Priesthood

After instructing Moses about Aaron and his sons, God concludes with the following:

“Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tabernacle of meeting and wash them with water.  You shall put the holy garments on Aaron, and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest.  And you shall bring his sons and clothe them with tunics.  You shall anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may minister to Me as priests; for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.”

Thus Moses did; according to all that the LORD had commanded him, so he did, Exodus 40:12-16.

There’s a great deal more about Moses and Aaron in Exodus than these few verses, but they are a concise account of Aaron and his sons being consecrated as and beginning their responsibilities as priests.  I’m not so much interested in this priesthood, though I have a few thoughts, as I am about the priesthood to which it pointed and that succeeded it:  the priesthood of the Lord Jesus.

One thing that has struck me in view of the importance of these men all throughout the Old Testament is the fact that there is no “office” of priest listed for the New Testament church.  Pastors and deacons, yes and only; “priests”, not at all.  Historically, the idea has come from those religious organizations who have attempted to mold the New Testament church using Old Testament patterns.  Hence, we have world-wide organizations with a “headquarters” in some earthly city, hierarchies of officials over and above a local pastor, fancy buildings, Bible colleges and seminaries, and all sorts of “programs.” The local church, the local assembly, is all but irrelevant, except to pay the salary of the hierarchy and for all the other stuff.

Yes, they protest, but we need all these things!

The early church did alright without them.

God intended the local church to be all that believers needed for fellowship and teaching, 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24.

You might answer, “You went to Bible college!”

Yes, I did.

And I’m thankful for it, as I’ve said elsewhere.  The thing is, and only God knows, what could the godly pastor of the church where the Lord Jesus brought me to Himself have taught an ignorant and wayward young man?  And Claude Young, to keep at least the memory of his name alive, was a godly old man.  What blessing could I have been to that church, to which I never returned except a couple to times to visit?  What mutual blessing could there have been?  As I said, only God knows.

But churches lose their young people – their future – to some far-away place, and it’s thought this is ok.

On the other side of this, we knew a pastor in one of these organizations, a good man, a godly man, who loved his people and they loved him.  The organization to which he belonged decided he would be more useful translating the works of some obscure scholar of theirs whom no one had ever heard of.  Never mind what his people or he thought about it or might want.  He must leave his church.  His people were heartbroken and so was he.

In answer to all this, the New Testament knows nothing of anything beyond or over a local assembly, free to associate with other assemblies, but also free from their interference and control.  it’s true that the church at Jerusalem was the “important” church in its time, but it seems to have been replaced, as it were, by the church at Antioch, which itself is long gone.  In any event, there is no Scriptural authority for the man-made organizations which have sprung up throughout church history which obscure and minimize the local assembly.

Having said all this about the New Testament, it’s not that I think the Old Testament isn’t important.  Those of you who’ve followed this blog for any time as it enters its seventh year – thank you, Lord Jesus – know that I do.  It’s just that we’re to be guided by the New Testament, – without ever forgetting the lessons of the Old.  Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-11.

The Old Testament priest was the intermediary between the ordinary Israelite and God.  Even he, though, was limited in this.  He couldn’t just go into the tabernacle when he felt like it.  The ordinary Israelite dare not!

The Old Testament priest had continually to offer animal sacrifices because, in the words of Hebrews 10:11, these sacrifices could never take away sins.

The office of Old Testament priest was hereditary, strictly limited to the family and descendants of Aaron.

The office of Old Testament priest, therefore, was “off-limits” to the average Israelite.  Even a king could get into trouble for interfering, and did, 2 Chronicles 26:16-20.

The OT priest could not forgive sin nor do anything to correct the nature of the one bringing the sacrifice.

There’s only ever been One about whom it can truthfully be said that He forgives sin:  “That you may know that the Son of Man has power [authority] on earth to forgive sin,” – then [Jesus] said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed and go to your house.”   Matthew 9:5, 6.  This incident is also recorded in Mark 2:10 and Luke 5:24.

The religious authorities of His time thought the Lord Jesus committed blasphemy because He dared to forgive sin, Matthew 9:3.  We recorded part of our Lord’s response to that in the paragraph above, but in the verses before that, we read, knowing their thoughts, [He] said to them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you.’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” emphasis added.  One is as easy to say as the other, but only the Lord Jesus has the power and authority actually to doactually to forgive sin.

No man-made priest or any earthly religious organization has that power or that authority  – no matter what they claim.

The reason that there is no “office” of priest in the New Testament church is that it isn’t necessary.  Believers themselves are considered “priests” in the New Testament.

1 Peter 2:5, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (emphases added)

Through the Holy Spirit, every believer has access to the presence of God.  We don’t need a priest, the church, Mary, saints…. The list goes on and on.

For through Him we both [that is, Jew or Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father, Ephesians 2:18.

Nor do we need for them to pray for us – at the hour of our death or any other time.

There’s only One to whom we need turn – in death or in life:  the Lord Jesus Christ, Hebrews 3:1.  He, and He alone, is our “High Priest.”  We need no other.

He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them, Hebrews 7:25.

 

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Righteous

“And its twenty pillars and their twenty sockets shall be bronze.  The hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be silver,” Exodus 27:10.
“All the pillars around the court shall have bands of silver; their hooks shall be of silver and their sockets of bronze, Exodus 27:17.  (NKJV)

In our last post, we considered the linen fence that enclosed the tabernacle courtyard.  The items in these two verses were the things which held the fence together and kept it from falling over.

At the foot of all this were the foundations, the sockets of bronze.  Together these three items made a sturdy and cohesive unit.  Remember, the children of Israel weren’t just out for a Sunday stroll.  They were traveling through rugged wilderness, where there were probably fierce winds as part of the weather out in the middle of nowhere.  The tabernacle, though entirely portable, had to be able to withstand all that, as well as to stand firmly in one place when put together.

The bronze footings were the foundations for the fence.  Buried in the sand, they provided a firm basis for the posts.  Without this footing, the posts and the linen would have sagged miserably and probably fallen in a heap.

As we look at the symbolism of this foundation, the bronze reminds us of the justice of God.  We’re so used to hearing of the love of God or the grace of God that we forget that it is really His justice that is the basis for who He is.

The Scriptures are filled with reference to God’s justice, to His being just.  On Deuteronomy 32:4, Moses is filled with praise to the God of Israel,

“He is the Rock; His work is perfect;
For all His ways are justice,

A God of truth and without injustice;
Righteous and upright is He.”

In Job 32:23, after listening to Job’s three friends pretty well miss the boat as they try to diagnose the whys and wherefores of Job’s suffering, his younger friend Elihu bursts in.  Part of his defense of God is this,

“As for the Almighty, we cannot find Him;
He is excellent in power,

In judgment and abundant justice;
He does not oppress.”

Lest anyone say, “Well, that’s just the stern God of the Old Testament.  The God of the New Testament is a God of love,” Paul has an answer in Romans 3:23-26:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God sent forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His  forebearance He had passed over the sins previously committed [that is, in the Old Testament], to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

This is Paul’s answer:  God is just, as well as the One who declares those who believe in Jesus to be righteous themselves.  Not just innocent, as if they’d never done anything wrong, not just “not guilty,” as if there’s no or not enough evidence to establish guilt, but righteous, as if they’d always done everything right!  That, to my way of thinking, is something far greater.  And this not because of ourselves, but because of the Lord Jesus.

If the bronze represents God’s justice, then what do the silver rods represent?  (The silver was also used for footings for the tabernacle itself.)

This is easy.

The silver rods represent His grace.

In Exodus 30:11-16, God told Moses to count the children of Israel, and while he was doing that, each man of military age was to give a ransom for himself, a half-shekel, or about 30 cents,  roughly speaking.  It was called “ransom” money, though Moses gave no reason why he called it that, perhaps to remind Israel of their origins, namely, they had been a slave people in Egypt.  God had redeemed them for Himself at no cost to themselves.  I think it might also remind them that they were nothing “special;” God hadn’t chosen them because they were extraordinary.  Quite the contrary, as Moses tells them:

Deuteronomy 4:7, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples.”

In Deuteronomy 9:4-6, referring to the Canaanites who were in the land Israel was about to inhabit, Moses says,

“Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.  It is not because of your righteousness or of  the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

It wasn’t because of their greater numbers or their superior righteousness that God was giving them the land.  He mentions this latter three times in three verses.  When they left Egypt, they’d been only a handful of people, and their record during the wilderness journey was one of nothing but complaint and rebellion.  There was absolutely nothing in them for the reason God chose them.  In fact, there was plenty of reason for Him to reject them!  It was His own good pleasure to be gracious to them.

It is His own good pleasure for us, as well, Ephesians 1:3-14.

We’ve already mentioned that Moses used the word “ransom” in describing this offering, but he also calls it “atonement money” in v. 16.  This brings us back to Romans 3.  Paul explains that Jews are as guilty of sin as Gentiles in that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, v. 23.  God gave the law so that men might see their spiritual state, and their sin clearly, and not just the fuzzy generalizations the Gentiles might have had through their vague understandings of right and wrong, as in Romans 2:14-16.

So, the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike, is guilty in the sight of God, Romans 3:19.

How then can God be just, yet declare men to be righteous who in themselves are anything but that?  How can anyone escape the judgment due their sin?

Now it is true, there was a righteousness available through the Law, Deuteronomy 6:25.  In exhorting a new generation of Israelites to obey the commands God gave him on Sinai, Moses said, “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”

Earlier, in Leviticus 18, God admonished Moses,

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.  You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them:  I am the LORD your God.  You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them:  I am the LORD,” vs. 1-5.

The rest of Leviticus 18 gives us an idea of “the doings of the land of Canaan.”  Folks are always so worried about “the poor Canaanites,” but they were a terrible, wicked people.

The trouble is, Israel never kept God’s statues and judgments.  They weren’t really any better than the people they dispossessed.  They never attained any kind of righteousness on their own, except maybe that external and superficial righteousness of the Pharisees our Lord encountered and rejected, Matthew 5:20.  They never obeyed.

Neither do we.

Paul gives us the remedy:  God declares righteous the one who has faith in Jesus, Romans 3:28.

What does that mean?  Elsewhere, Paul explains.  In 2 Corinthians 5:21, he wrote, For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

In the cross, the Lord Jesus didn’t die just so we could have pretty jewelry to wear or as ornaments for our house.  He didn’t die by mistake, or as a martyr, or as an example.

He died because we couldn’t.

Our deaths could never pay for even one of our sins, let alone the many, many of which we are guilty.  Our sufferings, our church membership, our good works, our time in purgatory, if there were such a thing, could never provide even one stitch in that robe of righteousness God gives His people because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, as Spurgeon once remarked, “If there is one stitch in the robe of righteousness we’re required to put in, then we are lost.”

The Jew can never be saved by “keeping the Law.”  Neither can the Gentile.  Nor, for that matter, can a church member.  Only in the Lord Jesus Christ and the ransom paid by His blood on the behalf of sinners is salvation to be had.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

 

Walls and Screens

“You shall also make the court of the tabernacle.  For the south side there shall be hangings for the court made of fine woven linen, one hundred cubits long for one side.  And its twenty pillars and their twenty sockets shall be of bronze.  The hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be silver.  Likewise along the length of the north side there shall be hangings one hundred cubits long, with its twenty pillars and their twenty sockets of bronze, and the hooks of the pillars and their bands of silver.

“And along the width of the court on the west side shall be hangings of fifty cubits, with their ten pillars and their ten sockets.  The width of the court on the east side shall be fifty cubits.  The hangings on one side of the gate shall be fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets.  And on the other side shall be hangings of fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets.

“For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver.  It shall have four pillars and four sockets.  All the pillars around the court shall have bands of silver; their hooks shall be of silver and their sockets of bronze.  The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty throughout, and the height five cubits, made of fine woven linen and its sockets of bronze, Exodus 27:9-18. (NKJV)

To this point, we’ve studied something of the instructions God gave concerning the materials to build the tabernacle and the workmen who used those materials.  We looked at one piece of the furniture:  the Ark of the Covenant.  We did that because God gave the instructions starting with Himself, and moving outward from there. Having done that, we’re going to look at the rest of what Scripture says about the tabernacle from the standpoint of an Israelite approaching it from outside, from the camp.

There is some discussion about the length of a “cubit.”  The standard view is that it’s 18 inches and that’s the view we’ve taken here.  That means the courtyard we’ve just read about was 150′ by 75′ and the wall surrounding it was 7.5 feet high.  The wall was anchored by 100 “sockets” or foundation moldings of brass.  The curtain was hung from rods (“bands,” “fillets,” depending on your version) of silver.

Some have questioned the extreme detail of these instructions.  Granted, they don’t read like we might write them today, but they remind us that God is a God of details.  The saying of an unbelieving world is, “the devil is in the details,” as in “you’d better read the fine print,” but it’s not true.  God is in the details, even to numbering the hairs on our head.  After all, any detail He might “miss” might be the crucial one.

To illustrate this, there’s an old saying,

For want (lack) of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the message was lost.
For want of a message, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.

There are innumerable versions of this, and they’ve made many appearances in many places.

The point is of the rhyme is:  all those things were ultimately lost, even to the kingdom itself, because of the absence of a nail to secure a horseshoe.  Details are important, especially in eternal things.  We have no idea of the ultimate result of a seemingly insignificant act.

As the Israelite man or woman would approach or look toward the tabernacle, he or she would see only a fence, except for one side, which we’ll look at later, Lord willing.  Everything else was blocked as to view or to entrance.

Revelation 19:8 says, “And to her [the Lamb’s wife] it was granted to be arrayed in fine line, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”  Some versions say, “righteousnesses of the saints.”  So we could say that the linen in the fence surrounding the tabernacle grounds represents righteousness.  Why is that a barrier, as in this case?

Because we don’t have any!

At least that God will accept.

The righteousness we have, those religious acts when we do some little thing we think is serving God, God looks at quite differently.  Isaiah 64:6 says of them, all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.  The word translated “filthy rags” refers to a cloth a woman might use during her time of the month, or the rags a leper might use.  Not very pretty.  That’s God’s view of our “righteousness,” our very best.  That’s because we’re all sinners.  There’s only every been one Person who could honestly ask, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.  He’s the only One of whom God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” Matthew 3:17; 12:18.  The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake, Isaiah 42:21, emphasis added.  “His” refers to “the Servant” of v. 1, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Most, if not all of us, can find people who we think are not as good as us in one way or another:  the thief, the murderer, the politician.  The trouble is, they’re not the standard of righteousness God requires.  The Lord Jesus is the standard.  For all the boasting of how good people are, probably very few would say that we’re as good as He is.  The truth is, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

“Fall short.”

In southern Colorado, there’s a canyon known as the Royal Gorge.  The Arkansas River winds its way along the bottom, 956 feet below the rim.  It’s a very scenic and beautiful area.  The point is, it would be impossible to jump across that canyon.  It wouldn’t matter if one just jumped, or used a pole to assist him, as high-jumpers do in athletics, or had some other device to help him.  He would still fall short and fall to his death.

Early in the 1900s, men devised a way to place a bridge over the canyon near Canon City CO.  Building it was a masterpiece of construction.  Pictures of the work-in-progress are unbelievable.

So it is with us and God.  We recognize that we need “something” to bridge the gap between what we are and what we’re supposed to be.  So we use baptism, or church membership, or the Catechism, or the Ten Commandments, or any one of a hundred other things to “get us across.”  The problem is, none of those things work.  They all have their place, yes, but it’s not as a way of salvation.  They all fall short.

In Isaiah 45:22, the Lord Jesus says, “Look to Me, and be saved, All the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.”

He is the bridge, and He alone.

Have you looked to Him?

Or are you trying to build your own bridge?

 

The Covenant in the Ark

In the last post, we looked at a couple of covenants given prior to the book of Exodus and “the ark of the covenant” it mentions.  In this post, we want to look at the covenant itself.

The children of Israel have finally been redeemed from their slavery in Egypt.  On their way to the Promised Land, God leads them by way of Mount Sinai, where He has some things to tell them.  On the mountain, He says to Moses,
“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel,” Exodus 19:3-6, emphasis added.

Having said that, God gives Moses further instruction, what we know as the Ten Commandments, although there is a great deal more than just 19 verses in Exodus 20.  These instructions are what we know as the Mosaic Covenant, although God calls it, “My covenant,” so we don’t forget where it came from.  Moses didn’t dream it up on his own.

There are some things we need to remember about this covenant, especially the first part of it:  the Ten Commandments or “the Law”.

1. It’s an expression of the moral law in a specific historic and cultural context.

What do I mean – “moral law”?  First, the moral law itself is the expression of the nature, character and purpose of God.  It’s what He expects of His creatures because that’s what He is:  holy, righteous and just.  The moral law means, for example, that it’s wrong to murder, lie or steal, regardless of who we are or where we live.  It’s what Paul refers to in Romans 2:14, for when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of Moses], by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves.  This does NOT mean that Gentiles decide for themselves right or wrong, but simply that they, and we, have such a concept as “right and wrong,” regardless of whether that concept agrees with the Word of God.  The truth is, though, we don’t live up to that standard any more than Israel lived up to Moses.

Second, the “specific historic and cultural context” has to do with nation of Israel just after they had been rescued from Egyptian slavery.  Some of the law’s requirements seems strange to us.  Some of our laws would seem strange to them, although there really is no comparison between what came from God and what sometimes comes from fallible and sinful legislators.

2. It was given only to the children of Israel.  Some groups insist that we are obligated to keep these laws as well, but God told Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” Exodus 20:1.  Later, as we read above, He called her His “special treasure”.
Concerning the unique nature of Israel’s covenant relationship with God and their responsibility because of it, Moses said,
“Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statures, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’
“For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?  And what great nation is there that has such statues and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day”
 Deuteronomy 4:6-8?
This is the “specific historical…context” of the Mosaic Covenant.

3. While the law expected a great deal from the Israelites, it had nothing to help them to fulfill those expectations.  At the end of his life, Moses himself put it like this:

“You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land- the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs, and those great wonders.  Yet [-pay attention to this!-] the LORD had not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day,” Deuteronomy 29:2-4.

In spite of all they witnessed, in spite of the fact that their clothes and their shoes had lasted for the forty years of their wilderness trek, v. 5, it was all in one ear and out the other.

Concerning any ability to “keep the law,” someone has put it like this –
“Work” and “run”,
The Law commands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
But sweeter sounds the Gospel brings-
It bids me fly and gives me wings.

The Law gives no feet to walk in its ways or hands to do what it says.  It was an external code to Israel and it still is to those who try to live by it today.  It does nothing for our fallen internal character and nature, except show us that they are fallen.  It can do nothing to change them or to save us from them.

4. Because of this inability, and in spite of what many think, the Law is NOT a means or way of salvation.  It is true that the LORD told Israel, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them:  I am the LORD, Leviticus 18:5, emphasis added.  Yet, there is not a single verse in the Old Testament that gives any indication that God expected that they would obey.  In fact, just after God had given the Law to Moses and the people had said, “we will hear and do it,” God made this comment to Moses, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!  Deuteronomy 4:27b, 29.

Sometimes it’s argued, how can God expect us to do something we can’t?  Others put it this way: since God requires it, we can do it- as if He were responsible to us and not we to Him.  He can expect us to obey simply because He is God.  He is our Creator; every breath we take comes from His hand, cf. Daniel 5:23.  In the book of Leviticus, time after time God enjoins obedience to some precept simply by saying, “I am the Lord.”  No other reason.  He is the Lord!  We’re to obey simply because He tells us to!
We don’t believe that in our culture anymore.   Even in church, we don’t really receive or worship Him as God.    We picture Him as on the outside looking in.   We preach that He wants to bless us, but we have to be “willing;” we have to take that first step toward Him before He can take a step toward us.   Ultimately, we have made Him in our own image.
This very noon, on the news –  our area is experiencing freezing drizzle, with ice on the roads and forming on tree branches.  Thousands of people, some not all that far away, are without power.  The news focused on a church just a couple of miles away.  Included in the coverage showing the darkened interior was a picture of Jesus, blond and blue-eyed!

*sigh*

Away with such nonsense, indeed, such blasphemy.

“There is a God in heaven, Daniel 2:28, whether we like it or not, a God who
does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.

No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?” Daniel 4:35.

5. If the Law can’t save anybody, then why did God give it to Israel?

Paul himself asked the question, What purpose then does the law serve? Galatians 3:19.  He answered in that same verse, It was added because of transgressions.

I think God gave the law in order that we might see that we need to be saved from sin and from ourselves.  We need to know what sin is.  There is an objective standard by which every act, thought and word is to be measured.  It’s not up to us to decide.  Paul put it like this:  I would not have known sin except through the law, Romans 7:7.  A verse or so later he confessed, I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, v. 9.  What does this mean?  Until the Lord met him on the Damascus road, Paul was quite content with his life; in fact, I believe he was rather proud of it.  After all, as he wrote in Philippians 3:4-6,

If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless, emphasis added.

But then the Lord Jesus met him!

Hear his testimony after the Lord converted Him:  But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, Philippians 3:7, 8.

When he left for Damascus on that fateful morning, he had no idea that he would be an altogether different man before he got there.  No wonder the believers in Judea were amazed and said, Is not this he who destroyed those who called on this name..., Acts 1:21?   He had intended to kill them, Acts 22:4, and here he was, wanting to join them!
_______________

This, then, is the covenant kept in the Ark of the Covenant.  Lord willing, we’ll return to the Ark itself later in these studies.

Daniel 2: Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream: Laying the Foundation.

When one builds a building, the first thing he does is prepare some sort of foundation.  Even if it’s just a shed out in the garden, there must be some sort of anchor for the building.  If he’s building a skyscraper, the foundation must go down to bedrock, perhaps dozens of feet, to provide a secure basis for the building.

This vision of Nebuchadnezzar’s is the foundation upon which the rest are built.  And except for his vision of the tree, all the prophecies in the book come together to form a fairly comprehensive picture of the future of God’s people, that is, the nation of Israel, cf. Daniel 9:24.

The occasion of the dream, 2:1, 28, 29.

In 2:29, Daniel told the king, As for you, O King, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed about what will come to pass after this.  Evidently, Nebuchadnezzar had gone to bed one night and began to think about all he had done, the magnificence of his capitol, and the success he had had politically and militarily.  But he knew he wouldn’t live forever, and so perhaps he began to muse and wonder what would happen after he had died.  What would become of all his accomplishments?  In that frame of mind, he drifted off to sleep, and a dream so disturbing that he awoke with a start, and couldn’t go back to sleep.

The purpose of the dream, 2:28, 29, 45.

God wasn’t using this dream merely to satisfy Nebuchadnezzar’s curiosity.  It is true that Daniel told him that “the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this,” but then  he said, “The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.”  This wasn’t simply to assure the king that the dream as given was correct, but rather to assure him, and us, that what is revealed will happen.

Furthermore, Daniel started his interpretation in v. 28 by saying, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days, emphasis added.  This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered this phrase, about which there is much discussion, and it won’t be the last.

The parts of the dream, 2:31-35.

In this dream, we see the development, deterioration, disintegration, displacement and final destruction of certain world powers, in a description of what our Lord would later call, “The times of the Gentiles,” Luke 21:24.

1. The description of a great image, or statue, vs. 31-33.

This is a straightforward description of a man’s form from head to toe.  It was a statue composed of several materials, from a gold head through silver, brass and iron down to a mixture of iron and clay in its feet.

2. The destruction of the great image, vs. 34, 35a.

There are three elements to this destruction.  A stone cut without hands, that is, of no human origin or effort, struck the image on its feet, with the result that the image collapsed into pieces.  Then the stone crushed the broken image into dust, which the wind carried away till there was no trace of them.

3. The displacement of the great image, v. 35b.

After the destruction and disappearance of the image, the stone…became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

The interpretation of the dream, 2:36-45.

Except for a couple of things, we’re going to leave out the perplexity of Nebuchadnezzar over his dream, and the resultant furor he caused among the court magicians.  There is some discussion over whether or not Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten the dream, but it doesn’t matter.  If he had forgotten it, he would recognize it when described by the magicians, and if he remembered it, he would know whether or not they were indeed able to describe it, and, therefore, as he thought, to interpret it.  We tend to believe that he remembered it, and this was simply a test.

Another thing of note is Daniel’s response to the decree to kill all the wise men.  He and his three friends prayed.  This is another example of his habitual prayer.

Finally, something the wise men said is interesting:  “There is [no one] who can tell the king’s matter,…except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh,”  vs. 10, 11.

It was this very point Daniel emphasized in his response to Nebuchadnezzar:  “but there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets,…and He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be….  The great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this,” vs. 28, 29, 45.

God is never afraid to meet sinful men on their own ground.  In referring to God’s defeat of Egypt before Israel’s deliverance, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, said, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them, Exodus 18:11, emphasis added.  In 1 Corinthians 3:19, 20, quoting Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11, Paul wrote, The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness,” and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of men, that they are futile,” emphasis added.

Here, then, is Daniel’s interpretation of the dream.

1. you are the head of gold, vs. 37, 38.

This dream was Nebuchadnezzar’s.  It had likely come while he was wondering what would become of his kingdom after he died.  It was fitting that the interpretation begin with him:  he is the head of gold, v. 38.

Daniel, however, emphasizes something generally ignored or overlooked by men.  He says, “the God of heaven has given you a kingdom….  He has given them [‘the children of men, birds and beasts’] into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all,” vs. 37, 38.  Certainly and truly, Nebuchadnezzar had conquered most of his world, but it was through that conquest, and not independently of it, that God had put him where he was.

Nebuchadnezzar was on the throne because God wanted him there, Daniel 2:21!  The present occupant of the White House, or the Kremlin, or 10 Downing Street, or leaders in the Middle East or Africa or South America – all are there because God has put them there, not independently of what they have done, but by means of what they have done.  It may seem chaotic to us, but everything moves in perfect accord with God’s purpose, Daniel 4:34; Ephesians 1:11.  It’s hard to understand sometimes, but Scripture says it is so.

2. after you shall arise another kingdom, inferior to yours, v. 39.

As silver is inferior to gold, this second kingdom would be inferior to Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar could do anything he wanted, but Darius, for example, was bound by the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter, 6:8, 12, 15.  The phrase, “does not alter” is, literally, “does not pass away,” which shows how foolish sinful men are.  There is only one King whose Word is settled forever, Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8.  At this time, nothing more is said of this kingdom.

3. a third kingdom of  bronze, which shall rule over all the earth, vs. 39.

Again, nothing more is said of this kingdom.  Note, however, that the various kingdoms decrease in “value” even as they increase in strength:  gold, silver, bronze, iron.

4. the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, (yet flimsy), vs. 40-43.

It will break in pieces all the other kingdoms.  The first three kingdoms are plainly identified in later visions of Daniel.  Though the identity of this fourth kingdom may be known from history as Rome, it is never mentioned by name, either here or in subsequent visions.  In the wisdom and providence of God, there is a reason for this omission, which perhaps we’ll see shortly.

God does say more about this fourth kingdom than He does the other three together.  Not mentioning the legs of the image, though their presence is implicit, Daniel calls attention to the toes, toes and feet which are a strange mixture of iron and clay.  He gives a two-fold interpretation of this conglomeration:

a. It will have great strength, v. 41, the strength of iron will be in it.  That kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others, v. 40.

b. It will have great weakness, v. 42, the kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile [brittle].  They will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay, v. 43.

5. In the face of human effort and failing, God Himself will set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever, v. 44.  This is the stone that struck the image [and] became a great mountain and filled the whole earth that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, v. 35.

But when will He do this?  Or has it already been done?  What does Daniel say?

a. When will God do this?  In the days of these kings, v. 44.

The question then becomes, “Which kings?”  The Reformation Study Bible (RSB) has this note on v. 44:  “The most natural interpretation is that the kings are the rulers of the four powers making up the image just described.  The other possibility is that they are a sequence of several rulers of the fourth kingdom,” (p. 1216).  Just in passing,  I  consider this version representative of current Reformed thought.  As such, I refer to it several times.

Let’s look at this note more closely.  Is there any evidence that God “set up a kingdom” during the Babylonian Empire?  The Persian Empire?  In Greece?  In Rome?  Especially a kingdom that destroys all the rest?  There is one possibility – in Rome, or, more accurately, during the preeminence of Rome.  It was during this time that the Lord Jesus came into the world and was crucified – by a representative of Rome.  In addition, on the same page, the RSB says, “This kingdom was inaugurated and preached at the First Coming of Christ (Mark 1:15; Matt. 12:28; 24:14).” According to this view, then, the kingdom was actually set up some time during the time represented by the middle of the image.  Since there is more said about Christ and His kingdom in Daniel, we’ll leave further remarks about this viewpoint until then.

Actually, we believe there is another possibility, from the text itself.  Here is where we have difficulty with Reformed interpretation of prophecy.  Because, according to them, prophecy doesn’t mean what it seems to say (that is, it’s not to be taken “literally”), close attention apparently doesn’t need to be paid to what it actually says.  The vision clearly shows that the image will be struck on its feet, v. 34.  It seems to me, then, that these kings refers to kings symbolized by the ten toes.  Then, what about them being “a sequence of several rulers of the fourth kingdom”?  I believe John has a reference to these kings in his Revelation: “the ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast,” Revelation 17:12, 16.  See also Revelation 12:3.  These kings are not sequential; they rule simultaneously.  We grant that John isn’t commenting on Daniel, but he and Daniel saw much of the same future.  Granted, some of what Daniel saw as future was history for John.  Further, these kings are later referred to as “horns” by Daniel himself, Daniel 7:24.

“Feet” would be foundational to any statue; destroy them and you destroy the statue.  However, this isn’t Daniel’s thought.  These kings aren’t “foundational” to the statue or to the governments it represents.  They are the final form of those governments, and it’s during their tenure that the God of heaven will set up a kingdom.

b. Who will do this?  The God of heaven, v. 44.

We do agree with the Reformed view that this kingdom will not come through political maneuvering or military power, as have other kingdoms.  There will be no vote to “approve” it.  We are not going to “bring in the kingdom.”  In fact, if I understand Scripture correctly, this kingdom will be the last thing humanity wants.

The question becomes, what kind of kingdom will God set up?  Ad we’ve already seen, He’s already in absolute charge of all that goes on, as Nebuchadnezzar found out the hard way in chapter 4.  So what kind of a kingdom can God set up that He doesn’t already have?  Perhaps we can find the answer as we go along.  Furthermore, since there is no place where God isn’t already in control, another question might be, where will He set it up?  And when will He set it up?  There’s a great deal of discussion about these questions.

c. What will it be like?  It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms.

Let’s think about this for a minute.  According to Daniel, God’s kingdom will destroy all these kingdoms.  Yet, as we look at history, Babylon wasn’t destroyed by God, at least not directly, but by the Medes and Persians.  The Persians were conquered by Greece, who in turn was defeated by Rome.  Rome as a political entity was finally destroyed by Germanic tribes invading from the North in 476 AD.  Pagan Rome was succeeded, if we can put it like that, by Papal Rome, “The Holy Roman Empire,” a political entity over which the Pope had control.  (It’s interesting that Papal Rome still uses the language – Latin – of Pagan Rome.)  Eventually, it split into east and west (hence, perhaps, the two legs of the image).  In 1870, the Pope’s power was limited to the Vatican, though the Roman church is still very powerful.  If we understand correctly, Papal Rome will continue until a confederation of ten kings under the rule of “the beast” destroys her, Revelation 17:16.

d. it’s endurance, v. 44.

1. It shall never be destroyed, as were all the kingdoms of the image.
2. It shall not be left to other people, that is, it won’t be given to or taken away by someone else, as kingdoms often are today.

e. It’s extent, It (as represented by the stone) became a great mountain and filled the whole earth, v. 35.

Not just some local kingdom, nor even an extensive empire, but a world-wide sovereignty over every part of this planet.  There is much discussion about this, which we’ll enter into shortly.  Not just a statue, but an awe-inspiring mountain, or perhaps a mountain range, which will make the Rockies or the Apennines look like foothills!  Everest will hang its head in shame at the splendor of this mountain!  Perhaps that seems a little too much, but God’s kingdom will certainly be far beyond anything this world has ever experienced.
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It’s common for expositors to go ahead and tell us that the second kingdom is Medo-Persia, the third is Greece and so forth.  We’ve identified them like that ourselves.  However, the Holy Spirit didn’t see fit to have Daniel tell us, or rather, for Daniel himself to learn the names of these kingdoms until chapter 10.  Perhaps the Spirit wants us to focus on this vision and what it says.  We’ve already noted that the rise and fall of kingdoms, though perhaps accompanied by much confusion at the time, are all in tune with what God has told us beforehand.  Nothing catches Him by surprise.  He never has to say, “Oops!”  He has no “Plan B”.  He doesn’t need one.  ( As I’ve written elsewhere, I don’t know about you, but if God had to revise His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond Plan B!)  We grant this is contrary to much preaching today.  Nevertheless, “there is a God in heaven,” and there are a couple of things to emphasize from this vision.  First, God’s kingdom will supersede and destroy all human kingdoms.  Second, it will fill the whole earth.  These thoughts will be expanded in later visions.

Though we’ve mentioned it before and will have more to say as we go along, it’s again noteworthy that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was not interpreted as “principles” or “ongoing processes,” but as events, that is, things which would actually happen and which could be and, in many cases have been, individually and historically verifiable.  In fact, as we’ve already noted, there is so much detail given with such accuracy that unbelieving scholars deny that it is prophecy at all, but was written well after the fact by someone using Daniel’s name

“To Boldly Go…”

I’ve been a fan of science fiction all my life.  The adventures of John Carter on Mars from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the writings of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, the imagination of Hugo Gernsback with his Ralph 124C41, written in the early 1900s, yet foreshadowing many ideas which have actually happened.  I realize that most sf is indeed fiction and much of it has little “science” behind it.  Indeed, it’s all written from an evolutionary standpoint.  If life evolved on this planet, then no doubt it also evolved on numerous other planets, and so we have the pronouncements of a Jean Luc Picard opening the TV show “Star Trek, The Next Generation,” saying, “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.  Her mission is to seek out new cultures and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before….”

As for any idea of “God,” in another show, Picard, in great anger, says that mankind got ride of that superstition (his word) a long time ago.  For all his ability and ingenuity, man is still “a fool,” Psalm 14:1.

Another show has the opening line, “Space, the final frontier….

I doubt that man will ever be able to really enter the frontier of space, let alone “cross” it.  Man may have left his footprint on the moon, and yes, I believe he did, but Scripture says that the heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s, but the earth He has given to the children of men, Psalm 115:16, emphasis added.  The moon may be within our reach, and even, in some yet unforeseeable way, the solar system or parts of it, but the nearest star, not counting our own Sun, is 4 light years away. Sf shows talk about some place in space as being 3 or 4 or so light years away, as if that’s nothing – just a couple of hours or days away – but that doesn’t really show the enormous distances involved.  A light year –  the distance a ray of light travel is said to travel in a year – is a little over 4 trillion miles.  That means the nearest star is 24 trillion miles away or 39 trillion kilometers! 

I used to drive for a living and figure I drove about 600,000 miles.  Counting all the years that I’ve been driving, or was simply a passenger in a car, train or plane, perhaps I’ve traveled close to one million miles.  But even that great distance is “only” 1/1000th of a billion, which itself is “only” 1/1000th of a trillion.  So, to look at it another way, I’ve “traveled” 1/1,000,000th of 1,000,000,000,000 miles.  At that rate, I’d have to live 1,848,000 years to get to the nearest star.  In computing space travel, we’re dealing with distances which are so vast that they are nothing we can relate to.  We have no yardstick to measure them.

But space isn’t really “the final frontier” men and women face.

In my reading the other morning, I read Ecclesiastes 8:8, There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war, (KJV).

Many folks have a document that says that they served in a particular branch of the Armed Forces.  It’s their “discharge”.

Until the Lord comes back, there is no such “discharge” in the “battle” of life.

According to Hebrews 2:15, part of the reason the Lord came the first time was to release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

What “fear”?  What “bondage”?

Hebrews 9:27, And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.

There is an innate knowledge that death is not the end of everything, that there is something beyond, something Hebrews calls “judgment”.  I grant that our “modern” culture has pretty much thrown out such “outmoded” ideas as God and salvation and judgment to come.  We worship “science,” not the Savior.  We see the evidence and result of such thinking every day in the newscasts on TV.

Nevertheless, death is an irrefutable “fact of life” and Scripture tells us that it is not the end of our existence, merely the turning of a page, as it were.

Our Lord came to prepare us for that event, that change.

How did He do that?

First, He came as a Substitute.  In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the Israelite would bring an animal to the door of the Tabernacle or to the Temple.  He would place his hand on the head of that animal, thus signifying that he himself deserved to die, but the animal was taking his place.  This was only a temporary arrangement and the countless animals that died during the centuries before our Lord bore eloquent testimony that they could never take away sin, Hebrews 10:4.

Second, He came as a Sacrifice.  Hebrews 10:11 says, This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sin forever, sat down at the right hand of God.

“One sacrifice for sin forever.”

One sacrifice.

Sin must be paid for.  Either you and I will pay for our sins with an eternity in hell, because we could never even ever pay for one sin, let alone the countless multitude we are guilty of, or someone must pay it for us.

That Someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.

His life and death are the only ones God will accept, because He is the only one whose life and death meet the requirements of a holy, righteous and just God.  His are the only ones without sin.

Those who receive Him as Lord and Savior escape final judgment for their sins because the Lord Jesus took their place as their Sacrifice.  I say, “final judgment,” because sin does have consequences.  God may forgive adultery without restoring the marriage that was destroyed by it.  He might forgive drunkenness without restoring the bodily damage that was done by it.  Sin does have consequences.  For the true believer, though he will give an account to God for the sins he committed in this life, and there might be consequences in this life, he can never be lost because of them.  Jesus took his place.

John 1:12 says, As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.  There is only one Name God will accept, only one life and death, only one way into heaven.  Contrary to a lot of modern thought, not everybody is going to a “better place.”  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me, John 14:6.

“No one.”

There is only one way into heaven and that is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, friend, have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?  Do you trust Him as the payment for your sins?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

The Missing Verse.

My wife and I attended a funeral last week.  It was a gray, cold, windy, trying to rain, funeral kind of day.  The funeral was in a national cemetery and as the funeral procession wound its way past row after row of white marble headstones, I saw names of people who had served in WWI and WWII, old headstones showing the effects of 60+ years of weather.  I wondered if anybody remembered these people who had served their country so long ago.
The thing that sticks with me, though, was the message of the gentleman conducting the memorial service.  I don’t really know anything about him, just that he had been called in at the last moment because the original speaker couldn’t be there.
Part of his message was the 23rd Psalm, one of my favorites and the first Scripture I memorized as a youngster.  The thing is, and I don’t know why, he left out a verse –

He leads me in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.

Without that verse, the rest of the Psalm has no meaning, no comfort.  Without “righteousness,” there are no “green pastures,” no “still waters,” no cup running over, no “goodness and mercy.”
It’s true, the Psalmist lived under the Old Testament Law, in which there was provision for “righteousness.”  In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses told the people, “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”  Yet the sad truth is that Israel was never “careful to observe” those commandments; indeed, Moses wasn’t even down Mt. Sinai before the people were engaged in a drunken orgy, Exodus 32.
David himself, the author of Psalm 23, after the sad affair with Bathsheba, confessed his own sinfulness, Psalm 51, in which he said, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me,” v. 3.
But what about us?  We don’t live under that Law, that Covenant.  What then?  Are we better than they?  Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles] that they are all under sin, Romans 3:9.  No, no, if we’re honest, we have to agree with the assessment of Israel in Isaiah 64:6, all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  The word translated “filthy rags” referred to a cloth a woman might use during her monthly cycle or a leper might use to dress his sores – not a very pretty picture, but expressive of what God thinks of the best we can do, our “righteousnesses,” those things we think so much of and put down on the plus side of the ledger.
This is why the Lord Jesus came to this earth.  He came to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  He didn’t come just so we can pay lip service to Him at Christmas or Easter; He came to live the life we cannot live, and die the death we cannot die.  His life was one of complete obedience to the Father.  One time, He asked those who opposed Him, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.  He’s the only One who’s ever been able truthfully to say, “I always do those things which please Him,” that is, the Father, John 8:29.  And when He died on the Cross, He wasn’t dying because of His sins, like the two who died with Him; He was dying for the sins of you and me, His people.
The Lord Jesus came as a Substitute and Sacrifice for His people.  He lived a perfect, sinless life, satisfying all the provisions of God’s law and died a sacrificial death, satisfying the claims of that broken law.  To those who repent of their sins and trust Him alone for salvation, God credits what Jesus did to them.  The Psalmist said, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.  That’s because He dealt with the Lord Jesus “according to our iniquities.”  To those who receive Him as Lord and Savior, the Father treats us according to His righteousness.  Paul put it like this:  God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
That’s the righteousness, the only righteousness, that brings the comfort and blessings of Psalm 23.