Category Archives: Hebrews

The Tragedy of Moses

 

Without question, Moses is the central (human) figure of the Old Testament.  Yes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the fathers of Israel are significant, and yes David is surely a key figure as well, particularly in his typological function as king, yet it is Moses, particularly in his role as the great redeemer, the law giver, prophet, priest, and the trailblazer through the wilderness to the Promised Land, who stands  head and shoulders above the rest.

We can see his significance in how the Jews of the New Testament held him in high regard, likewise, in his appearance with our Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration and most significantly in the book of Hebrews, which offers the comparison from the lesser, Moses/Old Covenant/Sacrifices/Temple, etc. with the greater, i.e. Christ and the New Covenant.

Moses appears on the scene of redemptive history at the introduction of book of Exodus.  His appeals to Pharaoh on behalf of Yahweh for the release of the Israelites is familiar to most people.  After securing their deliverance through the providential working of God, he leads them to Sinai, where they received the law, and continues leading them along their 40-year wilderness wandering, the consequence of their sin on the way to the Promised Land.  Throughout this arduous journey, we find Moses frequently appealing to God on behalf of the rebellious, murmuring people, yet there was one event in the wilderness that would forever haunt Moses and cost him greatly; an event which stands as a stark warning to those of us who live on this side of the cross of Christ.

We read of this tragic event in Numbers 20:2-9

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.

Once again we find the wilderness congregation in want, this time of water, and once again we find them directing their complaint to Moses.  What a burden this man must have carried, not only have to lead a rebellious, murmuring people out of their bondage to Egypt, but to journey through the wilderness for 40 years because of THEIR sin.

In the passage above, despite being the object of the peoples scorn, Moses (and Aaron) petition the Lord for mercy on the people.  God’s instructions to Moses seem simple enough: take the staff, assemble the congregation, you and Aaron speak to the rock and tell it to yield water.  Then an interesting, glossed over note in Num. 20:9, “And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.”

In the next section from Numbers 20, we read of this event unfolding

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.”

Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck the rock, twice.  Let the heartbreak begin.  What seems like an innocuous oversight, or a slip of emotion, costs Moses greatly.  The Lord outlines his sin as: 1) Lack of faith 2) Failure to uphold the holiness of God in the sight of others.  Surely to even record this event and provide it in the book of Numbers for future generations must have been painful to Moses.

Here was a man called by God, a man who was a murderer no less, who had been faithful to do all that God had commanded for nearly 80 years no matter how difficult or insurmountable the odds may have appeared to the human eye, yet in this one event, he slips and falls.  One sin is all that it took to keep Moses out of the Promised Land.  Let that sink in for a minute. (We may also add that Aaron failed to enter the Promised Land as well)

This discipline is further recounted in Numbers 27 as God passes the mantle of Israelite leadership from Moses to Joshua

12 The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) 15 Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 16 ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.'”

Hear we see that Moses’ sin was “rebellion” against the word of the Lord and a failure to publically uphold Him as holy.  Additionally, we get Moses’ first response to his discipline as he pleads, not his own case, but the case of the people that they might continue to have a leader after he dies.  Even in the legislation of his own discipline, Moses still implores God to extend mercy to the people.  This gives way to the command of commissioning Joshua in the remainder of Numbers 27.

Furthermore, as Deuteronomy, i.e. the “Second Law” is introduced, this episode is again brought to our attention in Deuteronomy 3:23-29.  As Moses recounts the history of Israel, he is forced to readdress his own discipline and prevention from entering the Promised Land.  In this passage we get more insight into the emotions of Moses at the word of his prohibition from the Promised Land

23 “And I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25 Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26 But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’ 29 So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.

This tragedy takes on another layer with the Lord’s reply, “But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me.  And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again.”

In some sense, this incident of discipline frames the book of Deuteronomy as it shows up again in Deut. 32 and again in 34.

48 That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, 49 ‘Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. 50 And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, 51 because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. 52 For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.'” Deut. 32:48-52

And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” Deut. 34:4-12

This last mention, includes Moses’ death and the epithet that the Lord leaves on “his grave” – “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt….”

One final passage for perusal on this incident may be found in Psalm 106:32-33

They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
    and it went ill with Moses on their account,
33 for they made his spirit bitter,
    and he spoke rashly with his lips.”

Here we find that perhaps Moses displayed an element of rash speaking with his lips.  This may indicate that he said something harsh towards the people without stopping to consider it, but perhaps most strikingly is that God had commanded Moses to speak to the rock, but instead he used his lips to speak rashly.

Thankfully this event captured in the noteworthy passages above was not the end of Moses.  In Matthew 17:1-3 we see him standing alongside another protagonist of tragedy, Elijah, as they witness the transfiguration of Christ and converse with Him in His glory.

As we read of this tragedy of Moses, and by tragedy I mean the radical effects and implications that sin, even one, may have on an individual and it’s subsequent ripple effects, I’m reminded of another tragedy where one sin cost the price of the Promised Land, that of Adam and Eve, which had profound generational effects.  Both of these accounts anticipate the arrival of a Last Adam and a Greater Joshua, namely Jesus Christ.

Applying this to our own lives, we quickly see the significance of sin, the seriousness in which God responds to sin, and the consequences, even physically/materially that sin brings.  I believe Adam was made righteous and I believe Moses was justified as well, nevertheless we cannot be so quick to dismiss the discipline that our sin deserves and often brings.  It sometimes can bring suffering, sometimes can cause blessing to be withheld, and yes even sometimes can bring death (physical).  We needn’t travel far from the beginning of humanity to see that the sin of Adam in the Garden brought death to ALL mankind.

The Old Testament saints provide for us an example (see 1 Corinthians 10:11) so that we might not stumble and fall as they did.  Surely as we live on this side of the cross, we are perhaps more aware of the grace that comes through Jesus Christ, but let us not be so quick to live as “free gracers” and sin such that grace may abound.

Let us be reminded that sin has consequences and that God deals with it justly, though the punitive justice has been meted in Jesus Christ.  Because of Christ we may be assured that our sin will not incur God’s wrath and we needn’t be fearful that because of one sin God might “zap” us.  However, we must also be assured that God has always desired for His people live holy lives as He Himself is holy.  This has not changed.  There is a tension here that must be maintained.

May we desire more grace from God to live a holy life.  And may tragedies like Moses’ generate in us a healthy, holy fear of Almighty God and a hatred for sin in our own lives, even one.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

How then Shall we Live

 

The author of Hebrews, under Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned in many respects what could be considered a masterful sermon.  For twelve chapters, he has unfolded the finished work of Christ and His superior mediation of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant all the while leaning heavily on the prior revelation of God to buttress his arguments thereby showing the continuing relevance of the Old Testament.  Sprinkled along the way were warnings against falling away, which comes through progressive hardening of the heart brought on by negligence of faith and duty.

In the final chapter of this majestic tapestry, he shifts his focus away from the doctrinal to the practical.  This pattern is what that every good sermon, every good preacher, should follow in laying out first doctrine, here the finished work of Christ, followed by the implications that it has upon the Christian life.  We may say summarily, orthodoxy should always lead to orthopraxy.

Sometimes we may hear preaching that is heavy on the duty of Christian life that can come off largely as moralism or legalism, a kind of “Christian” lifting up by the bootstraps.  Other times we may hear preaching that is so doctrinally heavy that it is distanced from the heart of the hearer.  Balance is key, and naturally as a product of Divine inspiration, Hebrews has it.

Chapter 13 begins with an attention towards relationships among believers and an exhortation to “let brotherly love continue”.  As would be expected, this flows out of the doctrinal portion of the sermon, as biblically it follows subordinately after the first greatest commandment, namely to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

In a sense, all that is to come in this passage concerning a believer’s relationships within the body of Christ is developed from 12:14, “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Peace with God is obtained on behalf of the believer through Christ’s shed blood, therefore, we are now to have peace with others and the first point in this relational peace is brotherly love.

This exhortation is not new, but seemingly builds on the author’s statements in 6:10 and 10:24 and though expressed as an imperative, there is a commendation here as well in the congregation’s “continuing” in love toward the brothers, an action they were clearly already engaged in and now being encouraged to continue.

Second, we read that hospitality is to be shown to strangers.  This seems clearly to draw upon Jesus’ illustration in Matthew 25:31-46, though here we get the addition of the supportive statement, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.  The mention of angels purposefully ties into 1:14 “are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”  The point of the passage is that angels have a role in plan of God to minister to His people.  Surely drawing upon the experiences of Old Testament saints, such as Abraham and Jacob to name a few, as well as their prominent role in their encounters with New Testament believers (See Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, etc).  This instruction should serve as a warning for us to show hospitality to all, regardless of the whom or the where.  In short, the relationships and encounters that we have here on earth are not trivial, but have eternal consequences.  There are no meaningless encounters.

Third, we see the relationships with those who are in prison addressed next.  This isn’t a general statement meant to apply across the board towards prisoners, as though a passage to support prison ministry (though that is certainly a fine ministry).  Instead its focus is narrowed to those who have been imprisoned on account of their faith, ala the Apostle Paul.  Additionally, this exhortation is not limited to those who are in prison, but extends to those who have been mistreated, again on account of their faith.  This verse, along with its internal parallel with 10:32-34, gives us great insight into why the Hebrews were faced with the temptation to surrender their faith in Christ and return to Judaism, namely on account of persecution.  Unity in the body of believers is seen as the driving motivation to minister to those who have been mistreated or imprisoned for the sake of Christ.  If the pinky toe is injured, the whole body feels the pain.  So too if one believer is imprisoned or mistreated the whole body should empathize.

The fourth area of relational peace that the author wishes to emphasize is marital, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”  Implying that all of you hold the marriage bed in honor, we find the exhortation to keep it undefiled.  In other words, keep it unstained, unsoiled or positively keep it chaste and pure.

This passages dovetails with the previous chapter’s warning example of Esau, “that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Heb. 12:16  Additionally, the undefiled nature of the marriage bed parallels the undefiled nature of Christ our High Priest, 7:26.

Two words are used to describe the nature of undefilement, sexual immorality, or fornication, which is general in nature, and adultery, which is more specific in nature.  The former addresses all acts sexual in nature that are contrary to God’s design for marriage and is denoted by the Greek word pornos, the origin of the English word for pornography, if that gives you any additional insight or application towards what might constitute defilement of the marriage bed.  The latter term, adultery, as mentioned is a more specific action targeting sexual relations with another, whether they too be married or not (see Exodus 20:14, Matthew 5:27-5:32, et.al.).

As the author enters into this very practical section of Hebrews, we must not lose sight of all that has come before it.  Like a master weaver, he has grounded these exhortations in the finished work of Christ.  All that he now instructs for the Christian life finds its basis, motivation, and strength in this such that there is no room for legalism and certainly no room for neglect of Christian duty.  Be exhorted Christians to be at peace in your relationships.  After all, it is through Christ that you have peace with God the Father, so then let that peace flow through you unto others in the body.

Soli Deo Gloria

From the Cradle to the Cross

 

5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

In this passage from Hebrews 10 the author is reaching the crescendo of his argument concerning the death of Christ, namely His Priesthood, the superiority of His sacrifice, the inauguration of the New Covenant, redemption through His blood, and many other key and relevant themes.  As he begins to summarize and draw to a close this section of the epistle, he gives us key insight into an intra-Trinitarian conversation between Father and Son.  Note verse 5 from above, “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said.”  The introduction of a quote from Psalm 40 is preceded with this phrase, “He said” in reference to Christ, which immediately grants Him ownership of the citation that follows.  By reading Psalm 40 in its context, we may not immediately conclude that David is transcribing the words of Christ.  However, because Scripture is primarily a divine product, meaning this words are principally the words of God Himself, and because Scripture employs progressive revelation, meaning that latter revelation most often illuminates prior revelation bringing out its fuller meaning, then we may see clearly that the author of Hebrews has neither abused nor allegorized this selection of Scripture, rather he is indeed himself under the divine inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit providing additional context to what had been written 1000 years earlier.

In this citation we see Christ, by way of Psalm 40:6 declare, “a body have you prepared for me.”  This reference to His own body is likely a reference to His incarnation, where the Son of God, fully God in His being added upon Himself the nature of man, thus becoming 100% God and 100% man, the God-man.

Turning to Psalm 40:6 we may not readily see those words cited in our passage from Hebrews.  There we read, “…but you have given me an open ear” literally “ears you have dug for me.”  How then did this come to reference a body in Hebrews 10:5?

Some have concluded that because the New Testament, and especially Hebrews, often references the Septuagint (LXX), or the Greek (Koine) translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, that it must by necessity be the case in this verse and the reason for body instead of ear.  This was the common translation of first century Palestine, the common language of the people, and a familiar translation to both our Lord and His disciples.

However, in his massive commentary on this epistle, John Owen remains unconvinced that the LXX translation is being used here and instead asserts that the author of Hebrews is making an interpretation (albeit under divine inspiration) by employing a device known as a synecdoche, where a part is representative of the whole.  In other words, he is able to convey a larger intention of the passage, especially his own, by using the term body, as represented by a part of the body, the ear, in the original passage from Psalms.  But we must ask, why does he see this as necessary?  Reading through the remainder of the passage cited above we may find our answer.  This section is concluded with the profound statement, “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Again we are confronted with the word body, though this time not in reference to Christ’s incarnation, but instead with reference to His death.  The reason for the synecdoche device used earlier was to highlight the body of Christ and to develop a full argument of our Lords earthly life from the cradle to the cross.  If we were to summarize the assertion being made here it would simply be that Christ, the Son of God for whom and by whom all things were made, came to earth, assuming the nature and body of humanity, to die on the cross in a shameful undignified manner unworthy of a King, for a sinful, rebellious people who by the shedding of His blood and the breaking of His body He has redeemed for Himself and they are being made sanctified.

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?