Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: sacrifice

Self-surrender

The story of Joseph is one of the most thrilling in the Bible. A misunderstood boy is rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery. Then he is falsely accused, put into prison and forgotten. Someone promises to help him, but he too forgets as soon as he is out of prison. Yet in the end this unfortunate lad is crowned with glory and power and becomes the benefactor and protector of his brothers.

It’s a wonderful story. But most of us are so dazzled by the pomp and glory achieved by Joseph that we completely miss another story happening in the shadows. Yet this other story is more important in the history of God’s people and in the story of redemption.

I am talking about the story of Judah. Judah was the fourth son of his father, the fourth son of Leah, the wife that Jacob hadn’t really wanted. Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was the great love of Jacob’s life.

But when the chips were down, when the ruler of Egypt had told them they needn’t bother coming to buy food again if their youngest brother wasn’t with them, it was Judah who laid his life on the line to save his family from starvation. He told his father he would do everything in his power to bring Benjamin home again, and if he failed he would bear the reproach forever. Jacob’s heart was touched, he trusted Judah and gave permission for Benjamin to go.

Then the ruler of Egypt declared that Benjamin was his hostage, he would not allow him to return to his father. Once again Judah stepped forward and put his life on the line. He told the ruler of Egypt to take him as hostage in place of his younger brother. He told of the promise he had made to his father and how it would be more than his father could bear if Benjamin did not return home. This melted the heart of the ruler of Egypt and he revealed himself as their brother Joseph.

And this is where Judah became the leader of the family. Just before he died, Jacob blessed his sons and said of Judah:

Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. Genesis 49:8-12.

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King David was of the tribe of Judah. Like his ancestor, he cared more for the well-being of his people than he did for personal honour and glory. Jesus was of the lineage of David and of the tribe of Judah. He went beyond the examples left by both in surrendering his life so that all mankind might be saved. The cross, the supreme sacrifice, was foreshadowed in the life of Judah. How can we overlook it?

Promises to Abraham

Abraham was a pilgrim and stranger in the promised land all his days. He believed the promise of God that his descendents would possess this land, even into old age when it seemed that all hope of having children was slipping away from him. God told him: “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Genesis 13:17).

When Abram decided that the only heir he would ever had would be the son of his servant who was born in his house, God spoke to him again. “ This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:4-6).

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, wanted him to have a son in fulfilment of God’s promise. She had no child and was past normal child-bearing age, so she gave her servant Hagar to Abraham as was the custom of the day. This worked, Ishmael was born and Abraham now had a son who was his own flesh and blood. But this was still not the heir that God had promised to Abram.

When Abram was 90 years old God renewed His promise and made a covenant with Abram, changing his name to Abraham, father of a multitude. “ And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7). It was at this point that circumcision was made the sign of the covenant.

Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90 or 91 when Isaac, the son of the promise was born. Their faith had been tested for many years, but now they could see the beginning of God’s promise of a multitude of nations as their direct descendents.
God had yet one more test for Abraham. He told him to go up to the top of Mount Moriah and there offer his son as a sacrifice to God. Isaac could not have been a small child by this time, probably more like 20. Josephus says 25. Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice to Mount Moriah and up the mountain, not something a small child could have done. This leads us to believe that Isaac shared his father’s faith, for he must have fully cooperated when Abraham bound him and laid him on the altar.

Abraham took the knife in his hand and raised it. At this point God stopped his hand and said, “now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:13). In the providence of God, now Abraham saw a ram caught in a thicket and offered him on the altar in place of his son.

“And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:15-18).

There is so much for us bound up in the story of Abraham. Like him, we have been given an heritage. This heritage is revealed in the pages of the Bible and it is up to us to walk through the length and breadth of those pages to grasp all that God has is store for us.

Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have an abundance of heirs; that faith was counted to him for righteousness long before he received the covenant of circumcision. As the apostle Paul explains in Romans 4:9-14, this demonstrates that the promise to Abraham is to the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised. In another place the apostle explains that the circumcision that counts is the inward circumcision of the heart, not the outward form. All who are circumcised in heart by faith are then heirs of Abraham.

The New Testament also explains that the promise to Abraham is not for the children of the flesh, typified by Ishmael, but for the spiritual descendents of the son of promise.

Finally we have the picture of a father preparing to offer his only son as a sacrifice. In the New Testament we have the awful picture of the only Son of God dying on the cross as an offering for our sin. The ram that Abraham offered on the altar in place of his son is another piece of the great salvation story that God has provided a spotless Lamb to be sacrificed that He could forgive us and set us free.
Here, very early in Bible history, God has provided a complete picture of the whole salvation story through the events in the life of Abraham.

Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism

Moralistic, therapeutic deism, a term first used by Christian Smith, seems a fitting description of much of what passes for Christianity in North America. The followers of this religion believe in a God who wants them to be good, wants them to feel good about themselves, doesn’t need to be consulted except in case of emergencies, and who will accept all good people into heaven.

One unfortunate result is that such people read the Old Testament as a series of morality tales, leading to conclusions that play up the foolishness and waywardness of Old Testament characters. Such a reading altogether misses the redemption story that is an essential ingredient of these histories. The New Testament points to these histories as God’s way of revealing little by little his plan of redemption.

The translators of the Authorized (King James) Version were men of remarkable humility. When a Bible passage could legitimately be understood in two different ways, they did not believe they had a right to choose between them. They placed one in the text and the alternate rendering they placed in a note beside the verse. I’m afraid that all North American editions of the Bible have eliminated these alternate readings, and subsequent translators have not had the same hesitancy about choosing one over the other.

In Judges 11:31 Jephthah’s vow is that whatsoever came out of his house “shall surely be the Lord’s and/or I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” The Hebrew text contains no conjunction, yet the context seems to demand one. The translators inserted and in the verse and or in the note for that verse. Then we are told in verse 40 that “the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament/talk with the daughter of Jephthah.” Lament is in the verse, talk with is in the note. These alternate readings, which the translators deemed to be credible renderings of the Hebrew, seem to be the more likely meaning in light of God’s hatred of human sacrifice and His blessing on Jephthah

The stories of Jephthah and Samson seem to be almost universally misunderstood. If Jephthah was as foolish and wicked as he is often portrayed today, why did the Lord bless his vow and give him victory over the Ammonites? And why is he listed in Hebrews 11:32 as a man of faith? The message that we should take from the story of Jephthah in Judges 11 is that he sacrificed himself to save his people from their oppressors.

It is nowhere said that he offered his daughter as a burnt offering. His daughter did not go up and down on the mountains to lament her impending death, she was lamenting the fact that she would never have children, and thus her father would have no posterity. This was a tremendous sacrifice for a man in Israel and links the story of Jephthah with the account of Abraham offering his son. Both are part of the redemption story, foretelling the time when God would offer His only Son for our redemption.

Samson was for twenty years a judge in Israel. If we read the account, we find that most of the things which modern preachers and writers find so disreputable were done by Samson at the prompting of the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord did not leave Samson until he forgot that his great strength came from the Lord. He told Delilah the secret of his strength, but it appears that by this time he hardly believed anymore that his strength was the result of his vow as a Nazarite. The Spirit of the Lord left him, with painful consequences. Then, while a captive and slave of the Philistines, he renewed his vow and gave his life to set his people free from the domination of the Philistines. This is the message of the story of Samson that is entirely missed by those trying to draw a moral lesson from his supposed misdeeds. Samson is also mentioned as a man of faith in Hebrews 11:32.

To the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus said: “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). A little further in the same chapter, he says: “All things must be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (verses 44-45). Today we have both the Old and New Testaments, why are so many still slow of heart to believe the evidences of the redemption story that are found in Old Testament history?

The rent veil

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.  And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent (Matthew 27:50-51).

The veil between the holy place of the temple and the holy of holies is described as forty cubits high and twenty cubits wide, equivalent to sixty feet by thirty feet.  According to the rabbinic writings it was woven of seventy-two linen threads, each of these threads being composed of twenty-four smaller threads, resulting in a veil that was the thickness of the width of a man’s hand (four inches).

It is inconceivable that the earthquake could have torn this veil and left the temple standing.  It would seem much more likely that a powerful earthquake would have reduced the temple to rubble and left the veil intact.  That leaves us with the clear implication of direct divine intervention, which is further supported by the reference to the veil being torn from top to bottom.

The death of Jesus occurred at the time of the evening sacrifice, when a priest would have entered the holy place to burn incense and light the golden candlestick.  This priest was the only eyewitness to the dramatic rending of the veil which exposed the mercy seat to his view.  Here is the fulfilment of Daniel 9:27 — And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.  Although the priests continued to offer the daily sacrifices for another thirty years, those sacrifices had ceased to have any meaning, for the perfect sacrifice had been made and the heavenly mercy seat sprinkled with the blood of our Saviour and eternal High Priest.

This is good news for all mankind, for all those striving to make peace with gods and spirits by ceremonies, sacrifices, pilgrimages, meditation or rigorous obedience to arcane rules of conduct.  The veil is forever rent.  We now have direct access to the mercy seat, with no need of the blood of animals, with no need of a human priest.

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.  It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:22-26).

And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) (Hebrews 10:17-23).

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