Lenses: Part 2 – Morning and Evening


Last post, we began “turning the lenses of Scripture” around again, as we seek to look at the familiar stories of the Bible in their original historic, geographical, cultural, and religious context.  We saw how the instruction found in the Torah – the Law of God – to wear tassels, or “tzitzit”, on the corners of their garments reminded Israel of the responsibility to keep God’s commandments.  We saw how David made a powerful statement in cutting off Saul’s tzitzit in the cave of Ein Gedi.  And we learned that the woman who grabbed the “hem” of Jesus’ robe was doing much more than seeking healing.  She was boldly declaring that Jesus was the promised “Sun of Righteousness” who had risen with “healing in His wings” – His tzitzit.  She was telling all, that she believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

 Part 2: Morning and Evening

 Abraham and the Covenant – Genesis 15

Would you have the “chutzpah” to question God, straight to His face?  That’s the way the story of Genesis 15 begins.  God shows up at Abraham’s tent to remind him of the promise made to him in Genesis 12.  God promises that He would protect Abraham and that he would be blessed beyond all imagination.  And Abraham basically tells God that it doesn’t matter all that much, because he has no heir to carry on the line anyway.  But rather than condemning Abraham, he lovingly understands Abraham’s doubts and asks him if they could go for a walk together.  God tells Abraham to count the stars spread above him – an impossible task.  And then God promises that Abraham’s descendents will be just as innumerable.  But that’s not enough for Abraham.  He boldly asks God to prove it to him.  And God does.

God tells Abraham to go get five animals: a cow, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon.  Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us that Abraham was given any further instructions, but he seems to know exactly what God was thinking.  Abraham cuts the animals in half and creates a “path of blood” between them.  In doing this, Abraham is preparing for an ancient covenant ceremony that is still practiced among the Bedouin culture of the Middle East today.

This covenant ceremony involves both a greater and lesser party.  The greater party makes a series of promises to the lesser, and the lesser party agrees to follow certain practices as a result.  Then, the greater party walks through the “path of blood” between the animal halves, stomping in the blood the whole way.  In doing this, he’s saying, “If I fail to honor my part of this covenant, you may slay me like these animals and stomp through my blood.”  Then, the lesser party repeats the act, making the same oath.

God’s promise to Abraham was that all who bless him and his descendents would be blessed; all who curse them would be cursed; and through Abraham’s line a descendent would come that would bless all of humanity.  Abraham’s part was simple: walk before God and be blameless; be perfect; no sin; no errors; no mistakes.

Genesis 15 says that Abraham is overcome with a “thick and dreadful darkness” (verse 12).  This phrase is an ancient Hebrew idiom for someone becoming completely overcome with terror.  And when Abraham hears of his responsibility in the covenant, this is the only response he could have.  He cannot fulfill his end.

It is after this that God manifests into a smoking fire pot – smoke being a common Biblical metaphor for God: the Pillar of Cloud (Exodus 13); at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19); in the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40); above the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16); in the Temple (I Kings 8; 1 Chronicles 5); Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6); in Heaven at the judgment of mankind (Revelation 15) – and as He declares the future of the descendents of Abraham, the smoking fire pot proceeds to pass between the pieces.

And now it is Abraham’s turn.

Every Morning and Every Evening – Exodus 29

It’s early in the day.  As has been the custom for centuries, a priest stands at the brazen altar with a knife pressed against the throat of a lamb.  Another priest is waiting at the pinnacle of the Temple, with a ram’s horn (shofar) pressed to his lips.  A third priest is waiting in the Temple courtyard watching a sun dial.  As the sun dial indicates the specified moment in time, he signals the priest on the pinnacle; the shofar is blown, and the lamb is slain.  The priest sprinkles the blood against the base of the altar, as the people plead with God to be faithful to the covenant promise made to Abraham.  And the day’s worship begins.

For the next six hours, animal after animal is sacrificed on that same altar.  Sin offerings; trespass offerings; burnt offerings; peace offerings; meal offerings are offered again and again.  Cows; rams; goats; turtledoves; pigeons; the same animals Abraham slaughtered to create the “path of blood” 1,800 years earlier, are slain in the Temple.

And again, at the close of the day’s worship, the sacrifice of the lamb is repeated.  This sacrifice had been made ever since the Hebrews left Egypt, as God commanded; in the Tabernacle while wandering in the wilderness; in Shiloh; in Jerusalem; in the glorious Temple constructed by Solomon; in the Temple rebuilt by Zerubabel; in the beautifully renovated Temple of Herod.  And every day, a river of blood flowed from the Temple, down into the Kidron Valley; reminding all of Israel of the “path of blood” that God passed through 1,800 years earlier; of God’s promise to them.

The Day of the Cross – Mark 15:25-39

And it was the third hour when they crucified him.  And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”  And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.   And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”  So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.  And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”  And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”  And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Six hours.  Jesus hung on the cross from morning till evening.  As the people prepared to offer up cows, rams, goats, turtledoves, and pigeons as sacrifices, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) was being nailed to a tree.  Mark wrote his gospel to those in Rome, so he uses the Roman reckoning of time.  “The third hour” would be 9:00am – and it was at this specific time for 1,200 years that the lamb was slain on the altar to begin the worship in God’s House.  The offerings commenced.  And as Jesus’ blood was being shed, the blood from the altar began to flow from the Temple Mount into the creek that ran through the Kidron Valley: water and blood.

A Flaming Torch – Genesis 15

Abraham realized immediately that his life was over.  There was absolutely no way he could honor his side of the covenant being made.  God’s promise was amazing, but God would be released from it the very first moment that Abraham sinned.  God had been clear: Abraham was to be perfect before God.  Abraham was 86 years old.  He’d learned early on that he couldn’t go a day being blameless.  The very second that he dipped his toe in the “path of blood,” his fate would be sealed.  It was only a matter of hours before he would be judged.

Genesis 15:12 says that Abraham fell into a deep sleep, but this misses the nuance of the language.  It really means that Abraham passed out in fear.  He had no chance.  God was standing before him, and Abraham understood immediately the gravity of the situation he was in.  Abraham knew he was expected to walk the “path of blood”.  He couldn’t do it and live.

We miss the point of the story.  We know that God passed through the animal halves, but there’s an important verse that reveals the beauty of the story:

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot AND a flaming torch passed between these pieces. – Genesis 15:17

We’ve already looked at the smoking fire pot, but this verse reveals a second manifestation of the presence of God.  In Hebraic religious writings, fire always symbolizes God: the Burning Bush (Exodus 3); the Pillar of Fire (Exodus 13); God descending in fire on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19); a Consuming Fire (Deuteronomy 4); the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7); the Eternal Messiah (Revelation 1; 19).

And the Fire of God crossed through the “path of blood” in Abraham’s place.  God broke the protocol of the covenant, and declared to Abraham and all who would read this story after, “If YOU fail to honor YOUR part of this covenant, you may slay ME like these animals and stomp through my blood.”

And Jesus fate – not Abraham’s – was sealed. 

Century after century thereafter, as the morning and evening sacrifices signaled God’s promise to keep the covenant, Jesus saw the blood flow.  He heard the animals cry.  He saw the fire on the altar and smelled the smoke rising to the Heavens.  And he thought about His future.  He saw the picture of His own death.

It Is Finished – Hebrews 10:5-14

That is what is meant by this prophecy, put in the mouth of Christ: 


You don’t want sacrifices and offerings year after year;
you’ve prepared a body for me for a sacrifice.
It’s not fragrance and smoke from the altar
that whet your appetite.
So I said, “I’m here to do it your way, O God,
      the way it’s described in your Book.”


When he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings,” he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, “I’m here to do it your way,” he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God’s way—by which we are made fit for God by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.
 

 

Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process. – Hebrews 10:5-14 (The Message)

At 9:00am on the “Day of the Cross”, Jesus was nailed to His execution stake – at the very moment that the morning sacrifice was taking place.  And again, at 3:00pm – as the final sacrifice of the day was slain in the Temple – Jesus cried out that once and for all, “It is FINISHED!” (John 19:30)

The Wondrous Cross

When I survey the Wondrous Cross, on which the Prince of Glory died;

My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God;

All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet; sorrow and love flow mingled down;

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small.

Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!

 

Next Post: He Shall Be Called a “Nazarene”

We must have the intellectual integrity to understand that there are Scriptures regarding Jesus that have some problems.  If we press the Scriptures hard, will they still stand up under the scrutiny?  Matthew writes that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy that “He shall be called a ‘Nazarene’.”  But do the ancient Hebrew prophets ever predict this?  Why does Matthew 1 indicate that there are “14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian captivity, and from the captivity to Jesus?”  But there are only 13 generations listed from the captivity to Jesus in Matthew 1.  Why?  And for that matter, why are there two different genealogies of Jesus that both claim to be through his earthly father, Joseph, but come through two different sons of David?  Are there answers to these challenges?

Readings for the Week:

  • Matthew 2:21-23
  • Matthew 1:1-17
  • Luke 3:23-38
  • Isaiah 11

Previous Post: Lenses: Part 1 – Healing In His Wings

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A Lesson from the Waldo Canyon Fire

A Lesson from the Waldo Canyon Fire

347 homes destroyed.  32,000 people evacuated.  18,000 acres burned.  2 deaths.  10 missing.  So far.

I’ve lived in Colorado Springs most of my life.  We’ve had terrible snowstorms.  Floods aren’t uncommon.  There have even been tornados.  But I’ve never watched the foothills of Colorado blazing like I did last Tuesday night.

Around three o’clock in the afternoon, I was driving from Denver down I-25 into Colorado Springs.  The wildfire that began on Saturday afternoon appeared to be coming under the control of the fire fighters.  They were beginning to get containment.  No structures had been burned.  Good things were happening.

City and county officials began their regular 4:00pm conference with smiles on their faces.  They seemed relieved.  And then, as they were sharing the good news, everything changed.  65MPH winds began blowing from the west, and all Hell broke loose.  The officials were taken completely off guard.  And a fire that had, up to that point, consumed around 1,500 acres and 0 structures, suddenly destroyed an additional 15,000 acres and 347 homes in the course of about 4 hours.

Life can be the same way.

We go through our days knowing that fires are burning.  It could be troubles in our marriage; a child that seems to be distant; problems at work; hidden temptations.  But we act like we’ve got these fires under control.  Sure, there’s danger there – but we can handle it.

And then everything changes.  The winds blow on the fire that we have convinced ourselves poses very little danger, and just like in Waldo Canyon, suddenly all Hell breaks loose.  And while words can’t describe the type of physical damage that the Waldo Canyon Fire has done, the damage done by these personal fires in our lives is much more devastating.  Houses can be rebuilt.  Rebuilding lives is much more difficult.

So what do we do when these personal fires destroy our lives? 

First, we must regroup and return to the fight.  The firefighters in Colorado Springs were completely caught off guard, and were forced to retreat behind both their primary and secondary lines of defense.  But they didn’t just quit.  They regrouped and went back into the fire.  We can’t give up.  We must keep fighting.

Second, we can’t fight alone.  We need others to come along side us when these fires break out in our lives.  It amazes me how – with 32,000+ people being evacuated – only around 400 have taken refuge in shelters.  The rest have been able to stay with friends and family in the community who have yet to be affected by the fire.  The Red Cross and other relief agencies have actually had to turn away donations.  The outpouring of help from the community has been overwhelming.  We need people like that in our lives.  People we can turn to for refuge.

Third, we have to remember that as bad as these fires in our lives appear, things may not be as horrible as they seem.  While we’re retreating from these fires, simply hoping to survive, God may be performing a miracle.  One example is seen in my church.  Nearly forty families were evacuated during the chaos on Tuesday afternoon.  Many of these families could see houses in their own neighborhoods burning as they fled.  Several were informed that all of the houses on their own street were turned to ashes.  But last night, every one of these families from my church found out that their homes were spared.  In the case of my pastor, he was told specifically on Tuesday evening that his home was completely burned, only to find out that while the houses on both the right and left of his were destroyed, his home was untouched.  In fact, he was told that even the daisies he had planted in the front garden were unharmed.  We never know what type of miracle can come out of the fire.

Finally, it takes time to recover.  Officials have predicted that the Waldo Canyon Fire won’t become completely contained until sometime in late July.  It will be years before the houses and businesses destroyed will be completely rebuilt.  The damage is done.  And just like this, rebuilding our lives will take time.  But God is gracious.  And while the road ahead won’t be easy, with humility and the grace of God, we can see restoration.  But that restoration starts with putting the fire out.  Don’t give up.

Get back in there and fight that fire.

AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler

Return to Eden: Part 4 – The Renewal of the Covenant

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”…On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled…Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended.  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder… Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 19:5-6; 16; 18-19; 20:18-19 ESV)

When GOD gave the Torah at Sinai, He displayed untold marvels to Israel with his voice.  What happened?  GOD spoke and the Voice reverberated throughout the world…It says: And all the people perceived the thundering; wherefore R. Johanan said that GOD’s voice, as it was uttered, was distributed into seventy voices, in seventy tongues, so that all the nations should understand.  When each nation heard the Voice in their own dialect their souls departed, save Israel who heard… (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9)

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were finally free.  After hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt, the God of their Fathers had moved mightily to bring them out.  And now, He was offering them a new life.

Part of the problem that we have due to our familiarity with the story, is that we sometimes glaze over the details.  Like the phrase “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  This is a phrase that most Christians have heard numerous times.  Both John (Revelation 1:6) and Peter (1 Peter 2:9) mention it.  But what exactly does that phrase mean?

An entire kingdom of priests is a nation or people where each individual has direct access to God.  That’s what a priest does.  He goes before God on behalf of others.  And the Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai were being given a unique role in the world: to be God’s priests.  But something went terribly wrong.

They rejected God.  Yes, they agreed to honor the covenant and obey everything that God commanded them to do.  But the unique opportunity to individually go before God – to be in personal, one-on-one relationship with the Creator – was more than they could handle.  But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The giving of the Law – the Torah – at Mount Sinai is the pivotal event in Jewish religious history.  It is the moment that Israel agreed to be God’s people.  And the legends that grew up around the events of Exodus 19 and 20 are simply amazing.  Here’s the background.

According to the ancient Jewish sages, Shavuot is more than just a feast to commemorate the beginning of the wheat harvest.  It was the anniversary of God coming down in fire and thunder and smoke to the top of Mount Sinai.  It was then that He shouted down what is known as the Ten Commandments – the summary of the entire Torah – to the people.  The people agreed to obey everything that God commanded.  It was the moment that Israel ceased being a roving family, and became a nation.

And over the centuries following this seminal moment, many stories arose about what exactly happened.

As we saw before, the Hebraic mind seeks to answer the question “why”.  And one question in particular was asked: Why does it say in Exodus 20 that all of Israel saw the thunder when God came down on the mountain?  Thunder can’t be seen; it’s a sound.

By the time that Jesus and His disciples walked the Earth, consensus had arisen among the sages.  This is how the Jewish historian, Philo described it:

Then from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven there sounded forth to their utter amazement a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see them rather than hear them. (De Decalogo. IX-XI)

The sages believed that the voice of God was so loud and powerful, that it manifested itself into fire that spoke to all listening in their own native language.  Stop and read that again.

Now back to the “kingdom of priests” thing.  The people feared what they saw.  In the core of their beings, they knew there was no way they could stand as priests before this God who so powerfully was manifesting before them.  They may have been freed from physical slavery, but their souls were still in bondage.  And they asked Moses to be the one to intercede for them.

Things went downhill from there.  When we put a person between us and God, we lose our sense of accountability to Him.  The priest; the rabbi; the preacher; they are the ones that have to answer to God, not us.  And that’s the way Israel reacted.  As Moses went to the top of the mountain to be their advocate, the people quickly turned from their worship of the One True God.  They wanted a god they were familiar with and that they could see and touch.  They compelled Aaron to make them the gods they had worshipped in Egypt.

And when Moses returned, his anger was justified.  He called on those from the tribe of Levi to slaughter all who refused to repent.

And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses.  And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.  Exodus 32:18 ESV

So we need to stop and think about the pictures these stories paint.  Fire.  Thunder.  Lightning.  The Voice of God.  The fire dividing into tongues that declare God’s covenant opportunity to every nation of the world.  3,000 lives being lost in judgement.

Now fast forward around 1,500 years.  These pictures make another appearance.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Acts 2:1-6 ESV

Astonishing.

Every picture of the giving of the Covenant to Israel at Sinai are seen at the Feast of Shavuot that took place just ten days following the ascension of Jesus back to Heaven.  As all of Israel gathered together in the Temple to commemorate the Covenant at Sinai, the pictures from their legends about what happened 1,500 years earlier manifested themselves once again: the mighty wind;  the presence of God; the tongues of fire; the languages of the nations; all of them.

Only the reaction of the people is different this time.  Rather than fearing the presence of God, they embraced it.  Rather than rejecting the personal relationship with the Creator, they accepted it.  Rather than fleeing from God’s presence, they welcomed it.

You see, things were different because their hearts were different.  Jesus had already become their eternal Passover Lamb, freeing them from the spiritual bondage that overwhelmed Israel at Mount Sinai.  Rather than receiving the Covenant on tablets of stone, the Spirit of God was able to write it upon their hearts.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD : I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

The Hebrew word translated above as “new” is “chadesh.”  While it is most often translated as “new” like in this passage, that misses the nuance of the word.  It’s the same word that is used to describe the lunar cycle, and the appearance of the “new” moon.  It is more accurately translated “renewed.”  This covenant wasn’t a new covenant.  It was the same covenant that God offered His people at Mount Sinai.  But because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, the people this time were free – in their hearts – to accept that covenant.  The covenant was renewed.

Oh, there’s one more picture that I forgot to point out.  Do you remember how Moses charged the Levites to slaughter those who refused to repent for worshipping the golden calf?  How many were killed on that Shavuot?  3,000.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  Acts 2:31 ESV

You may believe in coincidence, but I don’t.  That wasn’t an accident.  Every detail was ordained by God before the creation of the world.

So let’s regroup here.  Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven feasts of Israel in every possible detail during His first coming: Passover; Unleavened Bread; First Fruits; and Shavuot.

The Hebrew word for “feast” used in Leviticus 23 is “moedim.”  It is more clearly translated “appointed time.”  It’s God’s appointments with us.  He planned seven times each year when we would commemorate when He has chosen to move in time on His people’s behalf.

So if Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven “appointments” of God during His first coming, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that He will fulfill the remaining three during His second coming?

Next Post: The Conclusion of the Harvest