What Would God Have Us Do?

[This message is inspired by Ava Pennington’s post titled “Three Messages Pastors Should Not be Afraid to Preach.]

Within the overall perspective of God redeeming the creation through his Son Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection and heavenly intercession there are consistent themes that run through the Bible. One of those themes is the answer to the question, “What does God want from me?” or “What does God want me to do now that I have been saved?”

The answer is first mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:12-21 at the time Israel was about to enter the Promised Land. It has a threefold punch. The first and most important aspect is the fear and love of the one true God with all our heart and soul. Along with that comes a requirement to “circumcise” their hearts and to cease being stubborn. Because God is great, mighty and also happens to be their liberator, a certain humility and cooperation with him is a good starting place.

The next two aspects flow out of God’s desire that they “walk in all his ways.” He introduces himself as the God who is not partial and who takes no bribe. He also “executes justice for the widow and orphan.” In other words, he is a God of unswerving justice who does not tolerate using the judicial system to oppress the helpless.

The idea of God protecting and helping the helpless of Israel is extended to the “stranger” in the very same verse. God “loves the stranger,” and it behooves the people of God to also love the foreigner among them. Immigrants to any country may be among the most vulnerable people due to a lack of support mechanisms of family and friends. It would be easy to take unfair advantage of them in terms of lower wages or lack of access to jobs. God wants his people to be kind to the disadvantaged by providing the sustenance, shelter and clothing they desperately need. Kindness and mercy are important aspects of “walking in his ways.”

Centuries later both kingdoms had wandered far from God. A chief symptom of that wandering was the evil of the strong preying on the weak. In the works of the prophet Micah,

Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance. [Micah 2:1-2 NRSV]

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.” Therefore Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height. [Micah 2:9-12 NRSV]

God reminds them through this prophet of the reason for the anger and disgust with his people.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly before your God. [Micah 6:8]

Once again God gives them a threefold response. Justice, kindness and a humble walk with God are what God expects of his people. It is interesting that he expects them to “love kindness.” Kindness is not intended to be a grudging aspect of character, but a matter of strong and willing desire.

By the time of Jesus the religious establishment in Judea (the “remnant” of Israel under Roman domination) had decided that obedience to the ceremonial laws would be enough to gain God’s favour. Jesus has this to say about the prevailing view,

Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! [Matt. 23:23]

It is easy to see what Jesus considers to be the most important aspects of what God expects of anyone who would follow Jesus. Those three words, justice, mercy and faith are elaborated on in the Deuteronomy passage above. This message is consistent throughout the Bible.

I recently had an experience that, for me, underscored how difficult “faith” as described in the Bible is. A humble and obedient “walk with God” is not easy at all. Faith is not just a matter of mental belief. It is more a matter of “being faithful” to God.

I have what is referred to in seminary as a “bi-vocational ministry.” In other words I am not a paid minister. I have a day job, like most other people. My employer contracts services to other business and government organizations.

In my desire to be helpful to both our client and their customers I sometimes overlooked restrictions our client placed on my work. Naturally I had all manner of justification in my mind for doing so, such as helping with the smooth flow of work at the site. In the end, however, I was simply doing what I was not allowed to do.

My employer received an official complaint from our client about my activities in that regard, and had the unpleasant task of officially reprimanding me. No matter what my rationalizations, the fault was entirely mine. By violating my conditions I was not being faithful to my employer nor to our client.

It would have been perfectly just for them to fire me for the breach, but they graciously allowed me to remain after a stern official warning on my work record – as long as I stop violating the conditions.

That was a wake-up call for me on more than one level.

If it is so easy for me to be less-than-faithful on the “secular” plane, how hard is it for me to be faithful in my “walk” with God? Of course, keeping faith with my employer is part of my walk with God, so repentance and acceptance of consequences is part of the package.

In retrospect, my life at work has become easier and more productive since I stopped doing what I was not supposed to do. That has also been the case for every area of my life in which I have turned from sin.

Fortunately, God is even far more gracious than my employer. Softening a hard heart is a specialty of his Son and his Spirit. I know I’m in good hands as I discover the myriad ways that my “walk” with him needs to change in order to more closely match his ways, and not my own.

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“You Shall Read This Law”

[Bible references in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version]

One of the clues that the so-called old covenant follows a fairly standard ancient covenant format is that ancient covenants usually have what the experts refer to as a “document clause.” This is a statement that specifies how often and when the parties are supposed to read the covenant documents. The following quote from the end of the book of Deuteronomy does exactly that.

Deut. 31: 9 Then Moses wrote down this law, and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 Moses commanded them: “Every seventh year, in the scheduled year of remission, during the festival of booths,   11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, 13 and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

Several things are interesting or unusual about the above “document clause.” As one example, normally only a nation’s king would need to read it at the specified times. In this case, not only all men and women are to hear it read to them, but so are resident aliens and even children. Everyone is to be exposed to the law of God in that nation.

Another interesting thing about this clause is that it occurs during the Feast of Tabernacles (or booths) each seventh year – the year of land Sabbath and release from debts. Israelites and resident aliens were to be reminded of the privileges and responsibilities of living in God’s Promised Land at the time of debt-release, when it mattered most.

This reading of the law was intended to produce an effect on the hearers. They were to learn to fear God and diligently observe that law as a result of hearing it.

Their time in the Promised Land was to start on the right foot by reminding Israel of this law, starting the clock running for their seven-year cycle.

Josh. 8:30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, “an altar of unhewn stones, on which no iron tool has been used”; and they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed offerings of well-being. 32 And there, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 All Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark in front of the levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.

2 Chronicles 2-7 chronicles another important event that occurred during the Feast of Tabernacles. The timing of the events is indicated in the following passage:

2 Chr. 5:2-5 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 3 And all the Israelites assembled before the king at the festival that is in the seventh month. 4 And all the elders of Israel came, and the Levites carried the ark. 5 So they brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up.

As the brand-new Temple is being dedicated God himself makes an appearance, just to let everyone know that he approves of his new home.

2 Chr. 5:11-14 11 Now when the priests came out of the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to their divisions), 12 all the levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kindred, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with one hundred twenty priests who were trumpeters. 13 It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, 14 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.

2 Chr. 7:1, 1 When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

8-10 8 At that time Solomon held the festival for seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great congregation, from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. 9 On the eighth day they held a solemn assembly; for they had observed the dedication of the altar seven days and the festival seven days. 10 On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their homes, joyful and in good spirits because of the goodness that the Lord had shown to David and to Solomon and to his people Israel.

Even with all the hoopla and worship at the Temple something seems to have been missing. Generations later, after a 70-year exile from the land, a small remnant had returned to resume worshipping in the land (though still under foreign domination.) Upon looking through the law, they discovered a few things that they needed to do.

Neh. 8:14 And they found it written in the law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the people of Israel should live in booths during the festival of the seventh month, 15 and that they should publish and proclaim in all their towns and in Jerusalem as follows, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them, and made booths for themselves, each on the roofs of their houses, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them; for from the days of Jeshua son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God. They kept the festival seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance.

It would seem that even Solomon’s Feast of Tabernacles was not as spiritually uplifting as the one in Nehemiah’s time. What was missing? We can’t be absolutely sure, but my guess would be something not mentioned in 2 Chr. 5-7 – a reading of the law.

After the reading of the law, something amazing happened. Something that resulted in an extra meeting to conduct necessary spiritual repairs. Hearing the ancestral law helped them realize that their relationship with God needed to be healed with a strong dose of repentance and obedience.

Neh. 9:1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.   2 Then those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their ancestors. 3 They stood up in their place and read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth part of the day, and for another fourth they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God.

They somehow knew that God wants more than professions of obedience. In addition to repentance, he looks for what John the Baptist called “fruit worthy of repentance.” This involves a change in how one lives. Professions of obedience must lead to actual obedience, or they are worthless to God.

A similar story from earlier in Israel’s history demonstrates a similar effect from reading the law. A rare righteous king decides to follow God and repair the Temple. As workmen clear the rubble they make an astonishing discovery and report it to the high priest, who then approaches the king’s personal secretary.

2 Ki. 22:8 The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. 9 Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.” Shaphan then read it aloud to the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12 Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” 14 So the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the prophetess Huldah the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; she resided in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, where they consulted her. 15 She declared to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the Lord, I will indeed bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have abandoned me and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But as to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. 20 Therefore, I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place.” They took the message back to the king.

King Josiah’s reaction saved an entire nation for the duration of his lifetime. (Unfortunately for the nation he met a self-inflicted untimely end, but that is a story for another day.)

Another component of ancient covenants is called the “historical prologue.” In that part of the document is the story of how the current relationship between the parties came to that point. The book of Deuteronomy (which means “repeat of the law” in Greek) has a very extensive review of the history of the people of Israel, from Abraham to the exodus from Egypt and the 40 years in the wilderness.

Even the Ten Commandments has a historical prologue: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

In preaching about Jesus’ new covenant in Acts 2, Peter’s sermon includes a history of how Jesus fulfils both prophecy and the provisions for redemption in the law. The reaction to it is interesting: an intense need to know what to do about it. When Peter replies that repentance and baptism are necessary, they quickly are moved to become Christians.

The writings of the New Testament function in the same way for Christians and for those who are being called to follow Jesus Christ. On the one hand, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day” (John 6:44). On the other hand, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2).

If reading the words of Moses and the ancient prophets was intended to bring people back to God, how much more should reading the recorded words of God’s own Son.

Of course, modern Christians can sometimes forget that the Old Testament was the only Bible available to the first generation of Christians. The words of the original disciples served as a witness to how Jesus fulfilled the promises of Moses and the Prophets. Eventually some of those disciples and their helpers wrote histories and letters about Jesus and the early Christian heroes. It is those writings, of course, that make up what we now call the New Testament.

Within those writings we can see how that first generation of Christians saw and related to Jesus. They also provide glimpses of how they interpreted the writings of the Law and the Prophets. This is why reading and understanding the entire Bible is important. If you miss the Old Testament, you miss a lot of context.

Of course, missing the New Testament is a sure way to miss the whole story of how a down-and-out nation of Israel begins to be redeemed in a way that also includes the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed by Abraham’s “seed.”

As we were singing the closing hymns of our service a passage in Isaiah 11 came to mind (though I could not remember chapter and verse at the time). It connects with the reading of the law during the Feast of Tabernacles. Speaking of a time of universal peace and abundance, the passage speaks of the earth being “filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas.”

The reading of the law to Israelite and Gentile residents at the festival points ahead to a time when everyone will know the Lord.

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Feast of Tabernacles: Get Into the Flow

[Note: The material in this post may seem familiar because it has appeared in other forms in previous posts on this website.]

The book or John organizes Jesus’ ministry around different “Jewish” festivals, many of which were ordained by God for Israel in the days of Moses. The events chronicled in John 7-10 take place during the autumn Feast of Tabernacles. This was an eight-day festival that celebrated, among other things, the larger fall harvest of wheat.

Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal describe an important Feast of Tabernacles ritual. Each morning of the festival, a procession would begin from the Pool of Siloam, where the high priest would scoop up a pitcher of water and walk back to a corner of the altar at the Temple. In the meantime another procession had gathered willow boughs from a nearby location and placed them on the sides of the altar to form a leafy canopy above it. A crowd would joyously follow the high priest back to the Temple. As he entered the aptly-named Water Gate, the assembled priests would quote Isaiah 12:3, “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” [As quoted from The Feasts of the Lord, p. 138] Afterward, the high priest would pour out the water into a basin at the altar, which emptied at the ground at the base. Simultaneously, a pitcher of wine was poured into another basin on the other side of the altar.

While this was happening, the priests would play musical instruments and sing Psalms 113-118 (praise psalms collectively called the Hallel). The priests circled around the altar while a set of three trumpet blasts filled the air. “At the proper time, the congregation waved their palm branches toward the altar and joined in singing: “Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity’ (Ps. 118:25).” [Howard and Rosenthal, p. 138] (This is exactly what the palm-branch-waving crowds were doing on what is now referred to as Palm Sunday when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. “Hosanna” is Hebrew for “save now.”)

On the seventh day of the Feast, the intensity of this ritual increased, with sevenfold trumpet-blasts and seven circles around the altar. Around 30 AD, a thirty-ish Galillean surprised the crowds by shouting out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38 as quoted by Howard & Rosenthal, p. 141). John notes that it cause no small stir.

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee?”

At this particularly Messianic moment of the festivities, Jesus was telling them that He is the source and cause of their salvation. According to Howard and Rosenthal, “Ancient Jewish theology connected the water-drawing ceremony with the Holy Spirit… The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in relation to salvation was a much-repeated theme of the Old Testament prophets (Isa. 32:15; 59:21; Ezek. 11:9; 36:27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29)” [Feasts of the Lord, p. 147].

The idea of rivers of living waters has ancient roots, and is represented in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden, which was watered by a river whose waters in turn became the source of every other major river in the world. These were rivers that flooded their banks once a year in order to fertilize the surrounding soil, producing bumper crops that sustained the highest civilizations of the day.

The symbolism reappears in Ezek. 47:1-12, where a river begins at the south side of the east face of the altar, and proceeds east, healing rivers and seas wherever it goes. It supports fruit trees on either side which bear fruit all twelve months of the year. Ezekiel’s river imagery is picked up by John in the book of Revelation, where the trees are identified as trees of life, just as in Eden.

The prophet Zechariah also writes of that time.

Zech 14:8 – On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.

One of our members noticed that Jesus ends his confrontations at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (10:22-30) with the declaration that he is the “good shepherd.” (This seems to have occurred on the Eighth Day, considered a different, yet related feast by the Jewish community.) Knowing the Feast of Tabernacles background of this statement helped her understand what Jesus meant better. According to Psalm 23, David’s shepherd led him to green pastures beside the “still waters” or “waters of rest.” Jesus had not changed the subject. He was just telling them (and us!) to follow Him to the waters of rest in His Spirit.

Whether or not Ezekiel and John are also talking about literal waters under a new heavens and earth, we can’t go wrong by following Jesus. We do know that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit because John tells us what he meant. Have you come to Jesus for the living water that only he can lead you to?

Living waters have an amazing effect on the surrounding land, as noted by the prophet Isaiah.

Is. 35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Based on the descriptions above, living water seems to bring life to all the land it touches. Living water brings what Isaiah describes as “joy” and “gladness” to the desolate places. It decorates the surroundings with lush growth by creating conditions for growth. Like the Nile, Tigris or Euphrates rivers, it overflows its banks at just the right time of the year, spreading fertile soil and moisture to ensure a marvelous, sustaining crop along its flood plain.

There must be an analogy here somewhere, as there is so often in Jesus’ teaching. If Jesus provides us with streams of living waters coming out of our innermost being, how is that reflected in our lives and in the lives of those whose lives we touch?

Do we bring life, health and joy to those around us?

Do we radiate the peace of Christ to those who are near us?

Or do we bring shame, condemnation and fear to those around us? Are we the downer in the lives of our neighbours? Are they afraid to talk to us because of what they know we’ll say about their way of living?

I think Jesus calls us to let His streams of living water flow out of our hearts and into the hearts and lives of others around us. He gives us living water to refresh and bring joy to others, not to hoard it for ourselves or even for the church. It overflows our banks, spreading hope, life and joy and growth wherever the water reaches.

Let’s ask God to let the living, healing streams flow unhindered through our lives.

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“They Shall be My People, and I Will Be Their God”

The story of the relationship between God and humanity begins with God forming the first human being from the soil and “breathing into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7 NRSV throughout). He directly operates on the man, removing a rib, in order to make a woman for him. From then on He so regularly meets with them in the garden that they recognize the sound of His approach and try to hide after the first sin. That sin creates the first bit of distance from the humans as they are ejected from the garden into a less hospitable environment of the greater world (Chapter 3). Even so, God still speaks directly to Adam and Eve’s children (Chapter 4). The distance keeps increasing until only Noah pleases God (Chapter 6) and God has to start over with humanity after a worldwide (or at least humanity-wide) flood. By the time God is ready to begin with a group of people again, He expresses a wish to dwell among the Israelites in a “sanctuary” (Ex. 25:8-9) in a place He has established as his own (Ex. 15:18-19). He expresses this wish in the description of blessings He would bestow upon Israel for living up to His covenant, “I will place my dwelling in your midst, and I shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev. 26:11-12). He even reminds them of the time that he and the descendants of Israel lived together in the wilderness in tents by establishing an annual festival with a “camping” theme, called sukkoth (the “Feast of Tabernacles” or “Feast of Booths” in English)(Leviticus 23:43). As they were at the border of entering the Promised Land, this festival was also to be a time to be reminded of the material and spiritual blessings that being in God’s presence as his people brings (Deut. 16:13-17). By the time Jeremiah the prophet writes his famous words about God establishing a new covenant, the Israelites of both northern and southern nations of Israel had disobeyed and forfeited the blessings. God still holds out hope of dwelling among a remnant of those people as their God and they as His people in Jer. 31:31-35 and 32:37-41. Of course, that hope is not based on thin air. Moses had, long before, told them that they would disobey and be ejected from the Promised Land (Deut. 30:1-5). In the same passage he also offers the hope of return from exile and full restoration of the relationship with God. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts a fascinating theological spin on this ideal of God living among human beings by declaring that it is Jesus Christ (God’s Son) “for whom and by whom all things exist” (Heb. 2:10) who calls His redeemed people “my brothers and sisters” (v. 12) and “my children” (v. 13). These redeemed people are defined as “descendants of Abraham” who are redeemed by His atoning sacrifice for their sin (v. 17-18). He ties this idea of God and man dwelling together in harmony with the idea of a “sabbath rest.” Exegeting the last verse of Psalm 95 (quoted in Heb. 3:7-11), he notes that Israel’s failure to trust God in the days of Moses prevented them from fully enjoying the “rest” God had wanted for them in the Promised Land (Heb. 4:1-11). Even though they entered the land 40 years later, they missed out on an eternal rest that remains available to Christians who endure to the end (Heb. 4:1-2). In speaking about the faithful Old Testament saints, he notes that Abraham “stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9-10) Speaking of all of the saints, he goes so far as to say,

All these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land they left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them (Heb. 11:13-16).

When the people of Israel left Egypt, God lived among them in a tent (a “tabernacle”), as though he knew that it would be a temporary camp. For the first few centuries he continued to live in a tent. After Moses died God lived among them, but it was almost impossible to get near him. Only one man was allowed to enter his inner chamber – once per year! Lev. 16 details the many requirements for even that one yearly encounter. God had already told Moses that failure of the people to keep covenant was inevitable. In a sense, God was recapitulating the experience of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a sojourner living in a land that is promised, but not yet delivered into their full possession. Like the patriarchs, God was also waiting for a real, harmonious relationship with a faithful people in an eternal inheritance. The Apostle Paul makes the idea of God dwelling among His people even more immediate to his readers when speaks of the church as the “temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-18) by quoting prophets who echo Lev. 26:12 (Ezek. 37:23 and Jer. 31:31-35 and 32:37-41). There seems to be an aspect of God already living in His “temple,” the church, through His Holy Spirit. Yet Paul also calls them “promises,” (2 Cor. 7:1) that require us to “cleanse” ourselves to be fully realized. We must conclude that we, like the saints mentioned in Hebrews 11, are not fully there yet. Even though we are already tasting the benefits of the new covenant, there are elements that will be fully realized only when Jesus returns to reign and finally establishes the “eternal rest” promised through Abraham, Moses and the prophets. The book of Revelation describes the scene of a New Jerusalem descending from heaven with a loud announcement, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). That only occurs after a final judgment and a “reboot” of the entire universe (or at least a “new heavens and a new earth – whatever that means). The book of Revelation also includes warnings about the need for striving to “overcome,” lest we fall short of these precious promises (Rev. 22:7). This creates a tension between being confident in our salvation and realizing that Jesus expects results in our hearts, minds and actions. A saved person needs to strive to live a saved life. Going back to sinful patterns of living is not an option. To sum up, God is present with believers through His Spirit now, and will be present in the person of Jesus Christ at His return, for the rest of eternity. He promises to “tabernacle” with his redeemed people forever in a new heavens and a new earth. His personal presence among us will bring blessings beyond our comprehension. These promises are definitely worth putting out a lot of effort in the process of overcoming our own nature and living out Christ’s nature within us.

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A Memorial of the Blowing of Trumpets

The Feast of Trumpets is the only festival in the Bible that is named after a (more-or-less) musical instrument. There were apparently two different kinds of trumpets used in religious services in ancient Israel: a long silver trumpet used for calling assemblies and announcing feast days, Sabbaths and new moons, and a ram’s horn trumpet called the shofar that was usually used in warfare and later in royal coronations.

We are not told directly in the Scriptures which version was used in the Feast of Trumpets, but Jewish tradition has assigned the shofar to that duty. (My own private suspicion is that the plural used in the description suggests that all of Israel’s trumpets were used in this particular festive occasion. But who am I to mess with tradition?)

In previous messages about the Feast of Trumpets I have highlighted various ways that trumpets were used in Israel as analogies for the Feast, based on the uses described in the first paragraph. This time we will explore the trumpet as used by God Almighty himself.

In The Feasts of the Lord (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997) co-author Kevin L. Howard notices that God himself is described as blowing a trumpet on two important occasions. The first occurs in Exodus 19 as God gathers the newly-freed Israelites to Mt. Sinai to enter into a covenant with them.

The trumpet is blown to announce the arrival of God Almighty to the top of Mt. Sinai, increasing in volume as He approaches in fire and cloud and earthquakes. The effect must have been overwhelming to the gathered Israelites.

Strangely enough, it was not the incredible trumpet-blasts, the fire, the smoke or even the earthquakes that frightened the people enough that they could not stand it. Not until they heard God speak did they panic and move away (Ex. 18: 18-21).

According to Howard the trumpet that is sounded on this occasion is the shofar.

God had gathered his people Israel for the express purpose of forming them into his own nation. Israel was to officially enter a covenant with him to be his special people. He was making them into a holy priesthood to show his glory to the rest of the world. It was a momentous occasion, worthy of a personal appearance by the great King and Creator of the universe. The trumpet was sounded to herald his appearance and the solemnity of the occasion.

It is on this occasion that the people of Israel were to accept God as their ultimate ruler and authority – in essence, their King. This is where the blowing of the shofar intersects with the idea of royal coronation. God was being accepted by Israel as their King. The shofar-blast announces the impending coronation of Israel’s King.

It was an awe-inspiring event that changed the course of Israel’s history.

From that moment on they were God’s own special people, and Yawheh was their one and only God. Even if they failed to uphold their end of the covenant, God would be glorified through them. God would be responsible to bless them for obedience or curse them for disobedience. In either case, the world would know that Israel’s God was at work behind the scenes creating the magnificent prosperity or the calamitous destruction of the nation.

The shofar is associated with the God of both deliverance and destruction. In ancient times deliverance for Israel resulted in the destruction of Egypt as a military and economic power.

The second instance of God blowing a trumpet will herald a second exodus. The world’s military and economic superpowers will, like the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, try to resist the establishment of Jesus’ rule over the earth. Speaking of a future time of deliverance of Israel from foreign oppression, the prophet Zechariah says,

The LORD will appear over them and his arrow go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. The LORD of hosts will protect them and they shall devour and tread down the slingers. (Zech. 9:14-15)

The passage goes on in gory metaphorical detail about how God will help them fight their enemies at the time he is sounding the shofar (presumably as a war-trumpet).

The context of this passage can be found in verses 9-10:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nation; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

If I understand the passage correctly, the “chariot” and “war-horse” do not refer to Israelite military forces, but rather those of invaders who are to be driven out of God’s land.

In the book of Revelation there are seven trumpets sounded that bring to a close the era of human self-rule under demonic influence. Each blast begins a chain of events that leads to the return of Jesus Christ in glory and power to rule over the world.

Finally, the last trumpet sounds, and an angel announces that the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ, and that he shall reign forever and ever! (Rev. 11:14-19) The announcement carries a message of joy for some and terror for others. It is a time for rewarding the saints and prophets. It is also the time of God’s wrath on unrepentant nations and a time “for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

Howard mentions that even Jewish tradition connects the resurrection of the dead with Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets.

The Apostle Paul, formerly a Jewish rabbi, seems to have the same connection in mind in 1 Cor. 15:51-52.

Listen, I tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 he goes into more detail:

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the lord in the air; and so we will be with the lord forever.

As with God at Mt. Sinai so it will be with Jesus and his saints. He will gather his people from all around the world, living and dead, into a huge congregation in the clouds. From then on they will be his perpetual covenant-people and he will be their crowned King.

The last trumpet heralds the arrival of the Great King and the gathering of his people into an eternal kingdom that is based on a new covenant.

The timing of the festival presents an interesting analogy for Christians.

It is the only festival given by God to Israel that is observed on the day of a new moon. The rest revolve around the full moon (Passover and Tabernacles) or upon a count from a previous festival (Atonement and Weeks/Pentecost).

In ancient times (and some Asian calendars) the month was literally based on the moon’s phases. The Jewish and Babylonian calendars began each month when the first sliver of light appeared on the moon. The new moon actually had to be observed before the new month could be officially declared by (you guessed it) the blowing of trumpets.

The trumpet-blasts on the Feast of Trumpets announced the beginning of the next agricultural year, upon which the rotation of Sabbath-years and Jubilee-year cycle depended. It represented a fresh start in several ways, depending upon where in those cycles it happened to be.

There is an analogy for Christians based upon the idea of watching for that thin sliver of light as the moon is rising at the end of the month. Designated observers had to send a message to the High Priest once they saw the moon’s light, but only then. Once the High Priest had enough reliable observations reported, he ordered the trumpets sounded.

The idea of watching for the new moon parallels Jesus’ admonition for his disciples to be alert and watch for his return. To them Jesus says,

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man… Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Does this mean that Christians must be constantly tuned into the news and current affairs networks for each breaking story that may indicate Jesus may be returning? Do we have the Bible open with one hand and the newspaper with the other?

Only if it’s Jerusalem in 70 AD and the Roman army is approaching.

For the rest of us, Jesus puts it this way,

“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if the wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed, and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with the drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

If I am reading this warning correctly, we do not need to worry about having missed a news headline.

We are charged with the responsibility of doing Jesus’ work until the great angelic trumpet gathers us together or until we are dead – whichever comes first.

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… And Books Were Opened

[This post is a slightly revised version of a Wascana Fellowship message from 2010.]

The image of judgment in Revelation 20:11-15 mentions that “books were opened” and that people were judged in accordance with what was written in them. We are told that one of them is the “book of life” but I had always wondered what the other books might be. There may be a clue in ancient Israel’s law.

At the time God was settling the Israelites into the Promised Land, He gives them rules about inheritance that feature a novel twist: land cannot be sold in perpetuity, but rather must be returned to the family every 50 years, during what He calls a Jubilee year. Could he be familiar with the human tendency to concentrate wealth?

There was to be a major redistribution of wealth-generating property in the 50th year in order to ensure that each family could have something to call its own to fall back on: a certain minimum net worth, as it were (Leviticus 25:8-55). According to Howard and Rosenthal [The Feasts of the Lord, p. 197], the primary purpose of this was to eliminate oppression among Israelites (though it did not help foreign slaves of Israelites very much).

The announcement of Jubilee was made on Israel’s most sacred day of the year, currently known as yom kippur and translated “the Day of Atonement” in most English Bibles. This was the day that all of Israel’s sins were “covered” by special sacrifices at the Temple. Once the sins were taken care of for the year, the release of Israelite slaves and the return to families of their land was to be proclaimed from God’s holy tabernacle or temple. Imagine the joy and jubilation of that day throughout the land!

Unfortunately, there is no Biblical or historical record that proves this law was ever kept in Israel, and no way to track or calculate the year that it should be happening on, since those records are not clear, either. Therefore: no prediction of Jesus’ return based on a supposed Jubilee year is feasible. (Note to self: Don’t try to predict the day or hour of Jesus’ return.)

Imagine, however, that it were kept. Where would a dispossessed family begin? Surely a family would need proof that the land belonged to them. Where would it get that proof?

We are told in the book of Joshua that the land was divided by lot “before the Lord” to the tribes and familes of Israel (Joshua 18:8-10). I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that there were some priestly scribes taking notes and writing out the deeds to these properties and storing them in a “primitive” land titles registry, probably eventually consisting of scrolls – the “books” of the time. Since there is a such a list recorded in Joshua 18-21 I think I am actually on fairly solid ground.

You are probably way ahead of me by now. As the Day of Atonement draws to a close, the proclamation of freedom and restoration is made, and the priestly books of inheritance are opened so that families can compare their geneological records with the land titles of their ancestors. If their family name is found in the books, they can return to their inheritance. If not, they are a lot more dispossessed than they thought! Those not found in the books do not have an inheritance in Israel.

So now the scene changes to perhaps a bit more than a millennium later, as Jesus goes to his hometown synagogue in Capernaum (Luke 4:16-21). He stands up to read the day’s assigned reading from Isaiah 61. He reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He closes the book, and declares that this decree is being fulfilled within their very own hearing.

In other words, Jesus is proclaiming Jubilee! He is declaring God’s own prerogative in setting His people free from the oppression of other human beings. This was Good News! (Though what is good news for the oppressed is not necessarily so for the power elite.)

We do now know when Jesus read his sabbath-day reading to the synagogue, but it identifies the kind of ministry Jesus is engaged in. This is a ministry of providing freedom from oppression, rather than one of restrictive rules.

(Note: While the Old Covenant has been seen as restrictive, this is not how God meant it to be. The problem is that human leaders selectively use or create laws to create restrictions and selectively ignore freedom-granting regulations like the Jubilee.)

Why should there be a connection between the Jubilee and the Day of Atonement? Well, for one thing, being conscious of the release of the burden of our sin should prime the conscience to remove burdens we have placed on our brothers and sisters.

Second, and more important, Jesus promises that human beings redeemed by faith in Him get to inherit with Him in a new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21-22). Before this, however, there must be a judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). We have tended to see this only as a disturbing image of retributive justice (and so it is), but it is much, much more.

This is also the imagery of judgment to determine eternal inheritance. After the “books are opened,” those who remain get to inherit eternal life in “a better country” (Heb. 11:16).

This is the picture of the ultimate Day of Atonement Jubilee:

Jesus has dealt with sin and continues to extend salvation to those who believe in Him.

Jesus is the Judge who will deliver final sentence at the appropriate time.

Jesus (whose name is the same as Johsua in Hebrew) distributes the inheritance of the saved, which will be fully entered into at the appropriate time.

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Covenant of Moses – Part 3

In this third post about the covenant of Moses we begin by discussing the problems of interpreting how the old covenant interacts with the new covenant.

Instead of resolving the problems of interpreting where we are between the “already” and the “not yet” concerning the application of the law of God in the new covenant, Robertson continues with the contrast between the new covenant and the old.

Because of the law’s effectiveness in revealing sin, it subjected man to curse… Instead of bringing in its wake condemnation and death, the new covenant effects righteousness and life. The superiority of this consummative covenant resides not merely in its having some material characteristic of greater glory. Instead, that which the new covenant accomplishes declares to the world its greater glory. (p. 192-193)

To sum up 2 Cor. 3, the new covenant, in contrast to the old, is more glorious, unfading (permanent) and it reveals that which the previous covenant did not: that the goal of the law was to be realized in Christ. The veil symbolizes Israel’s blindness to the “transitoriness [sic] of the law’s administration.” (p. 193-196)

Paul, however, does not despair over Israel. For no veil coves the ministry of the new covenant. Its glory does not fade. With “unveiled face” (v. 18) every covenant believer stands in the immediate presence of the Lord. He shares in the uniquely privileged position of Moses, rather than simply receiving from Moses the report concerning God’s revelation. Beholding constantly as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, he is “metamorphosized” [sic] from glory to glory. (p. 197-198)

But the participant in the new covenant passes from glory to glory. Because the Lord, who is the Spirit, lives within the believer, his glory never fades. By the Lord, the Spirit, he is changed into the likeness of God’s own son.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus manifested himself as the new lawgiver. His “I say unto you” (Matt. 5:22 etc.) displayed his role in relation to the law as superior to that of Moses. Rather than reporting a revelation which he had received, Christ propounded the law of the new covenant as its author himself. (p. 198)

In Matt. 17:2-5 Jesus is portrayed as superior to Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration.

Moses the law-mediator ministered as a servant in God’s house. But Christ the law-originator rules as Son over God’s house (Heb. 3:5, 6).

Paul the apostle indicates that Christ is the end [goal] of the law to all who believe (Rom. 12:4). The convicting, condemning power of the law exhausts its accusations in Christ.

In order to be that end, Christ fulfilled all righteousness. He kept the whole law perfectly, while at the same time bearing in himself the curses of the law. From every perspective, the covenant of law consummates in Jesus Christ.” (p. 199)

I like the esteem in which Robertson holds the Mosaic Covenant.

Somehow, something of God’s law finds its way into the new covenant. Somehow the church acknowledges the validity of the 10 Commandments (though some parts of the church may disagree about which day to keep holy).

According to the principles mentioned in earlier sections of his book each covenant contains core elements of previous covenants. He does a very good job of explaining how the new covenant transforms elements of the Mosaic covenant into a more glorious salvation that features a more glorious administration of God’s law through Jesus Christ, the “law-originator.”

One thing his analysis misses is how the historical progression of the Mosaic Covenant affects the New Testament interpretation of it.

For instance, we only have a vague notion of what the Apostle Paul meant by the “curse of the law” in his analysis.

A closer look at the end of the book of Deuteronomy fills in some of the gaps. Deuteronomy 28 outlines the blessings involved in adhering to the conditions of the covenant as well as the curses for disobedience. Those curses increase in severity until they culminate in exile from their land as slaves in a foreign country. Not only are they slaves in exile, but God promises to persecute them even in captivity for their faithlessness.

That is the curse of the law. Once these provisions of the curse are enacted there is no turning back.

The only way out is for God to grant entrance into a new covenant that nullifies the penalty of the old. (Deut. 30:1-10)

This is the penalty Jesus takes upon himself to redeem his people. He is handed over to the Roman authorities (exile) who cruelly abuse him, then kill him. (This is an oversimplification, since there is a specific punishment for Davidic kings that Jesus also suffers.)

Another element that is missing in his analysis is one that is missed in any others I have seen as well. The writer of the book of Hebrews exegetes the famous passage about a “new covenant” in Jeremiah 31 as proving that the “old covenant” is now obsolete because Jesus brings a new one. What this common understanding misses is that he is exegeting an Old Testament prophet who writes as Judah is in its final decline, with exile into Babylonian captivity looming. This captivity and exile occurred during his ministry as a prophet.

In other words, Jeremiah knew that the end was near for the blessings of the covenant. Soon there would only be the final curses in force, with no end in sight except the possibility of a new covenant with a Messiah – a new Moses – who would once again lead them out of captivity according to the words of Moses in Deut. 30:1-10.

Note that provision for the possibility of a new covenant was already established within the old covenant. This means that the old covenant continues to be relevant even if its blessings are no longer available. (For that matter, it also remains relevant for those who continue to be caught in its curse.)

With this in mind, Jeremiah was aware that the covenant was already broken beyond repair, even in his own day. The writer of Hebrews even acknowledges this by stating outright that the Israelites broke the covenant in 8:7-8. The words being quoted were spoken by Jeremiah more than 600 years before this exegesis.

If his exegesis is correct: God, through Jeremiah, had made that covenant obsolete more than 600 years before the writer of Hebrews wrote his book.

This explains why the Apostle Paul warns the Galatians not to fall into the trap of relying on that covenant to save them. There is no salvation to be found in a covenant that is already in condemnation mode (no more blessing, only curse). It had been that way for more than 600 years.

And yet…

Moses indicates that any “new covenant” will seemingly follow the same law that was given to Israel as it entered the Promised Land. (Deut. 30: 6-10).

Jeremiah 31:31 reiterates the promise that God’s law will be implanted within their hearts instead of on stone tablets. He does not indicate that it will be a “new” or “different” law from the one God gave Israel.

So… What is a New Covenant Christian supposed to do with the Law of Moses???

As Christians, we need to have a deep and abiding respect for the Law of Moses.

We need to remember that many aspects of that law were administered in a certain context. For instance, while the Israelites were in the wilderness they could hardly administer a Sabbath of the land. For the first two years in the wilderness there was no tabernacle or priesthood. Those things were added as there was a need for them. The same goes for a kingship, which may have been added 3 or 4 centuries later. That law always adapted to circumstances with a certain flexibility.

The condition of Christians is very much like that of Israel in the wilderness, following the “Angel of the Lord” wherever he leads. Jesus is now our light, shelter and guide, but we are not yet fully in the Promised Land. As the writer of Hebrews points out, we are looking for a “heavenly country,” a “city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” In short, we are looking for a “new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness dwells.”

We are also looking for new bodies that are incorruptible with which to live upon this new earth.

That is the new covenant.

Because of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection we already have: A New Heart for a New Start of a New Life of love and obedience to Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

And when Jesus returns: a New Body to live forever under a New Heavens on a New Earth in perfect obedience to God’s will.

Have we reached the point of perfect obedience yet? Are we at the point where all Christians no longer need teachers? Unfortunately, no. We seem to be living at a time during which the law is still being written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Moses’ and Jeremiah’s prophetic visions cover the entire span of human self-rule as well as the time of final consummation of God’s plan. We need to be careful to figure out where we are in that prophetic time-frame in terms of fulfilment before judging others for not being “there yet.” To that end, I would commend two things we can study about in the Covenant of Moses to increase both our understanding and our respect for it.

  1. It is wise to study the Covenant of Moses to see how Jesus fulfills the types and prophecies contained in it. For instance, how does Jesus fulfill the type of the kinsman-redeemer in Leviticus 25:25? (A more detailed look at the kinsman-redeemer occurs in the book of Ruth.)
  2. It is also wise to study the rules themselves to see how they can help us think about love for our neighbour in specific ways. For instance, farmers are required to leave the corners of their fields un-harvested in order to allow poor people to come onto their fields to harvest food for themselves and their families. A certain dignity for the poor is assured because it is not a handout. The poor have at least some of the satisfaction of working for their living. It would be wise to build something like that dignity into our own care for the poor.

We are not an agrarian society, so some imagination will be required to find an equivalent way to help the poor. That ancient law can be a good starting point to help us think through the issues of how to get along with our neighbour in fair and truly helpful ways. Only if we have a deep and abiding respect for it can it be useful in this way.

The Apostle Paul loved the law. He calls it holy, just and true. At no point does he ever denigrate it or put it down, even when he discusses how much better the new covenant administration of it is than the old.

When I was ten years old I was presented with a Gideon’s New Testament (King James Version). As I perused it I noticed that the introductory pages included the Ten Commandments. I found them fascinating and very sensible, at least after my father explained what “adultery” meant in terms a ten-year-old could understand. These sensible commandments stand at the heart of the Old Covenant, yet the church, as a whole, honours them as the law of God. I believe that the church does so with good reason.

We need to remember that the covenant of Moses contains the revealed will of God that includes provision for the Kingship of Jesus as well as provision for a Second Exodus for all whose hearts are circumcised and who call upon Jesus’ name. Even if we Gentile Christians do not adhere to certain provisions that do not apply to us in this time and place, we would do well to honour and respect the Mosaic Law as an integral and necessary part of God’s plan for our redemption.

If we’re not careful, we might even learn something from it.

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