Kim Myers, focusing on the significance of the altar of incense, first mentioned in Exodus 30, asserts that this altar symbolizes the prayers of the saints ascending to Jesus Christ, the High Priest and Intercessor, who serves as our Advocate before God the Father. It was at this altar that Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu died for offering profane fire to God. Incense is a type of Christ's mediation on our behalf, burning perpetually on our behalf, making it possible for us to enter God's Throne Room. As God's called-out ones, we are obligated to pray every day, realizing that God's Holy Spirit will articulate the thoughts, untangling our sometimes hopelessly garbled efforts. God the Father will not accept anything which is unholy, but Jesus Christ continually intercedes, praying for us and protecting us from the Evil One. The golden bowls in Revelation 4:1-8 symbolize the sweet-smelling prayers purified by the intercession of our High Priest through His sacrifice on our behalf. We have much work to do as God's called-out ones, sending up incense symbolically as we pray for each other and for God's purpose to be fulfilled universally.
David Grabbe, reiterating that the focus for the Day of Atonement is on national, unintentional transgressions, points out that the preamble for the Day of Atonement instructions leans on the failure of the Aaronic priesthood. The sacrificial system—including the ceremony of the two goats—was added to the Abrahamic covenant because of transgressions. The Day of Atonement is 187 days into the Calendar year, possibly the same day Moses came back from Sinai the second time with a radiant countenance, giving the Law to the people a second time, making it clear that transgression of the law brings death. Israel's works had nearly condemned the nation to obliteration. The only work that could be performed was by the high priest and the man who led away the azazel, reminding us that only God can purge sins. The fasting reminds us of the three consecutive times Moses fasted. The effect of Christ's work is that we are reconciled, at one with God. The symbolism of the cleansing of Joshua's filthy robes in Zechariah 3 seems to replicate the symbolism of the cleansing in Leviticus 16. After the cleansing, the nation is absolved from iniquity. The Day of Atonement represents a bearing away of sin, removing it from the land. The Seventy Weeks prophecy is God's assurance to Daniel that God will intervene, lifting the nation of Israel out of its degenerate state to total reconciliation.
Richard Ritenbaugh, aligning Book Three of the Psalms with the hot summer months, the Book of Leviticus in the Torah, the Book of Lamentations in the Megilloth, and Summary Psalm 148, indicates that this portion of Scripture deals with the somber theme of judgment on a people who have rejected their God and have produced a plethora of rotten spiritual fruit. Summer suggests military campaigns that have switched into high gear, a time when plowshares have been reshaped into implements of war, bringing on God's judgment on a faithless, rebellious people who should have known better. The 9th of Av, occurring this year the eve of July 25 and the day of July 26, constitutes the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second temples, bringing captivity for Israel and Judah for their overweening pride and vile sins. The major theme of Book Three of Psalms is that God wants repentance; He absolutely cannot tolerate sin. The keynote psalm, Psalm 73, describes the reaction of discouragement of a faithful person witnessing the prosperity and ease of the wicked person, while the righteous seem to be facing endless trials and harassments. When we finally see God's perspective from the tranquility of His sanctuary, we realize that the respective ends of the righteous and the wicked will be vastly different. We come to understand that not all who are in Israel are Israel, but only the ones with which God is working. The evil are currently in slippery places, destined for destruction, while God's chosen people, the Israel of God, are being groomed for a priceless inheritance. If we stick with God, we will acquire our inheritance in the fullness of time.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon the phrase in Ecclesiastes 3:7 that there is a time to tear [or rend] and a time to sew [or mend], delves into the Middle Eastern cultural practice of tearing garments as an expression of grief or despair. When God became upset with Solomon, the kingdom was torn in two as a torn garment. In the Amos 9 millennial prophecy, God declares that He will ultimately mend the torn garment upon Israel's repentance. When Saul, in panic, seized Samuel's mantle tearing it, Samuel used the tearing as a symbol, indicating the kingdom would be torn from Saul. The practice of rending clothes symbolizes sorrow, agony, despair, and hopelessness, a realization that God alone can restore the profound loss. When Job lost his family to death, his natural reaction was to rend his garments. Joshua and Caleb, not high priests, tore their garments in despair at the testimony of the evil spies. Ezra tore his garments when he learned that his people had been desecrating and polluting God's Holy Law. Mordecai tore his clothes in despair for the imminent demise of his people. Hezekiah and Josiah tore their clothes as a sign of repentance in an effort to demonstrate to God that they felt profound disgrace at the collective sins of the people and were intending to make the crooked ways of their ancestors straight again. Paul tore his clothes in horror when people were attempting to worship him as a Greek god. Because the office of priest was to embody hope, priestly garments, under no circumstances, were to be torn. Aaron was forbidden to tear his priestly garments at the death of his sons for using profane fire. The high priest Caiaphas blasphemously defied God's prohibition against rending priestly garments. Because Christ, our High Priest, never gave into hopelessness, His garments were not torn. The prophet Joel, admonishing us to rend our hearts in repentance, rather than our garments, assures us the even in the fearful, dreadful Day of the Lord there is hope if we turn to God.
Joseph Baity observes that God's thought patterns demonstrate perfection, while man's thought patterns are seriously flawed and corrupted by sin. One of the most egregious of man's twisted thought patterns has two parts: (1) We seek to elevate ourselves above God, and (2) we lie to ourselves in relation to the first pattern. The human mind is the most deceitful of all things. The deadly pattern was followed by Eve, the builders of the Tower of Babel, Nadab and Abihu, Miriam, Korah, Moses as he struck the rock in anger, the mob who crucified our Creator, and Gnostic infiltrators. This pernicious thought pattern can be found within all of us. We must recognize our own limitations and submit to God, realizing that God has the correct pattern to life and salvation.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the Elements of Judgment series by focusing on Deuteronomy 32:1-4, a passage which characterizes all of God's ways as exemplifying justice, challenges us] to emulate the ways of God, demonstrating justice in our lives, thoughts, words, and deeds, preparing to judge in God's Kingdom. God does not operate with the "one size fits all" system; each circumstance we encounter is somewhat unique. Though there are two Great Laws (love toward God and love for our fellow man), not all laws below these are on the same level; none of God's Laws are 'done away.' In every situation, we need to strive to hit the mark, but a distinction must be made between unintentional (done in ignorance) or deliberative. Intentional sins conducted with bravado erode the respect for God, inviting the death penalty, while unintentional sins call for a measure of mercy and sometimes a measure of damage control. Sin does not always occur in a straight-forward manner with everyone fully involved to be able to discern. To whom much has given, much will be required; the ruler is more culpable than the ordinary citizen. Everybody is not equally guilty. Murder and manslaughter is not equivalent. Criminal negligence is not the same as a normal accident; circumstances alter judgments. On the basis of a deliberative sin on the part of King David (taking a military census), Israel lost 70,000 people in one day. God's judgment was always sternest on the High Priest, and then the ruler, and then on the head of the family. Teachers, especially hypocritical teachers who do not practice what they preach, receive a far sterner judgment than their students or disciples. We are all responsible for what we hear and how we act upon it. Judgment is measured against the capacities of knowing the truth and acting upon it. Judging is a difficult process of measuring against the Word of Truth; sin does not operate in a straight-forward manner, but follows serpentine routes requiring much discernment.
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
Bill Onisick: Song of Songs 2:15 contains an intriguing metaphor: "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes." What are the "little foxes" in our lives?...
David C. Grabbe: We do not often hear the word "profane" these days. Its full meaning has disappeared from common conversation, and it is now used almost exclusively with regard to language—as in profanity. But obscene or vulgar speech is only a fraction of what is contemplated by "profane." ...
The Bible reveals a definite pattern of God's displeasure with acts of presumption. John Ritenbaugh expounds several of these circumstances, showing that God's justice is always consonant with His righteousness—and that we should be grateful for His mercy, as we are all guilty of this sin.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon several sports events, in which several athletes were reprimanded for seemingly insignificant actions or for situations totally out of their control, suggests that any one of us can be unfairly victimized. We may be tempted to lay the blame at God's feet. The children of Israel swerved into that "victim" mindset only one week after their joyous liberation. Aaron, whose sons brought about their demise through foolishness, was instructed not to even think about complaining about God's decision or way of dealing with the problem. Both David and Job provided sterling examples for us responding to calamities and seemingly 'unfair' situations, keeping within the bounds of what is acceptable to God. It is God's desire to see how we respond to trials that we may deem unfair.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that we must continually upgrade our decorum and formality in our approach to God, striving to emulate Him in all that we do. Our culture (paralleling the second law of thermo-dynamics) has seriously degenerated in decorum and standards, pulling everyone down into casual, slovenly and disrespectful behavior. Morally and socially, we must resist the ever-present antagonism toward law, rules, and decorum, choosing instead to submit ourselves to God's standards of order enabling the whole body to be organized, training to become a holy priesthood before God. We must exercise temperance concerning food and drink, dress and demeanor. The non-negotiable rules or instructions given for the organization and administration of the tabernacle were clear, unambiguous and served to enforce strict decorum and formality. What is practiced on the outside reinforces what is on the inside.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that only God, not man, can determine whether something or someone is holy or authentic as opposed to profane and strange. God will accept only what He has set apart or designated as holy or authentic, such as the sacred fire in Numbers 16 (symbolizing God's cleansing and purifying power) as well as the fuel and the incense. The 250 men offering strange or profane fire in their censers represented a blatant refusal to accept God and His standard of righteousness. The bronze covered altar made with the censers recovered from the charred remains of the rebels constitutes a stark reminder of the folly at rebelling against holy things, replacing God's standards with human standards.
God's sense of justice comes into question in the minds of men when they read of His judgments in the Bible and see His acts in history. His judgments seem unfair because man can never please God on his own since God's standards are higher than he can achieve. Yet He has made it clear that even the smallest infraction of His law merits the death penalty. Everyone is guilty! God, then, is absolutely justified in what He decides regarding the judgment and punishment of us all (conversely, He always rewards righteousness). Moreover, we do not know all the circumstances and reasons for His judgments, so our opinions of God's decisions are at best ill-informed. Of all judges, only God is absolutely fair and incorruptible. And when He shows mercy it manifests His lovingkindness and grace.
John Ritenbaugh contends that in this time of scattering, our faith in God has been put on trial. Our highest good is to know God (far beyond mere theoretical knowledge) and to live a life that reflects His righteousness, love, and justice. The better we know Him (experientially know), the better off we are. If we don't know God, we can't trust Him. A confused person, having no conviction or faith, cannot worship God.As bearers of His name, we must aspire to Holiness (transcendent and powerful purity). Only God is truly holy. God can put us into a state of holiness by sanctifying us (setting apart for a special purpose) to His use. By using God's Holy Spirit to yield to Him, humbly obeying Him, forming a relationship with Him, we become perfected in Holiness. Perfecting Holiness is the process by which we are transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that even before we acquire the necessary motivational building blocks of faith, hope, and love, we must acquire the fear of God (spanning the emotions of stark terror to reverential awe) providing a key, unlocking the treasures of God. The process of acquiring this fear comes through a perennial sequential pattern of chaos or disorder followed by Divine order, revealing God's glory, followed by judgment in some form. The cycle takes place in our lives just as assuredly as it did in the biblical examples. Judgment is now upon the Church of God. Learning from biblical examples, we dare not treat what is holy as common, but must (with the metaphorical hills and valleys of our character leveled) maintain a steady reverential fear of God.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that we must have established some relationship with God before we can rightly fear Him. Fear, faith hope and love serve as the four cornerstones upon which the whole superstructure of Christianity rests. A holy fear of the Lord is the key to unlocking the treasuries of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. Paradoxically the fear of God, because it unlocks knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual growth, should draw us toward God. Conversely, if we do not respect God, reciprocally God will not respect us. In order to reverence God, we must know Him. Christianity is experiential; we must live it to understand it. Our concept of God (and our fear of God) needs to come from observing His creation and absorbing His revealed word rather than the precepts of men.
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
In this message on the definition of grace, John Ritenbaugh insists that God has never acted unjustly to any one of us, even one time. It is utterly impossible for Him to do so. Through the parables, we learn that our forgiveness by God is directly linked to our forgiveness of other men. The entire life of Christ (God incarnate) was a manifestation of God's grace, a gift to us, revealing the nature of God by means of a life lived- a life intended to give us an example to follow. In Christ's life, God ceases to be an abstraction, but instead a concrete reality for God's called-out ones to emulate.
Some of us may have been disturbed, maybe angered, because our sense of fairness is disrupted by what God did in the past. We have difficulty with this because we do not understand holiness, justice, sin, and grace. All four of these interact, and it is important that we understand the relationship between them. However, one thing is certain. None of us has ever received the slightest injustice from the hand of God. As we grow in understanding and humility, we begin to see that we have received an overwhelming abundance of grace.
John Ritenbaugh warns that presumptuous sins carry far greater penalties than those committed out of weakness. No sacrifice can be made for sins done deliberately. A person who sins presumptuously deliberately sets his will to do what he knows is wrong. Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzzah, all totally aware of the penalties for what they were contemplating, arrogantly rebelled against God's clear and unambiguous instructions. We need to realize that it is impossible for God to act unjustly, and soberly reflect on God's mercy and grace as a prod to repent.
John Ritenbaugh insists that nine steps had to be included with the Passover process, including the eating of the lamb, all within the house until the morning. The time frame designated for Passover was ben ha arbayim—a period of time between the going down of the sun and complete darkness (dusk), totally within the confines of the designated day, in this case the fourteenth, as God had commanded. To use scholarship that contradicts the Bible—relying upon tradition rather than God's Word—is not unlike carrying the Ark of the Covenant in the oxcart.
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