And inside the second veil was the place which is named the Holy of holies; Having a vessel of gold in it for burning perfumes, and the ark of the agreement, which was covered with gold and which had in it a pot made of gold for the manna, and Aaron’s rod which put out buds, and the stones with the writing of the agreement. Heb 9:3-4
As an avid reader of this blog – which I boldly assume you are – you are familiar with my view of the old testament as a collection of pictures and shadows narrating the principles of God in stories about his people, both singular and as a nation. The old testament therefore is not mainly a historic account – even though it portrays and keeps alive the history of its time. It is also a collection of wonderful stories, narrated in the elaborated mid eastern tradition of story telling. It is rich of symbols, parables, analogies, and therefore can be understood in different layers.
To be frank and upfront: this is dangerous! It is so much more save to retreat to literal meaning only, with the occasional break out into the wild – guarded safely by either common sense or bible authors. Accept as analogy what Paul points out to be one. Accept as parable what Jesus calls a parable. Otherwise, who am I to dare see more in something than what is written. Plainly. Understandably. Comprehensible and well documented.
Well, to answer your question – ok, my question: I am a son of God. The writer of the book lives in me – the Holy Spirit. I have a living relationship with his co-authors, the Father and the Son.
Let’s look at art. There are so many critics out there that explain to you what the artist was feeling, thinking, and trying to express with a certain picture – and be it only one of Mondrian’s squares. Are they right with what they say? Usually not. Unless they know the artist – what an advantage if the artist told them his thoughts and emotions.
You see, I am not have as bold when I try to find out what God apart from the obvious wanted to tell us through his word. Actually, it might be more dangerous not to talk to the creator about the allegorical, moral, and even hidden treasures found in the word. It puts limitations on our relationship, hinders me to grow into whatever God has planned for me, and might just plainly be an expression of pride – I can decipher this on my own – or lacking trust. But God promised that if we ask him for his Spirit, he will not give us anything else. If we ask, we will get answers. They might only reveal partial truths – just as you cannot explain the chemical process of lighting a fire with matches involving oxidation and more to a four year old. But if the child keeps on asking while maturing, the answers will become more detailed, accurate, to the point – as he or she is ready for it. Timing.
Why did I tell you all this? For the last almost 200 years there has been a trend to retreat to literal meaning in church. There are the outbreaks – interestingly enough we call them revivals. Just to name a few: Azusa Street, Wales, Later Rain, the Charismatic movement. Accepting the new principles, the new teachings, can I say the new truths about God always involved steps of faith. how much easier to retreat to the known, the commonly accepted interpretations of the word. Even though, interestingly enough, those interpretations were just that – interpretations. We tend to find a pattern in the argumentation that is strikingly obvious once you see it, yet we fall into the trap over and over again.
You want examples? Here we go:
A Jew came to his rabbi and asked him why Jews had to keep their heads covered. The rabbi retreated to the Talmud and went through all volumes, even through the Jerusalem Talmud. He then went right into the prophets and the historic books. Finally, in the Torah he found what he was searching for: “Look, it is written that Abraham went from Ur to the promised land. And as a good Jew, he for sure wore a hat!”
Obvious? Well, somebody asked his pastor why the Holy Spirit does not work through his gifts any longer, and the pastor told him: “It is written that prophecy and all the other gifts will cease once the perfect comes. And the perfect is the bible!”
Interpretation. Circular reasoning. Why should Abraham have worn a hat, and why should the perfect be the bible?
I wonder how often we do this today without knowing. Therefore, I keep asking.
Now, this has been a heck of an intro for what I am going to tell you next. It is by no means going to be new, but will illustrate well with what precision God has put symbols, shadows, analogies, and more into the old testament.
I love talking about the tabernacle. For me, it is a picture of the journey of a single Christian as well as the church through the ages.
Three rooms, three major stages. Actually four. (Sounds like the bible, like Proverbs: there are three things that astonish man, and four he cannot explain.)
The first stage is outside. Here we all start. And it takes a deliberate decision to enter the first room – the outer court.
In the outer court, we find natural daylight, the altar, and the laver. At the altar, the daily sacrifices were brought for delivery from sin. It symbolizes the cross, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that is enough for all times in the new covenant, and our decision to lay our lives down and accept his wonderful gift. The natural daylight reminds us that – if we are not careful and travel on – we will still look at things the natural way. The law will be very important to us, we will learn what a Christian does and what he does not do. Without the next step, we will fall into a great trap: we will judge everything by its natural, external, outward expression and appearance. But there is the laver.
It served as a kind of door opener to the next room. Priests were only allowed in the next room after washing themselves in the laver. Why should this apply to us? We are a kingly priesthood. The laver stands for baptism in the water and the Spirit. Only if we are filled with the Spirit, we can progress through the next door. Yet still, progression is another deliberate decision.
In the next room we find the lamp-stand. It is fueled by oil, a symbol for the Holy Spirit. We now start to see things in the light of the Spirit. The middle shaft of the lamp-stand stands for Jesus, while the two times three arms stand for us. Connected with Jesus. The middle shaft is where the oil was put. Only in connection with Jesus we can draw from the oil and shine our light into this world. Each shaft has three ornaments, whereas the middle shaft has four. The three times three ornaments on the left represent the gifts of the Spirit, while the nine on the right represent the fruit of the Spirit. Together with the four of the middle shaft, there are 22 ornaments – just as many as there are characters in the Hebrew alphabet. The ornaments have three elements each: an almond flower with two leaves. Makes 66 elements – as there are books in the bible.
Thus it is through Jesus and a living relationship with him that we will grow in the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit and our understanding of the word.
On the other side of the room, there is the table of showbread. Two identical stacks of bread. They stand for provision. One stands for Jesus, the other one for us. The goal – to be like him.
The problem in this room? We tend to look to the gifts and fruits much more than to the giver. And we still have this Adamic desire in us to be like him. But to be like him means to be separated from him. We can only be like something that we are not. Otherwise we would be it – or in our case, him.
There is another piece of furniture in this room: the altar of incense. It stands for our prayers, worship, and adoration. It is right before the curtain that divides the Holy place form the Holy of Holies. Interestingly enough, this altar in Hebrews is said to stand in the Holy of Holies:
And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of holies; having a golden altar of incense… Heb 9:3-4a
Whenever the high priest entered the Holy of Holies during the day of atonement, the altar was put on the inside. In the new testament, it is on the inside, because our high priest Jesus Christ has entered and never left the Holy of Holies.
Let’s take what seems to be a rabbit trail. When you have a torn curtain in your house, what do you do? You – if you are a woman – will take it down, and either sow it back together or replace it. If you are a man, you just take it down. If you are a bachelor, you just leave it. And Jesus was a bachelor, wasn’t he? Don’t take my reasoning too seriously, but I do believe that the curtain between the two rooms still hangs there – figuratively – and it is not easy to see that there is an opening to yet another room. This opening was shown to us in the latter rain revival, but it has taken a while for us to believe it is there.
What does that mean? There is more than gifts, fruit, provision, even more than to be like him. And the way there is through prayer and worship.
For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish. 2Co 2:14
The altar in front of the curtain is the door opener and even sign post to find the door leading into the next room, and once there, it meets us right again. This passage will not be possible without prayer and worship. Without a living communication with God himself. Even without sacrifice, as the altar signifies. And still, just like in the old testament, only one person will be allowed in – the high priest. Jesus Christ. He the head and we the body. Only in Christ we will come into maturity.
And finally, we find the arc of the covenant,
Made of acacia wood – a wood that does not rot and signifies man as an eternal soul – covered with gold, the heavenly, so nothing earthly can be seen any more. On top the mercy seat made out of gold, with the two angles guarding it, one at the head, one at the feet. Just like Jesus in the grave. He is the true arc of covenant. We are. He the head, and we the body. That is why the blanket for the head was neatly folded in the grave, and the one for the body was a mess. He has his act together, he has finished his work. We quite haven’t.
And in him we find three things: the stone tablets of the law, a jar of manna, and the rod of Aaron.
And now I just bid you patience. In my next blog entry I will shed some light on those.
By the way – just so you are not discouraged. It is not important, where you are on that journey. It is important that you are moving forward.
Are you moving forward?