Week 46, November 7-11
The Jews are finally going to be exiled. Their sin has grown to such an extent that God’s anger is fully kindled. Babylon has surrounded the city and has nearly destroyed it. The king is captured, the sons of the priest Zedekiah are killed, Zedekiah is blinded, and the officials are slaughtered. The temple is burned to the ground. Most people are taken as captives, but the poorest are left behind to care for the land.
The exile is the judgment of God on a rebellious people. But his mercy is as plentiful as his judgment. This exile will last nearly 70 years, or just a single lifetime. God’s mercy is reinstate them in the land for a time. When the people kill the Son of God hundreds of years later, they will face judgment again by being cast out of the land and the temple again being destroyed in AD 70.
The book might be technically anonymous, but tradition holds that Jeremiah wrote both the book of Jeremiah and Lamentations, which is why they are usually kept together. Lamentations is a series of poems about God’s judgment on the land and the people, which are usually called “laments”. Jeremiah wrote many laments in his book of prophecy, and he was present for the actual beginning of the exile.
The laments tell the story of the exile while praying to God to forgive the people and restore them to their land. It may sound as though the entire book is a practice in sadness, and in a sense, it is. Is there another appropriate response to sin and rebellion? But in all that grief, we also read of God’s mercy. In the middle of the book, we read the section of Scripture that was the inspiration for the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
We read, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24). Amidst our great wickedness and rebellion, God’s mercy shines even brighter. The Lamentations are a great reminder if we weren’t such a great sinners, we wouldn’t need such a great Savior.
Ezekiel begins already in the earliest days of exile, even before all of the Jews are removed from the land. We also find out quickly that Ezekiel is a priest. The book of Ezekiel is a series of awesome, horrifying visions. Ezekiel’s first vision is of God’s glory. There are four gruesome-looking creatures. There is a corresponding wheel for each the creatures, and each wheel is full of eyes. Above the creatures and the wheel is an expanse or sky. Above that expanse is a throne. The one on the throne looks like a man, but he is not. Below his waist is fire, and above his waist is iron. All around him is the brightness of a rainbow.
If that wasn’t enough, the one on the throne begins to speak. He commissions Ezekiel as a prophet to go to the people in exile. The one on the throne open a scroll before Ezekiel. On both sides of the scroll he reads words of suffering. Ezekiel is commanded to eat this scroll, and even with the words of lament, it tastes as sweet as honey. After judgment will come mercy.
Ezekiel then experiences a miraculous event. He is supernaturally moved from one place to another. He is to stay there for seven days. Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry is one like a watchmen set to cover a wall. If the watchmen sees something dangerous and says nothing, then whatever happens to the innocent people inside the wall is on his hands. For Ezekiel, if he does not call the people to repentance, their judgment will be on his hands. God will send Ezekiel to a certain house to be bound with cords and made unable to speak. Then at the appropriate time, God will loosen his cords and his tongue to draw the attention of the people.
Ezekiel’s first prophetic act is to create a scene out of bricks and iron and dirt to give a vision of what will happen to Israel. In addition to the scene, he will be required to lay on his left side for 390 days and then on his right side for 40 days for Judah. During those days, he will make bread to eat, but he will use human excrement (but God permits him to use that of a cow) as fuel to bake it. It is a sign that the people will eat unclean food in the nations where God will send them.
An astute reader will see those numbers add up to 430, which is also the number of years that the young nation of Israel was in slavery in Egypt before the exodus. Ezekiel’s sign is of another exodus, already determined by God, that will be like the first exodus.
Ezekiel’s next prophetic act has him cutting off all of his hair and beard. He is to divide the hair into thirds to represent three different fates for various groups of Jews during the time of the exile: sword, famine, and pestilence. Not everyone will face a horrific fate. There is yet a remnant that God will guard and protect to build up the nation once God has purified the people himself.
Even while the “abominations are in your midst”, God will pour out his wrath on his own people and on his own land. Does it seem to go against what we think of God, him pouring out his wrath on his own people? Aren’t God’s people spared from his wrath? This is a crucial distinction to make. Even while God pours out his wrath, his people are guarded from it. Think of Noah and the ark. Noah was in the midst of the flood while he was spared from God’s wrath in the boat. He had a front-row seat to all of the devastation going on around him for an extended period of time. And yet, we can rightly say that he and his family was spared from God’s wrath. Paul tells us that “not all Israel is Israel” (Romans 9:6). Therefore, even if God pours out his wrath on Israel, the faithful (or the remnant) will be spared. This will hold true at the end of the age when the tribulation comes.
Ezekiel again sees the figure of the one who has fire below his waist and gleaming metal, or iron, above his waist. In another supernatural act, this figure takes Ezekiel to the temple to show him the abominations going on. Every time the great figure tells Ezekiel to shift his gaze in another direction, he sees even greater abominations. As they get nearer to the center of the temple where the sacrifices were made, Ezekiel is finally shown that there are men in the temple worshiping not the one true God but the sun.
The figure calls for executioners to slaughter the idolaters. Six executioners arrive. There is also a seventh figure who carries all the items necessary for record keeping. This man is sent to mark the remnant in Israel, or those who have not taken part in the abominations Ezekiel has witnessed. This kind of imagery is picked up later by John in Revelation. God has elected the remnant to salvation, and they are marked out. By contrast, those who do not bear the mark of God will bear the mark of the beast.
In chapter 3, we are shown how Jesus is greater than Moses. Israel is in Egypt because God was protecting his people. God had sent Joseph ahead of his family to rise up in power and guard against an upcoming famine. Generations of Israelites were born in Egypt, which led to them being enslaved by Pharaoh who commands all Israelite women to murder their male children. Moses is born, but his mother trusted that God would act on her son’s behalf instead of obeying a wicked command to kill him. There are times to reject authority, but only when it clearly goes against God’s word. God ensures the right person finds the boy Moses. God knew Pharaoh’s daughter would have compassion on an innocent child. Moses’s sister keeps an eye on the basket to see where it lands. She approaches Pharaoh’s daughter and offers help nurse the child. Not only does his mother get to save her son’s life, but she will get paid to do what mother’s do anyway. This was all in God’s good providence. Only when he is brought back to Pharaoh’s daughter is he named Moses.
Being adopted into Pharaoh’s family meant a high level of education and living. Life is good for Moses in Pharaoh’s house. Education, food, luxury, servants—everything he wanted. But he had compassion on his own people and hated that they were being forced into labor. When Moses saw an Egyptian murder a Hebrew, he acted in vengeance. He later sees two of his fellow men arguing, and he realizes they know what he’s done. Pharaoh finds out that a Hebrew, even Moses, has killed an Egyptian. He can’t stand for that, so Moses flees to Midian. He starts a family and spends forty years as a shepherd.
God listens to his people and takes mercy on them and will send Moses to help. God used Moses to set up a series of events that led to the release of the Hebrews slaves. From that point on, Moses was seen as a deliverer. They cross the Red Sea on dry land. On their way to Mt. Sinai, they have to fight other people groups. But God protects them on their journey.
They arrive at Sinai about three months later. Moses goes up the mountain to hear from God. On this mountain, God will give the Ten Commandments and the law to Moses so he can give it to the people. Remember how angels delivered the covenant to Moses? This is that point in history. The book of Hebrews connects all of this for us.
Moses is sent by God, is born from God’s chosen people, rescues God’s chosen people, and he ascends God’s mountain to both speak to God on behalf of the people and then reveal what God said to the people. But Moses will fail again and again, never fully living up to the righteous standard of God. He will eventually die and be buried without ever getting to enter the promised land.
Moses himself believes that God will one day send a prophet like himself (Deuteronomy 18:15). Moses was a deliverer, and he expected an even greater deliverance. We can see how the Bible used Moses’ life to prepare us for the coming of Jesus.
The apostle Peter preaches in the temple in Acts 3. His point is that the Jews had met this prophet that Moses told about and rejected him. They didn’t listen to him, to their own destruction. Not just Moses, but all the prophets who came after Moses spoke about and pointed to this greater prophet, one who would do the things that Moses did but at even greater level. All the prophets proclaimed the days when the Jews would kill Jesus Christ, the prophet better than Moses.
Jews considered Moses to be the greatest prophet who ever lived. He delivered them from slavery; he led them through the wilderness; he gave them the law of God; we can understand their devotion to Moses. Hebrews makes the case that one greater than Moses has come, if you can believe it.
Hebrews calls Jesus an apostle and high priest while talking about him as if he’s better than Moses. Why’s that? An apostle is a special messenger, and a priest speaks to God on our behalf. Didn’t Moses do those things? Moses faithfully delivered the law. Even when the people built a golden calf while he was receiving the law, Moses received it a second time for them. Moses didn’t change anything God said (hard parts, easy parts, left it all in).
So Jesus was also faithful in all he was called to do. The Father appointed the Son to give his life as a sacrifice for sin. Describe the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus recognizes his appointment, but the pain grieved him. But still, faithfulness to God was more important than how he felt. Jesus would deny himself if it meant glorifying God.
Moses sinned all throughout his life. He murdered an Egyptian. He disobeyed God many times while leading the Hebrews through the wilderness. His disobedience was the reason God didn’t permit him to enter the promised land with the rest of the Israelites. But he faithfully delivered the covenant and the law to the people.
How much more faithfully did Jesus deliver his new covenant? How much more was required of Jesus than Moses? Moses gave the law from God to the people that included the system of animal sacrifices. No person ever had to die. But Jesus’ new covenant did include the sacrifice of a man, and it was himself, his own blood, not an animal’s. Would Moses have been that faithful? Would he have died for the people? Unlikely; besides, he was a sinner like them. His death wouldn’t have done anything for them. But Jesus was innocent and sinless. Not only was he willing to die for his people, but his death actually accomplished something.
Moses was God’s servant. Jesus is God’s son. “God’s house” means his family. Moses may have lived in God’s house, but he was a humble servant. He lived in the servant’s quarters, in the basement. Moses simply had a job to do. He received a paycheck for what he did. Servants aren’t usually considered to be children. They’re employees; replaceable.
Is that where real children live? No; parents keep their kids with them. They don’t send them to live in the shed/barn/basement/closet, but they keep their children in their house, close to them. Jesus is even faithful over God’s house, meaning he is in charge of it. He’s no employee; he’s a son.
Jesus offers a better Sabbath than Moses. One of the laws God gave the people through Moses was the Sabbath, the 4th commandment. Six days and a rest; no work; specific laws prohibiting certain kinds of work. When most people in the ancient world worked 7 days a week, God promised to provide for his people and they would only work 6. It showed the nations around them how trustworthy and kind the one, true God was. Some Sabbath violations even had the death penalty. The Sabbath was Friday evening through Saturday afternoon. So the Sabbath is not Sunday; the church does not keep a Sabbath. The Sabbath was a condition of the old covenant, not the new that Christ gave us.
The promised land was a beautiful place where the Hebrews would prosper if they were obedient to God. But even before they got there, they proved to be disobedient, so the whole generation of adults who left Egypt were not allowed to enter the PL. The people led by Moses were kept from entering God’s plan of rest.
But the rest that Jesus offers is better. We enter that rest by belief (4:3). In what? In the finished work of Christ. Hebrews is clearly talking about the Sabbath and not just a day off of work (4:4-5). Hebrews warns us not to avoid trusting in Jesus and entering into his Sabbath in the same way that the Hebrews at Sinai avoided trusting in God were not allowed to enter into the rest God had prepared for them in the promised land. But we’re offered that salvation every single day, if we have not yet received it. God offers salvation again today, every day, until Christ returns.
Moses of course eventually died, and a man named Joshua took his place as the leader of the Hebrews. Moses couldn’t give them rest, so maybe Joshua could finally bring them to it. Nope! The kind of rest we need couldn’t come through just a man. It would have to come through someone greater.
Because Jesus is now our priest, we can actually draw near to God in ways that those under the old covenant could not. Hebrews spells this out for us.
Priests did not appoint themselves. The law of Moses spelled out exactly how that worked (Aaronic and Levites). It was inherited, not won in an election or appointed by the government. God appointed the priests and determined their role.
The Levitical priesthood could not make anyone perfect. The blood of animals could not cover over human sin. It was a temporary device to teach about the wickedness of sin. The priests never claimed to be messiahs. They had a temporary function until the fullness of time came—until the real, final, eternal priest arrived who could be the only necessary mediator between God and man.
His resurrection made Jesus a priest forever. Under the old covenant, priesthood was determined by genealogy. If your father was a priest, you would be a priest. If you weren’t from the tribe of Levi, you would never be a priest. If you were from the tribe of Levi, you had an obligation to be a priest.
But Jesus did not inherit the role of of priest. He didn’t appoint himself, but he didn’t inherit it, either. God made him a priest, and Hebrews tells us he was a priest “in the likeness of Melchizedek” (7:15).
Why was Jesus appointed to the priesthood? Not because of where he came from, but because of the resurrection, an “indestructible life”. He was perfectly obedient throughout his life, he fulfilled the sacrificial role the Father sent him to accomplish, and because of that he was raised to new life which is indestructible, or eternal.
Jesus’s priesthood truly saves all those for whom he died. The Levitical priesthood was good, but its weakness was that it was insufficient. It didn’t forgive sins. It didn’t make anyone sinless. But the sacrifice that the great high priest, Jesus Christ, offered his own body, those who draw near to him are saved permanently. Being saved “to the uttermost” means that nothing is capable of undoing that salvation. Where the old priesthood fell short, the new priesthood saved to the highest possible degree.
The old covenant is the Mosaic Covenant, which was given at Sinai. For the whole nation of Israel. It is distinct from Davidic Covenant, which was only for David’s lineage. The Abrahamic covenant preceded Israel but would be fulfilled through Israel, finally in Christ, the true Israelite. The Noahic covenant preceded Israel and was for the whole world.
The Old Covenant consisted of obligations, blessings, and curses. Every covenant had these. Obligations were for both parties. For God, he was obligated to give provision. For Israel, they were obligated to obey God’s laws. There were blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Blessings involved children, prosperity, safety. Curses would undo the blessings and eventually lead to exile from the land.
The old covenant was temporary. It was a tutor or a guardian. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:24-26, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” The law was inherently a temporary set of laws.
The old covenant could not change the human heart. Laws might bind your actions, but they can’t change your motives. Laws make it so that you have a reason to obey b/c they bring consequences. The law makes it clear what our sin is. Romans 7:9, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” The law can’t change our hearts; it only proves the wickedness of our hearts.
The Old Covenant prepared people for the New Covenant. In the same way that Moses said a better prophet than he was going to arrive one day, a new covenant would come along with that better prophet. In Ezekiel 36:26 we read, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Then again in Jeremiah 31:31 we read, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The old covenant could not satisfy the problem of the human heart; that would require a new covenant with a new law and a new priest. Jesus will bring everything that the law could supply fallen human beings.
Old Testament priests served on earth, in the temple. They took turns and rotated every few weeks. The sacrificed every day and often many times a day. They worked double-time on holidays. The “tent” was the temple. The true tent is in heaven. That doesn’t refer a literal building but the truth that Jesus satisfied the demands of heaven. Hundreds of people and billions of dollars built the first temple. God himself built the heavenly tent, and that’s where Jesus has shown the Father his own blood.
Read Hebrews 8:4-7. “Copy and shadows” means that they were real but not the main point. The sacrifices, the laws, the priests, the temple were all shadows of the real thing, which is Jesus. Sacrifices were a shadow of the fact that Jesus would shed his own blood for the church. The laws were a shadow of the fact that Jesus would actually be righteous and fulfill the demands of God’s perfection. The priests were a shadow of the fact that Jesus would stand between you and God and pray to him for you. The temple was a shadow of the fact that God is absolutely holy, and only a holy person can approach him. The whole old covenant was a lesson in the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the ministry of Jesus.
Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34. God promised that once the old covenant had completed its duty, once its demands had been met, he would bring a new covenant. He mentions Israel and Judah. The divided kingdom will be restored to one, meaning all of Abraham’s seed will be in the new covenant. And who is Abraham’s seed? All who believe (Gal. 3:29, “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”)!
One of the issues with the old covenant was us. We could break it. As soon as the Israelites received the covenant on Sinai, they began to break the various laws and demands. The new covenant won’t be breakable. That’s one of the primary differences. The old covenant laws were written on stone tablets—the ten commandments. The focused on the exterior. The new covenant will be written on our hearts and minds. “Mind and heart” mean the whole person and everything about us. We will actually be changed from the inside out. We will not just be pretending. Does that mean we’ll be perfect and never sin again? No; but it means we hate it when we sin and we mourn offending a righteous an holy God.
The new covenant gives us a new desire to please God and live righteous lives, even when we fall short and sin. Part of the new covenant is recognizing sin in ourselves. God says that we will know him and he will know us. That means a closeness we don’t have with God otherwise. Israel knew God as a nation, like how we know our president. The church knows God as a Father, far more closely.
Israel needed priests to offer sacrifices on their behalf. Individuals were not permitted to do that. Teaching was one of the most important parts of the priests’ job. In the new covenant, we enter into the presence of God through Jesus Christ and not an earthly priest. It was possible to be a citizen of Israel and not know God. Priests were those who got close to God for the people. In the new covenant, there’s a huge difference. Every truly born-again Christian has direct fellowship with God as his Father. It’s hard for us to even imagine the magnitude of that difference. It wasn’t that Old Testament believers couldn’t pray to God. People like Daniel prayed. We have hundreds of recorded prayers. But the existence of the priesthood proved that there was a massive distance between ordinary, sinful people and an extraordinary, righteous God. The new covenant closes that gap.