The Lampstand

“You shall also make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work.  Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and flowers shall be of one piece.  And six branches shall come out of its sides:  three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side.   Three bowls shall be made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower – and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand.  On the lampstand itself four bowls shall be made like almond blossoms, each with its ornamental knob and flower.  And there shall be a knob under the first two branches of the same, a knob under the second two branches of the same, and a knob under the third two branches of the same. according to the six branches that extend from the lampstand.  Their knobs and their branches shall be of one piece; all of it shall be one hammered piece of pure gold.  You shall make seven lamps for it, and they shall arrange its lamps so that they give light in front of it.  And its wick-trimmers and their trays shall be of pure gold.  It shall be made of a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils.  And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain, Exodus 25:31-40 NKJV.

He also made the lampstand of pure gold; of hammered work he made the lampstand.  Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and its flowers were of the same piece.  And six branches came out of its sides:  three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side.  There were three bowls made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almost blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower – and so for the six branches coming out of the lampstand.  And on the lampstand itself were four bowls made like almond blossoms, each with its ornamental knob and flower.  There was a knob under the first two branches of the same, a knob under the second two branches of the same, and a knob under the third two branches of the same, according to the six branches extending from it.  Their knobs and their branches were of one piece; all of it was one hammered piece of pure gold.  And he mad its seven lamps, its wick-trimmers, and its trays of pure gold.  Of a talent of pure gold he made it, with all its utensils. Exodus 37:17-24 NKJV.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron, and say to him, ‘When you arrange the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand’.”  And Aaron did so; he arranged the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the LORD commanded Moses.  Now this workmanship of the lampstand was hammered gold; from its shafts to its flowers it was hammered work.  According to the pattern which the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand, Numbers 8:1-4 NKJV.

This article of furniture must have been beautiful beyond description – and yet hidden away in a room only a few men were ever permitted to enter.  It was the source of light for that room.

Scripture has a lot to say about light, from its creation as a separate thing from the One who created it, who is light, 1 John 1:5; Genesis 1:3, to its being unnecessary in the New Jerusalem, where the glory of God illuminated it.  The Lamb is its light.  And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, Revelation 21:23-24a.  There shall be no night there:  They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light, Revelation 22:5a.

“The Lord God gives them light.”

The Psalmist understood this:

For with you is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light, Psalm 36:9.

This is true in the natural realm, certainly, and very few would deny light’s existence, though many deny its creation by God, but it is also true in the spiritual realm, a realm which many deny, seeking to explain everything by natural processes.

The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; not can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned, 1 Corinthians 2:14.

But there is an agent beyond man’s natural frailty who contributes to this inability:

whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them, 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Notice Paul’s emphasis:  “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God….”

Of all the truths of Scripture, the deity of the Lord Jesus is one of the most disputed.  Sinful men will perhaps allow Him to be a teacher, thought they ignore what He taught, or they might allow Him to be a good man who was caught up in the intrigue of His time. but the idea that He was and is the second person of the Trinity is just a bridge too far, as is His statement that He is the only Savior and the only way into the presence of God,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.

What do you think of the Son of Man?

Your eternal destiny depends on that answer.

Covenant Relationship

In our last post, we looked briefly at the Ark of the Covenant, a piece of furniture in the Tabernacle, which the ordinary Israelite never saw.  Only the high priest was allowed into the compartment where the ark was kept and that only on special and very limited occasions.

The word “covenant” occurs numerous times in Scripture.  What is a “covenant”?  Simply put, it is an agreement between people or groups of people to do certain things, or perhaps not to do them.  We might use the word “treaty.”  And this covenant might be “conditional” or “unconditional”.  A “conditional” covenant is an “if-then” covenant.  One or both parties are required to do or not do certain things, upon which certain results depend.  An “unconditional” covenant is one which does not have such requirements, but is basically a promise by one party to do something for another party regardless of what that other party does.

There are several “covenants” of both kinds in Scripture.  And there is a great deal of discussion about them.  It’s not our purpose here to get into that discussion.  We only want to look at a couple of these covenants and then spend some time on the covenant referred in particular by the Ark of  The Covenant.

The first covenant in Scripture is the one God made with Noah after the flood, the first covenant God made with men.  In Genesis 9:8-11, God said,

“And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you:  the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you:  Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  (NKJV)

These verses ought to answer those who believe that the Flood was just some local affair, blown out of proportion by eager ignorance.  It will soon be spring and floods will be reported all over the country.  If Genesis just refers to some local event, then God lied, because there have been innumerable “floods” since then.  But there has never been another universal flood.

There are those who believe that there was an earlier covenant – in the Garden of Eden.  Referring to Hosea 6:7, these scholars speak of a “covenant of works” God entered into with Adam.  In many versions, Hosea 6:7 says, But like Adam they transgressed the covenant.  The discussion centers around the word translated “Adam.”  It is also translated “man” or “men”.

Genesis 1-3 gives us the account of Adam and Eve.  It clearly shows the responsibility Adam had to take care of the Garden and the one restriction which was placed on him: he could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Every other tree was made available for his use, God saying to him, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat,” Genesis 2:16, emphasis added.   Some teach that if Adam had been obedient to God, he eventually would have entered a state where he would have been confirmed in righteousness or innocence or some such thing.  The thing is, there was no restriction placed on him with regard to the tree of life.  He could have gone immediately and eaten of the fruit of that tree.  By doing so, he could have gained “eternal life” right away.  There was no “covenant of works.”  There was just his dismal failure.

The second covenant we’re interested in is found in Genesis 12:

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

“Get out from your country.
From your family,
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;..,”

Genesis 12:1, 2a, emphases added.

In Genesis 13, we have the account of Abram’s trip from Egypt.  Leaving aside the difficulties encountered because he didn’t fully obey God in this trip, we read in v. 14, And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward:  for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.  And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth:..,” emphasis added.

The book of Joshua gives us the account of Israel as they began to enter that land God had promised Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob.  In Joshua 1, after the death of Moses, God told his successor Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead.  Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving them – the children of Israel.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory,” vs. 2-4.  This is the only “land” and its location described as being given to a particular people – Israel, and it’s repeated in different forms several times.

Granted, Israel has had a lot of ups and downs during her history, and still isn’t done with them, for that matter.  If I read Scripture correctly, there is coming a time when it will finally seem that Israel has been destroyed, Zechariah 14:2.  This isn’t the only such reference.  But God isn’t done with her, in spite of those who teach otherwise.

Ezekiel 48:1-29, which is yet future, gives an extensive listing of the division of the land of Israel, beginning with the tribe of Dan to the north and ending with the tribe of Gad on the south.  “This is the land which you shall divided by lot as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel, and these are their portions,” says the LORD GOD, v. 29.

Israel’s possession of the land doesn’t depend on her military prowess, on the agreement of other nations or groups or on political pronouncements from, say, the UN.  It depends on the purpose, promise and power of God.  It is His covenant with them.

The Ark of the Covenant

“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood…,” Exodus 25:10 (NKJV).

There are two main sections dealing with the construction of the tabernacle.  In Exodus 25-31, God gives instruction concerning the various parts of the tabernacle and of the priesthood that would minister there.  In Exodus 35-39, we read of the actual preparation for and construction of the tabernacle.

Though the rest of the posts will look at the tabernacle from the standpoint of an Israelite who was approaching it, this post will look at the first item God told Moses to make:  a piece of furniture called “the ark of the covenant.”

It’s interesting to me that, in these instructions, God begins with Himself, for the ark signified the place where He would “dwell” and where He would meet with Israel.

So it always is.

God begins with Himself.

It was that way with this planet:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1.  The earth didn’t create itself, or develop from some lesser thing, in spite of the best efforts of those who would tell us otherwise.

It was that way with Abraham.  He didn’t sit down one day and decide to write down his thoughts about the possibility of “a higher power.”  Genesis 12 and Hebrews 11:8 tells us that God appeared to Abraham and told him to move to “a land that I will show you,” Genesis 12:1.

It was that way with Israel and the giving of the Law, Exodus 20.  They didn’t get together and write down some ideas for how they would govern themselves.  In Exodus 20, God called Moses to the top of a mountain and gave him The Ten Commandments, though these are only a summary of the Law, there being a lot more that God gave Israel before He was done.

And it’s that way with us.  Scripture says that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, Ephesians 1:4.  I can’t think of another subject that will make people angry more quickly than the idea that God chose us simply because He wanted to.  I’ve dealt with this at length elsewhere on this blog.  Let me just say here that if He hadn’t chosen us, we would never “choose” Him, would never be saved.  There are some folks who focus on “whosoever will.”  That’s alright; it’s a Biblical concept.  The problem is that, apart from the grace of God, we’re all “whosoever won’ts”.

Folks want to get around this by saying that God “looked down the corridors of time for those who would ‘accept Him’, and chose them on that basis.”  Is that how He did it?  Scripture itself uses this idea of God “looking”:
The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God,
Psalm 14:2.
If the “foreknowledge” folks were right, the Psalmist would continue that God did see some who “understand,” who “seek” Him.

Is that what the Psalmist wrote?

Not in the least.

They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,
No, not one, Psalm 14:3, emphasis added.

It begins with God.

Because it would never begin with us.

The ark of the covenant was a chest of wood, covered with gold, Exodus 25:10.  It was a little less than four feet long and a little more than two feet wide and high.  Except for the high priest once a year, no one ever saw it because it was kept in the holy of holies in the tabernacle.  Even when Israel moved during its wilderness journeys, it was covered to keep it from prying eyes.  I don’t think God was “hiding,” but, rather, was impressing on Israel the seriousness of their relationship with Him.  Indeed, when an Israelite touched the ark during of these moves, God struck him dead, 2 Samuel 6:6; 1 Chronicles 13:9.  I think there might be a lesson for us with our comfortable, casual, contemporary Christianity.  I know that a suit and tie don’t guarantee spirituality, but neither do flip-flops and shorts.

There were three items kept inside the ark:  the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant, Hebrews 9:4.  Exodus 13:33 tells of the pot of manna, which was to be kept to show future generations of Israelites how God had provided for Israel during her wilderness travels.  Aaron’s rod reminded Israel that the descendants of Aaron and they alone, could perform the office of priest, Numbers 17.   The tables of the covenant were the original tablets that Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai, Exodus 20.

Lord willing, we’ll consider this “covenant” more closely in our next post.

Daniel 7: Perspective

To this point in Daniel, all the visions and dreams have happened to other people and Daniel has merely interpreted them.  Now he begins to experience them for himself.  These visions, though happening to different people at different times, are all about the same thing: the future, some of which is future even to us.  Daniel gives us detail not found anywhere else in Scripture.

This particular vision came to Daniel in the first year of Belshazzar, v. 1, or within a few years of the beginning of the Medo-Persian empire under Cyrus.

The chapter may be divided into two sections:

1. Vision and interpretation, vs. 1-18.
2. Question and answer, vs. 19-28.

Daniel’s vision and its interpretation, 7:1-18.

This vision seems also to be divided into two sections:

a. an earthly scene, vs. 1-8.
b. a heavenly scene, vs. 9-14.

An earthly scene, vs. 1-8.

Something to pay attention to in this vision is the different way it views the various empires of which it speaks compared to Nebuchadnezzar’s vision.  Nebuchadnezzar’s vision was of a great image, or statue, 2:31, something man could build and be proud of, something which would show off his ingenuity and skill, a statue made of valuable materials.  Daniel himself described it like this:  this great image, whose splendor was excellent,…and its form was awesome.  Even the least significant part, the feet and toes, was made of ceramic clay, a valuable commodity.  This is, if you will, the earthly viewpoint.

Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 shows these same empires as vicious beasts, mongrel beasts, monstrous beasts, good only to destroy and to be destroyed.  This is the heavenly viewpoint.

Strange, isn’t it, the difference between the two viewpoints.  What fallen man, even religious fallen man, praises and glories in, God finds detestable, Luke 16:15.

As we look more closely at this vision, we see:

A. The first three beasts, vs. 2-6.

We lump these three together because of the relative lack of space given to them as compared with the fourth beast.

1. From later prophecies in Daniel, and from history itself, we know this first beast, vs. 2-4, represents the Babylonian Empire.  Lion-like figures with wings and human heads abound in the ruins of this empire.  The latter description of this first beast perhaps refers to the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar and his restoration, with a consequent lessening of the brutality of the empire.  Cf. the phrase, a man’s heart was given it, v. 4, with the corresponding verses in 4:13-16, where a watcher, a holy one, …from heaven cried aloud concerning Nebuchadnezzar, “Let his heart be changed from that of a man.  Let him be given the heart of a beast.”
Perhaps a key word for this beast is “demeanor,” as Nebuchadnezzar learned the cost and futility of human pride of accomplishment.  This lesson was lost on those who followed him, either in his own family, i.e., Belshazzar, or in the empires which followed.

2. The second beast, v. 5, is Medo-Persia.  The raised side refers to Persia, which was the stronger of the two kingdoms.  The three ribs refer to the three kingdoms this empire destroyed:  Babylon, Lydia and Egypt.  Lydia was a kingdom in approximately the area we know today as Turkey, the area of the seven churches in the Revelation.  Perhaps a key word for this kingdom is “destruction”:  “arise, devour much flesh.”  This kingdom was noted for its rapacity and cruelty.

3. The third beast, v. 6, is Greece.  The beast itself, a leopard, is described as having four wings, which symbolize the rapidity with which Alexander, though not named, conquered the Persian Empire.  The four heads refer to the four generals who served with him and who divided his kingdom after his early death at 33.  The key word for this kingdom is “dominion,” which even the text uses of it.  However, Grecian influence went far beyond the mere conquest of lands and kingdoms.  Alexander’s great desire was to spread Greek culture, including the language, throughout his domain.  So successful was he in this that Greek became the universal language of the day, even down to New Testament times.  Wherever the Gospel went, it could be understood.  The New Testament was written in ordinary, everyday Greek, and even the Old Testament was translated into Greek.  Sometimes that translation is quoted in New Testament uses of Old Testament verses.

A century and a half before the birth of our Lord, it was a ruler of the Seleucid segment of Alexander’s empire, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who did his best to destroy the Jews.  His efforts are prophesied in Daniel.

Finally, Greek customs prevailed even among many Jews.  This led to a culture war, if you will, between those who wanted to remain faithful to their own heritage, customs and language (the “Hebrews”), and those who saw nothing wrong with adapting and conforming to the Greek culture, even to speaking the language (the “Hellenists,” from the Greek word for “Greek”).  The first church dispute, recorded in Acts 6, reflects this dissension:  …there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution, Acts 6:1.  Vs. 1-6 show how wisely that dispute was resolved.  Note the Grecian names of the seven chosen to take care of the problem.

B. The fourth beast, vs. 7, 8.

Again we note that the most space is given to this beast, whose key word is “different.”  Exactly how it is different is not described:  perhaps there are no earthly beasts to which it can be compared.  One difference is that this beast is nowhere identified as to which kingdom it represents.  It is simply a fourth beast, vs. 7, 19, and a fourth kingdom, v. 23.  It is usually identified as Rome, which did indeed defeat Greece and then spread throughout their known world.  This identification in historically tenable, yet it seems this fourth beast of Daniel isn’t quite analogous to Rome.  The Spirit’s own interpretation follows later in the chapter.

There are a couple of things said about this beast:

1. its destructiveness, v. 7.  The description is of an unstoppable “mad dog” sort of beast, tearing and destroying everything in its path.

2. its distinctiveness, vs. 7b, 8.  Again, we’re not told how it is different.  The only description Daniel gives us besides its dreadful teeth and paws is the fact that it had ten horns.  As we’ll see, this is perhaps the most vital part of the vision.  Another horn appears and defeats three of the ten horns.  This “horn” possesses eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.  These speak of intelligence and an insolent attitude, although toward what we’re not yet told, as Daniel’s attention is drawn elsewhere. What he saw, Lord willing, will be in our next post.

Revelation 1:5, “To Him Who Loved Us…”

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

For the most part, the Revelation is a book about judgment, of the outpouring of God’s wrath on this sinful and rebellious world.  This world scoffs at the idea of God’s justice and wrath.  There is coming a time, however, when even it will be forced to admit that it exists.  There is coming a time when men will cry out to the mountains to fall on them and hide them “from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of His wrath has come and who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:16, 17.

“The wrath of the Lamb”!

Who ever heard of a lamb being wrathful?  That most inoffensive and defenseless of creatures!  Rising up in anger!

John describes something unheard of, something unexpected.  This most certainly is true in our time.  We have a “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” and truly, as He walked the dusty roads of Israel, our Lord was gentle.  Hebrews 7:26 describes Him as “harmless”.  In much of our teaching and preaching, we have Him standing on the sidelines of His own creation, anxious to bless us, but He can’t do anything unless and until we let Him.  We have reduced Him to little more than a supplicant at the throne of the human will.  He has little relevance to our culture.  Even many of our churches seem concerned only with programs and personalities.  And, by and large, we seem to be getting away with it – if you don’t count the mess our world and society is in.  Yet even in our Lord’s life, to those who rejected His teaching and authority, there were flashes of anger, cf. Matthew 23.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2, behold, now is the day of salvation.  We live in a time of salvation, not of wrath and judgment, certainly not as Revelation describes it.  This is one reason why, from chapter 4 onward, I don’t believe it describes things that have already happened or are happening now.

Granted, even during that time there will be salvation, Revelation 7:9-17, just as there is some judgment in our day as God lets us reap what we’ve sown, individually and as a culture.

Verse 5 shows us how salvation is even possible.  It’s not because of something we’ve done or figured out.  It’s not because of our religion or good works, but because of the grace and mercy of that One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

(There is so much I’d like to say about this, but limited space makes it impractical.  I have done a whole series of posts under the title, “The Kindness of God.”  If you do look it up, the last post will be listed first.  At least, that’s how it comes up for me.  Just scroll down to the first post.  They build on each other, from first to last.)

washed us  from our sins in His own blood.

I talked to a lady who didn’t like all the references to “blood” in the Old Testament.  And, indeed, our faith is sometimes describes as “a bloody religion.”  Folks just don’t understand what it’s all about.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission, no forgiveness, Hebrews 9:22.  It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul, Leviticus 17:11.

God didn’t ask for animal sacrifices just for the sake of bloodshed.  He was teaching Israel something, using the sacrifices as an object lesson.  He was teaching Israel the truth of something about sin, that those who committed sin were subject to death.  If it’s said that the animal wasn’t guilty, there’s a second lesson: substitution.  The animal was a “substitute” for the guilty Israelite.  It died.  He didn’t.

When the Israelite brought a sacrifice, he was required to put his hand on the head of the animal, cf. Leviticus 1:4.  In this way he identified with the animal.  It was a confession that he, the Israelite, deserved to die, but the animal was taking his place.

All these countless sacrifices pointed to the ultimate sacrifice: the death of the Lord Jesus.  He committed no sin.  He did not deserve to die.   We commit nothing but sin, even in the providing of daily necessities, cf. Proverbs 21:4.  We do deserve to die, Romans 6:23.

The OT animal had no say, no choice, in the matter.  The Lord Jesus had every say, every choice, in the matter.  When it had become obvious, even to the slow-witted disciples, that the Lord Jesus was about to be arrested, He told them that He could ask the Father for more than twelve legions of angels to come and protect Him, Matthew 26:53.  Considering what just one angel could do, 2 Kings 19:35….

Our Lord was no helpless, unwilling victim.  He could easily have escaped, as He had done at other times, Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59; 10:39.  Though He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, Isaiah 53:7, no power on earth could have put Him on that cross if He had not been willing to go, cf. John 19:10, 11.  No power on earth could have kept Him away from it, either.

This doesn’t mean that He enjoyed it or looked forward to it.  It is not without reason that Scripture says that He endured the Cross, Hebrews 12:2, emphasis added.

He was willing to go through all because He loved us, and because there was no other way for us to be saved.

But salvation is more than just an escape from hell.  It’s more than just the fulfillment of earthly desires for health and wealth and all the things the prosperity false prophets talk about.  Indeed, salvation may lead to our losing those things, Matthew 16:24; Philippians 3:7, 8; Hebrews 10:34.  Even in this country, we’re beginning to see that, with all the furor over gender and marriage issues.

No, no.  Salvation isn’t about deliverance from hell;  It’s about deliverance from that which would send us there:  our sins.

When the angel came to Joseph to explain to him what was going on with his fiancee, he said that the Son she would bear would “save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.

That is the issue.

Sin.

Sin is not defined by current social trends, but by the Word of God.  Current social trends emphasize and legalize sin.  It’s a sad commentary that so many religious organizations go right along with these things.  We expect this from the world.  Those who profess to be God’s people should know better.  It’s a shame – and a sin – that we allow the world to define the narrative, and not the Word.

To be saved from sin doesn’t simply mean to be forgiven for them.  The angel said that the coming Savior would save His people from their sins, not in them.

To be saved from sin means to turn from it, to reject it.  This is called repentance, which is the other side of the coin of salvation.  But this isn’t simply asceticism.  It’s not enough that we “don’t drink or chew or have friends who do.”

There are those who teach that repentance is a “Jewish doctrine.”  At the risk of being misunderstood myself, these folks misunderstand the Bible’s teaching on salvation by grace through faith.

What does the Scripture say?

When the Gospel first went to Gentiles and they were saved, this led to a confrontation with those who believed that the Gospel was only for Jewish folks, Acts 10.  In Acts 11, these folks finally realized and admitted that “God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life,” v. 18, emphasis added.

As Paul’s recorded ministry was beginning to wind down, he called for one last meeting with the leaders of the church at Ephesus, Acts 20:17-38.  He was about 30 miles away, at Miletus.  We could make this trip in a half-hour or less.  It probably took them a couple of days.  And it probably took a couple of days for Paul’s message to get to them.  We tend to forget that folks in this time traveled on foot or animals.  They didn’t have fast cars and freeways – or phones.

When the elders finally got to Paul, he reminded them of his own ministry among them.  For three years, he had been among them, and “did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears,” Acts 20:31.  He said that his method and message was that he “taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” vs. 20, 21.

This last verse gives gives us the two sides of that coin of salvation I mentioned earlier:

repentance toward God….  

It’s His Law, His Word, we’ve ignored or rebelled against.  We can’t keep doing that and be saved.  That is not legalism.  We’re not saved by keeping His Word, but we can’t be saved if we continue to disobey it.

faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

It isn’t our obedience that saves us; it’s the obedience of the Lord Jesus.  He is the only one Who could ever truthfully say that He pleased the Father in everything, John 8:29.  If He had fallen short in even one tiny little thing, He couldn’t be the Savior.  And we couldn’t be saved.

But it isn’t only His life that saves us.  His life provided the righteousness we need if we’re ever to stand before God uncondemned.  We have sinned; we have fallen short.  We stand under the judgment of God:  “the soul who sins shall die,” Ezekiel 18:4.  So, not only did He live in our place; He died in our place, as well.

That great debt we owe to God’s justice – that debt we could never even begin to pay?

He paid every last penny.

There is no debt left.

Does this mean that we can live as we please – without regard to God’s word?

Not at all.

The Mosaic Law was entirely external, with no provision to help the Israelite obey it.  Cf. Deuteronomy 29:4.  But believers don’t fall under the Old Testament Law.  We’re saved under the terms of the New Covenant.  True, it’s revealed in the Old Testament, but it goes far beyond the Old Testament Law.  The New Covenant provides help for the believer.  It’s an internal covenant, with the Word of God being put into our minds and hearts, and the Holy Spirit given to us to enable us to live by that word.

It’s not without reason that the Psalmist wrote, He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, Psalm 23:3.

“The Avenger of Blood”

In our first post, we mentioned that there were things in the Mosaic Law which seems strange to modern minds.  Though there are several such things, the subject for this post is probably right near the top of the list.

What, or who, was the “avenger of blood”?

The Hebrew phrase is “go’el haddam,” literally, “redeemer of blood”.  The word actually has two meanings. There is the one set forth in our text, that is, that a near relative was to “avenge” the violent death of a family member.  The other one, perhaps more familiar, is that a near relative could “redeem” or pay back the debts of a family member.  We’ll look at this idea in our next post.

The idea of avenging murder or the death of a family member was set forth long before the time of Moses in Genesis 9:5, 6, where God told Noah, “Surely for your life blood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man.  From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

“From the hand of every man’s brother….”

This idea was expanded and explained in the Mosaic Law.

There was no separation of the criminal from the victim’s family, as there is today.  Our whole justice system, under the guise of “fairness” and “impartiality,” has erected a number of barriers between the perpetrator and his victims.  Indeed, the [alleged] criminal is viewed as having acted against “the people,” not the victim.  A trial is couched in the terms of “the State vs.” whomever.  (It’s interesting, at least to me, that while I was working on this post, I was called to serve on a jury in an attempted murder case.  I couldn’t help thinking of this post and the others in the series as I was listening to the proceedings.)  If the victim does try to take things into his own hands, then he is in trouble with the law for wanting “revenge,” not justice – as the law sees it.

While I am NOT advocating a return to the Mosaic system, I do think our system leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to what we call “closure” for the victim and/or his or her family, and when it comes to addressing the damage and harm done to them, to say nothing of providing “justice” for a crime.

Although there are instructions scattered throughout the Mosaic writings, Deuteronomy 17:2-13 gives us something of an idea of what happened.  Though it starts of with those guilty of idolatry, vs. 2, 3, I think it includes any who were guilty of capital crimes, that is, crimes deserving death, v. 6.  There were several elements involved:

  1. “Diligent inquiry” was to make certain the charges were true.  They had to be true and certain, v. 4.
  2. A matter involving a death penalty, and there are more than forty such “matters” in the Law, required two or three witnesses, v. 6.  One witness was never enough.
  3. If a crime, or, sin, as Scripture views it, was verified, the perpetrator was taken to the city gate, v. 5.  This seems to have been immediately, with no time elapsed.  There were no “appeals,” no dragging out the case for years in various courts.
    In the case where I was a juror, the crime was committed August 31-September 1 of last year.  The defendant was arrested a little later – in September or October.  The trial was June 13-16, this year.  So, months passed.  And though he has been convicted, his sentencing is still 3 or so weeks in the future, subject to the convenience of the lawyers involved, after which he likely will spend time in prison.
    This wouldn’t have happened under the Mosaic Law.
  4. At the city gate, the witnesses were to be the first to stone the condemned person.  No doubt, this gave pause to witnesses to be absolutely certain of what they were saying.  It was a solemn thing.
  5. After step 4, the hands of all the people were to inflict the penalty on the perpetrator.  It wasn’t hidden away; it was public, and “society” was involved in carrying out the sentence.
    To some, especially to those who oppose the death penalty, all this may seem somewhat barbaric.  However, it lent a certain solemn reality to what was going on.  In the trial I mentioned above, among the exhibits the prosecution showed us were some forensic pictures of a man killed during the crime, not by the defendant in our trial, but by another man who was involved.  He had already been tried and sentenced.  One of the other jurors was very upset by the pictures.  I made the comment that it’s a little different when you see the real thing, as opposed to what we see in TV detective shows.
    We know TV pictures aren’t real.  Actors will get up and maybe will have to do the scene several times. The pictures in the trial were real.  The man slumped between two seats in an SUV was not going to get up after the pictures were taken and walk away.
    So it was in OT times.  To the spectators and participants, it was real.  It wasn’t just some segment on the 6 o’clock news.
    I think we’ve lost some, if not all, of this reality.  We’ve become so desensitized by video games and TV shows that we half-way expect crime victims to “get up and walk away.”  (If you’ve been the victim of a serious crime, I’m sorry; I don’ t mean to add to your burden.  You realize better than most that those who haven’t endured such things can’t really understand what you’re going through.)  And the perpetrators of such crimes have “rights” which cannot be violated, regardless of how they may have violated the rights of their victims.
    I did gain some appreciation for this during the trial.  Several times, the judge stressed that the defendant was considered innocent, even though charged with several crimes, until such time as he was actually convicted by a jury – us.  His being charged with a crime was not to be taken as guilt for those crimes.
    It was this way in the OT.  The person was only punished for a crime after he had been found guilty by the testimony of several witnesses, and I expect there was other “evidence,” as well.  But the punishment happened right away; it didn’t take years.
  6. One of the arguments for the death penalty is that it deters crime.  Opponents deny this, citing the horrendous numbers of murders that happen in this country every year.  They cry that we shouldn’t “add to the body count,” as I saw one such protester’s sign say.
    Perhaps one reason it doesn’t “deter” is the number of years it takes for the sentence actually to be carried out.  And it’s carried out privately, with only a very few people who actually view it.  There’s no sense of “this is what happens if you murder some one.”
    We’ve already seen what happens in other crimes – how the “perp” was responsible to his victim.  The OT Law was designed to show that there were serious consequences to breaking it.
    What does God have to say about the deterring effect of capital punishment?
  7. Actually, He says two things.  (1).  “All the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously,” v. 13.  When there are actual, swift, public, consequences for a criminal, people understand that.  But when there are years and years of postponements, with appeal after appeal, a sense of urgency is lost about a crime that happened years before.  And there was a second thing, something we never think about:  (2) “So you shall put away the evil from Israel,” v.7, 12.  How many times have we heard on the news of a person caught for a crime, who “has a rap sheet as long as your arm”?  In the Mosaic economy, that wouldn’t happen.  One reason for the death penalty was to “put away” for good those who murdered or were guilty of other serious offenses.  There was none of this serving a few years in prison and then being set free perhaps to do the same thing over again, and over again, and over again.  How many innocent victims have there been from such repeat offenders?  Remember the offender in an earlier post who was guilty of twelve sexual offenses.  That is not “putting away evil.”
    If anything, our modern system of “justice” enables it.

“no ransom”

In these last few posts, we’ve been looking at some of the provisions of the Mosaic Law, provisions which aren’t as familiar as the Ten Commandments.  Some of these things seem strange or harsh to our modern way of thinking.  The society of that time and nation was largely agricultural and rural, without any of what we consider “conveniences”.  It was what we might call a “basic” society:  people growing up, gettting married, having and raising kids, and taking care of their basic needs – without all the stuff we have to have today.

It gives us a much different view of “justice” than we’re accustomed to.

In our previous post, we looked at a little of what the Old Testament says about what was to happen to those who accidentally, without premeditation or animosity, killed someone.  Though there were still serious consequences to such an act, care was taken to protect such persons from those who would seek revenge.

This brings up the question, “What about those who killed with premeditation and/or animosity”?  The Scripture is clear.  Exodus 21:14 says, “If a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, then you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.”

(“from My altar….”  Though we have no Scripture telling  us it was to be used like this, apparently the bronze altar at the entrance to the Tabernacle was also a place of safety, though within prescribed limits.  We have an example, centuries later, of one who tried to use it illegally, 1 Kings 2:28-34.  Notice there the reference to “innocent blood,” v. 31.)

Numbers 35:9-34 gives a detailed explanation of things to be considered in deciding “guilt” or “innocence,” and who could or could not claim protection in a city of refuge.  Nor was there any way that a person who could live in a city of refuge would be allowed to leave before the death of the high priest, v. 32.  We’ve seen what could happen if they tried.

And there was no way a person found guilty of premeditated murder could escape the penalty: you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death, v. 31.

Our culture has gone a long way from such thoughts.  People who give little thought to the plight of victims will get very upset at the idea that the one who hurt them should actually pay for what he did.  A few years in jail, maybe, or even a “life sentence,” but no death penalty.  Of course, it’s important that the criminal show “remorse.”   So the victim and their family have the privilege of paying taxes to support a bloated, over-grown penal system in which the “constitutional rights” of murderers, rapists, and other felons are of paramount importance, while they themselves suffer the results of those crimes, endure the costs of their own recovery and healing, or while they have to live with the absence or suffering of a son or daughter, mother or father, wife or husband, brother or sister, or other family member.

Prison is no picnic, but then neither is being a victim of someone who in a system of true justice would not live to go there.

There were no prisons in the Mosaic Law.

We’ll have some more to say about this in the next post.