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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Lenses: Part 1 – Healing In His Wings

Have you ever looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars?  You can still make out the image, but just barely.  For the past 2,000 years, Christianity has been looking at the Scriptures the same way.  It’s time to turn the lenses around.  By looking at the Bible through the proper lenses – the historical, cultural, religious, and geographical context – the Word becomes more vivid, the personalities come to life, and the student becomes more and more connected to the story.  And ultimately, they fall more in love with Jesus.

Part 1 – Healing In His Wings 

Remembering the Commandments – Numbers 15:38-41

“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.   And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”

The ancient Hebrews were commanded by God to place special tassels on the corners of their garments.  These tassles – called tzitzit – were a symbol of their commitment to obey the commandments of God, found in the Torah.

The tzitzit consists of a specific set of knots and threads.  Each one of these is symbolic.

  • 5 Knots – The first 5 books of the Bible (Torah)
  • 4 Spaces – The Name of God (YHWH)

Each Hebrew word has a numerical value – called gematria.  The numerical value of the word “tzitzit” is 600.  If you combine that value (600) with the 5 knots, made from the 8 threads of the tzitzit, you come to the number 613.  This is the most important number in the entire Hebrew world.  There are 613 commandments in the Torah.  So, the purpose of the tzitzit is to remind Israel that they are to honor the commandments of God, and the very numerical value of the word “tzitzit” equals 613 – the number of commandments they are to obey.

It’s also very important to understand where the tzitzit are attached.  The Hebrew word for corner is “kanaph”.  This word is used in various other ways throughout Scripture, as we will soon see.

Cutting Corners – 1 Samuel 24:1-15

David was anointed future king of Israel, after Saul ignored God’s specific commandment regarding the Amalekites.  After that, Saul became more and more angry and paranoid.  This resulted in his seeking to kill the one man who most clearly understood the unique anointing of God that the king had – David.

While Saul was pursuing David, he entered a cave in the oasis of Ein Gedi.  Unbeknownst to him, David and his followers were also hiding in the cave.  David’s men tried to encourage him to kill Saul, and be done with the whole problem.  But David understood that this would be using his own power and strength to deal with his trials, rather than allowing God to take care of it.  Instead, he snuck up to Saul and cut of the corner of his robe, removing the tzitzit from Saul.

In doing this, he was declaring for all to see that Saul was not honoring the commandments of God.

The Coming Son of David – The Prophets

It wasn’t long after Ein Gedi that David ascended to the throne.  He ruled in righteousness and honored the commandments of God.  And while his son, Solomon, started out well, eventually things deteriorated into pagan worship and the rejection of the commandments.  The nation became divided, the Temple of God was destroyed, and judgment came.

During the time of the captivity in Babylon, the prophets of God began to foretell of another “Son of David” who would come and restore the kingdom to Israel.  He would be the Messiah – the Anointed One – who would rule in true justice and righteousness.  He would properly teach the commandments of God to the people, and Israel would finally fulfill its calling to be a light to the nations.

  • He will bring the political and spiritual revival of Israel, returning them to the land and restoring Jerusalem. (Isaiah 11:1-2; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5)
  •  He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government – both for Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1)
  • He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18; Ezekiel 40-50)
  • He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Torah as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15)

In essence, they prophesied that the Messiah would return Israel to obedience to the Torah; to keep the commandments that were symbolized by the wearing of the Tzitzit.

The Sun of Righteousness – Malachi 4:1-2

In the final writings of the period of the prophets, Malachi foretold of the “sun of righteousness” who would arise with “healing in His wings.”  This prophecy immediately became associated with the coming Son of David – the Messiah.

As we saw earlier, the Hebrew word for corner is “kanaph”.  Hebrew is considered a “poor language” – meaning that it has many fewer words than languages like Greek, Latin, or English.  That means that one word must be used to describe several different things.  Therefore, in addition to “kanaph” meaning corner, it also means wings.

The Hebrew sages taught that this meant that coming Messiah would have special healing powers in the tzitzit that were attached to the corner of his robe.

Many Pharisees who wanted to be considered candidates for the role of Messiah, would attach especially long tzitzit to their robes, suggesting that they had these special healing attributes.  (Matthew 23:5-7)

The Hem of His Garment – Matthew 9:18-21

One day when Jesus was making His way through the crowds to heal a young girl who was on the verge of death, a woman reached out and grabbed hold of his tzitzit.  In doing this, she was doing much more than believing that He could heal her.  The woman was declaring to all, that she believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah.

Later, many more would make this same declaration by seeking healing by reaching out and grabbing hold of Jesus’ tzitzit. (Matthew 14:34-36)

Why?

It’s time we see Jesus, and the culture He lived in, from a different perspective; to turn the lenses around.  By doing this, we can understand Jesus as His disciples did.  If we are to love someone more fully, it takes understanding them as they really are, rather than as we want them to be.  Jesus was a 1st Century Jew, living in Jewish culture and following many of the traditions of that culture.  When we understand that, we too can join in the Prayer of St. Richard:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.  Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.  Amen.

 

Next Post: Morning and Evening

What was the symbolism of the morning and evening sacrifices that took place in both the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temples?  How did these sacrifices connect with the covenant made between God and Abraham?  And were these sacrifices fulfilled in the life of Jesus?

Readings for the Week:

  • Genesis 15
  • Exodus 29:38-42
  • Mark 15:21-39
  • Hebrews 10

“Crazy Talk” from Religious Fanatics

Is the Messiah's coming imminent?

Now it sounds like some in Israel and Iran are agreeing with each other.  What is this world coming to?

Yesterday I posted an article from the Jerusalem Post where the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that sanctions are essentially pointless in deterring Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  This isn’t any revelation to those who actually have a brain and attempt to use it regularly (as opposed to politicians in D.C. and the UN).  So from that perspective, I agree with the Ayatollah.  But today I read some things that are more startling.  

This past weekend, the blessed supreme leader of Iran told his people to prepare for the “war of the end times.”  This may not seem like anything more than a crazy dude talking “crazy-talk”, but it is important for a few reasons.  Open up Joel Rosenberg’s blog in another window, read it, and then come back for more:

IRAN LEADER: WE MUST PREP FOR THE “END TIMES” « Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog.

OK… so now that the Ayatollah is speaking up on this, and having the state-run media spread the message, it seems as if Iran and its brand of crazy Islamic fundamentalism is moving in a new, and even more disturbing direction.

Now, remember back to the article from Israel Today that I posted a couple of days ago, where a group of religious Jews is declaring that the end is near and that the war of Gog and Magog is imminent.  (Read here)  While these two groups are coming from different ends of the spectrum, they both are preparing for the same thing.

That means that radical Islam and radical Judaism are both preparing for the same thing – a worldwide religious war that results in each religion’s messianic figure arriving on the scene.

Christians also have prophecies that tell of two messianic figures coming on the scene: one a false messiah most commonly referred to as the “Anti-Christ” and another who will come to establish His Kingdom after years of war and tragedy, Jesus the Messiah.

So here’s the question:

Should Christians take these apocalyptic prophecies from other religions seriously, or should we simply brush them off as religious fanaticism?

Please share your thoughts below!

Agreeing with the Ayatollah

I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I agree with the Supreme Leader of Iran.

“Westerners are being sensational about sanctions but they don’t understand that they themselves vaccinated Iran through their sanctions imposed over the last 30 years,” Iranian supreme leader says.

If by being sensational, he’s meaning that we talk a big game about sanctions, trying to make people believe that they work, he’s spot on.

Please tell me one, single instance, where sanctions actually accomplished what was desired?  I can’t seem to think of one.

Read more here: http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=277093