Friday, November 20, 2009

"Priests and Levites"

Two prominent threads weave through the Old Testament Church, the New Testament Church and its Remnant of these last days. These threads are the corporate solidarity of the race and also individual acceptance of Christ and His righteousness. Both the corporate and the individuality themes are further illustrated by the various human body parts and its differing systems--the skeletal, sensory, circulatory, reproductive, respiratory, and digestive--all working together in harmony. Each one, although different in structure and function, contributes to the well being of the whole body.

In three of his letters Paul used the human body to illustrate the structure and various functions of the church and its individual members (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:14-31; Eph 6:11-16). The Church, whether in the Old Testament wilderness (Acts 7:38), or in New Testament times (Matt. 16:18) or in the last days (Rev. 12:17) was and is to be under the control of Christ its Foundation, Head, and Representative (Eph. 1:22, 12; Col 1:18).

After the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in the wilderness, God re-emphasized the roles of both the priesthood and that of the Levites within the church. The issue was not one of superiority and inferiority as imagined by the rebelling Levites led by Korah. The issue was that of corporate structure and distinctive function. The distinctions are outlined in Numbers 18 with each as a part of the church of Christ.

The division caused by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram brought much suffering into the Church in the wilderness. Centuries later Paul wrote "that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another" (1 Cor. 12:25). This care was ignored by the rebels in the Old Testament Church. Korah and cohorts claimed they and the congregation were "holy" and stated that Moses and Aaron were guilty of self-exaltation above everyone else (Num. 16:3). This accusation against God's messengers seems to be a recurring theme throughout the history of the church.

Jesus had to deal with a similar false holiness as did Moses. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Matt 23:27). These men while professing godliness rejected both the gospel message and the Messenger, Christ Jesus their Savior.

Along a similar vein Ellen White wrote, "Men professing godliness have despised Christ in the person of His messengers. Like the Jews, they reject God's message" (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, vol. 4, p. 1651).

There is only one cure for this whitewashed deadness that appears beautiful on the outside. This cure is of course, Christ.

One of the shrubs, whose twigs were used for the sprinkling of blood or of water in ancient Jewish rites of purification, was the hyssop. This was a type of the cleansing power of Christ for the uncleanness of sin. David understood this and prayed "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).

Another typical purification ceremonial rite was that of a "red heifer." The animal was slaughtered and burned outside the camp (Num. 19:1-9). The red heifer was similar to, yet different from, the other offerings for sin. Nevertheless, the purpose was the same. It was a sin offering "for purifying from sin" (vs. 9). The blood was not individually applied to the sinner, but corporately for the congregation. The blood is mentioned only in relationship to the sacrifice, when the priest sprinkled it toward the tabernacle seven times. The blood of this slain animal was not carried into the first apartment of the tabernacle.

After sprinkling the blood of the red heifer, it was completely burned. Nothing but its ashes remained. Along with the heifer, pieces of "cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet" were placed in the fire (vs. 6). The ashes of those combined elements were then preserved for future use and lasted over a considerable length of time. The ashes were to be kept and later mixed with water for the "water of separation," or "purification for sin" (vss. 9, 17-22). The ceremony was for the removal of defilement incurred through physical contact with the dead and applied to the "stranger" as well as to the Jew (vss. 10-16). Hebrews 9:12-13 refers to this custom when contrasting the effectiveness of Christ's blood for the purging of conscience "from dead works to serve the living God."

The red heifer was a congregational, or corporate, offering (Num 19:1, 2). It was to be offered outside the camp, typifying Christ who was made to be sin and a curse for us. He suffered outside the established order of things (Heb. 13:12). The offering of Christ was corporate in nature, not for believers only but also for non-believers even enemies. Although enemies, He reconciled us to God, through His death (Rom. 5:10).

A yoke was never placed on the red heifer. This signified the voluntary giving of Christ to and for the world. Christ, in heaven, was above all law. The only thing that bound Him was the cord of His own love for us. When He became incarnate He came under the law, both in its jurisdiction and in its condemnation. He came under its jurisdiction in order to develop a righteous character for us. And He came under the condemnation of the law in order to redeem mankind (Gal. 4:4, 5).

Just as the red heifer was offered as a sacrifice outside the camp, so likewise Jesus went outside the gate to become the curse of God in order to redeem Adam's corporate and our individual failures (Gal. 3:13). Both the offerings of the red heifer and that of Christ were corporate in nature. However, the heifer's ashes were applied because of the individual's personal contamination with contact with the dead. So with Christ's sacrifice, while it is for the fallen human race, only those who have it applied individually are personally cleansed and these only receive eternal life.

--Gerald L. Finneman

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Power Struggle"

"Korah" "challenged the authority of Moses" (Num. 16:1, Revised English Bible). This Levite felt he had just as much of the spirit of prophecy as did Moses and Aaron, who were God's appointed messengers to ancient Israel. But Moses could go into the West Wing and speak with the President face to face, receiving direct communications from God (Num. 12:8).

Ellen White frequently drew the parallels between the rebellion of Korah, et. al., and the brethren of the 1888 era. In 1890 she wrote to Uriah Smith, "You have refused my testimonies given me ... from the Lord" and "labored to make them of none effect as did Korah" (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 599). Before the 1891 General Conference held in Battle Creek, she said that in refusing the light placed before them, they were "like the Jews" and "like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram" who "set themselves against the light" (ibid., p. 912). To her nephew Frank Belden she wrote in 1892, "Never before have I seen among our people such firm self-complacency and unwillingness to accept and acknowledge light as was manifested at Minneapolis. ... They were actuated by the same spirit that inspired Korah. ..." (ibid., p. 1067).

Ellen White decided "to leave Minneapolis." But the angel told her to stay. "The people are acting over the rebellion of Korah. ..." She was to shine the light. However, "they will not heed your testimony." "It is not you they are despising, but the messengers and the message I send to My people. They have shown contempt for the word of the Lord. Satan has blinded their eyes. ..." (ibid., p. 1068).

This rebellion extended to the very sources which controlled the reading material available to our people from the Battle Creek publishing house. In 1896 Ellen White wrote to Kate Lindsay, "The publishing house at Battle Creek has been under the reproof of God for years, especially since the time of the Minneapolis meeting, when some acted the part of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram" (ibid., p. 1518).

As one reads Patriarchs and Prophets (PP) it can be seen why there was much foot-dragging on its final publication, which was finally announced in the Review of August 26, 1890. Ellen White had begun the revision of volume 1 of The Spirit of Prophecy sometime in 1886-1887 (Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years 1876-1891, vol. 3, p. 443). This expansion of her Old Testament history (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. I) reflected the conflict of the 1888 crisis in her application of "The Rebellion of Korah" (PP, chapter 35) to what was happening with the leading brethren.

She wrote of how Korah sought to "overthrow the authority of the leaders appointed by God." "... Korah had been secretly opposing the authority of Moses. ..." (PP 395). "Korah and his associates gained the attention and enlisted the support of the congregation" (p. 397). This went on secretly for sometime before it became an open rebellion. Moses did not attempt self-justification.

It was Jesus, "the angel of the Lord," who was leading Israel. The rebellion was really against Him. Those who were confused and deceived by the principal conspirators were extended "forgiveness" "lingering for them." (p. 401).

After God had withdrawn His protection from the rebels and they were destroyed, the enmity of the people was manifest by their purpose "to put both Moses and Aaron to death." "It is hardly possible for men to offer greater insult to God than to despise and reject the instrumentalities He would use for their salvation" (p. 402).

Despite God's forbearance in convincing them to be "the greatest of sinners" "they still cherished hatred of the men of God's appointment, and braced themselves to resist their authority" (p. 402).

Ellen White wrote that the same spirit of pride and "ambition for position and honor" which motivates Lucifer's rebellion "worked upon the minds of Korah" and his friends. There is a "... desire for self-exaltation" which excites "envy, distrust, and rebellion. Satan caused them to reject God as their leader, by rejecting the men of God's appointment" (p. 403).

Then she drew her most forceful parallel. "Do not the same evils still exist that lay at the foundation of Korah's ruin? Pride and ambition are widespread. ... Like Korah and his companions, many, even of the professed followers of Christ, are thinking, planning, and working so eagerly for self-exaltation that in order to gain the sympathy and support of the people they are ready to pervert the truth, falsifying and misrepresenting the Lord's servants, and even charging them with the base and selfish motives that inspire their own hearts. ... While endeavoring to destroy the confidence of the people in the men of God's appointment, they really believe that they are engaged in a good work, verily doing God service" (pp. 403, 404).

The sad fact is that the rejection of light engenders a spirit of continued rejection of advanced light. "Every advance made by those whom God has called to lead in His work has excited suspicion. ..." Solemn indeed! "... They had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, a sin by which man's heart is effectually hardened against the influence of divine grace. ..." (pp. 404, 405).

It is no wonder that the book committee dragged its feet in publishing Patriarchs and Prophets. But Ellen White urged: "God gave me the light contained in Great Controversy and Patriarchs and Prophets, and this light was needed to arouse the people to prepare for the great day of God, which is just before us. These books contain God's direct appeal to the people. Thus He is speaking to the people in stirring words, urging them to make ready for His coming. The light God has given in these books should not be concealed" (MS 23, 1890; quoted in Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White, vol. 3, p. 444).

Ellen White wrote these lessons plainly for the benefit of God's people today who might heed them and correct the mistakes of their past history related to 1888. Patriarchs and Prophets is prime evidence of what happened in our 1888 era crisis. It is still relevant today so far as attitudes toward God's message and His messengers.

If the "beginning" of the latter rain and loud cry was the message itself, there is a real hope that we can do something positive: we can restudy and accept the message. And it logically follows that when our people worldwide come to understand and believe the message, the long-awaited eschatological blessings can at least begin to be realized again.

--Paul E. Penno


Friday, November 06, 2009

"Planning Ahead [Or Plan 'B']"

This week's lesson is a relatively peaceful interval between two major rebellions. In preparation for entry into the Promised Land, God moved the camp after more than a year at Sinai. Much had been accomplished: the temple was built and its various sacrifices were given to graphically foreshadow the cross as never before, the Old Testament "church" was organized; health, criminal, and civil laws were issued; and a method of communication via trumpets was introduced. The similarities to the Seventh-day Adventist Church before and immediately following 1888 are striking.

But, like the 1888 era, things were not all good. The way taken from Sinai was rugged and difficult. Discontent began in the mixed multitude and quickly spread to willing Israelites leading to open expression, unbelief, outright rebellion, and punishment. The ostensible reason for the discontent was the food, but from the family jealousy that resulted from appointment of the 70 elders, it is clear that the fundamental reason was doubt over the leadership of Moses. The Lord was clear, they were not doubting Moses so much as His leadership. Following 1888, it is remarkable how the authority of the messengers with "heavenly credentials" and especially His prophet was challenged and even questioned.

Questioning the leadership of those the Lord allows in sacred office is a very delicate matter. Those who have been privileged to study and have come to love this "most precious message" must be aware that our enthusiasm to promote and teach it can be misinterpreted as criticism. Like the mixed multitude, we can borrow vestiges of old attitudes that justify any means because "we are right." We forget that our duty is the great commission to "go tell" the everlasting gospel, not to persuade by argument. The persuasive wooing is gently done by the Holy Spirit.

Just like Israel, many see problems within the Adventist camp. Some believe they are entitled to express their displeasure by robbing God of His tithe and offerings. If God places us in a position to call for change in love, it will never entitle us to offend another of His requirements. On the brink of entering the Promised Land, the Lord expanded the burnt offering sacrifice to be accompanied by a grain offering. We remember Cain and Abel's offerings. "Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground, and Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock … (Gen. 4:3-4, NASB). In other words, Abel brought both the grain and lamb offering. The lamb represented identity with the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. The Lord required these grain offerings with every burnt offering to teach the lesson that the products of man's efforts were acceptable solely on the basis of the spilled blood. Only when the sinner acknowledges this need, can he expect God to accept the dedication of the fruits of our labors to God.

Are you in a church leadership position and, like Moses, have become weary and discouraged because you see little progress, either in your congregation or yourself. Are you weary of what seems like constant resistance? The answer always is in joining Moses on his face in front of the tent of meeting. God has provided rest, but we can enter it only by faith. Waggoner explained the concept of rest in the Lord: "It is sin that brings weariness. Adam in the Garden of Eden had work to perform, yet he had absolutely perfect rest all the time he was there, till he sinned. If he had never sinned, such a thing as weariness would never have been known on this earth. Work is no part of the curse, but fatigue is" (The Everlasting Covenant, p. 308; Glad Tidings ed.). As workers for the Lord, we may feel physical fatigue, but mental, emotional, and spiritual fatigue can, by faith, be given to God, and we can claim His promised rest.

In the rebellion following the report of the spies, we must humbly acknowledge a parallel to the rejection of the message given in 1888. Numbers 14:1-2 emphasizes that the entire congregation was involved in the rejection. Yet, we know that three, a prophet, and two messengers remained faithful to the message. Caleb and Joshua urged the people to exercise faith in God's promises. In what must have been an allusion to the fire/cloud that protected Israel, Joshua declared that the giant people of the land had lost their protection. The margin says the literal word translated "protection" is "shadow," (Num. 14:9). As with the golden calf incident, the Lord responds to the peoples' rebellion by telling Moses He will smite them and make Moses and his progeny into a great nation. In his pleading on their behalf this time, Moses argues that if God does that, people who have heard of it will think "Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath ..." (Num. 14:15-16, NASB). God did not abandon His church when we rejected the message that was to prepare His people for entry into the Promised Land of heaven. Instead, He continues to protect us while we wander in the wilderness.

Did our church leadership understand everything that was involved in the rejection of the message in 1888? Most of them thought they had legitimate concerns, and President Butler urged, "stand by the old landmarks." But their short-sightedness has become clear as history continues now some 120 years. Our beloved church desperately needs to openly accept the message of Christ our Righteousness, and many still are suspicious to even investigate because there has been no emphasis on the 1888 message by the leadership. Truly, we are Laodicea who does not discern her true condition. God gave Israel the trumpets for special communication just before entry into the Promised Land. As Ellen White frequently admonishes, the trumpet must be given a certain sound.

A dedicated student of the message penned this analysis some 50 years ago:

"The rejection of the message of Christ's righteousness, which was in reality the beginning of the 'loud cry,' was a subconscious reaction of the carnal heart at enmity with God and His righteousness; it was an undeliberative and unknown sin. It was nonetheless responsible and exceedingly serious. The people of Israel knowingly rejected the recommendation of the two spies; they unknowingly rejected God's leadership in a program of the immediate conquest of the Promised Land. The Jews knowingly rejected the claims of an obscure Galilean; they unknowingly rejected the Son of God and the Father who had sent Him ('Brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also,' Acts 3:17, NASB). Likewise, it appears that the brethren of 70 years ago knowingly rejected what they mistakenly assumed was merely an uncalled-for re-emphasis of the doctrine of justification by faith as presented by some apparently imperfect and fanatical messengers; in reality, unknowingly, they rejected the beginning of the 'latter rain' and 'loud cry.'"

May God give us His agape grace should He give us the privilege of proclaiming this "most precious message."

--Arlene Hill