Monday, September 27, 2010
Sacrifices and Offerings
We finished the last blog by suggesting that God was moving toward constituting one nation as 'a kingdom of priests'. That nation was to be the Hebrew people. He would begin this particular element of the process by educating one man who was to be the Father of the nation - Abraham.
The call of Abram in chapter 12 of Genesis spells out something of God’s purposes in providing a nation of priests to intercede for the world. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you’” (Gen. 12:1). The phrase ‘go to’ (“lekh-lekha”) occurs only here an
The Lord continued the conversation by promising a homeland for the nation yet to be born: “I am the Lord (YHWH), who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it” (Gen. 15:7). Abram, having had one reassurance regarding his posterity has the confidence to ask for a similar reassurance regarding their place of inheritance: “And he said, ‘Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?’” (Gen. 15:8) The Midrash on the passage states that Abram asked for a sign because he feared that as soon as his descendants sinned they would not be allowed to enter into, or be in, the Promised Land. This was a real possibility considering the events that took place in the wilderness after the exodus, when Israel gave themselves over to calf-worship while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Law of God. To settle the mind of his servant and friend, God gave Abram instructions to prepare animals for a covenant ritual. Abram, who has been performing the duties of priest for some years, was called upon by the Lord to take up those duties again and make a blood sacrifice. Genesis 15:9–11 deals with the division of the animals as the prelude to the signing of the covenant. In verse 9, God commanded to set aside five things: first, a heifer three years old; second, a she-goat, a female goat that is three years old; third, a ram that is three years old; fourth, a turtle-dove; and fifth, a young pigeon. The LORD’s calling for this group of offerings has been interpreted as God’s answer to Abram’s fear, that even if his descendants sinned, atonement had been provided for them. The nature of these animals as having atoning value was recognized by the rabbis, and they called these the korbanot, meaning “sacrifices.” If this is correct, then it demonstrates the representational nature of the priesthood of Abram. Though Abram was initially the priest for his family, his family was to become a nation, so here, as head of the family, and recipient of a covenant promise for the nation, he is acting as priest and interceding for Israel, the nation that will come through his loins. But all nations are to be blessed through this nation, so he is acting a priest for them too, for the blessings of the New Covenant are founded on this covenant here. The expositor of justification by faith, Paul, recognises the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant: “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16). Paul’s wide application of the faith of Abraham is in harmony with the original statement that said, “in you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen.12:3). The use of the personal name of God is the guarantee of the covenant, for YHWH is presented as the covenant-keeping God.
Another dimension is visible at the ‘cutting’ of the covenant. While Abram was used to bring the animals and actively offer them on the altar, his participation in the ceremony was curtailed. The LORD put him to sleep while He (the LORD) passed between the separated pieces of the sacrifice thus indicating that He was the only guarantor of the covenant. Abram was there as beneficiary only. Since the principle of cutting a covenant in this way called for the death of the one to break it, the only conclusion available is that it has been made never to be broken. It was unconditionally made by One who could never break His promise and who could never die. This means that Israel has a permanent place in the purposes of God. This is emphasised in Romans chapter 11 where we are told, “… the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).
In Genesis, chapter 17 the covenant was again confirmed and Abraham (his name now changed to reflect his high calling) was given the commandment of circumcision, a further blood covenant sign for his descendents. This means the covenant passes from father to son throughout all generations. As Abraham’s physical descendents continue to enter the covenant, they will form a distinctive ethnic, national people. This is, of course, restricted to those that meet the further qualifications placed by God, that is, the line that comes through Isaac and Jacob. Moreover, they will be identified by their connection to a specific location, a piece of land where they will live out their calling. The promise of this specific territory to Abraham’s descendants, the land of Canaan, is repeated in each passage that reaffirms the covenant. Somehow, being a distinct people in this land is part of God’s plan for using Abraham’s descendants to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth.
The great puzzle is that Abraham and Sarah have no children. Sarai has had her name changed to Sarah to reflect that she will be mother to nations, a further identification that the purposes of God would be much wider than just the Hebrew nation. But if Sarah is barren, how can the covenant promises be fulfilled? Abraham and Sarah take it upon themselves to produce a child from Hagar, but God again comes to him and makes it clear that only a son from Sarah would be the elect heir. In a rejuvenating miracle, Abraham and Sarah are able to have a child when both are well beyond their child producing years and the child of promise, Isaac, is born.
“Now it came to pass … that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” (‘Hineni’; which has the sense, ‘here I am Lord, attentive and ready to do anything you ask!’) “Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (Gen. 22:1-2). At this point we can observe again that the phrase “lekh-lekha” (go to) connects this passage with the original call of Abram in Genesis, chapter 12. If Abraham was chosen, called and gifted, it was for this event. God does not demand an animal blood sacrifice this time, but Isaac, the miracle child, in whose loins resides the seed that will bless the world and save humanity. The description of Isaac is illuminating: your son – your favoured one – the one whom you love. Just as the Father testified of Jesus, Abraham could have said, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’. Abraham rose early in obedience and travelled to Mount Moriah, later to be known as Mount Zion, the site of the Temple. As the narrative unfolds, the parallels with the crucifixion of Jesus, the event to which it points, are recognisable. It is a journey taken by a father and son, at the end of which is to be an offering of the greatest magnitude that a father could make, and compliance by the son which would reflect a total co-operation in the purposes of the father. Even such little touches as Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice seems to pre-shadow the requirement that Jesus carry the wood for His own crucifixion stake. The Jewish Study Bible remarks on the parallel quoting as it does a midrash on this episode which, referring to a Roman execution, says ‘it is like a person who carries his cross on his own person’. When Isaac asked the question, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” he received the reply, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:7,8). At Calvary God provided for Himself a lamb for an offering.
Throughout Abraham’s lifetime occupation of being a priest standing before an altar, he has never been faced with making such an important, demanding, or more costly sacrifice than this. When they came to the place of which God had told him, “Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood” (Gen. 22:9). Abraham was fully prepared to fulfil the will of God and sacrifice his son. But God did not require human sacrifice, only knowledge of the submission of Abraham. So the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He replied, “Here I am” (‘Hineni’ – ‘still listening and ready to fulfill your perfect will’) (Gen. 22:11). His son was spared, and with the ram to hand, Abraham had a substitute to offer instead of Isaac. Abraham, the priest, stood before the altar and offered a substitutionary blood sacrifice confirming once again the ‘life for a life’ principle. This test of faith and obedience is followed by a re-affirmation of the blessing of God upon the nations. “Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son — blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice’” (Gen. 22:15-18). To establish it beyond question, God had confirmed it with an oath: “By Myself I have sworn”. This is the most forceful declaration yet, that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through the seed of Abraham. “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you’” (Heb. 6:13-14). “For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:16-20). This is an all encompassing reaffirmation of all that Abraham could have hoped for:
(a) the assurance of a lasting earthly seed (the sand on the seashore) and
(b) a lasting heavenly seed (the stars of heaven); and
(c) a blessing on all nations of the earth.
But note: in both these two incredibly important encounters, Abraham was standing at an altar in the office of a priest, an office he had been occupying all his life. What we are saying is this: that the sacrifice of Isaac pre-figured the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham gave that which was most precious to him, the life of his Son, to demonstrate His confidence in the God of the covenant and the covenant of God, just as God gave his only Son, a child of miraculous birth, to die for our sins to honor the covenant and to demonstrate He is the covenant-keeping God.
Like Isaac, Jesus is the Son of the promise through whom blessing comes to the whole world. The action of Abraham offering up Isaac was the capstone of the Abrahamic covenant. Clearly, the offering of the Son of Abraham and the offering of the Son of God are linked. That the event took place on Mount Moriah, the place where the Temple would stand and where the Aaronic priesthood would function for a thousand years, is illuminating. The strong implication is this: that the sacrifice could not have taken place anywhere else and the Temple could not have been built in any other place.
Abraham powerfully demonstrates here that he is the father of the priestly line. As the book of Hebrews says, the priests were in the loins of Abraham and when the patriarch presented offerings to God through King Melchizedek, a priest-king whose titles prefigure Jesus Messiah. Abraham was actually giving offerings to the higher priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 7).
The sacrifice of Isaac is a priestly repudiation of the sin of Adam and Eve and a representative act for the whole human race. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they were attempting to assert their autonomy from God. The serpent claimed that in knowing good and evil, that is by determining good and evil for themselves through experience, they would become gods. The root of sin is found in this rebellion, self-sufficiency and quest for autonomy. Desiring to be gods themselves, Adam and Eve made a fateful decision to believe Satan and to act on the premise that they could live apart from their Father-Creator. Abraham walked a different road – his reaction was ‘Hineni’ – I am ready and willing to do your bidding.
Noah had stood at the head of humanity and acted as priest, and received promises which, while incredibly wide ranging, were nevertheless, of a material nature. It was Abraham, Father of the Hebrew people, who performed a corporate priestly act, in representation for Israel but reaching the whole human race. It was Abraham who obtained the promise that, as a result of the sacrifice that his offering pre-figured, all nations would be blessed. So it is Abraham who most clearly establishes the principle of substitution in his act of human sacrifice. It was only symbolical inasmuch as the Angel of the Lord stopped him before the sacrifice could be completed; nevertheless, the act most perfectly points to the sacrifice of God’s son on Golgotha, who gave His life for our sins.
What we have seen so far is that because of the solidarity of the human race,
– when Adam fell we all fell, and suffered the consequences.
– when Noah acted as priest, the benefits were felt not by him alone but by us all.
– when Abraham believed God and offered Isaac on the altar, the benefits of the substitutionary sacrifice would be felt by ‘all nations’.
Posted by Mountjoy at 12:40 PM
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sacrifices and Offerings
FROM CREATION TO ABRAHAM
FROM CREATION TO ABRAHAM
The world was in darkness due to the success of Satan in the Garden, as a result of which “death reigned” (Rom.5.14), both spiritually and physically. In the wake of the fall of Adam there came a flood of wickedness, which in turn, precipitated the deluge – a very strong reminder of the second element of the judgement of God – physical death. Humankind’s continued rebellion, evidenced by the building of the tower of Babel, brought another judgement when the majority of earth’s population were dispersed to restrict their rebellious ambitions. During this time, which was relatively close to the creation of our first parents, there had already been established the principle of blood sacrifice. Initially implied when God provided the skins of animals to clothe Adam and Eve, its necessity was much more apparent in the experience of Abel and Cain.
Abel and Cain
“the Lord respected Abel and his offering” (Gen. 4:4). The value of Abel’s sacrifice is given in Hebrews: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts” (Heb 11:4). Abel offered a blood sacrifice, and was imputed righteous. This offering set the standard and most clearly established the principle - the sacrifice had to be offered in faith and had to be a blood sacrifice, that is, a life given for a life spared. When these two conditions were satisfied then the offerer was declared righteous, that is, he was granted imputed righteousness. While the obedience in bringing the sacrifice is important, the key element is faith. The ground on which Abel could be declared righteous was his faith – a mechanical obedience would not have been sufficient. It will be more clearly seen in the personal history of Abraham who believed in the promise of God and was accounted righteous. There was no animal involved here although later in the encounter when the covenant was ‘cut’ blood sacrifice was involved. The text puts the order – first “… he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6); then he was instructed to bring animal sacrifices. Paul restated the principle in the clearest terms: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Rom. 4:3).
The communication indicating that Abel’s offering had been accepted is vitally important, as also the fact that others knew of its acceptance. No need for trial and error, no need for any hand-wringing, and no need for mental anguish – God had spoken – this do and live. That God ‘had respect’, not only for Abel’s sacrifice but more importantly for Abel, was the final verification. The way to fellowship with God was transparent. The bringing of an animal as a substitute was to be seen as an acknowledgment of sin and evidence of a penitent heart and was the only sure way to resume a relationship with the Creator. While it appeared to be an unreasonable demand of God, to demand the life of an animal, since it was innocent of the crime for which the sinner was condemned; nevertheless it established the principle of the innocent dying in place of the guilty, which was to be the bedrock of the sacrificial system. Moreover, it was not as wasteful as first appears, since the animals designated for sacrifice were to be used as meat to nourish the body and their hides and wools used for clothing. Thus the animal provided life for the offerer in several beneficial ways.
However, the bringing of an animal sacrifice did not remove the sin of the individual, but it did articulate a plea for mercy and allow God to respond in grace. That it was necessary to wait for the inspired New Covenant ministers to elucidate how the principle of substitution was acceptable to a Holy God was entirely appropriate, since the righteousness apportioned to Abel was a righteousness that had not yet been paid for. That only became clear when the full anti-type of the offerings of the Old Testament dispensations was unveiled, activated and accepted. The death of Christ, the Lamb of God’s providing, was needed to complete Abel’s sacrifice, and also the myriad subsequent sacrifices offered in the same spirit, as indicated by the text: “to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:24).
The divine requirement of an offering of a blood sacrifice in faith was further validated by the negative experience of Cain. He also brought an offering - some produce he had grown; but it was rejected. It had two weaknesses – (i) it was not a blood sacrifice and (ii) it was not offered with faith. Cain received a warning from the Lord which amounted to – ‘try again or face the consequences’. Alas, Cain was angry and killed his brother and through this act he lost fellowship with God, which in turn lost him the blessing of God and the strength of the crops: “So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth” (Gen. 4:11-12).
Apart from some exceptional individuals, the downward spiral of humanity continued unchecked. At the time of the flood only Noah’s family were using animal sacrifice as a means of grace to be reconciled to God. Consequently this was the family that God chose to save. By faith Noah built an ark. That Noah acted as a priest for his family and offered sacrifices, and in consequence was both in fellowship with God and could receive His Word, while not specifically mentioned prior to the flood (although it does say that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord), is identified in his first actions after the deluge. When he exited the ark, he resumed his office as priest and offered sacrifices. “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” (Gen. 8:20) Noah’s actions pleased the Lord for “… the Lord smelled a soothing aroma” (v.21).
Noah, as head of his family, was practiced in filling the office of priest. But at that time his was the only family, and because of those exceptional circumstances, his priestly activity had consequences for humanity. That God viewed his sacerdotal duties as including intercession for the world is supported by the issuing of the Noahic covenant. “Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease” (Gen. 8:21-22), and God gave the rainbow as a reminder of His promise. We currently enjoy the seasons and the crops and the cycle of the earth around the sun and life itself because Noah acted as priest for us.
Another ancient book of the Bible, the book of Job, provides further confirmation of the principle of animal sacrifice. Job, the head of his family was again fulfilling the office of priest. “So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts’. Thus Job did regularly.” (Job 1:5) As priest for his family he trusted in God and made offerings in which blood was shed. Consequently, he was held up by God as a perfect example of a godly man.
Next Time - ABRAHAM
Posted by Mountjoy at 11:18 AM
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
We will remember them
I come from a Rhondda mining family as does my wife. My father was a miner as was his brother and also my father-in-law. I too worked in the coal industry, although not underground. So I was always aware of the cost of coal. The price paid in terms of health – there was hardly a collier that did not fight for breath in later life – they always struggled against the old enemy – pneumoconiosis. And many paid the ultimate price in terms of loss of life. Some of the disasters in the South Wales coal field are etched into the national consciousness. 439 lost their lives in Senghenydd in 1913, and Ferndale paid a price in 1867 losing 178 men in an explosion, and then a further 53 two years later.
But the explosion on 28th June 1960 was totally unexpected. 45 men died in the West District of the Old Coal Seam of the Six Bells colliery. The tragedy rocked the village – the whole community were called upon to pay a price – those that survived as well as those that died. Death had come unexpectedly! The Memorial now erected on the colliery site is fitting – a miner with his hands extended, apparently asking ‘Why?’
And this question is often on the lips of those that consider the ultimate questions of life and death. There are no easy or ready answers. A minister in London was seeking to comfort those that had lost relatives during the blitz in London, when he was asked a very direct question: “Where was your God when my son was killed?” He replied to the grieving mother as tenderly as he could: “He was in the same place as He was when His own Son was killed”. The answer would not have satisfied the bereaved woman at the time, but it did point her to a God who could sympathise with her condition. Also, it would have highlighted the central message of Christianity – that Jesus, God’s Son, paid the ultimate price for the benefit of others. He died that we might live. We all have to die – it is the price that has to be paid for our sins. As the Bible teaches, “... the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NIV).
But there is life after death – eternal life – life where we die no more. This wonderful benefit is freely available to all – on one condition - acceptance of Jesus, God’s Son, as Saviour. God the Father has made it very clear. He will bestow everlasting life on those who choose His Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV). Why such a condition? This brings us back to the death of Jesus – why did He have to die? The answer is also in the Bible. “... Christ died for our sins .” (1 Corinthians 15:3, NIV)
Our many sins require a punishment – not only physical death but also spiritual death. However, Jesus died to take our punishment on Himself. He died as our substitute. If we accept that fact, then we can be adopted into His family and have eternal life. “... to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God .” (John 1:12, NIV)
The memorial to the miners standing on the Six Bells colliery site is magnificent – but another fitting memorial to the sacrifice of others would be for us to acknowledge that Jesus also died for us - paying the ultimate sacrifice for the ultimate blessing. I ask you to consider taking Jesus as your Saviour - please make an early decision. Remember – death comes unexpectedly!
Posted by Mountjoy at 1:42 PM
Monday, September 6, 2010
Studies in the Book of Ruth
Boaz – Kinsman-Redeemer
Boaz – Kinsman-Redeemer
1. Boaz would function as the ‘wings of God’ and provide protection and safety in the very uncertain world they lived in.
2. The reproach of her widowhood would be taken away, and she would have a different status in society.
3. Her poverty would be removed.
Posted by Mountjoy at 5:57 PM