Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Living in the Shadows

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:1-10, ESV)

If you were king David and you had come near to being extinguished in war only to find the God you trusted and worshiped bring you an astonishing victory, it would have been most appropriate for you to bring a sacrifice, a freewill offering, to Yahweh and invite others to a banquet to give testimony to God’s deliverance.  David did this often.

But in Psalm 40, which our author quotes here, David does something different.  Not that he won’t bring a sacrifice, but he teaches something most important, that God’s greatest desire is doing His will.  If I bring a sacrifice but don’t have a heart of worship God will not be pleased.  David has come to do God’s will as it is written in the law.

The author of Hebrews quotes this passage because he has already deduced from the annual ceremony of the Day of Atonement and the use of animals as sacrifices that this is not God’s permanent means of providing cleansing from a consciousness of sins.  Otherwise they would not have to be offered over and over.  And it should be self-evident that animals cannot be adequate substitutes for humans.

Jesus as Messiah is the fulfillment of David’s kingship.  He is the ultimate “David” who has come to do God’s will.  His body is that ultimate sacrifice that God desires.  This congregation that is considering leaving Christ is leaving the fulfillment, the true reality, for its shadow.  They’re going back to what has been done away with and leaving the good things the law anticipated.

What about you?  Have you experienced just how good and real life in Jesus Christ is?  Or are you still living in the shadows?

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Learning Worship and Rest

“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.

“Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.

“You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning.

“The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 23:10-19, ESV)

In line with the law of Sabbath, God institutes a Sabbath year for Israel, commanding her to not work her fields every seventh year, with the intention that what grows by itself will be a supply for the poor and the beasts of the field (God cares for both). Like the Sabbath day, they rest and trust that God will provide what they need, just like He did the manna. Rest is proper for the human and for the beast and for the land. Even the foreigner is to keep this law, meaning that foreigners among them cannot be used by the Israelites to circumvent this law.

Worship of God alone also includes keeping the prescribed festivals, particularly Unleavened Bread, which includes Passover, and the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost, that occurred 50 days later. The Feast of Ingathering also must be kept, another harvest festival later in the year. No one should come empty handed, bringing a tithe or some portion of their harvest to recognize God’s provision. These three times are incumbent on all male head of households in the family.

Unleavened bread is again made the standard of all meal that is offered with sacrifices to Yahweh and the need to burn on the altar any fat from the sacrifice within the day is made clear. Another standard is to bring the best of one’s firstfruits. This is a time to honor the Lord’s provision, not try to bring the worst and selfishly keep the best for yourself. And a final standard is to avoid boiling young goat meat in its mothers milk, a pagan practice that God wants Israel to keep separate from.

Sabbath laws remind us that God owns everything and is capable of providing for us when we don’t work.  It is an exercise in trust as well as rest.  Do you rest well?  Or do you find yourself not knowing how to rest?  Ironically, we need to work at rest, preparing ourselves for it and planning it well.  Not trusting God may be a hindrance to our rest.  We rest in Him and then we rest ourselves.

Festival laws remind us that worship is essential to our mental and spiritual health.  Giving time and attention to worship is, just like rest, something we need to prepare and plan for.  We ready our spirits to celebrate the Lord.  And such celebration is a communal thing, not just an individual experience.  Socially we need this experience of community worship.

See Learning to Rest by Sheryl Giesbrecht, Hitting the Pause Button! 5 Strategies for Reducing Stress and Learning to Rest by Kelly Smith

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Consecrated Children

The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”

Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. And when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year.

“When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”  (Exodus 13:1-16 ESV)

We know that when God repeats something it is to emphasize just how important it is.  So here again He instructs Moses to make clear the necessity of observing Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread each year and in conjunction with this to consecrate every firstborn male, whether animal or human, in Israel.  All of this is with an eye to acknowledging how powerfully Yahweh delivered Israel from slavery and sin and as an instructional opportunity to teach who He is to the next generation.

Consecrating the firstborn, something we presume would only need to be done once in the lifetime of the firstborn child or animal, meant this one was devoted to the Lord and His service.  He had been spared from death by the blood of the Passover lamb and so He belonged to God.  For an animal that was normally sacrifice worthy, the animal would be sacrificed.  For animals that were not used as sacrifices, the animal was to be killed.  For animals that were necessary for the success of one’s household they could be redeemed, that is paid for with the sacrifice of another animal in their place.  And of course, for children, a sacrifice would be made in their place.

This statute does not apply to believers now who are not Jewish and in one sense cannot be complied with by Jews because there is no place to sacrifice.  Though our deliverance as Gentiles is related to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, it is not directly a part of our history with God.  The history of our deliverance centers all around Jesus.  For both saved Jews and saved Gentiles all our lives belong to Him and we are to be living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1).

The church I was raised in encouraged a dedication of all children to the Lord in a public ceremony.  We recognized that every child belonged to God and we were stewards charged with raising each child in God’s ways.  We are each consecrated to Him.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Journey

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”

The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

All the people of Israel did just as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron. And on that very day the LORD brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.  (Exodus 12:21-51 ESV)

God knows how weak we are.  He knows that if He did not institutionalize the Passover it would have been forgotten.  By making it a required festival it was assured that every year there would be opportunity to recount to themselves and their children what happened in Egypt on that fateful night, 430 years to the day that they entered Egypt and became slaves.

With the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn and the firstborn of all Egyptians and even their flocks and herds, Pharaoh has had enough and commands the people to leave immediately, with the Egyptians hurrying them out of fear of more deaths.  Yahweh gives Moses more instruction about how to observe the Passover and who may partake of it.  Those who are not Jewish must basically become converts to Judaism in order to participate in Passover.

The people bring with them great wealth donated by the Egyptians as well as their own herds and flocks.  So begins a journey of faith into the wilderness and on toward the land of Canaan.  They are not done with Pharaoh yet because God has more to show them.

God is still working in this way in our lives.  We are on a journey toward Christlikeness and we are on this journey as a family of believers.  Those not yet believers can become so and join us.  We have not arrived.  The journey is a process of never stopping to grow and never stopping loving one another as we await the coming kingdom.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Re-Enacted Power

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.”  (Exodus 12:14-20 ESV)

What Yahweh is about to enact to rescue Israel must be memorialized each year in a feast, the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread.  On the 14th of this month, which today is called Nisan, the Jews are to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, reminding them that they had to leave Egypt in haste and for the next seven days they must eat unleavened bread as well.  Leaven represented the old life in Egypt where they took from week to week that lump of dough that was starter dough for their next loaves of bread.  They must get rid of that old dough and start all over with new leaven.  Failure to do so would result in a death penalty.

Why such a serious requirement surrounding a meal?  Because God knows how powerfully a re-enacted rite such as this is to forming our understanding of and remembrance of what matters most, that is, His absolute sovereign redemption of a helpless and undeserving people.  Everything in our lives must rotate around this great reality, that God has saved us, not by our own doing, but by the provision of a substitute to cover our sin and guilt, so that we might walk in His power toward all the world.

For us as Christians the re-enactment we observe is rooted in the Passover, the very meal Jesus was observing with his disciples the night he was betrayed, in which he gave significance to the elements of the meal consistent with him being the Passover lamb.  His is the sacrifice that covers our sin and enables God to freely forgive us and redeem us if we apply it to ourselves, as the Israelites applied the blood to their doorposts.

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Community Salvation and a Meal

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.  (Exodus 12:1-13 ESV)

The tenth and final plague is the one that will deliver Israel from Egypt and marks the beginning of a new life for the nation, a life of freedom given by Yahweh, so this month (our March/April) constitutes the beginning of Israel’s new calendar.  Every family or combination of families, in accord with how many people a lamb will feed, are to set aside a lamb on the 10th day of the month and observe it until the 14th day to make sure it is without blemish, then eat it on the 14th day.  The lamb is first bled and its blood applied to the doorposts of each home where the lamb is eaten along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread.  It must all be eaten and any remains burned and all this in readiness to leave Egypt immediately.

Unlike the other plagues in which God protected the people, in order to get protection from this plague each person must exercise faith in Yahweh by sacrificing the lamb and applying its blood.  For their firstborn to live a lamb must die, a substitute that indicates that each of them deserves death, just like the Egyptians, but that God has covered their guilt with sacrifice of a guiltless one on their behalf.  Where God sees blood He passes over and does not judge the inhabitants.  All of this is to demonstrate His power and grace toward Israel and His judgment on Egypt and her gods.

We too have had a Passover lamb slain on our behalf, Jesus the one without blemish, and by trusting in His provision and sacrifice we have been passed over from judgment.  Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Every time I have gone to Ethiopia the group I have worked with has always closed our time of ministry with a slaying of a goat that provides our lunch.  One goat feeds a lot of people and lunch happens remarkably quickly after the goat is killed (always by one of us foreigners).  God binds people together through such an experience, and Passover, as He instituted it, was a communal experience, a taste of what salvation is and must be, a family context where those redeemed rejoice together.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (Tabernacles)

Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. (Exodus 23:16b)

So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. 40 On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 41 Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters 43 so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 23:39-43)

Though the Feast of Tabernacles (or more properly, Sukkot, or Feast of Booths) fell during the latter harvet or ingathering of crops, it also had a historical purpose.  It commemorated the 40 years of wandering Israel did in the wilderness after their refusal to conquer Canaan the first time they arrived there (Numbers 14).  Though they lived in tents during that whole time, God provided for their needs and prepared the next generation to take the land.

Coming as it did after the Day of Atonement, it provided a needed celebration of joy after a time of great soul-searching and sorrow over sin.  It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals that, like Passover and Weeks, was meant to be celebrated in Jerusalem.  Though this is not meant for arguing how much vacation we should have or take, it is interesting that Israelites were called upon to make three pilgrimages which could equal anywhere from 4-6 weeks worth of time traveling and festival depending on how far away from Jerusalem they lived.

Jesus attended a Feast of Tabernacles or Booths incognito one year according to John 7.  It was during a time when the opposition of the religious leadership made it very dangerous for him to publically participate.  At the opportune moment he revealed himself and made a prophetic proclamation about his authority to speak and the dangers he was facing, then offering living water to whoever wanted it.  It is quite possible that prayers were offered at this time for the rains to water the land but Jesus was offering spiritual water for the soul to all who believed in him.

In a sense, we are all living out the Feast of Tabernacles as we await the coming of Jesus to establish his kingdom.  We are in the wilderness, so to speak, in a temporary arrangement for living that will be done away with when the perfect or complete comes.

For further reading:  http://www.christcenteredmall.com/teachings/feasts/tabernacles.htm, http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/sukkot-2010-feast-tabernacles-or-building-fort-2677107.html, http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm, http://www.answers.com/topic/sukkot, http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/Sukkot