Tag Archives: Hebrews

On Guard

 

In the opening chapters of the book of Numbers, we find Israel in the wilderness of Sinai.  The LORD is speaking to Moses instructing him to take a census of Israel and to subsequently divide and arrange the 12 tribes.  While these arrangements concerned both the camping and the marching of Israel, it may be properly said that God was forming battalions for war (Numbers 1:3).

As the census of chapter 1 is undertaken, we find the people of Joseph, “namely, of the people of Ephraim,” constituting one tribe, while, “the people of Manassah” constitute another tribe.  On the surface, this would create a problem numbering the tribes- creating an additional tribe – recalling the blessing of Jacob from Genesis 48, unless one of the original twelve were not counted.  This is precisely the case as God commands Moses not to count the tribe of Levi.

“For the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel.” Numbers 1:48

Following this, we see the role that the Levites were to have in the camp of Israel, namely their oversight of the “tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it.  They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle.  When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up.  And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” Numbers 1:49-51

The Levites were the only tribe to whom this responsibility of caring for the tabernacle and all of its appurtenances were given.  In addition to the tasks of oversight of the tabernacle and its furnishings, care and camping around it, and set up and tear down, the Levites were also the guardians of the tabernacle.

52 The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. 53 But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.” Numbers 1:52-53

The Levites were exempt from day to day military campaigns, but were explicitly charged with guarding the tabernacle.  On the one hand, they guarded the tabernacle from outsiders.  In other words, the access to God was restricted by the Levites, lest those who encroached were to be put to death.  In this light, there is also guardianship to protect the people from the wrath of God.  In this respect, the Levites function as two-way guardians to prevent the common from coming into contact with the holy and also providing protection from the holy, namely God, from coming into contact with the common via His wrath.

As to the particularity of their guardianship, this is the same word used in reference to Adam in Garden.  Recall that in Adam’s Rest, we looked at Genesis 2:15 and determined that Adam was “rested” in the Garden in order to “tend and keep” it.  There we saw that this particularly phrase was priestly and is elsewhere translated in priestly contexts as guard and minister or serve.  Our passage under consideration from Numbers is one such example of this priestly context of guardianship.  This reinforces our conclusions regarding Adam’s role and function as a priest in the garden-temple of God. For the combination of both terms, see Numbers 3:7-8, where the Levitical guardianship and service are further defined.

Flowing out of a passage that discusses the mediation of God’s holiness by a Levitical Priest, one cannot help but see the parallels with the priestly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One Mediator between God and Man 1 Tim. 2:5).  However, as Hebrews tells us, His priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10; 6:20; 7:17).  Access to God comes only through Christ (John 14:6).  It is through Him that we, the common, have access to the holy, namely the Father (Eph. 2:18).  But also it is through Christ that God’s wrath has been placated, or propitiated, towards us who have repented and placed our God-given faith in Christ (1 John 2:2; Heb. 2:17).  The typological picture painted for us in this Old Testament priestly passage is a picture of Christ.

With this in mind, the imagery of guardianship over God’s dwelling place can be used as an illustration for personal, individual duty of believers to guard God’s dwelling place, though not of a tabernacle made with hands, but the very temple of believer’s bodies in which God’s Spirit indwells (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  Our guardianship is likewise against the common, or profane, to keep it from coming into contact with where the holy dwells.

We are to guard against corruptions, those external and internal that would defile the tabernacle of God.  We are to guard against the placement of idols, high places if you will, that would attempt to subvert the worship of God in our hearts.  We are to guard with a recognition of the fear of God, knowing that the discipline of God is meted out against all unrighteousness.

Through this passage, perhaps somewhat obscure in its details of the Levitical guardianship of the tabernacle, we have opened up for us a gateway into meditation on the High Priestly ministry of Christ.  It should draw our hearts and minds unto Christ who stands on guard daily at the right hand of the Father to make intercession for us.  This is the direction that the passage points us.  But we also have a picture drawn for us, one that shows a priestly duty is still required by God’s priests (1 Peter 2:5-9; Heb. 4:16, 10:19), a duty unto holiness in guarding the temple of God from being profaned by the common and unholy.

 

 

Follow the Leader

 

A few weeks ago, I had the delight of revisiting one of my favorite books of the Bible, The Epistle to the Hebrews, for the third time in four years.  It’s caused me to reflect back on fond memories of having either participated in or led an in-depth study through this wonderfully challenging book, but also to look back through my notes for gaps or areas where I hadn’t yet fully fleshed out my interpretations (see the Scriptural Index).

Apparently this was the case in the last few chapters, but the last chapter more specifically.  In that chapter, which is full of practical and ethical exhortations, we have mention of the term “leader” three times, so clearly it is at the forefront of the Author’s mind.  The first two uses form brackets around a particular series of exhortations, while the last use is part of the Author’s salutation. Though it has a variety of uses, including references to specific people such as David or Joseph, the word for leader here means leaders in general.

The first use occurs in Hebrews 13:7 forming the opening bracket

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

Several observations need to be made on this use of leaders.

Remember your Leaders

First is the command to remember them.  These leaders are identified as “those who spoke to you the word of God.”  While it doesn’t clarify whether this speaking was by way of preaching, teaching, discipleship, individual exhortation, etc., nevertheless these leaders communicated the word of God to the people, and subsequently the Author has exhorted the readers to remember them.  It’s quite possible that the leaders being referenced here had died and their life is to be called to mind.

Consider their Life

Second, we see the command to consider the outcome of the leaders way of life.  As stated, its likely that these leaders had died, therefore having completed the race that was set before them, their life should now be viewed as a model of faithfulness.  The call then is to consider, literally to hold up and look at repeatedly, the body of their life’s work.

Imitate their Faith

Finally we have the third command to imitate the faith of these leaders.  Not only were they to be remembered, specifically their teaching of God’s word and their lives to be considered as an example, but also their faith was to be emulated.

To this pattern of following and emulating godly leadership in doctrine and practice, the Scriptures express the exact same sentiment elsewhere, including a prior use in Hebrews

“so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:12

Similarly we have the following passages throughout the New Testament:

14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.“1 Cor. 4:14-16

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 11:1

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” 1 Thessalonians 1:6

“It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.” 2 Thessalonians 3:9

The pattern for follow-the-leader is a clear Scriptural principle.  Never in any of these passages do we see an example of a leader “lording” over or demanding blind allegiance.  Instead we see a pattern of humility in following the Lord , submitting to His word, and a call for other believers to imitate these qualities in the lives of those who lead them in the Word of God.  This is the mark of a leader and the definition of discipleship.  It represents what biblical leadership among the gathering of God’s people should look like.

 

Christ our Anchor and Forerunner

 

Laboring through some of the more difficult passages of Scripture, namely that of Hebrews 6, proves worthwhile as the chapter concludes with a glorious statement of assurance rooted in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In Hebrews 6:19-20 we read that Jesus is our steadfast anchor, hope, forerunner, and High Priest stringing together pearls of assurance for the believer.  Note well the passage below:

19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

The return of the authors use of “we” likely indicates that he is including himself in the statement that follows which highlights Christ’s mediatorial and intercessory work on behalf of believers.  In view here, the “this”, is the faithfulness of God to His promises, first as seen in the example of Abraham (Heb. 6:13-18) and secondly, by way of comparison, His promises that are rooted in the finished work of the Son of God.  The believer’s salvation and assurance is founded on nothing less than the very character of God and the effectualness of Christ’s death, resurrection, and now intercession as High Priest.  In short, a true believer in Christ may fall away to their eternal destruction the moment God can be called a liar and Christ ceases to intercede for them.  God is not a liar (Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2) and it necessarily follows that one’s security is eternally sealed in the person of Christ.

This promise is said to be a steadfast anchor of the soul.  Again we see the use of nautical language (see Heb. 2) to provide a lasting and understandable mental picture for the immediate audience.  By way of the anchor analogy, the promise of God is seen to function as an immovable guarantee.  It should not be assumed, as we will see, that the anchor is somehow set weakly or in soft sand that may shift and loosen the anchor.  Quite the contrary, the anchor of God’s promise is not only set by God and secured by God, but the anchor is God’s very own Son who gave Himself up for all who have and will believe.  Therefore, though the sea may toss and turn, the believer may be assured that the soul of his or her vessel will surely be secured and reach port safely by no merit of their own, but by grace through faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.

Moving on, this hope is said to have entered “into the inner place behind the curtain” bringing to mind the Old Covenant tabernacle/temple where only the High Priest could enter annually on the Day of Atonement.  This phrase serves as a notable “hook” to preview and introduce a later developed concept of the superiority of the “tabernacle” in the New Covenant as opposed to the type and shadow of the tabernacle under the Old Covenant.  Nevertheless, it functions to support the staggering statement that through Christ’s sacrificial death and ascension to the Father, we now have access to the Holy of Holies and into the very presence of Almighty God.  Further, the argument from the anchor, now to the hope that enters, indicates that this is not an abstract statement but has as its object a Person that functions as the anchor and the hope that has entered behind the curtain, namely Jesus Christ.  This priestly work of Christ develops the introductory thesis given in Hebrews 1:3 and builds upon the contrast with the Levitical Priesthood in Hebrews 5:1-10 preparing us for the reintroduction of the Melchizedekian Priesthood in the chapter that follows, a type of the superior Priesthood of Christ.

Pressing deeper into the argument we see clearly in the next phrase that it is indeed Jesus Christ who has entered the inner curtain or veil, and has done so as a forerunner or trailblazer on “our behalf”.  As though the glory of this passage could not reach a higher crescendo, it is stated with clarity that this priestly work is done with a purpose and object in mind, namely on “our behalf” or for the sake of believers.  By stating that Christ has blazed this trail it necessarily implies that there will be followers.  As seen in Hebrews 4:16 and upcoming in Hebrews 7:18, 25 the pathway has been opened and cleared for those who draw near to God, not simply one time, but a continual drawing near to God.

Commenting on the use of “forerunner”, yet another nautical reference, Talbot writes,

“The Greek harbors were often cut off from the sea by sandbars, over which the larger ships dared not pass till the full tide came in. Therefore, a lighter vessel, a “forerunner,” took the anchor and dropped it in the harbor. From that moment the ship was safe from the storm, although it had to wait for the tide, before it could enter the harbor…. The entrance of the small
vessel into the harbor, the forerunner carrying the ship’s anchor, was the pledge that the ship would safely enter the harbor when the tide was full. And because Christ, our “forerunner,” has entered heaven itself, having torn asunder everything that separates the redeemed sinner from the very presence of God, He Himself is the Pledge that we, too, shall one day enter the harbor of our souls and the very presence of God, in the New Jerusalem.” [1]

Using this informative statement, perhaps the significance of Christ as our forerunner takes on a greater meaning by seeing through His work of carrying the cross-shaped anchor into the port of God’s Holy Temple He has eternally secured our safe passage into the harbor.  Brothers and sisters there can perhaps be no sweeter truth than to know that we who were once rotten sinners under the wrath of God have now obtained entrance into the Holy of Holies, access to the very presence of God Whom we are told is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29), through our forerunner Jesus Christ by means of His death, resurrection, and ascension such that we now may come freely to the throne of grace and receive mercy in our time of need.  All this we are told is our assurance and hope, grounded in the High Preistly office of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let the majesty of God’s steadfast love through what He has done in His Son on our behalf sink in for a moment and allow it to lead you into meditation and worship of the Most High God.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

[1] Louis Talbot – Studies in the
Epistle to the Hebrews (p. 23.) as cited by Phillips, Richard. The Reformed Expository Commentary. New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2006.