3. God?

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 3. God?

Ex 20:1,2    And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Pause Up: We have just spent two studies setting the context for understanding and seeing how these Ten Commandments came into being but before we actually move on to consider the first of the ten commands we need to focus again on these two introductory verses because it is so easy to take words for granted and thus miss the amazing claims being made.

We have already observed the fact that the Bible record here in these verses shows us a God who communicates with us – and if you are a Jew or Christian you take that for granted, but in some other world religions they have gods or idols who stay silent and offer nothing to their adherents. But here in the Biblical record we have a God who made this world and who interacts with this world and speaks to individuals in this world. Before we move on to see God’s description of Himself in these verses, I want us to ponder on just how much revelation about God had been given as we see it in the first two books of the Bible. How, at least from the Bible, did they come to know God, what does the text tell us about Him?

Origins: We perhaps need to ponder on just how the Bible came to be written, how these two books came into being. I am going to take the view that traditional academics and scholars through most of the last few thousand years (excluding the effects of liberal German so-called theologians of the late nineteenth century) and suggest that initially history was passed on by word of mouth. But that is probably only part of the picture. It is thought by traditional scholars that Genesis was written by Moses and was likely to be a combination of that passed on by word of mouth and that communicated to him by the Lord in the Tabernacle over the forty years of Israel’s wanderings in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. It is for this reason that we find the use of LORD in capital letters in Genesis although the proper origin of it doesn’t appear until the third chapter of Exodus, which we’ll consider shortly.

But of course before the word was written down on scrolls by Moses, while it was still in word-of-mouth form, we need to ask what was known of God by the experience of those who had encounters with Him as recorded in Genesis. In the Garden of Eden there seems to be what is called a theophany, God appearing in human form to be able to communicate with Adam and Eve. In the periods following that we just don’t know how God communicated and interacted with the likes of Cain, Noah, etc. and perhaps it is only when we come to a much longer record of His interaction with Abram that we can really start to make some reasonable assumptions about the sort of ‘Being’ we dealing with. Here are some of those:

The Patriarchs: In Genesis. Watching the interaction between God and Abram, (who later is renamed Abraham), Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, I want to suggest we see:

  • A God who is Creator of all things.
  • A God who thus sees and knows and understands everything there is to know about us.
  • A God who has a purpose for the earth which stretches far into the future.
  • A God who reveals Himself to mankind very gradually.
  • A God who persists with our slowness to understand, yet works to mature us.
  • A God who can intervene in His material world and bring what we call ‘miraculous’ changes.
  • A God who knows the future and plans and purposes through His people to enable them to cope with it.
  • A God who works for the good of mankind and to draw mankind back to Him after the Fall.

Moses: When we come to the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and the life of Moses and the embryonic Israel, I suggest we see the following:

  • A God who is all-powerful and can deal with arrogant despots and superstitious, occult-following nations.
  • A God of revelation who wishes to impart His plans and purposes to those who will listen.
  • A God who planned to bring a unique nation into being to reveal Himself to the world.
  • A God who has designed this world and knows best how mankind can ‘work’ and who works to convey that to us and to present standards to be followed, which if they are not, result in self-destruction.
  • A God who will discipline to bring correction and under dire circumstances will bring judgment on some to save His world for the others.

These latter things in Exodus are, of course, only just starting to become obvious at the time of the giving of the Law. Nevertheless the Lord has already communicated various things about Himself to Moses at the burning bush (see Ex 3)

Origin of LORD: In our starter verses there is no printing mistake in the capitalising of the word LORD when He says, “I am the LORD your God.”  To see why that is like that there you need to go back to Ex 3 where God first contacts Moses and describes Himself. First of all He says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6) In other words, I am the God you have been told about who has had dealings with your patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is a continuity of history even at this stage.

But then, after Moses had asked His name, who he should tell the Israelites had sent him, He went on to say, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14) These things are repeated in the following verses and in your Bible there is a footnote that “the word for LORD (in capital letters) sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14.” Therefore, from then on, when God’s ‘name’ is used it is always in this form and may be taken as “The I AM” or, ‘the eternal one’, if you like. Verse 15 links the earlier v.6 with that later reference in verse 14. God identifies Himself not only as ‘the eternal one’, the one outside history, but also the God of the patriarchs, the God who has had dealings with men. He is the God who works outside of time AND into time-space history. So the ‘name’ from there on, that is printed, ‘LORD’, always conveys this sense – the Eternal One, the I AM, the One who always is.

Back to Abraham: We have just been suggesting that God reveals Himself, first to the Patriarchs of what became Israel, and then to Moses and then to all of the new nation of Israel. As an aside, there are some suggestions that He had already revealed himself to others. Studies of ancient Chinese suggest that they knew of this creator God who had the same characteristics as revealed to Israel.

But back in the Bible, earlier in Genesis, when Abram had just rescued Lot, we find the king of Jerusalem (otherwise known as Salem) came to him: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Gen 14:18-20) Note that he describes God as “Creator of heaven and earth”. There is clearly prior revelation here about the Lord, a unique being who is greater than anything or anyone else we can comprehend, who is the originator of everything we know in material and spiritual existence. THIS is the God we are introduced to in the Bible. We will consider some more of just who He is as we start to properly consider the first commandment in the next study.

Application: May I suggest we pray something like, “Lord God, you who are Creator of all things, we bow before you and worship you. Thank you that you have gradually revealed much about yourself through your word. Thank you that you know us, love us, and call us to yourself, just like you did with Abram. Thank you that you have plans and purposes for us that are good. Thank you that you understand that we are but like little children and are often slow to learn, but you love us, accept us as we are, and persevere with us. Thank you for this wonderful accepting and understanding love. Amen.”

Snapshots: Day 86

Snapshots: Day 86

The Snapshot: “it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.” (Lev 1:4) How can killing a cow or a sheep make atonement, and what does atonement mean and do I need it? Some have suggested at-one-ment i.e. being made one with God again after a division caused by my sin. Synonyms are ‘compensation, amends, punishment’. This animal will be accepted by God to make up for my sins? However I see it, it is God saying by doing this one thing, I can take it that He accepts me back. But I feel bad about this animal dying for me? Accept it, it’s just a picture of what my Son will do for you one day. Your action will indicate your repentance and your obedience; that is enough, that is what this is all about.

Further Consideration: As we continue our slow progress through the Bible, the great temptation is to omit Leviticus because it seems at first sight to be so obscure in the light of today’s world – and messy. Yet we need to remember this was part of the Law given to Moses by God for Israel at that time and acted as part of the foundation of their lives as a godly community.  Some of the Law was about the priesthood but that was partly to support the expressions of activity laid out in the early chapters of Leviticus that we may summarise as ways of getting right with God after personal failure.

Living in a world as we do, where personal failure is simply something we quickly cover up but fail to deal with properly (so guilt remains and a vulnerability to repetition), it is difficult to grasp the simplicity of purpose found in the early chapters of Leviticus.

Our tendency is to avoid talking about our failures and pretending they didn’t happen, or to make excuses for them. God’s method is to openly confront them, not to leave us feeling guilty failures but to be left with a sense of resolution, that the failure (sin) has been properly dealt with before Him and so we will not have a constant feeling that He may yet be coming after us for it. The Bible is the best counselor on the planet. Instead of months of costly therapy, God declares the way to deal with guilt. For the embryonic nation of Israel it was to bring an offering, a sacrifice to the Tabernacle and to kill it before the priest. The shock of taking a life would impact the person offering it and convey a sense of the awfulness of sin but would leave them with the memory of an experience they had been through that left them clean and their sin dealt with before God so there would be no further likelihood of repercussions because of it.

Today you and I trust that Jesus is our sacrifice, when he died on the Cross and so when we “confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

19. Challenge

Short Meditations in John 7:  19.  Challenge

Jn 7:19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”  

I don’t know if you have ever thought this about Jesus but he is unpredictable. If you were writing a fictional account (and this isn’t fiction!) about a man called Jesus, you might create a steady flow in the narrative like any good writer does, but when we come to this verse, my initial response was, “I didn’t see that coming!” Why do I say that? Because it is quite confrontational. There is a direct challenge in it and then a confrontational question.

First the direct challenge: “not one of you keeps the law.” Now today with some insight aided by hindsight, we might with the apostle Paul accept that it is impossible, of ourselves, to perfectly keep the Law (see Rom 7), but Jesus was speaking into a society that was grounded in the Law. The temple authorities would have maintained that they kept the law and the Pharisees prided themselves that they were the keepers of the law.

To challenge them (with the truth) by saying that none of them kept the law, was about as confrontational as it gets! They no doubt would have defensively started of thinking of specific ways they did keep parts of the law at least, but Jesus is speaking about something much more fundamental than keeping individual laws, he will be challenging them about their distorted values, as we will see when we move on.

Second, the confrontational question: “Why are you trying to kill me?” That cuts right across the flow, it seems at first sight, and puts the ball right in their court. But does it cut across the flow? Consider. From v.16 on Jesus has been making the point that he has come from God – at the very least that he has been sent by God – and his  words and teaching and healings prove that.

Also he knows that there have been murmurings and that the authorities were against him (v.11,13) and, even more that they wanted to kill him (see 7:1) which had started much earlier (see 5:18) and even the crowd knew this (see later 7:25) so Jesus will make this challenge again (see 8:37,40). However the point he seems to make now, in the face of all this, is, if I am from God why should you try and kill me? You kill God’s ambassador? Indeed Jesus actually told a parable that highlighted this (see Mt 21:33-41) and challenged Jerusalem over its history of killing God’s servants (see Mt 23:37, Lk 11:48), and so in fact this present challenge comes perfectly in line with the events that were forming around him and his wider teaching that challenged the lack of ethics in the authorities.

2. About Blessing

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 2. About Blessing

Psa 1:1-3 (ESV) Blessed is the man who(se) ….  delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Blessing: There is a difference between blessing and blessed. The first is an action, the second is a state. We see blessing first of all in the life of Esau when he blesses Jacob, thinking he is Esau (Gen 27:27-29), a prophetic declaration that cannot be repeated because it was inspired and has its origin in heaven. Jacob later learned this as we see when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:13-20) with a prophetic declaration that put the younger before the older. So blessing is an act of prophecy, declaring the good that heaven decrees.

Blessed: But then there is ‘blessed’ which is a state of being, a life with the goodness of God being worked out in it. For the Old Testament people of God the Law decreed a number of ‘blessings’ for obedience to God: “All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deut 28:2) – sorts of blessing – in city & in country (v.3), fruit of womb including livestock (v.4), cooking (v.5), coming and going (v.6), victory over enemies (v.7), on your work (v.8).  In the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus declaring in the kingdom of God who will be blessed: Blessed are the poor in spirit …” (Mt 5:3) those who mourn (v.4), the meek (v.5), those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v.6), merciful (v.7), pure in heart (v.8), peacemakers (v.9), when persecuted because of righteousness (v.10) and then he declares with each one how they will be blessed: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3) …they will be comforted (v.4)…they will inherit the earth (v.5) …. they will be filled (v.6)…they will be shown mercy (v.7)…they will see God (v.8)…they will be called children of God (v.9)….for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v.10).

It is God! So we have all these ways that the child of God can be blessed but here is the thing, all of these things are because God has acted on our behalf. That is seen particularly in the Deuteronomy verses where it is seen as specific acts of God for good for God’s people. In the New Testament, the blessings come from being the children of God, saved by the work of Jesus on the Cross (as becomes clear later in the book).  Because I think we take these things so much for granted, we need to repeat what this is all about: in the Old Testament it is a state of being that is good because God is doing something to make it good. In the New Testament, for the church, it is God doing good within the individual by the presence of His Holy Spirt to turn apparent weakness into spiritual strength, it is God changing us.

Again, I believe this is something many fail to comprehend, that this is God working for us, God doing things for us, God changing things for us. The simplest illustration of this comes in the simple words in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament: “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant.” (Gen 39:2-4) and later, “while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.” (Gen 39:20-22). It is probable this ‘favour’ came in the form of wisdom and insight received by Joseph from the Lord, and also the Lord speaking to first Joseph’s slave master and then his prison warder. But in each case we see specific good coming because of God acting.

Relationship: By why all these long preliminaries for considering the opening verses of Psalm 1? It is because we are so often tempted to think in mechanical terms: “If I do this, then that will happen.” However, it doesn’t work like that in the kingdom of heaven, it is all about relationship with God. The people of Israel fell into this way of thinking again and again: “As long as I perform the things the Law says, it doesn’t matter what else I do.” ”For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways…. and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? ….Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” (Isa 58:2,3) i.e. they were appearing very spiritual but at the same time being very unrighteous. Spirituality does not cancel out unrighteousness.

Thus we should never take these opening words of Psa 1 as ‘magic’, for they are to spring out of love for God, not be used to earn the love of God. There is a danger for those of us who can say we love the word of God that we elevate it almost superstitiously while not attending to all other areas of our lives. I have watched others (and I am sure I have been the same in the past), leaders who are great men with great knowledge of the word and yet certain character flaws were very obvious. It should not be so.

Outworkings: So as long as we put these verses in the context of them being expressions of our genuine love for God, we may indeed expect the things these verses say. We may indeed expect our lives to be, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Our delight in His word and our meditating upon it, will be a resource that continually feeds us, enables us to grow and, at the appropriate times, bring forth fruit, while at the same time enabling us to remain bright and strong – not withering. I suspect our times of stress, strain, over-weariness, exhaustion etc. come when we do not pause up, spend time with Him, or slowly meditate and feed on His word, so our resources are being run down and not replenished. We all do it sometime!

It is all about relationship, the divine will of God for us and our response to Him. As we live out our Christian lives seeking Him, seeking His word and therefore His will revealed through it, and then live it, then we may expect that ultimate truth to be fulfilled: “In all that he does, he prospers.”  Contrary to the prosperity false teacher, prospering does not always mean financially. It can mean that but actually it is bigger than just money (as good as that may be!). To prosper means to flourish, to grow, to thrive. I love those verses at the end of Psalm 92: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) The word of God will help us be these sort of people, but it is the life of the Lord flowing in us that enables us to be like this.  As we delight in Him and in His word, so His life will flow in us, always to release the testimony above, and often to extend into our physical wellbeing as well. So, yes, let’s delight in His word as we delight in Him, and let’s let it have effect in our lives in all the ways we have considered earlier in this study.

1. Observing the Law

(We’re going to have a two week break from the Aspiring series, but we will be back. For two weeks we’re going to pick up on the short meditations in John’s Gospel we’ve started before)

Short Meditations in John 5:  1. Observing the Law

Jn 5:1  Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast

It was an interesting thing about Jesus that although he spoke about bringing freedom he acted out the life of a good Jew and obeyed the Law of Moses. We aren’t told which ‘feast’ this was that Jesus attended in Jerusalem but it must have been one of the three pilgrimage feasts to which all Jewish males were expected to attend – Passover, Pentecost or Tabernacles: “Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Deut 16:16)

Jesus came from heaven to live in this God-revealing culture and so he went along with the Law which, after all, God had instigated for this people, and each aspect of it drew the Jew back into an awareness of God and of their relationship with Him. Jesus reinforced that by attending these feasts. John mentions Jesus going up to Passover at least 3 times: 2:13,23 / 6:4 / 11:55, 12:1 and also the feast of Tabernacles (7:2) and the Feast of Dedication (10:22). It has been suggested that his ability to go up to so many feasts indicates he has a wealthy background, for poor people could rarely afford to make such a pilgrimage. Perhaps the ‘inheritance’ of the three wise men (Mt 2) still provides for him or provided for Joseph to build a successful business. Real possibilities.

Now we might be skeptical about ‘keeping the Law’ (and we’ll see this in later studies) but it is an expression of God’s desire for the way His people, back in those days, should live their lives. Much of it cannot apply to us today, but nevertheless in the New Testament we find many instructions that we should heed which are tantamount to ‘laws’. We aren’t saved by them but we are saved to keep them, because they are God’s desires for the way we live our lives today.

The other thing to be remembered is that these acts of following the Law by Jesus led him to places and circumstances that just gave him further opportunity to reveal the Father and His love. This feast is going to mean that Jesus will be in Jerusalem again and there he will find a needy person and he is going to bless that person and thus reveal God’s love. This particular healing is going to add a further dimension to the things we have seen so far about Jesus that are revealed in the context of the healing.

Later on, Jerusalem would become a place of threat and eventual death for Jesus but for now, before the threat builds, Jesus takes the opportunity of being there to reveal something of the glory of God yet again.

11. Joshua (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 11.  Joshua (1)

Josh 1:5-9   I will never leave you nor forsake you…. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

It would almost do a disservice to Joshua to take just one verse. In these verses three times Joshua is told by the Lord to be strong and courageous, twice he is told to carefully hold on to the Law that came through Moses, twice he is told he will be successful if he does these things, and twice the Lord has declared He will be with him and will never leave him, wherever he goes. These verses are a package of reassurance for Joshua and they follow another highlight, I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” (v.3)

Moses, on the Plains of Moab before he departed had declared, “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow–to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him– then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours.” (Deut 11:22-24) There were some of those same components – holding fast to the Law will mean God will be with them to drive out their enemies before them. From right back at the burning bush, nearly forty years before, the Lord had promised Moses this land: “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites.” (Ex 3:8) This had been repeated in Ex 3:17, 6:4,8, 12:25, 13:5,11, 20:12, 23:23,28-31, 32:13, 33:1,2, 34:11,12,15,24.  Oh yes, the promise of the Land had been constantly there.

But how would obeying the Law help Joshua and his army as they entered the land and drove the inhabitants out? Many of the laws were surely about living out community and that had not yet been established? The answer, I suggest, is that Joshua meditating daily upon the laws meant that his heart would be turned to the Lord the whole time he advanced into the land. He would be encouraged to do this as he was made aware of two things: first, that the Lord was with him the whole time, and second, doing this would ensure success in the whole enterprise.

Why have I suggested that these are ‘highlight verses’?  It is because they show a threefold strategy that is there for bringing about success. First, they have been reminded that they are fulfilling a goal that the Lord has spoken about and promised many times over the past forty years. This activity this founded on the Lord’s promises. Second it is a strategy that is guaranteed because the Lord Himself was there in the midst of it. He had previously promised a number of times that He would drive out the inhabitants (but that was largely predicated on the corresponding activity of Israel). Third, there is a human part to be played and that requires three things: i) a firm faithfulness, holding to the Law and to the Lord, ii) a requirement to be courageous, and that involves an act of will and iii) their activity as warriors going in to clear the Land.

So how do these things impact our lives today? How are they relevant for the way we live out our lives, day by day? Well, following the order above,

  • first, we have the confidence to be who we are and do what we do because we have the promises of God in His word, especially in the New Testament, and we can rely on those promises, e.g. that we are forgiven, we are redeemed, we are adopted as children of God, we now come under His protection and receive His provision. These are all promises of His word,
  • second, He is with us and indwells us by His own Holy Spirit. Wherever we go we have that same assurance that Joshua had which has been carried into the New Testament, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:3),
  • third, as we play our part so we will observe fruitfulness, things coming about as a result of His blessing on our lives and activity.

This last part, again following what we said above, has three parts. We have three things to do as we play our part:

  1. i) We hold firmly to His word: we need to be strengthened as we read His word, study His word, meditate upon His word, being encouraged by His testimony of what He and Jesus have done, and learning the principles by which He works and the teaching He lays before us for us to follow. i.e. we constantly seek His will.
  2. ii) we determine to remain courageous, and that will involve an act of will that says, ‘I will remain faithful and true, I will persevere in the face of adversity and I will receive from Him His grace to overcome on a daily basis.

iii) we see ourselves as warriors in a spiritual battle so we resist lies and doubts and temptations from the enemy, and we fight with the weapons of truth, of righteousness, of worship and of prayer, being led at all times by the Spirit.

In these ways we walk parallel to Joshua and his army. He had a physical land to overcome, we have a spiritual ‘land’ – our lives. He had to drive out physical enemies, we have to deny spiritual enemies their hold on our lives – doubts, dismay, dejection, pride, arrogance, self-conceit, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, the list is long and is there in the New Testament. Physical or spiritual, the strategy was essentially the same. Do read through again the things in the above paragraphs that you may be clear on the issues, clear on the goals, clear on the methods and set your compass accordingly. Be blessed warriors of God!

38. The Old Order

Meditations in Hebrews 9:     38. The Old Order

Heb 9:1   Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary

Tabernacle Ministry: Our writer goes on to compare what went on in the earthly tabernacle (the earthly sanctuary) with what goes on in the heavenly one. In the earthly one the high priest carried out the ‘regulations for worship’ which comprised instructions for sacrifices and offerings. That was what the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was all about. He reminds us that it was set up with a lamp-stand, a table and consecrated bread in the first room, the Holy Place (v.2) Then behind the curtain was the curtained off area called the Most Holy Place in which were the golden altar and the ark which contained a jar of manna, Aaron’s staff and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. (v.3,4) Above the ark were the cherubim but, he says, “we cannot discuss these things in detail now,” (v.5) so we likewise will simply move on.

He then reminds us that “the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry, but only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (v.6,7) So, two rooms, the inner one only being entered once a year by the high priest, ad the outer one where daily service to God was provided.

He explains, “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” (v.8) i.e. there wasn’t general access to that inner room and to God’s presence as long as that Tabernacle or Temple service continued under the Law. But then he shows its further limitations: “This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” (v.9,10) i.e. the priests and the people did these things because they were told to, but they still felt guilty. Their obedience to the Law was good but it still didn’t leave them with any understanding that in fact justice had been done and punishment taken for their wrongs –  apart from by the animals they sacrificed. It DID provide a means of providing an obedient response to God showing the heart had turned but it DIDN’T appease their conscience. That was the old system, the old order, purely external things until the new order came and showed the reality.

Christ’s work: He then turns to what Christ has done: “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, (or ‘are to come’) he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.” (v.11) We have to wait until later on when he explains, “Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (v.24)  Christ’s activity on our behalf was acted out here on earth (although I don’t think ‘acted out’ is a good description of his dying on the Cross!) but the reality of it and what it achieved was brought about in heaven.  Then comes the key verse: “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (v.12)

‘The Blood’: For the new believer, references to “Christ’s blood” may seem strange but it is simply shorthand for “his death on the Cross for our sins”. Having said that, ‘blood’ was a key feature of the sacrificial system or, to be more precise, shedding it by killing the animal, and scripture declares that “the life of a creature is in the blood.” (Lev 17:11 and a number of other verses). We know that when our heart stops pumping blood around our system, life ceases. Remove the blood and you remove the life; it was that simple.

The Impact of a Sacrifice: Without doubt the sacrificial system was horrible, the taking an animal into the Tabernacle or Temple, placing your hand on its head and then having its throat cut so that the blood poured out so you could literally see the life ebbing away out of this creature, but I am certain that people would realise the seriousness of sin in a much greater way than any of us do today. Once you had done it once, you would resolve not to sin and have to do it again! (In comparison to modern Western societies it would certainly be almost crimeless!)

Christ the Offering: He explains that the sinner who was sprinkled with blood under some of these rites would be declared ceremonially clean and if that was so, how much more would Christ’s death on the Cross, “who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (v.14)  That is rather a heavy verse we had better delve into.

“How much more, then.”  If the old order was able to declare a person ceremonially clean how much more can a ritual involving the Son of God.

“will the blood of Christ.” i.e. his death on the Cross.

“who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God.” This was God himself, the One who is Spirit, who died, perfect without sin.

 “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.” i.e. our sinful acts are dealt with, acts that lead to spiritual death.

 “so that we may serve the living God!” The end outcome of Christ’s death is that we are left knowing we have done what God laid on for us, i.e. accepted HIS way of salvation, and knowing that justice has been served and our sins properly dealt with.

Us Today? The next verses are also information-packed so we’ll leave them to the next study. Today we may be grateful that we do not have to trek miles to a place where we are required to take an animal to be put to death. Today – and it is almost too easy and therein there is a danger that we become casual about it – we simply turn to God in prayer, confess our sins and declare our acceptance of Jesus as our Saviour and are forgiven and cleansed immediately.

The old was making a primitive people aware of the seriousness of Sin as far as God and people are concerned. The fact that we do not have to follow through those rituals should not make us casual. Perhaps that is the main reason the writer to the Hebrews spells it out as he does; it is another of his warning-encouragements that he keeps on bringing to encourage us to stay on track. Being reminded and being aware of the seriousness of Sin and the wonder of what Christ has done for us, should truly be a motivating factor to keep us in the Faith. Amen? Amen!

6. Moses the Lawgiver

Meditations on “The Big Picture”  6. Moses the Lawgiver

Ex 19:3    Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:

A number of these milestones or steps along the way in the history within the Bible, are in fact people. Yes, we have seen Abraham the father of faith and father of Israel, and we have seen Israel himself, a schemer turned man-of-God. We have also seen some of these steps as events – the Creation, the Fall, the Passover, but now we have to pause up and consider another man and a feature of Israel’s life that was fundamental in the Old Testament period. Moses’ name occurs 847 times in the Bible and so often it is linked the ‘the Law’. Now I know from experience when I used to teach ‘Law’ that many of us are fearful about ‘laws’ and think they are difficult to understand and so we shy away from the very thought of them. The word ‘law’ occurs 467 times in the Bible and ‘laws’ another 113 times. I simply mention that because it is quite a lot in a history book, especially when you consider the word ‘grace’ only appears 131 times.

Let’s try and summarise Moses’ early days. He had a fairly spectacular time as a baby (see Ex 1 & 2) being born into a slave nation within Egypt at a time when the Pharaoh (king) of the land had decreed that in order to cut down on the growth of this Hebrew people, every baby boy was to be killed at birth. However Moses survives and is brought up as a Prince of Egypt until, when he was forty, he intervenes in the affairs of the nation and has to flee the land (see Ex 2:11-15) and ends up in Midian where for the next forty years he is a shepherd (see Ex 2:16-22). At the end of that period Moses has an encounter with God (see Ex 3 & 4) in which the Lord calls him to lead Israel and deliver them from Egypt – hence the Exodus and the Passover that we have already considered. This is obviously Mount Sinai (see Ex 3:12) for the Lord promises that Moses will bring the people out and they will worship Him there.

Of course all this comes about and by Ex 19 we find Moses and Israel back at Mount Sinai where the Lord reveals Himself on the mountain and we see, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex 24:9-11) This was a unique occasion where 74 people had a privileged encounter with the Lord and were not destroyed. If you read Ex 19 on you will see that Moses goes up and down the mountain to the Lord a number of times and it is on the mountain that he is first given the Ten Commandments (see Ex 20:1-17) and then a number of other laws for the ongoing life of Israel (see Ex 21:1 – 23:19)

As I wrote in an earlier series of meditations on The Law, God gave these Ten Commandments because the first four match reality and anything less degenerates into pagan superstition and fear, and the latter six bring peace, order and stability to society. They are, therefore, applicable to any society in the world. When it comes to the laws of Ex 21- these were clearly for Israel and only Israel. There have been those who have tried to apply them to other societies in history but the truth is that they were spoken expressly to Israel and were applied to their circumstances. This was a new nation but most importantly it was a nation under God, founded by God to be a light to the Gentiles. Now we may certainly observe the nature of these laws and learn from them but they are, first and foremost laws for Israel. As with the Ten Commandments, these remaining laws are designed to bring peace, order and stability to society.

It would appear that other laws, e.g. in Leviticus & Numbers, were spoken directly to Moses by God in the Tent of Meeting (see Lev 1:1, Num 1:1) in the early months after the main encounter at Sinai. The Laws of Deuteronomy are those thus received and reiterated by Moses just before Israel entered the Promised Land. In Lev 1-7  we find a completely different set of laws, all about offerings, and the easiest way to summarise these is to say they were given by God to Israel, recognising that from time to time they would get it wrong and there needed to be a way of coming back to God and these sacrificial laws allowed for that.

There are also additional laws in the Pentateuch, given by God to Moses. An example would be those in Lev 11, obviously given to help Israel constantly remember they are a special people. That may be a main reason that they are given these rules about what food they may eat and what they may not eat, reminding them as to who they are – a people called by God into relationship with Him to be a light to the rest of the world. This chapter covers animals on the land (11:1-8) sea creatures (11:9-12), birds of the air (11:13-19), insects (11:20-23), dead creatures (11:24-28) etc.

Now when we come into the New Testament we find that Jesus taught, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17) That must apply to the Levitical laws first of all, where a sacrifice dealt with sins, but also if you live in the love of the Son, you will be bringing  peace, order and stability to your life and into the world around you; thus Jesus fulfils the intent of those laws for society we have noted in Ex 21-23

A big distinction is made in the New Testament between Law and Grace because the legalistic Jews, e.g. the Pharisees especially, maintained that keeping the Law was the means of getting right with God. The apostle Paul, for example showed (e.g. Rom 7) that we are never able of ourselves to perfectly keep all the rules and it is only by the power of the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8) and the work of Christ on the Cross that enables us to have a real and meaningful relationship with God. The Law, teaches Paul, was to show the way but also show us that we need God’s grace for of ourselves we are incapable of keeping it perfectly (see Gal 3:24). Also, all of his teaching about faith being at the heart of salvation means that trying to keep the Law, following rules and subsequently failing, is not a faith act but a failure act. Some of his basic teaching: All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” (Gal 3:10,11)  We will deal with Grace more fully in a later study.

54. Saul’s Folly

Meditations in 1 Samuel  54. Saul’s folly

1 Sam 28:5-7     When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” “There is one in Endor,” they said.

Before we come to Saul’s final closing act we have to consider something that happened that had a variety of strange elements to it. It is the going of Saul to the witch of Endor. First of all let’s observe the circumstances that apparently drove Saul to take this foolish action. The Philistines turned up in force but as the Lord is no longer with him Saul is filled with fear. Yes, in his desperation  he does enquire of the Lord but the Lord does not answer. The Lord is waiting for repentance and in its absence He says nothing. Now Saul has this urge to get some encouragement – from somewhere!

The prophet Isaiah was later to address this sort of situation and declared, When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (Isa 8:19,20) Don’t consult deceiving mediums but instead turn to the Law of God and the testimony that we have of the Lord’s dealings with His people that teaches us all we need to know. Inquire of God! That sums up God’s will in respect of consulting fortune tellers etc.

Saul asks his men for a medium and they send him to Endor. “So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.” (28:8) Although disguised he is quite open about his wishes. She is more guarded: “But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?” (28:9) That must have been because of the influence of Samuel. But Saul reassures her, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.” (v.10) and then comes the crunch: “Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”  “Bring up Samuel,” he said.” (v.11)

Now when you think about this, what is Saul expecting? A few words of comfort? That Samuel will speak differently to him, that Samuel will be easy going on him, that Samuel will forget God’s instruction to get rid of mediums and so put up with Saul’s further disobedience?  Well here is where it really starts getting freaky; the woman goes in to her act but then it all goes wrong, it really does appear to be Samuel: “When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” (v.12)

The fact that she responds like this means that she wasn’t really expecting this to happen and it scares her. Saul cries to her to be clearer: “The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.” “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” (v.13,14) The only other time in the Bible when someone appears to come back from the dead is on the Mount of Transfiguration where Moses & Elijah appear (see Mt 17) – and of course when Jesus rose from the dead – and so this is not something you can expect to happen, and the medium certainly didn’t, but God in His grace (?) allowed Samuel to speak to Saul one more time: “Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors–to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.” (v.16-19)

You can’t get any clearer than that for a rebuke. You’ve lost the kingdom to David and you are going to die tomorrow. That basically is the end of it. You can read yourself the further few details before Saul goes back home. But that’s it.

Today mediums and those in the occult foolishly try to use this passage to support what they do but they always forget that first, behind this passage was the Law of Moses which forbade such things, which Samuel had complied with, and then the actions of this so-called medium indicate that what happened – the reality of it being Samuel – was completely unexpected; this was a unique incident in the Bible. Normally it never happened!

If you are not sure about the verses about mediums, here are some:

  • “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19:31),
  • “`I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people.” (Lev 20:6),
  • “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death.” (Lev 20:27),
  • “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD”  (Deut 18:10-12) It is quite clear. Stay away!

15. Justice, signpost to God

Meditations in Meaning & Values  15:  Justice, a Signpost to God

Eccles 3:16,17    And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment–wickedness was there, in the place of justice–wickedness was there. I thought in my heart, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked,

In the previous meditation we imagined a man who woke from a lifetime of sleep with no knowledge of this world but a capable mind, and pondered on the clue of his own rational mind in a search for meaning.  As we have said a number of times, we simply take these things for granted and the closed-mind evolutionist refuses to think about them because they are uncomfortable for his cause.

But here Solomon comes up with another concept that we take so much for granted and yet is something that distinguishes us and separates us off from all other known living creatures, and it is the concept of justice. It emerges early in life when one child complains to their parent about the way they are being treated and says, “It’s not fair; Mary has got more sweets than me,” or “Chris has got a bigger portion of pudding that me, it’s not fair!” In both situations there is an appeal to an imaginary ‘fairness’. One dictionary defines fairness as “the ​quality of ​treating ​people ​equally or in a way that is ​right or ​reasonable.” When it comes to ‘justice’, dictionaries tend to speak about “just behaviour or treatment” which dodges the issue, but sometimes go on to add, “being fair and reasonable” (back to our children again!) So we look up ‘just’ and find, “behaving according to what is morally right and fair.”

So going round in circles, why do we have this almost innate sense of things needing to be ‘right and fair’? Why should animals (if that is all we are) have this sense? People like Richard Dawkins try to explain it away by talk of needing to survive, but people fight for justice at the risk of their own lives, and some have even given their lives for the sake of justice. That is a hollow argument that just doesn’t ring true.

The concept of justice was built into the Law of Moses, for example,Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” (Ex 23:2,3) and Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.” (Ex 23:6,7) and Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Lev 19:15) and Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deut 16:19,20) It was there in the basic law given on Sinai recorded in Exodus, it was there in the added law in Leviticus, and it was there as Moses taught Israel just before they went to enter the Promised Land, in Deuteronomy. It was, positively, an appeal to fairness, an appeal to rightness and, negatively, a cry against showing favouritism or partiality, or bringing false charges or taking bribes to hide the truth.

Solomon had seen injustice – “In the place of judgment–wickedness was there, in the place of justice–wickedness was there,” – and it offended him and, as we have previously noted, still holding an awareness of God (even though not following Him) he declares, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked.”  He still had this sense that God will judge between justice and injustice, between right and wrong, between righteousness and sin. See? We know the distinctions, don’t we! We observe some things and say, “That is wrong!”

With the relativist mind-set so often prevalent in the West in the twenty first century, we fudge things and say you should not judge but it only takes the media to catch a picture of a child on fire or a child dead on a beach and an outcry (rightly) follows. Sometimes it takes something close to us to wake us up and get us shouting for justice. Maybe it is burglars breaking and vandalizing our home while we were away, or maybe it was being mugged in the street. These are the sort of things that have us on the doorstep of the police demanding action. We want justice, we want the perpetrators caught, locked up and punished. It’s not fair that they should do this to me and get away with it.

This is justice which hovers in the background of our consciousness, something that goes beyond mere survival. Something has been built into us that distinguishes between right and wrong. There is no logical reason for a pure animal to react in this way. This is more than a survival instinct as we’ve already noted above, this is something that marks us out in the universe as those who are concerned for our welfare and the welfare of one another, not merely at a survival level but at an even more basic level, of simply wanting “what is right for one another”. This surely is the sign of civilization, this is something that is not just in one or two for in some measure it is in every single one of us from the child demanding more sweets to the holocaust survivor wanting war crimes to be punished.

There can be only one reason we are like this: we are made in the image of God. A number of times in the Bible, God is referred to as a judge and in our verses Solomon says God will bring judgment, meaning a final time of accounting when everyone will have to give account. God knows what is right and what is wrong. In its simplest, right is living according to God’s design. Wrong is going against the design. Each one of us inherently knows when we do wrong and have feelings of guilt. Guilt is simply one of the consequences of wrong doing and justice is bringing balance to the equation to put right a wrong in some way. At that final judgment, our final hope is in Jesus and his work on the Cross. That is the ultimate symbol of justice and will be sole reason we ‘get off’ and are acquitted of our sins – because Jesus has already paid the sentence for our ‘crimes’ against God, our failures, our shortcomings, our sins! Justice has been satisfied. Thank goodness! Thank Jesus!