Snapshots: Day 79

Snapshots: Day 79

The Snapshot: “have them make a sanctuary for me.” (Ex 25:8) The tabernacle used to be something my Brethren friends used to get excited about years ago and yet even back then, I think we missed the main point – God wanted Israel to create a building that would be the focus point for their meeting with Him. That sounds so simple but is astounding, that Almighty, Holy God, Creator of the world, wants to interact with us, yes us who so often put ourselves down and allow the enemy to call us rubbish – and yet God wants us to come to Him, to chat with Him, unburden ourselves before Him, get ourselves put right again before Him, all this sort of stuff, God wants to do that! Amazing!

Further Consideration: Temples crop up a number of times in the Bible. There was the first one that Solomon built but which was eventually destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar prior to the Exile, then there was the smaller one built by the returning remnant after the Exile and this one was built up and extended by Herod prior to the coming of Jesus. It was then utterly destroyed by the Romans in AD70 in response to the Jewish revolt. To add insult to injury, Islam built the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the site of the old temple and remains there to this day. The meeting place with God for Judaism was removed and has not been rebuilt. End of story.

Not quite! On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers and a new ‘temple’ came into being. The apostle Paul wrote, Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? …. you together are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16,17) But more than that, he referred to us individually as God’s temple: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19) Of course Jesus had already previously spoken of his own body as a temple (Jn 2:20,21)

And this is where you and I struggle – God lives in me?  I am a temple of His Holy Spirit? Again, as the apostle Paul wrote, “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2 Cor 6:16) It’s all about intimate communion.

No longer do we have to go to a building to meet with God (although we can) for He is with us wherever we are. What a wonder, “you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:22) God dwells in us; you can’t get any more intimate than that. But it is true, despite what we feel. It is not a case of feelings. Yes, sometimes we really can sense His presence but more often it has to be a statement of faith. Emmanuel – God with us!

12. God’s Holy Mountain

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  12. God’s Holy Mountain

Psa 3:4    he answers me from his holy mountain.

God’s Presence: Again, how casually I have sped over these words with so little thought, and yet I suspect (is He telling me?) that here there are such profound truths to be mined as we meditate. Before we move on in this psalm, I believe there is something of significance that we have passed by without comment here in verse 4: “he answers me from his holy mountain”. What is that ‘holy mountain’?

Zion: Well, back in Psa 2 we read, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psa 2:6) Further back in 2 Sam 5:7 we read, “David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.” That is the first reference to ‘Zion’ and it clearly meant Jerusalem. It had long been known as Jerusalem, occupied by the Jebusites who Israel had failed to overthrow initially (Judg 1:21), and it had not been taken until David arrived in power, when he re-established it as his base and subsequently the capital of Israel. When the ark was brought there, and later in Solomon’s reign the temple built, and filled with God’s presence (1 Kings 8:10,11), it became known as the ‘holy city’: “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.” (Isa 52:1)

Jerusalem: Jerusalem is described as “set high in the hills of Judah” (New Bible Dictionary) and one Internet site describes Jerusalem as follows: “Jerusalem’s seven hills are Mount Scopus, Mount Olivet and the Mount of Corruption (all three are peaks in a mountain ridge that lies east of the old city), Mount Ophel, the original Mount Zion, the New Mount Zion and the hill on which the Antonia Fortress was built.” When a prophet or psalmist refers to the ‘mountain of the Lord’ or ‘his holy mountain’ it can either mean Jerusalem generally or the hill or mountain on which the Temple was eventually built.

As David writes pre-the Temple, it is more likely to mean Jerusalem at large, Jerusalem the whole city. The designation ‘mountain’ may refer to the fact that all of the ‘hills’ of the Jerusalem area are well over 2000 feet above sea level, or it may simply be creating spiritual significance of a place of ascent on which God resides. A study of ‘mountains’ in the Old Testament must take us first to Moriah: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen 22:2) Amazingly this was Jerusalem where Solomon eventually built the temple (2 Chron 3:1) equated today, it is said, with the vicinity of Calvary. What a symbolic picture. The second mountain that stands out is Sinai where God met with Israel during the Exodus (See Ex 19-). The imagery that goes with that encounter suggests inaccessibility except by divine permission. So often when people went there, the record says they went up to Jerusalem, that same picture of ascending to meet with God that Moses showed us. Thus Jerusalem becomes the place of encounter with the inaccessible God and the place of god’s offering of His own Son to save the world.

Tent of Meeting: God’s instructions to build a Tabernacle (Ex 25-27) appear to be His early means of bringing limited access to Himself by His people. It was also referred to as ‘the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21 etc.): Set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, on the first day of the first month. Place the ark of the covenant law in it and shield the ark with the curtain.” (Ex 40:2,3) and it continued in existence until Solomon replaced it with the Temple (see 1 Kings 8). However in the time of Eli and Samuel, after the debacle with the Philistines, the ark (and presumably the Tent) stayed at Kiriath Jearim (1 Sam 7:1,2) until twenty years later David took it to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6) where it was placed inside “the tent that David had pitched for it.” (1 Chron 16:1), but this was clearly different from the Tabernacle still pitched at Gibeon (1 Chron 16:39) The ‘tent’ was clearly simply the home or location for the ‘ark of the covenant’ that was seen to be the place where the presence of God resided on earth. As we noted above, both ark and tent of meeting (as this tent now clearly became) were taken to the temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8:1-4)

God’s Dwelling Place? The ark in the Tabernacle? The ark in the Temple? The ark disappeared in history, but the Temple remained until Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it during the Exile but until then the Temple (and the ark) had been the focus or ‘dwelling place’ of God on earth. Why is that so significant? Because it was there by God’s instructions, and it was a place of focus on God, a place where people could go to worship God (even though they could not encounter His presence hidden in the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies). So when David prays and get answers, they come from the God who has revealed Himself and positioned Himself in the midst of Israel.

And Today? The writer to the Hebrews conveys something quite amazing when he speaks to us: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire …. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb 12:18,22) For us, Mount Zion is not just a mountain but a city and it is in heaven. At the end of his amazing visions recorded in the book of Revelation, John records, “One of the seven angels…. said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev 21:9,10) In the final words that follow it is clear that this heavenly city comes down to the newly recreated earth and is accessible to all, and Father and Son are in the midst of it. The mountain where God had been inaccessible, the place where the Godhead dwells, has finally come to be in the midst of redeemed mankind. In heaven or on the new earth, the dwelling place of God is accessible to redeemed mankind, to the people of God.

A Poignant Psalm: For David it was the place towards which he uttered his prayers, which makes this psalm, headed by “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom”, so poignant. Until then he had focused on God in Jerusalem but now he was on the run out of and away from Jerusalem and so his focus became more ‘long distance’ if we may put it like that. Yet there is another significant truth: even though David may not have close access to the Tent in Jerusalem, the Lord is still there; He has not departed Jerusalem, it is still HIS city and therefore there is a sense when David utters these words, they come with an underlying assurance that he is still in God’s hands, this is all happening because God is working out His disciplinary will for David and He, the Lord, is still the same and will still be there in Jerusalem for David to call to, and will still be there should the Lord allow him to return. God IS there – for us in heaven and for us by His Spirit, incredibly, indwelling us – and so it doesn’t matter what the earthly circumstances appear to be showing, in respect of the Lord, nothing has changed! He is there and He is there for us and He is there available to us because He has made it so! Hallelujah!

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!

38. The Law

Meditations in Malachi : 38.  The Law

Mal 4:4   Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

If Christians get confused over any issue, I would say it is the issue of the Law of Moses and the position of the Law as far as we Christians are concerned in everyday life. Here in the verse above, we find the Lord calling to Israel to “Remember the law.” Remember means more than just bring to recollection; it means bring it to recollection and then follow it, do what it says.

So why did God give Israel the Law to start with? Well He gave it to them at Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Sinai, at the time when He called them into being as a nation. But they weren’t just any nation, they were His nation, His special people called to receive all the goodness of His love and thus become a light to the rest of the world to reveal Him. The Law would help them do that.

So what do we find in the Law? First of all we find guidance on how to live as a community of God’s people, instructions about how to hold a right attitude about God (Ex 20:3-7).  Second, comes guidance on how to live as a community, relating to one another. (Ex 20:8-17).  Third, we find the ordering of that society and the recognition that people will do wrong, and so what should happen in such circumstances. i.e. how to ensure justice is seen to prevail. (Ex 21-23).  There is a recognition within this of the sinfulness of mankind, and the fall of human beings that needs to be taken into account. Fourth, there were rules for establishing a meeting place with God (Ex 25-27) and then a priesthood to administer it (Ex 28-29). This was to establish a procedural basis for the way Israel as a whole would worship the Lord. Fifth, there were extensive instructions for bringing offerings and sacrifices to the Tabernacle as expressions of their love for God and for their penitence after sinning (Lev 1-7). Sixth, there were what we might summarise as dietary or health laws (Lev 11-15) designed to maintain good health among the community. These are the basic laws; there are others but they will either fit the above descriptions or are repeats of the above.

So how might we summarise the Law?  Jesus summarised it for us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)  From the above we see the ‘loving God’ parts being expressed in the first part of the Ten Commandments, the establishing of the Tabernacle and Priesthood, and the law of offerings and sacrifices. The ‘love your neighbour’ part was expressed in all the rest of the laws.

So does the Law apply to us today? The Ten Commandments certainly do for they are general laws applicable to any community anywhere in the world and without them such a society becomes superstitious and turning to idolatry and the occult, and then anarchistic, harmful and destructive. The rest of the ‘society’ laws were specifically for Israel as a unique but primitive agricultural society in that land in that part of history. The ‘worship’ laws depended on the existence of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, and a priesthood, none of which exist now. Moreover the New Testament tells us that Jesus is the fulfilment of all of the sacrifices, so we no longer have to offer sacrifices for our sins. The law is useful however to show us that by keeping rules we simply fail again and again, and therefore we have to turn to God for some other way of being right with Him – and that, of course, is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So do we no longer have laws that apply to us today? Change the word ‘laws’ for ‘instructions’ and you will find that the New Testament is full of them in the Gospel but mostly in the Epistles. There are there to act as guidelines for us. We aren’t saved by keeping them, only by turning to and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, but they are there for guidance for daily living. Some are specific and some are general: “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat (Specific). And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (General) (2 Thess 3:12,13). The epistles are full of such instructions and they are things to be followed as we work out our relationship with the Lord on a daily basis. And they are there to bless us, because they come from a God of love!

10. Shutdown

Meditations in Malachi : 10. Shutdown

Mal 1:10  “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

I was amazed when I first studied the Law – well no perplexed first, actually.   Why were those long dreary chapters at the beginning of Leviticus about different sorts of offerings, and why were there those tedious chapters in the latter part of Exodus about the Tabernacle and the priests? None of it seemed relevant to today, so why was it there, and then eventually I understood. This was the Lord recognising that His people would get it wrong so that they would feel guilty and then feel at a distance from the Lord, this was the Lord making a way back for such people. This was also the Lord making provision for those whose hearts might overflow with love for God who just wanted to bring Him a gift.

That was what all those laws were about, about regulating how those things might happen through the sacrifices. That was what the Tabernacle and then later theTemplewere about. They were places of focus on the Lord, places where the Lord initially made His presence known, places that He filled with His glory, places of fellowship with God and places of reconciliation with God and restoration of a relationship with the Lord. That was what the Temple was all about. It was for the people to come and do two things: offer sacrifices and pray (remember Jesus called it a house of prayer). The Tabernacle and then the Temple were all about relationship with the Lord which is why, when the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 587BC, it was so devastating for Israel. When Jeremiah spoke about restoration after seventy years, that seventy years was the period between the destruction of the Temple and the completion of its rebuilding, exactly seventy years!

But God isn’t fooled by play acting. That had been going on before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah parodied their reliance upon the presence of the Temple (Jer 7). Now the same thing was happening again. The apostle Paul prophesied about the last days: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1-5) There is the same thing: there will be a form of religion (godliness) while all the time men and woman are living lives that are very different from God’s design for them.

The people of Malachi’s day were declaring that they were godly because they were performing religious acts and then comes this terrible word of judgment through Malachi: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”   Shut down all this religious nonsense, is what the Lord is saying, for that is actually what it is – religious nonsense!  Did God want His people to perform religious acts in the Temple with no meaning behind them? No! God’s intent had been to provide channels for blessing Israel, for making ways back to Him and for legitimizing their gifts to Him. The Temple was for prayer and worship and reconciliation and those things, to be genuine, have to come out of wholeheartedness.

The Lord is concerned more what goes on inside a person than the things they do outwardly. Outward acts can be pure pretense. In medical terms, sometimes people come out in a skin rash and it is a sign of tension or stress within. It is the reality of the inner life that God is concerned with, not the charades that people put on. Who are they kidding? Do they think they will make God think well of them? Does “going to church on a Sunday morning” make God feel good about us? No, it should be an expression of the love we have for Him on the inside.

Around the world, often the churches with the greatest reality are those in countries where the church is persecuted and driven underground. When those people gather together under threat of arrest, there is a reality and a depth of love not found in the West. How tragic it is that our love is only proved real when it is challenged! When will we come to our senses and call out to the Lord for a reality of relationship? Will the Lord have to shut our churches down before that has to happen? May it not be so!

33. Established Religion

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 33 :  Established Religion

(Focus: Deut 12:1-7)

Deut 12:1,4 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess–as long as you live in the land. ….. You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.

There is something very specific about the instructions that Moses now gives, something that we have seen again and again but not made much note of. It is that the laws that he is sharing are for this nation in THIS specific land. The rest of the world may be doing something quite different but in THIS land this is how Israel are to live. It is this thing about them being a unique nation in the world, and they are unique because of their relationship with the Lord and because of the guide rules (the Law) that He has given them to follow as they establish their life as a nation in this particular piece of land.

Note also the use of the words, “decrees and laws”. A decree is simply a royal declaration of intent. For instance we have said that a “blessing” is God’s decree of good and a “curse” is God’s decree of bad. When God ‘decrees’ something it is a statement of His sovereign will, which WILL then happen. A law is simply a rule that is to be followed. So God decrees His will and expresses it in the form of individual rules or laws that Israel are to follow. All of the blessings and curses of chapter 28 are examples of decrees.

Note also that the call is for them to “be careful to follow” all these decrees and laws “as long as you live in the land”. These are for the whole of their existence. They are not just for the first couple of years; they are for all time that they are this nation in this land. Then comes the specific things that Moses has in mind and in this part of his speaking: it is all about their worship or their religion (I am using ‘religion’ here to denote the way they express their faith and their obedience to God) when they go into the land. First of all it is about establishing it: Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.” (v.2,3)

We saw this exact same command in chapter 7 which was followed by the reason for it: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (7:6) Part of that is similar to what we have above when Moses speaks of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess.” It is a reminder that they are what they are and where they are because of the Lord. They belong to Him and owe their existence there to Him, and they are to stick to him and not succumb to the worship practice of the occultic, pagan, idol worshippers in the land. To ensure they do that they are to remove every sign of their religious practices from the land the moment they enter it.

Moses sums it up: “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.” This is both a summary of God’s intent and a preamble to what is about to come. They are not to follow the practices of the people of this land in any way. Now comes a specific way that their worship is going to be very different: “But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go.” (v.5). This is going to be where the Tabernacle is going to be set up. The big difference is that they are only going to have ONE place of worship whereas the occupiers of the land worshipped all over the place, making their own religion.

No, with God, it is going to be clearly established that they will go to the Tabernacle and “there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.” (v.6,7) In the book of Leviticus Moses has enumerated all the laws regarding how to bring sacrifices and offerings and hold feasts to the Lord.

These are the very basic ‘ground rules’ for their worship of the Lord. Worship was expressed formally first, not as singing (although David later established that) but as bringing offerings as a tangible expression of their love for God, or sacrifices as a tangible expression of their penitence when they had done wrong. A number of times a year they would gather to worship the Lord in the form of celebrations of the Lord’s goodness. These were the ‘feasts’. These ways would be at the heart of their worship. It is clearly prescribed activity to be the expression of their hearts. No longer do we have such offerings and sacrifices for Jesus has become THE sacrifice and no longer are they needed, but today our hearts are still to be the arbiter of our worship. If it is not heart worship, it is not worship. That bears thinking about!

 

13. To Solomon (2)

“God turned up” Meditations: 13 :  To Solomon (2)

1 Kings 8:10,11 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple

After lots of reading the Bible I conclude that I, probably along with most of us, have a terrible habit of skimming over amazing truths without taking in the wonder of them. Probably this is very true of the way we read about Jesus in the Gospels. This must have been THE most amazing period in human history, as God in human form expressed His love and transformed thousands of lives, on a daily basis!  Indeed every Christmas we read the nativity story in which angels turn up a number of times. The nativity story is full of the miraculous and we almost take it for granted.

So here we are following Solomon’s life and we come to the point where he had just finished building the Temple in Jerusalem. The priests have just brought in the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence, to the innermost place, they leave that place and suddenly from nowhere a cloud fills the temple, a cloud that is so incredibly bright no one can do anything in the Temple. God has turned up!

Now of course Israel knew about the glory of the Lord from their history. It first turned up when they were in the desert on their way from Egypt to Sinai: While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.” (Ex 16:10) Then it appeared on Sinai itself: “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai…. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (Ex 24:15-17). Later, when they had constructed and erected the Tabernacle, when it was finished, we read the following: “Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:33-35)

The same thing had happened at the completion of the Tabernacle as happened now in the Temple. It was as if God was setting His mark of approval on the completed building by indicating His presence in it. How easy it is to read but how difficult to comprehend! Suddenly there is this tangible (almost) phenomenon, a cloud within which is this almost scary brightness with no apparent origin. It is the glory that accompanies God’s presence.  Did Solomon wonder if it was going to happen, thinking back to the completion of the Tabernacle? He might have done but there was no way of making God turn up. He’s already had one major example of God turning up in the dream we considered previously, promising him wisdom. But then the wisdom had come with incredible results. Surely that was God turning up, giving him this ability to ‘know how’! Perhaps without him realising it, God had been there the whole time, but now there is this visible sign that He’s there.

I’ve lived through the Charismatic movement in the latter part of the twentieth century and the Toronto blessing at the end of it. I have been in a room when angel lights seemed to flicker around the ceiling for no explicable reason. I have known the Lord ‘turn up’ to convict me on occasions, and to fill me at other times. I have heard Him as He has turned up to speak to me and through me in ways that are sometimes scary.

There is one thing about these happenings when God turns up, that validates them. You could not make Him come and you could not explain His coming. He just comes and makes His presence or His word known – and it is amazing and wonderful, and when He does you just know you are out of your depth. This is not man-made or man-inspired; this is the sovereign Lord of the universe making Himself known to His people. He doesn’t do it because we have earned it or deserved it. He does it because He chooses to do it for His own purposes, and when He does, we bow our hearts before Him in worship for we see He IS the Lord.

I often think that this is where the crusading atheists of the day are on a losing wicket. They come up with all their wild ideas trying to justify their position and trying to put believers down, but they just don’t realise that we have encountered the living God, we’ve had a life changing experience which is ratified and confirmed a hundred times over as the days go by. God IS and He comes to people and makes His presence known. Yes, there are very human experiences that sometimes seem to be similar experiences but they are normally abnormal people, people with strange mental states or imposed psychological states, but the atheist cannot understand that for the vast majority of us, our experience of God is in the mundane ordinariness of life when He just turns up and makes Himself known: God in the ordinary making it extraordinary.

In Solomon’s case, they haven’t got around to doing the religious bit of dedicating the Temple; they had only just finished building it and have been bringing in the ark – then God arrives! After that they do the religious dedication bit, but God hasn’t come because they are doing the religious stuff. He comes because they have been obedient and He obviously wants to give His approval to that. Hallelujah!

10. To David (2)

“God turned up” Meditations: 10 :  To David (2)

2 Sam 6:6,7 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.

When you have good intentions and it goes pear-shaped that is particularly hard. The trouble is that perhaps our good intentions were misplaced or, worse, they were wrongly motivated. But people don’t go on motivations  (“I really meant it for good”), they go on outcomes!

David had decided to take the Ark of the Covenant from its present resting place in Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem. The ark had been the visible resting place of the presence of God in the Tabernacle. It seemed only appropriate that it be taken to the capital, Jerusalem. But even the way David went about it creates slight unease: “David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. He and all his men set out …  to bring up from there the ark of God.” (v.1,2). Now I may be wrong but the fact that David took a large fighting force with him suggests more of a victory parade than anything else and victory parades tend to exalt the commander in chief. The only trouble is that God doesn’t share His glory and He doesn’t like being used. So there is this slight question mark from the outset.

But then we are told, “They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.” (v.3-5)  So they put the ark on a new cart, on open display. Perhaps David had forgotten that originally the place of the ark was the innermost part of the Tabernacle where it was never seen. Yes, he has all Israel celebrating with all their might before it but even that has a slight air of showmanship about it. But then it suddenly goes wrong: “When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.” (v.6,7)

So far when we have spoken about the Lord ‘turning up’ it has been very encouraging; He’s turned up to create relationships with very imperfect men, but this occasion of Him turning up is something else! This time He turns up to kill someone! David’s response is twofold and again indicates that all is not as it should be: “Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. David was afraid of the LORD that day.” (v.8,9) What we see here are resentment and anxiety. David is resentful that when he was trying to do the right thing, the Lord rained on his parade! I was only trying to do the right thing! But he’s also fearful and it seems to be a fear that worries that he may be next in line for punishment. Suddenly it seems that his relationship with the Lord is not so secure.

So for some time the ark is left there but the Lord blesses those who looked after it. With the passing of time David thinks some more about what happened and realises that he has become casual with his relationship with the Lord. We need to go to 1 Chronicles to see the detail of how they next went about moving the ark: “Then David said, “No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the LORD chose them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister before him forever.” (1 Chron 15:2) Ah! That’s better! David is now paying attention to the instructions that the Lord had given about how the ark was to be carried. Now it is God-centred and not David-centred!

But look: “Then David summoned Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel and Amminadab the Levites. He said to them, “You are the heads of the Levitical families; you and your fellow Levites are to consecrate yourselves and bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place I have prepared for it. It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the LORD our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.” (1 Chron 15:11-13) Wow! David has learnt something! When you handle God’s stuff you only do with His permission and in His way.

The death of one careless, possibly uninstructed man, has put the whole of Israel on alert, that you do not take God for granted, you do not treat Him casually and you do not use Him to create a show.  Possibly some serious lessons for modern Christianity there!

21. In the Sanctuary

God in the Psalms No.21

Psa 15:1   LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?

When the psalmist asked this question, he was assuming something that was taken for granted: that God dwelt in the temple in Jerusalem. In Ex 25:8, speaking of the Tabernacle, the forerunner to the Temple, the Lord said, have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”  Thus the Tabernacle became referred to as ‘the sanctuary’. When Solomon eventually built the Temple we find, He partitioned off twenty cubits at the rear of the temple with cedar boards from floor to ceiling to form within the temple an inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place.” (1 Kings 6:16)  Thus the Most Holy Place (or ‘Holy of Holies’ in older versions) became the innermost place of the Temple referred to as a sanctuary.

So what is a ‘sanctuary’? Well do you notice the similarity to the word sanctify which means to set apart. A sanctuary is a place set apart for refuge, almost a hiding place. There is this sense to it – a place where God comes to dwell among men and women but is yet hidden away, a place where you have to go to seek Him out. Again and again in Scripture there is this sense of God being hidden away because of His holiness. Thus this ‘Most Holy Place’, the innermost part of the Temple was special andonly 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.” (Heb 9:7) For most of the time the Jews simply referred to the whole of the Temple as ‘the sanctuary’.

But notice also the reference to God’s holy hill. Yes, Jerusalem was sited on a number of hills and the Temple was located on one of them. A hill is a distinct prominence, a feature that stands out, a feature that requires effort to be climbed. Often in Scripture there is reference to the mountain of the Lord (usually Sinai) and the picture is of ‘going up’ to the Lord, a symbolic picture of God being higher and separated off from the ordinary day to day life. The Temple is on a holy hill, a hill that is separated off for the purposes of God.  We saw previously in Psa 2:6 I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” God’s dwelling place on earth was in an elevated location that required effort to get to. Thus David asks the question, who is worthy to live in the holy Temple on this holy hill?  He then goes on to give a list of requirements of righteous behaviour that would be required of such a person.

Yes, it was moral behaviour that gave access to God. The list of things that follow in the psalm are indeed a good list to attain to, but what about when we fail?  This is where Scripture needs to be read as a whole. Failure was an accepted part of the life of Israel, and God provided for that by the sacrificial system. To approach God you had to come with a sacrifice that was given, first as means of your sin being transferred to it and to be carried into death (sin offerings), and then as a sign of your desire for friendship with the holy God (fellowship offerings).

When Jesus died on the Cross at Calvary, something particularly significant happened: At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mt 27:51).  That immensely thick curtain that separated off God’s refuge from His people, was divinely split (it was too thick to be done by a man). Suddenly the way is open into God’s presence because Jesus has dealt with all causes of separation from Him in us. No longer do we have to strive to achieve worthiness to come to God, no longer do we have to appease with sacrifices. The sanctuary is opened to us by Jesus. Hallelujah!

17. God of Contact

God in the Psalms No.17

Psa 11:4 The LORD is in his holy temple

At first sight, in the context of the Psalm, this seems a strange reference. David immediately follows it by,the LORD is on his heavenly throneindicating that the Lord’s position is actually in heaven so the ‘temple’ he refers to is also in heaven. We need to understand what David means by ‘temple’.

At the time of writing, the Temple of God on earth had not been built – that was the task of Solomon, David’s son. References to temples in the Old Testament, before this time, largely referred to buildings where pagan deities were supposed to dwell, e.g. Judges 9:4, the temple of Baal-Berith, or Judges 16:23,26 which refers to the temple of Dagon. So, in the world’s terms, a temple was a place where you went to worship a deity. However, in 1 Sam 1:9 & 3:3 the word ‘temple’ is used of the tabernacle that God had instructed Israel in the wilderness to build,a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them (Ex 25:8). David had had it in mind to build a house for the Lord (2 Sam 7:2) but the Lord had said that his offspring would build it (2 Sam 7:12,13). David understood that the tabernacle or temple was the place of meeting with God, the place of contact with God, that the Lord had established.

Yet now we find David referring to God dwelling in a ‘heavenly temple’, a dwelling in heaven.  Habakkuk was later to say, “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Hab 2:20) which was simply an instruction to beware, to the idol worshippers, meaning that God is in His dwelling, the place of contact with mankind, and so they had better pay attention to Him, because He was in their midst.

We have noted above that the tabernacle or temple was to be seen as a place of God’s dwelling in the midst of His people. It isn’t just a distant dwelling place in another galaxy; it is a dwelling place where His people may find Him. That is the point being made. If we want to find a particular person, we go to their home, their address. For the people of Israel, they gathered at the tent of meeting, the tabernacle (Ex 33:7), to find the Lord. Here is a significant point. Where was God?  Here is a question that has haunted people through the ages. Where is God?  For the people of Israel in the desert and later in the Land, if they had a doubt it was answered for them by going to the Temple. When the Tabernacle and the Temple were completed, on both times, as we’ve seen in previous meditations, the glory of the Lord filled them both (Ex 40:33-35, 1 Kings 8:10,11­). This was His way of saying, I am here.

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see that God is intent on making contact with the people of the world, with those who would respond to Him and become His people. In the New Testament, the apostle John came to understand a further aspect of this as he records Jesus speaking of his own body as a temple (Jn 2:19-22). This makes Mt 24:1 all the more ironic – the temple of God (Jesus) walking away from the glorious temple buildings built by Herod but now no longer containing the presence of God!  The writer to the Hebrews links these things, speaking of the earthly tabernacle (Heb 9:1,2) and the heavenly one (9:24). Both are places of contact with God. The latter one we have contact with today by means of His own Holy Spirit and one day we will go to be with Him in His heavenly dwelling and there live with Him for eternity. The primary point that is being made here, and in which we should rejoice, is that God had made contact with man and wishes to maintain that contact. How wonderful!