Snapshots: Day 88

Snapshots: Day 88

The Snapshot: “So he consecrated Aaron … and his sons.” (Lev 8:30) Why priests? Why all these intricate instructions about what they wear and what they do? Perhaps it was to build a bridge between Israel and God, a communication bridge that said, ‘God is holy, and you are not; stay at a distance otherwise you might die. Do not be casual about your relationship with God’. Perhaps it was that there would be those whose lives were to act as constant reminders of this holy God. Perhaps they were to be temporary stand-ins until Jesus came as God’s real priest who drew each of us into his priesthood (joining him in showing that God is holy, acting as reminders of God’s presence in His world, and showing the way to Him. A holy priesthood? (1 Pet 2:9) That is you and me.

Further Consideration: I have, in the snapshot above, suggested that the priesthood acted as a division between God and the people, and I believe that is true, but there is another side to this particular coin: their role was also to bring the people to God. Admittedly the people could not come close, for only the priests could minister in the Holy Place, and the high priest only once a year in the Holiest Place (or Holy of Holies), the innermost room where the presence of God was said to dwell. Nevertheless the role of the priesthood was to teach the Law and be there to oversee the sacrifices, encouraging the people to come to God in the ways stated in the Law.

I have asked the question, why all the intricate instructions about what to wear and what to do? The first simple thought is that having established such paraphernalia, it would be unlikely that anyone else would seek to invade and become part of the priesthood, who were outside the priestly family of Levi. Anyone wearing less than these clothes would never be accepted by the people. Thus the clothes marked them out as special. Similarly all the rules relating to their activities separated them from the ordinary. Summarizing this, these things reinforced or emphasized this barrier / bridge that we have spoken about and made it a very obvious part of the Jewish life and community. It was only in later centuries in the life of Israel was all this diluted so that the priests became worldly in outlook and in Jesus’ time the Sadducees with their limited and liberal theological views held control of the priesthood with a Sadducee eventually judging Jesus.

Now when Peter says we, “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,” (1 Pet 2:9) he reminds us that our lives are holy, reflecting a holy God, but that we are also there to act as His intermediaries in this world. We are to convey the heart and will of God and teach whoever will be taught. What a privilege!

33. Melchizedek?

Meditations in Hebrews 6/7:      33.  Melchizedek?

Heb 6:20, 7:1-2   He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”

We finished the previous study with those words, “He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  and so now arrive at the writer’s explanation of this reference to a high priest who he has already referred to twice (5:6, 5:10) before these present verses.

The Rabbinic style: Because the approach we find here is probably alien to that which most of us are used to, we again need to refer to the rabbinic style of teaching found among Jewish teachers of that day. They used four approaches to handling Scripture. The first was to work on the basis that the text has a literal, plain meaning that the author wants to convey. (that is always our starting point). But second, they would use an approach best described as considering a word, phrase or other element in the text hinting at a truth not conveyed by the plain meaning.  The third approach searches for an allegorical sense within a verse or verses. There was also a fourth approach that involved numerical values of Hebrew letters but that need not concern us here. Bear this in mind in what follows.

Abraham & Melchizedek:  We find the story of Abraham encountering Melchizedek in Gen 14:18-20 and the writer makes the point that he was both a king AND a priest: This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.” (v.1,2) He goes on to explain, “First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” (v.2b) But then the writer uses the hinting-allegorical approaches because that is all we know about Melchizedek and so he interprets that to imply something else, something quite significant: “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” (v.3) In the account we are told nothing of this king-priest’s background, or indeed his end and so in the account at least he appears as a priest without beginning or end, just like Jesus.

But then he picks up on the fact that Abraham gave him a tenth of his goods which is what the Law required for the Levites: “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people–that is, their brothers–even though their brothers are descended from Abraham.” (v.4,5) Note the emphasis – the ‘patriarch Abraham’. Abraham was considered a major character in Israel’s history as a ‘friend of God ‘ (2 Chron 20:7,  Isa 41:8, Jas 2:23) and clearly the father of the nation (Isa 51:2) so he is pointing out his greatness, yet he gave a tithe to Melchizedek: “This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” (v.6)

Strange elements:  So, he concludes, there is something strange in all thatFirst, Abraham was Levi’s great grandfather and so perhaps could be considered an earlier member of the priestly caste, yet he gave the tithe to the other (which he will expand on in a few verses time). Second, Abraham had received all the blessings of God (Gen 12) which would, you might suppose, make him greater but he treats Melchizedek as greater. Third, Melchizedek had blessed Abraham, which seems the wrong way round because, “without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater.” (v.7). Yet, he adds, there is a fourth strange thing: “In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living.” (v.8) and he stretches this rabbinic approach even further: “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.” (v.9,10) i.e. because Abraham is Levi’s great grandfather it is almost like saying the Levitical priesthood paid a tithe to this other priesthood.

(The Message version puts it in an interesting way: Ultimately you could even say that since Levi descended from Abraham, who paid tithes to Melchizedek, when we pay tithes to the priestly tribe of Levi they end up with Melchizedek.”)+

Recap:  Now the argument carries on with even more complexity so I think we’ll stop there and simply recap what is already an unusual line of arguing for us:

  1. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest.
  2. When Abraham met him, Melchizedek blessed him and Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all of his plunder.
  3. If you think of Abraham, as Levi’s great grandfather, it is like he is an early representative of the Levitical priesthood.
  4. The fact that the ‘representative’ of the Levitical priesthood was blessed by the other priest and then gave that other priest a tithe, suggests that the other priest is superior to the representative of the Levitical priesthood.
  5. We know already that the writer has referred to Jesus as a priest after the order of Melchizedek and so we conclude that the writer is making the fairly complex point that Jesus is superior to Abraham.
  6. The question will shortly be asked, why was there a need for another priesthood, and the answer will be that that the Levitical priesthood couldn’t get people into a good place with God, but we’ll wait to the next study to open that up.

Remember, it is all about showing Jesus to be the most superior person in the Jewish culture and history. That is what this is all about.

2. Priest and Prophet?

Gleanings in Jeremiah : 2 :  Priest and Prophet?

Jer 1:1-3   The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the LORD came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

In the first study we noted the overall background of the day in which Jeremiah lived, a day initially of decline and then of restoration but then lapsing into decline again. But what about Jeremiah himself?  Chapter 1 is all about Jeremiah and it is only when we get to chapter 2 that we will see the message the Lord gives to him, so for now we focus on him and what happens to him, how he responds, and what it teaches us.

He is a priest who lived in a small town a couple of miles, it is thought, north east of Jerusalem. It was clearly a town given to the priests earlier in Israel’s history:  And from the tribe of Benjamin they gave them Gibeon, Geba, Anathoth and Almon, together with their pasturelands–four towns. All the towns for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, were thirteen, together with their pasturelands.” (Josh 21:17-19). In Solomon’s day we find the following: “To Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go back to your fields in Anathoth.” (1 Kings 2:26). There is a strong link between the town and the priesthood.

Now there are three things about priests that are worth noting:

  • First, their background – it was hereditary. You were born into a priestly family and if you were a male you became a priest and served in Jerusalem in the Temple.
  • The second thing is their role: it was to bring people to God. They would have been those fully acquainted with the Law of Moses because they would need to know all the various requirements in respect of keeping the rules generally, and specifically of administering the Temple worship and sacrificial rules. It is interesting that the other major prophet running parallel to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, is also a priest (Ezek 1:3). So first and foremost, at least as far as Jeremiah would have been concerned, he was a priest because his family was a priestly family. His future, it would seem, is set. Jerusalem is his work place and will be the focus of his life. Well in that respect, it is true for it is going to feature largely in his life but his ministry is going to take him way beyond the confines and comfort and security of the priesthood.
  • Third, being a priest would mean Jeremiah had a strong support network behind him of the other priests, his family and extended family, and we so often tend to forget this of him. The priests were set apart by the Law and that no doubt made them feel different.

But if you ask people about Jeremiah they will say he is a prophet and prophets are different to priests. Whereas it is said that priests bring people to God, prophets bring God to the people. Priests focus on administering the word of God, the Law, while prophets administer the now word of God, prophecy, words coming directly from God today, for today. An interesting thing about a prophet also being a priest was that the priests were to be cared for and provided for by the community so they did not have to have some other job to earn an income (see, for example Num 18).

But the big thing that marked the prophet out is that they heard God. In the modern church in the body of Christ, we make distinction between the office of prophet (see Eph 4:11) and the more common ‘prophetic person’, the person who exercises a spiritual gift called prophecy (see 1 Cor 12:10). Even though the apostle Paul encourages us to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1 Cor 14:1) the reality is that it is God who puts such desires upon our hearts or simply imparts such a gift to us. I remember once, when I was inputting to a small church not too far away and found a leadership team of four, and three of them were struggling with the fourth. I decided to meet with this man one evening and listen to him. After about an hour of talking I said, “I know what is your problem. You are frustrated. If you talk for an hour with most Christians there is something they do not keep on saying, but I have heard you keep on saying, ‘and the Lord said to me’.”  The man had a strong prophetic gift which neither he nor the others had recognised and so he kept feeling things about their church which were in fact, guidance from God, but he didn’t recognise it and neither did they. As soon as it was brought out into the open, it could be managed and understood. Prophetic people, and certainly prophets, hear God.

It comes as no surprise to us, therefore, that as soon as we reach verse 4 of this first chapter, we read, The word of the LORD came to me.” Prophets hear God’s word and this young priest hears God!  He’s not just a priest. Indeed the content of the ‘word’ makes that doubly clear for he hears the Lord saying, “”Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (v.5) Prophetic gifting is not something that everybody has; it is imparted by the Holy Spirit  When the apostle Paul speaks about this to the Corinthians, he says it is a manifestation of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7) and one gift is given to one person and another gift given to another person. Yes, we can eagerly desire to be used by God empowered by the Spirit, but He is the one who decides who will be what in the body.

In those words in verse 5 the Lord reveals His pre-knowledge, knowledge about it before it happens, and knowing what we will be like; He opens up areas of service for those who will exercise their free will to make themselves available to Him. As we’ll see when we continue tomorrow, we may have queries about that, but the Lord looks past them and knows what he can achieve through us. The big question is, am I available to the Lord for Him to lead me into whatever area of activity or service He may want for me?  For us as Christian believers this pre-knowledge of God still applies – to all of us – for the apostle Paul wrote, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Eph 2:10)   God knew us before we came to Him, and He knows what best ‘fits’ us.

Don’t be limited in your understanding of this. Yes, it can be spiritual gifts and ministries but it may be many other things. Maybe the Lord wants you to be a local or national politician to influence the affairs of the community for good. Maybe He wants you to be an author to bring goodness into the realm of literature. Maybe He wants you to be a scientist to open up further areas of discovery and blessing for the human race. Maybe it’s a social worker who will compassionately care for outcasts. Maybe it’s an office worker who will bring the light and love of God into their office. Maybe it will be to establish a company to provide goods and employment to bless the human race. The list is endless and I hesitate to stop there because you may feel, “well he hasn’t mentioned what I do.” No, and it is impossible to cover every eventuality. All we can say is, are we open to receive the Lord’s guidance, direction, anointing,  empowering and wisdom which may be for what we are doing now or for something completely different from what we are doing at present. Rest in His love and direction. Yes, He sees us, knows us and wants to lead us into what best ‘fits’ us. Hallelujah!

21. Living Stones

Meditations in 1 Peter : 21:  Living Stones

1 Pet 2:4 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The New Testament has two main analogies for the Church – a body and a building. Paul uses both. (There is a third analogy – the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7,8)

Let’s consider first the body: Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom 12:4,5) and “who are many, are one body. (1 Cor 10:17) and “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12;27). The emphasis on the body is the picture that we all contribute to be the expression of Christ as he continues his ministry.

Then there is the building that Peter speaks about here – a spiritual house. In the previous meditation we considered the following: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit,” (Eph 2:19-22) where Paul refers to the church as God’s household, a building, a temple and a dwelling in which God lives. The emphasis of this picture is of us being God’s dwelling place on the earth. In the Old Testament He revealed Himself at and in the Tabernacle and the Temple. Today, this picture says, He reveals Himself through His people who form a living temple. Paul taught, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19).

This is the amazing truth that Peter reiterates in his verse above, that we are a spiritual house (or house of God – i.e. temple), so the first emphasis is of us being indwelt by God, but the second point is that we are stones that are living – alive by the Spirit. Now a house isn’t a pile of bricks; it is a carefully designed and constructed building made up of walls. In this case, this building is made of stones, stones that are alive and we allow the Master Mason to build us in where He sees fit.

But then Peter pivots the picture. One minute it is a building, the next it is a priesthood.  What is a priesthood?  It is all the priests.  What did the priests do in the Old Testament?  They brought mankind to God (as distinct from the prophets who brought God to mankind).  When people came to the Tabernacle or to the Temple to meet with God, the priests saw to it that they came in the acceptable manner, the manner laid down by the Law, and that was by bringing a sacrifice.

The particular sacrifices or offerings that we find in the early chapters of Leviticus were the burnt offering which was to be an expression of an open heart to God, the grain offering which was a giving over of personal work or achievement, the fellowship offering that indicates a desire for unity and communion with the Lord, the sin offering for dealing with specific wrongs committed, and the guilt offering for making restitution and atonement.

But we don’t make these sacrifices any longer for Christ himself has become a sacrifice that covers all of these things, so how can Peter say that we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ? I suggest we do all these things above by our heart attitude that responds to the work of Christ on our behalf.

Burnt Offering: So when we come to Christ initially, we come with a completely open heart and lay down our lives to God, and in so doing we receive the work of Christ on our behalf – he was a perfectly obedient Son, given over totally to his Father’s will. We are thus received.

Grain Offering: As we walk out our Christian life we realise that all we have and all we do comes through the grace of God and so we surrender our hopes, ambitions and desires, as well as our achievements, to God and in so doing we reflect the work of Christ who utterly surrendered and gave up all his three years of ministry to the will of the Father for the Cross, which was the greater purpose in his coming.

Fellowship Offering: As we grow in the Christian Faith we begin to realise that the most precious thing we have is not our gifts or our talents or anything else, but simply the possibility of fellowship with God the Father. As we wait upon Him we can wait confidently knowing that Jesus was our perfect sacrifice who showed he wanted nothing more than to totally do the Father’s will and live with the Father in eternity, as he died on the Cross.

Sin Offering: As we grow in Christ we become more and more aware of the awfulness of sin and especially as it manifests itself in our lives, and we come in repentance and trusting Christ’s atoning work on the Cross to put us right again and again with the Father.

Guilt Offering: As we become sensitive to the hurt and harm we cause others and God, so we look to the enabling work of the Spirit that is released to us to bless others, the Spirit’s presence that was earned for us by Christ on the Cross. We cannot restore others who have been harmed by us, but we can look to God for His grace to flow directly to them and through us to them.

All this is the work of Christ on the Cross and it is this alone that enables us to be able to approach God wholeheartedly, surrender our whole lives to Him meaningfully, seek for fellowship with Him, know cleansing from sin and know His healing work to flow between us in restoring relationships with others around us. How wonderful!