The Potter’s House 2/17/2013: The Gospel According to Moses; Part 2
NOTE TO FRIENDS OF PPT:
No! I have not converted to Judaism. Church of the Messiah is a Christian movement that explores Judeo-Christian roots. Remember, the “church” was predominately Jewish for the first (approximately) fourteen years from Pentecost. I am doing three Saturday lessons there from Exodus. We are finding them to be a nice supplement to our Romans series.
Like last week, we will observe overarching principles, and then examine details as time allows. More than likely, today will be basic principles, especially in regard to how we approach the text, and then next week will be Googleology. You will get what I mean by that later, but I am in the process of doing a lot of research on the tabernacle particulars. Though this lesson stresses approach, it is not discounting the fact that truth is often concluded in the arena of council from different perspectives. But our goal ought to be God’s goal.
Moreover, this brings up a much larger issue in our day: many pastors are not honest in regard to their approach to any given passage of Scripture, especially in regard to the Christocentic hermeneutic. Most parishioners really have no idea what they are being fed. That needs to change.
Well, here we are, we are at the portion of the Old Testament where God gives Moses instruction for the portable temple that the Israelites will be using for their place of worship. I will at least speak for myself and say that when you approach a body of Scripture like this, you say to yourself, “What do you do with this?”
But that question becomes a crucial starting point: What, in fact, do we do with this? And is there a right approach and a wrong approach? And does it matter? Should there be a goal in the approach? Yes, and I will interject part of my theses here: It’s based on Exodus 19:5,6:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.
This is really the hermeneutic for what follows. Once the Israelites agree to that, God sets out to build the holy nation. It starts with a covenant, a preliminary civil law, and now the planning for the center of worship. It is also predicated on the following: the capability of his people (priests), the sufficiency of God’s wisdom (a holy nation), and the responsibility of God’s people (obedience), and His goal of holy nation. What we have here in Exodus is the beginning process for building that nation, and its collision with the milieu of life. The apostles make it clear that we are to learn how to live life from what we learn of these events (1Corinthians 10:6).
The Bible is full of symbolism and rich imagery—more so than most literature. And that presents a grave danger. We don’t have the liberty to go into the Bible with the bull of our imagination in a china shop. Imagery and ambiguous verbiage can become idols that are a god of our own making because variances of interpretations are myriad. You merely pick the one of your own imagination and preference, or the same from the musings of others. So here is the point: we can make passages like Exodus 25-27 a tool for creating truth of our own making. In fact, whole denominations are formed based on interpretations of the imagery in these chapters.
What better example than the infamous “Touchdown Jesus” that was an icon of a church in Monroe, Ohio. The statue of Jesus was 60ft. high and was merely a couple of hundred ft. from I-75. That is, until it was struck by lightning. The flames could be seen for miles in the night and the pictures thereof can be best described as apocalyptic. The next day, it was the talk of the nation. But telling was the hundreds of testimonies recorded on the news and in newspapers; i.e., “what the image meant to me.” Yikes! The hundreds of different interpretations were staggering, and the statue never spoke one word! Most interesting was a comment by an unbeliever who worked in the Monroe area: “Obviously, God did it.” Often, there is a disconnect between the secular mindset and the Christian mindset which involves the disintegration of common sense that is a natural endowment; mysticism often abandons the matter and faith becomes a license for mindlessness.
We find a starting point in this discussion. Obviously, God was teaching then and now through Exodus 25-27. But what is He teaching? I will be honest with you; this can be one of the easiest bodies of Scripture to teach in the entire Bible. All you have to do is Google “Jewish Tabernacle” and document the mass of opinions surrounding the elements of the Tabernacle. Then, you present multiple views on each, and say the magic words, “What do you think?” Note that verse ten of the first chapter concerns the Ark of the Covenant. The lesson can be over at that point just on discussion of why God wanted certain materials used and what they symbolize. Googling, “Why did God want gold used in the Tabernacle” yields 2,510,000 results in .29 seconds. That was easy.
In our postmodern world, the philosophers smile knowingly and say, “See, 2,510,000 opinions, just on gold in the Tabernacle; hence, we really can’t know anything for certain.” Therefore, people in our culture make big bucks spreading the gospel of we can’t know anything for certain—it’s great work if you can get it. This must be rejected by God’s people with prejudice. Why? Let’s let Moses speak to that in Deuteronomy 29:29;
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
With this one sentence spoken by Moses in circa 1500 BC, postmodern thought is turned completely upside down.
So, we want to honor God in these passages. Our God is a God of love. He will never deny our desperate pleas for answers. James said to pray for wisdom, especially in the midst of trials. There is something to know right there—we can know—we can possess wisdom. But yet, that’s not the end of the story. God delights in His creation, and He created intellect. He delights in His subjects endeavoring to seek Him with their God-given intellect. He rewards those who seek Him. According to Peter, even angels desire to study and investigate the mysteries of God. God is one who colabors with His servants. Many things we will never understand, but be sure of this, we will be responsible for what we are able to know as He has gifted each person, and he will not be pleased with those who bury their brains and then give Him what is His when he returns. At least invest your brain in something that will gain a little interest for Him, but He expects much more. This is controversial, but let me slip it in. Please do not get exercised over this. I am just little ole’ Paul Dohse and my opinion will not bring the world to an end anytime soon.
The Jewish wisdom construct is completely antithetical to Protestant thought. The Jewish wisdom construct holds each person responsible for the sum and substance of the intellect that God has gifted them with. If you don’t believe that, show me one place in the New Testament where Christ didn’t respect the intellect of a person. Good luck. This is not the Reformation viewpoint. Their viewpoint was predicated on the idea of the preordained enlightened few ruling over the unenlightened masses. Like their Romish counterparts, the philosophy is grounded in spiritual caste. Remember, God gave the Book of the Covenant to Moses first—true. But it was also read to the people and made clear that they were responsible for all of it. And that is the pattern throughout the rest of God’s canon. Remember, God desires a kingdom of priests. What’s a priest? This doesn’t exclude the need for the organization of leadership, but yet the point of responsibility is made.
The first thing I would like to look at is God’s mathematical hermeneutic. You say, “Oh yes, the symbolism pertaining to the measurements of the Tabernacle!” We could start with the fact that the Tabernacle was about 40 ft. long, and I could sit back and let fate do the rest while sipping my latte. In fact, if you Google “The Jewish Tabernacle was 40 ft. long” you get 2,790,000 results in .34 seconds. That was easy. Now look, I am not discounting symbolism in these things, but let me share the safe and valuable point I would like to make. If you don’t do the logical math, God’s word can appear to have contradictions. In The Decalogue, we are commanded to not make any image on earth or in heaven for the purposes of worship. But yet, in the instructions for the Tabernacle, Moses is instructed to do exactly that. What’s the math? Don’t do this + God says to do that = don’t do that unless God specifies otherwise. In this case we can deduct that when we make images of things in heaven, bad things happen. But when we do it under God’s instruction, good things happen. In some things we have liberty, but in others, we should do it under God’s tutelage. “But Paul, according to the pastor, God told them to build the Touchdown Jesus.” No he didn’t. God’s word never contradicts itself, and it fully equips us not to be led astray. Which brings us to our next point.
GOD’S OBJECTIVE TRUTH
The whole Mt. Sinai event and the wilderness experience screams of God’s objective truth. The Israelites had been in Egyptian bondage for over 400 years. God extracts them in an act of divine intervention. We are talking about at least 200 years of Egyptian saturation. How much of the Abrahamic worldview and the customs that supported it remained? I assume very little. The Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant, when set against Egyptian culture, was probably culture shock. We may assume that God gave them the first stepping stones that they could bear. Remember, all of this must be seen through the execution of what God and His people agreed to by the covenant—that they would be a kingdom of priests and His holy nation in the world.
But what we have here is wilderness deprogramming away from the rest of civilization. God is rebuilding His people from the ground up. He first reveals His intentions, but set against the slavery they are accustomed to, He seeks their agreement regardless of the fact that He is God. It could even be argued that He displayed Himself to them in power before seeking their agreement. He is God, but yet seeks a mutual fellowship. It’s not an I’m God so it’s my way or the highway mentality. A healthy thing to remember is the fact that in the end, God and His city come down to Earth to dwell with man.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the loving principles that are the only ways that will truly heal, God is completely uncompromising. There is a way that heals, and a way that doesn’t heal. We will find God completely uncompromising when it comes to that wise. And in regard to what we read in this wilderness experience, it is the wisdom of God in action as set against the milieu of life and there is much to be learned from it.
THE SUFFICIENCY OF GOD AND HIS TRUTH
Another thing the wilderness event teaches us is that God and His wisdom are sufficient. God didn’t bring anybody in from the outside to help. To the contrary, staying clear of outside influence is continually emphasized. This takes place in the wilderness for that reason. All truth is not God’s truth—truth is what God says it is. If Egyptians happen to stumble upon something useful, God will let us know, but a clock that doesn’t work isn’t useful because it is right twice a day. If any truth in the Book of the Covenant or the prescribed ways of worship seem to parrot that of the Egyptians, God sanctifies it, not the mere similarity. And facts used in the commission of falsehood are not truth, truth has a moral aspect. We must see the wilderness event as God’s prescription for a holy nation that pleases Him. A full-orbed thinking manual for life and godliness is assumed. What was good for God’s holy nation is certainly sufficient for our lives. We are talking about a nation. This includes the full spectrum of individual thinking to the principles of civil government. Again, certainly, this is sufficient to inform our individual lives.
Therefore, the Old Testament should not be seen as culturally obscure or intellectually archaic. This would indeed be a grave miscalculation. We have in our very hands the account of God rescuing His people from what is the epitome of the world: Egypt. We have the detailed account of God’s intentions: to reeducate his people and equip them for becoming His holy nation in the world. This is rather major. Furthermore, the “experts” of the world are not invited to the seminar. Whoever they are, we don’t need them. The assumption is that they are from a nation. So are we. Does their nation have some wisdom that can aid us in being more holy? Did God forgot something? Sure, they have things we can use for practical matters; more than likely, the Tabernacle was made from materials that they brought from Egypt. But the manner of worship and how the materials are used are sanctified by God.
We are not free to interpret these passages anyway we want to. That makes the word of God a mere idol for our own device. We have a responsibility to rightly divide the word of truth. That means God has not left us without the means to do that. His word most inform the full spectrum of wisdom: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. That is why we live by every word that comes from His mouth. And all this for one purpose, to build a holy nation for His glory. Next week, in our endeavor to understand what is behind God’s general contracting of the Tabernacle, this is what our eyes should be looking for….
how does this information make us a better and more holy nation for God’s good pleasure? Remember, the apostle Peter said that this is our specific identity (1Peter 2:2).