Bible Think Tank

This site is designed to help you interact with others about God's Word. I further some thoughts we developed during morning and evening gatherings at church. I have my NT translations from the original Greek to English. Also, I have book reviews and other current events.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Careful Approach: a MetaNarrative Theme of the Old Testament


I'm still decompressing from the busy Easter Season. We had intense set of seven services between Thursday (the night of Passover when Jesus was betrayed and arrested) and Easter Sunday (when Jesus rose from the dead). This post is some gleanings from the season as we compare and contrast the Old System with our New Covenant.

My Theory

In the Old Testament, God's people were initially free to approach God how they thought best but as they began to enter in careless, prideful ways, God gradually restricted the method by which they could enter into worshipful relationship. By contrast, in the New Testament, we can enter boldly before the throne of grace within the heavenly realm of God's presence. That our sin, although we need to existentially conquer it, no longer precludes us from intimate fellowship with God because Jesus has claimed entire victory over sin and death.

What in the OT Has Driven Me to This?

There are two Old Testament instances where we see God limiting free worship of Him. The people previously had freedom to worship how they thought best, but through sin God limited it.

Passover: Pre-Exodus to Post-Kadesh

The first instance that came to my mind during the Easter season, came during our observance of Jesus' Last Supper on Thursday night. Today, Jews do not eat lamb during Passover as Jesus did on the night He was betrayed. Why not? In Deuteronomy 16:5-6 Moses writes God's new way of doing Passover:
"You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the LORD your God is giving you; but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt."

Whereas the previous incarnation of Passover (the original one in Egypt), Moses had instructed the people to kill the lamb themselves for their household (Exodus 12:21), now they had to go to the professional religious leaders in the capital and have it done for them rather than do it themselves. What happened between the exodus in Exodus 13 and the commands of Deuteronomy 16? Lots... the golden calf, the rebellion at Kadesh Barnea, the constant idolatry, the pinnacle of idolatry at Baal Peor. Within these forty years of wandering, the people proved incapable of approaching God righteously. As David wrote 500 years later, "who may ascend Your holy hill? He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3-4). They lost their freedom for using it to sin rather than to serve God and others. Certainly there are parallels for us. Paul writes "do not use your liberty as a license to sin, but rather to serve one another" (Gal 5:13).

Day of Atonement: God Limits the Approach

The other instance I see in the OT of this process is within the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is a solemn day within the Jewish faith during the season of Fall. In 2008, it is October 21-22. So it has little to do with Easter. Jesus was crucified during the Passover Feast in Spring. But often, Christians associate the two events because of theological (not chronological) connections. The Day of Atonement is the one day in which the Jewish high priest can enter the Holy of Holies within the Temple and make intercession for the people. The Christian book of Hebrews connects this "once a year" principle with the once for all time sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The author (I think Paul, but the book never says) tells us that Jesus through His sacrifice entered the real Temple of God in heaven not the shadowly, earthly temple of the Jews which is a representation of the real temple of God in heaven. So there really is a theological connection between Jesus death on the cross and the Day of Atonement... read Hebrews. Anyway, I realized listening to a sermon by Pastor Mark Driscoll that the Day of Atonement regulations were instituted in reaction to (or at least connection with) the "strange fire" offered by Nadab and Abihu in the Holy of Holies. Their sinful worship was in Leviticus 10 and Yom Kippur regulations begin in Leviticus 16. But listen to 16:1-2
"Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the LORD and died. The LORD said to Moses: 'Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.'"
So Day of Atonement is theologically a result of the sin of offering "strange fire." Haphazard worship was the reason for detailed regulations. Indeed as the author of Hebrews says "it is a frightful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (10:31). But the regulation came as a result of the sin. One might say "perhaps God orchestrated the narrative events to unfold as they did because He desired to institute the regulative principle of Jewish worship." And I would certainly agree... God does not react to our decisions, instead He has foreordained to great sweeping and the small, seemingly inconsequential events of human history to the praise of His glory. But while we say this, we need to observe quickly that while in the OT, the letter of the Law limited man in his sin to enter God's presence, conversely in the NT, the wonderful grace of Jesus liberates men freed from the consequences and guilt of sin (which they are still wrestling against) to enter boldly to worship a holy God.


We see in this comparison the multifaceted and grandiose glory of our God, a confusing, all-wise Person of love and justice. A God who reveals Himself with this enigma throughout the OT:
"The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation" (Ex 34:6-7).

Forgiving, yet by no means clearing the guilty. In justice, keeping the faithful from access due to their faults. In grace, welcoming rebels into total access by declaring them righteous. What grace! What a change! Just as Paul declares to the Ephesians "how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ!" (Eph 3:18)

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