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(From Forerunner Commentary)
This could be called the preface to the Old Covenant, as it presents in stark terms what the covenant is about. He lists its three main facets:
1. They were to obey His commands and keep His covenant. Recall that God chose Abraham because he would teach his children how to keep His way. The covenant set out the terms for their doing this. This was the Israelites' primary responsibility under the agreement.
2. They were to be a special treasure to Him—a people unlike all others in their relationship to God. The Israelites were to submit to God, and He in turn would help them, blessing and protecting them as only the great Creator God could. Thus, the covenant contained reciprocal responsibilities and benefits.
3. They were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This implies two additional concepts:
a. As a kingdom of priests, they were to fill the role of mediator or liaison between God and the other peoples of the earth. Just as He would work through the Levitical priesthood to the children of Israel, God would work through the people of Israel to the rest of the world.
b. As a holy nation, they would be set apart or separate from all other nations. He would require of them, as the people with and through whom He would work, that they be different, a cut above, of a higher standard. They had a responsibility to be a model for the Gentiles to observe and emulate.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part One)
God chose ancient Israel out of all the nations of the earth and determined that they would be a holy nation. He ordained that they would be a people set apart from the rest of the world. The Old Covenant was intended not only to be a schoolmaster to teach Israel how to live in such a way that they would recognize the Messiah when He came (Galatians 3:24), but it was also intended to set Israel apart—to make them holy. In so doing, He intended the entire nation to be a witness of Him. This passage demonstrates this.
God proposed the Old Covenant to Israel on the day of Pentecost. Israel accepted the terms of the agreement and thereby signed up to be a light to the rest of the world. God had given them the most superior set of laws that mankind had ever encountered, which would leave the rest of the world in awe due to the beneficial effects that would come from it.
We know from the New Testament that the only problem with this covenant was the heart of the people entering into it (Hebrews 3:10-12; 8:7-8). The God-given terms of the agreement were absolutely perfect for what He wanted to accomplish. One of His main purposes was for Israel to be an example, a witness, to the rest of the world of the right way to live. Incidentally, the Tabernacle that Israel carried with them in the wilderness was even called "the Tabernacle of witness" (Numbers 17:7; Acts 7:44).
If Israel had been faithful to the covenant, they would have received blessings beyond belief. In the blessings portion of Deuteronomy 28, God was prepared to set Israel high above all the nations of the earth. Their cities and farms would be prosperous; their children would be healthy and strong; their herds and flocks would be numerous; they would have an abundance of food; and they would have protection from their enemies. They would have rain in due season, and everything they put their hands to would be blessed. They would have enough that they could lend to other nations and not borrow. God intended them to be a holy people whose behavior and prosperity would make it obvious to the rest of the world that God had set them apart. The effect would be so dramatic that Israel would be feared!
However, as we know, Israel failed. The accounts of the Old Testament prophets show the great lengths to which God went for Israel in cleaning her up and taking her under His wing. Yet, once she caught a glimpse of her God-given beauty and wealth, all she did was play the harlot with the surrounding nations, rather than being a witness to them (see Ezekiel 16).
Today, the United States is the richest nation on earth, which seems to coincide with God's promise of blessing until we realize that America is also the greatest debtor nation. Parts of the nation suffer drought, and other parts are practically floating away. Much of our food is either imported or grown from genetically mutated seed. Our cities are filthy, crowded, and corrupt, and our family farms are dying through environmental regulation and corporate buyouts. We live in abundance yet cannot afford our lifestyles, plunging further into personal debt. The nation's churches are pathetically weak, barely standing to fight the onslaught of secular culture—and, in fact, accepting much of it in a misguided spirit of tolerance. In short, America is the farthest thing from being a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. Our entertainment industry shows, like nothing else, what sort of "witness" we are making to the world.
Israel failed because her heart was not right. Biblically, the word "heart" is synonymous with "mind" and "spirit." We know that God desires that all Israel be saved (Romans 11:26; II Peter 3:9) and that in the future He will replace Israel's heart of stone by pouring out His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). However, for a few—known as the remnant, the church, the Body of Christ, spiritual Israel, the Israel of God, or the firstfruits—God decided to do this ahead of time.
He gave His Spirit on the Feast of the Firstfruits, the day of Pentecost, AD 31, so that a remnant of Israel would have a heart of flesh and not of stone. God gave His Spirit so that spiritual Israel could obey God both in the letter and in the intent of His law. In addition, just as He gave Israel His law so she would be a witness, God gave the church His Spirit so that Christ's disciples would be witnesses. By receiving a portion of the Spirit that proceeds from the divine Lawgiver, the firstfruits are able to understand the intent behind God's laws. More than this, by yielding to the promptings and motivations of God's Spirit, they can begin to take on His character and actively do good rather than merely avoid sin.
David C. Grabbe
The Pentecost Witness
Sacrificial living in submission to God's will pleases Him. In this case, God is interested neither in Christ's death nor ours but how we live life. Worship is our response to God, and real worship is the offering of our everyday life to Him. Loyal devotion given to please God in every labor of life is the most satisfying and acceptable response we can give God. Peter concurs with Paul, writing in I Peter 2:4-5, "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Two): The Burnt Offering
We are those who are "perfected forever." However, "perfected forever" does not mean we are morally perfected. Rather, His one sacrifice is perfectly adequate to assure our standing before God. As we have seen, the sacrifices show Him proclaiming how He lived His life, but here we are seeing its impact, the consequences of what He did so well. We see man, sinning and imperfect, becoming at one with God through Christ.
By means of the burnt, meal, peace, sin, and trespass offerings, we see all of God's holy requirements met in Christ so that we might be quickened by His Holy Spirit, be in continual fellowship with Them, and grow to become fully at one with Them. Ephesians 1:3-6 adds Paul's thoughts on this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
The consequences of Christ's sacrifices do not end with our acceptance before God. Acceptance creates the requirement of being conformed to the image of the Son; we are expected to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Peter frames his instruction on our responsibility once we accept Christ's sacrifice in our stead in this way: "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:4-5).
This is in language any of God's children can understand. We are to offer up sacrifices in the way He did. There is not one record of Him ever making a sacrifice at the Temple. Rather, He lived their intent as a living sacrifice. This is why our identification with Him is so important. We are now part of His body; we represent Him. He lives in us, and we experience life with Him as part of us. Our conduct is open to the view of all who care to look. Are we glorifying Him?
Please understand that, though our offerings will be poor and weak in comparison to His, they are not worthless by any means. They are still acceptable to God because of Christ, and they are still a witness.
Consider these illustrations: If a couple have a small child of perhaps just a few years of age, do they expect him to run one hundred yards in nine seconds? Are they disappointed because he cannot drive a car or understand Einstein's theory of relativity? Of course not! If their child is only one year old, he may just barely be able to toddle across a room! If he falls a couple of times, do they lose their temper and put him out of the house?
Of course, they are neither disappointed at his present inabilities nor do they even think of putting him out of the house. Why? Because they know he is just a baby, and they adjust their expectations and judgments accordingly. They are confident he will get better as he matures and gains experience. They know that someday he will stride confidently across the room and much more besides. Someday, he may run a hundred yards in under ten seconds and grasp the essentials of the theory of relativity.
In other words, growth is anticipated. God's judgment of us is much the same. When we are first in Christ, He considers us as babes (I Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:13). At this point, He very well may consider us as "perfect" for the time since our regeneration, and we are acceptable because of Jesus Christ. He allows us time to grow, even though we may make mistake after mistake because of our weakness and immaturity. Because of Christ, He keeps judging us as "perfect."
This is a wonderful gift! He is not overly concerned about our individual sins as long as He sees in us a steady, upward trajectory toward maturity in our conduct to reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. If a child falls as he toddles across the floor, will not his parents set him upright, dust him off, comfort him, and show him, "This is the way you do it"? Can we expect any less from God, in whose image we are? Therefore, our acceptance before Him gives us time to grow.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Nine): Conclusion (Part Two)
1 Peter 2:5
It helps to consider the word "house" in I Peter 2:5 meaning something a bit different from the common definition. Most commonly, we think of a building people live in. Here, "house" can just as easily mean "dynasty," as in the "house of David."
God is building us up into a dynasty, a spiritual house, a spiritual Family, one that we know will last forever. Verse 5 adds that God is forming us into a holy priesthood, the purpose of which is to offer up acceptable spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ. Verse 9 confirms that we are already a royal priesthood. This is especially important in light of the sacrifices, because those sacrifices were the activity of the priesthood under the Old Covenant.
Those priests went through the entire ritual physically. God does not require us to follow those procedures, yet He does require us to understand the spiritual concepts and apply them to the best of our ability. Why? Because we are being built up into a spiritual Family whose function is to glorify God by offering spiritual sacrifices that He will accept.
We must not allow ourselves the liberty of detaching ourselves from this by saying, "Well, that is really interesting information and nice to have, but of what value is it?" It is of great value, as the prophet Malachi clearly shows. In Malachi 1:6, God chastises the priesthood for the irresponsible manner in which they were carrying out their charge from God: "'A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?' says the LORD of hosts to you priests who despise My name." Those are strong words for failing to offer sacrifices pleasing to God.
The priesthood may not have come to a deliberately reasoned conclusion that the worship of God was something unimportant, but their inner disrespect surfaced in their slipshod and lackadaisical approach. God says He looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7), and His evaluation of their performance is that they considered their responsibility of offering sacrifices to Him to be shameful. Their real problem lay in their heart. Distracted by concerns they considered more important, their goal of being a whole burnt offering dedicated to God became a secondary occupation for their attention and energy.
The focus of their attention may easily have been given to functions and duties considered normal, everyday concerns, not sin per se. Nevertheless, these things are of lesser importance than fulfilling their charge from God. They reply to God in a manner that can be interpreted as offended surprise, asking, "In what way have we despised Your name?" God replies that the food they offered on His altar was defiled (Malachi 1:7).
Recall that a basic feature of the offerings is of God eating a meal. The altar is His table, and the sacrifice is His food. The fire consuming the offerings pictures God devouring it. As a result of "eating" the meal, He is satisfied just as we would feel a sense of well-being following a fine meal. God, however, is not satisfied with the sacrificial "meals" the priests of Malachi's day offered; He complains of their poor quality. They give Him no satisfaction and are not acceptable.
The quality of their offerings had become so poor as to be downright evil. The priests would never have served such blemished beasts to a leader they could see, but they gave them to the invisible God. Their faith was so weak that He was not only out of sight, He was almost completely out of mind (Psalm 10:4)! They had no thought of the greatness of His power; His merciful, loving providence; the desire of His concern for their well-being; or of His nearness to them. They apparently never gave it much thought that He was aware of all they were doing!
King David was cut from an entirely different bolt of cloth. The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles clearly portray the external flaws in his behavior. We see his lust and adultery, his scheming deceit in conspiring to have Uriah die in battle, his childrearing errors, and his mistakes within the intrigues of government.
Like us, David was encompassed with human nature. In principle, we do many of the same things as he did, and also like him, it is an ever-present reality. It can break out at any time we get far from God and let our defenses down. However, in the Psalms we receive insight into his heart. In them, we see the real man, the one after God's own heart, and this forms the basis of God's judgment of him.
Malachi teaches us that we must strive to offer to God the best we can. Not everybody is the same. Each of us has our own package of abilities, intelligence levels, and skills. We have different attitudes about things and circumstances. We have been reared in different kinds of environments, and so our attitudes toward things are not always the same. We have different sins and weaknesses to overcome.
On the one hand, the ideals of the offerings are shown in the life of Jesus Christ, but on the other is the reality of what we are. We do not come anywhere near the ideals; we are frequently unstable and inconsistent. God nonetheless wants the general trajectory of our lives to be consistently aimed toward achieving them.
We all have our peaks and valleys. God is not overly concerned about the occasional valleys we go through as long as we are consistently bouncing back, making strenuous effort to bring the very best offering we possibly can into God's service. This approach will work to produce the maturity God desires to see in us; the image of Jesus Christ will be formed. This attitude will produce the satisfaction in God and us that is the fruit of the peace offering.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
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