Posts tagged ‘Israelites’

Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter Six

In this brief, penultimate chapter, Francis Chan addresses Romans 9, a passage he claims has caused him more confusion than any other. In this passage, he says, “Paul asks a necessary question: What if?”

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory? (Romans 9:22-23)

Chan identifies Paul’s “What if?” as a probing question —

“forcing us to face our inflated view of our own logic. It’s another way of asking: Just how high is my view of God?”

What Chan wants his readers to consider here is how deep their loyalty to God actually runs. If this is correct, if God has indeed created “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” for the purposes of showing his wrath and making His power known … then it means He is showing those He saves just how magnificent his glory and mercy are. This forces each of us to answer the question of “what if?” with another question: what shall I do? Do we refuse to believe in Him, or refuse to be a vessel of mercy, asks Chan. And would it be wise to refuse to follow Him?

THE POTTER AND THE CLAY

Chan uses the Romans 9 passage to return to the question regarding Hell that he initially raised in Chapter One: could you believe these things, if in fact God says they are true? He points out that Paul doesn’t categorically state that God destroys sinners in order to show how mighty He is, but that the apostle does raise it as a valid possibility. The importance of acknowledging this possibility, in Chan’s view, is that it allows us to allow God to be who He is.

“We need to surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how He is going to deal with people. Because He’s the Potter and we’re the clay. This, in fact, is the analogy that Paul gives earlier in Romans 9.”

That these are difficult statements Chan acknowledges, especially in light of Paul’s earlier statements in Romans 9 that God will have mercy on whom He wills, and harden whomever He chooses. Chan submits that all of this leads one to ask that if all of need mercy and God grants that to some but not to others, then who is truly responsible — you and I, or God?

It’s an excellent question, and one that Chan answers using the same passage. Paul’s declaration is that the Potter has the right to do whatever He wills with the clay.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9:20-21 )

Chan appeals as well to Isaiah 55:8-9, where God Himself declares his own Otherness, His essential differentness from you and I.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 )

When it comes to the subject of Hell, Chan implores that people recall that we think differently than God thinks, and that God hasn’t asked any man or woman to figure out why He does what He does. More pointedly, Chan opines that we can’t — because our very way of thinking is inferior to God’s!  Rather, Chan argues, the gap between our thoughts and His is so immeasurable that our energy is better spent in submitting to Him than in overanalysis of His ways.

I WOULDN’T HAVE DONE THAT

Chan points out that sending people to Hell isn’t the only thing God does that is impossible to figure out. He notes that there are many acts of God that don’t make sense by Man’s logic.

  • God regrets that he created men and women, due to their evil, and with the exception of 8 people, He drowns them all with a flood. (Genesis 6-8)
  • Moses comes down from Mount Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, and God commands the Levites to sharpen their swords and slaughter everyone worshipping the idol — some three thousand people. Once the massacre is finished, God blesses the Levites for their obedience. (Exodus 32:27)
  • God commands the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman, and child inhabitating the land of Canaan. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)
  • When the Israelites are conquering Jericho, Achan disobeys the command of God and retains some loot. When challenged, he lies, then discloses his sin and returns the treasure. Despite his confession, Achan and all his family are stoned to death. (Joshua 7)

To all of these, Chan declares, “If I were God, I wouldn’t have allowed that, let alone commanded it.” I have to agree with him.  That is precisely the point he is trying to make here; there are divine actions and commands throughout Scripture that don’t mesh with our standards of morality or even logic. Chan reminds the reader that we are the clay, while God is the Potter. Yet Chan also points out that the God whose logic in sending sinners to Hell confounds is also the God who thought to send his Son to take on human flesh. He is the same God who entered creation through the womb of a young Jewish woman, and was born in a feeding trough. He is the same God who thought to allow His created beings to torture His Son, lacerate His flesh with whips, and the drive nails through His hands and feet.

“I’m almost sure I would not have done that if I were God. Aren’t you glad I’m not God? It’s incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which incomprehensible truths we embrace. No one wants to ditch God’s plan of redemption, even though it doesn’t make sense to us. Neither should we erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with us. As soon as we do this, we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for clay to do.”

Advertisements

From the Archives: The Day of Atonement

This is a reposting from a post originally published on September 14, 2010. Astute readers may notice that Yom Kippur this year also falls on a Saturday. This is coincidence. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, and days are calculated as being from sunset to sunset. Yom Kippur actually begins this year at sunset on Friday, October 7.

I’ve posted previously on Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. This Saturday, ten days after Rosh Hashanah, marks the holiest day in the Jewish religious year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day that God set aside so that the people of Israel could atone for their sin as a nation.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your Sabbath.” Leviticus 23:26-32

Now you’ll notice that that there are two words in the passage which are repeated three times: atonement and humble (which carries the context here of denying oneself). This is the one day when the children of Israel were invited by God to consider their lives before Him and to confess their sin. It was the one day a year that only one man in all of Israel – the high priest – could enter into the one most holy spot, the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple in Jerusalem. There he would offer a blood sacrifice first for his own sin, then the sins of the nation of Israel. The children of Israel would be gathered around the courts of the Temple, watching and waiting to see if the sacrifice would be accepted by God.

Yom Kippur was tied into the very purpose of the Mosaic Law. God had required that His people to be holy and He had given them the Law at Mount Sinai so that they could be instructed in righteousness. Yet God knew that His people could be not become holy on their own, so He gave them a means to be reconciled to Himself: a sacrificial system. The culmination of this system, by which sinning and rebellious Israelites could have their sin covered over, was Yom haKippurim: the Day of Atonement. On this day the High Priest of Israel would enter into God’s presence where He dwelt within the Holy of Holies, first in the desert Tabernacle and much later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The preparations that the priest had to make in order to purify himself before entering this holiest of places were exacting. Should he make an error it would be doubly disastrous, for the descendants of Aaron would be slain by God should they attempt to stand before Him in an impure state. Even worse, the priest would die without the sins of the nation having been atoned for.

In the Biblical period, rigorous requirements were made of each Israelite on Yom Kippur. They were commanded to humble their souls and present offerings of fire for their sins, or be cut off from the people of Israel. They were asked to set aside their earthly appetites and needs, by fasting from sundown to sundown. They were not allowed to do any work, or risk being completely destroyed. These were far harsher strictures than an ordinary Sabbath rest, and served to point out the absolute seriousness of the Day of Atonement.

Very special offerings were made before God on Yom Kippur. These consisted of incense, a bull, and two goats. Four times the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, beginning with the incense offering. As the incense burned, it formed a cloud which obscured the Ark of the Covenant; between the outstretched wings of the seraphim on its lid was the Mercy Seat, where God’s Shekinah (His glorious Presence) rested. This cloud was not just and offering but was for the protection of the high priest, since no man could see God and live. Next was the sacrifice of a bull. The priest would lay his hands on the bull, acknowledging his own personal sin and that of the priesthood. This process of laying on of hands was the symbolic means by which those sins were transferred to the bull, allowing its death to serve as a substitute for others. The bull was then slain, and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.

Finally came the climax of Yom Kippur: the sacrifice of two goats. Two goats were brought before the high priest and lots were drawn. One goat would be for the Lord, and one would be for the sins of Israel as a nation.

The first goat was to be an offering to the Lord, and once more the priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of this sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat. Then he symbolically laid his hands upon the second goat, known by the Hebrew term Azazel, or scapegoat. It was then led from the camp – and later the Temple – into a deserted place, where it would be forced off of a cliff. Jewish tradition holds that people would line the path of the scapegoat and curse at it, strike it, spit at it, and pull out its hair, to encourage it to depart with their sins as swiftly as possible.

Although today Yom Kippur is still considered the holiest day in the Jewish year, modern Judaism observes the day in a radically different fashion. Jews continue to fulfill the command to humble themselves by severe fasting. There is no Temple now, and no sacrifices are offered. Modern Judaism teaches that blood sacrifice is not necessary, and that through prayer, repentance and mitzvot, good deeds, that one’s sins will be forgiven. Yom Kippur is a day on which the practice of charity is encouraged. Observant Jews spend the day praying in the synagogue, where the confession of sin is the high point of the service. The congregation confesses in unison, naming only general sins that cause all men to stumble. There is no mention of specific sins committed by individuals. White clothing is worn to symbolize a contrite and humble heart and confidence in God’s ability to forgive sin. The shofar is blown at the end of the synagogue service to symbolize the closing of the Books of Judgment, and the congregants will gather in one another’s homes to break the fast and share a meal.

In my previous post on Rosh Hashanah, I discussed the sound of the shofar — the ram’s horn — as God’s wake up call for us, calling us to turn away from focusing on the physical world in which we live, and to contemplate the holiness of God and our relationship with Him. If Rosh Hashanah was the wake up call, then Yom Kippur is a day of preparation. Preparation for what? Very simply, preparation to be in God’s presence.

God instructed Moses concerning the Shalosh Regalim, three major festivals when every adult male Israelite would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple.

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest [Shavuot] of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering [Sukkot] at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” Exodus 23:14-17

“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread … You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.” Exodus 34: 18, 22-23

“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths …” Deuteronomy 16:16

If Rosh Hashanah woke us up to point us to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, then Yom Kippur is to prepare us for the last of the fall feasts of Israel: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. As the name of Sukkot implies, we’re preparing to have God tabernacle among us. The Israelites would go up to God’s house, up to the Temple.

But if you’re going to go up to God’s house, you have to get ready. Therein lays a problem. You see, God is holy, and He hates sin. He cannot even look upon us because we have sin. Luckily for us, God took care of this problem. God made sure that Yom Kippur took place before Sukkot, in order that His people could be cleansed of sin and stand before Him. Yom Kippur allowed His people to know that their sin had been forgiven, so that they could go up and enjoy being in the house of God with a free conscience and a clean heart. When Sukkot arrived, they could truly participate in the rejoicing that God commanded for that festival.

Believers in Jesus Christ have received atonement once and for all through His sacrificial death on the cross. The blood of God’s own Son, Himself sinless in nature, was the only sacrifice sufficient to make final atonement for sin. Interestingly enough, we have confirmation of this from an extra-biblical Jewish source. The Talmud records that on the Day of Atonement a scarlet thread would be hung outside of the Holy of Holies. If the scapegoat, the sacrifice for sin, was accepted by the Lord the thread would turn from scarlet to white, making real the words that the prophet Isaiah had written 700 years before:

“Though your sins are scarlet they shall be white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18

The Talmud goes on to record that each year on the Day of Atonement the thread might turn white or might not, reflecting the changing spiritual state of the nation of Israel. This continued for many years, until 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, after which the thread never turned white. It remained scarlet every year, until the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. This tractate of the Talmud bears evidence to the fact that somewhere around 30 A.D. – the approximate date when Jesus was crucified – the animal sacrifices offered by the high priest of Israel were no longer accepted by God! This is because the blood of bulls and goats could never atone for sin for more than a short time. They were only shadows of a final sacrifice, a once and for all atonement for sin – the sacrifice of our Messiah Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur, as both our great high priest and a sacrifice for all of our sin. In Him our sin is truly forgiven and our conscience cleansed.

This Saturday my wife and I — as we have done in years past — will observe Yom Kippur. In our own way we’ll follow the tradition of fasting, albeit not a fast from food. Since neither of us are allowed to fast from food for 24 hours due to health issues, we will be fasting from some other normal aspect of life, such as the use of the computer (which is a sacrifice for two people who can’t seem to go an hour without checking email). Why do we do this, if we know that we’ve already achieved atonement? We do it to honor my Jewish heritage, and we do it to acknowledge and honor what Christ went through to atone for our sins. The solemn gravity of Yom Kippur has taken on for us a great joy as well, because we know that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life through Jesus.

Zombie Land – Guest Post by Jeff Skinner

This guest post is by Jeff Skinner, a Nazarene church planter and pastor of EaglePointe Church of the Nazarene in Auburn, Alabama. I met Jeff when we took a preaching course together at Trevecca Nazarene University, where we’re both studying for Master’s degrees. I know Jeff to be an inventive preacher who manages to be both whimsical and entertaining without ever sacrificing solid Biblical teaching or core Wesleyan doctrines. He’d be the first to tell you that taking too many graduate courses at the same time may turn him into a zombie. 

 It seems these days zombies and vampires are all the rage. While I have not  seen any college  courses on vampires, I have seen a few on zombies. Columbia  University has a course  entitled,  “Zombies in Popular Movies.”  Baltimore  University has an English 33 course on  Zombies.  There is even an Ipad app:  “Plants vs. Zombies”. Xbox, Wii, PS3, all of them have  Zombie  themed games.  Even the Disney Channel is even getting in the Zombie action. One of  their  popular shows had a “zombie dance.”  Zombies appeared in the latest  installment  of The  Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, “On Stranger  Tides.”  There seems to be a  fascination  with zombies.

I know what you’re thinking, “What do zombies and burning hearts have in  common?” Well it turns out a good bit. In the beginning we were created  in the image of God (Imago Dei). In other words YHWH took a lump of clay and sculpted it into His own image. We are sculpted by the hands of YHWH as a testimony to the greatness of Him. Other kings had graven images/idols made in their honor, but those were made of wood, gold or something else.  Humanity was made out of flesh and blood. Humans are living, breathing, willing testimonies to our Creator. This is quite the contrast to other graven images.

You know the story. Humanity sinned and that perfect image of YHWH called human, was no longer human. Adam blames both God and Eve for his sin and Eve blames God’s creation (Genesis 3:12-13). As a result of this “fall,” our relationship with God, each other, and creation was broken. One might say the result for humanity was we became zombies — sub human. From that point forward humanity would devour everything in its path–especially each other.

Centuries later YHWH made a new relationship with Abraham. Every man child would circumcise the flesh of his foreskin at eight days old as a token of the covenant between YHWH and Abraham. This would be the beginning of the restoration of our humanity.

Then through Jeremiah the Lord told His people:

 31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people  (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

In effect, this would be the circumcision of their heart.

For Wesley, circumcision of the heart was a spiritual circumcision that removed our inclination to sin. The circumcision of the heart is “a right state of soul: ‘a mind and spirit renewed after the image that created it,’ is one of those important truths that can be ‘spiritually discerned.’”  No longer would humanity be relegated to the class of the “walking dead.”  Our image of YHWH is fully restored; making us fully human again. This is what we in the holiness movement call entire Sanctification.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10b).

It is not the will of YHWH for His creation to walk around in a zombie-like existence, devouring everything in our paths. It is His desire for us to live; not merely exist. Unfortunately millions of people choose to exist as zombies instead of living life to its fullest. In the West we are even proud of this zombie existence, referring to ourselves as “consumers.” But once you have tasted life, you will never be happy with your inhumanity.

“O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

Passover and Holiness, Part 4

To wrap up this series on Passover and holiness, I want to reflect a bit on some historic connection between the Passover story and the Holiness Movement.

The story of Passover is contained in the book of Exodus, and although when we talk about Passover we most often think of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, we should not forget that the Passover is merely part of the tale of Exodus. The early proponents of the American Holiness movement did not miss this, and they were able to use the story of the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert as an analogy for the spiritual journey that the individual Christian took to get from justification –their initial salvation experience — to entire sanctification.

In the early 19thcentury, the holiness teachings that American Methodism had received from John Wesley had begun to be abandoned. Timothy Merritt, a Methodist Episcopal minister in New England, was an early voice to reaffirm the doctrine of entire sanctification as essential to those seeking holiness.

In his The Christian’s manual, a treatise on Christian perfection: With directions for obtaining that state, Merritt drew parallels between the Exodus and the spiritual journey a Christian must make to achieve entire sanctification. He posits the connection as being obedience to God:

“The distance between justification to sanctification is not great, and it is soon passed over, if we be obedient to our spiritual guide, and do not fall into idolatry, nor turn back in our hearts to spiritual Egypt. The children of Israel came to the borders of Canaan within a year and a half from their leaving Egypt …But those who could not trust the Lord were easily discouraged by the difficulties which lay in their way … God was displeased and ordered them to turn again to the wilderness, where they were doomed to wander forty years. This was not in the original design of God concerning them. Had they been obedient to his command, they might have been in their possession of the promised land forty years sooner.”

As the Holiness revival bloomed fully in the 19th century, the Exodus continued to have meaning to those who sought to be sanctified. This was particularly important during the era of the holiness camp meeting. The first such meeting, labeled the National Camp Meeting, was held July 17-26, 1867 in Vineland, New Jersey, and resulted in the birth of the National Camp-Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness. In years to come, this ecumenical organization would oversee a transformative movement that grew rapidly and fruitfully. Seizing upon a tide of interest in holiness, the Association formed a publishing venture, the National Publishing Association for the Promotion of Holiness, which launched the Methodist Home Journal and a host of other inexpensive holiness literature.

A dominant image preached at the camp meetings and promoted through literature was that the sanctified Christian might encounter a small piece of heaven while still on earth. Drawing from Scripture and the writings of John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, the camp meetings developed a metaphor in which, according to Charles Edwin Jones, “holiness writers established between the pilgrimage of Bunyan’s Christian and the Exodus; between the Wesleyan theology of salvation and Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan; and between the experience of entire sanctification or perfect love and the believer’s residence in the Promised Land, also referred to as Canaan or Beulah.”

Holiness songwriters seized on this metaphor, most notably in Edgar Page Stites’ “Beulah Land” (1875):

O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My heav’n, my home, for evermore!

These are metaphors that are seldom heard in holiness circles these day, but should perhaps be revived. How does your journey of sanctification relate to such metaphors? Have you been obedient, or have you had to tarry in the wilderness with the Promised Land in sight?

Passover and Holiness, Part 2

In Exodus 12, we read of the institution of the Passover feast. In addition to the lamb, we see  another item that the Lord commands to be eaten during the celebration of Passover.

 “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall remove leaven  from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the  seventh day shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a solemn  assembly, and on the seventh day a solemn assembly; no work shall be done on those  days; only what everyone must eat, that alone may be prepared by you. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance. In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you shall eat unleavened bread. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether an alien or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Exodus 12:5-20)

The eating of unleavened bread — in Hebrew matzah — is a separate holiday called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Today the observation of the two feasts are not seen as separate, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread beginning on the first night of Passover. Exodus tells us that the Israelites left Egypt in such haste that their bread had no time to rise — in other words, it was not leavened.

In Scripture, leaven is often used to symbolize sin, such as in Paul’s admonition to the Galatians.

“A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” (Galatians 5:9)

Leaven is what caused the dough to rise. In the same fashion, sin causes us to rise in our own estimation. When the leaven of sin is in our lives, we become unable to make Jesus our primary focus. Leaven is the enemy of holiness. During Passover, ceasing to eat leaven is a way of saying we wish to remove sin from our lives. In fact, when Orthodox Jewish families prepare to celebrate Passover, they often spend up to 6 weeks prior to the holiday cleaning their house and ensuring there is no leaven within. Perhaps this is why Paul wrote to the Corinthian church,

“Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

Is there leaven in your life? If so, what will it take to clear it out?

%d bloggers like this: