Hebrews Lesson 125 May 8, 2008
NKJ Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
We have been studying Hebrews 9 and as you get into Hebrews 9 the backdrop for the whole chapter is the Tabernacle service in the Old Testament. Unfortunately many people today just don't teach the tabernacle. It was always one of my favorite subjects. When I was a kid I always remember going to Good News Clubs (Child Evangelism Fellowship) with a flannel graph. Everybody remembers CEF because they're the flannel graph people having the backdrops and putting the Tabernacle up and teaching about all the different elements of the Tabernacle. It's a tremendous way to teach kids about all the different facets of salvation and the need for salvation because everything is a picture image of the either the person or work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I was first a pastor some 26 years, 27 years ago down in La Marquee in Galveston County, one of the families that joined the church right after I went down there just moved to the area was the guy who was the Area Director for Child Evangelism Fellowship. There is a Child Evangelism Fellowship Good News camp down there in Hitchcock, Texas. So he had me get on his Board of Directors and also had me come out during the summer to teach the kids the tabernacle. That was really good for me as a young pastor to have to get into this material and start teaching it. Ever since then I have really enjoyed getting into all the different aspects of the Tabernacle because of the pictures that are there. We can learn so many different things about it.
Now last time we looked at the reasons to study the tabernacle and we began to get an overview of the tabernacle and to begin to come into the tabernacle as we would if we were going to come to worship. In the Scripture it starts at the center with a description of what is inside the Holy of Holies and then works it way out. So we're coming at things a little backward. But if you try to teach the Tabernacle verse-by-verse, you run into a lot of problems because you have God's initial overview. In Exodus 25:29-30 you get into the priesthood. Then after that you get a description of them building all the different pieces. Then it comes back at the end and you get a third description. So there's a lot of repetition as you move through the book of Exodus. It gets a little bit redundant in terms of teaching. So I try to synthesize it down so that we can come to understand it.
What I want to do tonight is begin to wrap up the outer curtains that surrounded the fence that surrounded the courtyard around the Tabernacle and then move inside the entry into the courtyard and up to the first major piece of furniture, which is the brazen altar. You can see the model down here on the table in front of me. We'll be spending some time talking about that.
As you can tell from this diagram as we approach the tabernacle, approach the outer perimeter and you can't see what is going on inside. It is completely blocked from view because it is surrounded by the outer walls. The dimensions of the outer walls are approximately 150 feet by 75 feet. It's 100 cubits according to the text, 100 cubits by 50 cubits. Exodus 27:18 summarizes it.
So if you want to open your Bibles we'll spend most of our time in the 27th chapter of Exodus. You have a section from verse Exodus 27:9 down through 19 which describes the outer courtyard. Verse 18 gives us a summary.
NKJ Exodus 27:18 "The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty throughout, and the height five cubits, made of fine woven linen, and its sockets of bronze.
So the curtain (the wall around it) was 7 ½ feet high. The average height of an Israelite at that time was about 5½ feet tall. You were considered tall (exceptionally tall) if you were 6 feet tall so with a height of 7 ½ feet nobody was looking inside. That kept the people from seeing what was going on inside which is where the presence of God is. So you have a rectangle that is half as wide as it is long, approximately 150' on the north and south sides. The way it's laid out is the entry, which is on the east side, so this is the west side behind the Holy of Holies. Then you have the north to the right and the south to the left. The north and south sides were each 150 feet approximately. That's using an 18" cubit. We'll just round it off there. It could have been a little longer; it could have been a little shorter. We're not exactly sure. There's a lot of debate as to the length of a standard cubit in Israel. A lot of different empires (Egypt, the Hittites, the Babylonians) had a royal cubit and a standard cubit. So there is some uncertainty as to what the exact length was. Technically it was the length from the elbow to the end of the fingers. That is going to vary depending on whether you are 6'4" or 5'4". So it wasn't...they didn't have a standard weight and measure like we do today.
On each of these long sides, there were 20 pillars. Each pillar had bronze sockets that the pillars sat in. Then at the top there were silver hooks and bands that the curtains would hang on. So the curtains as we saw last time, the curtains were woven linen, a high grade of linen. It was very expensive linen that came out of Egypt. It was woven with three threads. So they would weave these colors in. We don't know exactly what the pattern was, but it was designed to stand out. They were expensive colors and expensive dyes, some of the most expensive in the ancient world. So only the wealthiest of people would ever have clothing that was made out of these colors. Most people had rather drab looking clothes. Then when you look at the fabric in the Tabernacle and the clothing of the High Priest, it would stand out. It was just magnificent. In our world today when we have so many vibrant colors and we live in a world with so many different fabrics and so many different things it's hard for us to imagine what that must have been like for them to come upon the tabernacle with all of this color.
It sort of reminds me of what it was like back in the earth 90's when I first went over to Moscow not long after things opened up and went to Belarus. Maybe one out of every 4 street lights would work. If you were in the hotel maybe one of every four lights in the hallway would be turned on. Everything was painted…you know Soviet drab concrete. Everything was in about in three colors – gray, beige and dirty white. That was it! So after spending 3 weeks in a culture where even at night when you are out on the street only one of every 4 street lights is on where everything is dark and dim. When you come back and land in someplace like Amsterdam or Frankfurt or London to come out at night it would just absolutely blow your mind. It was like moving from a black and white movie to a Technicolor movie. That's what it must have been like for people of this time to suddenly see all of these vibrant colors that would stand out.
The first color that they used was a bluish purple. In the text sometimes it's translated blue; sometimes the translators will translate it purple. It was a bluish purple and it was symbolic of heaven as the true dwelling place of God and to remind people of the heavenly origin of the Tabernacle. It was designed to draw people's attention to heaven.
One more note on the blue color. Both the blue-purple and the reddish-purple were produced from different species of mollusks. They would take these mollusks and crush them to get the various secretions from the glands. It is from that that they would create the dyes. It would take enormous numbers of these mollusks in order to produce these dyes. That's why it was rare and it was extremely expensive.
The second color that you have listed is the color purple which was more of a reddish purple which signified royalty. This was the color of royal robes. It was featured in the clothing of the High Priest as well. It was in the decorative features of the High Priest's garments (the pomegranates). It was produced from the secretions of the sea snail, the murex trunculous. It would take a total of 250,000 of these to make one ounce of the dye. It was extremely expensive and highly valued in Israel. It was produced very early on, as early as 1500 BC by the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Assyrians. The fishermen who gathered these mollusks had their own guilds during the time of the Roman Empire. These snails were harvested during the fall and winter. During the spring was when they were producing their eggs. During the summer they were hidden and dormant. So they inhabited the waters off of Crete and Phoenicia. This produced what became known as Tyrian purple from the Phoenician city of Tyre and produced the purple dye industry for which they were extremely famous. In fact the name Phoenicia is derived from the etymological root of the word that's the source of the dye. The word Canaan is thought by some people to refer to the land of purple. So this was something that was recognized in that particular area and was quite valuable. It was used as I stated earlier for royal robes so it spoke of royalty. With these two different shades, you had an emphasis on heaven and an emphasis on royalty - thinking about Israel and the theocracy. This is the dwelling place of the heavenly king of Israel.
Then the third color that is prominent in all of the material is that of scarlet. You had actually two different words that are translated red. The first is the Hebrew word shanyi which refers to a bright read color with just a tinge of orange. This is used to color various threads. It is used to color ribbons and a lot of decorations. It was a dye that was extracted from the bodies of insects.
Then there is a second word that is usually translated scarlet and there is a second word that is usually translated crimson. That is from the word towla which refers to a worm as well as the dye that comes from the worm. They would crush the worm and then it was the color that came from the worm that was used to produce the dye. Both of these words are used as I pointed out last time in Isaiah 1:18:
NKJ Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.
Both of these dyes were considered permanent. They just couldn't get it out. So it pictures how thoroughly sin stains and affects somebody. So we have the statement:
Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.
So as the worshipper (the Israelite) would come to the temple he would just be overwhelmed with the beauty and the color that was present there. Then the fabric itself was a fabric that was made from extremely fine linen, the linen from Egypt that was exquisitely woven. It was used in garments. It was used in the fabric, in the clothing of only the Pharaoh's family and the other aristocracy. And, it was used in the clothing of the priests of Israel. So they were all in their formal wear. They were all dressed very well.
It was interesting today. We were having a conversation with a couple of pastors about how our culture has so deteriorated and become so informal. Everybody has become so informal. We were just reflecting.
One guy said, "The other day I was channel surfing and ran across an old episode of Leave It to Beaver and they were sitting around the dinner table. The father has got on his coat and tie to eat dinner."
That was just 50 years ago, or 40 years ago. And now look at our culture. You look at the common dress of the 19 year old and he's probably never even tied a tie or even had a sport coat and dresses in the most horrid manner. I believe there is a connection that if you're informal in the way you present yourself, you are probably informal in the way you think, especially if you think about values in anything. That is a sign of the deterioration of our culture and a lack of recognition of formality and a lack recognition of protocol. We have moved away from that so much and it creates a very slovenly attitude about morals, about any kind of absolutes and about how to conduct things in life.
So the priesthood had a uniform. They always wore it. It was exquisite. It emphasized the fact that they were doing something that had the highest value which is the worship of God. It wasn't just something else to do. All of this was designed to bring glory to God who dwelt within the Tabernacle.
As you approached the Tabernacle you might start wandering around trying to figure out how in the world you're ever going to get inside and into the presence of God. You could go around to the left and you could go around to the right. There is only one way to enter into the presence of God. There is only one entryway. This entryway is described in Exodus 27:17-18.
NKJ Exodus 27:17 "All the pillars around the court shall have bands of silver; their hooks shall be of silver and their sockets of bronze.
NKJ Exodus 27:18 "The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty throughout, and the height five cubits, made of fine woven linen, and its sockets of bronze.
Then in verse 14:
NKJ Exodus 27:14 "The hangings on one side of the gate shall be fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets.
NKJ Exodus 27:15 "And on the other side shall be hangings of fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets.
Then in verse 16:
NKJ Exodus 27:16 " For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver. It shall have four pillars and four sockets.
So it was probably set off a little bit from the main design of the main wall there. This area was probably set back just a little bit. We're not sure exactly how it worked but there was a very wide entrance of 20 cubits. So it's 30 feet wide, which would allow for a large number of people to be able to come in. There is not a narrow entrance. But there is only one entrance. Of course the fact that there is only entrance reinforces the exclusivity doctrine that we find in the Scripture that there is only one way to come to God. What we see is that God always has only one way to come to Him.
A couple of things that we need to be reminded of. First of all, God has the right to tell man basis how he comes into God's presence. God has the right to tell people what the basis is and what the regulations are for coming into His presence. What we find is many people who have this very low view of God and think that they're so great and wonderful that they can tell God how and under what conditions they're going to come into God's presence as if man is doing God a favor by worshipping Him.
So man comes along and says, "Well, there are many different ways to God and even if they're contradictory ways, they all work because somehow man is so great and so wonderful that how could God possibly live without us?"
What this reflects is that man has developed a very low view of what God is. He's just a man that has basically been enlarged a little bit, but He is certainly not the God of the Bible. Yet when we come to the God of the Bible we realize this presents a God who is totally distinct from anything in our frame of reference. He is unique; He is one of a kind. He's holy. He's qadosh. He is completely separate from anything that we can ever possibly imagine. In order to come into His presence we have to conform to His character which is a character of perfect righteousness. So God sets the standards, but He provides the way so that despite our sin and despite our failures we can come into His presence. We can come in and worship Him and have fellowship with Him; but He sets the standards. He decides what the protocol is. So the first principle is that God has the right to tell man the basis for coming into His presence.
The second thing that we note is that throughout the Bible there is only one way of salvation whatever the circumstances may be. When Adam and Eve were in the garden there was only one way to solve the problem of sin, the problem of their nakedness that was exposed after they fell, and that was through the sacrifice that God made when He made new clothing for them. Then when we move through the Old Testament we go from the fall, and then we come to the flood, there is only one way to survive the flood. That is to be on the ark with Noah. There is only one entry to the ark. Again and again there is only one way to come into God's presence. We get into the Tabernacle. There is only one way to get into the Tabernacle. Once you're inside there is only one way to come into God's presence. There is only one way to have fellowship with Him and that is on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice, a blood sacrifice. God spells out exactly what sacrifices are needed for what circumstances.
Then when we get into the New Testament Jesus of course says:
NKJ John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
He says, "I am the door."
NKJ John 10:2 "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
He uses all of these various illustrations to indicate that He is the only way to God. Either He is telling the truth or He is lying. There are no two ways about it. If He is telling the truth, then He is the only way to God. As God's Son He is the way to provide that way to God. He is the gate; He is the doorway, the entry to God. The single entry here is a type or a picture of the fact that Jesus is the only way to God. So John 14:7 provides us with that backdrop.
Now once you came up to the tabernacle and you came to the entry gate and you walked into the entry gate, there weren't a lot of things going on inside the courtyard. There may be other people there who have preceded you, but the main piece of furniture that you would see around which all of the activity transpired was the brazen altar. The brazen altar was located just inside the gate. We're not sure exactly just how far it is. In this diagram it's located up fairly close to the holy place itself. In others it may be out a little more. You would come up to the brazen alter and it was there that the sacrifices were taking place. Every morning and every evening there would be a burnt offering offered for the sins of the nation. Individuals who were coming into the presence of God …before they could worship God, before they could serve God in the tabernacle, before they could have fellowship with God; there had to be a sacrifice. So the sacrifices (the primary foundational sacrifices) that took place at the brazen altar were the burnt offerings. We'll get into that in just a minute. Well in Exodus 27:1-8 (so you see we're backing up a little bit) we have the description of the altar for the burnt offering.
There we read that:
NKJ Exodus 27:1 "You shall make an altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide -- the altar shall be square -- and its height shall be three cubits.
So that would be approximately 7 ½ feet square with a height of 4 ½ feet.
NKJ Exodus 27:2 "You shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with bronze.
3 "Also you shall make its pans to receive its ashes, and its shovels and its basins and its forks and its firepans; you shall make all its utensils of bronze.
4 "You shall make a grate for it, a network of bronze; and on the network you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners.
5 "You shall put it under the rim of the altar beneath, that the network may be midway up the altar.
6 "And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze.
7 "The poles shall be put in the rings, and the poles shall be on the two sides of the altar to bear it.
8 "You shall make it hollow with boards;
You can see the brazen altar down in the front. I'll go down and pick it up so that those of you in the back can have a little better look at it. You can see that this model gives you a pretty good idea of what it looked like. It was built with acacia wood which is a wood that was extremely dense and it was not prone to any kind of corruption or rotting. The wood in all the construction always represents the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was without corruption so that during His life He was without sin. Even when He is in the grave His body did not undergo decay or corruption because He was raised from the dead on the third day.
So the altar itself is built. It has four horns, one on each corner representing the four corners of the earth – that ultimately the sacrifice that would be provided would be a sacrifice that would provide salvation for all of the earth. The horns also represent power indicating the power of the sacrifice to atone for sin.
The third use for the horns would be to tie down the sacrifice to hold it in place in the same way that the Lord Jesus Christ is nailed to the cross.
Inside there is a grate. On the inside you would have the fire (the coals) underneath and then you have a grate. It's a grate not a grill. (For those of you who like to barbeque, it's not a grill.) You would put the sacrifices on the grate.
Then there was a ring on each corner for the carrying poles each of which was made of acacia wood and then overlaid with bronze. Now the reason it's overlaid with bronze is so that it can withstand the heat. The heat represents judgment. So we have the picture of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ with the acacia wood. The word there in the Hebrew is shittim. It is shittim wood which was an incorruptible, indestructible wood that grew out in the Sinai desert. They would then cover that with bronze, which pictures the fact that Jesus Christ was able withstand the judgment that God poured out upon Him for our sin. Therefore He was able to pay the penalty for our sin as our substitute. He was able to withstand the fire of God's punishment.
When the sacrifice was made and the lamb, they would take the nice little lamb. Where I got this idea was – the first time we went to Israel a few years ago there is a place outside the Temple Mount as you're approaching (Those of you who went will remember this) and we went downstairs. It's sort of a museum type setting - a display with a lot of timelines and chronology. You go down inside and there's a little room where you watch about a 10-minute film. The function of this film is show what it was like for someone who was a Jewish male living away from Jerusalem who would make his annual pilgrimage to come down to Jerusalem and what it would have looked like for him to come into Jerusalem to see the magnificence of the Herodian Temple and then go to the money changers and get the kind of money he needed to buy the sacrifice and then to buy the lamb. So you see this guy dressed up of course in first century costume. He comes up and he buys this lamb. And it is the cutest lamb. Picture the expression on your favorite pet looking into those eyes. That's what it was like. This lamb just looks – these big brown eyes. You just want to take it home and cuddle with it. He takes this lamb and it really hit me how this lamb is completely innocent. He has never done anything to hurt anybody. He has never done anything wrong. It's just this sweet gentle lamb. He's taking that lamb into the Temple. That lamb is going to be taken up to the altar. There the priest is going to slit its throat. It is going to die and that it is the picture of the Lord Jesus Christ who is like that lamb – completely innocent – not guilty of any sin, totally righteous. Yet, He is the one who is going to suffer and die as our substitute.
So after they would slit the throat of the lamb, they would then take the blood and they would splash the blood up against the side of the altar so the altar would show all of this blood that had dried on the sides of the altar from all of the sacrifices. This is a picture of course of the fact that for Jesus Christ there was a certain kind of death that He had to undergo. He just couldn't have a heart attack and die for our sins. They couldn't strangle Him. They couldn't take him out and lynch Him. They couldn't shoot Him or decapitate Him. It had to be a certain kind of death to fulfill prophecy and it had to be a penal death, a punishment because it's depicting His punishment in our place for our sins. As you look at the brazen altar itself, you see this picture of the substitution of Christ.
Now in the third verse it talks about the things that went along with the altar. You had these various other instruments. You had pans and shovels. You had pails for removing its ashes and shovels. You had basins and forks and fire pans. So you had four different things there and all these utensils were to be made of bronze because the bronze would withstand the fire and the judgment. Each of these indicates something. Every element as far as we can tell seems to have some sort of typological meaning.
Now what is typology? Let me make sure you understand that. Typology simply means that there are elements of something designed to picture or foreshadow some elements about the person of Christ or some event. It's prophecy through symbol. A lot of times you don't know and can't see exactly how the symbolism works until you see the fulfillment. Then once you see the fulfillment, then it becomes clear what these different elements prophecy. You understand certain things, but there might be some other details that would get by you.
The pans and shovels were used to remove the ashes of the sacrifices and carry them outside of the camp to be disposed of in a clean place. So there was a sense of honor and respect for those ashes. They weren't just taken anywhere and dumped. There was a special place, a clean place that conformed to ritual where they would dispose of those ashes. It was a depiction of the fact that Jesus would be buried in a special place. The ashes themselves especially with a burnt offering where everything was consumed, the ashes spoke of the finished work of Christ that it was a complete payment for sin as we see in John 19:30 when Jesus said, "Tetelestai" (It is finished).
NKJ John 19:30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
The blood from the sacrifices was drained into the basins and then it's poured out at the base of the altar, which is a picture of the fact that Jesus poured out His life in judgment. The blood represents life. Life depicts the fact that Jesus as He is hanging on the cross bears the penalty of our sin spiritually. He is judged for our sins. So the pouring out of the blood is a picture of that. We'll see the significance of that as developed in Hebrews 9:12-15.
The flesh hooks that were inside of the altar represented the cruelty and the pain of the death that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered as He went through all the whippings and scourging and beatings. In everything leading up to the cross He did not utter a word.
NKJ Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
Then only when our sin was put on Him did He scream out in agony. The reason for that is to draw the contrast between the fact that no matter how horrible the torture was (and most of us would have passed out long before He ever did), no matter how horrible the physical torment was, He never even moaned or whimpered. It wasn't until sin hit Him that He screamed out. It's to depict the fact how horrible sin is and the judgment for sin that not even the flagellation from the Roman soldiers could make Him whimper but our sin made Him scream. So the flesh hooks depict the cruelty of the death that He suffered on the cross and the pain of bearing our sin. The fire pans, these were used to carry the fire (the coals) from the brazen altar into the holy place, to the altar of incense and that represents the intercessory ministry of Christ: His prayers going up before us as the result of His being a qualified sacrifice. That's the argument that we've seen in Hebrews chapters 7 and 8 because He went to the cross and He died for us. He's then elevated to the position of being our High Priest where He is our intercessor today. So this gives you an idea of all the different elements going into the brazen altar.
Then the second thing we should note when we look at the brazen altar is the meaning of these words – altar and sacrifice. The word for altar is the Hebrew word mizbeah. Mizbeah is formed on the root verb zabah. The zbh – it's a soft b so it's pronounced like a v. Zabah is the word for slaughter or sacrifice. So the place of the slaughter or the sacrifice is the mizbeah. The word altar is used over 400 times in the Old Testament and it has to do with a place where an offering or a sacrifice is made to a deity. The very first use that we have of the word altar is in Genesis 8:20 when Noah and his family get off of the ark and they construct an altar. There they offer sacrifices to God. But, that's not the first place that we actually have an altar. Even though it's not mentioned, there is clearly the implication that there is an altar built by Cain and Abel. There is an altar probably built before that.
Before we can understand the significance of a sacrifice and what's going on with the events in Exodus we have to understand the context of sacrifice. It didn't begin with the tabernacle. It fits within the flow and the progress of revelation. So the first place that we see the idea of a sacrifice is in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and God has come and smoked them out of hiding where they've tried to cover up their nakedness with fig leaves. They come out and He outlines the consequences of their sin in terms of what is normally referred to as the curse in Genesis 3:13-19.
Then after that in verse 21 we read:
NKJ Genesis 3:21 Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.
What's interesting is the word for clothing here is just a general non-technical word to put on clothes. It's used in many, many contexts throughout Scripture as simply meaning to put on clothes. But it's used here I think in a rather significant manner because they have tried to cover up their nakedness which is a sign of the vulnerability, the death, the penalty from sin that they've experienced. They've tried to cover it themselves with the fig leaves and it doesn't work. So now God is going to cover them with animal skins. It pictures God's provision for us. This same word is used labash is used in the context of Zechariah 3 where you have the picture of a heavenly scene where you have Joshua the High Priest in dirty clothes picturing his sin. Satan is accusing him and then God provides a white robe and white tunic and white turban for Joshua, which is a picture of putting on imputed righteousness. It's a picture of justification. So as he clothes himself with those white robes, it's that picture of justification. That's what I think we have in Genesis 3.
And I was looking at a commentary by Al Ross who was one of my Hebrew professors at Dallas Seminary. Al was always tremendous insights not only his ThD from Dallas but his PhD from Cambridge. Most of the time most of the students had their heads spinning listening to him. He writes concerning this particular verse that in this incident in Genesis 3 that the text offers no explanation of how this was done. It just makes this statement that the Lord made tunics of skin and clothed them. You have to stop and think about what's involved in that process. He goes on to say:
However, with such a startling resolution to the problem of sin because that's the conflict that you have in Genesis 3 one must conclude that it was designed to reveal the price of disobedience. Only when the price was paid could anyone have the prospect of continuing life.
Now the reason I bring this out is because as we get into this second incident of sacrifice in the Old Testament which is the situation with Cain and Abel. There is a lot of debate and discussion among biblical commentaries as to what is going on there. Why does God approve Abel's sacrifice and not accept Cain's sacrifice? I think to understand what happens in Genesis 4 you have to understand what is going on in Genesis 3.
In the process of making these tunics God would have had to instruct them on a lot of things that aren't present in the text – that we're just not told about. If you're going to take leather (the skins of animals) and produce clothing, then you have to treat the leather. You can't just skin the animal and put it on. In about a day that's going to harden up and become brittle and it's not going to be very comfortable to wear. So there has to be a whole process here where God was teaching about the anatomy of the sheep – probably a lamb. He had to explain the anatomy. He had to explain how to go about the process of sacrifice. He had to show how to skin the animal. He had to show how to treat the leather so that it would be soft and supple, how to cut it and do all those things. So that would be part of the instructions.
But beyond that there's a clear indication from what we see later on in Scripture that this kind of sacrifice (and the shedding of blood) is important to deal with the penalty of sin. Everywhere else that we go in Genesis where there is anything like this it's s related to a sacrifice. So as we look at that event it would seem very logical deduction from the text that this is when God instructed Adam and Eve on the proper way to come into His presence through the shedding of blood in an animal sacrifice because when we come to Genesis 4 which is the second incident of sacrifice in the Old Testament and we have the situation with Cain and Abel it is pretty obvious that they already know (but we are not told how they found out) that they are supposed to bring an offering to God.
The word that we have here is not the word that we have for sacrifice. It's another word that we find especially in Leviticus. It's the minkah which is a gift or offering. It's used for a present or a tribute. You give Christmas present birthday present; you'd use the word minkah. If you give them a birthday present you would use the word minkah. So it's a tribute, an offering, a present, something like that. So you are bringing something to offer God. It's a word used over 211 times in the Old Testament so it has a very important significance. There's a difference between offerings and sacrifices, but in some passages they're virtually synonymous.
Now what happens with Cain and Abel is that – we read in verse 3:
NKJ Genesis 4:3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD.
That could be 10, 20 or 30 years before Cain and Abel grew up. We don't know how much time went by – whether they are still young or whether they have matured a little more.
NKJ Genesis 4:4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering,
This is the New King James.
NKJ Genesis 4:5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
Now there's a lot of discussion as I said about why God accepts one and doesn't accept the other. Now we get some insight from Hebrews 11:4.
NKJ Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,
Well, why is it a better sacrifice? I think it's important that it doesn't say "By faith Abel had a better attitude in his offering than Cain." See that's what some people will say.
"See you have grain offerings later on in the Mosaic Law where they bring the first fruits and the fruit of the ground. That is also called the minkah."
Of course that's 1500 to 2000 years later. You're taking later revelation under the Mosaic Law and you're reading it back into something much earlier. When you look at the book of Genesis you have only animal sacrifices. You have animal sacrifices with Noah. You have animal sacrifices with Abraham. You have animal sacrifices with Isaac. You have animal sacrifices with Jacob. All the way through Genesis you have no reference - of course this is the only place minkah is used by the way - no evidence of any kind of grain or first fruit offering until you get to the Mosaic Law. So the context of Genesis seems to suggest that the only sacrifice they knew of was that of a blood sacrifice. So Abel offers to God a better sacrifice. The text indicates that it's the sacrifice itself that's better not the attitude of the one bringing it.
through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts;
That is God would be declaring Him righteous on the basis of the atoning sacrifice.
and through it he being dead still speaks.
This is His evidence.
Then you have another interesting passage in the New Testament.
NKJ Jude 1:11 Woe to them!
It's talking about these false teachers. That's the background and context of Jude 11.
For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.
Three things, but these three different incidences that come out of the Old Testament are being used by Jude to indicate the same basic sin. Each one was a little different, but what we are looking at here is what did each of these have in common? Now Balaam was the one trying to curse Israel and he couldn't curse Israel because God prohibited him. He's also the one who has the talking ass (if you remember that story) where he is trying to go against God and there's an angel standing in the way. His donkey sees the angel and keeps shying away. Balaam starts to abuse his donkey because he doesn't see the angel. Then the donkey talks to him. So he is the prophet with the talking ass, or some might say the prophet who is the talking ass. This was his error. He's trying to redefine God's terms and whatever God had instructed him he is trying to get around it and define it on his own terms.
That's the same thing with the rebellion of Korah. This is a rebellion against the priesthood that God had established through Aaron. So what each of these has in common is men who try to redefine the basis of having a relationship with God. So that is what Cain is doing.
He's trying to say, "Okay, I'm going to come to God on my own terms and I'm going to bring him the kind of sacrifice that I think is valuable."
That's exactly what so many people today try to do. They try to define what worship is on their own terms and how to have a relationship with God on their own terms. God says, "No." You have to follow His way.
So in Genesis 4:4 we have this phraseology that the New American Standard translates it:
NAS Genesis 4:4 And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering;
Really it's an idiom here. It's sort of an anthropomorphic idiom. It says, "God looked with favor upon the sacrifice." So this is an idiom for the fact that God accepted Abel and his offering; but he rejected Cain and his offering because Cain did not come to God on the basis of a blood sacrifice.
Now this is when we get into our evening lesson for discernment. The reason I bring this up is because if you have certain study Bibles – I haven't looked at different study Bibles so I don't know which one has what view -- you'll read in the notes on Genesis 4 that it wasn't a problem with the different sacrifice. It was that Cain was just going through the motions. He was just going through the outer form of the sacrifice. He really didn't have a heart for God. This is why God rejects his sacrifice. I have a problem with that because of Hebrews 11. This is what the Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary says. I am quoting this because this is your application of discernment for the evening because you'll read things. You will look something up in a Bible dictionary or you'll read something in some commentary and you'll see this kind of stuff. This is what this writer says.
It is a serious mistake to affirm that Abel's sacrifice was acceptable to God because it was an animal sacrifice and that Cain's sacrifice was unacceptable because he did not bring an animal. Genesis 4 makes no mention of offerings for the atonement of sin. Therefore to insist that the blood of an animal is mandatory here is to read more into the account than is warranted. Attitude on the part of the offeror or not the nature of the offering is in the forefront of the author's concern in Genesis 4.
I am telling you, there is a huge amount of discussion over this.
The majority of scholars will come along and say, "Well you see, there is no other instruction on sacrifice so you can't say that Cain brought the wrong sacrifice."
But if you stop and really think about the flow of what's going on in the text there is that indication that's there. There is no indication anywhere in the book of Genesis that there is a value to a bloodless or to a grain sacrifice.
Now as we continue to work our way through Genesis and think our way through Genesis, we come then to the patriarchs. With the patriarchs we have Abraham who sets up an altar at Shechem in Genesis 12:7. He sets up another altar between Bethel and Ai as he moves south through the land there as he first explores the land in Genesis 12. Then as he heads into the south he builds another altar in Hebron in Genesis 13:18. Later he builds an altar on Moriah when he takes Isaac up on Moriah to sacrifice him. Isaac at Beersheba builds an altar there. Then Jacob at Bethel will build another altar and rebuild the altar of Abraham at Shechem. The pattern of teaching that we see here is the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. All the way through this we see the importance of this Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement.
So three points in conclusion here:
- The foundational sacrifice that we see going through all this material in the early part of the Old Testament is a sacrifice that's based on substitution. The animal bears the judgment for the individual. He stands in the place of the individual. By placing your hand on that little lamb, there is a transfer of my guilt to the lamb. Then the lamb is killed for the guilt of the sin. So the foundational idea is that of substitution.
- The second and subsequent emphasis that grows out of the first is that of thanksgiving. When Noah gets off the ark and he and his family offer sacrifices to God, it's not for atonement to have a relationship with God; but it is to express their thanksgiving to God for having preserved and delivered them through the judgment. So the second emphasis that we see on sacrifices in Genesis is that of thanksgiving.
- Then the third element that we see in sacrifices is that when you give a sacrifice you're giving up something. So there is this implicit recognition of our dependence upon God that by giving to God we're recognizing that we are dependent upon Him to provide for us. So sacrifices have that idea of dependence upon God to sustain us. Now when we look at the brazen altar, there were various types of sacrifices that were offered on the brazen altar.
We'll come back and begin that and look at the different sacrifices and offerings that are described in Leviticus next time. We'll start with Leviticus 1 and start looking at this whole thing of the burnt offering. In Leviticus 2, we have the grain offering. Then later we have the peace offering and the thank offerings. How do those relate to the work of Christ on the cross? What does each of these depict and why are they significant? We'll begin that next Thursday night.
Let's bow our heads in closing prayer.