13 January 2013

A Survey of the Old Testament Law: God Starts the Fire

OK, so we’ve finished the first five chapters. And that brings us to chapter 6—which we’ve actually already covered. So then we will move on to chapter 7—which we’ve already covered. We have covered chapters 6 and 7 as we talked about the various offerings, so we’ll move on to chapters 8 and 9—which we have already discussed. In chapters 8 and 9 we read the account of Moses carrying out the consecration of Aaron and his sons, which we read about in Exodus 29-30. We will, however, talk about just the last three verses in chapter 9, which will serve as a springboard to take us onward. After Moses consecrates Aaron and his sons, we read Leviticus 9:22-2422 Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and peace offerings. 23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people, 24 and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

This will be one of many times when God reveals Himself to Israel in such a manner. God will send down fire to burn things for various reasons. In 1st Kings 18:17-39, we read the account of Elijah and the 450 prophets of Ba’al atop Mt. Carmel. After the prophets of Ba'al had spent all day dancing and prancing around their altar, singing and mutilating themselves for a god who could not hear them, 1st Kings 18:30-3530 Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come near to me." So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. 31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, "Israel shall be your name." 32 Then with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD; and he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood, and said, "Fill four waterpots with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood." 34 Then he said, "Do it a second time," and they did it a second time; and he said, "Do it a third time," and they did it a third time. 35 So the water ran all around the altar; and he also filled the trench with water. Now it was time for God to show Himself. He had put up with the pagans’ shenanigans all day long, proving what Peter said in 2nd Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack…as men count slackness…but is longsuffering. This is one of those places where I almost wish I could know what God was thinking. These men had spent all day trying to summon their deity. God had been patient, watching from His throne, unimpressed with all the prancing and prating and cutting.

And now, God was about to show Himself in an instant. So after Elijah builds his altar, and drowns it with water—and, by the way, wasn’t God just so lucky that in the middle of a drought someone could find the water to do this? I speak as a fool. We have the sacrificial animal drenched with water; we have the altar drenched with water; we have the wood for the fire drenched with water; we have the whole thing surrounded by a trench filled with water. So where was the fire going to come from? 1st Kings 18:37-39"37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again." 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "YHVH, He is God! YHVH, He is God!" God shows Himself faithful to His people, accepting of their sacrifice, devouring it with fire from Heaven.

We see another example in the mediation between David and God, after David commits his sin of numbering Israel. Listen to David’s plea in 1st Chronicles 21:16-1716 Then David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. So David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces. 17 And David said to God, "Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father's house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued." Let me just stop right here a minute. Do we not have a picture of our great Mediator in the words of David? David had sinned, God was ready to destroy Israel for that sin, the Angel of YHVH was standing between Heaven and earth—and David begs God to take out His wrath on David, and not the people. How much more greater the intercession of our Great Mediator—it was our father Adam who sinned, and yet the Angel of YHVH, suspended between Heaven and earth, who never sinned, took the wrath of God on Himself rather than let it fall on us! And when God commanded David to build Him an altar, he did so, and offered the oxen of Ornan on that altar. And how did God demonstrate His acceptance of that sacrifice? 1st Chronicles 21:23-2623 Ornan said to David, "Take it to yourself, and let my lord the king do what is good in his eyes. Look, I also give you the oxen for burnt offerings, the threshing implements for wood, and the wheat for the grain offering; I give it all." 24 Then King David said to Ornan, "No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing." 25 So David gave Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place. 26 And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the LORD; and He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar of burnt offering.

After Solomon finished building the temple in Jerusalem, he brought animals to be sacrificed on the altar. And as he prayed, he cried out to YHVH, 2nd Chronicles 6:40-7:3“6:40 Now, my God, I pray, let Your eyes be open and let Your ears be attentive to the prayer made in this place. 41 Now therefore, Arise, O LORD God, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. Let Your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, And let Your saints rejoice in goodness. 42 O LORD God, do not turn away the face of Your Anointed; Remember the mercies of Your servant David.” 7:1 When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD's house. 3 When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the LORD, saying: "For He is good, For His mercy endures forever." After which Solomon offered 22,000 bulls and 120,000 sheep as sacrifice. Why that many? Because that’s what God wanted. But again, we see the sacrifice of the faithful being accepted by God, and God showing His approval by sending fire down on that sacrifice. And although it isn't spelled out in Scripture, that may have been the way God showed His acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice, Genesis 4:4Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering. It may very well have been—although I ain't gonna take a bullet for it—that God showed His respect for Abel’s offering by consuming it with fire from Heaven.

God began the fire that was burned on the Altar of Burnt Offering. He showed His acceptance of their sacrifices by sending fire down and consuming it. Now, Who was the ultimate sacrifice for us? Who was the Lamb that God provided as our Burnt Offering, our Sin Offering, our Peace Offering, our Trespass Offering? As Christ died on that cross, suspended between heaven and earth, what did He cry out at the ninth hour? Mark 15:33-3433 Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" What did the people do when the fire came from Heaven and devoured the first sacrifices on the altar of Burnt Offering in Leviticus? They fell on their faces and worshipped. When the fire of YHVH fell upon the altar on Mt. Carmel, what did the people do? They fell on their faces and worshipped. When Solomon dedicated the temple to YHVH, and God accepted his sacrifices by sending fire down upon it, what did the people in the temple do? They fell on their faces and worshipped. When the spotless Lamb of God, our offering for sin and trespass; the offering that brings peace between God and man; when God showed all creation that He accepted that offering for our sins, what did creation do? What did the moon and the stars and the sun do? They fell on their faces and worshipped. The very earth under their feet trembled, fell on its face and worshipped, fearing that God would send His wrath upon it as well.

Yet what did sinful man do? They mocked Mark 15:36Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down." Even the rocks and the moon and stars knew what we foolish humans cannot understand in our fallen state—that Jesus Christ, very God of very God, was consumed by the fire of YHVH in His wrath, being offered up an altar that we call “the cross” to expiate our sins and make atonement for the many rebellions and insurrections we devise and execute against the holiness of Almighty God. And God sent His wrath—His fire, His judgment—upon the Sun of Righteousness, showing His acceptance of that sacrifice. And as David pleaded “Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me…but not against Your people that they should be plagued,” so God the Son pleaded, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” And Paul the apostle confirmed this when he wrote in 2nd Corinthians 5:21He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we may become the righteousness of God in Him.

Now, let’s move forward to the book of Acts, which chronicled the very first days of the church. Remember this: God started the fire on Golgotha. He consumed the body of our Lord, that fire coming down from Heaven even as the fire came down from Heaven consuming the first sacrifices laid upon the altar of burn offering in Leviticus. In Acts chapter 2, when the people are gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, what was the miraculous thing that happened? Acts 2:1-31 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. This was a fire which was to “always be burning…it shall never go out.” Now, today, we may not have little flames coming up out of our scalp. We may not see fire dancing above our heads. But we keep that (spiritual) fire burning within us because that same Holy Spirit that sat atop the heads of those gathered at Pentecost is now dwelling in us. That is one of those “better promises” (Hebrews 8:6) that we Christians have under the New Covenant. We don’t have to work to gain our salvation. We don’t have to work to keep our salvation.

The priests under the Old Covenant had to perform the work of going out and finding wood to keep stoking the fire. But we have promises from God that HE is the one who keeps the fire stoked. Philippians 1:6 (NASB)He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? I mean, does it not sound as though God is the one who starts the fire by sacrificing His only Son for our sins, and He is also the One who is going to keep perfecting us until the last Day? Well, there’s a reason that it sounds like that is what he is saying—and that’s because that is exactly what he is saying. If Paul had said, “If you begin a good work in you, then you will need to perfect yourself until the day of Jesus Christ,” then some may have a point to stand on for thinking we “earn” or “merit” our salvation.

But that is NOT what he says—that would be absurd on so many levels. That line of thinking makes shipwreck of the words of our Lord in John 10:27-29“27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” The exegetical gymnastics and the linguistic hoop-jumping that goes on when people want to ignore the clear and simple words of our Savior are astounding. How anyone can take the precious truths and make them say things that Christ never intended them to mean is to make one a hireling, one who leads people away from the truth and into believing in a “God” who is not able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, as though He does not always live to make intercession for them (see Hebrews 7:25). Rather than make Him a Mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:6); rather than exalt Him as "a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 7:21), they relegate Him to being a priest who needs daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's (Hebrews 7:27). And rather than accept the simple fact that by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14), they see themselves as the one who has to save them, since by their words they declare that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year (Hebrews 9:25). But if there were something we were to do to add our own filthy human works to the cross of Christ; if His one sacrifice was not enough, then it is true that He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world (Hebrews 9:26).

But these things are not so. We do not keep the fire going ourselves. The Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us does that. 1st Corinthians 3:16Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? Ephesians 2:19-2219 Now, therefore, you are… fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20…Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. 2nd Timothy 1:14That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. And because the Spirit of God dwells in us, and because we are kept by the Holy Spirit, and because we cannot entirely quench the Holy Spirit, then we can do as Paul commanded us, and present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).

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