Monday, September 3, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Judith 6-7 and Hebrews 7-8

Judith 6 – Holofernes turns on Achior and tells him Nebuchadnezzar “is their God” and he will “display his power and wipe them off the face of the earth, and their God will certainly not save them” (6:2). As for Achior, when they are wiped off the face of the early, he too will die for trying to play the prophet.

He is ordered taken and turned over to the Israelites. Because of their tight defenses, they cannot take Achior to the Israelites, but he is bound at the foot of the mountain where the attack will occur. The Israelites get him and bring him to Bethulia.  They hear his account of what happened and praise God: “’Lord God of heaven,’ they cried, ‘take notice of their arrogance and have pity on the humiliation of our race. Look kindly today on those who are consecrated to you’” (6:19-20).

Judith 7 – Holoferne’s massive army advances on Israeli highlands. They have a force of 120,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry along with a “vast number” of men involved with moving the supply train they have.

Auxiliaries from the coastal areas suggest they post guards at the springs from which Bethuliah gets its water and simply besiege the place. Holofernes likes this. The Israelites call on God., but they are “dispirited because the enemy had surrounded them and cut all line of retreat” (7:19).

For 34 days, they are completely surrounded, weakened and despairing. The people blame the leader Uzziah and others for not suing for peace. They are sure they will be enslaved, but they prefer that to death. Uzziah begs them for patience – five days more. “The town was full of despondency” (7:32).

Hebrews 7 – The nature of the high priesthood of Melchizedek is explored – he is a priest who is not part of the earthly priesthood of the Levites. The priesthood Jesus represents is an eternal priesthood that existed even before Abraham in the Holy Land and that foreshadowed Christ. Melchizedek was the king of Salem and a priest of El-Elyon, God Most High; he goes to meet Abraham with an offering of bread and wine after he helps to defeat Chedor-laomer and the kings allied with him. He was in some ways like the “Son of God” (7:3). Abraham paid a tithe of all he had to Melchizedek.

A new priesthood has arisen, putting an end to the Levitical priesthood and being similar to the priesthood that went before it. This change in priesthood implies a change in the Law as well. Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, not of Levi. Christ became a priest “not by virtue of a law about physical descent, but by the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). This fulfills the prophecy set forth in Psalm 110.

The earlier commandment and Law “was neither effective nor useful, since the Law could not make anyone perfect” (7:19). And this new priest has been made by God’s oath (Psalm 110), making the new covenant greater than the first. And our priest – Christ’ remains forever. He “is living forever to intercede for all who come to God through him” (7:25). He is the perfect High Priest and the perfect offering – “holy, innocent and uncontaminated” (7:26).

William Barclay’s comments on this part of the Hebrews text is very interesting. He notes that the author’s use of the Melchizedek reference embodies a very Jewish way of approaching Scripture: “To the scholarly Jew any passage of scripture had four meanings to which he gave four different names: First, there was Peshat, which is the literal and factual meaning; Second, there was Remaz, which is the suggested meaning. Third, there was Derush, is the meaning arrived at after long and careful investigation. And fourth, there was Sod, which is the allegorical or inner meaning. To the Jew the most important meaning for far was Sod, the inner meaning. He was not nearly so much interested in the factual meaning of a passage as in the allegorical and mystical meaning which could be extracted from it, even although it might have no connection whatever with the literal meaning” (Barclay 67-68).

Hebrews 8 – Our high priest is all of this. Christ is a minister of the “true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (King James, 8:3).  The Jerusalem Bible calls it “the true Tent of Meeting which the Lord, and not any man, set up” (8:3). And he goes on to say that the gifts offered by priests on earth are “only . . . a model or a reflection of the heavenly realities” (8:5).

It is interesting how closely George Fox followed these words. His analysis, that the earthly ministries of the Old Testament were merely “types and shadows” of the realities Christ would offer is right from here. What I don’t think Fox saw was that in the time on earth after Christ we still need “types and figures” to embody what he was and did.

The author of Hebrews sees “access to God” as the whole point of religion. Jesus removes every barrier between man and God. And access to God could also be seen as “access to reality.” The Greek or Neo-Platonic approach would interpret the Old Testament sacrifices as “shadows” (types/figures) of the “real” sacrifice Jesus would embody. Greeks “thought in terms of two worlds, the real and the unreal. They believed that this world of space and time was only a pale copy of the real.” Jesus was the only true, real and eternal mediator – connecting link between God and man.

The author goes on to compare the two “covenants” – Old and New. This present covenant is better than the first; it is “written on our hearts”  (King James). Quoting Jeremiah, he says “I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbor to try to teach neighbor, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord’. No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest, since I will forgive their iniquities and never call their sins to mind” (8:10-12).

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