Thursday, August 28, 2014

Now Let's Get This Straight. Let's Get It Clear.

Title taken from Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee.

In a previous post, I shared the requirement the Lord gave for the future kings of Israel to hand copy His Law (most likely the text of Deuteronomy), so that they have intimate understanding of who God is, their unique calling as a nation, and the expectation placed on each and every person in the nation. As application, I recommended that spiritual leaders in each local assembly do the same to see how Jesus has fulfilled the righteous requirements and how that applies to our life in Christ.

Later in Deuteronomy, Moses takes steps for all the people to take in the Law and aid in its remembrance by recording the Law, giving it to the priests, and requiring the priests to read it before all as they are gathered together:
And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lᴏʀᴅ your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deut 31:10-13)
What are the elements of this command and applications for us today?

The men of Israel were required to assemble at a prescribed location:
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lᴏʀᴅ your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. (Deut 16:16)
At the time of writing, God had promised His name at a particular place (Deut 12:11), but the exact location had not yet been made evident. Israel was not in the land. After the land had been conquered, the tabernacle was set up in Shiloh by Joshua (Joshua 18:1). Here God would be with His people (as He promised) until worship was moved into Jerusalem.

The assembly of the Lord’s people is no longer in a physical locality, but continues to be where He has promised to be—in the midst of His people. As those who are called out from the world, yet called into an entity (body of Christ), we are to function together where Jesus has promised to be forever (Matt 28:20)—the head both universally (Eph 1:22-23) and locally (1 Cor 12:27) in each assembly.

The Feast of Booths was the last of the three annual feasts, and at this time, every seventh year, all debtors were released from their creditors.
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lᴏʀᴅ’s release has been proclaimed. (Deut 15:1-2)
The early Christians continued to meet according to their accustomed Jewish routine: weekly on the Sabbath and daily, both as a matter of course (Acts 2:42) and for the hours of prayer (Acts 3:1). Eventually, the practice became one weekly meeting shifting to the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). The regular gathering was deemed vital for the growth and well-being of the body. Ceasing that practice notified other Christians that the attendant was no longer being considered a fellow believer.

At the location would God place His name, the men were to assemble for three particular feasts picturing their relationship with God. During all three, sacrifice and other forms of worship occurred.
They shall not appear before the Lᴏʀᴅ empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God that he has given you. (Deut 16:16-17)
The Lord worked in His people through His word and blessed them monetarily or agriculturally, so each would offer a gift accordingly. God had promised to bless abundantly as the people were obedient, therefore these offerings should never be an issue.

In addition, worship is designed to be corporate. Under the Mosaic covenant, there were at least three present—God, priest, worshiper—but most of the offerings were shared (i.e., fellowship, communion) with as many of the priesthood as would go around, so that all might share and none be wasted. Likewise, all that gathered were expected to join in the praise. Consider David’s words:
I will bless the Lᴏʀᴅ at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lᴏʀᴅ;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lᴏʀᴅ with me,
    and let us exalt his name together! (Psa 34:1-3)
While the Lord had dealt individually with David, the call was for all the people to enter into the rejoicing. All are expected to gladly and willingly take part.

While we no longer offer tithes or animal sacrifices, the people of God are admonished to offer sacrifices of person (Rom 12:1), purse (Phil 4:18), and praise (Heb 13:15). It is these we give to our God because He so richly gives to us each Lord’s Day in His presence and every other day as we live before Him.

An individual was unable to secure a copy of the Law because so few were available. The people relied on regular instruction and proper example in order to pass these things down without a personal document. As a result, individual study was impossible. The most logical approach was to teach the heads of the homes and have them pass it along to further generations.

During the release year, the Book of the Law was brought out and read in order to both teach and remind of God’s person and work with the idea that He be feared, and as a result be properly revered and worshiped. This assisted the fathers in their duty to teach their children and establish His word in their homes.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)
This discipleship program worked well as long as the priesthood were faithful to scripture. When they cut corners or otherwise failed, the families broke down as well.

The church today has no less of a mandate to accurately and faithfully communicate God’s word. Those with oversight are to faithfully feed the flock as good under-shepherds (1 Pet 5:1-4) and entrust the teaching to faithful men (2 Tim 2:1-2), assisting heads of homes to be teaching the next generation. To ensure thorough instruction and reminder, a regular curricular cycle should be in place to teach the whole counsel of God.

When the people returned from the Babylonian captivity, after the temple and city walls were rebuilt, the people asked Ezra
to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lᴏʀᴅ had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Neh 8:1-3)
The Feast of Booths properly began on the fifteenth of the seventh month (Lev 23:34), but instead of waiting those two weeks, the people demonstrated their contrite hearts by asking for it early. Notice especially that the people were attentive “from early morning until midday” as they were hungry to receive what had been missing for decades. It brought both pain and refreshment to their souls.

This famine of God’s word came about because it had been snubbed and disregarded. The shepherds of Israel were guilty of dereliction of duty in making it correctly known. His shepherds today must remain faithful to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). They are those who are to instruct and guide the sheep.
 Regular, faithful instruction builds up the body of Christ more than teaching on trendy topics or stroking the egos of the hearers. We are called to know and understand what God has for us in Christ. May we be passing this along.

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