These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
The Altar lay outside the Tent, and indeed was the key to entering. The altar was outside not only so that the tent was not burnt by its fire, but because sacrifice was always the prerequisite to drawing close to God. No sinful human being could presume to go barging into the presence of God without due preparation. The first stage was to be cleansed from sin and rebellion.
As the writer to the Hebrews says: “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 10:22). This is what the altar was for.
Jesus fulfilled and so ended the need to keep sacrificing burnt offerings on the altar, by offering himself as the one, perfect sacrifice. Again, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it: “(Christ) has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).We approach our Lord not because we are good, but because he (Jesus Christ) is good. It was God himself who was, in his son Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19), dying for us that we might be forgiven. His love for us cost him his life.
The altar is, however, not only there for sacrifice for sin, but also for sacrifices of thanksgiving! God has given so much and it is only right that we should offer back to him the first fruits of our gains. Gratitude is a key attitude to cultivate within ourselves. It stops us taking things for granted and even grumbling that we have not got more!
Paul expresses well the sacrifices that are fitting for us to give: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Our God is pleased with the dedication of ourselves to him, and “a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
Thank you Lord for your love and sacrifice for me. May I respond in generous love and sacrifice for you. Amen.
1 What was Abraham going to sacrifice on his homemade altar?
“you shall make the seven lamps for it” (v.37) RSV
This piece of furniture is well known nowadays as the Menorah – the seven branched lampstand or candelabrum. We learnt two weeks ago about the Laver which was used to cleanse, and last week about the Table of showbread (Bread of the Presence) which was used to feed. This week’s Lampstand has the natural benefit of bringing light.
In this dark world we need the light of God’s presence and also the light of his word to guide us. As the Psalmist says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Jesus brings us the presence of God, and surely that is why he said “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The love of Jesus dispels gloom and the teaching of Jesus clears away ignorance.
The arrival of Jesus (the word made flesh) is expressed well by John in the opening verses of his Gospel: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it … The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9).
The seven-branched lampstand/candelabrum resided in the Holy Place in front of the veil that hid the Holy of Holies. It was regularly filled with oil to sustain the flames. This too was fulfilled in Jesus who lived by the life and power of the Holy Spirit. He was daily filled with heavenly power, and that was why he shone so brightly wherever he went.
We too are called to be lights in this world, and we can only do so by being filled with the same Holy Spirit. Jesus said: “You are the light of the world … men do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine …” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Thank you Lord for the light of your Spirit and your Word. Fill me afresh today and every day so I may shine for you.
“… set the bread of the Presence on the table” (v.30) RSV
What could be a clearer indication of the bread of Communion than this Old Testament symbol of the “bread of the Presence” (v.30) or Showbread (e.g. 2 Chronicles 13:11)?
Every Sabbath twelve fresh loaves were prepared for the table; they were placed in two rows of six, and the previous twelve were eaten. Surely the significance of this ritual was that the bread is made holy by the presence of God, and is then consumed by Aaron and his sons (representing the people of God), so that they may become partakers of the divine nature.
John appears to refer to this process of divinisation in his account of the Feeding of the 5000. He records Jesus as saying: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). There is no doubt that the very life blood of God flows into us through the symbolic bread.
And symbolic it is. However high its significance, however holy, and however much a means of grace, it is not in itself the Presence of God. There is no magic here. It has not changed irresistibly into ‘God’! It remains bread, and yet when eaten in faith it truly conveys the Presence of God.
Did not Jesus himself illustrate this point when he cited the occasion when David and his men were hungry in the desert, “Have you not read what David did, when hungry, and those who were with him; how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for him to eat …” (Matthew 12:3-4). He was arguing with the Pharisees that rituals, however important, are only relative and may sometimes be broken. The Bread would have been to David and his men ordinary, not divine; it was still bread!
The bread of the Presence was a wonderful foreshadowing of the gift of the Bread of Communion that we have today.
May I truly receive you, O Lord, and your life when I receive your word and eat the Bread of Communion.
1 Read about David eating the Bread of the Presence
Three items lay within the Holy Place: the Laver, the Table and the Lampstand. This week we pause to consider the Laver or Sea. This was a vast dish that was full of water. Its purpose was for cleansing and purification. Whenever we approach God we need to do so “with clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4)
This idea is taken up by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount when he tells his disciples that it is “the pure in heart” who will see God (Matthew 5:8). The outward washing can only at best be a sign of the more important inward cleansing. In the end all outward rituals are only outward, but God looks on the heart. However, doing things outwardly can help us achieve things inwardly. Ablutions are one of those activities.
This theme is taken up in the letter to the Hebrews: “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 10:22).
Once again Peter reminds us that water by itself cannot cleanse us inwardly: “Baptism, which corresponds to this (Noah and the Ark), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience …” (1 Peter 3:21).
Jesus enacted the ritual of ablution with water during the Last Supper when he took a towel and washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:12-17). They did not need a complete bath (for baptism achieved that!), but they needed daily cleansing from the sins and toil of the day.
The Laver in the Tabernacle was the only source of water for the cleansing process. It enabled people to be purified and so able to enter in the holy presence of their God. We too want to be able to draw close and be safe in his presence.
Father, I am not worthy to enter into your presence, but say the word only and I shall be cleansed. Wash me thoroughly with your word. Amen.
“put into the ark the testimony which I shall give” (v.16) RSV
The Ark resided in the Holy of Holies and it specifically represented the presence of God. The word ‘ark’ literally means a box or boat. Of course there is the well known ark of Noah, but the ark of God was a carefully constructed box which measured 2½ cubits (112cm) by 1½ (77cm) by 1½ cubits (77cm). It was covered with gold inside and out, and it was carried by two poles that fitted through rings which were attached to each of its four corners.
This box contained “the testimony” (v.16) of God. That is, it contained the two tablets of stone that Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai upon which were written the Ten Commandments. Thus the law of God resided in the ark, representing his just and holy presence.
However the ark did not only consist of the box, for God instructed that above it should sit the “mercy seat” (v.17). This construction represented the love of God which overcame his justice. The two cherubim sat opposite each other with their wings touching so that they created a holy space between themselves. This space (note, no idol or representation of God) was filled with the love of God.
As God said, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat … I will speak with you …” (V.22). Here is revealed the whole purpose of religion, to meet with the living God. The ark was normally kept in the most holy place, but it had a chequered history, once being captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:1-7:2). Later King David tried to bring it to Jerusalem (before the Temple was built). His first attempt was disastrous because he did not carry it as God had instructed. Consequently Uzzah died (2 Samuel 6:6-7). On the second attempt it was carried with due reverence and all was well.
God is holy and is to be obeyed, but he is also merciful and longs to forgive and to restore. So when we come to him we trust not in our merit but in his steadfast love and mercy.