“The Law”, which here includes the entire sacrificial system, was only a “shadow” of something to come. The Law presented truth, but not in full. It illustrated the problem of sin which was severe enough to require payment in life blood. But through necessary repetition the sacrificial system itself acknowledged that it wasn't truly getting the job done. The blood of animal sacrifices couldn't truly take away sin. However the sacrifices did serve as a valuable reminder of our sin problem.
n these verses the author quotes Psalm 40:6-8 (from the Septuagint/Greek Translation). The original Hebrew translates more literally to “ears you have dug for me” rather than “a body you have prepared for me”. But in both renditions the idea is communicated that God has given his servant a body (specifically one that “listens” as implied in the Hebrew) to serve with. This psalm is another example from the Tanakh(Old Testament) of how the sacrificial system was not the “end all be all”, but something greater was required. Perfect obedience. (More direct affirmation of this is found in 1 Samuel 15:22)
It's not uncommon for multiple non-contradictory meanings to be intended in Hebrew scripture, and that seems to be the case in Psalm 40, which expresses a principle stating that obedience(doing the will of God) is better than sacrificing to him, but also describes a servant who has been written about in previous scripture and has come to perform the will of God. This describes Jesus, the prophecies about him, and his purpose in becoming a man.
The author of Hebrews then provides commentary on the psalm, explaining that first the psalmist(who in part represents Jesus) acknowledges that the sacrificial system is not a solution, and then he presents himself as one obedient to God's will and the solution to the shortcomings of animal sacrifices. Jesus was obedient to God's general moral will, and also obedient to God's specific will for himself, to die as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. The result is that believers are ultimately set apart(“sanctified”) and rescued from self-destructive sin and the punishment for it.
As I think I've mentioned here before, we geeks often have insecurity issues. That's certainly true for me on a daily basis. For various reasons, we may not feel like we measure up to those around us. We don't feel as talented, skilled or attractive as others, and that often makes us feel like we're worth less than they are. I've labeled this mode of thinking as an “old covenant mindset”, where self-worth is attached to personal skills, talents, accomplishments or appearance. (Although I should mention that the old covenant, rightly understood, never made this claim about self-worth.) As geeks we have to remember that we're under the new covenant of grace, in which God, through Jesus, proclaimed our value loudly to the universe by choosing to suffer and die for us.
However the old covenant still has a purpose that shouldn't be discarded. Hebrews 10:3 says “in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins”. We are under the new covenant, but to be followers of Christ who are increasingly maturing and entering into God's plans and purposes, we need to think about both of the covenants mentioned in these verses. Why? Two reasons come to mind.
1. The old covenant makes me contemplate my sin and cling to Jesus. When I really give myself extended time in silence to think and stew over my day or week, stripping away convenient and selective comparisons to other people, it becomes agonizingly clear to me again how much I need the grace, the “undeserved favor”, of Jesus. Does your prayer or worship time feel like a chore or just plain dull? Spend some time contemplating your sin and get ready for that to change!
2. The old covenant makes me hate my sin and run from it. Without that safety net of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus in mind, I tend to just lower the bar for myself. I see this in others, too. Especially non-Christians. It's common practice to make “common practice” the standard. And indeed without Jesus, lowering our expectations of our own morality and purity is the only option we have, unless we want to live in a constant state of depression and horror in response to self-reflection. But knowing that Jesus has forgiven me and credited his record of perfection onto mine, I have the freedom to take a hard, realistic look at my sinful tendencies, recognizing more and more how they infest my motives and priorities. I have the freedom to feel the disgust and horror of those parts of me and let that motivate a 180 degree sprint in the opposite direction, knowing that even amidst my constant failure, in Christ I am undefeated.
I think a good way to test whether or not we've been contemplating both covenants enough is to read through the first line of “Amazing Grace” and see if we feel both the sting and relief of those words. Does grace REALLY seem AMAZING to us? Do we honestly feel like a “WRETCH” apart from Christ, or is that phrase just false humility rolling off our tongues?
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found; was blind but now I see.”