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Worship in the Earthly Tabernacle May 11, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 9:1-10.

Summary: The author begins by noting that the old covenant had ordinances for divine service; it also had a worldly holy place. This holy place was fixed; its first part contained a candlestick and a table with holy loaves. Its second part consisted of the holy of holies, including the house of spices and the ark of the testimony – which contained a gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded and the Ten Commandments. There were two cherubim over the ark that represented the glorious presence of God, and their wings overshadowed the atonement cover.

Now the author states the reason for his description of the worldly holy place. In particular, he draws the following contrast:

  • the priests entered the first part of the holy place on a daily basis to attend to the candlestick and serve at the altar of incense
  • only the high priest entered the holy of holies once a year; at that time, he took some fresh blood from a newly killed sacrifice and brought it into the holy of holies, where he sprinkled it seven times toward the ark of the testimony as a propitiation for sins.

Thus, the Holy Spirit shows that the way to the glorious presence of God had not been manifested while the holy place was being used. Moreover, the sacrifices that were offered by the priests did not perfect the conscience of the sinner. The author concludes by asserting the inherent weakness of the services of the holy place.

Thoughts: In this passage, the author discusses the furniture of the tabernacle. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

This tabernacle was set up, as the materials were provided by the people, the materials were worked on by Bezaleel, put in position under Moses’ directions, and adorned for use…There was the lampstand, or candlestick. Its meticulous construction is described in Exodus 25:31-40: “Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it…The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold…”

Last year I enjoyed a PBS NOVA special on the forging of a Viking sword, and I remember being quite impressed by the skill of the Viking swordsmiths. Now it could be argued that Bezalel performed an even more impressive feat by crafting the above-mentioned lampstand. Did he start with a solid block of pure gold and progressively hammer out the lampstand from this block? If that was the case, it would have been neat to watch him gradually form the above-mentioned “flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms.” Although my artistic abilities leave much to be desired, I can definitely appreciate the requisite talent and meticulousness for hammering out precise shapes with complex features. I certainly hope to meet Bezalel in the next life and hear how God gave him the wisdom and strength to complete this awe-inspiring task.

Reading a passage that focuses on the tabernacle – and its inherent shortcomings – caused me to ponder the effort that the priests put forth in terms of maintaining it. In particular, cleaning the lampstand and refilling it with oil should be simple compared to the task of maintaining the various altars in and around the tabernacle. Also, cleaning an altar that is used to burn incense should be simple compared to the task of cleaning an altar that is used for animal sacrifices. When cleaning the latter altar, a priest would have to remove a large amount of detritus, including splattered blood, fur and entrails. My assumption is that the altars had to be maintained on a daily basis. If so, one must wonder if the Levite priests approached this task with joy – or if they were overwhelmed with boredom at some point.

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