Filled With the Spirit

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 ESV

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. – Acts 1:8 NLT

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:16-17 NT

We have been and we are sanctified. It is a past action that has present ramifications. And while we may find it difficult to see ourselves as fully righteous, that does not change the fact that we are. Our problem is that we have a limited perspective, and find it hard to see beyond the limits of the fallen world in which we live and the ever-present reality of our sin nature. We think bad thoughts. We do wrong things. We commit acts that we know are out of God’s will for us as His children. And when we do, we conclude that our righteousness has diminished and needs to be restored. So, we get to work in a vain attempt to refill our righteousness tank and restore our holiness before God.

But we need to have the same attitude Paul had. He saw his life as completely dependent upon the saving work of Jesus Christ, from start to finish.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

When Paul failed, and he did, he didn’t attempt to manufacture his own brand of righteousness, but instead, he relied on the righteousness provided for him by Jesus. He wouldn’t allow himself to fall back into the old habit of works-righteousness, where he would try to restore his broken relationship with God through self-effort.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

He went back to the reality of faith. The Christian life begins and ends with faith. It is completely dependent upon faith. And one of the most critical areas of the Christian’s life where faith is often in short supply is in when it comes to embracing our holiness before God. In light of the undeniable presence of sin our lives, how can we possibly know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are righteous? The answer is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. If we are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit of God living within us.

A. W. Pink raises a logical and important point:

The coming of this divine and glorious Person to indwell one who is depraved and sinful is both a marvel and a mystery; a marvel that he should, a mystery that he would. How is it possible for him who is ineffably holy to dwell within those who are so unholy? – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

The very thought of the holy, perfectly sinless Spirit of God to take up residence within a fallen, sin-saturated human being seems impossible. But He does. The question is, how? For God’s Spirit to take up residence within the life of the believer indicates that the “house” has been cleansed and made pure enough for His presence. Paul rhetorically asked the believers in Corinth: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NLT). And earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul clarified that the corporate body of Christ is the temple of God Himself.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT

In verse 9 of chapter 3, Paul refers to the church as “God’s building.” In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul confirmed, “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16 NLT). He wrote the believers in Ephesus: “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22 NLT).

So, God sends His Spirit to dwell within the life of each individual believer and, by extension, the corporate body of Christ. And for that to happen, the “house” or “dwelling” must be cleansed and purified. All of this was foreshadowed with the tabernacle in the wilderness. When Moses and the people of Israel had made all the parts of the tabernacle according to God’s instructions, they erected it for the first time, then God commanded Moses:

 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy. You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar may become most holy. You shall also anoint the basin and its stand, and consecrate it. Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” – Exodus 40:91-5 ESV

Just a few verses later, Moses records what happened once the tabernacle was erected, anointed, and purified.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

The tabernacle, built according to God’s instructions and purified according to His commands, was made a suitable dwelling place for His presence. In the same way, God purifies the believer, sprinkling Him clean with the blood of Christ, making him a worthy house for the presence of His Holy Spirit. The author of Hebrews compares the efforts of Moses to cleanse the people and the temple with that of Jesus cleansing the believer.

For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:19-22 ESV

Just as the tabernacle had to be purified before God’s glory could enter, Jesus purifies the believer with His blood, making his life a fitting dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. As the author of Hebrews states, our hearts have been sprinkled clean and our bodies have been washed. God has prepared us to be the home of His Holy Spirit. Which is why the author of Hebrews tells us:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV

Whether we feel like it or not, each believer is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and His presence is proof positive that we are fully righteous and acceptable before God. He would not send His Spirit to live in an unacceptable and unsanctified house. And it is the indwelling presence of the Spirit that gives us the confidence and right to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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I Will Be Glorified

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. – Genesis 2:3 ESV

42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. – Exodus 29:42-43 ESV

1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. – Leviticus 10:1-3 ESV

In order to understand the concept of sanctification, we have to spend some time in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, the word qadash is most commonly translated as “sanctified.” But you can also find it translated as “consecrated,” “holy,” or “hallowed.” It carries a number of different meanings, including “to set apart or separate.”

The verses above are just a small sampling of the many passages found in the Old Testament Scriptures that use the word qadash to convey an important message from God concerning such things as the Sabbath day, the tabernacle, and the priests who ministered there. Sanctification was important to God and was directly tied to His own holiness. The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology describes sanctification as follows:

The generic meaning of sanctification is “the state of proper functioning.” To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. A pen is “sanctified” when used to write. Eyeglasses are “sanctified” when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God’s design and purpose.

The sanctification or setting apart of something by God is related to His own holiness or distinctiveness. He is like nothing or no one else. And while man was made in God’s image, he does not replicate that image, He reflects it. God is transcendent and completely separate from His creation. He is eternal, having never been created and, as such, He exists outside of time and space. He is completely righteous, without sin and completely free from any form of flaw or defect.

And when God made the universe, He sanctified or set it apart for His glory, deeming it good (towb) or excellent. The same was true for His creation of man. God created Adam and Eve and sanctified them as His own. They belonged to Him and were designed to bring Him glory by living their lives according to His will, giving proof of God’s goodness, greatness, and love by their very existence as His creation. The apostle Paul reminds us that all of creation was intended to reflect God’s glory and majesty.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

Even in its fallen state, the creation still reflects God’s glory. It’s beauty, while marred by sin, still points to its original Designer and reminds man that there is someone out there greater and more powerful than himself. And while man may not recognize God as the creator of all things, Paul states that they have made a habit of worshiping someone or something as the force behind the universe.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

But the Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly deal with the concept of sanctification. God set apart Abram, selecting him from among all the people on earth, and making him the recipient of His divine blessings.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

And God kept His word, making of Abram a great nation, a people He set apart as His own special possession.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

And God gave the people of Israel the tabernacle, designating it as the place where He would come and visit them. And He set apart priests who would serve Him in the tabernacle, offering sacrifices on behalf of the people that were designed to remove the guilt of their sin and make them acceptable to God. Even the elements used within the tabernacle had been set apart by God and were not to be used for anything else. They were holy to the Lord and were to be treated that way by the people of Israel. To take the utensil set apart by God and use them for any other purpose would be to defile them or make them unholy.

As the verses above reflect, God was serious about sanctification. After He created the universe and all it contains, He deemed the seventh day as holy or qadash. He set it apart as different from the other days of the week. It became the sabbath day of rest and was to be treated with reverence and respect by God’s people. One of the ten commandments God gave to the people of Israel covered their relationship with the sabbath.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy [qadash]. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy [qadash].” – Exodus 20:8-11 ESV

In Exodus 29, God reminds His people that the tabernacle would be sanctified by His glory. It would be His presence within the tabernacle that made it holy and unique. In and of itself, it was just another structure made by human hands, but by filling the Holy of Holies with His presence, God made it qadash. And the people were to treat it as such, refusing to defile and desecrate it by using it inappropriately or irreverently.

The Leviticus 10 passage deals with a scene in which God was forced to destroy Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron. These two men had been set apart by God to serve as priests in the tabernacle. But they offered “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1 ESV). While we are not provided with specifics regarding their sin, they obviously disobeyed God and treated His commands with disrespect. And the result was their immediate deaths.

And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. – Leviticus 10:2 ESV

And immediately after their deaths, Moses reminded the people of the words of God: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3 ESV).

Through their actions, these two men had failed to treat God as sanctified or qadash. They treated His commands as unimportant, choosing to do things their own way. But God warns that those who draw near Him are expected to treat Him as sanctified or set apart. He is to be honored as holy and given the respect He deserves as the one true God. And Leviticus 10:3 reminds us that sanctification is directly related to the glory of God. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God so that they might reflect the glory to God. All creation was intended to bring glory to God, but the entrance of sin into the world damaged or marred creation’s sanctified state. Which is why the apostle Paul states:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. – Romans 8:18-21 ESV

At the heart of sanctification is the glory of God. God set apart the sabbath for His glory. He made man to reflect His glory. He punished Nadab and Abihu for diminishing His glory. He set apart the tabernacle by filling it with His glory. So, when all is said and done, God’s purpose for sanctification is His own glory.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else…” – Isaiah 42:8 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

That Didn’t Take Long.

10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. 11 And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” 12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.

13 Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, 14 and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. 15 And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? 17 Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, 18 that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. 19 But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.’”

21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance. 24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord. 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”

30 When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the Lord. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”

32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. 34 The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”  Joshua 22:10-34 ESV

Now that the major portion of the fighting was over and the tribes of Israel had been awarded their respective land allotments, Joshua blessed and dismissed the three tribes that had been given land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, along with half the tribe of Manasseh, had requested to settle in the land of Gilead. But they had agreed to help the rest of the tribes conquer and possess the land of Canaan, and now that they had kept their commitment, Joshua was allowing them to return home. But not without a warning to remain faithful to Yahweh.

 

“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” – Joshua 22:5 ESV

But almost immediately after returning to their side of the Jordan River, the natural boundary that separated them from the rest of the tribes of Israel, the trouble began. They made a fateful decision to build an altar to God, “an altar of imposing size” according to the text. But when the rest of the tribes heard about it, they jumped to a very wrong conclusion. They assumed that the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had decided to abandon Yahweh for the gods of the Canaanites, in direct violation of God’s command given to Moses.

10 But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:10-11 ESV

God had made it clear that they were to offer sacrifices to Him in one place only – a place that He alone would designate. And that place was Shiloh. There, the tabernacle had been set up and the altar erected. And only there were the people of Israel to offer sacrifices to God. That point had been made perfectly clear by Moses.

13 Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, 14 but at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you. – Deuteronomy 12:13-14 ESV

So, the tribes west of the Jordan jumped to the conclusion that their three fellow tribes had broken faith with God and had erected an altar to a false god. Either that, or they had built an altar other than the one in Shiloh and were planning on making their own offerings and sacrifices, in direct violation of God’s prohibition against doing so. This was a communications disaster that was quickly turning into a potential civil war. Those tribes west of the Jordan assumed the worst and assembled to do battle with their brothers on the other side of the river. They were driven by the fear of what God would do if they allowed this sin to take place without taking steps to deal with it. They could still recall the sin of Achan and how his decision to disobey the command of God had brought defeat to the entire nation. They knew that God took disobedience to His law quite seriously and that individual sin had corporate consequences. And if three out of the 12 tribes chose to disobey God’s command, they would all end up suffering for it. So, they acted – probably a bit hastily and without getting their facts straight.

Again, they were operating in fear, based on what they knew to be God’s will regarding idolatry and His hatred for it. Moses had given them specific instructions about how to handle those who worshiped false gods.

12 “If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to dwell there, 13 that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, 15 you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword. 16 You shall gather all its spoil into the midst of its open square and burn the city and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall be a heap forever. It shall not be built again. – Deuteronomy 13:12-16 ESV

So, when they heard that the three tribes west of the Jordan had built an impressive altar, they wasted no time, gathering all the people together at Shiloh in preparation for an assault on their unfaithful brothers. But prior to marching into Gilead, they sent a delegation, made up of “Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel” (Joshua 22:13-14 ESV). And, upon arrival in Gilead, these men wasted no time in stating their accusation against the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.

What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? – Joshua 22:16 ESV

They made it clear that they saw the actions of the three tribes as a breach of faith and an act of sin worthy of death. They assumed their brothers had been tempted by the unclean practices of the pagans living in the land of Gilead and begged them to consider moving over the Jordan and finding land among the rest of the tribes. They were asking them to repent and return to the Lord.

But the people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh were shocked and appalled at what they heard. They were dumbstruck by the accusations of Phinehas and his fellow delegates. It was all a huge misunderstanding. They had not erected an altar to false gods. And the altar they had built was not for the purpose of offering sacrifices. It had been constructed as a memorial or reminder or, as they put it, as “a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings” (Joshua 22:27 ESV). They feared that the natural boundary of the Jordan would end up becoming a relational barrier between themselves and the other tribes. In time, they speculated, their brothers west of the Jordan would see them as outsiders and bar them from worship at the tabernacle in Shiloh. So, they constructed the altar as a reminder to the generations to come, that they too were Yahweh worshipers. They had never intended to offer sacrifices on this altar. Their clearly articulated their purpose behind building the altar.

“Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.” – Joshua 22:28 ESV

A civil war was avoided and a disaster averted. The truth was revealed and all were able to rejoice in the fact that they worshiped the same God. The three tribes ended up calling the altar, “Witness” because “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.” They shared a common love for and faith in God. The river may have separated them physically, but they were linked by their belief in Yahweh. And while idolatry would remain a constant threat for each of the tribes of Israel, on this occasion, it had been a huge misunderstanding. People jumped to conclusions. Fear got the best of Joshua and the people of Israel. They assumed the worst, but thankfully, they were prevented from acting on their false assumptions and sought the truth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Place of Rest.

1 Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them.

There remained among the people of Israel seven tribes whose inheritance had not yet been apportioned. So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? Provide three men from each tribe, and I will send them out that they may set out and go up and down the land. They shall write a description of it with a view to their inheritances, and then come to me. They shall divide it into seven portions. Judah shall continue in his territory on the south, and the house of Joseph shall continue in their territory on the north. And you shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God. The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the Lord is their heritage. And Gad and Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan eastward, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave them.”

So the men arose and went, and Joshua charged those who went to write the description of the land, saying, “Go up and down in the land and write a description and return to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.” So the men went and passed up and down in the land and wrote in a book a description of it by towns in seven divisions. Then they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh, 10 and Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord. And there Joshua apportioned the land to the people of Israel, to each his portion. Joshua 18:1-10 ESV

Tabaernacle

After having settled the tribes of Judah, Manasseh and Ephraim in the southern region of the land of Canaan, Joshua still had the task of apportioning the rest of the land between the seven remaining tribes. The tribes of Reuben and Gad had already been allotted their portions on the eastern side of the Jordan, as they had requested. But before Joshua proceeds with the final distribution of the land, he calls for an assembly of all the people of Israel at a place called Shiloh, and oversees the erecting of the tabernacle.

When God had originally given Moses His instructions regarding the construction of the tabernacle, He had included commands regarding its placement in the land of promise.

10 But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:10-11 ESV

So, Joshua’s choice of Shiloh as the resting place for the tabernacle was obviously determined by God. It’s interesting to note that the name, Shiloh, means “place of rest.” The tabernacle was to be a reminder of God’s presence and power, and a representation of God’s promise of rest. When God dwells with His people, they enjoy rest. His presence brings peace and an assurance of His care for them. The movement of the tabernacle from Gilgal is significant. It had been Israel’s base camp during their days of conquest of the promised land. But now that “the land lay subdued before them,” it was time to relocate the tabernacle to an appropriate place within the land of promise. And God’s choice of Shiloh was in keeping with His promise to bring Israel into the promised land, a place of rest.

When Jacob had pronounced blessings upon his sons, he had said of Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10 ESV). In the Hebrew, the phrase, “until tribute comes to him” actually reads “until Shiloh come.” In the Jewish Orthodox Bible, verse 10 reads, “The shevet (sceptre) shall not depart from Yehudah, nor a Mekhokek (Lawgiver) from between his raglayim, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall be the obedience of the amim (peoples, nations).

This passage, containing Jacob’s blessing of the tribe of Judah, is a Messianic prophecy. It predicts the Jesus (Shiloh) as coming from the tribe of Judah. He will one day be the ruler who will hold the scepter, a sign of authority and kingship. He will rule and reign as king. And He will come to offer rest to His people.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-29 ESV

Jesus came that He might offer rest to the weary. And Shiloh, located in the territory allotted to the tribe of Ephraim, was the location of the tabernacle. It was to be a sign of God’s presence and should have been a cause for great peace and tranquility. When the people came to offer their sacrifices and worship, they would have found forgiveness for their sins and an acceptance by their God. But years later, the prophet Isaiah would speak words of condemnation against Ephraim. They would prove to be disobedient to God. And rather than find rest, they would discover themselves suffering the wrath of God for failing to enter into His rest and enjoy His blessings. 

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear. – Isaiah 28:11-12 ESV

In a single verse, the author of the book of Joshua mentions the setting up of the tabernacle in Shiloh. It was to have been a symbolic act, establishing God’s abiding presence among His people. He had brought them to the land and provided for them a place of rest. But their enjoyment of that rest would require faithful obedience on their part. And it is significant that the final apportioning of the land did not take place until after the tabernacle was established in Shiloh.

Joshua had to read the riot act to the seven remaining tribes, scolding them for having procrastinated in subduing the remainder of the land. It appears that they had failed to continue their conquest of the inhabitants of the land. Perhaps Joshua’s decision to set up the tabernacle was meant to be a form of motivation, letting the remaining tribes know that God was with them. He set out teams of three men from each tribe, having them survey the remaining land, establishing boundaries for the establishment of their potential inheritance. Once this process was complete, Joshua would cast lots, determining which portion of the land was assigned to each of the tribes.

God was in their midst. He had chosen to dwell among them, and with the erection of the tabernacle in the city of Shiloh, the place of rest, God was reminding them of their need to do their part to enjoy the rest He had promised them. Just as Jesus invites all those who are weary and burdened to accept His invitation to find rest in Him, the Israelites were going to have to take God at His word and discover that His rest came through obedience to His commands.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Inheritance of God.

14 To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him.

15 And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. 16 So their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland by Medeba; 17 with Heshbon, and all its cities that are in the tableland; Dibon, and Bamoth-baal, and Beth-baal-meon, 18 and Jahaz, and Kedemoth, and Mephaath, 19 and Kiriathaim, and Sibmah, and Zereth-shahar on the hill of the valley, 20 and Beth-peor, and the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth-jeshimoth, 21 that is, all the cities of the tableland, and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses defeated with the leaders of Midian, Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the princes of Sihon, who lived in the land. 22 Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain. 23 And the border of the people of Reuben was the Jordan as a boundary. This was the inheritance of the people of Reuben, according to their clans with their cities and villages.

24 Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. 25 Their territory was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the Ammonites, to Aroer, which is east of Rabbah, 26 and from Heshbon to Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the territory of Debir, 27 and in the valley Beth-haram, Beth-nimrah, Succoth, and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon king of Heshbon, having the Jordan as a boundary, to the lower end of the Sea of Chinnereth, eastward beyond the Jordan. 28 This is the inheritance of the people of Gad according to their clans, with their cities and villages.

29 And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. 30 Their region extended from Mahanaim, through all Bashan, the whole kingdom of Og king of Bashan, and all the towns of Jair, which are in Bashan, sixty cities, 31 and half Gilead, and Ashtaroth, and Edrei, the cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. These were allotted to the people of Machir the son of Manasseh for the half of the people of Machir according to their clans.

32 These are the inheritances that Moses distributed in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan east of Jericho. 33 But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them. Joshua 13:14-33 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelThis section of chapter 13 provides us with greater detail concerning the allotment of the land of promise to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. All the way back during the days of Moses’ leadership, they had made a request that they be allowed to settle east of the Jordan, in the land of Gilead. The book of Numbers tells us that both tribes had significant numbers of livestock and that the land east of the Jordan was an ideal location for them to settle and raise their flocks and families. The Israelites had defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, as well as Og, king of Bashan. So, the tribes of Reuben and Gad appealed to Moses and the leadership of Israel to allow them to have this conquered land as their allotment of the inheritance.

“Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” – Numbers 32:3-5 ESV

And Moses had agreed to their request, on the condition that they assist the rest of the tribes in their conquest of the land west of the Jordan. Moses did not want them to abandon their brothers in their divinely decreed mission to conquer and possess the land of promise. So, the men of Reuben and Gad had given Moses their word.

16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” – Numbers 32:16-19 ESV

The tribe of Manasseh was allotted land on both sides of the Jordan, with half of them settling east of the Jordan and the remainder receiving land on the other side.

39 And the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and captured it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. 40 And Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he settled in it. – Numbers 32:39-40 ESV

Once the primary conquest of the land of promise had been accomplished and the majority of the significant opposition had been removed, Joshua allowed the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh to return to their side of the Jordan and settle in the land they had been given. The author provides us with great details concerning the geographic boundaries of their land, and he makes sure that we understand that this allotment had been according to the words of Moses.

And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. – Joshua 13:15 ESV

Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. – Joshua 13:24 ESV

And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. – Joshua 13:29 ESV

Joshua’s decision to allow the three tribes to settle east of the Jordan was in keeping with the command Moses had given years earlier. He was simply keeping the commitment Moses had made, because the clans of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh had kept their word to fight alongside the rest of the tribes until the land of promise had been fully conquered and settled.

It’s interesting to note that these three tribes had selected their land based on appearance. After Israel had conquered Og and Sihon, making the land east of the Jordan available, the tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh had seen that it provided a perfect environment for pasturing their flocks and herds. And it was already conquered land. The ready availability of the land, including its well-fortified cities was appealing to them. So, rather than wait to see what God had in store for them on the other side of the Jordan, they chose to settle outside the land of promise. And years later, they would be removed from their land because of disobedience and unfaithfulness to God.

25 But they broke faith with the God of their fathers, and whored after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. 26 So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day. – 1 Chronicles 5:25-26 ESV

They got the land they wanted. They fulfilled the lust of their eyes, but they eventually failed to keep their. commitments to God. The land was rich and perfect for raising their many flocks. But somewhere along the way, they took their eyes off of God and forgot that He was the one who had blessed them with their flocks and the land on which to raise them.

These verses are book-ended by references to yet another tribe, that of the Levites. The tribe of Levi had been appointed by God to serve Him in the tabernacle, alongside Aaron and his sons.

1 So the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.” – Numbers 18:1-2 ESV 

God had set them apart for this special role and had promised to provide for their needs. Rather than give them land on which to plant crops and raise flocks, God would allow them to eat the animals that were brought for sacrifice.

14 Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. – Numbers 18:14-15 ESV

And Moses made it clear that this provision by God would take the place of any inheritance of land. They would be cared for by God.

19 All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” 20 And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.” – Numbers 18:19-20 ESV

Rather than land, the Levites received the promise of God that He would provide for all their needs, in return for their faithful service in His tabernacle. The tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh asked for what they wanted and got it. The tribe of Levi asked for nothing and got the blessing of being provided for by God. They received no land, but were given the privilege of serving God in His tabernacle. And they found themselves fed by God Himself, enjoying the first fruits of the all the other tribes as their reward for faithful service to God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Righteous One.

44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” – Acts 7:44-53 ESV

Having been accused of blasphemy against Moses and God, Stephen refuted those charges by showing his reverence for both. At the same time, he revealed that it was his Jewish brothers who had failed to truly honor Moses. In fact, he gave proof that they, like their ancestors, really rejected Moses, refusing to listen to his prophecy regarding the coming Messiah. Not only that, they were guilty of idolatry, just like their ancient ancestors. In fact, they had made idols out of the land of Judah, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of God. Which is the next topic in Stephen’s message. He had been accused of speaking against the Temple and of having taught that the resurrected Jesus was going to tear it down. These were false accusations, but that didn’t keep Stephen from using them to teach those in his audience an important object lesson regarding the Temple.

He starts out discussing the Tabernacle, the temporary, portable structure that God had commanded Moses to build during Israel’s years in the wilderness. This structure had been of God’s design and had a definitive, God-ordained purpose. The book of Exodus records for us how the Tabernacle was to be used.

34 Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 35 Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.

36 Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. 37 But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. 38 The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys. – Exodus 40:34-38 NLT

It was designed to function during their journey from Egypt to the promised land. Inside, in the Holy of Holies, was contained the Ark of the Covenant, on top of which was the Mercy Seat, the place of atonement. It was over that spot that the cloud hovered that signified God’s presence. Inside the Ark of the Covenant were the tablets of stone that contained the testimony of God, the Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai. God’s law and God’s presence went before the people of Israel, guiding them both morally and literally. Whenever the cloud of God’s presence moved out of the Holy of Holies, the people were to pack up the Tabernacle and follow wherever He led, taking the law with them as they went.

And Stephen points out that this had been the pattern all the way up until the people arrived in the land promised to Abraham by God. At that point, the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, had ended up in Shiloh. The book of Joshua records: “Now that the land was under Israelite control, the entire community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tabernacle” (Joshua 18:1 NLT). Evidently, the Ark and the Tabernacle remained in Shiloh until the day that Israel determined to treat the Ark like a good luck charm and take it into battle against the Philistines. It was captured and, seven months later, returned. But it did not go back to Shiloh. Instead, it ended up in a place called Kiriath-jearim.

1 So the men of Kiriath-jearim came to get the Ark of the Lord. They took it to the hillside home of Abinadab and ordained Eleazar, his son, to be in charge of it. The Ark remained in Kiriath-jearim for a long time—twenty years in all. During that time all Israel mourned because it seemed the Lord had abandoned them. – 1 Samuel 7:1-2 NLT

It seems that the people of Israel had a somewhat spotty relationship with the Tabernacle and the Ark. These items had become little more than symbols of God’s power and presence. And God would use their loss of respect for the Tabernacle and the Ark to remind their future descendants that He takes obedience to His will quite seriously. Consider these sobering words, spoken by God to His prophet, Jeremiah, and intended for the people of Israel who had seen the Temple as the modern-day version of the Tabernacle.

1 The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go to the entrance of the Lord’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the Lord! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here. They chant, “The Lord’s Temple is here! The Lord’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, 10 and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again?” – Jeremiah 7:1-10 NLT

God went on to tell Jeremiah to give the following message to the people:

“Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” – Jeremiah 7:12 NLT

Shiloh, the former home to God’s Tabernacle, lay in ruins when God spoke these words to Jeremiah. The town’s claim to fame of having once held the Tabernacle of God, was not enough to stop its destruction for its unfaithfulness. And God wants the people of Israel to know that Jerusalem would not fair any better, just because it contained the Temple.

The fact was, the Temple had been David’s idea, not God’s. Which is the point that Stephen seems to be making. It was David who had proposed the idea of building God a great house in which to dwell. But God had responded to David’s grand scheme with the following words:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’” – 2 Samuel 7:5-6 NLT

God would eventually allow David’s son, Solomon, to build the Temple, which Stephen points out. But Stephen showed that it was not a house that God desired, but obedient people. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah to make his point.

1 This is what the Lord says:

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?
    Could you build me such a resting place?
My hands have made both heaven and earth;
    they and everything in them are mine.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!

“I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts,
    who tremble at my word.” – Isaiah 66:1-12 NLT

God desired obedience to His word, not a place in which to dwell. He didn’t need a house. He needed His people to humbly submit to His will. And, as Stephen is attempting to point out, Gods will was that they submit to and accept Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. God had chosen to dwell among them in the form of His own Son. Jesus, the Son of God, had become God incarnate, God in human flesh. And as the apostle John pointed out in his gospel, “the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14 NLT). The glory of God no longer hovered over the Ark inside the Temple. And with Jesus’ departure, the glory of God had come to rest on those who had placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior. God dwells within those who have accepted His Son as the sacrifice for their sin debt. He indwells them in the form of His Holy Spirit. And the author of Hebrews provides us with some exciting news.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  – Hebrews 10-11-17 NLT

God now writes His law on the hearts of men, not on tablets of stone. He resides in the hearts of men, not buildings made of brick and mortar. And yet, that was the very thing the people in Stephen’s audience refused to accept. So, he blasts them for their stubborn refusal to recognize the hand of God working in their midst. He exposes them as stubborn and stiff-necked, a people who “always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51 ESV), just as their ancestors had.  Even the Old Testament prophets, who had announced the coming of the Righteous One, had been killed by the people of Israel. And Stephen accuses the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin of having betrayed and murdered Jesus. Just as their ancestors had received the law and had refused to keep it, they had received the Messiah and had refused to accept Him.  The glory of God had appeared right in their midst, and they had ignored Him. Now, the glory of God had shown up in the form of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by signs and wonders, and they refused to believe it. It does not appear that Stephen was attempting to change their minds. He was not trying to convince them to accept Jesus as their Savior. He already knew that their minds were made up and their rejection of Him was permanent and irreversible. And their reaction to Stephen’s words will prove him right.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blood Bought.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. – Hebrews 9:11-15 ESV

To understand this passage, it is essential to understand God’s view on blood. For those of us living in the 21st-century, the very idea of a blood sacrifice is appalling and distasteful. It sounds barbaric and cruel. But you have to go all the way back to the book of Leviticus to get God’s view on blood and its role in the sacrificial system He established for Israel. “And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people,  for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible” (Leviticus 17:10-11 NLT). The blood was a symbol of life. Without blood, life would be impossible. So when innocent animals were sacrificed on the altar of the tabernacle, they were acting as substitutes for the people of Israel. Their blood was spilled so that the guilt of the sinful Israelites could be atoned for. The Israelites, like all people, sinned regularly, and their sin, according to God’s law, deserved death. So God allowed an unblemished animal to serve as a substitute. But the atonement the Israelites received was temporary and incomplete. It could not fully cleanse them from sin. The life on an animal could never fully replace the life of a human.

So the sacrificial system and the tabernacle were both symbols of something greater to come. And the high priest, who acted as a mediator on behalf of the people, was also a type or imperfect representation of someone else to come – namely Jesus. Ultimately, Jesus came to die. Yes, He was born of a virgin, grew up to be a man, performed miracles, taught His disciples, raised the dead, walked on water, and spoke often about His Kingdom. But His mission was to die – to shed His blood, to offer Himself as a substitute for the sins of mankind. The author makes this perfectly clear. “With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12 NLT). The sacrifice Jesus offered was not made in the earthly temple and was not done using the blood of bulls or goats. He shed His own blood. It was just as He had told His disciples the night they shared their final Passover meal together. “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT). The blood of Jesus had to be poured out on behalf of all men in order for complete atonement to be made. Jesus was sent by His Father to be the atoning sacrifice, just as John the Baptist had prophesied. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). The prophet, Isaiah, recorded these powerful words centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. – Isaiah 53:7-10 NLT

Jesus came to earth in order to take on human flesh and do something no other man had ever done: Live in complete obedience to God. Paul tells us, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 NLT). His perfect obedience made Him the perfect sacrifice. He was the “spotless lamb”. So His blood was an acceptable sacrifice to God for the sins of man. His atonement was permanent, not temporary. His death was able to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14 ESV). No longer do men have to carry around a sense of guilt and apprehension because they worry whether they have done enough to please God. They don’t have to wonder if their sacrifice was acceptable. They don’t have to live with a sense of impending doom because they of their inability to stop sinning. The sacrifice of Jesus covered the sins of men completely and permanently. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).

Because of what Jesus has done, we can serve the living God, both in this life and in the life to come. We have forgiveness of sins. We have been made right with God. We have the assurance of our salvation and the promise of eternal life. Not based on anything we have done or will do, but based solely on the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

 

Better In Every Way.

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. – Hebrews 8:1-7 ESV

A better covenant. A better high priest. A better ministry. A better promise. Everything about Jesus is better. To borrow from an age-old, tried and true advertising slogan, you might say it is “new and improved”. Jesus didn’t just provide man with another option among many. He provided the one and only option for men to be made right with God. Unlike the priests who served in the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus ministers in the heavenly tabernacle of God, seated at the very side of His Father. His is not an earthly, temporal ministry, but a heavenly, eternal one. He is no longer offering up sacrifices to appease or propitiate God, because His death fully paid the penalty for sin and satisfied the just demands of a righteous God – once for all.

In this section of chapter eight, the author continues to establish Jesus as better. But he does so by contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant. In verses 22-28 of chapter seven, he pointed out that Jesus is “the guarantor of a better covenant”. This new covenant only requires on priest: Jesus. It’s high priest will never die or need to be replaced. It requires no more daily sacrifices for sin. In chapter eight, we are told that the high priest of the new covenant sits at the right hand of God in a heavenly tabernacle, not an earthly one. It is the real thing, not a replica or poor reflection. The original tabernacle and temple were intended to serve as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). The millions of animal sacrifices offered in those two structures over the centuries were simply a foreshadowing of what was to come. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). They could provide temporary atonement or relief, but were never a permanent fix. That is why the sacrifices  were “continually offered every year” (Hebrews 10:1 ESV). In his gospel, Luke records the words of Jesus to His disciples on the night He shared the passover meal with them for the last time. “After supper he took another cup of wine and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for’” (Luke 22:20 NLT). With the death of Jesus, a new covenant was made between God and man. It replaced the old covenant. Why? Because it provided a better way for men to be made right with God. In fact, it provided the only way for men to be made right with God. Under the old covenant, the shedding of blood provided a temporary relief from the condemnation of sin. But with His death, Jesus provided a permanent solution to man’s sin problem. Rather than man having to try and earn a right standing with God through his own efforts, Jesus provided the gift of His righteousness. He took on man’s sin and gave His righteousness in return. That is why Paul wrote, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). He further elaborates on this point in his letter to the Romans.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

In chapter nine, the author of Hebrews continues his elaboration on the point that Jesus was the better mediator of a better covenant. “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15 ESV). It was not that the old covenant was bad. It was simply that it was incomplete. It pointed to something better to come. It was a foreshadowing of something greater to be revealed. It revealed man’s sinfulness so that he would understand his desperate need for a Savior. It is interesting to note that when Jesus walked this earth, He made the sad commentary on the spiritual state of man: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT). His point? Those who think they are without sin and in no need of a Savior, will never turn to Him. It is those who are “weary and carry heavy burdens” (Matthew 11:29) who will find rest for their souls. The apostle John wrote, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (1 John 1:8 NLT). “If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts” (1 John 1:10 NLT). Jesus offers a better ministry as a better high priest and the mediator of a better covenant based on better promises. But to take advantage of it, men must recognize their sin and their desperate need for a Savior. They must desire something better. They must turn from the old and receive by faith the new that is offered to them through Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

A Holy Habitat.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV

During their years spent wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites had the tabernacle, provided for them by God, as the place to offer sacrifices to Him. Within the Holy of Holies, His presence dwelt above the mercy seat which sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. So holy was this room, that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, was the High Priest allowed to enter in to make atonement for sin on behalf of the people. Later, during the reign of King Solomon, God’s presence would dwell in the Holy of Holies inside the temple that Solomon had built. After Solomon had dedicated and prayed over the temple, God responded by saying, “I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (1 Kings 9:3 ESV). But years later, due to the sins of the people of Israel, God allowed the temple to be destroyed when the Babylonians ransacked the city of Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies was destroyed. The Ark of the Covenant and all the treasures of the temple were stolen. And for all intents and purposes, the people of God no longer enjoyed or were assured of God’s presence in their midst.

To be the people of God, but to have no assurance of the presence of God, would be a difficult condition to endure. To constantly wonder if God was with you, cared for you, or was even aware of your condition, would be disconcerting and discouraging. But God had warned Solomon that if the people refused to obey Him and remain faithful to Him, they would reap the consequences of their unfaithfulness. But He also told him, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV). They would once again experience His favor and enjoy His presence. But even after God returned to the people to the land after 70 years in exile and even after He provided a way for them to rebuild the temple and restore the city of Jerusalem, they remained obstinate and disobedient – for generations.

Then at just the right time, God sent His Son. God knew He could not count on the faithfulness of men, so He sent His Son to earth as a man, so that He could do what no other man had ever done – live a totally sinless and righteous life, in perfect obedience to God. And it was His sinlessness that qualified Him to act as the substitutionary sacrifice for mankind and to satisfy the righteous justice of a holy God. In His incarnation, Jesus became Emmanuel, “God with us.” He dwelt among us, modeling for us the very life that God expected us to live. And His death on the cross provided a way for us to be made right with God. All that was required was our admission of our own sin and acceptance of His sacrifice on our behalf. And when anyone accepts Jesus as their sin substitute and Savior, they receive the Holy Spirit. The very Spirit of God comes to dwell within them. Which is Paul’s point in the passage for today. God makes our bodies His temple by sending His Spirit to live within us. He sets us apart and designates our bodies as His dwelling place. From that point forward, we no longer belong to ourselves. We become His.

With that incredible fact in mind, Paul asks the Corinthian believers, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” (1 Corinthians 6:15 ESV). Then he answers his own question: “Never!” Obviously, these new believers living in the city of Corinth were struggling with sexual sin. Paul spends a great deal of time dealing with this problem. Theirs was a sexually charged society. Promiscuity and prostitution were not only prevalent, but practiced by just about everyone in their culture. So Paul has to tell them that “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13 ESV). They were having to learn that their new relationship with Christ was intended to change everything about them, including their habits. Their bodies were no longer their own, to do with as they saw fit. They now belonged to God. In fact, they were each to view their bodies as the temple of God, housing His Holy Spirit. So they were to flee from sexual immorality. They were to glorify God in their bodies. Why? Because they no longer belonged to themselves. God had paid a high price for their lives. He had sacrificed the life of His own sinless Son in order that they might become His sons and daughters. Peter reminds us of the high price that God paid, and encourages us to live accordingly. “…conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:17-18 ESV).

Paul would have us remember that God had a purpose for setting us apart as His own and placing His Spirit within us. “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 NLT). He goes on and says, “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 NLT). God’s will for us? Holiness. God’s calling for us? Holiness. God’s view of us? A holy habitat for His Spirit. 

2 Chronicles 3-4, 2 Thessalonians 1

Something Missing.

2 Chronciles 3-4, 2 Thessalonians 1

Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. – 2 Chronicles 3:1 ESV

Four years into his reign as king, Solomon finally began the building of the long-awaited house of the Lord – the temple. Construction commenced on top of Mount Moriah, at the site of the former threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, purchased by David for this very purpose. Chapters three and four give us details concerning the construction of various aspects of the temple and its contents. We are given specifics concerning the two massive cherubim that occupied the Most Holy Place. We have descriptions of the altar of bronze, the sea of cast metal, the wash basins, tables golden lampstands and the court of the priests. But there is one thing missing, and it’s absence is significant. In spite of all the painstaking planning and meticulous care that went into the construction of the temple, there was one item that would ensure that this structure would be the dwelling place of God and not just another beautiful man-made building. The missing element was the Ark of the Covenant. Solomon had not forgotten about it. He had every intention of bringing the Ark into the temple upon completion of the construction process, and that significant event is covered in chapter five. But it is important to notice that the building alone, adorned with all its gold, silver, bronze, and cypress; filled with all its handcrafted basins, lampstands and tables; would be nothing without Ark. The Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God’s presence. It contained the stone tablets given to Moses and on which were written the Law of God. It was into the Most Holy Place that the High Priest would enter one time per year on the Day of Atonement, “and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:7 ESV). It was there that the high priest offered sacrificial blood to atone for (cover) the sins of the Israelites as a nation. This offering made propitiation (satisfaction) for their sins for one year. But each year, this same process had to be repeated. It was a sacrifice that had limitations and could never completely satisfy the just demands of a holy God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The Ark of the Covenant was central to the worship of Yahweh. Without it, the people could not have their sins atoned for. A temple without the ark would be just another building, no matter how beautiful it was. A temple without the presence of God would be nothing more than an expensive warehouse, devoid of power and worthless as a place of worship. The Ark of the Covenant was to be a reminder of God’s holiness as revealed in His Law. It was to provide atonement for sin and a means by which to enjoy God’s mercy and forgiveness, so that men might experience His ongoing presence. The temple, while built by the hands of ordinary men, could never provide atonement. It could never forgive sin. The Ark was essential to the ongoing health and well-being of the people of God. Men could construct buildings, but only God can forgive sins. Men can build a temple intended as a dwelling place for God, but only God can provide a means by which sinful men can dwell in His holy presence. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

One of the things that is easy to overlook in reading about the beautiful trappings of the temple is that its existence would reveal two aspects regarding God. First, it was a visible reminder of God’s presence and power. It would be a constant physical symbol of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. But there is a second, sometimes overlooked aspect of the temple that the Israelites would sometimes forget. It was a symbol of God’s judgment. Inside the Ark were the tablets of stone on which were written the Law of God – His holy commands outlining the non-negotiable code of conduct for His people. Those laws were to be obeyed. Not to do so would carry dire consequences. To break God’s laws would bring God’s judgment. Which is why God provided the Mercy Seat. He knew that men would sin. He was fully aware that His people could not keep His holy laws. So He provided a means by which they could have their sins atoned for and His righteous judgment satisfied. The judgment lies at the heart of it all. If there was no pending judgment, there would be no need for mercy or atonement. If there were no sins, there would be no need for forgiveness. The judgment of God is a reality. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) and “ the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). Man stands condemned. He is under the judgment of a holy God and is deserving of His sentence of death. 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV). God, in His mercy, provides salvation. But it does not negate His judgment. Paul made it clear to the Thessalonian believers that God’s judgment was still a reality. While they were suffering for their faith and enduring abuse at the hands of their non-believing peers, Paul made it clear that their suffering was “evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). They were suffering for the present time, but they were not to lose sight of the fact that a day was coming when God would right all wrongs and set straight all injustices. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV). Paul went on to tell them, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The temple without the Ark was worthless. The people of Israel, without a means of receiving the mercy and forgiveness of God, would find themselves standing under the judgment of God. My life without the atoning work of Jesus Christ would be just as worthless and my fate, just as hopeless. Had the Ark only contained the copies of the Law, but no mercy seat, the people of God would have been under judgment and worthy of death. But God provided a means of atonement. He made possible forgiveness for sins that was undeserved and unmerited. He has done the same thing for me. And when I find myself suffering in this life and enduring difficulties and trials as a follower of Jesus Christ, I must remind myself that my reward is out ahead of me. There is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return and the righteous judgment of God will be fully enacted once and for all, “inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV). How grateful I should be that I will not have to undergo that judgment. How thankful I should be that I will be spared God’s wrath and be able to enjoy His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. May I never take for granted the incredible gift I have received. May I never neglect the reality of God’s judgment and the unbelievable gift of His mercy made possible through Jesus Christ.

Father, Your judgment is real and just. Your anger against man is justified. And I know that I was fully deserving of your condemnation and punishment. But You extended to me mercy. You made possible my forgiveness. You did for me what I could have never done for myself. Help me to never forget the reality of Your judgment, so that I never take for granted the wonder of Your grace. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org