Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Solemnity
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 24:1-4

In America and other places in the Western world, oath-takers raise their right hands and pledge to perform certain actions, sometimes placing their left hands on a Bible. On other occasions, people promise to do something—pay back a loan, perform a service, hold wealth in trust, etc.—by signing their names to a legal document before witnesses. Some promises are made with a Boy Scout oath. Young girlfriends make pinky promises.

These were not the norm four thousand years ago in the land of Canaan. As the Old Testament attests, oaths and vows were taken far more seriously than they are today in our winner-take-all, I'll-do-what's-best-for-me world. One's word was truly his bond, and oaths were not to be taken lightly or frivolously. In some modern Bibles, "oath" or "vow" is often accompanied by a modifier like "solemn," especially since they usually invoke God to bind them on the oath-taker.

The next two verses confirm Abraham's reason for requiring his servant's oath: "I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:3-4). The patriarch desired to bind his servant to his wish to have his son marry a daughter of his own people, a woman from among those who had migrated with Terah and Abram to the area of Haran in Mesopotamia. There was no stronger way to bind him than to have him make an oath with his hand under the patriarch's thigh.

We see the same kind of oath in Genesis 47:29, when aged Jacob requires Joseph to promise to bury him in Canaan. In both situations, the instigators of these oaths are patriarchs of a clan, and it is this fact that provides understanding about the symbolism of placing a hand "under the thigh." The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament fills us in on what this placement represented: "by placing his hand inside Abraham's thigh (in the vicinity of or on the genitals), the servant ties his oath of obedience to the acquisition of a wife for Isaac and thus the perpetuation of Abraham's line."

Evidently, this kind of oath—called by some a "bodily oath"—was made for matters pertaining to the most important family and clan matters. Abraham's oath is easily seen in this light, as he desired his only son by Sarah, his heir, Isaac, to marry and have children from among his own people, those from the line of Shem and Eber (the progenitor of the Hebrews). He binds his servants actions on his behalf to considering young women only from that narrow ethnic group.

Jacob's demand for a similar oath is more difficult to explain, but he, too, requests it for the good of his clan. The patriarch knew the prophecy God gave to Abram in Genesis 15:13-21, that his descendants would "be strangers in a land that is not theirs. . . . But in the fourth generation they shall return here." Jacob's desire that his bones be buried in Canaan makes a statement that the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were then living, was not the tribal inheritance of Abraham's people, but they must return to the land of Canaan, where the bones of Israel were interred. Later, Joseph also told the Israelites to "carry up my bones from here" (Genesis 50:25), passing to the next generations the expectation of returning to Israel's promised land.

Faced with fulfilling such a solemn oath, Abraham's servant, likely Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2), takes great care to choose a suitable mate for Isaac, placing his trust in God to lead him to the right woman. In fulfilling his oath, Eliezer is blessed by God and led directly to the family of Nahor, Abraham's brother. And so, in the course of events, Rebekah travels to Canaan with Eliezer, marrying Isaac, and perpetuating the line that ultimately leads to Jesus Christ.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh

Related Topics: Eliezer of Damascus | Oaths | Solemnity


Leviticus 23:26-32

The Day of Atonement is a commanded feast of God. God emphasizes this day's solemnity by threatening death to those who fail to afflict their souls or who do any work on this day. Nothing is more important than being at one with Him!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Holy Days: Atonement

Leviticus 23:27-32

This is probably the least understood and least appreciated of all God's holy days. The world looks upon it as a curiosity. The Jews keep it as the most solemn day of the year. They, at least, realize that this day has solemn implications, but they do not know what they are.

There is an interesting interpretation within this verse in the word "atonement." The Hebrew word underlying it, kippur, does not literally translate into "atonement," but as "covering." The translators have interpreted the concept of covering and inserted a word that instead describes the effect of being covered. The covering of our sins causes atonement. This is the implication and meaning that we derive from other verses. The forgiveness of sin—the covering by the blood of Jesus Christ—enables us to be reconciled to God.

Had this not been done, there would be no opportunity for us to be at one with God; our sins would still be a barrier separating us and God. Because there was an atonement made by the blood of Jesus Christ, this gaping divide is bridged. Thus, the word kippur is interpreted as "atonement."

That this is a festival implies the act of eating and drinking in a convivial atmosphere. Though this Day of Atonement is a festival, there is no eating or drinking permitted—at least physically. The reason we have trouble relating to this day is because of the Adversary, who is, above all others, striving to hide its meaning behind a smokescreen of disinformation. He has tried to obliterate its significance from the minds of those who are aware of his existence.

If we were to mention the Day of Atonement to most Protestants or Catholics, they would likely give us blank stares or shrug their shoulders. To them, the day has been literally obliterated. They would have no clue what we were talking about.

Satan has also obliterated its significance to the Jews. They are aware of the day, of course, knowing it as Yom Kippur, and realize that it has solemn significance and is most holy. But they do not understand what it means. It does not mean the same thing to them that the Bible teaches us it means, mainly because they do not believe in Christ nor in His atoning blood. Therefore, they cannot make the proper connection between the blood of Christ and the blood of the goat that is slain during the symbolic ceremony on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Division, Satan, Humility


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