Sermon Notes: The Sweet-Smelling Aroma of Prayer (OT)

TEST CASE # 2 :: The Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-10; 34-38)

For the last two days, we have looked at Exodus 29 and the consecration of the priesthood, today we will move to a section of the tabernacle furniture that is a little more obscure: The Altar of Incense.  How should we understand this instrument in the law, in the prophets, in relationship to Christ, in the way it points to the gospel, and in our own lives?  To answer such a question we must begin in the OT and work our way to the NT.

Again, following the five-fold model (Law, Prophets 1 &2, Christ, Gospel, Christian Application) presented here, our aim today is to better understand the “good news” of the altar of incense and how the Old Testament prepares us for Christ’s fulfillment of this golden altar.

1. God commands Moses to build an altar of incense.  In brief, notice three things in verses 1-10—(1) the construction (v. 1-5); (2) the location (v. 6); (3) the function (v. 7-10).

Construction. Like everything else inside the holy place, the altar of incense was made of acacia wood, and covered with gold (v. 1, 3).  It was to be about 18 inches across and 18 inches in depth, and it stood 3 feet tall (v. 2).  Like the altar in the courtyard, it had horns on all four-sides.  And like everything else in the holy place, it was made to be portable.  Thus, it had rings of gold so that poles could be used to carry it.  These two were made of acacia wood and covered in gold (v. 5).

Location.  Also important is the location.  In verse 6, Moses records, “And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is avoe the testimony, where I will meet with you.”  The location is important because it was the last piece of furniture the priest would pass before entering behind the veil; likewise, when the priests offered incense they were coming near to God.  Leviticus 16:18 describes the location in these terms: “Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it.”

So on the Day of Atonement, the priest applied the blood to the altar of incense after applying blood the mercy seat, and significantly the altar of incense sat in front of the veil.

Function.  Verses 7-10 explain the function of the altar. Verse 7 says Aaron would burn incense on it.  Morning and evening, fresh incense would rise for this little golden altar.

What was this incense?  Verses 34-38 supply the answer:

The LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

 Clearly, there was God-ordained way to make the incense for the altar.  We cannot reproduce it because we do not quite know what the substance are, or what the proportion were.  But it was clear “You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it” (v. 9).  Moreover, it was only to be used for incense and not a burnt offering, a grain offering, or a drink offering (v. 9b).  And finally, like all the other elements of the tabernacle, it needed to be cleansed by the blood of the yearly sin offering (v. 10).

What does it symbolize?  Location hints at its purpose, as does the imagery of the smoke rising to God.  In fact, while some scholars have said that the incense served the purpose of covering the odor of the priests and their work; it is better to see that the smoke did not simply remain in the Holy Place.  It went behind the veil.  While Israel’s high priest could not enter behind the veil, but once a year.  The incense was constantly wafting into the presence of God.

And it is no wonder that altar of incense became synonymous with prayer in Old Testament and the New Testament.

Psalm 141:1-2 makes this clear: “A Psalm of David. O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

Luke 1:8-11 is also helpful.  While this passage is in the New Testament, it must be remembered that it is still an Old Covenant age: Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

So clearly, there is a connection between the altar of incense and prayer.  But there is also a connection between this altar and the bronze altar that stands outside the holy place.  Philip Ryken helps us relate the two:

[B]y calling it an altar, God was making a connection between what happened on the great bronze altar out in the courtyard and what happened on the little golden altar inside the tabernacle.  Both altars were square, and both had horns rising up on their corners.  So there was something similar about their shape.  Also, they were both used at the same time of day.  Remember that the priests offered incense at dawn and at dusk.  Something else important was happening at the same time, both morning and evening: Priests were out in the courtyard offering a sacrificial lamb.  These daily religious rituals were synchronized.  Thus there was a close connection between the two altars, in both their design and their function… The connection between the two altars served as a daily reminder that the life of prayer depends on having a sacrifice for sin.  What secures a place for us before the throne of God’s grace is the atoning blood that was shed for our sins.  This is why God hears our prayers (Exodus:Saved for God’s Glory927).

Now for the question: How did Israel do at keeping this law?

2A. Nadab and Abihu, sons mentioned in Exodus, burn unauthorized fire in Leviticus 10, and are struck dead because of their willful—and perhaps drunken—disobedience.

Leviticus 10:1-3. Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.

2B. Uzziah, King of Judah, overcome with pride attempts to offer incense on the altar without prayer and without a priest.  The result?

2 Chron 26:16-21. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.

In addition to these historical (and prophetic) accounts, if you look at Ezekiel 8, you will find the prophet touring the temple and seeing false worship in all corridors, thus contaminating any sort of prayer life or altar of incense. The question is: Are there any hopeful prophesies for a better altar of incense?

3. Malachi, in the midst of God’s judgment, looks to a day when incense will rise before God from all over the earth—perhaps indicating a day when the temple is larger than a mountain in Jerusalem.

Malachi 1:11. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incese will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

What about in the New Testament?  Do we have evidence that Christ fulfills this? We do, and we will check it out tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Priest’s Particular Work (NT)

Moving from Old Testament to New, the particularity of the priestly office continues.  In fact, just as the high priest represents the 12 tribes whose names are engraved on his heart; Christ lays down his life for his church, the New Israel, those who are made new in Christ (cf. Gal 6:16; 1 Pet 2:5, 9).

Jesus Priesthood in John’s Gospel

For instance, in John, Jesus describes his atoning work as accomplishing salvation for those who believe (3:16), for all his sheep (10:14), for all his friends (15:13), and for all those God the Father has “given to him” —Jew or Gentile.  Consider Jesus high priestly prayer,

Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours (John 17:2, 6-9).

As John records it, Jesus does not reveal himself or pray uniformly to all people.  He prays for those whom the father has given him.  In priestly vernacular, he mediates only for those whose names are written on his ephod and breastpiece.

Maybe you are thinking, can we really connect Exodus 28-29 with John 17? That is a legitimate question, so it is important to see that there do seem to be some linguistic and conceptual links between the two passages.  This is most evident in verses 16-19.

They [i. e. those whom God has given to Jesus] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth

In this brief prayer, there are at least two words/ideas that were used in Exodus 28–sanctify/sanctified and consecrate.  Apparently, as Jesus anticipates his atoning death, he prays to the Father for his own.  He stakes the fact that he will consecrate himself for them, which has explicit reference to his priestly work of sacrifice, so that they might be sanctified for access into God’s holy dwelling (cf. Heb 10:19ff).  This was obviously the purpose of Exodus 25-40; and so it is with Jesus, who makes atonement not in an earthly tabernacle, but in God’s heavenly temple.  And who does he make atonement for?  According to John 17, it is those people whom the father has given.  This is not a universal group; it is God’s particular covenant people.

Jesus’s Priestly Work in John’s Apocalypse

Finally, the list of names for whom Jesus represents as priest is also given in Revelation.  For instance, in Revelation 13:8, John declares that judgment is coming upon “Everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”  In other words, God in eternity past purposed whose names would be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Here, John is warning earth-dwellers of their impending demise, but by contrast, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be saved.  Clearly, it would be inappropriate to say that this passage refers to the ephod or the breastpiece.  However, the principle is analogous.  In both the Lamb’s Book of Life and on his priestly garments are the names of those for whom Christ died.  Again, the names indicate a particular representation for a particular people.

Likewise, in Revelation 17:8, John records, “And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.” Like the earlier verse in chapter 13, John is describing those whose names are left out of the book; but that has to imply that their are others–a countless multitude in Revelation 7–whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Thus in both positive (the ephod and breastpiece) and negative (the book of life) terms, God distinguishes those whom the Lamb dies for, and those whom he does not.  As God’s appointed priest and sacrifice, God sends him to earth to be slain, so that by his blood he would ransom people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9-10).  In this way, God’s particular means of salvation are made known to all the earth; and the promise that the gospel will be universally effective is found in the fact that in every tribe, language, people, and nation, God has his chosen ones.  In this way, God’s offer of salvation can be offered to all people indiscriminately; and it has the promise of absolute efficacy, because of Christ’s perfect, priestly atonement and intercession (see Hebrews 9-10).

The Good News of Christ’s Priestly Work

This is the Good News!  Christ’s salvation cannot be revoked.  It cannot be overturned.  It will not fail.  While the Levitical priests were weak, and unable to cleanse human guilt, they did preserve the flesh.  Yet, they could never save the soul.

Not so with Jesus.  His priestly ministry is infinitely better.  For all whom he died, he effectively saved.  He is a glorious and beautiful priest!  He perfectly intercedes for all those whose name are on his vestments; he does not forget us.  We are close to his heart.  As John records, He has lost not one!  And all those who have trusted in him and repented of sin, can have glad-hearted confidence that their name is written across his heart.

May we proclaim that word all over the earth, until the priestly-king returns to reign on the earth!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Royal Victory Palace

A Royal Palace

Finally, the tabernacle is a royal palace, built with the materials plundered from the defeated Egyptians (Exod 12:35-36; 25:3-7).  In this way, the tabernacle is a memorial to the King of Israel’s victory over the king of Egypt.  Like the Arc D’Triumph that marked Napoleon’s greatest victory over his enemies, or like the way victorious coaches have their names assigned to gymnasiums and stadiums, so the tabernacle (later temple) served as a marker for the way the God of Israel defeated the surrounding nations. We see this aspect in a handful of ways.


First, notice that the materials that are collected are costly, beautiful, and fitting for a king.

25:3-7. This is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, & stones for setting, for the ephod &  for the breastpiece.

It is easy to miss just how expensive these materials are: First, the amount of gold, silver, and bronze is amazing. According to [Exodus] 38:21-31 approximately one ton of gold, four tons of silver, and two-and-a-half tons of bronze were used to make the tabernacle and its furnishings” (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land, 195).

Next, the dyed materials—blue, purple, scarlet—were not only the garments of royalty, they too were very rare and costly.  From where the priests served, the house was absolutely breathtaking.  It was meant to be.  The God of creation who is a master-builder and magnicifient artist, has called Israel to construct a house for him that is worthy of his glory.

Ark of the Testimony  

Not only are the materials royal.  The furniture is too.  In the Holy of Holies, sits the ark of testimony.  Overlaid with gold, this is God’s throne.  This is where he sits and rules over his people.  In fact, Exodus 25:16 records, “And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”  The covenant laid out in Exodus 20-23 was stored in the tabernacle, affirming God’s kingship in Israel and Israel’s absolute promise to obey all God’s commands. (For an in-depth discussion of the relationship between the covenant and the house of God, see Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority).  Interestingly then, when Israel later rebelled against God, one of the greatest signs of his judgment was the destruction of the temple.

Moreover, in the New Testament, when the temple veil was torn, this was not only a picture of the access that New Testament believers have (Heb 10:19-25), it was a picture of God’s royal judgment upon Israel for their failure to keep covenant.

A Hint from ANE

Last, the pagan world surrounding Israel gives an interpretive context (by common grace) for understanding what the building of a temple signifies.  Jeffrey Niehaus makes this point very well in his book, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical TheologyIn the Ancient Near East, like with Napoleon’s arch, temples were built at the end of military campaigns.  Niehaus records the words of one particular Egyptian leader,

[Ra] begat me to do that which he did, to execute that which he command me to do… I will make a work, namely, a great house [a temple], For my father Atum [Pharaoh].  He will make it broad, according as he has caused me to conquer (90).

We find this same pattern is in Scripture. In Exodus, God saves Israel out of Egypt, and has them build a victory palace.  In Samuel and Kings, God gives David the victory over the enemies of God, and he desires to build a house for God.  While God does not permit David to build God a house, his son Solomon does with the pattern revealed to David (1 Chronicles 28).  Then in the New Testament, Jesus comes promising to build a house for the name of the Lord one that the gates of hell cannot defeat (Matt 16:18).  What is he doing?  He is building a victory temple.  Consider Paul’s flow of thought in Ephesians 2, where he concludes,

Ephesians 2:19-22. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (See my exegetical paper on Ephesians 2 for a more thorough explanation).

This is the message of Scripture: God who created a cosmic temple in which to dwell, set man in Eden in order to expand all over the earth.  Man sinned, and ruined that plan.  But God has sent a Second Adam to come and finish what Adam failed to do.

He has redeemed a people and he is now building a place.  And the question we must ask ourselves is this: Is that our story and our hope? Are you a living stone affixed in his temple, or are you trying to build your own–a house for your own name?  Are you worshiping the hero of God’s epic story who is building his victory memorial, or are you trying to create your own epic?  Rest assured, if you are looking to win the victory for yourself, you will lose out in the end.

Rather than finding joy in our own earthly successes, we must find joy in the promise of dwelling forever with the God of heaven.  We must cry with the Psalmist,

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! (Ps 84)

May that such longing for God’s dwelling place rule our hearts and govern our hopes!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Holy Abode

Yesterday, we considered how the tabernacle served as a typological model meant to instruct Israel and us about God’s world, God’s plans for salvation, and what it means for the Creator to dwell with his redeemed creation.  Today, we will look at the way  God’s house is a holy abode.

In Exodus 25:8, Moses records God’s statement, “Let them make me a sanctuary…”  The word here means holy place.  Everything about the house of God is intended to stress his holiness.  From the arrangement of the curtains to the selection of the building materials, everything about the tabernacle shows how closer proximity to the holy of holies demands increased purity and holiness.

Holy of Holies, Holy Place, and Courtyard

The first thing that shows the holiness of God is the floor plan of the tabernacle, along with the series of curtains that separated Israel from God.  Exodus 26 explains these dimensions. So that looking down on the tabernacle, you can see a courtyard 150 feet long, 75 feet wide.  This courtyard was surrounded by a fence (7.5 feet high).  The gate was on the East (like the garden of Eden), and upon entering the courtyard, the Levites would be confronted with a massive bronze altar (7.5 ft wide, 4.5 feet high) and a bronze basin for washings.  Describing this holy space, T.D. Alexander writes,

Separated from the rest of the Israelite encampment, the courtyard was set apart as a holy area; only the tabernacle, in which God dwelt, was considered to be more sacred… Just as Moses set a boundary around Mount Sinai to prevent the people from coming into the divine presence (19:12-13, 21-24), so the courtyard fence prevented them from approaching God inadvertently… Without the courtyard buffer zone, it would have been impossible for [Israel] to dwell in safety close to the Lord (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land197).

So at the first-level, God’s holiness is seen in the separation between the priests and the people.  Next we come to the tabernacle, itself. At the end of the courtyard was the house of God.  In it were two sections—the holy place and the most holy place.  Again these correspond to the pattern on the mountain, and the pattern of access typified in Exodus 24.  When Moses met with Israel, the people remained in the camp, the priests came half-way up the mountain, and Moses alone entered the cloud (24:1-2).  

The Screen and the Veil

Next, we see how the screen and the veil add to the idea that God’s presence is separate from man.  Exodus 26:31-37 reports,

 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side. You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. And you shall make for the screen 5 pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold. Their hooks shall be of gold, you shall cast 5 bases of bronze for them.

When we unpack this passage, the holiness of God’s dwelling space is stressed by the screen that separates the courtyard from the Holy place in verse 36, as well as, the veil that separates the holy of holies from the holy place.  On the veil that protects the most holy place, there are cherubim—angelic beings who live to praise God around his throne.  These are not on the screen.  The difference between the veil and the screen is one more evidence, that approach to God’s throne room should not be taken lightly.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Likewise, as you move towards God’s dwelling place, the value of the materials changes.  Notice, the fence at the outside has silver hooks (on top) and brass bases; the screen has gold hooks and brass bases, and the veil has gold hooks and silver bases.  It is also worth nothing that because of these bases, the curtains of the  tabernacle don’t really touch the ground—again this stresses the holiness of God’s dwelling place, and by extension, the holiness of God. 

What might we learn from all this?

It is worth asking at this point, what are the implications of this holy space.  Let me suggest two things.

First, God dwells in unapproachable holiness, and we as covenant-breaking sinners  do not have natural access to him.  Truthfully, I wish someone would have told this to me when I was 17.  Wrongly, I had the impression that because God was a loving father, he was pleased with me and happy for me to come to him.  The tabernacle says otherwise.  God is pleased with absolute holiness.  This doesn’t change in the New Testament, either.  Jesus says that we must be perfect (Matt 5:48); Hebrews declares, without holiness, no one will see the Lord (12:14).

God’s unapproachable holiness has points of access.  At the same time that God’s dwelling place shouts “Holy, Holy, Holy!” It also promises gracious access.  Notice that in the fence there is gate.  In the screen there is an opening.  And in veil there is a way to enter.  What does this teach us about God?  Simply this: We cannot come to him on our own terms or in our own names, but through priestly mediation and a system of sacrifice, God has made a way to come behind the veil.

More specifically, from the people of Israel, there is a chosen people—the Levites—who can enter the courtyard.  In the courtyard, there is an altar to make burnt offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings; as well as, a basin for cleansing.  These make possible access into the holy place.

Moreover, there is Exodus 28-29 a designated high priest  who will go before the LORD once a year in order to make atonement for Israel (Leviticus 16).  In all this, God reveals that he does not relax his holy standards, but neither does he leave his people to perish under the weight of his law.  He is terrifyingly pure but also unfathomably tender.

Bringing this forward, the tabernacle prepares the way for Jesus Christ, our superior access.  He is the the way, the gate, the door to the Father.  Jesus who is as pure and holy as the inner chamber of the tabernacle comes outside of the courtyard, into the polluted world, and makes clean not only the Levites.  He comes and makes clean people from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation, such that Revelation 5:9-10, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Praise God for his perfect provision of a way into his inner chamber.  May his tabernacle–in shadow and substance–teach us afresh of God’s sublime holiness and boundless grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Typological Model

When we think about the tabernacle, the first thing to realize is that it is more than meets the eye.  In other words, the tabernacle is built to show off theological, cosmological, and Christological truths–just to name a few.  Today, lets consider a couple of these things. 

1. A Portable Mountain of God

First up, the tabernacle’s three sections—the courtyard where the people would bring sacrifices, the holy place (the first section in the tabernacle) where the priests would work, and the holy of holies where the high priest would enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, all correspond to the pattern that Moses saw on the mountain.  A few verses prove this:

25:8-9.  And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.  Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

25:40.  And see that you make them [Mercy Seat, Table, Golden Lampstand] after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

 26:30. Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. (cf. The Bronze Altar, 27:8)

 God gives Moses a vision and instruction of this tabernacle, so that Israel can see beyond it to the throne room of God—remember, most of the people never went inside, so this information has a curb appeal because of the mysterious of God’s tent.

2. The Cosmos

Second, in general and in detial, the tabernacle which is God’s earthly dwelling place with Israel is simultaneously constructed in a way that represents all creation.  Gregory Beale has proven this thesis in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.  More succinctly, T. D. Alexander has followed Beale with his more popular treatment, From Eden to New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical TheologyFor our consideration, let me mention a couple verses. 

Ps 78:69.  He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.  Clearly, this proves in a single verse the connection between the tabernacle and the construction of the universe. However, you will also find in Scripture those places where Scripture describes the reverse–the universe is God’s macrocosmic temple.

Psalm 104:1-6.  Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

 The significance of this microcosmic-macrocosmic temple is simply that what God does in Israel has cosmic significance.  God’s goal is much larger than a singular sanctuary in the Middle East; it prepares the way for Christ and the garden-temple that is revealed in Revelation 21-22.

3. Eden

Not only is Moses given a vision of God’s mountain throne and the cosmos which he upholds, what we learn in the construction of this tabernacle is the way it points back to Eden.  Notice a couple of connections.

  1. Gold in the tabernacle goes back to the gold that existed in Eden (Gen 2:11-12; Exodus 25:7, 11, 17, 31; cf. 1 Kings 6:30)
  2. The Menorah points back to tree of life (Gen 2:9; 3:22; Exod 25:31-35); the bread of God’s presence corresponds to the food provided by God in the garden (Gen 2:17).
  3. Angels embroidered on the Veil reflects the angel who dwelt outside Eden (Gen 3:24).
  4. That God would dwell and even walk in the midst of Israel is Eden-like (Gen 3:8; 26:12).


Now the question arises: Why does this matter?  Let me suggest two reasons.

Typology.  Each of its elements is meant to represent something else—it is like a giant object lesson for Israel and for us.  In fact, verse 40, which is quoted in Hebrews 8:5, actually uses the word “type” (typon, LXX). Thus, to understand the furniture of Exodus 25 and the tabernacle itself (26), courtyard (27), we must appreciate its symbolism and typology. (We will explore this more in the days ahead.

Telos.  Since the purpose of the tabernacle is typological, it is also eschatological.  It does point back to Eden, but even more it points ahead to a permanent rest in the land.  This is prefigured in Israel’s entrance into Canaan, but even more it foreshadows the work of Christ and the dwelling he promises in the age to come.

Thus, if you know the Bible well, you know Rev 21:22 says that in the end there will be no temple in the city, but that doesn’t deny an eternal cosmic temple.  What is a temple, but the dwelling place of God.  And what Revelation teaches is that at the end of the age the God who dwells in heaven, will again dwell with man on earth; and not just in one box-shaped tabernacle.  All creation will be his dwelling place.  The glory of God will cover the earth.

Revelation 21:16 makes this so clear in the light of Exodus 25-40.  John records that the city of God that comes down from heaven is 12,000 stadia (1380 miles) in length, width, and height.  It is a perfect cube–just like the holy of holies.

So to understand Revelation 21, we must read it with Exodus 26, and what we see is that at the end of the age, the whole earth will be as holy as the holy of holies.  So the goal of God is not a 15x15x15 golden box in Israel.  His goal is a perfect, purified world where he dwells with his redeemed.  This is what Exodus teaches us.

It beckons for a temple not made with human hands, even as it is given to Moses for the construction with human hands.  Exodus points beyond itself and leads us to see that Jesus is the builder of this better tabernacle, and if we care at all about what God has done in Christ and/or is doing, we must see look carefully at the details of the tabernacle.

May God give us eyes to see his design in this ancient tabernacle and hearts that long for the temple that is to come!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Bavinck on the “Word of God”

During the month of December, I am preaching on the “Word of God Made Fresh,” looking at how God’s Word in the Old Testament prepares for the Word of God Made Flesh in the New Testament.  In preparation for tomorrow’s sermon, I ran across this captivating quote by Herman Bavinck:

Finally the designation ‘word of God’ is used for Christ himself.  He is the Logos in an utterly unique sense: Revealer and revelation at the same time.  All the revelations and words of God, in nature and history, in creation and re-creation, both in the Old and the New Testament, have their ground, unity, and center in him.  He is the sun; the individual words of God are his rays.  The word fo God in nature, in Israel, in the NT, in Scripture may never even for a moment be separated and abstracted from him.  God’s revelation exists only because he is the Logos.  he is the first principle of cognition, in a general sense of all knowledge, in a special sense, as the Logos incarnate [i.e. ‘the word made flesh’], of all knowledge of God, of religion, and theology (Matt. 11:27) (Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 402)

Amen!  Let us worship the Word of God made flesh in Spirit and Truth, and consider all things in the light of God’s perfect revelation (cf. John 1:1-18; Heb. 1:1-2:4).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Hourglass of Biblical History

In his discussion of biblical history and the relationship between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church, John Bright correctly observes:

Through the Old Testament the reader senses that the focus has been continually narrowed.  It begins with the broad canvas of creation and tells of the dealings of God with the whole race of mankind (Gen. 1-11); then it narrows to the people Israel whom God had called to be the special servants of his purpose; then still further to the search for a pure Remnant within Israel fit to be vessels of the divine intention.  At the center of the Bible’s drama the focus has narrowed to one man: the Messiah, Christ. [Consider Matthew 1:1-17].  But from Christ the focus again turns outward–first to the new Israel which is his Church and then through that Church, into the entire world.  The Church is called to take up–[i.e. continue and/or fulfill, more than replace]— the destiny of the true Israel, Servant Israel, and become the missionary people of the Kingdom of God (John Bright, The Kingdom of God [Nashville: Abingdon, 1953], 232-33).

Bright’s description shapes biblical history into an hourglass with Jesus Christ at the center.  Jesus’ central place in the biblical storyline makes him the narrow and necessary passage through which all the promises of the Old Testament must come to the post-Pentecost people of God.  Well said JB.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Ways of Our God: God’s Servant (2)

In the second section of The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie turns from the theology proper, creation, and the history of spiritual warfare in section one to the person and work of Jesus Christ in section two.  Instead of providing a thorough summary, let me point out some of the highs and lows.

6. The Messiah:  Scobie outlines five charateristic offices of the servant of God–namely Moses, prophet, priest, king, and sage.  These offices were first established in history before they were fulfilled in Christ.  Yet, before the advent of Jesus Christ and his ultimate fulfillment there seems to be a pattern of failure that escalated the hopes of the coming Messiah.  This idea of escalation is not unique to Scobie, but his recognition of this pattern is appreciable.   The high point for me in chapter 6 was Scobie’s edifying examination of the ways in which Jesus Christ fulfilled the OT figures in similar but superior ways.  One of the best chapters in the book.

7. The Son of Man: Whereas chapter 6 discussed some of the functional offices of the Christ, chapter 7 focuses on the usage of ‘Son of Man.’  Scobie picks up the Adamic referrences here showing how Jesus is the second Adam, and he shows how he is the fulfillment of the vision in Daniel 7.   Moreover, Scobie shows how Jesus comes to represent the true humanity of God.  Moving from Israel to Remnant to The Twelve Disciples to Jesus, he shows how history narrows to Jesus Christ as the single faithful Jew who is qualified to receive the promises of God.  It is worthy to note however, that Scobie misplaces the twelve, for they should probably go on the other side of Jesus.  In other words, the Twelve are as the reconstituted twelve tribes, function as the foundation of the New Testament, not the last vestige of Old Testament Israel.  So while they may serve a place in the narrowing process of history to point up Jesus as the one son of God, they should be more carefully placed after Jesus, as the firstfruits of the new creation.

8. Glory, Word, Wisdom, and Son:  This is a very illuminating chapter concerning OT adumbrations fulfilled in Christ.  Each of these four major themes (Glory, Word, Wisdom, and Sonship) prepares the way for the incarnation of the second member of the Godhead, Jesus Christ.  In truth, Jesus fulfills and exceeds each of these attributes/personifications of God in the OT.  It is worthwhile to meditate on how the presentations of glory, the word, wisdom, and sonship in the OT do and do not foreshadow Jesus Christ–and by ‘do not’ I mean that the Son’s incarnation outstrips all previous possibilities of hypostasis, or distinctions with God, in the Old Testament (cf. Dan. 7:13-14; Isa. 63:8-10).  Finally, I must say that this chapter did begin to evidence the prevailing weakness of this book, namely the unwillingness to examine theological issues at levels that go beyond the surface of the text. For instance, in response to the question, “Is Jesus God?” Scobie balks (395, 398ff).  His inability to affirm this metaphysical reality shows one of the weaknesses of his BT which sidesteps matters of critical theological debate.  He makes the evasive move to only say what Scripture says without defending the implications of what the Scriptures say.  There is a constant appeal to BT in Scobie’s work that he uses when he comes across a textual problem or divisive doctrine.  While I appreciate his ‘textuality,’ in this case the texts demand an answer.  Jesus is God. 

9. The Servant’s Suffering: Chapter 9 moves from the person of Christ to his work.  On page 403 Scobie writes, “In the OT there emerges what we may call a ‘profile’ of the ideal servant of God.  While embodied to varying degrees in specific historical individuals, the “Suffering Servant” is portrayed especially in certain psalms and in the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah.”  Scobie’s chapter helpfully outlines the common experience of God’s servants, showing that Jesus Christ is the ultimate servant, one who suffers and dies to ransom a people for God.  He bases his chapter not just on a limited word study but on a ‘servant pattern’ that emerges in the Bible where God’s servants, Jesus in particular, are “called and chosen by God and obedient, fulfilling his God-given mission.  He is misunderstood and mocked, suffers and dies; yet he is vindicated by God, and his death and resurrection have profound significance for Israel and for the naitons” (417).  This aspect of the chapter is very, very good.  So is Scobie’s multi-thematic understanding of Jesus’ atonement, where he defends propitiation and the substitutionary nature of the atonement.  However, the glaring abberation in this chapter is Scobie’s advocacy of ‘post-mortem evangelism.’   Scobie argues here (434) and later (540) that all people will get another chance to respond to the gospel after they die.  He bases this on 1 Pet. 4:6 and Rev. 14:6-7 (536), but fails to see the finality of death in verses like Hebrews 9:27 which reads, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

10. The Servant’s Vindication:  Finally, Scobie develops the pattern of vindication experienced by the servants of God in OT, in the life of Jesus, and in the life of believers who are united to Christ’s death and resurrection.  Unfortunately, Scobie spends little time developing the idea of vindication from the OT–only six paltry pages (441-46).  In the more substantial work on Christ’s resurrection he helpfully unpacks the fourfold meaning of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, session (being seated with Christ), and Lordship.  In this last section, he provides a helpful discussion of Christ’s Lordship in the lives of individuals, in the church, and in creation.  Unfortunately, like the discussion concerning Christ’s deity, Scobie again waffles on the evidential nature of the resurrection.  While he does not deny it, he is unwilling to affirm an evidential argument–based on eyewitness testimony–for the reality of the resurrection.  The resurrection, in Scobie’s view, is a matter of faith to be believed and less an event to be proved.  Sadly this splinters faith from history. Apparently, we are justified to believe in such an account, but we are not required to argue for its veracity. 

Overall, Scobie has some very helpful discussions on matters like the OT types that lead to biblical understanding of the Messiah and recognizing a servant pattern in the Scripture that helps develop a biblical understanding of what Christ accomplished in death.  Yet, in reading this section it becomes more apparent that Scobie and I do not share many biblical-theological convictions.  His work is to be commended for its breadth and synthesis of the biblical material.  However, in terms of analyzing and articulating many doctrines, The Ways of Our God shows itself to be theologically amiss.   Scobie does well in collecting and setting the biblical material; he just does not do equally well in explaining its theological difficulties.

We will pick up this point in the next post.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Messiah in the Old Testament: A Rap

In class today, Dr. Jim Hamilton released his latest attempt at poetry, only this time it was delivered in the form of a rap.  Following in the footsteps of another SBTS Professor’s Philosophy Rap, Hamilton’s “Messiah in the Old Testament” surveys the Old Testament world of the Bible, pointing all things to the seed-crushing son of God, Jesus Christ. 

This illuminating and engaging rap culminated a rich, intra-textual look at the Bible that Dr. Hamilton provided in his class by the same name– “The Messiah in the Old Testament.”  I look forward to his forthcoming biblical theology, where much of the material will be published. 

Here are the first and last three stanzas:

God promised a seed, who would crush the serpent’s head
Adam and Eve hoped in what God said
This can be seen from the naming of the wife
Whereas death was promised, the promised seed means life …

…So if you want to know what Jesus said
On the road to Emmaus from the law and prophets
Beginning from Moses, in all that was written
Opening their minds, explaining what was hidden 

Look to the writings of the New Testament
Where the men taught by Jesus tell us what he meant
They show us how to read the OT
And Jesus sent the Spirit to help you and me 

So spread the good news that the battle is won
The curse is reversed, the new age begun
We long for the day when he returns
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come, Lord, come.” 

I hope you will read the rest and return to your Bible’s singing the songs of the savior–in whatever style you prefer–rap, country, gospel, folk, or rock.  You can read the rest of this faith-enriching, biblically-informing rap here.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Via Emmaus

So again, on another website, with the same name.  I try my hand again at this thing called blogging.  With more humble intentions this time, I write– not trying to write bits-and-pieces of a theological treatise, but rather aiming to simply articulate thoughts on biblical theology, contemporary ecclesiology, and anything else on which the gospel light shines.  This is the concept; Jesus Christ is the content.  For in Him all things are united (Eph. 1:10) and by Him are all things explained (Luke 24).  He is the creator, sustainer, savior, and Lord, and to Him does this blog seek to point.  Following the trajectory of Scripture that leads all things to him (John 5:39), seeks to understand all life in the radiance of his glory.  And so it is called Via Emmaus.

This blog derives its name from the account in Luke 24, where two disciples are caught on the road (via ) fleeing Jerusalem for easier days in Emmaus.  Graciously, Jesus appears to them, interprets the enigmatic current events of His resurrection in light of Scripture, and explains how He–thought still hidden to them– is the fulfillment of all the law, prophets, and psalms, and prompts them to return to Jerusalem.  Such “biblical theology” explained reality and redemption to these wayward disciples.

So too, my prayer for this blog is that it might be a place where people are likewise turned back to the cross, to the resurrection, and to the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ.  Just as the two doubting disciples returned to the Lord’s assembly in the middle of the night after hearing Christ’s words, may those who are here pointed to his sufficient Word, the Bible, experience greater hope and faith in the inspired truths therein contained.  My hope is that this blog will not take on a life of its own, but rather that it would point to the true life, King Jesus.  That in the end, it would simply be a signpost or a watering hole for those walking the dusty road from–not to– Emmaus.

Soli Dei Gloria!