Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 16. Dedication Of The Temple

Prophets And Kings
Day 16
Dedication Of The Temple

Yesterday Solomon prayed a bootiful prayer before the altar of the Lord and then blessed the people. Today him will finish dedicatin the temple and the people will feast for fourteen days.

1 KINGS 8:62-66
"Then the king and all Israel with him offered sacrifices before the Lord. Solomon offered a sacrifice of fellowship offerings to the Lord: twenty-two thousand cattle and a hundred and twenty sheep and goats. So the king and all the Israelites dedicated the temple of the Lord." (1 Kings 8:62-63) A fellowship offering was an offering of thankfulness, also known as a peace offering. I know the number of animals offered seems enormous, but a peace offering was to be eaten after the fat was burned off to the Lord. Everyone in Israel who is able to attend the dedication of the temple is there and they will have a celebratory feast for fourteen days and nights, making it necessary for Solomon to provide enough food for two weeks for all the people, and these sacrifices made up a large part of the food provided to them. 

I'm going to say something here, as a animal lover, about how disturbing we find the animal sacrifices of the Bible, and I'm going to compare it to our customs of today. With certain exceptions, a man who brought a sacrifice to the temple was allowed to eat of the sacrifice after particular portions were dedicated to the Lord. These people were of an agricultural society and their flocks and herds were being raised for purposes of consumption, just as we have farms today that raise animals for consumption. If we are meat eaters, the only difference between what Solomon does today to feed the people and what we do to feed our families is that he first dedicates every animal to the Lord before cooking the meat for the people, whereas we go to the grocery store to purchase meat for our families. I'm not trying to justify the eating of meat; several people I know are vegetarians. I'm just saying that when we find ourselves appalled at the idea of a bull or goat being slaughtered at the altar, we need to understand that these animals were marked for consumption all along. I didn't grow up on a farm and so I would much rather buy chicken or beef from packages in the grocery store than to have anything to do with the process that went on before it ended up there. But I know people who grew up on farms and they've told me that when they had to get up before school and kill a chicken it was just part of their day. It was just part of their regular life that they grew up with and they didn't think a lot about it. 

This doesn't mean we can belittle these animal sacrifices or feel callous toward them. The Lord did not allow men to be cruel to the animals. The method of execution was swift and done with a special knife to render death as instantaneous as possible. My husband says he's still troubled by animal sacrifice, troubled that innocent animals ever had to stand in the place of man, and I think it's ok to be troubled. In fact, I think we should be troubled. We should be troubled by our sins and failures and we should be troubled that a substitute was needed for our own lives. The burnt offering, for example, was wholly given up to the Lord, and before doing so the priest laid his hand on its head, signifying that the animal was standing in the place of man, the innocent for the guilty. It symbolized the transference of sin and the substitutionary death of the animal. So yes, I think it should bother us. I think God intended for us to feel solemn about sacrifices. I believe God values all life and that He rejoices in every creature He made. For whatever reason, it seemed good in His eyes to put mankind at the top of the creation heap. It pleased Him to make us capable of communing with Him spirit to Spirit. And so He chose to substitute animal life in place of our lives, but I don't believe He intended for us to take it lightly.

In the fullness of time, God sent the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, and a crown of thorns was shoved roughly down on the head of that Sacrifice, and somehow our sins were transferred onto Him. Jesus stood in our place when the Roman soldiers beat Him without cause, the innocent for the guilty. He stood in our place before Pontius Pilate, being given a sentence of death. though Pilate found no fault in Him. He was "pierced for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:5) when the nails were driven through the hands that healed the sick and raised the dead. He was wounded for us when they drove the nails through the feet that walked countless dusty miles to tell a lost world that God loves them. Anyone hung on a tree was considered cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23) and Jesus took our curse upon Himself when He hung on the cross, enduring a torturous and shameful death. All the Old Testament sacrifices pointed forward to Christ the Lamb, the One who would make such a holy sacrifice that it was enough for all of us, whose righteous blood was able to cleanse us every one. So of course the Lord intended man to take very seriously the animal sacrifices, for they spoke of His Son. They were standing not only in our place but somehow in His as well: in our place for our sins, in His place as a symbol of what He would do. These animals gave their blood for Him until He would come to give Himself. 

"On that same day the king consecrated the middle part of the courtyard in front of the temple of the Lord, and there he offered burnt offerings, grain offerings and the fat of the fellowship offerings, because the bronze altar that stood before the Lord was too small to hold the burnt offerings, the grain offerings and the fat of fellowship offerings." (1 Kings 8:64) A grain offering was commanded to be made with a burnt offering. Only a handful of the grain brought was burnt up; the remainder could be used for food. So we find mentioned today three types of sacrifices: the burnt offering which is used for atonement and after its slaughter the animal is burned to the Lord and no part of it is retained by the bringer of the sacrifice. We have the fellowship offering, which is known as a peace offering and is given from a thankful heart, in which after the slaughter the fat of the animal is burned to the Lord and the people can cook and eat the rest of the meat themselves. And we have the grain offering, from which a portion is mixed with salt and frankincense and thrown on the fire. It's difficult to determine the exact purpose of the grain offering because Bible scholars differ in their opinions on it, but all three of these types of sacrifice combine to make man thankful for God's salvation and for His provision. We are thankful for His redemptive sacrifice, His atonement. We are thankful for the peace we have with God through Christ and the fellowship we enjoy with Him. We are thankful for our daily bread which He supplies. In all these sacrifices the people were continually mindful that their very existence depended upon God and that the salvation of their souls depended upon God.

"So Solomon observed the festival at that time, and all Israel with him---a vast assembly, people from Lebo Hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. They celebrated it before the Lord our God for seven days and seven days more, fourteen days in all. On the following day he sent the people away. They blessed the king and then went home, joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for His servant David and His people Israel." (1 Kings 8:65-66) The festival here is the Feast of Tabernacles. It begins five days after the Day of Atonement, the day upon which Solomon brought Israel together to dedicate the temple. The people built booths, also known as tabernacles, out of things like palm fronds and they camped out in these structures during the days of the feast. This time was used to thank God for the harvest just past, for all the years God provided for Israel in the wilderness, and for all the years He had provided for them since. It is thought by some Biblical commentators that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us then, that He took on the tabernacle of flesh at that time. It was a requirement of God that man observe the Feast of Tabernacles, that man would dwell in temporary shelters to be close to God at the place He chose for sacrifice. It also symbolizes God's desire to be close to man and to dwell with us. 

Serious as the various sacrifices in the Bible were, we must never let them take our eyes off the One who gave it all for us. The spotless Lamb of God came and put on a temporary tabernacle of flesh and became like us so that one day we can become like Him. We should be overcome with awe that a holy God like this would want to be our friend. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:13)

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