Zadok priests – a separated life

There were two groups of priests in the temple – those whose compromised lives made them fit only to minister to the people and the faithful Zadok priests who ministered to the Lord. This is a longish passage but it describes the distinction between the two groups.

Ezekiel 44:10-16 And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, as gatekeepers of the house and ministers of the house; they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them. Because they ministered to them before their idols and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, therefore I have raised My hand in an oath against them,” says the Lord GOD, “that they shall bear their iniquity. And they shall not come near Me to minister to Me as priest, nor come near any of My holy things, nor into the Most Holy Place; but they shall bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Nevertheless I will make them keep charge of the temple, for all its work, and for all that has to be done in it. But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood,” says the Lord GOD. They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall come near My table to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge.

You would think that these Zadok priests would have lives so very prosperous and blessed because of their faithfulness to God. Perhaps the very windows of heaven would be open over their lives, pouring out blessings and wealth they couldn’t contain. Blessings surely must be chasing them down and overtaking them. Shockingly, this was not the case.

Ezekiel 44:28 It shall be, in regard to their inheritance, that I am their inheritance. You shall give them no possession in Israel, for I am their possession.

They had no land of their own, nothing they could say was theirs …except for God. He was their portion.

The Lord provided their food from what was His:

Ezekiel 44:29-30 They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering; every dedicated thing in Israel shall be theirs. The best of all firstfruits of any kind, and every sacrifice of any kind from all your sacrifices, shall be the priest’s; also you shall give to the priest the first of your ground meal, to cause a blessing to rest on your house.

The Lord provided their housing from what was His:

Ezekiel 45:1 Moreover, when you divide the land by lot into inheritance, you shall set apart a district for the LORD, a holy section of the land; its length shall be twenty-five thousand cubits, and the width ten thousand.

Ezekiel 45:4 It shall be holy throughout its territory all around. It shall be a holy section of the land, belonging to the priests, the ministers of the sanctuary, who come near to minister to the LORD; it shall be a place for their houses and a holy place for the sanctuary.

They ate what was holy. They lived in a holy place. The presence of God and ministry to Him was the center of everything- literally.

I wonder if others thought it was a restrictive life, feeling sorry for these Zadok priests who did not have a possession of their own. Meanwhile, these priests lived near the very presence of God and spent their days serving Him, feeling sorry for those who did not have Him as their possession.

Following after

What injustice have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone far from Me, have followed idols and have become idolaters?  Jeremiah 2:5

I will begin with the definitions of several of the words in this verse that I found to be interesting:

Idols (Strong’s #1892) – emptiness or vanity; something transitory and unsatisfactory.

Idolaters (Strong’s #1891) – to be vain in act, word of expectation

I wonder what kind of answer Jeremiah received to this question.  I wonder if anyone dared to answer.  Upon serious reflection, the only reasonable conclusion would be that there was no injustice found in God.  They just didn’t follow Him anymore.  They were interested in other things – namely vanities.  Things of no consequence, value or importance.

If you go back and read from the beginning of this chapter, the Lord starts by telling the people that when they followed after Him, they were holiness to the Lord.  But now that they are following after vanities, they have become vain.

Have you ever followed somebody somewhere in your car?  It can take much concentration as you try to keep that one particular vehicle in sight at all times.  They change lanes, you change lanes.  They speed up, you speed up.  Your driving mirrors theirs.  While you are following, conformity develops.  You are becoming like the one you are following.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus when He said “You will know them by their fruit.”  The fruit of our lives will demonstrate who (or what) we are following. 

So…’s your fruit these days?

A New Priestly Anointing

“Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.” Luke 17:12

 My heart was filled with pity for these men as I read this passage.  These words…”who stood afar off”…what sad words these are.  These men, outcasts, allowed only the companionship of their fellow sufferers, cannot even come near enough to Jesus to have Him touch them.  The law forbids it.  Imagine the loneliness and hopelessness of such men.

But our merciful Savior, with a word, heals them and sends them to the priest to complete the requirements of the law for one healed of leprosy.  The ceremony seems a bit odd and certainly messy, but it is full of beautiful symbolism.

Leviticus 14 gives us a detailed description of this ritual to be completed when one has been healed of leprosy.  Two birds are taken by the priest.  One bird is killed and the other bird is dipped in its blood and set free.  These birds are not brought by the leper, but they are provided for him.  In this we see a picture of Christ as our substitute; His blood spilled, covers us, and we are set free.  And just as the leper brought nothing for the completion of this ceremony, so we bring nothing to God, but trust completely in the atonement provided by Christ.

After 7 days, the leper comes to the priest with his offerings.  In a curious ceremony, the priest takes the blood of the sacrifice and puts it on the right ear, right thumb and right big toe of the leper.  Then he takes a measure of oil (about 8 ounces) and puts oil on the leper’s right ear, right thumb and right big toe.  The rest of the oil is poured on the head of the leper.

All this detail seems tedious, but God is showing us something so incredibly beautiful in Leviticus 14.

You see, we are the leper; our lives undone by the leprosy of sin.  Hopelessly far from God. 

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13.

The application of the blood to the ear, thumb and toe is done no other place than the consecration of the priests.   I Peter 2 says that we are a holy priesthood (v5) But in addition to the application of the blood, there is an application of oil, which is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and if that isn’t glorious enough, the oil is then poured over the head – just as in the anointing of a king. 

The one most unworthy, most despised and disregarded – the leper – is anointed as a priest and a king.  What a beautiful picture of what Christ has done for us.

“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” Rev 1:6

Honor My Name

The book of Malachi contains the final words of God to his people prior to the initiation of the New Covenant.  It was a time of lukewarm spirituality and flagrant disregard for God by His people.  But as much as we would like for God to be quiet and leave us alone in our backslidings, He is faithful to give warning.

The priesthood, for the most part, had become corrupted by a casual attitude towards the sacrifices God had established for His people.  He had specifically outlined through Moses what was acceptable and what was not.  In the book of Malachi, God contends with these priests over their failure to adequately perform their ministry.

One has to wonder how this deterioration had happened to the priesthood.  How did they lose sight of the importance of their ministry?

Were they clueless?  Had they neglected the Scriptures to the point that they had no understanding of what God required?

Were they careless?  Had the priestly ministry become just a job for them, with no real understanding of the significance of what they were doing?

Were they calloused?  Did they just not care about the things of God at all?

The Lord says to the priests, not the people in general, but the priests, “where is my honor?”   And then He gives them this command – Honor My Name.  He doesn’t ask.  He doesn’t beg.  He commands.

He confronts their offering of blemished sacrifices, the weak and feeble of the flock.  And He confronts this in us as well.  Something is terribly wrong when we can offer God the leftovers of our life and be satisfied with that.  Worse yet, when we think God is satisfied with that.  We throw the leftover crumbs of our life to God and expect that He will be happy with whatever we give Him, like a pet, hoping for some scraps from the table.

Rather than our half-hearted offerings to Him, he prefers nothing.

“Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!”   Malachi 1:10

We trifle with a God who is a great King.  Do we think He does not see?  Do we think He does not know the very thoughts and intentions of our hearts when we give ourselves to other things and satisfy our conscience with the meager morsels of our lives that we throw to God?

May God make us aware of every way in which we have offered Him something less than our best and may we begin to take seriously the command to honor His name.

The stuff between

“Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor; and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there.” Numbers 20:26

Several years ago I discovered the writings of Art Katz, which have been transformational for me.   I had never been a great fan of Leviticus, dreading only the genealogies more.  But Art Katz brought out some wonderful nuances of this book.  In particular, the consecration of Aaron and his sons for the priesthood was a striking passage.  (Leviticus 8).  As part of the ceremony, Moses took them to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, gathered all the congregation around, and then stripped and washed them before putting the priestly garments on them.  Although the priesthood was the highest calling, it involved the most humiliating initiation.

I have seen artists’ renditions of the high priestly garments and they are beautifully ornate.  Of a certainty, they drew attention.  It must have been quite an experience to wear those robes, that breastplate, the holy crown.

However, as the time drew near for Aaron’s death, Moses took Aaron up the mountain and he left the priesthood the same way he entered it – stripped before the watching world.

Just like Aaron, none of us enter into this priesthood of believers without being stripped of our own righteousness and broken over our sin.  It is a humiliating experience to have your utter sinfulness revealed and all pretense of our own goodness stripped away.  Oh, the tears and groanings and soul wrenching pain of repentance.  But after the humiliation, we are washed with His Word and clothed with His righteousness.  And although we entered this world through birth, it is only through this second birth that we truly begin to live.

But there will come a day, the day appointed for our departing from this world, when death will have its moment.   Taken by strangers, we will be prepared for death as our lifeless bodies will be stripped and washed and put into the ground.

Humiliation and nakedness – in the beginning and the end.  But what about the stuff between?  That time between entrance into the priesthood and exiting this world….

For somewhere around 40 years Aaron was high priest.  And while it wasn’t always pleasant, his position did give him a unique position in relation to God and the people.  40 years to be faithful or unfaithful.  40 years to be a blessing or a hindrance.  40 years to more fully learn the ways and nature of this God or to become insulated from him by religion.

What are we doing with these few years between life and death?  This is the question we must ask ourselves.  When that second stripping comes, will we be able to face it with joy, knowing that we have run this race well?

It is my prayer that we will.  May God help us to be faithful to do all and be all to the glory of His name.

Handling the holy things

“So Moses took the carts and the oxen and gave them to the Levites………..But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because theirs was the service of the holy things, which they carried on their shoulders.”  Numbers 7:6,9

The people of Israel were a mobile people during this period of their history.  They moved frequently from one place to the next as God directed.  This must have become tiresome, as they were continuously taking apart, packing up, carrying, unpacking and setting back up.  Over and over and over. 

In addition to their own households, the Levites also had the responsibility of moving the tabernacle.  The three divisions, Gershon, Merari and Kohath, were each assigned specific areas of the tabernacle that they were responsible for.  Kohath was responsible for the contents – the holy items.  Nobody else was allowed to draw so near to the furniture and utensils of the tabernacle.  And not even the Kohathites could come near until these things were covered with a blue cloth and a covering of badger skins.  But once the coverings were in place, the Kohathites handled the holy things until they reached the next destination.  I wonder if there was a sense of awe accompanying this charge.

The tabernacle furnishings had been fashioned with rings on the corners so that pole could be inserted.  This allowed for the furnishings to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites as the Israelites travelled.

When the leaders of Israel felt moved to make an offering to the Lord of carts and oxen, the Lord instructed Moses to give these to the Levites.  The sons of Gershon were given carts and oxen, and the sons of Merari were given carts and oxen.  But the sons of Kohath were not given carts or oxen.  Reason would tell us that since theirs was the most important part of the tabernacle that they should have been the first to receive carts and oxen.  Why did they receive nothing?

I wonder if the Lord wanted them to continually be reminded of the weighty responsibility of handling the holy things, lest they should become careless or thoughtless in the handling of them.

We are entrusted with holy things as well.  God has given us His Word and His Spirit.  How are we handling these?  Have we just tossed them into a cart to be hauled around, requiring nothing from us?  Oh, but God has desired us to feel the weightiness.   It is a weightiness that is not wearisome, but serves as a reminder of how very holy these holy things are.

No carts and oxen for me.

Even the wardrobe was perfect

While reading through the Gospels over the last few weeks I noticed that all four gospels include the detail of Christ being wrapped in a linen cloth when He was buried.  It struck me as a curious detail to be included, especially in all four gospels.  Seemed like something worth looking into a bit more.

My search brought me back to the 16th chapter of Leviticus where the instructions for the Day of Atonement are given.  This was the one day during the year that the high priest entered into the Holy Place, where the Presence of God dwelt, and put the blood on the mercy seat to atone for the sins of the people.  When performing this ceremony, he was to be dressed as follows:

“He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.” Leviticus 16:4

What amazing significance this passage gives to the linen cloth that Christ was buried in.  For when Christ rose, He performed the high priestly duties of the Day of Atonement, bringing His own blood into the Holy Place for the forgiveness of our sins.

I can only marvel at the perfection of God’s plan, completed to the last detail in Christ.