Exempted

A key component of the Israelites’ sacrificial system was the Passover. The Passover was instituted on the eve of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Prior to that night, the Egyptians had experienced nine plagues because Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go into the wilderness and worship their God. The plagues were intended to demonstrate God’s miraculous power. The LORD told Moses, “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5).

During the plagues, God made a distinction between the  Israelites and the Egyptians. God told Pharaoh, “I will put a division between my people and thy people” (Exodus 8:23). The Hebrew word translated division, peduth is derived from the word padah. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition” (6299). Padah is usually translated as redeem or ransom. God was letting Pharaoh know that his people were no longer subject to Pharaoh’s command and would be exempted from the rest of his plagues.

The last plague God brought upon the Egyptians was the death of all their firstborn. Even though the Israelites were exempted from this plague, they had to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their home as a sign to God that he should pass over that household (Exodus 12:7). The lamb was later referred to as the Passover (Exodus 12:27) and the Israelites were expected to celebrate this event annually in remembrance of God’s deliverance. After the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, the Passover celebration was for the most part ignored or forgotten. It wasn’t until king Hezekiah ordered the people to observe it, that the Passover was kept as it was originally intended to be (2 Chronicles 30:5).

In 622 B.C., after the book of the law was found and read to all the people, king Josiah kept the Passover exactly as it was prescribed by Moses. Every person that was living in Judah and Jerusalem participated in the celebration (2 Chronicles 35:17). This may have been the only complete observance of the sacrifice since it was celebrated in Egypt. Josiah  himself provided 33,000 animals for the sacrifice, indicating there were probably only 100,000 – 200,000 people residing in the nation at that time. Around 800 B.C, there were 300,000 men alone in Judah, 20 years old and above that were able to go to war, suggesting the total population was over one million.

The significance of king Josiah’s Passover celebration was that it occurred within a generation of when Judah went into captivity. There were three kings that followed Josiah; all of whom were his sons. It seems as if the first Passover and this last Passover celebration served somewhat as bookends to the Israelites’ freedom. The only way God could get the people to celebrate it was through the threat of death. Given that the Passover exempted the Israelites from all punishment of their sins, you would think they would have been more diligent about its observance.

Denial

The subconscious mind sometimes filters unpleasant thoughts or memories that the unconscious mind wants to get out. Denial is one way this process may work. As a defense mechanism, denial enables a person to avoid confrontation with a personal problem or with reality itself by denying its existence. Unfortunately, dreams often subvert this process and can force a person to accept that a problem really exists.

When the northern kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity in 722 B.C., Judah did not expect to go with them. Because the people of Judah were engaged in religious activities, they thought they would be excused from God’s punishment. In particular, Jerusalem was thought to be a safe haven because the temple of God was there. Priests and false prophets told the people they had nothing to fear because their sacrifices guaranteed God’s protection.

Isaiah used the name Ariel instead of Jerusalem in order to trigger the people’s awareness of danger when he declared, “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be to me as Ariel” (Isaiah 29:1-2). The people’s sacrificial system had become a defense mechanism against their awareness that the Assyrian army was closing in and was about to attack Jerusalem.

Isaiah used the illustration of the subconscious mind at work during sleep in order to convince the people they were in denial about their future. He said, “And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as a hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty” (Isaiah 29:7).

The problem the people needed to acknowledge was they had become spiritually numb and were no longer communicating with God. Although God had been speaking to them, they didn’t hear what he was really saying. They were tuning him out. Isaiah declared:

And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed…Wherefore the Lord said, forasmuch as this people draw near to me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me…Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work amongst this people. (Isaiah 29:11, 13-14)

Independence

Israel’s relationship with God was meant to be special, unique in that it involved personal contact between God and his people. The basis for the relationship was a covenant that was similar to a marriage that permanently bound the two together. The problem was that Israel didn’t want to be dependent on God. The people thought they could take care of themselves and didn’t need to be forgiven of their sins. Hosea stated it this way. “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God” (Hosea 5:4).

Basically, the message Hosea conveyed was that Israel was unconcerned about its own well-being. Like a reckless teenager barreling down the freeway at 100 mph, Hosea stated, “And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them” (Hosea 5:5). As much as God wanted to be in close contact with his people, the Israelites were determined to exercise their independence, so he had to walk away and leave them to their own devices.

Speaking through the prophet Hosea, the LORD communicated his intention. He declared, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5:15). The way God’s system worked was that his people had to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness through sacrifices. The people thought their sacrifices were payment for their sins, but in reality, the sacrifices were symbolic of the substitutionary death required to erase the sin from God’s memory.

Israel had gotten used to God coming to her rescue whenever she cried out for help. Like a child whose mother constantly attends to her needs, the people of Israel thought God would respond as usual even though the people had stopped confessing their sins (Hosea 6:3). Their sacrificial system was no longer a means of clearing their collective conscience, but a way to get God’s attention and to secure the Israelites’ prosperity. The LORD pointed out the contradiction in their objectives when he stated, “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

As a testimony to their disobedience, God reminded the Israelites that forgiveness was not automatic and the consequences they were going to experience was a result of sin (Hosea 7:2). Using the illustration of a hot oven to depict their uncontrolled behavior, God showed the Israelites that their resources had run out (Hosea 7:7). In spite of this, they thought they could survive without him. “And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this” (Hosea 7:10).

Escape clause

The punishment Amos predicted was a complete destruction of the nation of Israel. He said, “Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel. The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise” (Amos 5:1). A lamentation is a chant or wail that occurs at a funeral. Amos was speaking as if the judgment had already been decided and there was no chance of escaping it, but God intended to preserve a remnant of the nation.

According to Amos, ten percent of the people would survive (Amos 5:3). What this meant was that at an individual level there was a type of escape clause in God’s punishment that enabled an Israelite to remain alive even though the nation of Israel would not longer exist. Amos stated, “For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, seek ye me, and ye shall live” (Amos 5:4).

The Hebrew word translated house, bayith (bah´ – yith) refers to a family or a household. It can also designate a “fixed, established structure made from some kind of material” (1004) such as a home. Similar to when the Israelites celebrated the Passover in Egypt and were exempted from the plague that killed all the first born males, each household that sought God’s mercy would be kept alive.

One of the things that Amos made clear was that the punishment of Israel’s sin was coming directly from God. Amos declared, “Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, alas! alas! And they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skillful of lamentation to wailing. And in all vineyard shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the LORD” (Amos 5:16-17).

A significant problem that existed in Israel was false worship. By that I mean worship that had nothing to do with having a relationship with God. The goal of worship was supposed to be communication with God. In particular, prayer was meant to be a two-way conversation. Instead of asking God what he wanted them to do, the people of Israel were making sacrifices so that God would do what they wanted him to.

Pagan worship, in which deities had to be appeased in order to gain their favor, had infiltrated the Israelite culture. Much like the heathen that lived around them, the Israelites expected their God to do certain things because they made sacrifices to him. The LORD warned his people, “Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts” (Amos 5:22). In order to be saved, God’s people would have to seek his direction through prayer.

The true God

Elijah’s residency in the northern kingdom of Israel gave him an advantage in confronting the people because he knew what was going on there. Like king Ahab, the people were caught in the middle of two worship systems, one that honored the pagan god Baal and one that honored Jehovah; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and had given them the land of Canaan to dwell in.

Elijah challenged the people to make a choice based on whichever one they believed to be the true God. “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word” (1 Kings 18:21).

The message Elijah was trying to convey was that worshipping two gods was getting them nowhere. The people were hopping back and forth depending on their circumstances and were not committed to either deity. The reason the people couldn’t give Elijah a straight answer was because they were stuck. They weren’t sure if they were ready to walk away from God altogether and didn’t know if Baal could protect them the way the LORD had.

In order to prove to the people of Israel that Baal was no match for God, Elijah designed a test to demonstrate the superiority of the LORD. It involved the sacrifice of a bullock as a burnt offering without using any fire. Elijah’s instructions to the people were “call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: And the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered him and said, It is well spoken” (1 Kings 18:24).

Elijah’s contest was intended to show the people of Israel that their idols were inanimate objects with less than human capabilities. Baal could not see or hear them and he was unaware of the worship they performed to honor him (1 Kings 18:26). In stark contrast, God instituted the Israelite’s system of worship and made a covenant with them to guarantee the fulfillment of his promises to his people.

In order to emphasize God’s awareness and involvement in what was going on, Elijah drenched his bullock and the altar it was placed on with water before he prayed to the LORD to consume it with fire. It says in 1 Kings 18:33-35 that Elijah filled four barrels with water, poured it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood, then repeated the process two more times until more than 30 gallons of water ran round about the altar and filled a trench that Elijah dug to hold it. His extreme demonstration made it clear that it would be impossible for Elijah to light the fire for the sacrifice.

Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God. (1 Kings 18:39)

 

Night Watch

It’s hard to say what exactly went on in Solomon’s temple because what was prescribed was not always carried out. One of the reasons Israel went into exile was they were not observing certain portions of the law. Temple activities were intended to be continuous, with some things happening on a 24/7 basis. The priests who were responsible for maintaining these activities worked in shifts, rotating in and out over a period of time. Some of them worked through the night during what were called watches. “During Old Testament times the ‘night’ was divided into three watches: from sunset to 10 P.M., from 10 P.M. to 2 A.M., and from 2 A.M. to sunrise” (3915).

I think the hardest part of becoming a mom is attending to the needs of a newborn baby around the clock. Although we are used to sleeping at night, newborns have no awareness of time and do not differentiate between night and day. Their patterns are based on activity in the womb and must be adapted to sleeping only at night.

The Levites that served in the temple had to adapt their behavior to God’s patterns and ways of doing things. It says in Psalm 134:1, “Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD.” The word translated stand, amad basically means “to stand upright,” but “cultically (with reference to formal worship activities) this verb is used of approaching the altar to make a sacrifice. It describes the last stage of this approaching, ‘to stand finally and officially’ before the altar (before God; cf Deut 4:11). Such standing is not just standing still doing nothing but includes all that one does in ministering before God (Num 16:9)” (5975).

Impossible

I would like to think I can do anything I set my mind to, but there are some things that are impossible for me. Sometimes I think I can do things that I actually can’t and other times I think I can’t do things that I can. The problem is I don’t know my own limitations.

When Solomon was preparing to build the temple, he knew the task was too much for him. He said in 2 Chronicles 2:5-6, “And the house which I build is great: for great is out God above all gods. But who is able to build him a house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him a house, save only to burn sacrifice before him?”

Solomon described the house he was going to build for God as “wonderful great” (2 Chronicles 2:9). The word translated wonderful, pala’ means “to be marvelous, be extraordinary, be beyond one’s power to do. Pala’ is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human power or expectation…Although something may appear impossible to man, it still is within God’s power” (6381).

Five years ago, I made a commitment to not have sex ever again unless I am married. For some people, this might not be a big deal, but for me, it seemed impossible. At the time, I felt like I would die if I didn’t have sex, so giving it up was a sacrifice. Over the years, my desire for sex has gotten stronger. There have been times when I thought not having sex was killing me. The only way I have been able to get through it has been the power of God helping me to do what I set out to do.