Monday, October 29, 2018

The Altar of Incense

The Tabernacle 7

For the last two weeks we have examined the Holy Place, first the Table of Shewbread and then the Golden Candlestick. Today, we will be looking at the third and final piece of furniture in the Tabernacle’s first room, the Altar of Incense.

Moses describes for us what it looked like:

Exodus 37.25 And he made the incense altar of shittim wood: the length of it was a cubit, and the breadth of it a cubit; it was foursquare; and two cubits was the height of it; the horns thereof were of the same.
26 And he overlaid it with pure gold, both the top of it, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns of it: also he made unto it a crown of gold round about.
27 And he made two rings of gold for it under the crown thereof, by the two corners of it, upon the two sides thereof, to be places for the staves to bear it withal.
28 And he made the staves of shittim wood, and overlaid them with gold.
29 And he made the holy anointing oil, and the pure incense of sweet spices, according to the work of the apothecary.

Basically a wooden box, one cubit square and two cubits tall, it was covered in gold and decorated with a horn on each corner similar to the Brazen Altar. Like other Tabernacle furniture, it had attached rings designed to hold the staves used to carry it with.

This altar had one use, as a receptacle for the burning of a fragrant incense each morning and evening perpetually.

Exodus 30.7 And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.
8 And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.

Incense in the Word of God was used to represent praise or worship, a sweet fragrance given in honor of someone. It could be literal incense as that offered by Mary to Jesus. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. (John 12.3) It could also be the praise you offered God via prayer as the psalmist describes. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. (Psalm 141.2) Here David is asking God to view his praise of Him with the same delight he felt on beholding the morning and evening offering of incense on the Altar in the Holy Place.

It is in this latter sense that we see it in the actual Temple in Heaven, as the connection between incense and our prayers of praise. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8.3-4)

I have stepped into salvation, and am now surrounded by a perfect righteousness that is supported by redemption. The atoning death that is necessary for this is seen, as is the cleansing which flows from it. This salvation comes via the Messiah and is available to me no matter where in the world I am from. I am now in Him and He in me, secure world without end.

What is my reaction to all of this? What else can it be but tears of joy and shouts of praise? Praise to God for a Messiah who saved me, redeemed me, made me righteous, died for me, cleansed me, and brought me securely to Himself no matter who I am.

…and as I kneel in humble adoration my Heavenly Father inhales the sweetest of fragrances, a sinner’s praise for the Saviour who made all the difference.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Golden Candlestick

The Tabernacle 6

The Tabernacle proper was divided into two rooms between which hung a decorative veil. The front room, called the Holy Place, contained three items of furniture visible as you walked in. On the right was the Table of Shewbread. We discussed this last week. In front of you was the Altar of Incense. We will discuss this next week. The purpose of today’s post is the item on the left, the Golden Candlestick.

Moses draws the picture for us in his Old Testament way.
The_Golden_Menorah_replica_in_Jerusalem (1)
The Temple Institute's Menorah
prepared for the Third Temple
on display in Jerusalem.

Exodus 37:17 And he made the candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work made he the candlestick; his shaft, and his branch, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, were of the same:
18 And six branches going out of the sides thereof; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side thereof, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side thereof:
19 Three bowls made after the fashion of almonds in one branch, a knop and a flower; and three bowls made like almonds in another branch, a knop and a flower: so throughout the six branches going out of the candlestick.
20 And in the candlestick were four bowls made like almonds, his knops, and his flowers:
21 And a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, according to the six branches going out of it.
22 Their knops and their branches were of the same: all of it was one beaten work of pure gold.
23 And he made his seven lamps, and his snuffers, and his snuffdishes, of pure gold.
24 Of a talent of pure gold made he it, and all the vessels thereof.

You will notice that although no specific dimensions are given it was designed to look like an almond bush with branches, buds, flowers, and fruit, and from the tip of each of the seven branches the stem burst forth into light.

Allow me to drag you in haste through the corridors of time forward nearly 1,500 years. About six months before Jesus’ death had come to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles. This harvest feast commemorated the period the Jews spent wandering in the Wilderness. Temporary shacks or booths were erected out of branches for this purpose, and the Jews spent some time living in these booths during the eight days of the feast. As the years progressed, the Jews of Palestine added some other elaborate events, such as the ritual drawing of the water from the Pool of Siloam as a memorial of the water that flowed from the Rock in Horeb. It was during that ceremony that Jesus stood and shouted through the solemn hush, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. (John 7.37)

All through the Feast there had been a vigorous national discussion over the place of Jesus. He had been fussed at from all sides, and that was even before He ruined the closing ceremonies with His dramatic announcement. After that bold declaration the Sanhedrin met, reprimanded the Temple police for failing to stop Him, and then argued themselves horse over Who He was and what He represented.

The next day, an unbowed Jesus Christ marches right back into the Temple, and proceeds to spend the entire day teaching. This Temple was not the one built by Solomon, of course, for that one had burned six centuries before. At its heart it was Ezra’s Temple built during the Return but now ‘twas hardly recognizable as such. Herod the Great, now long dead, had launched a massive renovation of it that at this point had been going on for nigh on four decades.

Included in this project were vast courtyards where tens of thousands of Jews could gather. How to light these courtyards at night? Why not use that world-wide symbol of Judaism, the menorah? There was one inside the Holy Place but there was another, even larger one, gracing the exact courtyard where Jesus tangled with the Pharisees that night. Twice as tall as an interstate street light, its ornate branches fairly burst forth with brilliance, lighting up the Treasury in the Court of the Women hundreds of feet in every direction.

The world's tallest menorah, sixty-two feet high
Manado, Indonesia
Picture the scene in all of its grandeur. Tens of thousands of Jews are gathered, debating, discussing, enjoying the Temple grounds following the Feast of Tabernacles. Evening has fallen. Herod’s great menorah, so huge its likeness can still be seen on the Arch of Titus in Rome, lofted fire seventy five feet into the air in all directions. The Sanhedrin and the Pharisees have been after Him all week. Yesterday, He ruined the parade coming from the Pool of Siloam and stole the High Priest’s thunder. Today, He teaches all day and brings such conviction to the Pharisees simply by writing on the ground that they are still running. Tonight, then, what will He do tonight?

Standing in the blaze of glory He shouts, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8.12)

It is not difficult at all to see what the Menorah in Moses’ Tabernacle represented about the Messiah. He told us Himself a millennia and a half later. To this both the Apostle John and John the Baptist agreed, saying,

John 1. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 ¶ And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

What is so interesting here is not just the time and place of Jesus’ stark announcement, but the last phrase of that announcement. I am the light of the world. Jesus did not come just to be the Jewish Messiah, nor even just the Jewish Redeemer. He came for the whole world.

This was referenced all the way back at His birth when Simeon prophesied
he was A light to lighten the Gentiles. (Luke 2.32) That penultimate Jewish prophet, Isaiah, said the same thing, boldly declaring that the Messiah would save not just Jews, but everyone else as well. It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49.6)
Not only was this prophesied in the Old Testament and referenced at His birth, it was also understood this way by the Early Church. When Paul sought to explain why he routinely left synagogues and turned to reaching Gentiles in the cities in which he ministered he said, For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. (Acts 13.47)

Over three thousand years ago Moses instructed Bezaleel and company to make an ornate candlestick in the form of an almond tree. It was then lovingly placed in the Holy Place and carefully tended, filled with oil, the wicks trimmed and burning warmly. Two thousand years ago my Saviour announced that Menorah referred to Himself, and that He came to bring salvation to the entire world. Today, I sit overlooking a quiet hillside down by the Mississippi River, an ocean, a continent, and a world away from the Palestine of Jesus’ day and the Wilderness of Moses’ day. And I am glad. For that light has reached all the way to me.


The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin,
The light of the world is Jesus!
Like sunshine at noonday, His glory shone in;
The light of the world is Jesus!
-P. P. Bliss

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Table of Shewbread

The Tabernacle 5

Note: These kinds of studies, types and figures, et al, often find one man slightly disagreeing with another. If you disagree with my conclusions in this series and your disagreement is an educated one I welcome hearing it. Perhaps you may help me. Hopefully, along the way, I will help you too.

We have discussed the importance of studying the Tabernacle, and we have examined the courtyard and the furnishings in it, the Brazen Altar and the Laver . Today we are going to turn our attention to the structure itself, and what was inside of it.

The Tabernacle proper was composed of just two rooms. The first or front room is generally called the Holy Place and contained three items of furniture. As you walked in on your left was the Candlestick, on your right was the Table of Shewbread, and straight ahead of you was the Altar of Incense. In this post we are going to discuss one of the more confusing (to me, anyway, I puzzled long over this) pieces, the Table of Shewbread.

Timna_Tabernacle_Table_of_ShowbreadThe Table of Shewbread was a two cubits long, one cubit wide, and one and a half cubits high. Along the edge of the table was a border or a raised edge made of gold. This produced a table that was like a very large tray, basically. For mobility, it contained rings in the legs that were threaded through with staves when it was time to move it. I believe the Table of Shewbread represents our union with Christ, that identification with Him which comes to us at our salvation.

Exodus 37. 10 And he made the table of shittim wood: two cubits was the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof:
11 And he overlaid it with pure gold, and made thereunto a crown of gold round about.
12 Also he made thereunto a border of an handbreadth round about; and made a crown of gold for the border thereof round about.
13 And he cast for it four rings of gold, and put the rings upon the four corners that were in the four feet thereof.
14 Over against the border were the rings, the places for the staves to bear the table.
15 And he made the staves of shittim wood, and overlaid them with gold, to bear the table.
16 And he made the vessels which were upon the table, his dishes, and his spoons, and his bowls, and his covers to cover withal, of pure gold.

The Scripture tells us that Jesus is the Bread of Life. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth his life unto the world. (John 6.32-33) But I think it is too simplistic simply to say the Table represents Christ as the Bread of Life, primarily because there were twelve loaves on it. I think that number is significant, and leads us on to a deeper meaning.

Each of these twelve loaves must have been quite large for each loaf used twelve cups of flour. (Leviticus 24.5) Compare that with a regular loaf of bread that uses a bit more than three or so. They were placed on the Table hot on the Sabbath day while the stale ones, having sat there for a week, were taken away.

The twelve loaves on the Table were there as physical representations of the twelve tribes of Israel. I draw this from other similar uses in the Word of God. For example, when Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan River he built an altar in the middle of it as a memorial of that crossing. Each tribe brought a stone thus creating an altar of twelve stones, each stone representing a tribe.

Paul tells us in the New Testament that there is a connection between the Church and Israel, namely that the Church participates in the spiritual promises given to God’s Old Testament people.

Galatians 3. 6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

As children of God by faith we are placed in Christ. This union with Him is mentioned often and variously described in Scripture. We are crucified with Christ. (Galatians 2.20) We are buried with him. (Romans 6.4) We are risen with Christ. (Colossians 3.1) We are in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2.6)

The best way I know to describe the meaning of the phrase “in Christ” is that what happened or happens to Him happens to me. For example, if eat an apple and then walk to the store the apple goes to the store too. Why? Because it is in me. If I place a bookmark into a book and then drop the book into the lake the bookmark goes into the lake too. Why? Because it is in the book.

You and I are in Christ. We are placed in Him, and what happens to Him happens to me. There is a union there, a joining there. Indeed, Paul goes so far as to use the word “communion” in this sense in I Corinthians 10.16-17 in reference to the New Testament table, the Lord’s Supper. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ. The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life. We are in Christ. Just as those twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes and their connection to the Bread of Life so in our dispensation they reveal our connection with Him, our union with Him, our communion with Him.

4268d-6060316_4066480_lz-1There is security here, of the eternal kind. I cannot become unsaved again. My life is hid with Christ in God. There is blessing here, numerous and rich. Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1.3) The Father has given everything to the Son, and since I am in Him I share in all of that. (Romans 8.16-17) There is peace and unity with other’s of God’s children here. Since I am in Christ and you are in Christ we are close to each other. (Ephesians 2.11-19, Galatians 3.26-28) I could go on and on and on.

I do not deserve to be on that Old Testament Table, pure, presented to Jehovah. I do not deserve to partake of that New Testament table, pure, celebrating my (comm)union with Christ, the Bread of Life. But I am and I do. And I sure am glad.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Laver

The Tabernacle 4

Note: These kinds of studies, types and figures, et al, often find one man slightly disagreeing with another. If you disagree with my conclusions in this series and your disagreement is an educated one I welcome hearing it. Perhaps you may help me. Hopefully, along the way, I will help you too.

Exodus 40:30–32
30 And he set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal.
31 And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat:
32 When they went into the tent of the congregation, and when they came near unto the altar, they washed; as the LORD commanded Moses.

bronze-laver-priestOffering sacrifices is a bloody business. Practically speaking, having a source of water near at hand helps tremendously in cleaning up. As the old saying goes, cleanliness is next to godliness, and that was never more true than it was for the Jewish people. Leviticus, the priestly manual of operations, emphasizes the necessity of moral and physical and ceremonial cleanliness constantly. This emphasis found a ready heart in the Jewish religion of the Old Testament, and in this culture a laver – a wash basin set on a pedestal – makes perfect sense. What was it for? The answer is simple: cleanliness.

There is here, however, more than meets the eye, for the Laver was used by the priests two ways. First, it was used by them on their commissioning to wash themselves in entirety. (Exodus 40.11-16) Second, it was used by them on a daily basis to wash their hands and feet only. (Exodus 30.19-20)

I find clear parallels to these two uses in the New Testament. First, we are to be washed entire, cleansed of our sin, upon salvation. Paul calls this in Titus 3.5 the washing of regeneration and in Corinthians 6.11 says the same: And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God. Both of these clearly liken salvation to be cleansed wholly via water.
There is also, however, a second illustration repeated in the New Testament in relation to washing. In this case it was not for the entire body, but only for the feet. The practical reason for foot washing was that the dusty roads of Palestine combined with the open-toed sandals of the day made for a grimy result. But that regular custom of hospitality was clearly used by our Saviour in a spiritual way at the Last Supper.

Christ Washing the Disciples Feet by Tintorreto
c 1580
John 13:4–10
4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.

Jesus is not using this as an illustration of salvation. The Apostles were already washed in that sense – he that is washed – but yet they still needed some additional, or I should say, regular cleansing – needeth not save to wash his feet. Spiritually speaking, their feet got dirty and needed cleansed.

The Psalmist uses a curious turn of phrase in Psalm 49.5, the iniquity of my heels. What is the iniquity of my heels? I am saved, cleansed entirely of my sin by the washing of regeneration. I am thus justified. But as I journey through life (as I walk the dusty roads of Palestine in the process of living my daily life) I inevitably find myself with some sin or other clinging to me. If I let it continue unchecked I will be the like the boy who grew turnips in his ears because he refused to take a bath. I will be miserably unhappy. I will be out of fellowship with God’s people. God will not hear my prayers. I will be living apart from Him rather than abiding in Him. I must needs take a spiritual bath every time I sin. Why? To cleanse the iniquity of my heels, to restore fellowship, to grow deeper into my intimacy with Christ. Without this I, like Peter, have no part with Him.

John said it this way in the epistle he wrote about sixty years after Jesus washed his feet at the Last Supper: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1.9) From time to time in my Christian journey I have met those who insist that this passage does not teach anything like regular confession of daily sin. They assert that instead it represents salvation and that is all. They could not be more mistaken. Why? Simply put, because the epistle of I John is plainly directed toward those who are already Christians.

John addresses his readers as my little children. (2.1) He calls them brethren. (2.7) He tells us he is writing to those who already know the truth. (2.21) John tells them to continue in the Son. (2.24) He explicitly says his readers are already now the sons of God. (3.2) He says his readers already love God. (4.19) He says that God hath given to us eternal life. (5.11) He closes with the assumption that we are in him that is true. (5.20) There can be no doubt whatsoever. The epistle of I John is not directed toward the unsaved in an effort to get them saved; it is directed toward those who are already the children of God that their fellowship with God and with each other might be improved.

The danger of rejecting this interpretation and application is two-fold. First, I have hamstrung my prayer life. If I am living in known sin I do not jeopardize my salvation but I do jeopardize my hearing before God. (Psalm 66.18) Second, I have deceived myself and instead of walking in the light I am walking in darkness. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (I John 1.8). If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (I John 1.10) John is talking about the man who is already a Christian. If that man denies the necessity of confession in order to obtain fellowship he is simply deceiving himself.

In this John lines with all kinds of scriptural precept and illustration. In addition to the Laver illustration in the Old Testament and our Saviour at the Last Supper, Paul, in Ephesians, says that a Christian has both a standing and a state before God. In standing he is entirely sanctified; in state he is somewhere in the process of sanctification that comes between being birthed into the new life and being formed fully into the image of Christ. God views me right now as though I were already in Heaven fully possessed of the righteousness of Christ; that is my standing. But my actual state at the moment is not nearly as holy as my standing.

John writes I John so that, amongst other reasons, my actual condition or state in this life progresses in holiness. He writes so that I sin less. My little children, these write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (I John 2.1) What tool is necessary to accomplish this? The tool of daily confession of sin, of bowing my heart before His throne and telling God I am sorry for the sin that has accumulated in life.

jesus_washing_feet02God and I cannot partner together if I allow unconfessed sin to pile up in my life. I have already washed, but the iniquity of my heels is the problem. I still need to wash my feet on a regular basis as I serve Him. It is the only way I can have a part with Him.

You long ago used the laver of salvation. Get alone somewhere today and use the laver of confession. Without it, you are not fit to serve Him.