Friday, June 25, 2010

Do Not Enter

We are now halfway through the book of Numbers. As we have seen, God has acted swiftly to crush several rebellions. The last rebellion was a challenge to the leadership of Moses and Aaron, during which God opened the earth to swallow up the responsible men and their innocent families, and burned to death all of those men who went along with the rebellion. Then, God sent a plague to kill the Israelites because they had grumbled about God's judgement against those men. Aaron and Moses manage to stop the plague after 14,700 men were killed.

Just to confirm Aaron's and the Levites' role as the exclusive servants for God, God makes Aaron's staff bloom flowers and produce almonds overnight. Naturally, now is a good time for God to reveal even more rules, regulations, and information regarding the Priesthood and the Levites.

Do Not Enter
To those only familiar with the New Testament teachings of modern Christianity, you may have this idea that God was always an open and loving deity, actively pursuing an intimate relationship with all fallen men. Yet quite the opposite is true.

God selectively revealed Himself to the Israelites almost exclusively, and He gave no great commission to the Israelites to evangelize the rest of the world. Plus, even within the Israelites themselves, God established a hierarchy; prohibiting all but a select group to enter the Temple, and prohibiting all but a sparse few to enter the Sanctuary, where God dwelt, as we will see in this study.

In Numbers 18, we find out about more rights and responsibilities of the Priests and Levites. It begins with a hefty burden; that the Priests (Aaron and his descendants) and the Levites will be responsible for all offenses to the sanctuary, and the Priests will be responsible for transgressions against the Priesthood. God gives the Levites to the Priests as servants. If the Levites go near the furnishings of the Sanctuary or the altar, God will kill them and the Priest. Furthermore, nobody else should come near either (Numbers 18:1-4).

As we read on, we find that God (again) places the responsibility for the sanctuary on the Priests and gives the Levites to the Priests as servants. Only the Priests could approach the altar and the Sanctuary. Anyone else who even comes near the Sanctuary should be put to death (Numbers 18:5-7).

The Ark of the Covenant was kept inside the Sanctuary. The cover of the Ark of the Covenant was known as the Mercy Seat, which was God's throne while hanging out with the Israelites (1 Samuel 4:4).

So what we see here is that God is putting barrier after barrier between Himself and His Chosen People. His throne is obscured from all except the High Priests (exclusively descendants of Aaron), and could only be approached on the Day of Atonement. His sanctuary and altar could only be approached by the Priests. The inside of the Tabernacle could only be accessed by the Levites in service of the Priests.

This system of restrictions in no way, shape, form, or type foreshadows what would come through Christianity. Yet adherence to its structure was so important that God applied the death penalty to those of whom would transgress it.

Furthermore, this system does not suggest that God loved everyone so much that He wanted to have a personal relationship with everyone. In fact, God made that impossible. The separation was not based on sin, but rather based on person. The common Israelites were kept outside. The Levites got closer to God. The Priests got even closer. The High Priest actually got to see God. God showed partiality and favoritism in His relationship with men based on who they were, contrary to Deuteronomy 10:17, 2 Chronicles 19:7, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, and 1 Peter 1:17.

The rest of the chapter explains how the Levites and Priests will essentially get to live like kings, without all of that bothersome country-ruling responsibility. Numbers 18:8-32 shows that, while they will not own the land, the Levites and Priests will live off of the produce of the land; the tithes and offerings of the rest of the Israelites. Of particular note is that God makes an everlasting covenant with the descendants of Aaron; that they will get the Holy offerings of the Israelites (Numbers 18:19).

An everlasting covenant? Obviously that is not going on today. The only way to reconcile this would be to have sacrifices continue forever after beginning again at some later time, but that does not make any sense at all in the perspective of Christian eschatology. However, in Jewish eschatology, Ezekiel 40-46 does speak of a new Temple with renewed and eternal sacrifices.

So what have we learned? The God of the Old Testament did not want a personal relationship with everyone, and He respected (gave preferential treatment of) men based on their lineage in determining the closeness of the relationship He had with them. Of course, this is in bold contrast to the message of Christianity. God also made an everlasting covenant with the descendants of Aaron to receive the Israelites' sacrifices. Again, this is in contrast to Christianity, which through Hebrews 10:14 claims that Jesus made further sacrifices obsolete. And so, the veracity of the Bible takes another hit...

Who Killed Who?
Did you catch the slight twist above near the beginning of the study? In Numbers 18:3, it states that if a Levite goes near the Sanctuary, both the Levite and the Priest will die, which is typically a euphemism meaning that God will kill them. (As we have seen, God seems overly anxious to kill His priests for any number of reasons, such as for not wearing bells.) On the other hand, Numbers 18:7 states that anyone else who comes near the Sanctuary should be put to death, which means they were to be killed by men.

This distinction here between God-killed and man-killed serves a couple of purposes. First, it deters any would-be priest from trying to make his own priesthood to God. Second, it answers the question of “who watches the watchmen?” God will step in and kill the Priests if they have serious transgressions. Therefore, if a Priest is still alive, he has an inherent credibility that he is in harmony with God.

However, the truth may be unwittingly revealed in Numbers 18:7. That verse makes it incumbent upon men both to observe and to accordingly execute an unauthorized entrant. So there is no Godly-magic death ray which automatically kills unauthorized entrants, which makes it unlikely that a Priest would be killed by God for a sanctuary transgression.

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