The Promise in the Tomb

In Genesis 23, Abraham’s wife Sarah dies. Probably the most important aspect of this event to biblical history is that it leads to Abraham’s first legal claim to the promised land. In seeking a tomb for Sarah, Abraham spoke to the local Hittites and asked to buy some land. Both these first Hittites and Ephron, with whom Abraham ends up doing business, try to get Abraham to take a tomb, apparently at no charge. This Abraham refuses, and for good reason. If he received the land for free, his claim on it might later be questionable. By burying Sarah on Hittite soil, Abraham would be taking a firstfruit, a partial realization of the inheritance God had promised him. But this would be an unstable claim if no official transaction took place. Thus Abaraham insisted on paying for the land, and in the end he paid a high price.

So it came to pass that Abraham’s first property in Canaan was a plot with a tomb. God began to fulfill His covenant with Abraham by means of a tomb. The typological significance should be obvious when put this way. The tomb is the beginning of the new creation. The project which began with a tomb from Ephron the Hittite for Sarah come to fruition in a tomb from Joseph of Arimathea for Jesus. New life begins where old life ends. As the author of Hebrews explained, no testament can take effect without a death.

Interestingly enough, this tomb, which eventually contained Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph at the least, was at Hebron. Hebron would later be completely under Canaanite control until Caleb took over during the conquest of Joshua. In time it would become King David’s initial capital, prior to him taking Jerusalem. So again for David Hebron was the site of a firstfruit, the guarantee of covenant fulfillment.

Taking these together, we find a connection between tomb and promise, death and resurrection. Bodies went in the tomb in anticipation that God would fulfill His promises and bring about greater glory. The tomb was the pledge of the ultimate blessing of Abraham, which would come through Abraham’s true Seed, Jesus Christ, who was laid in a tomb and was raised three days later. With this resurrection, an exit from the tomb, the promises made to Abraham came to a new stage of fulfillment. So the tomb is almost a storage unit or waiting area. Abraham and Sarah will be (or have been?) raised just as Christ was raised.

This connects to us as well. We enter the tomb through baptism as we are buried with Christ, and when we exit the water we anticipate that God will fulfill His promises, bring all things to completion, and raise us from the dead. But we are not actually raised yet, and so we live our lives in the tomb as a waiting area, with the Holy Spirit given as a pledge of the new life to come.

Son of David, King of Justice

I preached yet again last night, and this is my manuscript. Due to the context, I ended up significantly compressing this sermon. What you’re reading here is much longer than what I actually preached.

I thought that, before I begin tonight, I should tell you all a little bit about myself, but not too much, because I’m just a nerdy theology student and my goal tonight is to speak about the God of Jesus Christ. But it doesn’t hurt to know a little about a messenger before you hear his message. As they said, my name is Caleb Smith. I’m 21, married to a very lovely wife over there, have one crazy kid outside the womb and one kid still inside. I go to the Baptist College of Florida like a lot of the other people at Grace Fellowship, and I’m working on a degree in Ministry Studies. I hope, by God’s will, to be able to do mission work for some time after graduation, and then maybe to pastor somewhere and even perhaps pursue further education. But who knows what will actually happen? God rarely works in expected ways.

Anyway, Grace has been a kind enough place to let me do some preaching, and I actually just preached there last night. I only learned I would be preaching here about two weeks ago, so I was originally going to simply preach the same sermon with some modifications. But in truth it didn’t seem like the right one. I felt God leading me elsewhere. What I eventually came to was Isaiah 11:1-10. It seems to speak relevantly to the concerns which had been building up in my heart in relation to preaching here tonight, so I dug in and found the gold of God’s promise. So, without any further ado, I’ll get into the text.

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay.
He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
He will wear righteousness like a belt and truth like an undergarment.
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow.
The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.
In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.

This is an amazing passage in my opinion, but to understand it we need to go back a bit into its context in Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who was called by God to prophesy to Israel around the time that they would go into Exile, the ultimate punishment God had promised Israel in the Torah, the law given to Moses. His first job was to call Israel out for their sins and tell them to repent, to stop sinning and turn back to God, in order to avoid being judged and exiled.

But what was Israel doing wrong? Why did they deserve to be judged like this? The very first chapter of Isaiah gives God’s case against them. You guys don’t have to turn there if you don’t want to, but I’m not going to read it all, I’m just going to mention some highlights. Isaiah 1 shows us that Israel had gotten messed up. According to verse 17, the orphans, the widows, all of the people who were able to do the least for themselves were being oppressed and taken advantage of. This would be hard enough in our day, but in theirs especially widows and orphans had an awful time of it. In verse 21 God says that what used to be a faithful people had become full of murderers. Violence and killings were everywhere. We know what that’s like today, though it does seem like it was even worse there.

And this corruption filled Israel everywhere. Verse 23 adds that their political leaders, their judges, and their priests were all corrupt. They were more interested in money and power than justice. They took bribes to hurt the innocent and protect the guilty. They got rich for themselves at the expense of everyone else. The leaders hoarded gold, and they stacked up on military power even, according to Isa. 2:7, but the average people and the poor didn’t benefit from it at all. They got nothing, and the leaders got everything.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, 2:8 adds that the people were all idolaters. They all worshipped other gods instead of pledging their allegiance to the true God alone, who had taken them out of Egypt and made them into a nation. They worshipped these gods because all of the false gods represented things like fertility, or power, or wealth, and they craved these things more than they wanted to be faithful to their Redeemer.

So, because of all of this evil, God was getting ready to judge Israel. Right before our text, in Isaiah 10, God says that this will be done through Assyria. Throughout the Old Testament we see God judging through human nations, kind of like they are wild dogs He keeps on a leash until they are needed. Israel needed to be roughed up at this point for their disobedience, so God let the Assyrians conquer them.

But the other problem is that Assyria was just as evil, if not worse, than Israel. In Isaiah 10:16-17, God says:

Therefore, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will send a plague among Assyria’s proud troops, and a flaming fire will consume its glory. The Lord, the Light of Israel, will be a fire; the Holy One will be a flame. He will devour the thorns and briers with fire, burning up the enemy in a single night.

Assyria had to be judged, too. And once they are judged, God will be ready to restore Israel. He made a promise to Abraham to bless His descendants, and that means He will be faithful and restore Israel. He made a promise to David to put his sons on the throne, and that means Israel will have a throne. That is where our text, Isaiah 11, comes in. God revealed to Isaiah that one da, a “Branch” will come from the old root and stump of David’s family. A new king is coming.

God also promised to fill this king with His Spirit. God’s Spirit, throughout Israel’s history, was given to prophets and kings and leaders to accomplish important tasks for God’s plan. And unlike any of these people before, God says that this His Spirit will “rest on” this king. The Spirit will stay on Him, not just temporarily like everyone before. This Spirit, God’s Spirit, is the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of God. This means the king will be totally wise, he will understand what he needs to understand, he will learn from God how to rule rightly, he will be strong enough to work everything out, he will know what is going on, and he will always submit to God.

All of these great traits, all of this strength and brilliance, will be how God brings justice back to the land. He won’t “judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay.” Now, I don’t know how the justice system actually looked like in ancient Israel, but today that would mean he would be fair, he wouldn’t give in to polarized partisanship, and he wouldn’t let dumb posts on Facebook, trending tweets, bribery, or biased news sources distort his judgment. He will be totally fair and just and right.
Verse 4 tells us that this king will use these qualities to fix the rigged and broken systems. He will give justice to the poor, and he will make fair decisions in his court cases. Under this king’s rule, the innocent won’t be unfairly convicted, and the guilty won’t get away with their crimes. He will take the corrupt and unjust people down from their positions with his power. As the verse says, “one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.”

And he’ll do more than that. He’ll make Israel safe again. Israel had been living in a really dangerous situation. There were murderers within and armies without. But this prophecy talks about a totally different kind of world. Under this new king, Israel will be safe again, so ridiculously safe that even carnivorous animals will be friendly. Verses 7 and 8 say that wolves and lambs and leopards and goats will be friends. Little kids will be able to run around with them, and babies will be able to play in snakeholes. These aren’t supposed to be saying, necessarily, that the king will literally domesticate every dangerous animal. The point is to paint a picture of perfect peace, just as verse 9 says, “Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” Through his promised king, God will bring safety and security to Israel, ending the murders and the constant threat of foreign enemies.

In fact, the threat of foreign enemies brings us to the rest of verses 9-10, in which we find out that this king will change the whole world, not just Israel. It says that the world will be filled with people who know the Lord as much as water fills the seas. The king will be a “banner of salvation to all the world.” Apparently everyone from every nation will be blessed through the king who blesses Israel. Israel will be on top of the world, the king will be on top of Israel, God will be above this king, and everyone else will benefit from it. Israel, and through Israel the world, will be safe, just, and even great again.

So, with everything we’ve seen about the coming king, we’re forced to ask: who is this king and did he ever come? How did God fulfill this promise? Well, for Christians the answer is no surprise. We jump to Matthew 1:1 and find out straightaway that this king is Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah. In fact, the word Christ, which actually means Messiah, literally means “anointed,” and it refers to the anointing with oil that a king would receive. Jesus is the anointed King, anointed by the Spirit of God mentioned before at His baptism, where the Gospels say that the Spirit descended like a dove and remained on Him, just like the verse in Isaiah said.

Jesus fulfills even more of this passage. By the Spirit He was Himself filled with wisdom, and power, and knowledge, and the fear of God. He was always righteous and just. He obeyed God all the way through, even to the point of death. His whole life proved that He was filled with the same Spirit and character that Isaiah prophesied.

He also fulfilled the promises for justice for the poor and oppressed. In Israel, He healed and forgave the least of these, the poor and the marginalized and exploited. He let them back into the Temple by cleansing them from being unclean both inside and out. He gave to those in need, and He helped people who were down on their luck or otherwise messed up, whether it was their fault or not, and got them back on their feet. Actually, it might be better to say He didn’t just get them back on their feet, but He gave them new feet altogether that they could use to live new, redeemed lives. He did this all while challenging and condemning the people in charge of rigged and broken systems and institutions, like the crooked King Herod, the elite Jewish establishment, and even the Roman Emporer in a few ways. He turned the world on its head, putting the last first and the first last, because they already had things in a crooked balance.

In fact, Jesus made this theme major to His ministry. He applied another, closely related prophecy in Isaiah to Himself in Luke 4:18-19. It says:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

But there is a legitimate question in how Jesus fulfilled some of this. After all, Israel doesn’t look like this prophecy says today. They’re not safe, and there’s still injustice, even terrorism. So what did Jesus do?

The key lies in the last bit, that the King will affect all the nations of the world. See, as we see in Ephesians 2:11-15, Israel was recreated around Jesus. Israel in its new, born again form is no longer a nation limited to a certain people or area, with Jews and Gentiles united across the world. Gentiles were once outside the covenant, but now in Christ one new people has been made. He does not rule merely a nation, but all nations. This fulfills Isaiah 11:10’s promise that the King would be a banner for the whole world.

So for this new kind of Israel, Jesus was resurrected from the dead and exalted as the Lord not just of one strip of land in the Middle East, or for one race out of all races, but of the whole world. Philippians 2:9-11 says:

God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This means that Jesus’ kingdom is universal now, so we don’t look to the state of one nation or people to see this prophecy fulfilled. But either way, now it seems worse. The whole world certainly isn’t just and safe, is it? We have poverty. We have injustice. Bad guys still win and good guys still lose. Corrupt systems still exist. The reason for this is that Jesus has temporarily left the earth, putting that mission on pause. He ascended into heaven to give us time. What do we need time for? 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that the reason for this delay is so that people have time to repent. Jesus wants to allow time for millions, maybe billions, of people to hear of His rule and submit to Him. It is not until He returns that He will finish the mission. At that time, as Revelation 21:5 says, He will make everything new.

And this is no empty promise. Jesus’ gave us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, and in fact His own human nature is a guarantee that He will come back to us. And when He does, He will take down all the wicked and unjust people, systems, governments, institutions, and powers. He will stop rigging and institute real, actual justice forever. The corrupt and wicked people who take advantage of others and make the world unjust and rigged will be overthrown, and those who march in behind Christ under His Lordship will inherit the world promised in Isaiah 11, where there is nothing but peace, justice, and unlimited life.

This is wonderful hope, the real hope of the world. Our hope is in the return of Jesus Christ, and there is no other hope for the world at all. And we need this hope, because our world is as broken as Israel was in its day. I know you’ve all seen the news lately. We have shootings and murders, people being killed left and right. We face threats from the outside, too, from foreign enemies. People just don’t feel safe anymore, regardless of their job, race, gender, or religion.

The same goes with the injustice problem. Our systems and institutions are messed up. They all seem rigged for rich and powerful elites instead of everyone else. Justice looks like a joke. Too many criminals get away with their crimes, or get off easy, while innocent people lose out. Everything is out of whack. Just like Israel, our leaders have loads of money and power but somehow none of this helps most people.

So we need this hope from Jesus. He is coming back to undo all of this. He will save us from the mess the world is in and recreate it in line with His own will, in the pattern of His own victorious resurrection. In fact, He has already overthrown all of these powers and problems. He defeated the death which haunts us on our newsfeeds and TVs. Because of His resurrection there will be another resurrection which overturns death around the world. He defeated the corrupt and rigged systems and powers, because those kinds of people condemned Him to death but He rose from the dead in defiance of their unjust ruling. They’ve been thrown down and mean nothing. The powers we see today are already disarmed and are guaranteed to be overthrown when Jesus returns to claim His Lordship. We wait for this day. We have hope that Jesus will return to make all things new, to make the world safe and great and just again for people of all stripes and classes. This is the only hope to live again.

But all of this isn’t to say that there is nothing for us in the present. Jesus hasn’t simply left us to nothing in the meantime while we wait for His final victory. Instead, Jesus has called forth His Church to live as a people of the age to come who still live in this present age. We who believe in Jesus and have been baptized into His Church, we are called to bring the future He has created into the present. We must model His justice and protection in our own communities.

This means we must be a haven for people who have been treated wrongly. If someone has been a victim of a rigged system or an unjust decision, we may or may not be able to fix it, but we can welcome them into a world where all people are treated rightly with the justice of Christ. The world may not be fair, but we should do all we can to make our churches places where there is true fairness.

We also must provide a haven for those who feel unsafe. In our churches, people should be free from every threat of violence or abuse, whether physical, mental, or emotional. We must instead show the kind of protecting, self-giving love that Jesus showed in laying down His life for us.

And we must be charitable. If Jesus promised justice for the poor, then we are called to do everything we can to compensate for the imbalance in an unjust society and share what we have with those who need more. Not only this, but we must help people to learn to earn an honest living for themselves, so that they don’t have to rely on the chance kindness of strangers to make it by anymore. After all, a just system isn’t just one where everyone gets enough, but where everyone gets enough and fulfills their own responsibilities.

But more than this, the Church is also given the task of proclamation. We are required to speak God’s truth and God’s judgments to the world and all of its broken systems, just like John the Baptist preached against King Herod’s wickedness. The world in all of its injustice and violence is under the judgment of God, and it is our job to tell them and to beg them to change their ways. Jesus is the true Lord, who rules over everything. He will come back to judge every nation and leader.

This means the Church ought to call the world to account for its injustice and tell them about the right way to run things. We have to tell them about how to do justice, how to promote peace, and how to best treat all of the people in the world. We may not change much, though by God’s grace we pray that we do, but we will do all that God calls us to and all that He helps us to so that the world can experience even now a taste of the great world that Jesus is going to bring about when He returns as our Lord and King.

Right now, then, it comes down to this. God has sent us a king to make the world brand new again, and His name is Jesus. He will come back, but for now we must love each other, do justice, have mercy, and walk humbly with our God, who rules the world in and as Jesus Christ. He will set all things right, and we are here now to make what we can right in honor, hope, faith, and anticipation of that day.

Whose Glory? On the Transfiguration

Alastair Roberts, a favorite blogger of mine, has just finished a 10-part series on the Transfiguration. It’s really interesting, and I highly recommend it for any of you who can fathom 10 blog posts covering just the Transfiguration. Reading this series has given me two thoughts I feel are worth sharing, one more directly from the series and less directly.

The first point of note is the dramatic role of the Transfiguration in the history of Israel and their God. From time to time in Israel’s history, God was seen, but never fully. Moses saw God’s back, the 70 elders saw His feet, Isaiah saw His robe and throne, but His face was not ever mentioned or described. It is something like in a TV show where you never see an important background character, only having name-drops, instructions, references, and maybe even an occasional glimpse of part of their body. Yahweh’s face remained a mystery, one too glorious for human viewing.

Yet there are references linking the Transfiguration to these events, and it is portrayed as essentially the same thing: a theophany. In the Transfiguration, the glory of God is revealed on a mountain like so many times before. But this time that glory shines from a face. The face hidden throughout the Old Testament is revealed, and it is no other face than that of Jesus Christ. Yahweh is no other God than the God whose fullness dwells bodily in Christ, of whose glory the Son is the radiance and exact expression. The face of the main character of the Old Testament finally comes into view, and it was Jesus all along. Now we know who God really is: whoever has seen Jesus has seen Him.

The other interesting point that I drew from Alastair’s posts is this glory is to become our glory. The glory which Jesus bears by nature as the Son of God, we will one day share by grace as sons of God. See, the glory which was revealed in the Transfiguration has been alternately viewed by some either as a divine glory (which Alastair focuses on) or as a prefigured resurrection glory. But there is no need to separate these. The glory of Jesus, of the one who is both God and man, is the glory of God in a human “shape.” Before Jesus rose, this glory remained veiled, with a single peek coming through in the Transfiguration. When He did rise, He was exalted and could be fully and simply an example of a glorious human filled with the life and glory of God.

We are also united to Christ, though. We share in His death and His resurrection, and one day will experience that fullness when our bodies are brought to new life. At that point, when Christ returns, John tells us, “what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2), Paul notes that we are “looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18), and Peter says that we will “share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our resurrection, an event in theology often called “glorification,” is the time that we will share the glory of Christ, who is the glory of God. The Transfiguration glory is our destiny. We will be truly and fully humans in the image and likeness of the Triune God. Or, as Irenaeus put it, “the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ…did…become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”1

With all of this in mind, let us read the Transfiguration account and be moved to worship. Jesus is the God who has been working in salvation history from Abraham to Malachi and beyond, and He is so gracious as to unite us with Himself and raise us to His very own glory. Amen!

Aaron Adorned by Christ: The Meaning of the Priestly Vestments

[This is my term paper for my Old Testament Backgrounds. Enjoy.]

Introduction

If a hundred people had to describe the text of Exodus 28, which covers the garments of the Aaronic priesthood, in a single word, “boring” would probably win a majority, or at least a strong plurality, of the votes. This is probably true even in many Christian circles. Yet this result would be the greatest shame, for “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,”1 including the entirety of the Torah. Exodus 28 and the instructions therein for priestly vestment is actually breathed-out by God not only for a people thousands of years ago, but also for His people today. This old text to an old people is able to still be relevant today because, like all of Scripture,2 it was from the beginning inspired to point towards Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This paper will examine what the priestly garments both in their parts and as a whole represented in their original contexts and how this meaning finds consummation in the person and work of Jesus. To set the stage for the details of this examination will require looking first broadly at the meaning and purpose of the garments as a whole.

The Nature and Meaning of Priestly Adornment

While there would be little difficulty in taking the unique priestly vestments for granted, they actually pose many interesting questions. What is their purpose? Perhaps the best category for understanding their use is that of the priests as mediators. As mediators, the priesthood stood in a unique position in relation to God and His people. Gordon J. Wenham puts the point this way: “As mediators priests had a dual role: they represented God to Israel and they represented Israel before God.”3 This, he goes on to explain, is a key reason why God ordained such particular clothing for them, for “Their godly authority was expressed by their splendid robes, which evoked the majesty of God himself.”4 In fact, there are two sides for this. One the one hand, the glory of their vestments displayed before the people a representation of the glory of the God for whom they served as representatives. On the other hand, their vestments were also products of human creativity, craftsmanship, and culture, and as such they displayed before God a representation of man’s glory in His image. Thus by taking on their vestments the priests were enrolled as God to Israel and Israel to God.

The Christological significance of this should be abundantly clear. Jesus was (and is) able to serve as an eternal and final High Priest because He not only represents both God and man, as the priests of old did, but in fact is both God and man. In the priesthood of Christ there is no mere role-playing but an ontological reality in which the Priest by nature and not merely by appointment is the one who expresses the glory of God and of man.5 The garments which the Aaronic priests put on to become mediators foreshadow the flesh which Christ put on to become the one Mediator, set apart to save humanity.

On the note of “set apart,” another key purpose of the priestly vestments was to sanctify, or set apart, the priests for their work. After all, no one could merely approach God as himself on his own terms, for all have sinned,6 and God is a consuming fire.7 For this reason God told Moses that the clothes would be necessary to enable the priests to serve before God.8 By donning these clothes, the priests could leave their natural identities behind in order to act in a divinely appointed roll in a divinely appointed manner. Keil and Delitzsch said of this, “These clothes were to be used ‘to sanctify him’…Sanctification, as the indispensable condition of priestly service, was not merely the removal of the uncleanness which flowed from sin, but, as it were, the transformation of the natural into the glory of the image of God.”9 Without the priestly clothes, the priests would have been natural and unclean.

This need for external sanctifying aids also points antitypically to Christ, as when He stepped into the priestly service He needed no such help at all. The Lord Jesus had no sins to cover, and He was to be found clothed with a righteousness of His own work and merit, the very righteousness of God. Jesus’ holy life proved entirely sufficient to qualify Him for priesthood , even high priesthood, after He had perfected His work by persevering in obedience through suffering.10 Thus in Christian retrospect the need of the priests for divinely provided adornment prefigured in contrast Christ’s inherent perfection.

The Ephod: Wearing the Word

With a brief Christocentric account of the priestly garments as a whole established, the individual parts deserve their own examination. The first of these, both in the order of the description in Exodus 28 and in importance, would be the High Priest’s ephod. The exact details of what an ephod was and looked like are historically ambiguous, but the Biblical description includes a front piece, a back piece, and some kind of connection between the two across the shoulders.11 The ephod was to be made out of fine linen, gold embroidery, and blue, purple, and scarlet yarn. These are the same materials as the curtain of the Tabernacle, a point to which Peter Enns calls attention.12 Apparently there is an important link between the servant of God and the Tabernacle in which God dwells. The High Priest is set apart for a unique relationship to the presence of God.

There also appears to be a connection between the ephod and the revelation of God’s will. The ephod bears the “breastpiece of judgment,” which the HCSB translates “breastpiece for making decisions,” and in 1 Samuel the ephod is employed on multiple occasions to seek out God’s guidance.1314 This important strand, when combined with the note above about the link between the ephod and the curtain to God’s presence, seems to paint a picture of the High Priest as the one who is uniquely employed to bear the revelation of God’s will because he alone is authorized to enter the holy presence of God and return.

Once again there appears clear Christological import. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this unique revelatory role, something which the apostle John emphasizes in his Gospel account. He opens by saying of Jesus, “No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father’s side — He has revealed Him,”15 and also records Jesus as saying to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven — the Son of Man.”16 Jesus takes up the role as the one who enters God’s presence to return with revelation, indeed the very revelation of forgiveness. The High Priest needed to don his ephod to bring revelation, but Christ revealed God in donning His own human flesh, clothing which was likewise bound up with the very presence of God.

One feature of the ephod of particular interest is the placement of two onyx stones on its shoulders. In these stones were carved the names of the tribes of Israel, six on each stone. The Scripture says that they were to be carried by the High Priest as a memorial for all the Israelites. This is very significant, for the whole concept of a High Priest performing atonement rests on what the stones symbolize: one man identifying with his entire people to act on their whole behalf. As John Calvin said, “That the connection between the priest and the people might be made more plain, God not only placed on his breast the memorials of the twelve tribes, but also engraved their names on his shoulders.”17 This absolute identity of priest and people was essential to atonement, so that the one could be for the many. All of Israel was carried into the Holy of Holies on the shoulders of the High Priest.

The unity of one and many represented by the ephod’s shoulder stones is naturally quite directly applicable to what Christ came to do. Jesus became the one who acted for the many not by putting stones on His shoulders but by taking on human shoulders.18 He identified (and identifies) fully with humanity in its broken state, and holding this identity in place He has entered the presence of God the Father Almighty, where He saves us and intercedes for us as one man for all men.19

Lights and Perfections

By this point the most obscure matter of the priestly clothing, the Urim and Thummim, comes to relevance. The last significant part of the ephod is the “breastpiece of judgment” or “breastpiece for making decisions,” which contained the Urim and Thummim. The breastpiece itself was just a square, double-folded fabric block made out of the same material as the rest of the ephod. Twelve different precious stones set in gold filled its surface in four rows of three stones each, and each stone was engraved with a name of one of the tribes of Israel.

So what were the Urim and Thummim? Their names translate to “lights and perfections,” but this is ambiguous. No one knows for sure what they were. One traditional view, accepted by James K. Bruckner, is that they were black and white stones used like lots.20 Enns suggests that they could have involved a luminous gem.21 Calvin argues that they are not distinct objects but some kind of patterns or markings or decorations.22 Whatever they actually were, the agreement is that they bear some relation, either symbolically or functionally, to the nature of the breastpiece as being for judgment/decisions.

The actual meaning of the Urim and Thummim, then, should most likely be understood in light of what was previously stated about the association of the ephod as a whole with the revelation of God’s will. They probably served to mark the High Priest as the authorized bearer of God’s word, the mediator of His will to Israel. They are called “lights and perfections” rightly, for whatever word from God they accompany will be a word of light and perfection. This word represents the justice and truth of God to which Israel was bound and from which she derived her Torah. Whenever the High Priest sought out the will of God bearing the Urim and Thummim, he would return with a message of true righteousness.

If the Urim and Thummim are to be understood in this way, then they should be understood to prefigure Christ Himself. He is the true Light and Perfection, the image of the invisible God and the fullness of divine revelation. As the author of Hebrews proclaims, “In these last days, [God] has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature.”23 In Christ God’s Word is revealed as a true, perfect light which enlightens everyone who comes into the world.

Lesser Parts, No Lesser Meaning

By this point the ephod has been fully examined, but under the ephod the High Priest had to wear a robe. This robe was to be made of solid blue, unlike all of the mixes met so far. In its solid form, blue seems to be Biblically associated with wealth or value in a way similar to purple.24 The bottom of the robe was to be decorated with small pomegranates, which Bruckner also says were associated with abundance or prosperity, and with gold bells.25 The significance of the bells is an issue of debate, with Calvin and some others arguing that they represent the sounding of God’s word of response,26 while Bruckner claims they were a reverential announcement of entrance, akin to quietly knocking on a door.27 Taking these elements all together paints something of a picture of Israel in their High Priest respectfully approaching God on His terms in order to receive from Him a word of abundant blessing and forgiveness.

Yet again, the light of Christ now shines brightly through the Old Testament types. Jesus is Himself both the Word of God28 Israel sought as well as the reverential human word spoken to God in response.29 By this perfect response He won for His people exactly what the High Priest sought to find: forgiveness of sins. His perfect response of faith overflowed to invite from God His blessed word of forgiveness, the righteous declaration of free justification, for all who share in His life as Israel did in their High Priest’s.

Topping all of these vestments in an additional glory was a bright, white turban. According to Keil and Delitzsch, the white color of the turban should be associated with the holiness of their profession.30 This would be in accord with the gold medallion that was also prescribed to the High Priest to be bound to the front of the turban. On this medallion was the inscription: “holy/holiness to the Lord.” Together these two symbols of holiness clearly marked out the High Priest as a sacred servant, claimed by God for His work. Only by this work of God sanctifying His priest could an otherwise fallible man “bear the guilt connected with the holy offerings that the Israelites consecrate as all their holy gifts.”31 He had to keep the turban and medallion on his head, or he would not be able to find acceptance when he served.

In a similar way to this, Jesus was Himself sanctified, set apart for God’s service, at priestly age when the white dove of the Spirit descended from heaven to Him and anointed Him for ministry. Quite relevantly, this happened at His baptism, precisely the moment when He freely identified Himself with needy human sinners. By creating solidarity with sinful humanity in a baptism of repentance, while also being unbreakably sanctified, He was also able to bear the guilt of sinners on their behalf. Without the artifice of any medallion or turban, He is Himself so sanctified that He finds and wins for His people acceptance with God.

Near the end of the line, finally, are the questions of underwear and footwear. All of the priests, High Priest and others, were required to wear special linen undergarments while serving in the Tabernacle. Keil and Delitzsch suggest that the purpose of this was to cover the symbolism of human frailty, corruptibility, and impurity exposed in a man’s most private parts. That side of humanity is not fit to serve as God’s representatives, therefore underwear was required. Footwear, on the other hand, is never mentioned. In the entire chapter, nothing is said about what to wear on feet, despite the detailed regulations for everything else. Obviously, nothing too conclusive can be drawn from such silence, but there seems a possibility that the priests actually served barefoot, as though the Tabernacle were portable “holy ground” like that which Moses had so recently encountered.32 This is, at least, a possibility which Enns is quick to mention. His comments are worth fully quoting:

What is conspicuously absent from the list is shoes, perhaps because of what has already been suggested in 3:5: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” These words were spoken to Moses as he approached God on Mount Horeb. As we have seen, the tabernacle is an earthly representation of a heavenly reality — a portable Mount Horeb/Sinai. Although 3:5 is not explicitly reiterated in chapter 28, this connection seems a fruitful avenue of approach. The priests stand in God’s presence and must conduct themselves appropriately.33

If this is correct, then the barefoot priests certainly would have found their feet to be entirely covered in blood, caked by the son, at the end of the day. This graphic routine would have undoubtedly created a strange and messy connection between priest and sacrifice.

With these thoughts in a mind, a few more Christological insights seem available. In regards to the undergarments, Jesus demonstrated the created goodness of even the most private human parts by assuming them to His divine person, and yet still overcame human impurity and corruptibility by His glorified resurrection. He also became the embodiment of holy ground, the walking presence of God, and made the unity between priest and sacrifice total and literal.

Conclusion

In the end, then, if even half of these observations are on the right track then the case seems to be that Exodus 28 and the priestly vestments described therein are not, as so many are certainly tempted to imagine, merely boring or unnecessary. Rather, the adornment of Aaron should be viewed as an essential part of God’s shaping of Israel’s life and pulling it ever forward towards the Incarnation of Christ. With these kinds of thoughts in mind, a vision of Jesus at the heart of every chapter of the Scriptures, then by no means should even priestly garments appear dry or dull. Instead let all Christians say that in the priestly code and clothing, in the vestments as a whole and in their parts, they were and remain a powerful testimony to Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, and the Savior of the world. Can anything be more relevant than that?


1 2 Tim. 3:16. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

2 John 5:39.

3 Gordon J. Wenham. “The Priests.” In Exploring the Old Testament: The Pentateuch. Vol. 1. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003.

4 Ibid.

5 Heb. 1-2.

6 Rom. 3:23.

7 Deut. 4:24.

8 Exod. 28:4.

9 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch. “Directions Concerning the Sanctuary and Priesthood.” In Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2002.

10 Heb. 5:8-10.

11 Exod. 28:6-8.

12 Peter Enns. “Priestly Garments.” In Exodus (The NIV Application Commentary Series). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.

13 Ibid.

14 1 Sam. 23:9-11, 30:7-8.

15 John 1:18.

16 John 3:13.

17 John Calvin. Harmony of the Law – Volume 2. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2009. Accessed 18 April 2016. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom04.

18 Heb. 2:17.

19 Heb. 6:20.

20 James K. Bruckner. “Instructions: Priestly Garments.” In Exodus (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2012.

21 Enns, “Priestly Garments.”

22 Calvin, Harmony, comments on Exod. 28:30.

23 Heb. 1:2-3a

24 Num. 4:6-12, 15:28; Jer. 10:9; Ezek. 27:24.

25 Bruckner, “Instructions: Priestly Garments.”

26 Calvin, Harmony, comments on Exodus 28:31.

27 Bruckner, “Instructions: Priestly Garments.”

28 John 1:1.

29 John 17.

30 Keil and Delitzsch, “Directions Concerning the Sanctuary and the Priesthood.”

31 Exod. 28:38.

32 Exod. 3:5.

33 Enns, “Priestly Garments.”

Glimpses: Joseph and Jesus Say “Fear Not”

[“Glimpses: Seeing Christ before Christ” is an ongoing series consisting of brief reflections on places in the Old Testament that the light of Christ can be seen.]

Today I was reading Genesis 50:15-26 and I noticed something exciting. At the conclusion of the long struggle of Joseph’s story, his brothers come before him in fear, barely hoping on the basis of a made-up fatherly deathbed request to be spared for their sins. But what happens is probably not what they expect. Verses 18-21:

Then his brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your slaves!”
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result — the survival of many people. Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. 

It’s a lovely ending showcasing the triumph of mercy, and I realized that this resonates deeply with the New Testament as well. Joseph is often noted to be a type of Christ, and it is hard to find a place that is more poetic than here. This passage could just as well be rewritten about our approach to Jesus. We come to Him, the risen and enthroned Lord of the universe, the Lion of Judah who judges and makes war, realizing that “it was my sin that held Him there” on the Cross. Should we not expect wrath and fury? Yet He responds otherwise:

“Do not be afraid. I am the in the place of God. Though you did evil against Me, God planned it for good to bring about the present result — the salvation of many people. Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.”

Amen. We’re no better than Joseph’s brothers, but the Greater Joseph is even more gracious. So the thought for today: how ought we to live in view of such mercy?

Wait, How Is That Prophecy about Jesus?

The New Testament frequently cites Old Testament prophecy about Jesus. A quick glance, even just through Matthew, shows just how much this was emphasized. Core to the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus fulfills the prophetic word of God in the Old Testament. The ancient Nicene Creed says Jesus “suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”1

Yet another quick glance can make this whole concept confusing. If you try to peek at the Old Testament references for these prophecies, you usually don’t see what they have to do with Jesus. Take, for example, Matthew 2:15. It says:

He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son.

The reference for this quote is Hosea 11:1. So you go back and take a look at Hosea 11:1, and what do you find?

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

The verse that was cited as a prophecy about Jesus was originally quite specifically about Israel. So how does that work? Was Matthew wrong? Did he misuse Hosea 11:1 and take it out of context?

I’ve heard a lot of people respond to this basically like this: “Well, maybe the verse was mainly talking about Israel, but it was also secretly a prophecy about Jesus. Then God revealed this to Matthew in the New Testament.” You get the impression from answers like this that the Old Testament is just sprinkled with random references to Jesus, almost like inspired Easter eggs, unnoticeable until the Holy Spirit points them out.

I don’t think this is the right way to understand these prophecies. There is no Easter egg hunt, nor are hidden meanings in play, at least in most cases. What we’re missing is that the prophecies for Christ aren’t a connect-the-dots game. People assume that these prophecies are a strict progression of prediction to fulfillment, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, they’re more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff. Oh, wait, that’s Doctor Who.2

What I mean to say is that these prophecies are a lot more about major themes in the relationship, covenant, and history of God and man than they are about checkboxes for Jesus’ life. The story of God, creation, mankind, and Israel all comes together in Christ’s own life, death, and resurrection. So Jesus fulfills, as it were, all of the destinies of election. The promises to David, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, and even Adam all reach their goals in Jesus, the only human who could, being Himself God, work out the right relationship in covenant between God and man.3

What does this mean for Old Testament prophecies about Christ? Their main point is not to make a list of criteria for the Messiah to fulfill. In fact, they can’t really be used that way. (Some people who invented statistical apologetics may be unhappy, but ah, well.) Instead, the primary links are about ongoing themes in the God/world/Israel relationship. So applying that to Hosea 11:1, it’s clear what is going on. Israel was essentially born out of Egypt, before wandering in the wilderness and finally claiming the Promised Land. Jesus now stands to reinvent Israel’s history in His own life, representing His people and undoing all of their mistakes. So He too was called out of Egypt in His youth, and before long spent 40 days in the wilderness before invading the Promised Land with the kingdom of God.4

This same idea can apply to stuff in the Psalms. For example, today I was reading Psalm 34 and ran across verse 20, which was cited in the Gospels about Jesus’ bones not being broken on the cross. Yet in context, this hardly appears to be about the coming Messiah. Here is the last paragraph5 of the psalm, which includes verse 20:

Many adversities come to the one who is righteous,
but the Lord delivers him from them all.
He protects all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
The Lord redeems the life of His servants,
and all who take refuge in Him will not be punished.

This passage is talking about how God treats His righteous followers. He protects them, saves them, and vindicates them. This ideal of a righteous servant suffering for God is prominent both in the Psalms and in the prophets, and in both cases Israel is often treated as just such a servant. God’s people suffer unjustly as they try to follow Him, but He promises to protect them and ultimately save them from all harm and give them triumph and glory over their enemies.

Jesus, as we see, becomes the ultimate embodiment of this ideal. He fulfills by Himself perfectly the role of the suffering, righteous servant present in this psalm, and in other places like Isaiah 53. The role that Israel was meant to play, Jesus performed perfectly. He lived and died as the Righteous One, the true Israel, and so God fulfilled His promises. He protected His bones from being broken, and indeed raised Him back to life in glory and honor.

I hope by now you can start to see what I’m talking about. Very few of the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus are fulfilled in a straightforward, literal detail. But that doesn’t mean they’re random or hidden. The whole story of God and His people is wrapped up in Christ and His fulfillment of all God’s purposes. If you just study the Scriptures, you can see how His story shines brightly.

Very Short Thoughts on the Tower of Babel

These are just the quick notes I took on the Tower of Babel incident while reading through Genesis 10-11 this morning.

  • The motivation for the tower of Babel is interesting. The one people wanted to unite in glory in resistance to God’s intention to bless the earth through their filling and diversification. It appears there was some clear awareness on their part that they were resisting this call.
  • God’s motivation is just as peculiar, if not more so. On one hand, at a prima facie level it appears that God feels threatened by humanity’s united power and wishes to stop them from what powerful things they could accomplish as one people. Yet this reading seems problematic, theology proper aside. It does not take into account what the people said in the previous verse, nor is it coherent. Why would a God who already performed creation and was able to confuse human languages feel threatened by mere mortals? I suspect God was more concerned with their particular plans to build a single metropolitan and continue resisting the call to spread out and diversify. As long as they had one language, nothing would be able to convince them to give up on this project and separate.
  • If we take Babel as mostly the story of God’s plans for blessing and humanity’s ongoing resistance (which would fit well into the Pentateuch as a whole), then there is clear application. God often calls us to do hard and uncomfortable things for our own good; indeed, this is mostly all He says to us! He may ask us to break certain cherished ties and go places, just as He will do to Abram in the next chapter. Yet the plan is always for the consummation and redemption of creation, and so every step is ultimately designed to bless us. The question on our part is if we will have the faith to simply do what He calls us to do, trusting that He actually does have our best interests at heart.