Gratitude, Day 1—The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip


A number of years ago, I began reading through the Bible from cover to cover. When I first started the process, I’d inevitably bog down when I got to certain parts that seemed . . . well, boring. I thought they weren’t relevant, didn’t give the spiritual nourishment I needed.

So one year I got the idea to skip the parts that were too hard, that I didn’t find engaging.

But since then, I’ve changed.

As it happens, the Bible is constructed in such a way that one passage builds upon another, and before I realized it, I was reading the hard passages and even taking notes and asking questions.

Specifically I’m referring to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There were other passages—a portion of 1 Chronicles, for example—that dive into genealogies, and they were on my “To Be Avoided” list, too, but primarily, I dodged Leviticus and Numbers.

I’m not at all sorry I did because I’m convinced that decision kept me from quitting my reading plan, as I tried to work my way through the entire Bible.

The amazing thing is that God has turned around my attitude toward those books. I realized it some years ago when I felt a sense of sadness that I was finished with Leviticus. When did that happen? And how?

God did His work, is what happened. How? By the power of His Spirit and the incisive word that cuts to the heart. I don’t honestly remember when I decided to keep going when I finished Exodus.

To be honest, there are big parts of that book that are not your edge-of-the-seat fare, either. It’s there that God gave the specifics of the tabernacle—its construction and furnishings—as well as the Ten Commandments and a variety of other laws.

Leviticus, then, sort of slides right in behind, carrying on where Exodus left off. The thing is, the more familiar I become with the rest of the Bible, the more these books of law and records make sense to me, and the more they help me understand other parts of the Bible. Cyclical, I know.

Not that I don’t also have questions about them. I do. Questions and observations.

Here’s one note, for instance, across from Exodus 21:16—“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”My note:

By this law, Joseph’s brothers would have been put to death.

Joseph’s brothers—the patriarchs after whom the twelve tribes were named. Their sin against Joseph was of the nature that would have cost them their lives under the Law. Instead, they were forgiven and given places of prominence among the nation of Israel for all time. Who could do that but a God of grace?!

Or how about this note next to Leviticus 17:11-12—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ ” My notes:

How radical was Jesus’s statement “This is my blood . . . drink this . . . ” ! The blood is the life, so Jesus’s blood spilled for sinners was His life spent for the atonement of sinners. And the cup of the Lord’s supper? His life in us symbolized by our drinking of the cup.

These notes were compiled over at least three different readings of the passage. Each time something new about the verses came clear and one thought built on another.

Or how about Numbers 7. It’s 89 verses long, but most of it is repetition, enumerating the dedication offerings for the altar. Each day for twelve days a leader of one of the twelve tribes brought the exact same offering, and these are listed throughout the chapter, one after the other. All twelve of them:

On the [__ numbered] day it was [name of tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father], leader of the sons of [name of tribe]; his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of [tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father].

I don’t know why God repeated those lines twelve times, inserting, of course the different tribal names and their respective leaders and their fathers. But what I’ve noticed is that the margins of my Bible are covered with notes here (mostly questions). This was a passage I once skipped, then skimmed, then tried to memorize, then began to ask questions about and notice details.

For instance, the order in which the tribes presented their sacrifice is not the same as the order of birth of the patriarchs or their listing by the name of their mother (the two most common ways they are listed throughout the first five books of the Bible). Instead, they’d been grouped in companies, three tribes to a group, each under the leadership of one particular tribe. By the order of these companies they were to camp and by the order of these companies they were to travel. It is this order, then, that they presented their sacrifices.

Significant? In thinking about the dynamics of the nation, it’s interesting and informative, especially in relation to its division into two kingdoms later on.

Back to the sacrifices: part included flour or incense offered in 12 bowls, 12 pans, and 12 dishes. Only the pans holding the incense were to be made of gold. The others were silver. Is there a reason for that? Was the incense a particularly important part of the worship or was it a practical matter—the blend of burning spices would have tarnished silver?

I don’t know, but it’s interesting to note that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are referred to as incense.

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

All this to say, there are all kinds of interesting connections, some literal and some symbolic, that I am beginning to see, especially in the New Testament, as a result of reading Leviticus and Numbers. I understand the book of Hebrews better, for instance, and a number of things that the gospels chronicle make more sense.

I have to mention this one: one of the laws in Leviticus was that a person with an “issue of blood” would be unclean—i.e. not able to join in the worship ceremonies and feasts. Furthermore, anyone that person touched would also be unclean.

So in the New Testament when the woman with the “issue of blood” touched the edge of Jesus’s clothing, she didn’t want to touch Him to cause Him to become unclean. He, on the other hand, didn’t rebuke her, but had compassion on her because her suffering had been much deeper than the physical. She’d been ostracized and separated from worship for all those years. And still she believed.

So today, I’m especially grateful for the books of Leviticus and Numbers and for the way God makes His word come alive. He is a faithful God.

Much of this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

Published in: on November 1, 2018 at 4:59 pm  Comments Off on Gratitude, Day 1—The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip  
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Let There Be Light


In this case, “let there be light” does not refer to part of God’s act of creation. Rather, as part of my church’s Scripture reading program, we have been going through the book of Exodus, including all the instructions about putting the tabernacle together.

The cool thing about writing these short devotionals or meditations is that they require me to think more about the passage than I most likely would have otherwise. I mean, putting the tabernacle together is not the most action packed, gripping section of Scripture. This is the passage I was assigned for July:

Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers; and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold. Exodus 37:17-24)

My thoughts:

For the longest time I’ve struggled matching pictures of the Menorah with this description of it here in Exodus. I mean there are two branches and then three cups, but four bulbs and flowers and then six branches, only to conclude with seven lamps. Usually when I finish this section, I feel quite befuddled, and I’m glad that someone with a bit more visual acumen than I, has been able to translate these words into an actual object.

Of course Moses had the heavenly pattern, so he knew before he gave the artist the description, what the holy light was to look like.

Now I have the internet, so at long last I think I understand how all the parts fit. More importantly, I see this: perpetual light. Many parts fashioned as one lamp. Function and artistry in combination. Another of God’s “perfect sevens.”

All of these are important, but I am drawn to the fact that God wanted the things of worship to be beautiful. Yes, they all had a purpose, an important function. And yet they were all created in beauty. Beneath each lamp was not a block or a slab. Rather the casing was a bulb and a flower.

In the same way, I believe God wants the writing or editing I do to fulfill a purpose, and He wants me to do it in a way that displays His glory. It’s not enough for me to meet a deadline if I grumble the whole time. The beauty is as important as the function.

Published in: on July 18, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (3)  
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Law And Grace – Reprise


As I’ve read in Exodus these past few days, I’ve reached the “dry” chapters. The excitement is over—plagues all done, Passover held, exodus accomplished, chase ensued, water parting miracle performed, enemies vanquished, grumbling faced, water and food provided.

And now Moses records the details of his meeting with God—the Ten Commandments, an overview of various other laws, an introduction to the offerings, and then specifics about the tabernacle. I mean specifics!

We have the ark, the table, the lampstand, the tent curtains, the outer tent curtains, the boards, the veil, the screen, the altar, the court, the priestly garments and … you get the idea.

Lots of things, lots of details.

The thing that impresses me is that in the midst of all God’s prescriptive communication handed down in the Law, grace shines like a diamond. Here are a few examples.

In chapter 22 Israel is commanded not to “wrong a stranger or oppress him.” Why? because they had been strangers in Egypt at one time. They had received help in time of need, only to have that help turn into oppression. Don’t do like those who did to you, the command seems to be saying.

There are other similar gems in this chapter. One of the many times Scripture admonishes how to treat orphans and widows is recorded in verse 22 (You shall not afflict any widow or orphan). Verse 25 spells out lending money to the poor without charging interest and returning the man’s cloak he’d given as a pledge so he won’t be cold at night.

Why all these? Verse 27 explains: “for I [the Lord] am gracious.”

Chapter 23 records the plan of planting and harvesting for six years, then letting the land rest the seventh year, also allowing the needy to glean from the fallow field.

After the people agree to abide by all these laws in chapter 24, Moses meets with God on the mountain. In chapter 25 God instructs him to start taking contributions for the tabernacle. They were going to need a lot of materials. But here’s how it was to work: “from every man whose heart moves him, you shall raise My contribution” (emphasis mine).

The key here is God’s desire for a willing heart, not just the stuff the people could give. None of it was to be given under compulsion or grudgingly.

And then the specifics of the tabernacle—precise measurements, exact numbers of items, details of arrangements. In fact, God told Moses, “You shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain.”

No telling if the existence of this perfect model or heavenly tabernacle which the earthly one copied was a singular object or not. Could it be that other “Perfects” or archetypes exist, as Plato’s theory of forms suggested?

Be that as it may, God cared deeply that the tabernacle constructed under Moses’s oversight would be like the heavenly one. This does not sound like a God of mystery to me.

Why would He go to such lengths to reveal a structure built for His worship but hold Himself apart and unknowable? In fact, He did the opposite. It was only when the people trembled at His voice and begged Moses to act as the intermediary for them that God restricted His communication. And still He gave the people His Shekinah glory—His holy presence in cloud and in fire.

Yes, this was a period of law giving and prescriptive instruction, and still God’s grace shines bright.

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in August, 2011.

Published in: on August 16, 2017 at 5:42 pm  Comments Off on Law And Grace – Reprise  
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Law And Grace


Some time ago my church did a really cool thing. As a local body of believers we read a chapter of Scripture together. Well, not physically together, but the same chapter on the same day of the week.

We read in Exodus for the better part of a month, and reached the “dry” chapters. The excitement was over — plagues all done, Passover held, exodus accomplished, chase ensued, water parting miracle performed, enemies vanquished, grumbling faced, water and food provided.

And now Moses records the details of his meeting with God — the Ten Commandments, an overview of various other laws, an introduction to the offerings, and then specifics about the tabernacle. I mean specifics!

We have the ark, the table, the lampstand, the tent curtains, the outer tent curtains, the floor boards, the veil, the screen, the altar, the court, the priestly garments and … you get the idea.

Lots of things, lots of details.

The thing that impresses me is that in the midst of all God’s prescriptive communication handed down in the Law, grace shines like a diamond. Here are a few examples.

In chapter 22 Israel is commanded not to “wrong a stranger or oppress him.” Why? because they had been strangers in Egypt at one time. They had received help in time of need, only to have that help turn into oppression. Don’t do like those who did to you, the command seems to be saying.

There are other similar gems in this chapter. One of the many times Scripture admonishes how to treat orphans and widows is recorded in verse 22 (You shall not afflict any widow or orphan). Verse 25 spells out lending money to the poor without charging interest and returning the man’s cloak he’d given as a pledge so he won’t be cold at night.

Why all these? Verse 27 explains: “for I [the Lord] am gracious.”

Chapter 23 records the plan of planting and harvesting for six years, then letting the land rest the seventh year, also allowing the needy to glean from the fallow field.

After the people agree to abide by all these laws in chapter 24, Moses meets with God on the mountain. In chapter 25 God instructs him to start taking contributions for the tabernacle. They were going to need a lot of materials. But here’s how it was to work: “from every man whose heart moves him, you shall raise My contribution” (emphasis mine).

The key here is God’s desire for a willing heart, not just the stuff the people could give. None of it was to be given under compulsion or grudgingly.

And then the specifics of the tabernacle—precise measurements, exact numbers of items, details of arrangements. In fact, God told Moses, “You shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain.”

No telling if the existence of this perfect model or heavenly tabernacle which the earthly one copied was a singular object or not. Could it be that other “Perfects” or archetypes exist, as Plato’s theory of forms suggested?

Be that as it may, God cared deeply that the tabernacle constructed under Moses’s oversight would be like the heavenly one. This does not sound like a God of mystery to me.

Why would He go to such lengths to reveal a structure built for His worship but hold Himself apart and unknowable? In fact, He did the opposite. It was only when the people trembled at His voice and begged Moses to act as the intermediary for them that God restricted His communication. And still He gave the people His Shekinah glory — His holy presence in cloud and in fire.

Yes, this was a period of law giving and prescriptive instruction, and still God’s grace shines bright.

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in August, 2011.

Published in: on May 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm  Comments Off on Law And Grace  
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The Separateness of Holiness


The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle


God’s plan for Israel was that they should be a God-fearing nation in order to point all other nations to Him. As a result, after the Exodus, He gave them a place to worship, priests to mediate between Him and them, and sacrifices to perform for their cleansing.

When Jesus came, He perfected each of those roles in Himself. He spoke of His body as the temple to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. He took the role of the High Priest. And He became the sacrifice, once for all.

When He ascended to the right hand of the Father, He gave believers the same three roles, not to redo what He had done but, because we are in Christ, to act as an extension of Him:

And coming to Him as to living stones, you also are being built up as a spiritual house for a royal priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

Israel was to be separate and holy, to point the nations to God.

Jesus was separate and holy, providing the way of reconciliation to God.

Believers now are to be separate and holy, to point all other peoples to God.

We are not to be separate and holy in order to be reconciled to God–Jesus accomplished that for us. But in understanding that we humans cannot atone for our own sins, that we in fact need a Savior, it seems some have concluded that the separate and holy issues aren’t for today.

Yet the New Testament writers make it clear. Peter specifically quoted from the Old Testament law in his first letter as support for his call to be holy:

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1:15-16)

Paul spoke about separateness:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 – emphasis mine)

Jesus prayed for His followers specifically about being in the world and yet being set apart:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:15-19 – emphasis mine)

No list of things to do or things to stay away from. Yet Paul is quite clear that our lives are to be different from those who don’t believe:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called . . . So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:1, 17-24 – emphasis mine)

Why, I wonder, do we hear so little about living a holy life? Some Christians speak as if holiness equates with legalism, but certainly the Bible doesn’t call us to be legalists. Rather than standing apart from the world, it seems many Christians make it their goal to fit in. How we handle our money, the entertainment we choose, our treatment of the homeless, how we dress, what we write–in so many ways, it’s hard to say Christians are not conformed to the world.

And wasn’t that Israel’s problem? Didn’t they want to be like the nations around them rather than to be holy like God, so they could represent Him to the lost peoples?

Published in: on February 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Law And Grace


My church has been doing a really cool thing for some time now. As a local body of believers we have been reading a chapter of Scripture together.

We’ve been reading in Exodus for the better part of a month, and have now reached the “dry” chapters. The excitement is over — plagues all done, Passover held, exodus accomplished, chase ensued, water parting miracle performed, enemies vanquished, grumbling faced, water and food provided.

And now Moses records the details of his meeting with God — the Ten Commandments, an overview of various other laws, an introduction to the offerings, and then specifics about the tabernacle. I mean specifics!

We have the ark, the table, the lampstand, the tent curtains, the outer tent curtains, the floor boards, the veil, the screen, the altar, the court, the priestly garments and … you get the idea.

Lots of things, lots of details.

The thing that impresses me is that in the midst of all this prescriptive communication, grace shines like a diamond amid all the law. Here are a few examples.

In chapter 22 Israel is commanded not to “wrong a stranger or oppress him.” Why? because they had been strangers in Egypt at one time. They had received help in time of need, only to have that help turn into oppression. Don’t do like those who did to you, the command seems to be saying.

There are other similar gems in this chapter. One of the many times Scripture admonishes how to treat orphans and widows is recorded in verse 22 (You shall not afflict any widow or orphan). Verse 25 spells out lending money to the poor without charging interest and returning the man’s cloak he’d given as a pledge so he won’t be cold at night.

Why all these? Verse 27 explains: “for I am gracious.”

Chapter 23 records the plan of planting and harvesting for six years, then letting the land rest the seventh year, also allowing the needy to glean from the fallow field.

After the people agree to abide by all these laws in chapter 24, Moses meets with God on the mountain. In chapter 25 God instructs him to start taking contributions for the tabernacle. They were going to need a lot of materials. But here’s how it was to work: “from every man whose heart moves him, you shall raise My contribution” (emphasis mine).

The key here is God’s desire for a willing heart, not just the stuff the people could give. None of it was to be given under compulsion or grudgingly.

And then the specifics of the tabernacle — precise measurements, exact numbers of items, details of arrangements. In fact, God told Moses, “You shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain.”

No telling if the existence of this perfect model or heavenly tabernacle which the earthly one copied was a singular object or not. Could it be that other “Perfects” or archetypes exist, as Plato’s theory of forms suggested?

Be that as it may, God cared deeply that the tabernacle constructed under Moses’s oversight would be like the heavenly one. This does not sound like a God of mystery to me.

Why would He go to such lengths to reveal a structure built for His worship but hold Himself apart and unknowable? In fact, He did the opposite. It was only when the people trembled at His voice and begged Moses to act as the intermediary for them that God restricted His communication. And still He gave the people His Shekinah glory — His holy presence in cloud and in fire.

Yes, this was a period of law giving and prescriptive instruction, and still God’s grace shines bright.

Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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