Tag Archives: Tabernacle

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Blood of Bulls and Goats

The writer of the book of Hebrews maintains that the animal sacrifices offered in the Temple cannot grant forgiveness for the world to come or the reward of eternal life. If so, why did God command the Israelites to offer sacrifices? What were the sacrifices supposed to accomplish?

This sermon marks one year in Beth Immanuel’s study of the epistle to the Hebrews, so it features a brief review of the first eight chapters of the book.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Five: The Blood of Bulls and Goats
Originally presented on December 21, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Since Lancaster delivered this sermon on the one year anniversary of starting this series on Hebrews, he spent the first fifteen minutes giving a summary of what he’d taught over the course of the past twelve months. I wish I could have taken notes fast enough to capture the review because it would have been a nice “in-a-nutshell” presentation to offer. You’ll just have to click the link I posted above and listen for yourself.

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time.

Hebrews 9:8-9 (NASB)

According to Lancaster, most Christians take away from the above-quoted verses the idea that the only way to get into the Holy Place, that is, the life in the world to come, is for the Temple (although the NASB translates the Greek as “tabernacle”) to be destroyed. This fits pretty well with traditional Church doctrine about the Temple in Jerusalem needing to be destroyed because the bodies of Christians are now the “Temple,” but Lancaster disagrees. Within the overall context, that interpretation makes no sense.

The way he sees it, what the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews is saying is that the Tabernacle or Temple, the outer holy place simply stands as a symbol for the present age, the Old Covenant age, since the New Covenant while inaugurated, has not actually come into our world yet. You’ll have to go over what last week’s sermon said about the symbolism involved in comparing the Holy Place with the Holy of Holies, that is, the present age and the age to come (or read my review to get the gist of Lancaster’s points) in order to make sense of what’s being communicated.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation… (emph. mine)

Hebrews 9:11 (NASB)

The NASB translates the words I emphasized in the above-quoted verse fairly accurately, but the NIV says “are now already here”, and the NLT and ESV (and a number of other translations) say “that have come,” seemingly indicating that when Christ appeared, the better promises of the New Covenant age arrived in their fullness. That’s not what the Greek actually says, and both the NASB and the KJV render that phrase correctly. They haven’t arrived yet.

As I’ve said before, interpretation begins at translation, and more than a few Bible translators have read their own theology and doctrine back into the Bible rather than letting the Bible in its original languages speak to them about how that theology is supposed to look.

What I Learned

The Sacrifice - detailThis next part was news to me but it makes a great deal of sense now, especially when compared to what Lancaster has previously taught in this series of lessons. He described the following scriptures as a Kal Vachomer or lighter to heavier argument. In this argument, you say something like, “if you think version 1 was fabulous, version 2 is even better”. The first statement about version 1 (or whatever) must be true in order for the statement about version 2 to be true.

…and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 9:12-15

Christians don’t understand the meaning behind the sacrificial system initiated with the Tabernacle and continued with Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples. We’ve been taught that the Israelites had to make sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins and so they could get into Heaven when they died. Once Jesus came and made a single sacrifice on the cross once and for all, then there was no further need for the animal sacrifices or the Temple, since all we have to do is believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

But what Lancaster said next is no less than revolutionary.

The sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Temple were never designed to take away sins at all. They were designed to provide purification for an Israelite (actually, anyone since even the sacrifices of Gentiles were accepted) so that he or she could physically draw nearer to the specific, Holy precinct where the physical manifestation of the Divine Presence dwelt. The mikvah, the ashes of the Red Heifer and so on, were to provide the body of a person with ritual purification so that their physical, material self could enter a physical structure considered Holy ground because it contained the manifestation of the Divine Presence of the Almighty. This is an effect of the Sinai (Old) Covenant.

Compare and contrast that to the sacrifice of Yeshua (Jesus) who made total atonement for the sins of all humanity by bringing his blood, not to the Holy of Holies in the Earthly Temple, but to the Heavenly Holy of Holies, so our sins really could be permanently forgiven and that our spiritual selves could approach God in a realm outside the physical universe, and we can serve Him. This is an effect of the New Covenant.

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him.

Revelation 22:3

These two systems, two structures, two forms of sacrifice were made to operate like two sides of a coin, not for the latter to wholly replace the former, at least not until the end of the Messianic Era which will see us pass on through eternity when we’ll no longer need a Temple:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

Revelation 21:22-24

But none of that will happen while the current Heaven and Earth exist, which they will throughout the present age and the age of the Messiah.

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (emph. mine)

Hebrews 9:13-14

PriestsYou can see the lighter and heavier ends of the argument on either side of the text I emphasized above. If the blood of goats and bulls and ashes of a heifer can purify your bodies to come within proximity of the physical manifestation of the Divine Presence in our material world, how much more will the blood of Messiah purify your eternal Spirit to cleanse you of dead works (that is, sin) so that you can serve the living God. Purifying your body vs. purifying your spirit. The Earthly sacrifices did one and the one Heavenly sacrifice did the other. The blood of Jesus didn’t replace the blood of animals. To believe it did would be like comparing proverbial apples and oranges.

Wow.

What comes next is the letter writer’s conclusion of the current argument:

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 9:15

So all that was written before is the reason why Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, because as you may recall, the New Covenant is all about replacing our stony hearts with hearts of flesh, and giving us a new Spirit, writing the Torah of God on our hearts, permanently atoning for all sins, and allowing us to know God in an unparalleled manner greater than the greatest prophets of old.

We committed sins that were defined and identified by the Sinai covenant and that covenant condemns unrepented sin. We will die if our sins are not atoned for because the wages of sin is death. But the New Covenant offers something the Old did not, a way to permanently atone for and be forgiven of all sins, so where the Old Covenant condemns, the New Covenant, which is already beginning to enter our world, sets free. They work together in the present age. We have access to this forgiveness through our faith in the work of the Messiah. This is how we receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

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Where Do We Encounter God?

They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.

Exodus 25:8

The Midrash notes that God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them” (the Israelites), i.e. the Divine Presence will be within each person.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day,” Tammuz 26
Aish.com

That sounds incredibly like this:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

Well, maybe not exactly. Actually, the “Pentecost event” sounds more like this:

The Lord descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was on him and bestowed it on the seventy elders. And when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not continue.

Numbers 11:25 (Chabad Torah Commentary)

So we have two examples from the Bible, Numbers 11:25 and Acts 2:1-4, where we witness the Holy Spirit of God being imparted to groups of devout Jews and whereupon they prophesy. Then we have a Midrash on a portion of the Torah that says it was God’s intent to dwell among Israel by dwelling within each individual Israelite, rather than in (or in addition to) the Sanctuary itself.

When the Midrash states God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them”, it seems more like clever word play than an obvious interpretation leading to the aforementioned conclusion.

Still, it’s a compelling thought, since it summons images of God desiring, even as He commands the Mishkan to be built, to dwell within the devout of His people.

But dwelling among His people can also be compared to this:

They heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day; and the man and his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-9 (JPS Tanakh)

Here too we see God “dwelling” among His people in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) but we don’t see the Divine Presence dwelling within Adam and Havah (Eve). Can we say that the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel with the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) as the focus of His presence in the same manner as He dwelt (or at least visited) the Garden?

After all, the Midrash presented by Rabbi Twerski isn’t the only one referencing Exodus 25:8:

And they shall make Me a sanctuary: And they shall make in My name a house of sanctity.

Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 25:8

Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin
Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin

Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, wrote a commentary on Exodus 25:8 in 2003 called Why Do We Need Synagogues in which he offered numerous Midrashim on this particular verse.

Of all of the Midrashim proffered, he believes this one best defines the reason for the commandment to build the Mishkan:

This whole matter of the Menorah, the Table, the Altar, the boards, the Tent, the curtains, and the utensils – what is it for? Said Israel before the Holy One Blessed be He: Lord of the Universe, the kings of the nations have a tent and a table and a menorah and incense and these are the trappings of kingship, for every king needs this. You are our king, our redeemer, our savior – shouldn’t you have the trappings of kingship until all people know that you are the king? God said to them: My children, flesh and blood need all that, but I do not, because I don’t eat or drink and I don’t need light… [Finally God relented:] If so, do what you want, but do it as I instruct you: As it is written: “And let them make me a sanctuary… make the menorah… make the table… make the altar…” (Midrash Aggadah to Parashat Terumah, p. 170).

The Jewish people built the mishkan and later the mikdash and later the synagogue because they – like all human beings – had a need for a physical place in which to worship God.

We are physical beings designed to live in the material world. God is Spirit and exists outside of Creation and indeed, there is no place where God does not and cannot exist. We are limited and He is limitless. So if He desires to dwell among us, where do we meet? We cannot go to His realm for how does a finite human visit infinity? He must somehow “reduce” Himself and come to us where we live. It was for us that all of Creation was made.

And who knows what aspect of the Almighty was “moving about in the garden” on that breezy day?

But R. Golinkin also quoted his father Rabbi Noah Golinkin from the senior R. Golinkin’s booklet Say Something New Each Day (1973, p. 18):

God, where are You?
Where do I find You?
You do not live here.
You have no address.
The Universe is filled with Your glory.
You live in every mountain
and in every valley
and on the busy turnpike outside.
You live in the beautiful riot of many colors
of the Indian summer;
and You live in my soul.

“You live in my soul.” But there’s more:

And yet
I have built for You a special building,
Beautiful, dignified, majestic,
Intimate, warm and friendly.
For whom did I build it?
For You and me.
For our conversations together.
For Your glory, O God,
And for my humble need.
I should be talking to You –
When I see You in the beautiful sunrise,
When I see You in the innocent smile of a child
When I see You in the kind deed of a man.

Inner lightIt seems there doesn’t have to be an inconsistency between God dwelling among us and God dwelling within our souls. He speaks to us from within ourselves but also meets with us in Holy places of worship.

I should say that, particularly in Judaism, personal worship and study is conducted in the home and the synagogue is reserved for communal worship and study. Jews pray individually but to join a minyan, must go to the synagogue.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…

Genesis 2:18 (NASB)

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!

Psalm 133:1 (NASB)

In the Garden, in the Mishkan, in the Temple, in the Synagogue, and dare I say it, in the Church, people were not meant to encounter God as individuals, because we can do that anywhere, including within our souls. God commanded the Mishkan to be built so that the community, the nation of Israel could gather and dwell with God.

The indwelling of the Spirit is inexorably coupled with the New Covenant:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

“Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the Lord your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame.
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Joel 2:27-29 (NASB)

In Gan Eden, human beings had an unparalleled intimacy with God which they took for granted because they had never known separation from God. It was only after the first act of disobedience that they truly understood was it was to be separated from God, the anguish, and agony of having known God and then becoming alienated from Him. How like our Master when he took upon himself the sins of humanity, thus for the first time also becoming separate from the Father:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”

Matthew 27:46 (NASB)

exileHumanity has been separated from God for virtually all of human history. And yet not only has God desired to once again dwell with us, but as the Midrash testifies, we have yearned to dwell with Him. But once broken, shattered, torn asunder, intimacy with God is not so easily recovered. We see a series of steps, from the Mishkan, to the Temple, to the Master (John 1:14) and the Master’s Good News that the New Covenant was (is) near, to the giving of the Spirit to the Jews (Acts 2) and the Gentiles (Acts 10).

But the best is yet to come.

While most Christians don’t give much serious thought to Midrash, it’s a reminder that the desire for intimacy with God is much older than the Church and that the people who authored the Bible also witnessed the Divine Presence descending upon a structure that man built at the command of God.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Exodus 40:34-38 (NASB)

The Divine Presence of God descended upon the Tabernacle but God also dwelt within the souls of each individual Jew. Messiah will someday come to rebuild the Temple, but Paul also called our bodies Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We don’t have to conclude that an infinite God can only reside within one domicile within our world, for nothing is impossible with God.

But if not for human frailty and folly, where would God be to be among us?

The purpose of the tabernacle and the subsequent Temples was “they shall make me a sanctuary that I may dwell amongst them” (Exodus 25:8).

The great kabbalist Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz (1560-1630), author of the monumental work the Sheloh, writes that since the verse employs the plural “them” rather than the singular, the Torah must be referring not to the sanctuary but to the people themselves.

According to this mystical interpretation, God’s commandment was never for a home of gold, silver and marble. Rather, God’s desire is that we create a space in our hearts and souls for him to abide in. Our very beings should function as portable temples that elevate our lives to be sanctified wherever we are.

-Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi
“Torah: Why do we pursue justice? The answer lies inside all of us” – March 7, 2013
JWeekly.com

R. Twersky concludes his commentary on a similar note:

If my relationship to God is limited to going to the Sanctuary and praying for my needs, then I am merely using Him, and God becomes an external object. But when I make His will mine, then His will resides within me and He becomes part of me. This is undoubtedly what the Zohar means by, “Israel, the Torah, and God are one unit,” because the Torah, which is the Divine will, is inseparable from God, and when one incorporates the Torah with one’s own code of conduct and values, one unites with God.

PrayingWe meet God in multiple venues in the present world, within our churches and synagogues, but also within ourselves. But even as God resides within our souls and as His Spirit infuses our flesh, the union is still incomplete. The word is not yet written upon circumcised hearts. The Messiah has not yet brought that to us.

So we yearn. Our souls groan for what they don’t know but have once known in antediluvian ages past. May the Spirit of God quicken within us and may Messiah come soon and in our days.

Amen.

Soul on the Altar

Meal offeringWhen a person presents an offering of meal to the Lord, his offering shall be of choice flour; he shall pour oil upon it, lay frankincense on itLeviticus 2:1 (JPS Tanakh)

The word “soul” is not used in reference to any voluntary offerings except for the meal-offering. Yet, here, the verse (Vayikra 2:1) begins, “And when a soul will bring a meal-offering…” Whose practice is it to dedicate a meal-offering? It is the poor person. The Holy One, blessed is He, said: “Although the poor man’s offering is modest, I consider it as if he offered his soul.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“The precious offering of the poor”
Menachos 104

Who are you? What do you have to offer God? What is your worth to other human beings? Why does what you do matter?

We tend to judge ourselves in comparison to others. When we see that our accomplishments are better or more abundant than someone else’s we feel better about who we are. When another person has more money, more prestige, lives a more righteous life than we do, we tend to feel bad about ourselves.

That’s not a universal response among people, but it’s common and all too human. Yet, we’re not the same. How are we to understand this? Continuing the “Gemara Gem” commentary, we discover:

Two students sat in the same class. They heard the same lectures from their rebbe, and they each tried to record notes to summarize the lessons. After a week, the rebbe announced that an exam on the material would be given.

One student, who was quite bright, relied upon his memory and he exerted minimal effort in studying, but he managed to score a relatively high grade. The other student had a weaker ability. Despite great efforts in preparing, he scored quite low.

Surprisingly, the rebbe called the stronger student to his classroom after grading the tests, and he rebuked him. The rebbe expressed his disappointment in the score that he had earned, even though it was a relatively high grade, and he pointed out how that with a consistent effort, the student was certainly capable of achieving much more. The boy defended himself and pointed out that the weaker boy had scored even lower. The rebbe refused to accept his excuses, and he demanded that the strong student produce an effort commensurate with his abilities.

It is obvious that the excuse of the more capable student was without merit. It is clear that each person has his own talents and abilities, and, at least in spiritual matters, every individual must work and produce to meet his own potential. Some people are blessed with greater intellect, while others are emotionally charged and motivated to action. Every person is expected to achieve the maximum that he is capable of attaining.

We see that we don’t all come equipped with the same passions and identical skills, yet we’re expected to utilize what we have been given to the best of our efforts. This works well for the rich and the richly gifted if they apply themselves, but the poor cannot offer Rising Incensethe same abundance to other people and to God as the rich. How can a poor man dare to hold a banquet for a King? How can a person deep in sin ever hope to entertain the Righteous One?

The Ben Ish Chai, zt”l, explains…”A certain great king visited a large city in his kingdom. In the city were many noblemen and wealthy people, all of whom hoped to host the king for his first meal in their city. Obviously such wealthy people offered to prepare a banquet that would literally be fit for a king. But the king wished to go to his friend who was a poor shepherd and could never afford a repast approaching what is fitting for the king. If the king refuses the noblemen and wealthy to go to his poor friend, they can protest that eating such simple food is not honorable for the king.

“When it comes time for a meal and the greatest citizens are vying for his company – each with a feast prepared in case the king acquiesces to him – the king explains that he cannot eat any heavy food at all. ‘I am not feeling so well and must have a repast composed solely of light foods. I need sheep’s milk, yogurt, light cheese, butter and similar fare. Since the place where I will find these foods freshest is at a shepherd’s abode, I will take my meal with my poor friend.’”

Daf Digest Yomi
Stories off the Daf
“The King’s Special Meal”
Menachos 104

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” –Mark 2:13-17

Rich man or poor, righteous tzadik or a person heavy with sin, we each are not called to offer God everything in the world but only our very best, even though our best may be the meal offering of the poor. While you may envy what the rich and the righteous can offer God in their abundance, out of the depths of despair and poverty, what you offer, though it seems small, is the most splendorous gift of all…your very soul on the altar of God.

May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. –Psalm 141:2