Idol worship

During the Israelites 400 years of slavery in Egypt, they became immersed in a culture of idol worship. It wasn’t long after God had delivered them that the people of Israel’s tendency to worship material objects became evident. It says in Exodus 32:1-4, “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” Aaron offered the people idolatry as an alternative to worshipping the true God who had spoken to them on Mount Sinai. Exodus 19-20 tells us that God came down on Mount Sinai and spoke the words of the Ten Commandments directly to his chosen people. Exodus 20:1-6 states:

And God spoke all these words, saying,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the calf and the dancing, he threw the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments “out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it” (Exodus 32:19-20). “Moses had just been given the law by God (Exodus 32:15, 16), and it strictly forbade the worship of false gods. Even though the Israelites had promised earlier, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do’ (Exodus 24:3), they had forsaken him while Moses was on the mountain with God” (note on Exodus 32:26, 27).

The Israelites were instructed to take possession of the land that God had given them and to clear away the nations that were living there. Moses said, “When the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to server other gods” (Deuteronomy 7:2-4). Moses told the people of Israel not to pity the inhabitants of the land that they were going in to take possession of because, “that would be a snare to you” (Deuteronomy 7:16). The Hebrew word that is translated snare, moqesh (mo-kasheˊ) means “a noose…a snare, a trap, bait. The proper understanding of this Hebrew word is the lure of bait placed in a hunter’s trap. From this sense comes the primary use of the term to mean the snare itself. It is used to signify a trap by which birds or beasts are captured (Amos 3:5); a moral pitfall (Proverbs 18:7; 20:25); and anything that lures one to ruin and disaster (Judges 2:3; Proverbs 29:6)” (H4170).

The angel of the LORD reinforced Moses’ message to the people of Israel after they had failed to complete the conquest of the land of Canaan. Judges 2:1-3 states:

Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”

Israel’s unfaithfulness was primarily attributed to a lack of personal experience with the wars that were fought in the early years of Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land (Judges 3:1). It says in Judges 2:10-13, there arose another generation after Joshua’s death, “who did not know the LORD or the work he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, for among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.”

“Canaanite deities, such as the Baals and the Ashtoreths, remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile. Other Canaanite deities included the Asherahs (Judges 3:7) and Dagon (Judges 16:23). It took seventy years of captivity to finally cure the Israelites of their idolatrous ways. Recent archeological discoveries have clarified some facts about the region of Canaan in the days of the judges. Baal and Ashtoreth were the names of two individual gods in a much larger and complicated system of polytheism, but they were also community gods whose names differed from region to region. For instance, there was the Baal called Baal of Peor (Numbers 25:3), Baal-Berith (Judges 8:33), and Baal-Zebub (2 Kings 1:2). It is for this reason that Scripture describes the Israelites as serving ‘Baal’ in some instances and ‘Baals’ in others. Overall, the religion of the Canaanites was extremely corrupt. It was characterized by the practices of human sacrifice, ritual prostitution and homosexuality, and self-mutilation. These religions taught that these practices were prevalent among their gods, so it is not surprising that the people became equally debased. Many false gods were particularly connected with agriculture (the seasons, weather, and grain) and some of God’s judgments against these people would ultimately discredit the supposed abilities of these Canaanite ‘gods’ (1 Kings 18:18-40; Hosea 2:8-13; Amos 4:4-12)” (note on Judges 2:13).

After Gideon’s supernatural victory over the Midianites, it says in Judges 8:22, “the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.’ Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.’” Gideon’s refusal to take God’s place in the lives of the Israelites was commendable, but he made the mistake of taking a portion of the spoil from the war that he had fought and made an ephod which was put in his hometown of Ophrah (Judges 8:24-27). “The ephod mentioned here may have varied from the priestly ephod (Exodus 28:6-30) or may have been a mere copy of Aaron’s ephod, It came to be a form of idolatry because the object itself was worshiped rather than God” (note on Judges 8:27). It says in Judges 8:27, “All Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.”

Gideon’s direct assault to the altar of Baal that his father had erected may have caused him to become a target of spiritual warfare. It says of the incident in Judges 6:28-32:

When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it. ”But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” Therefore on that day Gideonwas called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.

Joash’s conclusion that Baal would contend against Gideon because he had broken down his alter was true in the sense that there is a real spiritual force that contends against God’s followers. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The name that Gideon was called, Jerubbaal was said to mean, “Let Baal contend against him” (Judges 6:32) suggesting that Gideon became a target of the spiritual forces that were behind Baal worship.

Gideon’s construction of an ephod (Judges 8:27) may have opened him up to satanic influence. It states in Judges 8:29, “Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house.” The use of the name Jerubbaal might indicate that Gideon was acting according to the epithet that was associated with him. The passage goes on to say, “Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech” (Judges 8:30-31). A concubine was the illicit partner of a married person and therefore, Abimelech was not considered to be one of Gideon’s own offspring. Judges 9:1-2 states:

Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, “Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.”

Abimelech was identified as the son of Jerubbaal even though he was Gideon’s illegitimate child. Abimelech’s question, “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you or that one rule over you?” (Judges 9:2) points out the fact that he was not among “all the seventy sons of Jerubbaal,” but was identified with his mother’s relatives. Abimelech said to them, “I am your bone and your flesh.”

The Hebrew name that is translated Abimelech, Abiymelek (ab-ee-melˊ-ek) is derived from the words ab (awb) which means “father” (H40) and melek (mehˊ-lek) which means “a king” (H4428). “The word melek appears 2,500 times in the Old Testament. In many biblical contexts, this term is simply a general term, denoting an individual with power and authority…In pagan worship, the worshippers of idols attribute this term with it connotations to their idols (Isaiah 8:21; Amos 5:26). Abimelech’s suggestion that there should be only one ruler over the people of Israel implies that he was willing to take God’s place as the spiritual leader of the Israelites and viewed himself as a type of deity. This mindset is indicative of antichrist and is aligned with Satan’s objective of overturning the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. It says in Judges 9:3-6:

And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem.

“The house of Baal-berith” (Judges 9:4) refers to an idol temple. “An obvious contrast is made between Baal-Berith, which means ‘lord of the covenant,’ and the true God, with whom the Israelites had made their covenant. The Israelites were essentially exchanging one covenant for another. This apostasy was centered in Shechem, and Gideon opened the way for it by making the gold ephod” (note on Judges 8:33, 34).

Jotham, Gideon’s youngest son, escaped the slaughter of all Gideon’s male descendants. When he was told what had happened, Jotham went to a Mount Gerizim to confront the leaders of Shechem. Mount Gerizim was the designated location for Israel to receive God’s blessing after they entered the Promised Land. After the Israelites defeated Ai, Joshua renewed the Israelites’ covenant with God. Moses had commanded the people of Israel to erect “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man had wielded an iron tool” and offer burnt offerings to the LORD (Joshua 8:31). Joshua 8:32-34 states, “And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse according to all that is written in the Book of the Law.” The reading of the blessing and the curse was meant to remind the Israelites of the choice they had made to keep the Ten Commandments and to love the LORD their God with all their hearts and with all their souls and with all their might (Deuteronomy 6:5). The mountains where the reading took place, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, were symbolic of the two choices that Moses offered the Israelites at the close of his ministry. Moses said:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Moses encouraged the people to choose life, but realized that not everyone wanted to obey God’s commandments. Mount Gerizim represented the blessing that would result from obedience and Mount Ebal the curse that was associated with idolatry. When Jotham confronted the leaders of Shechem from the top of Mount Gerizim, he told them a parable that was later revealed to be a curse (Judges 9:57). Jotham may have done this intentionally to confuse his listeners or he may have wanted to remind the people that they still had the option to choose life.

Jotham’s parable (Judges 9:7-15) “is one of the few parables in the Old Testament” (note on Judges 9:7-15). Jesus frequently spoke in parables and when he was asked why he did it, Jesus told his disciples:

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:11-17)

Jesus referred to the things that he was sharing with his disciples about God’s kingdom as secrets and said that many prophets and righteous people were not given access to the same information. The Greek word that is translated secrets, musterion (moos-tayˊ-ree-on) is where the word mystery comes from. From a biblical standpoint, a mystery is “something into which one must be initiated or instructed before it can be known; something of itself not obvious and above human insight.” Musterion is used “specifically, of the gospel, the Christian dispensation, as having been long hidden and first revealed in later times (Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:3, 4, 9; Colossians 2:2; 4:3; 1 Timothy 3:9)” (G3466).

Jotham’s parable was a type of gospel message in that it gave the people of Shechem an opportunity to repent and change the course of their actions, but it was delivered to the people as a pronouncement of judgment because the leaders of Shechem had already made Abimelech king (Judges 9:6). Jotham said, “If you have acted in good faith and integrity when you made Abimelech king…then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. But if not, let fire come out of Abimelech and devour the leaders of Shechem and Beth-millo” (Judges 9:16-20). God dealt with the apostasy that was centered in Shechem by letting Abimelech become the source of his own family’s demise (Judges 9:46-49). It says in Judges 9:55, “And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, everyone departed to his home.” The anticlimactic ending of Abimelech’s life not only showed that the false god Baal-berith was unable to protect his followers, but also that God would indeed execute the curses on his people that were promised for idol worship. Judges 9:56-57 states, “Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.”

The greatest commandment

Jesus’ controversial teaching enraged the religious leaders who wanted the people to see them as the authorities on Jewish religious matters. On one occasion, the chief priests and the elders directly challenged Jesus’ authority and asked him the question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus’ response may have seemed like a clever sidestep, but it showed these men that he was not intimidated by their positions of power (Matthew 21:24-27). When he was later tested on his interpretation of the scriptures, Jesus clearly demonstrated his superior exegesis of God’s word. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:34-46)

Jesus’ summation of the entire written word of God into two simple commandments likely astounded his audience, but it was his understanding of the Messiah’s identity that silenced the crowd that was trying to publicly discredit him. In other words, Jesus blew them away with his incredible insight into God’s word, so much so, that the Pharisees realized they were no match for Jesus’ keen intellect.

Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6:5 as the great and first commandment. What Jesus meant by that was that this verse of scripture takes precedence over everything else. The Greek word that is translated great, megas (megˊ-as) means “big” and is sometimes translated as higher, larger, older, profound, severe, strong, too much (G3173). The Greek word that is translated first, protos (proˊ-tos) means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance)” (G4413). Today we might refer to this verse as a heavy hitter and might think of it in terms of getting the most bang for your buck when you’re trying to understand the Bible and want to live according to its principles. Jesus said that we are supposed to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). I think the point that Jesus was trying to make was not that we are to love God with our heart, our soul, and our mind, but that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. The Greek word that is translated all, holos (holˊ-os) means “whole” or “’all,’i.e. complete (in extent, amount, time or degree)” (G3650). In that sense, you could say that we are expected to love the Lord with every bit of our heart, with every bit of our soul, and with every bit of our mind.

The heart, the soul, and the mind are likely similar to the three parts of the Godhead: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God the Holy Spirit; in that we have a triune nature like God that is meant to function in an integrated fashion. We can’t love God with just our heart because we wouldn’t be able to understand who God is and have a relationship with him, nor can we love Him with just our mind because we wouldn’t feel close to Him or have a desire to be in His presence. The soul is what makes it possible for us to identify with God as an eternal being that is connected to everything around us. The issue for us is being able to focus our minds completely on God or being able to give our hearts to him without any reservations. Jesus said that we must love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds (Matthew 22:37). The only way that we can do that is by becoming one with God. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:120-21).

The unity that Jesus has with his Father is clearly expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “Here, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The Hebrew word that is translated one, ʾechad (ekh-awdˊ) means “united” (H259) and is derived from the word ʾachad (aw-khadˊ) which means “to unify, i.e. (figurative) collect (one’s thoughts)” (H258). ʾAchad is translated “go one way or other” in Ezekiel 21:16. From that standpoint, you might say that God is the unifier of all things and that His word is a unified thought that makes us go one way or the other. The fact that all believers read the same Bible and seek to live according to the same principles is what makes us look, act, and talk like each other and how we essentially become one with Jesus and the Father. Jesus,’ through the example of his relationship with his Father, took it one step further by stating that we should “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). I believe what Jesus meant by become perfectly one was that we would not just understand God’s word, but that we all would understand what it means in the context of our own lives. In other words, for each and every person to understand and seek to attain God’s perfect will for their lives. Paul talked about this in his letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

Paul indicated that there was a three-fold effort involved in becoming perfectly one. First of all, our thinking must be aligned with God’s word. Paul said, “If in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). Paul is talking here about our minds being submitted to God and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phroneo (fron-ehˊ-o) means “to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); intensive to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience)” (G5426). Secondly, Paul instructed believers to imitate him and to “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase followers together to describe the process of imitating other believers. The Greek word that is translated example, tupos (tooˊ-pos) refers to a prototype and is “spoken figuratively of a person as bearing the form and figure of another, a type, as having a certain resemblance in relations and circumstances (Romans 5:14)” (G5179). The point that Paul was trying to make was that we shouldn’t just mimic the behaviors of other Christians, but we need to pay attention to what mature believers are doing and follow their examples. Keeping our eyes on someone means that we watch them closely and therefore, regard them in our heart. It is important that we don’t regard the wrong people, such as the ones that Paul identified as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Finally, Paul indicated that Jesus will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body and said that he will do this by “the power that enables him to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). The involuntary transformation of our bodies suggests that the physical change that is necessary for us to become perfectly one with other believers is not something that we are able or would want to do on our own. Obviously, no one would want to follow Christ if it involved crucifixion, but according to Paul, the believers’ old man was crucified with Christ and we will all one day be united with him in a resurrection similar to his. Paul said, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:5-6).

Moses’ recitation of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:7-21 was followed by the statement, “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33). The Hebrew word that is translated careful in Deuteronomy 5:32, shamar (shaw-marˊ) appears 16 times in Deuteronomy 4-6 where Moses talks about obedience to God’s commandments. In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses elaborated on his instruction to be careful and stated, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” The idea that we can forget the things that our eyes have seen and that they can depart from our heart has to do with us becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment.

The book of Proverbs, which was primarily written by King Solomon who is thought by some Bible scholars to be the wisest man that ever lived, contains numerous analogies between spiritual and material things (Proverbs, Introduction, p. 714). It says in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Solomon indicated that fools have no regard for wisdom or instruction. “The fool’s only authority is himself.” He “twists God’s ways into his own” and “is insensitive to godly prodding” (H191). On the contrary, Solomon said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). The kind of fear that Solomon was referring to was the fear that is “produced by God’s word and makes a person receptive to knowledge and wisdom” (H3374). God employed wisdom as his master craftsman to create all things and thus, it is inherent in the created order (H2451). Knowledge has to do with knowing how to please God. These two qualities are the theme of the book of Proverbs as a whole. “The acquisition and application of wisdom are paramount concerns throughout the book” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7).

Solomon took great care to illustrate for us the results of becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment. Solomon began with the enticement of sinners. He said:

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
    let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
    we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
    we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
    hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
    in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:8-19)

Solomon emphasized the foolishness of committing a crime by stating, “in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird” (Proverbs 1:17) and then, drove home his point about the punishment that sinners will ultimately receive in his statement, “but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18). The Hebrew word that is translated lives is nephesh (nehˊ-fesh). The best Biblical definition of this word is found in Psalm 103:1 where nephesh is defined as “all that is within” a person. Nephesh is usually translated as “soul” which “makes sense in most passages. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the opposition of the terms ‘body’ and ‘soul,’ which are really Greek and Latin in origin. The Hebrew compares/contrasts ‘the inner self’ and ‘the outer appearance’ or, as viewed in a different context, ‘what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers.’ The goal of Scripture is to make the inner and the outer consistent” (H5315).

The reason that Moses gave for the Israelites being careful to do as the LORD had commanded them was “that you may live, and that is may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33). In this instance, to live meant more than physical existence, it meant to revive the spirit or to revive the heart (H2421). The Hebrew word that is translated well in Deuteronomy 5:33, towb (tobe) means “to be happy, to please, to be loved…the word naturally expresses the idea of being loved or enjoying the favour of someone” (H2895). Moses repeated the statement that it may go well with you for emphasis and linked it with the blessing that was promised to Abraham in order to drive home his point that God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was conditional and was dependent upon their obedience to his commandments (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Moses said:

“Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 6:3)

Afterward, Moses summarized the law by stating the greatest commandment:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

And then, Moses concluded his summarization with some personal advice:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6).

The King James Version of the Bible indicates that the words that Moses spoke should be “in” the Israelites’ hearts rather than on their hearts. The difference between something being on our heart and something being in our heart may have to do with the memorization of scripture as opposed to the external viewing of it on a scroll or in a book. Moses’ warning to not forget it or let it depart from your heart (Deuteronomy 4:9) would make more sense in that context.

One of the words that Solomon used to describe the person that ignores God’s word was simple. He asked, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (Proverbs 1:22). The Hebrew word that is translated simple, pᵉtha˒iy (peth-aw-eeˊ) is derived from the word pathah (paw-thawˊ) which means “to open, i.e. be (causatively make) roomy” (H6601). In that sense, someone that is simple might be thought of as being empty headed or lacking in education. Solomon may have been thinking about a person that had never studied the scriptures or committed a single verse to memory. Solomon reproved the simple ones, encouraging them to repent before it was too late and said of wisdom:

“Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:24-33)

Solomon stated that “the simple are killed by their turning away” (Proverbs 1:32). The Hebrew word that is translated turning away, mᵉshubah (mesh-oo-bawˊ) means apostasy and is usually translated backsliding (H4878). What Solomon likely meant by the simple are killed by their turning away was that since the simple have turned their backs on God and have no protection from him, they will become victims of the violence that is going on in the world around them and will die as a result of it.

Godly sorrow

One of the primary reasons God communicated the Ten Commandments directly to the Israelites was so that there wouldn’t be any confusion or misunderstanding about his expectations of them. Afterwards, Exodus 20:22-23 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.” The Hebrew word that is translated seen ra’ah (raw-aw’) means to see. Its basic denotation is to see with the eyes. It also has several derived meanings, all of which require the individual to see physically outside of himself or herself, such as to see so that one can learn to know, whether it be another person or God (H7200). The experience the Israelites had on Mount Sinai left them with the impression that being in a relationship with God might result in their death. Exodus 20:18-20 states, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.'” Moses explained to the people that the fear they experienced when they saw God was meant to keep them from sinning against him (Exodus 20:20). The point being that the Israelites needed to take God’s commandments seriously and do what he told them to.

Underlying God’s communication of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites was the LORD’s desire to have a relationship with his chosen people. God’s holiness prevented the people from coming near him. The only way anyone could approach God was through a process of consecration that essentially took away the reproach of sin so that the barrier between God and his people was temporarily eliminated and he could be seen or you might say experienced through means of physical eyesight (Exodus 19:10-20). The tabernacle that the Israelites erected for God to live in so that he could travel with them to the Promised Land was patterned after a model that Moses was shown while he was on top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 26:30). God told Moses that he needed to make everything “exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle” (Exodus 25:9). The tabernacle was likely a bridge between the physical and spiritual realms, a place where both God and people could coexist in spite of their different natures. God said, “There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:43-45).

The outcome of the union of God and mankind was that it enabled them to work together to achieve God’s divine objectives. Exodus 31:1-5 states, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘See I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood. to work in every craft.'” Bezalel’s unique position and role in constructing the tabernacle of God was similar to that of Christians today because he had the benefit of having God’s indwelling Spirit to guide him through the process of doing the work that he was called to do. Bezalel was given ability, intelligence, knowledge, and craftmanship that were not based on his human capacity to do things. The Hebrew word that is translated ability in Exodus 31:3, chokmah (khok-maw’) means wisdom or to act according to wisdom. Chokmah has to do with God’s gracious creation and is thus inherent in the created order. “God alone knows where wisdom dwells and where it originates (Job 28:12, 20); no other living being possesses this knowledge about wisdom (see Job 28:21). For humans, the beginning of wisdom and the supreme wisdom is to properly fear and reverence God (Job 28:21; Proverbs 1:7; cf. Proverbs 8:3)” (H2451).

One of the gifts that God gave Bezalel was the ability to “devise artistic designs” (Exodus 31:4). To devise something means that you are able to invent new things (H2803) and an artistic design is anything that requires thought or intention to create it. The Hebrew word machashabah (makh-ash-aw-baw’) denotes the thoughts of the mind, either belonging to people or God; the plans or intentions that arise from these thoughts and the skillful inventions that come from the mind of an artist (H4284). Machashabah appears in Genesis 6:5 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This proved to be true in the case of the Israelites because less that 40 days after they had heard the voice of God and received his command to not make any “carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath” (Exodus 20:4), we are told in Exodus 32:1-6 that:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

God wasn’t surprised by the Israelites quick abandonment of his covenant with them. He knew they were acting according to their sinful human nature. Exodus 32:7-10 states:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

God’s anger was justified because the Israelites intentionally broke his commandment shortly after they had received it. There was no way they could have forgotten or been unclear about what was expected of them. Moses intervened on behalf of the people of Israel in a similar way that Christ intervenes with God on our behalf. Exodus 32:11-14 states:

But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

The dilemma that Moses pointed out was that the Israelites had clearly broken God’s commandments and deserved to be killed, but if God did so, he would be breaking the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants to make them into a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Moses appealed to God on the basis of his integrity and God’s holy character which caused him to always do the right thing. Moses pleaded with God to “Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people” (Exodus 32:12). Moses used three key words that combined together convey the essence of what it means to repent from sin. Turn, or in Hebrew shuwb (shoob), in the simple stem is used to describe divine and human reactions, attitudes, and feelings and indicates the possibility of changing one’s mind. The Hebrew word that is translated disaster, ra’ (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrong-doing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451). The Hebrew word that is translated relent, nacham (naw-kham’) means to be sorry. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis in on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course. Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose or action” (H5162).

Exodus 32:14 tells us that “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” In other words, God was sorry that he had considered breaking his covenant with Abraham even though he was justified in doing so. When Moses returned to the camp of the Israelites, he confronted Aaron and the people of Israel. He said:

“You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

The problem with Moses’ plan to make atonement for the people of Israel was that he wasn’t perfect and therefore didn’t qualify to be their redeemer. God indicated that whoever had sinned against him would be blotted out of his book of life. The book of Revelation tells us that after God’s final judgment of mankind, anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about forgiving Christians that have sinned against us. Paul delayed his third visit to Corinth because he didn’t want to visit them too soon after having harshly criticized them because of the damage that had been done to his reputation there. Paul said, “For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained…For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4). In the King James Version of the Bible, 2 Corinthians 2:2 is stated this way: “For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?” Paul was evidently talking about having brought the people of the church in Corinth to a point of repentance and he wanted to restore his fellowship with them. The Greek word that is translated pain and sorry, lupeo (loo-peh’-o) means to be sad or sorrowful (G3076). Lupeo is used in 2 Corinthians 2:5 with the specific meaning of “to cause grief, offend.” Paul said, “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:5-7).

Paul used the words forgive and comfort to show that repentance is not meant to be a permanent state. If someone expresses godly sorrow, the next step is to forgive and then, to forget the sin that has been committed against you. The Greek word that is translated comfort in 2 Corinthians 2:7, parakaleo (par-ak-al-eh’-o) means to call near, apologize (G3870). Paul used this word four times in his opening statement to the Corinthians. He said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Paul pointed out that God is the source of all comfort and that we are expected to comfort others because God comforts us. Affliction is another word for all the troubles that go along with being a Christian. Paul said, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Paul indicated that comforting those that have repented of their sins is a sign of being a genuine believer in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 2:8-9).

Paul made the argument that forgiveness and comfort are necessary for us to defeat our enemy the devil in spiritual warfare. Paul said, “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). The Greek word that is translated outwitted, pleonekteo (pleh-on-ek-teh’-o) means to outwit or to take advantage of from a mental standpoint (G4122). The Greek word noema (no’-ay’mah) which is translated designs, means a perception. “A thought. That which is thought out, planned, devised, in a negative sense (2 Corinthians 2:11; 10:5). By metonymy: the mind itself, the understanding (2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:4; 11:3)” (G3540). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about the fact that we are not fighting against a physical enemy when we engage in warfare with the devil. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The schemes of the devil have to do with the lifestyle that we become accustomed to (G3180). The Israelites decision to make a golden calf and worship it was based on hundreds of years of influence by the Egyptians who practiced idolatry. Even though God had specifically told them not to makes gods of gold (Exodus 20:23), it was easy for the Israelites to revert to their old behavior when they thought Moses had abandoned them (Exodus 32:1).

One way of looking at spiritual warfare is that it is a battle that goes on in our minds to either think the way God thinks or to think the way the devil wants us to. We are constantly being barraged with ideas that seem to be of our own making, but most, if not all of the time, these thoughts are coming from one of two sources, God or Satan. There used to be a popular saying, “the devil made me do it.” Although it’s true that Christians are sometimes unknowingly under the influence of Satan and his demons, we have the ability to resist the devil’s suggestions and do what we know to be right. God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments so that they would be clear about what they were supposed to and not supposed to do on a daily basis. If they were able to keep the Ten Commandments, the Israelites would have inherited God’s kingdom without Christ having to enter the world and die for their sins. The fact that the people of Israel turned away from God and broke his most important commandment just days after having received it shows that apart from Christ no one can keep from offending God and we all, both believers and unbelievers alike, cause him a great deal of sorrow when we choose to resort to our own devices.

Heavenly things

The Bible introduces us to the concept of heaven, but there isn’t much information or details about what it’s like or what we will be doing when we get there. The purpose of the sanctuary that the Israelites constructed in the Sinai desert was to give them a physical representation of heaven, something that would help them to connect with God in a more personal and intimate way. The Bible tells us that the immaterial part of heaven which is invisible to the naked eye is where God lives, but we are told in Luke’s gospel that when Jesus departed from his disciples, he was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:51). At that point, Jesus was in a material body and could be seen with human eyes. The book of Acts, which was also written by Luke, a medical doctor with a scientific view of the world, gives further detail about what happened when Jesus ascended from the earth. Luke said, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Jesus didn’t just disappear or keep going up into the sky until he couldn’t be seen anymore. The disciples view of him was blocked by a cloud. After that no one ever saw him again. Some of the meanings of the Greek word that is translated lifted up suggest that Jesus was taken to heaven in a vessel of some sort (G142) which was also visible to his disciples. A similar scene is recorded in the book of 2 Kings depicting the prophet Elijah’s departure from earth. 2 Kings 2:9-12 states:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

Elijah’s statement makes it clear that his departure from the earth might or might not be visible to his companion Elisha. There appears to be some overlap between the physical and spiritual realms. What we can see with our physical eyesight may not necessarily be all there is to the material world. Jesus told his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The words that Jesus used that are translated “rooms” and “a place” seem to refer to physical structures, and yet, the Greek word meno (men’-o) which means “to stay” signifying a permanent dwelling place or home can also refer to a state or condition (G3306).

One of the things that we know for sure about the tabernacle that the Israelites constructed in the Sinai Desert was that it corresponded to something that exists in the spiritual realm. God told Moses, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). The Hebrew word that is translated pattern, tabniyth (tab-neeth’) means “structure (by implication) a model, resemblance” (H8403). It says in Exodus 26:30 that God told Moses, “Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.” The fact that Moses was shown the plan for the tabernacle while he was on top of Mount Sinai seems to suggest that he saw it with his eyes and that it was therefore a physical structure in heaven. Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18) without any food or water. The Israelites assumed that Moses was dead when he didn’t come back down from the mountain within a reasonable period of time (Exodus 32:1). All of the circumstances surrounding the revealing of the pattern to Moses seem to point to a supernatural experience in which Moses may have been given the ability to see eternal and/or future events that were occurring in heaven and to record them in such a way that the building Moses viewed could be replicated on earth.

Psalm 96 depicts a future worship scene that will take place when Christ begins his reign on earth. The psalm opens with a call to worship the Lord because his work of salvation had been accomplished. It states:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;

    sing to the Lord, all the earth!

Sing to the Lord, bless his name;

    tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

    his marvelous works among all the peoples!

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;

    he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,

    but the Lord made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him;

    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

The English words splendor and majesty are usually reserved for royalty or some kind of auspicious occasion that is associated with extravagant cost. We don’t think of these words as describing common experiences and might have a hard time imagining what these kinds of things might look like. The biblical view of splendor is connected with strength and power (H1936). Majesty has to do with the impressive character of God (H1926) and how he will be treated with respect when he returns to the world to rule and reign over it (H1921). Psalm 96 eludes to the fact that the tabernacle of God will be present during the millennial reign of Christ. People will be expected to bring offerings to Jesus (Psalm 96:8) and worship him by falling prostrate to the ground (Psalm 96:9). There is no tabernacle of the Lord on the earth right now, but it can be assumed that the kinds of worship services that are depicted in Psalm 96 are currently going on because Jesus’ kingdom is eternal and the spirits of Christians are already with him in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).

An important role that was identified with Jesus was the High Priest. The Apostle Paul stated in his letter to the Hebrews, “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4;14-16). Paul’s exhortation to draw near to the throne of grace implies that believers currently have access to God’s throne room in heaven. Paul explained in his first letter to Timothy that Jesus acts as a mediator between God and man. He said, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The roles of high priest and mediator were necessary for mankind to be reconnected to God because of our collective sin against him. Paul taught that sin separates us from God and because we need a way to make things right with him, Jesus, the Son of God, had to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins in order to reconcile us to God the Father. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

One of the ways that we know God hears our prayers is that he answers them. If it were not for Jesus’ death on the cross, our prayers would be falling on deaf ears. The Israelites were able to communicate with God because of their special relationship with him. The key to that relationship was the Day of Atonement, the day once a year when the High Priest went into the Holy Place inside the veil of the tabernacle and approached the mercy seat of God (Leviticus 16) which was symbolic of entering God’s throne room. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews indicated that Jesus entered into God’s throne room in heaven once and for all to make atonement for sin. He said:

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:23-28).

Exodus chapter twenty eight describes in detail the garments that the High Priest was expected to wear when he entered into God’s presence. It can only be assumed that Jesus was wearing similar garments when he entered into God’s presence. God told Moses, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen” (Exodus 28:1-5).

God indicated that the garments worn by the High Priest were to be “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2). The Hebrew word that is translated glory, kabowd (kaw-bode’) means “weight; but only figurative in a good sense, splendor or copiousness” (H3519). One of the ways to understand what is meant by the word kabowd or glory is to think of it as a measurement of wealth. There used to be a saying, he is worth his weight in gold. From that standpoint weight is a measurement of how much value someone brings to an organization. Jesus’ glory is immeasurable, but the idea was that the garments that the priest wore would reflect the high value of the sacrificial system that was put in place to make atonement for the sins of mankind. The Hebrew word that is translated beauty, tiph’arah (tif-aw-raw’) means ornament (H8597). It is derived from the word pa’ar (paw-ar’) which means “to gleam, (causitive) embellish; (figurative) to boast; also to explain (i.e. make clear) oneself” (H6286). Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus first coming to the earth stated, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form of majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). It is therefore likely that the High Priest’s garments reflect the glory and beauty of Jesus’ second coming. Psalm 96 concludes with these words:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 96:11-13)

Psalm 96 associates Jesus’ glory and beauty with his judgment of the earth. All the heavens and the earth will rejoice when Jesus returns because he will finally put an end to sin in the world.

The six garments that made up the High Priest’s royal apparel: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash (Exodus 28:4) likely all had a special significance with regard to Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, but the ones that were very clearly associated with his atonement for sin were the breastpiece and the ephod. The ephod was described first, probably indicating that it was the most important item in the High Priest’s garments. Exodus 28:6-14 provide the details of the ephod’s construction:

“And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. And the skillfully woven band on it shall be made like it and be of one piece with it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance. You shall make settings of gold filigree, and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings.”

The stones of remembrance were reminders of the process God used to build Jacob’s family. The fact that the names of the sons of Israel were engraved on the stones in birth order suggests that the stones of remembrance were intended to serve as a reminder of the designated order or ranking of their importance in the physical realm. We know their rank was altered in the spiritual realm because Reuben’s position as Jacob’s first born son was usurped by Joseph, the first born son of Jacob’s second wife Rachel. Judah, who was the fourth son of Leah, Jacob’s first wife, inherited God’s eternal kingdom by becoming the father of Israel’s Messiah.

The correlation between the ephod and the breastpiece seems to be centered around the completeness that was established by Israel having twelve tribes. Somewhat like the twelve birth stones we use today to signify which month a person is born in, there were twelve stones inlaid in the breastpiece, one for each of the twelve sons of Jacob. Exodus 28:15-21 contains the details of their placement:

“You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work. In the style of the ephod you shall make it—of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen shall you make it. It shall be square and doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth. You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold filigree. There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes.”

In this particular passage, the breastpiece is referred to as the “breastpiece of judgment” (Exodus 28:15). The Hebrew word that is translated judgement, mishpat (mish-pawt’) is properly translated as “a verdict” (H4941) implying that the crime and the penalty have already been established. This most likely has to do with the Ten Commandments which had already been communicated by God directly to the Israelites (Exodus 20:1-17). Jesus told his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount that he would fulfill the requirements of the Ten Commandments. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).