"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled..." ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands..." ~ II Tim. 1:6

Category: Old Testament Page 1 of 2

Burnt Offerings to Living Sacrifices:  What Worshipping a Holy God Requires of Us

Leviticus can be a tougher read, even for those who spend a lot of time in the bible.  Filled with exacting tabernacle building blueprints, pages of bloody sacrifice instructions, and a litany of purification rituals, it’s sometimes difficult for God’s people today to truly connect to this book.

The temple sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood were phased out when Jesus Christ gave His life for us as the eternal Passover Lamb and was resurrected to sit down at God’s right hand as our High Priest (Heb. 8-10).

So it can be tempting to ask why we should care about Leviticus today, except as a historical record.

It’s an understandable question, and there are LOTS of good answers.  The most obvious answer is that God had it included in the bible for a reason, and we know that all scripture is God-breathed and given to us for instruction (II Tim. 3:16).  But let’s go even further than that.

The book of Leviticus tells us about the creation of the Levitical priesthood in the tabernacle (and later temple), under a high priest.  This was a precursor and prophetic “shadow” of when God’s firstfruits become eternal kingly priests in His kingdom, with Jesus Christ as our High Priest (Rev. 20; Heb. 4:15).

However, if we pull back even further and look at it in totality, Leviticus is ultimately a book about holiness, sanctification, and sacrifice—being set apart for God’s use.  God was showing His newly-established nation how to worship, serve, and obey a holy God.  He tells them, “You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2).

This study is focused on bringing one aspect of Leviticus to life—the burnt offerings—and putting it into a context that God’s ekklesia today can meditate on and use in our lives.  The burnt offering ritual (along with the other offerings listed in Leviticus) helps us understand God’s perspective on proper worship, showing us how God wants us to view and worship Him.

What was the burnt offering?

There are a total of five types of sacrifices outlined in Leviticus.  We might assume that they’re all dealing with sin, but in fact only two of the five were specifically for that purpose.

The other three were all “sweet savor” (or “sweet smelling aroma”) sacrifices that were completely voluntary.  They include the burnt offering, the grain or meal offering, and the peace offering (or fellowship offering).

Let’s start with the initial command for the burnt offering:

“Let [the person bringing the offering] offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will…then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.

He shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar…And the priest shall burn all [parts of the animal] on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord” (Lev 1:3-9)

So we see that this sacrifice was offered freely, was completely burned up, was intended to be accepted by God on the person’s behalf, and that God viewed it as a sweet fragrance.  These elements are consistently called out when the burnt offering is mentioned throughout Leviticus and beyond.

So how does this connect to our lives today?

100% commitment:  wholly dedicated to God

Paul gives us one of the keys:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren…that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable [rational] service” (Rom. 12:1).

What does Paul mean by a “living sacrifice”?  It feels almost like an oxymoron, since the animal being sacrificed was killed.

But (figuratively) so are we.

When we answered God’s calling, committed ourselves to God, repented, and came out of the watery grave of baptism, we were “crucified with Christ”.  Paul tells us that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  Our sins, our past life, and our carnal nature were put to death (Rom. 6).

“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin…do not let sin reign in your mortal body…and do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present [offer, submit] yourselves to God as being alive from the dead” (Rom. 6:6-13)

The burnt offering was completely consumed by the fire.  This is one of the few offerings where the priests didn’t get to eat some of it.  It was TOTALLY burned up, entirely dedicated to God.  Nothing was held back or kept in reserve.

It’s worth asking:  am I offering 100% of myself in complete surrender to my Creator?  What am I holding back?  Are there areas of my life where I don’t want to let God in?  Do I give God just enough of my time to “tick the boxes” on prayer and bible study, then go on with the rest of my life?

Why & How Does God Use the Number 40 in the Bible? 

The lens of periods of 40 in the bible & what God is accomplishing on our wilderness journey

We recently explored the theme of wilderness in the bible, and how—for God’s people—the wilderness symbolizes the spiritual challenges we face as we do our best to navigate life in this carnal world.

Specifically, we talked about how people often associate the idea of a spiritual wilderness only with harsh, debilitating times of trial—but instead we should view our entire journey through this life as a journey through the wilderness.  Sometimes it’s lush pasture, other times barren desert, but always a place where God is guiding us with a purpose.

In fact, the only way to reach the Promised Land lies through the wilderness.  It’s where God calls His people to begin their journey, out of this present carnal world (represented by Egypt) to a place of preparation for the world to come.  It’s also where He reveals more of Himself and His ways, and teaches us how to fully rely on Him to provide.

And while our focus is on reaching the Promised Land of God’s eternal kingdom, we must remember that the experiences we have on the way are critical to our spiritual growth, key to reaching the destination itself.  Even the Hebrew word for wilderness (midbar) implies momentum, driving forward, and a journey with a purpose.

God is accomplishing something in us as we journey through the wilderness, and we have to surrender to Him fully, and trust that He is leading us in the right direction.  And this brings us to one really interesting thematic connection to the wilderness that I couldn’t dig into in the other study, but did want to explore further—how God uses the number 40 in the bible.

This isn’t getting into mystical numerology or anything like that, but God does use certain numbers symbolically throughout His word, and we’d be wise to pause and consider what lessons we can glean.  This study may seem quite long, but each of the examples can be read on their own, a little at a time.

What is the significance of the number 40 in the bible?

The number “40” in the bible appears to be connected to many of the same themes as we saw with the idea of wilderness, and the more I dig into the nuances, I really see the wilderness and the number 40 as two sides of the same coin.  We often see wilderness experiences (literal or symbolic) timebound by periods of 40…days, years, etc.

These shared themes include periods of significant trial or testing, or sometimes punishment for rebelling against God.  Some examples focus on the teaching and preparation of God’s chosen leaders.  And in many examples the number 40 shows how God is redeeming His people from the world, bringing a time of restoration and renewal.

In other words, these are all facets of how God is bringing His people out of (spiritual) bondage, through the wilderness (of this physical life), and eventually into the (eternal) Promised Land.  They showcase examples of God’s intent and direction in His people’s lives.

The number 40 in the bible appears to symbolize completion and accomplishment of God’s purpose, but in more of a physical sense (whereas the number 7 is more about Godly perfection and completion).  It is sometimes 40 years, though often a period of 40 days and nights—a person’s or nation’s success in completing the 40 days/years requires humility, trust in God’s promises, and reliance on Him to sustain.

Leadership Qualities in the Bible: Examples That Business Leaders Can Learn From

As anyone who is a manager or leader of people knows, leadership is HARD.  It can be incredibly rewarding, heartbreaking, frustrating, or tedious depending on the day.  It often has more in common with parenting than people would realize.

And there are a lot of bad bosses in the world…though no one ever wants to believe that they’re one of them.

For God’s people who are also leaders within their work environment, we have a significant responsibility to not only care for and grow our employees, but also be a reflection of God’s way while we do so.  The old adage comes to mind that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

The bible is packed with passages to help guide God’s people through the joys and trials of people leadership.  For instance, there’s so much in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes alone that we can learn from, not to mention all of the “red text” instructions from Jesus’s own mouth.

But as the wisest people know, studying the examples and actions of others can sometimes be just as instructive, or even more so—whether good or bad examples, they provide context and specific tangible details that can help a leader with practical application.

For as long as I can remember, if you’d asked me what biblical figure I really looked up to or who was my “hero”, I would have answered Daniel.  He stayed faithful while navigating the politics of Babylonian and Persian governments, and managed to be consistently promoted while acting as an example of God’s way to even the rulers of the realm.

So this study looks at specific examples of leaders in the bible, and specifically leadership qualities that they modeled.  My goal here isn’t to go really in-depth on each (because they could honestly each be their own study), but rather provide illustrations and inspiration for biblical examples of leadership—and then each of you can take it from here.  Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Abraham: Stepping out in faith, navigating uncertainty
  • Daniel: Refusal to compromise regardless of consequences
  • Esther: Risking herself to “go to bat” for her people
  • Joseph: Perseverance, trust in God’s timing, and planning through adversity
  • Job: Perspective through loss
  • Moses: Motivation, intercession, and delegation to avoid burnout
  • David: Passion, patience, and penitence
  • Abigail: Showing tact and discretion to de-escalate a situation
  • Nehemiah: Pursuing a vision and inspiring others to follow

What Are Abominations Before the Lord?

Where this study stemmed from

In today’s world of political correctness and permissiveness, the very word “abomination” is something that most people recoil from and completely reject. The industry I work in is very liberal, and I’m often placed in a position of needing to explain and defend my faith as tactfully as possible. Most people can wrap their heads around the fact that I don’t keep Christmas, don’t eat unclean meats, and keep a seventh-day Sabbath. But where their understanding stops is when it comes to homosexuality, because they believe that it’s bigotry or hatred on my part not to accept homosexuality as a completely natural thing.

There is a shaky line I have to walk in explaining that it has nothing to do with hating those people specifically, but that I also don’t get to pick and choose which commandments are valid within the things God says are wrong. I’ve had many people tell me that it was only considered wrong in the Old Testament, but that the New Testament doesn’t mention anything about it and Jesus did away with all that Old Testament hardline nonsense.

But the thing is, we know that Jesus didn’t do away with the Old Testament—only added to it or fulfilled some aspects (such as the need for the Levitical priesthood and physical sacrifices). And so quite some time back, I decided that I needed to do an in-depth study on what God considers abominations, so that I could confidently discuss the topic when asked.

The use of “abomination” in the Bible

It makes sense to start by finding out what things or actions God call an abomination. Interestingly, people often think about this as being mainly a hardline law/Pentateuch thing, and certainly there were a number of occurrences there. But it came as a surprise to me that the highest concentration of the word “abomination” appears to be in the book of Proverbs, in verses concerned with the heart and mind.

The words “abomination” and “abominable” are used over 170 times in the KJV and probably a similar number in the NKJV, though they tend to be used a less frequently in certain modern translations. While there’s only one Greek word translated this way, there are around five different Hebrew words. Three are from the same root word (shequets, shaqats, shiqquts) and mean roughly the same thing—filth, figuratively or literally an idolatrous object, detestable thing. These words are used when speaking of unclean animals, for instance, or often refer to pagan or idolatrous things in a more general sense. Two other words (ba ash and piggul piggul) are only translated abomination once or twice, but more often words like stank, loathsome, and abhor are used when translating them.

The most prominent word translated “abomination” is to ebah to ebah, and signifies that which is disgusting morally, an abhorrence.  It is used not only in the passages we expect (such as those on sexual sins or pagan rituals) but also passages in Proverbs and similar that speak to behaviors God finds detestable.

What We Can Learn From Haggai About Zeal: Just Do It

“…Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”

~Romans 12:11

The book of Haggai is the second-shortest in the Old Testament, and like many of the minor prophet books it’s often skimmed over or overlooked altogether.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend much time in these books, simply because I find the contents challenging to relate to.  But at the Feast last year I heard a message given from this book that really resonated with aspects of my life over the past several months.

Written during the Babylonian exile, Haggai’s story tells of a complacent and lethargic people.  Roughly 16 years prior, the Persian ruler Cyrus had granted them leave to return to Israel and rebuild the temple of God.  The people returned to the land filled with excitement and immediately set to building.  But they fairly quickly allowed discouragement and their personal concerns to delay and derail their efforts.

As a result, God had stopped blessing them and allowed significant trials to befall them.  Eventually, He gave Haggai this message for the people:

“Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled [luxurious] houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!  You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.’  Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” (Hag. 1:3-7)

God points out that they had been working on improving their own lives, establishing and beautifying their own homes, but not accomplishing what He had sent them there to do.  Over time they had lost sight of their purpose, and because of their misplaced priorities God had ceased to bless them—all their daily work wasn’t actually accomplishing anything.  It was, as Solomon says, “vanity of vanities” (Eccl. 1:2).

Haggai shows us what happens when we neglect His house and put our own priorities first, and there are some really important warnings for us.  The Israelites were required to build a physical temple for God to dwell in, but the stakes are much higher for God’s people today.

Our commission:  to build His house

Much like He had centuries earlier in Egypt, God plucked the Israelites from subjugation in a foreign land and sent them back to their homeland with a specific directive—to build His house.  Our situation is the same today, except we are building a spiritual temple rather than a physical one.  He called each of us out of the bondage of this world, brought us into covenant with Him, and promised to provide His spirit as a helper.

The Lie of Independence and the Freedom of a Bondservant

“Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Cor. 3:17)

When you hear the word “liberty”, what does it mean to you?

A few days ago Americans celebrated Independence Day, and the fact that 240 years ago a group of irritated land owners and businessmen announced the birth of a new nation.  Most of us could quote that declaration on command:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Particularly with a circus of an election coming up this year, we’ll hear a lot of talk about freedom and independence and democracy in the upcoming months.  But I think if you asked ten different people on the street what freedom means, you’d get ten different answers.  Today, our society tells us that freedom means that each of us has the right to do whatever we want, regardless of the cost to ourselves or others, and that we have the right to be offended if someone disagrees with or opposes those actions.  Society tells us that the bible is an oppressive list of rules written by a harsh, egotistical God—good enough for Christians to cherry-pick homilies from but not a wholly God-breathed, life-governing document.

That’s because our country was really founded on independence, not freedom or liberty.  People use them interchangeably, but there’s a huge difference, and it’s a very important one for Christ’s followers to understand.

Seven Days You Shall Eat Unleavened Bread…Now What?

As the sun set last night on the Days of Unleavened Bread, each of us had probably heard several messages about various themes that these holy days are meant to help us remember.  For a lot of people, a heavy emphasis before and during was probably placed on the process and concept of deleavening, and over the past few years that major focus has given me pause.

When you take a step back and think about it, the way many of us have been taught to deleaven is all about how WE are getting rid of leavening—how we vacuum every nook and cranny of our house and car, scour the ingredients of every label to find a little-known chemical that’s technically leavening, and find deeper meaning each time a box of baking soda hides in plain sight or we find a pack of crackers in our purse.  The spiritual analog for this in the days leading up to the Passover for many people is making a checklist of everything they’ve done wrong in the last year to see where they’re falling short and how they can do better in the next year, and not to only look in the obvious places for sin.

None of that is wrong necessarily, but in doing so we’ve made these holy days a time that symbolizes how WE put sin out of our lives.  And that’s not something we have the ability to do by ourselves (nor is it something we can finish by a certain date).  It’s hypocritical.  We’ve accidentally hijacked the Days of Unleavened Bread and made it into a time all about us, not about Christ and what He’s made possible in our lives.

“Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread”

This hyper-focus on deleavening (and making it about us) has also caused focus to shift away somewhat from the much more emphasized command to put the unleavened bread of Christ into us.  In fact, the passage that lays out all the holy days in in Leviticus 23 doesn’t even say anything about putting out leavening.  However, ALL the commands say we must eat unleavened bread for the seven-day period.  Here’s the initial command in Exodus:

Leaving Egypt & The Fall of Jericho:  Prophetic Implications of the Days of Unleavened Bread

“By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe” (Heb. 11:29-31)

The spring holy days are aligned with, and represent the firstfruit harvest, and each has specific themes that keep showing up.  Passover is a sacrifice and redemption from slavery.  The Days of Unleavened Bread are overcoming sin and acceptance or victory.  Pentecost is a celebration, receiving an inheritance.

The holy days show us God’s plan for His people and all mankind, and give us a framework for prophecy.  But while we often talk about the fulfilled prophecy of Passover and future implications of the fall holy days, people get really mealy-mouthed around both the Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost.  We’ve been told the Days of Unleavened Bread picture our journey out of sin and putting sin out of our lives.  These are likely true, but what if there are even more concrete fulfillments?

This time of year I think it’s important to look at two significant occurrences on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread that help us begin to figure out its place in the future prophetic framework.  God performed similar baptism-like miracles for two generations of Israelites, then destroyed the worldly system standing in the way of establishing His chosen nation in the land He had promised them.  Together these show us a picture of the future when God will destroy sin and the carnal world—the death knell of Babylon—and help His people enter His kingdom.

Coming out of Egypt

The children of Israel started their journey out of Egypt on the first holy day during the Days of Unleavened Bread, after experiencing the horrifying and humbling tenth plague and God’s favor as their own firstborn were spared death.  Over the next few days, God led them away from the heart of Egypt, by day with a pillar of cloud and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light along the dark path.  His presence was visibly with them every second of the day.

Book of Ecclesiastes & the Feast of Tabernacles

A while back I was speaking with someone and they mentioned their group was getting ready to go through the book of Ecclesiastes, and they weren’t really looking forward to it. They said they’d always kind of struggled with this book and found it depressing and nihilistic—basically “life sucks and then you die”.

I was surprised. Apparently I’m in the minority, but I’ve always loved Ecclesiastes. In college it was my go-to set of scriptures (along with the latter half of Romans 8) when I was having a bad day, when I felt shaky on my foundation, when I needed a dose of perspective. What I’ve always taken from Ecclesiastes is that buying into this carnal and physical world—the pleasures, the pursuits, the ambition, the struggles—is ultimately a path to destruction.

If I were to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, it would be thus:  all you try to accomplish on your own on a physical level will eventually pass away, so look to God now and follow His ways above all else and you will succeed. To me that is actually a very encouraging, inspiring message. We may have it hard in this life or we may have it easy, but the only thing that ends up mattering is not how far we got in our career or how big our house was, but how much our character reflects Christ’s.

A few weeks later while studying the holy days and their meanings, I learned that the book of Ecclesiastes is traditionally read by the Jews every year during the Feast of Tabernacles. I didn’t see the immediate connection, so I decided to look into it more. And the more I studied, the more it made sense and gave one of my favorite books of the bible even deeper meaning.

The Book of Ecclesiastes Summed Up

At its heart, Ecclesiastes asks the question, “In what direction is your life headed? Toward man or toward God? Toward death or toward life?” In its very lyrically-written 12 chapters, the narrator tries to find fulfillment and happiness through all the things man values—seeking after human wisdom, the pleasures of food and drink, great accomplishments, hard work, wealth, having children. His take on it all? It’s all vanity (futile, meaningless). People live and die, civilizations rise and fall, everything in life has a time and purpose, but it all eventually passes away. All of the work of man will come to nothing, and only God’s way works and lasts.

The Day of Atonement & Covering the World

The meaning of the Day of Atonement

When I was a kid, I was told that the meaning of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was “at-one-ment”, or becoming one with God.  For something that’s a linguistic lucky coincidence, it’s surprisingly not too far off in terms of the end result, but it’s also a massively over-simplistic view of the Day of Atonement and misses a lot of the day’s meaning.

In fact, as a kid I always had trouble connecting this idea of “becoming one with God” or drawing near to Him (which seemed like a good thing) with the command to fast on this holy day (which seemed like a bad thing, like I was being punished somehow).

The day’s name itself tells us that there’s more to the story, though.  Kippur means “expiation”—making amends for something, reparation of guilt and that guilt being cancelled, or when another takes the punishment for sin.

Kippur comes from the root word kaphar, which means to placate, reconcile, extend mercy, cancel, or cover over.  The Israelites were told that the Day of Atonement was a sabbath of solemn rest, when they were to afflict their souls and the priest was to make atonement (literally “covering”) for them, to cleanse them from all their sins (Lev. 16:30-31).

It’s the concept of “covering” that this study dives into.  Like two sides of a coin, there are two separate-but-related “covering” aspects of the Day of Atonement and drawing near to God.  The first is Christ’s sacrifice covering the sins of (by finally being applied to) the whole world, while the second involves removing the covering (or veil) that Satan has cast over the whole world to separate them from God.

One way to look at God’s holy day plan is as two harvest seasons that kind of mirror each other—the firstfruits in the spring, and the rest of mankind in the fall.  In this scenario, the Day of Atonement is really the flip side, or final fulfillment, of the Passover.  When Jesus gave His life and was resurrected, He made it possible for humans to receive God’s spirit, have their sins wiped clean, and eventually become spirit beings as God’s children in the kingdom.  As He breathed His last, the veil on the temple sealing off the Holy of Holies was ripped from top to bottom, granting initial individual direct access to God.

However, this access to God’s spirit is currently only extended to a small group of people, His firstfruits.  In the final fulfillment of the Day of Atonement after Christ’s return, His sacrifice will be applied to all mankind, their sins will be blotted out, and the dark veil that shrouds the world (along with its creator, Satan) will be entirely, permanently removed (Is. 25:6, Lev. 16, Rev. 20).

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