Monday, July 13, 2020

The Exodus. Day 106, Other Priestly Garments And Their Significance, Part Two

We conclude Chapter 28 today by finishing our study of the priestly garments the Lord told Moses and the Israelites to create.

Yesterday we studied Aaron's blue robe and the golden headband that said "Holy To The Lord" which was to be affixed to the front of his turban. Today we'll look at the tunics he and his sons are to wear, the sashes for their robes, and the priestly undergarments.

"Weave the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen. The sash is to be the work of an embroiderer. Make tunics, sashes and caps for Aaron's sons to give them dignity and honor." (Exodus 28:39-40) Below I'm inserting an illustration which shows the garments of the regular priests versus the garments of the high priest.
Aaron's sons wore a simple linen tunic with an embroidered sash around their waists and a white linen cap on their heads. Aaron would have also worn a simple linen tunic but he would have donned the other garments of the high priest overtop of the tunic. The Bible never makes any mention of foot coverings, so you'll almost always see the priests pictured as being barefoot. Some scholars think the priests wore sandals while serving at the tabernacle but I tend to side with the scholars who believe the priests did not wear shoes while they ministered on this holy ground. (In Exodus 3:5, at the burning bush, the Lord commanded Moses to take his sandals off when approaching, for the presence of the Lord was so strong there that He said, "The place where you are standing is holy ground.") If the ground near the burning bush was too holy for shoes, the ground the tabernacle sat on---where the Lord's glory will appear---was even holier.

It's hard to imagine the Lord would have gone into such great detail about every aspect of the priests' wardrobes without mentioning the type of foot coverings they were to wear. This leads me to think they didn't wear shoes. Further clues that they didn't wear shoes can be found in Exodus 30 and Exodus 40. In those passages we'll see that the priests were required to wash their hands and feet before beginning their daily duties at the tabernacle. A bronze basin was placed between "the tent of meeting and the altar" (Exodus 30:18, Exodus 40:30-31) and the men had to wash their hands and feet in this basin whenever they entered the tabernacle and again before presenting any type of sacrifice or offering to the Lord. It's my opinion that they removed their sandals outside the tabernacle enclosure and then undertook the ceremonial hand and foot washing at the bronze basin once they got inside. It seems unlikely they'd put their dusty sandals back on over clean feet, so I think they didn't slip their sandals back on until they were leaving the tabernacle enclosure.

"After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve Me as priests." (Exodus 28:41) Our next chapter will go over their ordination ceremony in detail.

"Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants." (Exodus 28:42-43) Not even a glimpse of anything improper is ever to be spotted at God's house. Earlier in Exodus He gave the instruction that the altar of the tabernacle must not be on a raised dais so there would not be a flight of steps to climb in order to reach it. A steep flight of steps would have caused the priests to run the risk of exposing too much flesh. "And do not go up to My altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed." (Exodus 20:26) The idolatrous cultures of Old Testament times typically placed their altars on high places, requiring the priests and priestesses to climb steep steps while holding the skirts of their robes high to avoid tripping over them and falling down the stairs. This meant that the worshipers gathered near the altar saw the legs and a whole lot more of these priests and priestesses. On top of that, some of the religious rituals of these pagan cultures involved fertility rites that included purposeful nudity and public sexual acts. Such a thing must never even be hinted at in the Lord's house. No one's mind should be on the lustful things of the flesh while they are gathered for worship. No one should behave in the Lord's house the way the heathen tribes of Canaan behaved at their pagan altars.

The Lord is honored by modesty. It is disrespectful to the Lord and to one's own self to "let it all hang out" by wearing immodest clothing that leaves little to the imagination. The tabernacle altar has no steps for the priests to climb, but this ground is to be considered so holy and the priests are to have so much reverence for the Lord that not even the dust of the earth is to be exposed to any of the private parts of their bodies. They will wear long underwear that comes almost to their knees so their modesty, and the dignity of the Lord's house, is preserved at all times.

When we go to the Lord's house are we there to be seen or are we there to worship the Lord? Is it about us or is it about Him? Why would we bother going if we aren't going to focus all our attention on Him? Why would we want to draw the attention of others away from Him and onto ourselves? It matters what we wear in the Lord's house. If it didn't He wouldn't have spent so much time talking about what can and cannot be worn in the tabernacle. We don't have to wear expensive clothes or fancy clothes but we owe it to Him to wear modest clothes. We owe it to ourselves too, for we are the sons and daughters of the living God. We are the children of the King of kings and Lord of lords; our bodies should be clothed in a way that reflects the honor and dignity of our position as the cherished offspring of a holy God.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Exodus. Day 105, Other Priestly Garments And Their Significance, Part One

As we conclude Exodus 28 today and tomorrow we'll be looking at the remaining garments the high priest is supposed to wear and we'll take a brief look at what Aaron's sons, who are also priests, are to wear.

"Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, with an opening for the head in its center. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening, so that it will not tear. Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe. Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he comes out, so that he will not die." (Exodus 28:31-35) 
I've inserted a drawing of what an artist believes the blue robe may have looked like. We can see the pomegranates and bells hanging along the hem of the robe. 

The whole time the high priest went about his work, the sound of the bells could be heard. Scholars have a couple of primary theories regarding the purpose of the bells. First, the ringing of the bells was a continual reminder that he must maintain a solemn and reverent attitude. Most days of the year he performed the same type of duties and, as we all know, jobs that are fairly routine have a tendency to become mundane. When we perform the same tasks day in and day out they become such a habit that we're able to carry out our duties with our minds on other things. This is not to happen with Aaron or with any of the high priests to follow. The ringing of the bells will help him keep his focus on the tasks at hand in the proper state of mind.

Another purpose for the bells is that once a year the high priest had to go behind the inner curtain and sprinkle sacrificial blood on the mercy seat---the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. The whole time he was behind the curtain, the other priests could hear the bells ringing and this told them he was still alive and well. If the bells stopped ringing they'd know something was wrong and they could pull him out by the rope tied to his ankle. No one was allowed behind the curtain to carry him out. For any other person to enter in meant certain death because in a very real sense the presence of the Lord resided in those days on the mercy seat. All the citizens of Israel were to regard the inner room as the holiest place on earth. It was to be considered almost as holy as the Lord's throne room in heaven. To allow anyone entrance other than the high priest would have lowered the people's regard for this sacred space, and by extension this would have lowered their regard for the Lord. The inner room could not be considered a common or ordinary space; the people would have begun to think of the Lord as common and ordinary. They would have esteemed the Lord far less in their minds, they would have honored Him far less in their hearts, and they would have obeyed Him far less in their actions. This is why the inner room was to be regarded as so holy that only the one man of Israel appointed to enter it on the Day of Atonement could go behind the curtain and survive. But if this man should have a medical emergency while behind the curtain and pass out, or if he perished of natural causes while behind the curtain, or if he was struck dead for going into the Lord's presence while relishing sin in his heart or without properly consecrating himself first, the bells on his robe would stop ringing and the other priests could retrieve him by pulling on the rope attached to him.

"Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as a seal: Holy To The Lord. Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban." (Exodus 28:36-37) A headband will go around the high priest's forehead and the words "Holy To The Lord" will be engraved into it "as a seal". When we did our study on Revelation we found the Lord placing a seal upon the foreheads of those who came to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. We speculated what this seal might be and whether or not it was visible to anyone other than the Lord and the holy angels. If you've ever read the "Left Behind" book series, which is a fictionalized account of the events of the book of Revelation (a book series I highly recommend due to how accurately and thoughtfully and prayerfully it follows the Scriptures), you'll know that the authors chose to portray the seal as a mark that the Lord and the hosts of heaven could see and also as a mark that other believers could see. Believers were able to recognize each other by the mark but unbelievers were unable to see it. Whatever the seal of Revelation is, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it isn't a mark on the foreheads of believers that says "Holy To The Lord", for the Bible says that in the eyes of the Lord believers are "a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 61:6, 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, Revelation 20:6) The Bible tells us that when we come to faith in Christ we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and I think it's quite possible that this seal marks us as "Holy To The Lord" and that we very well may bear these words across our foreheads (as a kingdom of priests to our Lord) just as the high priest of Israel bore these words. 

Something about this idea blesses me very much this morning, to think that as I sit here in my weak mortal flesh that was made from the dust of the earth, and that as I work on this Bible study in my pajamas and house slippers and messy bed-head hairdo, the Lord looks down on me and sees something beautiful. He looks down on me and sees an eternal soul redeemed by the blood of His Son. He looks down on me and sees words emblazoned on my forehead that can never be changed or erased: "Holy To The Lord".

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Exodus. Day 104, Two Mysterious Objects

You'll recall that in Exodus 28:15 we were told that the breastpiece of the high priest is to be used for "making decisions". Today we'll take a look at two mysterious objects that were stored inside the breastpiece.

"Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord. Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron's heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord." (Exodus 28:29-30) This is the first time these objects have been mentioned in the word of God and it's interesting to note that the Lord doesn't provide any instructions regarding how to manufacture them. He has described in great detail how to make every part of the tabernacle and every part of the high priest's wardrobe but has not one word to say about obtaining or fashioning the Urim and Thummim.

This has caused many rabbis and scholars and theologians to come to the conclusion that the Israelites already possessed these objects long before the tabernacle was constructed and/or these objects didn't need to be manufactured. The most popular theory appears to be that the Urim and Thummim were two smooth stones, one white (the Urim) and one black (the Thummim). It's believed that after prayerfully consulting the Lord while wearing the breastpiece bearing the names of the tribes of Israel over his heart, the priest would shake or lift the breastpiece and whichever stone fell out---or fell out first---signified the Lord's answer. If the Urim fell out it was an affirmative answer and if the Thummim fell out it was a negative answer.
It's believed that the translations of the words "Urim" and "Thummim" mean "light" and "perfection". These translations don't aid us very much in discerning their appearance or method of use but they do suggest that even a "no" answer was not to be considered a "bad" answer. These objects are to be used to discern the Lord's will for Israel. Therefore, whether the Lord says yes or no, He is shining a light upon the path they are to follow and His decision is the perfect decision for them. We don't find the proper names of these objects used very often in the Bible and we will never see them mentioned again after the destruction of the first temple. There are a few Old Testament instances where we will clearly see that the Urim and Thummim are specifically stated as being used to obtain an answer from the Lord and there are other instances where their use may be implied. All we can say for certain is that the Urim and Thummim are mentioned less and less as time goes on until we never hear about them again.

It is believed that the ancient Egyptian priests were in the habit of using similar methods of divination. Garments similar to the Israelite high priest's breastpiece have been found on the mummies of Egyptian priests and have been depicted in Egyptian artwork that shows scenes of priests going about their duties. It could be that the Israelites learned the practice while in Egypt. If that's the case then this may explain why we only find the Urim and Thummim being used during the first centuries after the exodus, during years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and during the years in which they were taking over the promised land. As time went on and they became established in the promised land, they didn't need to ask the Lord nearly as often about when and where and how to engage the Canaanite tribes in battle. And as time went on a practice they may have picked up in Egypt, and adapted to fit within their own religion, was no longer used.

Also, as the era of the judges waned and Israel began to have kings, it's possible the high priest wasn't consulted as often. Some of Israel's kings forsook the Lord to live in blatant idolatry, so in those cases we wouldn't expect the kings to ask the high priest to discern the Lord's will. The idolatrous kings would have either made whatever decisions they pleased or else they would have sought answers from pagan gods in occult ceremonies. There will be times in the Old Testament where we'll see godly kings calling for a priest or prophet to "inquire of the Lord" for them, and this inquiry very well may have included the use of the Urim and Thummim even when these objects aren't specifically mentioned. But we could hardly expect a wicked, idolatrous king to call for the Urim and Thummim to be used, and after the Lord allows Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians due to the continuing idolatry that's running rampant in the land, we won't see these objects mentioned ever again. I think it's likely they were taken by King Nebuchadnezzar along with the other articles and furnishings of the temple that he carried back to Babylon, but while living in exile in Babylon the Israelites had to depend upon individual prayer for making decisions, and in the long run that was a good thing.

You and I depend upon individual prayer, the solemn reading of Scripture, and the submission of our hearts to the Holy Spirit when making decisions. We are not ever to "roll the dice", so to speak, when making inquiries of God. Such a practice was permissible during the first several centuries after the Israelites came out of Egypt, but even then it wasn't a matter of rolling the dice. Only the high priest was to perform this ceremony and only in a prayerful attitude of submission in the Lord's house and only with his heart filled with love for the twelve tribes of Israel. The priest was seeking the Lord's will for the people---seeking the Lord's best for them, seeking His heart for them---and this was nothing like going to a fortune teller or looking into a crystal ball or reading a palm or reading cards. Whichever answer the priest received was an answer straight from God. But as the Scriptures began to be written, the people were to rely more and more on what the word of God said and to prayerfully mull the Lord's word over in their hearts and to be guided by the Lord's word in making decisions.

You and I are to make our decisions in this way, not by throwing stones or rolling dice or cavalierly flipping the Bible open, slapping our finger down randomly on a page and obeying whatever verse our finger landed on. There's a funny story, probably a made-up story used as an illustration, in which a man tried to use the Bible flipping method to divine the Lord's will. But his finger landed on the verse that says Judas "went and hanged himself". He knew the Lord would never tell anyone to commit suicide. He knew this wasn't the Lord's answer to his question and he realized he needed to develop a closer personal relationship with the Lord and spend more time in prayer and in the study of the Scriptures and to let the Holy Spirit guide his heart while he sought the Lord's guidance.

I'll close with a personal story about a decision I had to make last year. It's one of many stories I could tell that illustrate how the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. I started having problems with my throat after going through a really stressful start to my year. Sometimes my throat just felt tight and uncomfortable for hours or days at a time. Other times it was quite painful because it felt like the muscles would suddenly spasm up. My doctor suspected a condition known as "silent reflux" where the sufferer doesn't necessarily feel any typical heartburn symptoms but the throat muscles tighten and spasm in response to acid or acid vapors coming up the esophagus. This is the throat's attempt to try to prevent erosive damage to the tissues. To get a definitive diagnosis I'd have to be put under general anesthesia so the doctor could run a camera scope down my throat. I'd never had general anesthesia and was terrified of being put to sleep. The doctor was booked up a month ahead on this type of procedure so I had a month to deal with my fears. I kept having panic attacks because I was afraid I wasn't going to wake up from anesthesia. I had almost made up my mind to back out but when I got just a few days away from my appointment I very seriously got into prayer with the Lord and asked Him to clearly show me what I should do. While reading my Bible after talking with Him, the Holy Spirit took a verse from my reading and pointed it so strongly at my heart that I knew what the Lord was telling me to do. The verse was, "I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me." (Psalm 3:5) Of course I'd seen this verse before. But I couldn't have told you which psalm it was in and I wasn't looking for this verse and it hadn't even entered my mind. It's not an especially popular verse, as far as I know, since I've ever heard anyone preach a sermon or teach a devotion on Psalm 3:5. But I'd seen it before and hadn't thought much about it because at those prior times it didn't apply to the situation at hand. But now it did and in that moment I knew just as well as I know what day of the week it is right now that the Lord was assuring me He would bring me through my procedure just fine.

So I went ahead fearlessly without any further doubts, right? Wrong! The next morning I was filled with anxiety again and was struggling with the decision to go through with it even though the night before I'd been sure the Lord said all would be well. So I had to get down on my knees and admit I needed a little extra help. I was sorry for needing extra help, but I also knew the story of Gideon. Gideon is a man you'll find in the book of Judges. He's a man who received instructions from the Lord but who needed the Lord to give him a sign (several times over!) that he'd actually understood the Lord correctly. Gideon simply could not move forward without these extra assurances. He was too plagued by doubts and anxieties to be sure he'd heard the Lord correctly until the Lord provided further proof. The Lord didn't rebuke Gideon for needing extra help and the Lord didn't rebuke me either. I told the Lord I'd need Him to send me Psalm 3:5 again, in a way I didn't have any control over, so I'd be sure the message to go ahead with the procedure was actually coming from Him. About an hour later I opened Facebook on my phone and guess what appeared at the top of my newsfeed? A friend had posted, "I will lie down and sleep; I awake again, because the Lord sustains me."

Did I have any control over my friend choosing to post this Bible verse? No. This friend knew nothing about my health issue or my upcoming procedure or that this verse meant anything at all to me. Did I have any control over when I spotted this verse in my newsfeed? No, because I could see from the date on the post that it had been posted the day before, only for some reason it didn't show up in my newsfeed until the day after the Holy Spirit had already used the verse to speak to my heart. If I'd seen the post the day before, I might not have thought much of it. It wouldn't have served as the second piece of proof I needed, because if I'd seen it in my newsfeed first and then happened upon Psalm 3:5 in my Bible reading that night, I'd have been able to convince myself I orchestrated coming across Psalm 3:5 because whenever I struggle with doubts and fears I turn to the psalms. But the Lord set this situation up in such a way that I'd come across the verse in my reading first and then come across it in my newsfeed second, in a way I had no control over.

What happened then? I said, "Okay, Lord. I hear You. I'll do what You say." I was still apprehensive about the procedure but at the same time I knew it was the Lord's will for me to have it. Everything went fine and after a couple of months on medication the doctor said to try weaning off it and I did and haven't had any problems since. I hope this little story can serve as a good example of the way the Lord intends us to go about making our decisions. I'm not holding myself up as an example of the faith. I struggled with doubts and fears. I'll struggle with doubts and fears many more times in my life. I'm not telling my story to try to make myself into someone others can follow; I wasn't very courageous at all. But I shared this personal experience with you because I want to make sure no one uses procedures that amount to "rolling the dice" when making decisions. There is nothing Biblical about that and the Bible doesn't support it, not even here in Exodus 28 when the high priest uses the Urim and Thummim. This was not a casual ceremony. This wasn't a game of chance. During a specific period of time for a specific group of people the Lord allowed the spiritual leader of the nation to use a specific method to obtain guidance for major national decisions. As time went on, the Israelites no longer used this method. We aren't told to use a method like this either. We have the holy Scriptures to consult, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, and we have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are to be our guides when making decisions.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Exodus. Day 103, The Breastpiece Of The High Priest: Carrying The Tribes Of Israel In His Heart

Today we'll be looking at another item of the high priest's wardrobe. This item is called the breastpiece and as our study of Exodus continues we will learn that the breastpiece is both symbolic and used for a practical purpose. Today we'll discuss its symbolism.

"Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions---the work of skilled hands. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen." (Exodus 28:15) In television shows, movies, and artistic renderings you'll almost always find the breastpiece depicted as a square or rectangular plate made of gold, but from our text we can clearly see that this item is fashioned out of material---the same material as the ephod (apron) of the high priest. I've inserted a drawing below that I feel is a fairly good demonstration of what the breastpiece may have looked like.
"It is to be square---a span long and a span wide---and folded double." (Exodus 28:16) My NIV Bible states that a "span" would have been about nine inches. Other sources I consulted made no comment on this measurement, but a square that's nine inches wide and nine inches high would have covered the majority of the priest's chest.

Yesterday we took a look at the stones that rest upon the priest's shoulders, the stones that bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. We spoke about how this symbolizes the huge responsibility carried by the priest. He had the weight of the entire congregation of Israel upon his shoulders. The item of apparel we're studying today symbolizes the priest carrying the entire congregation of Israel in his heart. The breastpiece will be adorned with twelve stones and each of these stones will represent a tribe of Israel. "Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl; the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald; the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst; the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings. There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes." (Exodus 28:17-21)

Yesterday we took a look at something the Apostle Paul said when he spoke of how burdened his heart was every day with worry for all the churches. He didn't mean his concern for the churches was unwelcome or unpleasant to him, but rather that he felt this heavy weight of care because he loved his fellow Christians so much. I don't see how Paul could have borne the responsibility of being such a major authority figure in the Christian church if he had not loved others as much as he did. The Lord knows that the high priest of Israel will find it unpleasant, unwelcome, and perhaps even impossible to shoulder the heavy burden of his spiritual responsibilities day after day if he doesn't love his congregation. So in addition to bearing the names of the tribes of Israel upon his shoulders, he's to bear the names of the tribes of Israel upon his heart. If this man were only willing to bear the responsibility but not to love his fellow countrymen, he wouldn't be able to fulfill his role as spiritual leader in the way God intends. If this man were only willing to love his fellow countrymen but not to exert proper spiritual authority over the congregation and to set a strong example for them, he wouldn't be able to fulfill his role in the way the Lord intends. The high priest has to be both a figure of authority and a figure of love. The Lord is both of these, isn't He? God wields authority and power and righteousness and justice, but at the same time He offers love and mercy and comfort and forgiveness.

The breastpiece is going to need a way to be fastened to the chest of the priest. "For the breastpiece make braided chains of pure gold, like a rope. Make two gold rings for it and fasten them to two corners of the breastpiece. Fasten the two gold chains to the rings at the corners of the breastpiece, and the other ends of the chains to the two settings, attaching them to the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front. Make two gold rings and attach them to the other two corners of the breastpiece on the inside edge next to the ephod. Make two more gold rings and attach them to the bottom of the shoulder pieces on the front of the ephod, close to the seam just above the waistband of the ephod. The rings of the breastpiece are to be tied to the rings of the ephod with blue cord, connecting it to the waistband, so that the breastpiece will not swing out from the ephod." (Exodus 28:22-28) The breastpiece will be securely attached to the ephod so that it cannot come loose or swing about while the priest carries out his duties.

"Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord." (Exodus 28:29) Aaron was the first high priest of Israel and this is why we will find the Lord saying Aaron is to do this or Aaron is to do that. But all the high priests who came after Aaron were to wear these same garments and to perform these same duties. The names of the sons of Israel are inscribed on precious stones over Aaron's heart because these tribes are very precious and loved in the sight of the Lord. The breastpiece serves as a continual reminder that the high priest is to have the same attitude toward the congregation that the Lord has.

Tomorrow we are going to talk about what we saw in verse 15 of our study today: that the breastpiece will be used "for making decisions". We'll talk about two mysterious items that are to be stored inside the breastpiece and how they may have been utilized in making prayerful decisions in the presence of the Lord. But for now we're going to conclude today's study by talking about love.

If we do things for our fellow man only out of a sense of duty---because "it's the right thing to do"----we're going to become weary. We might even start to feel resentful toward the very people we're trying to help. We may stagger under the heavy load of the responsibilities we've taken on and end up collapsing from exhaustion. The only way we're going to be able to keep ministering to others day after day and year after year with a cheerful heart and a willing spirit is if we love them. How did Christ endure His mockery of a trial before the Sanhedrin and the unlawful beating He suffered at their hands during an illegal nighttime trail that violated His rights? He endured it because He loved us. How did He withstand the cruel mockery and being whipped within an inch of His life by Pontius Pilate's soldiers? He withstood it because He loved us. How was He able to force Himself to submit to the tortures of the cross while all the time knowing He could easily set Himself free and walk away? He submitted because He loved us. Why did He give His life on the cross as if He were a criminal and allow His body to be buried in a borrowed tomb like a pauper? He was willing to give up all the glories and treasures of heaven---along with all the authority and honor that were rightfully His---because He loved us. I don't think even the Son of God could have done these things for the sake of sinful human beings unless He loved us. How then can we expect to minister to others in the way God commands unless we love them? I believe the Apostle Paul knew he couldn't minister to the church members the way the Lord wanted unless he loved them, which is why he wrote this passage below:

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Corinthians 13:1-7)

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Exodus. Day 102, Priestly Garments: The Ephod And The Weight Of The Stones On Its Shoulders

Our current chapter discusses the garments of the high priest. Today we're looking at a garment called the "ephod" and for reference I'm including an artist's representation below to help us picture what this piece of clothing may have looked like. It is the colorful, apron-like garment worn over top of the robe and tunic.
"Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen----the work of skilled hands." (Exodus 28:6) Except for the gold thread the material of the high priest's ephod matches the material of the tabernacle curtains. Many priests will serve at the tabernacle and later at the temple but only the high priest wears this particular garment.

"It is to have two shoulder pieces attached to two of its corners, so it can be fastened." (Exodus 28:7) If you've ever worn overalls or jumpers you'll see the similarity in the design between those garments and the ephod. It has to have shoulder straps to hold it onto the priest's body.

The high priest's ephod is to fasten around his waist as well. "Its skillfully woven waistband is to be like it---of one piece with the ephod and made with gold, and with blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and with finely twisted linen." (Exodus 28:8) The belt is made of the same material as the rest of the garment.

"Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel in the order of their birth---six on one stone and the remaining six on the other." (Exodus 28:9-10) You can see these stones on the shoulders of the ephod in the illustration above. I don't know whether these stones were used as buttons to fasten the shoulder straps together or whether they were just attached to the outer portion of the straps. When I was a little girl my mom used to make jumper dresses for me and I recall some of them fastening on top of each shoulder with a large decorative button. Some of them had straps that were all one piece and didn't need fastening; the jumper just pulled on over the head. I can't tell for certain from the text whether the onyx stones on the ephod were functional like buttons or whether they were just there for symbolic purposes.

Each of these stones bore the names of six of Jacob's (Israel's) sons. One stone said: "Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali." The other stone said: "Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin." From these twelve sons of Jacob came the twelve tribes of Israel. Every time the high priest puts on this garment he is reminded that he is representing the entire nation when he goes to the tabernacle. He is symbolically bringing all twelve tribes of Israel with him when he goes into the presence of the Lord. "Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord. Make gold filigree settings and two braided chains of pure gold, like a rope, and attach the chains to the settings." (Exodus 28:11-14)

These stones must have been fairly sizable and I think the priest would have been aware of their weight upon his shoulders the whole time he was dressed in the ephod. The weight of the stones upon his shoulders would have reminded him of his great responsibility. Every time he put on the ephod and felt the weight settle upon his shoulders, he solemnly thought about the fact that as he went about his duties he was representing the entire nation. The weight of these stones served as a continual reminder that when he prayed to the Lord he was praying not only for his own sake but for the sake of every member of each of the twelve tribes. Every sacrifice and offering he dealt with was being dealt with for the nation as a whole. Every time he prayed for help and mercy he was praying for the nation as a whole. And as the Lord looked down upon him, the Lord saw the names of all twelve tribes and the Lord accepted the work and the prayers of the high priest on behalf of all twelve tribes.

Our modern pastors carry the weight of their congregations just as the high priest carried the weight of the congregation of Israel. It's an enormous responsibility. The Apostle Paul, who was one of the pillars of the early church, spoke of the weight of this responsibility when discussing all the things he had so far suffered while proclaiming the gospel, saying, "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:28) A lot of pressure comes along with leading a congregation and the person who fills this role needs to maintain a solemn and reverent attitude about his serious responsibilities. The Lord intends for the high priest to feel the pressure of concern for the congregation and He designs a garment for the high priest that literally puts pressure on his shoulders.

We need to pray for our church leaders. They carry a very heavy weight day in and day out. Unless we have stood in their place I don't think we can accurately imagine what the pressure of their concern for the church must feel like. I urge you all to pray for your church pastor regularly. If you don't attend a particular church you can pray for the preacher you listen to on the radio or the preacher you watch on TV or online. You can pray for all of them, all over the world, as a whole that they will remain "strong in the Lord and in His mighty power". (Ephesians 6:10) The Apostle Paul regularly prayed for the leaders of the churches and he regularly requested prayer for himself and for other church leaders. This proves to us how vital these prayers are! These people are carrying a heavy weight and we must support them not only with our friendship and encouragement but also behind the scenes with regular prayer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Exodus. Day 101, Oil For The Lampstand And The Priestly Garments

We'll be finishing Chapter 27 today and beginning Chapter 28. These sections deal with the light of the tabernacle lampstand and with the commissioning of Aaron's family line to be the priests of Israel.

"Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening til morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come." (Exodus 27:20-21) The "lamps" are those on the lampstand, the tabernacle lampstand. Scholars disagree about whether the lamps burn continually or only from evening until morning. At times the lamp wicks would need to be trimmed or replaced and the oil would need to be refilled, so it's not clear whether the lamps provided a continually burning light or whether they only burned from dusk until dawn. Leviticus 24:1-4 seems to indicate the light is never to go out due to these verses' use of the word "continually", but some linguists believe that the word translated "continually" would be more accurately translated as "regularly", meaning that the lamps are to be lit every single evening without fail. If that's the case, just as you and I "regularly" turn lights on in our houses at dusk, the priests were to "regularly" light the lamps at dusk.

Since we know for certain the lamps were burning all night, we know the Israelites could look toward the tabernacle at night and see the glow from the lampstand. This reminded them that God was awake and watching over them. "He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:4) This reminds me of how comforting it was as a child when I knew one or both of my parents was up and about during the hours of darkness. When I was a small child my mom didn't work outside the home but my dad was generally on the job by 7am, so Mom would have to get up by 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning while it was still dark to cook a filling breakfast for my dad and to pack his lunchbox for the workday. From my open bedroom door I could see the glow of the kitchen light around the edges of the kitchen door. There was something so comforting about that light! My dad would join her in the kitchen when breakfast was about ready and I could sometimes hear the low murmur of their voices. I'd drift back to sleep in the confident knowledge that should any emergency arise before daylight, my parents would be on top of it instantly.

If anyone in the Israelite camp tossed and turned restlessly during the hours of darkness, he or she could look toward the tabernacle and be reminded that God was up and about during the night. They could experience the same confident knowledge I experienced as a child when I knew someone capable and powerful was up and about, ready to tackle any situation that arose. God never sleeps. He is on the job 24/7. No matter what need arises during the night, our Father never has to be shaken out of slumber to deal with the problem. Nothing ever takes Him by surprise or catches Him off guard. A favorite quote during a dark time in my life was this quote, attributed to Mary C. Crowley, the Christian woman who founded of Home Interiors and Gifts, Inc.: "Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He's going to be up all night anyway." God watches over us during the hours of darkness just as much as He watches over us during the hours of daylight. It's no use to pace the floor restlessly or toss and turn while we wrestle with our thoughts. As the Bible says, "He gives sleep to His beloved." (Psalm 127:2) Like a loving parent, He pats us lovingly and says soothingly, "Shhhh, child. All is well. You rest now. I'll be watching over you."

As we begin Chapter 28 we find the Lord establishing Aaron's family line as the priestly line of Israel. As we learned in Genesis, Moses and Aaron are of the line of Levi, Jacob's fourth born son by his first wife Leah. Whenever we see a person called a "Levite" we know he is of the priestly tribe of Israel, though not everyone descended from Levi chose to serve the Lord. The Lord says to Moses as we begin Chapter 28: "Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve Me as priests." (Exodus 28:1) We were previously given the names of Aaron's four sons in Exodus 6:23. His two elder sons are going to come to a bad and shocking end in Leviticus 10 when they deliberately disobey a holy ordinance of the Lord by making a sinful offering at the tabernacle. We'll be discussing their costly mistake when we move on into the book of Leviticus later this summer.

"Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honor. Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve Me as priest. These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve Me as priests. Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen." (Exodus 28:2-5) These men are to perform sacred duties before the Lord and are going to pass along the Lord's word to the people. They must be dressed in a way that befits a person who carries out such important tasks. Take our modern church pastors, for example. We almost always see them dressed in a suit and tie, or at least in a sport coat and dress slacks and a button-down shirt, when standing to deliver a sermon to the congregation. What would we think if the pastor appeared in the pulpit on Sunday morning wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip flops? We'd think He didn't have much respect for the Lord, for the Lord's house, or for the Lord's people. In this same way the priests are to be dressed in such a way that they show respect for the Lord, for the Lord's house, and for the Lord's people.

Join us tomorrow as we begin a detailed look at the items of a priest's wardrobe and the symbolism of these items.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Exodus. Day 100, The Courtyard Of The Tabernacle

The tabernacle is to have its own courtyard and this enclosure will be fenced off by linen hangings attached to bronze pillars. We've seen this enclosure pictured in the diagrams we've studied of the tabernacle but until now we haven't discussed the courtyard. I'm inserting an up-close artist's illustration of what the enclosure may have looked like.
"Make a courtyard for the tabernacle. The south side shall be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains of finely twisted linen, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The north side shall also be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The west end of the courtyard shall be fifty cubits wide and have curtains, with ten posts and ten bases. On the east end, toward the sunrise, the courtyard shall also be fifty cubits wide." (Exodus 27:9-13) The courtyard is to be rectangular, with the north and south sides twice as long as the east and west sides.

Up until the reign of King Solomon, the Israelites worshiped at this tabernacle. This is the courtyard the writers of the Psalms spoke about in their songs. "Blessed are those You choose and bring to live in Your courts!" (Psalm 65:4) "My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God....Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Psalm 84:2,10) "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; bring an offering and come into His courts." (Psalm 96:8) "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name." (Psalm 100:4)

The opening to the courtyard will be on the eastern side, the same side as the opening to the tabernacle. This side will have special curtains. "Curtains fifteen cubits long are to be on one side of the entrance, with three posts and three bases, and curtains fifteen cubits long are to be on the other side, with three posts and three bases. For the entrance to the courtyard, provide a curtain twenty cubits long, of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen---the work of an embroiderer----with four posts and four bases." (Exodus 27:14-16) We don't know exactly what these colorful embroidered curtains looked like but below is an image that may help us to picture in our minds the entrance to the courtyard.
All the materials used to hold the entrance curtains and the enclosure curtains must match. Everything about the tabernacle is to be symmetrical and harmonious. "All the posts around the courtyard are to have silver bands and hooks, and bronze bases. The courtyard shall be a hundred cubits long and fifty cubits wide, with curtains of finely twisted linen five cubits high, and with bronze bases. All the other articles used in the service of the tabernacle, whatever their function, including all the tent pegs for it and those for the courtyard, are to be of bronze." (Exodus 27:17-19)

God is the God of order, not chaos. The temple complex will reflect that. Everything about it is orderly. Everything about it goes together beautifully. Imagine how distracting a time of worship would be if all the articles and furnishings of the tabernacle complex were a hodgepodge of colors and materials that didn't match. A thing like that could take a person's attention off what he came to do. The God of order and peace (1 Corinthians 14:33) wants order and peace in His house. He wants beauty, functionality, and symmetry. The tabernacle complex must be a space where a person can reflect upon the beauty of the Lord and His holy word, a place of refuge from the chaos of the outside world, and a place where nothing distracts the heart and mind from worship.