and liable to sin and rebellion, God was with them. This gave them great cause for faith and confidence.

Matthew Henry says just as God created the earth for man and after He completed it, He made man and gave him possession of it, so when the Tabernacle, built for Him, was completed, He came and took possession of it. This was to be His throne where He ruled. This was an indication that “God will dwell with those that prepare Him a habitation. The broken and contrite heart, the clean and holy heart. . .. Where God has a throne and an altar in the soul, there is a living temple.”

And since the cloud was with the Israelites day and night – there was no chance of anyone thinking “Is the Lord among us, or is he not?” He was there. In sight of all. If someone didn’t believe it, well, he or she wouldn’t believe anything.

Henry reminds us of how the bush that God spoke from was not consumed by the fire that was exhibited and seen by Moses, so this cloud which was a fire by night and God’s splendor and glory did not even singe the curtains of the Tabernacle. This structure and its furnishings had been anointed and thus could withstand the terrible majesty of God. So majestic that Moses could not enter the Tabernacle at that time. But what Moses could not do, Jesus Christ did (Hebrews 9:24). In fact, Henry goes on to say,

“Nay, He is Himself the true Tabernacle, filled with the glory of God (John 1:14), even with the divine grace and truth prefigured by this fire and light. In Him, the shechinah [glory] took up its rest forever, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!”

Amen and Amen.

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

What Do Obeying God, Building a Model Airplane, and Assembling IKEA Furniture Have In Common?

Obedience to God? It Has To Be His Way, In His Specified Order, and On His Exact Timing
Exodus 40:17-33:

17 Now in the first month [a]of the second year, on the first day of the month, the [b]tabernacle was erected. 
18 Moses erected the tabernacle and [c]laid its [d]sockets, and set up its boards, and [e]inserted its bars and erected its pillars. 
19 He spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent [f]on top of it, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 
20 Then he took the testimony and put it into the ark, and [g]attached the poles to the ark, and put the [h]mercy seat [i]on top of the ark. 
21 He brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up a veil for the screen, and screened off the ark of the testimony, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
22 Then he put the table in the tent of meeting on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil. 
23 He set the arrangement of bread in order on it before the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 
24 Then he placed the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table, on the south side of the tabernacle. 
25 He lighted the lamps before the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
26 Then he placed the gold altar in the tent of meeting in front of the veil; 
27 and he burned fragrant incense on it, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 
28 Then he set up the [j]veil for the doorway of the tabernacle. 
29 He set the altar of burnt offering before the doorway of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the meal offering, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 
30 He placed the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing. 
31 From it Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. 
32 When they entered the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 
33 He erected the court all around the [k]tabernacle and the altar, and [l]hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work.

Thoughts on the Passage
In verses 17 to 29 of this passage, we see Moses overseeing the actual assembly of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings.  Then we come to the last piece, the wash basin or lave in verse 30.  He placed it in its rightful spot and poured water into it “for washing”.

Whenever Moses, Aaron, or Aaron’s sons entered the Tent of Meeting or when they approached the altar, they had to wash their hands and feet just as God had commanded Moses. Guzik says this phrase (as God had commanded) is repeated over and over again in Exodus. Obedience is central to doing the will of God and to serving Him effectively. Every command from God requires obedience, not just those we feel like complying with.  He quotes Morgan, who writes,

“It reminds us that Divine Work must always be done according to the Divine pattern, and most strictly in the Divine way. The truth is so self-evident, that it would seem needless to stress it. Yet a perpetual temptation to the mind of man is to endeavor to improve upon a Divine plan.” 

That is often our problem in the church. We try to improve on God’s way of doing things. We think we know better as to what today’s society needs. [We believe we have an in on what teenagers need to stay in the church. And we’ve often been wrong. For example, teenagers today are not telling us we have to have a certain type of music or speak the way they speak. No, instead they tell us they want each of us to be genuine and stop being hypocrites.]

The passage also indicates that priests could not properly perform their duties without this ritual cleansing which indicates that God wants service from pure hands and feet. And though Moses was not properly a priest, Psalm 99:6 tells us that God numbered him among His priests, and Matthew Henry says “the Jewish writers call him ‘the priest of the priests’ [for] what he did he did by special warrant and direction from God, rather as a prophet, or law-giver than as a priest. He set the wheels a-going, and then left the work in the hands of the appointed ministry.” Maybe some elders on church boards need to take a lesson from Moses – he gave the instructions God gave him to well-selected individuals like Bezalel and then let them do their job, and afterward, he inspected it. He had confidence in those that were selected, and he did not get in the way of the actual work.

And then we come to the last verse of this passage or section of Chapter 40 – verse 33. Here we are told that after Moses raised up the court all around the Tabernacle and the altar, and after he hung up the screen of the court gate, we read, “So Moses finished the work.”

What a great feeling that must have been knowing that he had finished the work that God gave him to do. And little did he know at the time, that this Tabernacle he had built to God’s specifications would have such incredible symbolic meaning in the future when describing the work of our High Priest, Jesus Christ. Guzik writes,

“Hebrews 9:23-24 tells us that at some point in time (after the cross), Jesus entered the heavenly reality represented on earth by the Tabernacle, and appeared in the presence of God to offer a perfect atonement for our sins. Therefore, every time before this event, when the High Priest made atonement in the earthly tabernacle, it was “play acting” – and looking forward to – the perfect atonement the Son of God would offer.”

Matthew Henry says we should note that while the Israelites were hoping they were awfully close to the Promised Land, they did not say, (my words) “hey, let’s wait to set this thing up when we get there, since we’re so close and we don’t want to take a chance of anything breaking now”. No, they wanted to obey God in every instruction. So, set it up now they did. The lesson for us being, obey God today, worship Him today – don’t wait for what we think is a perfect time, a perfect setting.
Henry also notes that not only did Moses follow all the instructions, he followed them in the precise order that God wanted him to. We often try to get ahead of God’s pattern for us by doing some of the easier or more exciting things first, leaving the hard things for later. If so, we fail to grasp the fact that the Master Designer had a reason for the order that He gave us. I am reminded of building model airplanes as a child. Many times, I did things out of the order prescribed, only to find out why that wasn’t a good idea later on. But the glue was dry.  It also happens when putting together “assembly required” furniture (like that one buys from IKEA). Don’t follow the instructions and be prepared to undo all you have done to start again. That’s the way it is with God’s pattern for your life – obey each step, obey them in order, and them at the right time.

In verse 29 we read that the altar of the burnt-offering was set up and then there’s a reference to actual offerings (the burnt offering and the meal offering) taking place right there and then at the time the altar was set up. The commentators are not in agreement as to when that actually took place with some thinking it was done some time afterward. Henry thinks “he immediately began the ceremony of [the offering’s] consecration, though it was not completed for seven days.”

The argument that it did occur right away is supported by what we read in the next two verses regarding the laver. In verse 31, we are told that Moses and Aaron and the priests washed their hands and feet and that immediately follows the placed of the laver or wash basin in verse 30. So there appears to be a precedent there for do things immediately once the furnishings required were in place. However, linguistically as I read it, it can go either way.

If Henry is right, then this is an indication that when God gives us talents, we are to use them right away, but as prescribed by God.

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