Shavuot is [Read more…]
In this section of the Bible we have the account of the ultimate judgment of Egypt which led to the exodus of Israel from Egypt. God demonstrated that He was able to deliver His people from the strongest world power of that day. In the process, God executed judgment of the gods of Egypt in order to demonstrate His power.
“For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments – I am the Lord.” (Exodus 12:12)
As we consider the plagues which were brought upon Egypt, we realize that each plague was aimed at one of the Egyptian deities. For example, one of the prominent gods worshipped by the Egyptians was the sun. The plague of darkness for three full days revealed the impotency of the sun as a god. Also, the Pharaoh was seen as a god. The death of the first-born of Pharaoh demonstrated the dominance of the God of the Bible over the supposed god, Pharaoh.
I maintain that one of the most important revelations given to us through Biblical revelation is that God intends to deliver the entire human community from the bondage of satanic domination. I believe that this will be accomplished at the coming of Messiah Jesus and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The exodus account is most likely prophetic of this greater deliverance. [Read more…]
As a part of the covenant that God made with Israel, the land of Israel was given to him and to his descendants forever. In the past I have considered this part of the covenant as a reward to Abraham for his participation in the covenant. This would be like a piece of property awarded to a favorite son [Read more…]
This year, the Biblical festival of Passover was celebrated on Saturday, April 4th while the Christian festival of Easter is celebrated on Sunday, April 5th.
Since these festivals are based on the same Biblical events, I would like to describe both festivals and discuss how they have come to mean different things. First we will describe the festivals associated with Passover.
Everyone knows, I suppose, that Passover commemorates the deliverance of Israel from the land of Egypt some 3500 years ago. Egypt at that time was the most powerful nation of the ancient world. God moved with such boldness and strength that the infant nation of Israel was freed from the grasp of Egyptian slavery and set on their journey to the promised land. From that time until today, God’s people have rehearsed this deliverance each year at the time of the first full moon of spring (As spring occurs in the northern hemisphere).
Biblical festivals were declared by God to be His festivals (Leviticus 23:37). God’s festivals recur around the number seven. The weekly festival of Shabbat occurs at the end of the seven day week. Passover which happens in the middle of the first month initiates the timing of the other festivals which occur later in the year. Following Passover is the festival of Firstfruits which happens during the week initiated by Passover. Seven weeks from the celebration of Firstfruits comes Shavuot (Christians know this festival as Pentecost). Seven months from Passover the last of the yearly festivals occurs. This is called Sukkot or the Feast of Tablernacles.
When we look back at Passover we remember the mighty deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The deliverance has become the basis of hope for all people who find themselves in bondage. Additionally, this festival points forward to the deliverance of the whole human community from Satanic bondage. Paul described the struggle against this captor as:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
John later declared the ultimate victory over this captor:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Messiah) and He will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)
The festival of Passover initiates a week long observance of Unleavened Bread. Because Israel left Egypt in a great hurry they did not have time for their bread to rise so they ate unleavened bread. God’s people remember this during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During this week, following the Shabbat, is the festival of Firstfruits. The ancient Israelis were farmers and their festivals were often symbolized through agricultural means. In Israel, small grain crops (wheat and barley) are sown in the late fall. By early spring these crops have grown to full height and began to produce heads but has not fully matured and ripened. At Passover the Israelis would cut a bundle of wheat or barley and bring it to the Priest in the Temple. The Priest would wave this bundle of grain before the Lord with the prayer that God would produce a great harvest. This was observed on the first day of the week following Passover during the week of Unleavened Bread. We read in the Gospel account of the resurrection of Messiah Jesus which occurred on the first day of the week. Since Jesus was crucified just before Passover, this happened during the week of unleavened bread. As Jesus was being raised up, the Priest in the Temple would have been waving the Firstfruits offering for that year. Later, Paul declared:
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (I Corinthians 15:20)
Seven complete weeks from the day of the Firstfruits offering when Jesus was raised from the dead, His followers were celebrating Shavuot in the upper room in Jerusalem when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Christians call this event Pentecost. These believers were empowered with the Holy Spirit and ushered into Kingdom or resurrection perception and power. Later Paul would call this an “earnest” or pledge of the promised resurrection to come. Obviously, due to the implication of Messiah Jesus being declared as the Firstfruits of resurrection, we are looking forward to the day of His coming when those who belong to Him will be raised up in a similar manner. Indeed, we are praying for a great harvest.
The Biblical meaning of these festivals is rich with significance. Why would anyone want to change them and, hence, take the chance of loosing their meaning? Christianity, after the 2nd century, did this very thing. Christianity of this era wanted desperately to distinguish itself and separate itself from anything associated with Israel. They began to define themselves as “catholic” or universal so not to be seen as a part of national Israel that God had designed them to be. They changed their Shabbat to the first day of the week in the place of the last day of the week that God had prescribed. They substituted “Good Friday” for Passover which they no longer celebrated and renamed Firstfruits as Easter. In doing so they opened the door for all kinds of pagan influences like the fertility symbols of eggs and “Easter Bunnies”. Many of these changes were authorized by the First General Council of the Church held at Nicea. Emperor Constantine who convened and presided over this council was a sun worshipper. As a result I am suspicious of the origin of the “Sunrise Service”.
We believe that these are the “last days” leading to the return of Messiah Jesus. Is it not the time to forsake “pagan” practices and return to the things that God specifically prescribed for His people? The president of the United States is actively supporting Iran’s quest to acquire nuclear weapons. When this happens, we could be within weeks of the conflict outlined in the Bible to occur at Har Megiddo (Armageddon). I, for one, by the grace of God, will identify with Israel as these events occur. Who will you be identified with at His coming?
This week’s study section is the beginning of the book called Leviticus. In it we encounter what is commonly referred to as the Levitical Sacrifices or Offerings. Instead of plowing into the “sacrifices” directly, I will attempt to look at this section in a broader context in order to understand the most basic meaning of the section. In addition, I will consider the origin of the word which English translators call sacrifice. This will help us understand the true significance of this section.
Understanding the Biblical Sacrifice
Let us begin with the origin of the word translated as sacrifice. The word in Hebrew is “korban”. Jesus used this word in His teachings to mean something dedicated to God (Mark 7:11). The noun “korban” is formed from the verb “karav” which means “approach”. There are numerous examples of Hebrew nouns formed from a related verb by adding a prefix or a suffix. If we understand “korban” in this way than it means the “approaches” to God. The word “sacrifice” connotes something given to appease an angry god. This is the common pagan understanding of the word. “Approaches” to God carries a totally different meaning and is the meaning that should be understood in this Bible section.
It is also important to understand the book of Leviticus in a broader context than just a set of rules dealing with sacrifices. To do so we will review the development around this text considering the following events:
a. Israel was delivered from bondage in Egypt.
b. Israel encountered the God of their fathers at Mt. Sinai.
c. God cut a covenant with the nation of Israel.
d. Once the covenant was consummated, God commanded that Israel build a house for Him to dwell in.
e. God moved into His house.
f. He gave instructions on how Israel could approach Him (Leviticus).
g. The journey to the promised land continued (Numbers 9).
So when seen in this context we might say that God said to Israel, once He had indwelled His special house, “Y’all come to see Me”. Kentucky jargon may seem somewhat crude and lacking proper reverence for this subject, but I think you get the picture. God is telling Israel how to approach Him. Much of the book also deals with what Israel must not attempt to bring with them as they approach God.
The “approaches” to God may be interpreted as applicable to individual, groups or the whole nation. I will discuss this subject as it pertains to individuals and to local churches. In both cases we properly concern ourselves with the subject of “approaching” God.
One final concept which is dealt with in the book of Leviticus is the subject of “clean” and “unclean”. A person who was ritually “unclean” could not approach God. The question of making someone “unclean” appears to deal primarily with association with anything dead. Jeremiah declared concerning God;
“But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King.” (Jeremiah 10:10a)
By the term “living God” Jeremiah doesn’t just mean alive. He means possessing the very quality of life. God is the very source of life and has the capacity to transmit that life to others (John 5:26). We as humans only have the life given to us by God Himself; we do not possess life of our own making. At any rate, God appears to be extremely careful not to allow humans to associate death with His name, thus the question of “clean” and “unclean”. It appears as if the only restriction for a person who was ritually “unclean” was that he could not “approach” God. Once he was again declared to be “clean” he was allowed again to “approach” God. In the New Testament, it appears as if “spiritual” defilement is of greater consequence than “ritual” defilement.
To Approach God
One question that is repeatedly asked is,”How do I approach God”? There is always a new experience being set forth as the answer to this quest. Sometimes it is a new “baptism”. At another time it may be experiences with angelic beings. Others maintain that it is accomplished by fasting. However, we are gradually realizing that God has outlined a specific plan of “approach” to His presence. This plan has been set before us in the Scriptures; yet, we have not recognized it. We will outline God’s plan for our approach to Him.
Adam and Eve walked in the presence of God in the garden; approach to God was not a problem. After the transgression, they were sent out of the garden and the approach to God was prevented by the Cherubim. From this time forward, man has sought the answer to the question of how to approach God. One Bible teacher, several years ago proclaimed that we can never understand just how far Adam fell until we begin the return to the presence of God.
We ought to refer to Levitical offerings and sacrifices as “Levitical Korban”. Each “Korban” ought to be understood as an essential step to be walked out in our approach to God. We must embrace the concept that the steps of “Korban” are based on an orderly, surrendered, consecrated faith-walk rather than a ritual offering which magically confers upon us special position or experience. So rather than appeasing God with some “offering or sacrifice”, these steps of “Korban” represent the Godly empowerment for maturation in salvation that we must experience in order to draw near to God.
Real Life Experiential Approach to God
We will describe the approach to God in the sequence that we experience it. The Book of Leviticus lists each of the five steps of Korban from the perspective of God, i.e. from God out to man. Our experience is just the opposite. We start our approach to God from the position of sin and trespass and proceed through the steps of “Korban” to the “Olah” (unfortunately called the burnt offering).
The first step is the “Ahsham Korban” (also called the guilt or trespass offering). The real life experience associated with this step of approach is becoming aware of, admitting to, dealing with the consequences of, and repenting from sin which has resulted in damage or harm to others. We make repentance toward God and seek His forgiveness. We seek forgiveness of the people hurt, and we make restitution for damages that they have experienced.
The second step of our approach to God is called the “Chatah Korban” (also called the sin offering) and this consists of becoming conscious of and admitting to sin patterns against God. This is accomplished by our repenting from the activity and seeking forgiveness from the Lord. Both the “Ahsham Korban” and the “Chatah Korban” require a blood covering. To accomplish the purpose of this “Korban” we must believe that our sins and transgressions are thoroughly covered and that we are accepted in spite of our record of transgressions. We must believe that even our sorry record of sin can no longer hinder us from approaching God.
The third step of our approach is the “Shelamim Korban” (also called the peace offering) which deals with our communion with God. We surrender ourselves in praise and worship as we glorify His name. We experience His presence and, therefore, His peace. We come to the point that experiencing the presence of God is not an exceptional experience, i.e. we are “at home” in His presence.
The fourth step is the “Menchah Korban” (also called the meal or grain offering) which consists of making a “gift” of our time, talents and possessions to God. This step constitutes dedicated service unto the Lord. Jesus confessed,
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34b).
This reflects the “Menchah or Gift Korban”. Paul likewise exhorted the Roman church to
“…present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice (Korban), acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1b).
The final step is the “Olah Korban” (also called the burnt offering) which signifies utter and complete dedication to the Lord. In this state of approach we “go up” (as Olah implies). We think of Elijah the prophet during the era of the Kings and Enoch in the pre-flood era in association with this “Korban”. They literally “went up” to God.
In the next study I will relate how true Christian worship and real discipleship serve a believer in the steps of “Korban”. These steps are not accomplished in a week-end seminar but rather in a disciplined walk throughout the lifetime of the believer. Since the “rapture teaching” is very popular with Christians, the “Olah Korban” ought to be of particular interest.
May the peace of the Holy One be upon you and may you experience a fruitful week. Shalom.