Thursday, November 7, 2013
In Search Of Truth, Exodus, Chapters 27 & 28
The altar had "horns" coming out from each corner. In the ancient Near East, the horn was a symbol of power. The horns of the altar also came to mean help and sanctuary to the people of Israel, as evidenced by a story found in 1st Kings Chapter 1. (1 Kings 1:50 and 2:28) Sacrifices were offered on this altar, and the process communicated Yahweh's power and rescuing mercy at work.
We should be even more confident today that, regardless of what we might feel, Christ's sacrifice of himself was more than powerful enough to remove the burden of guilt from us.
(Hebrews 9:13-14, ESV) For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
These verses describe the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle. It was customary, in ancient temple architecture, for a structure to be built that would surround the temple, separating it from the mundane world. This is the purpose that the courtyard served as it surrounded the tabernacle. So again we see the continued theme of God's desire to be with people, but the recognition that there still needs to be a separation of some kind because of our sin.
These verses describe the clothing of the high priest. Aaron and all the high priests who followed him in this unique role were set apart by clothing designed to be beautiful, meaningful and purposeful. The ephod was a central part of the uniform. The multiple colors and gold in its design draw attention to its importance. The fact that the names of the tribes of Israel were inscribed on the onyx stones in the ephod indicated that the high priest represented all the people of Israel to God as he carried out his duties. This point is emphasized by also engraving the names of the tribes on the twelves stones on the breastplate of the uniform.
So in this we see, once again, God's holiness, and the need for a mediator between God and humanity. In the following verses however, we see his desire for a living, breathing relationship with humanity.
Verse 30 refers to the "Urim and Thummim". The Urim and Thummim are not described as being "made", which some scholars see as an indication that they had already been in use in some fashion, but were now being given a specific context for use. Uniforms and stones with similarities to Aaron's uniform and the Urim and Thummin are known to have existed elsewhere in the ancient Near East, so this may be another instance in which Yahweh uses ideas that people are already familiar with to communicate truth.
We learn from other biblical sources that the Urim and Thummim were used to determine the will of Yahweh on specific issues. (1 Samuel 14:37-41, 23:9-11, 28:6) A way to almost converse with God, but without the certain death that would come from being in his full presence. God reaching out to his people with a live connection.
I briefly felt jealous of the Hebrews for this access to Yahweh, but after some thought realized the shortcomings of both this communication system and the relationship the Israelites had with God compared to what we as believers in Christ have today. They had only a fraction of God's written words compared to us, with extremely limited access because of both the number of copies and limitations in education. Additionally, there was only one Urim and one Thummim, meaning access to this form of communication with God was very limited.
While it may not have the dramatic flair of two sacred stones delivering answers to direct questions, the Bible is an unparalleled source of wisdom for figuring out life's toughest choices. In fact the Bible is sufficient, on its own, to equip us for every moral decision we may ever have to make.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The pomegranates on the high priest's uniform are believed to have a symbolic attachment to Yahweh's promise of a land for Israel, since pomegranates in scripture are usually associated with the fertility of land. (See Numbers 20:5, Joel 1:12, Haggai 2:19) God made promises of a real, tangible land for Israel, and these were a reminder of that.
It's not entirely clear to me why the sound of the bells on Aaron's uniform would prevent his death. Several reference books imply that (according to tradition) the bells notified other priests IF Aaron were to die in Yahweh's presence, but this does not explain how the use of the bell's might prevent his death as the text seems to suggest. One interesting historical commentary suggested that the bells created an increased awareness of Aaron's own movements, making him mindful to do his duties exactly as instructed by Yahweh, and thus prevent his punishment by death as a result of neglect or disobedience.
Either way, what's clear from these verses is that coming into God's presence was no casual meet-up at the coffee shop. One oversight, one lapse in protocol, could mean death. And when we set aside our desire to justify ourselves and ignore our natural default to evil, it's pretty clear that this kind of expectation just makes sense when dealing with a completely holy, completely other, unfathomable and perfect being like Yahweh. If there really is a single being in existence who is truly perfect in every way, we should never desire them to compromise their perfection. It makes a lot more sense to be excited about their existence and begin looking for a way that we can interact with them, since they will be more incredible and wonderful than anything we've ever dreamed of in this pervasively flawed life.
By now and maybe over the last few times we've been in Exodus you might have noticed a pattern. God has been repeatedly putting on display two characteristics in the Old Testament: 1. His perfection and holiness, which separates him from us. 2. His desire to have relationship with us despite that separation.
The high priest was a key component in reconciling these two characteristics, but even he couldn't do it more than superficially.
The high priest was to wear an engraving on his turban which said "Holy to Yahweh". To be "holy" means "to be set apart". The high priest's entire life was devoted to Yahweh. The fact that the high priest would "bear the guilt" from the things worshippers brought to Yahweh has two possible meanings. It may be a symbolic burden, since the high priest ultimately is responsible for how sacrifices are processed and for his work on the Day Of Atonement on behalf of Israel. It may also refer to a more literal burden, meaning that the high priest is held responsible if any sacrifices are offered in a way that is not appropriate.
I can't help but notice that Jesus, our "mega-high-priest" (as the greek literally means in Hebrews 4:14), took our guilt upon himself when he died on our behalf.
(1 Peter 2:24, ESV) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
As hardcore geeks we can often feel separated from others, even fellow Christians. And we shouldn't be content with that situation. But as we look for solutions to our separations with other people, we can know that because of Christ, there is nothing that separates from the love of Yahweh.
(Romans 8:38-39,ESV) For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.