Sunday, September 7, 2014

Messiah: God’s Hidden Grace

Budapest Haskala Synagogue

My response to a rabbi who insisted that God hadn’t hidden His grace from Israel:

You responded:

  • You stated: 'Scripture is purposely cryptic about the grace of G-d'? The Tanakh is full of verses relating HaShem's love for his people.

You are certainly right about this! Therefore, let me better try to illuminate what HaShem (G-d) has hidden. Firstly, do not be surprised that G-d does retain His “secret things”:

  • Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.
  • Deut. 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
In fact, it seems that, above all other things, He has hidden the Source of all His grace – His Messiah:

  • Isaiah 49:2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me [the Messiah] into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.
  • Isaiah 51:16 “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand"
  • Isaiah 52:10 The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.
Who is this “holy arm” who He had concealed:

  • Isaiah 53:1-3 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

His “Arm” is the suffering and rejected Savior! Along with this, we find that G-d Himself would mysteriously make atonement for Israel’s sins, not the designated Levites, as if G-d was hinting to Israel that animal sacrifices could never cleanse their sins:

  • Deut. 32:43 "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people."
  • Psalm 79:9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; and deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins, for Your name's sake! (also Ezekiel 16:63)
How would HaShem provide this atonement? What price would He pay? Atonement requires a blood offering. Money would not do.

G-d had directed Abraham to give his son Isaac as a “burnt offering” (Genesis 22:3). However, before Abraham brought the knife down in the flesh of Isaac, G-d intervened and provided Abraham with a ram instead of his son Isaac. Strangely, Abraham then re-named Mt. Moriah:

  • Genesis 22:14 “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

How strange! It would seem that Abraham should have named Mt. Moriah, “The Lord has provided!” Instead, Abraham (and Israel) had understood this entire trial as prophetic. In the future, God would provide once again, but this time something greater than what had already been provided. The name – “it shall be provided” – signifies the provision of something greater that would eclipse the burnt offering of Isaac. Instead of Abraham providing his son Isaac, God would give His own Son as a burnt offering!

He is very cryptic about the Messiah as paying the price for the sins of the world. Nevertheless, Scripture does give us many other indications of this. For one thing, the Messiah will bring a new covenant:

  • Malachi 3:1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

Actually, the Messiah is even more closely associated with this coming covenant than just as its “messenger”:

  • “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)
  • This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”  This is what the Lord says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’” (Isaiah 49:7-9)
What does it mean for Messiah to be the Covenant? Covenant requires the shedding of blood:

  • Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:8)

It seems unmistakable that the Messiah would provide the blood of this New Covenant. However, Scripture is even more explicit about this blood of the covenant. Ultimately, it could not be a matter of animal blood:

  • “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened [“a body you have prepared for me,” Proto- Septuagental Text; Hebrews 10:6-8] — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8; also Psalm 22 and 69)
  • Isaiah 53:4-6 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The Messiah would take the place of the animal offerings. Today’s rabbis insist, without justification, that it was the Jews who died for the sins of the Gentiles, as if the Jews were sinless and didn’t also require atonement. However, this is Isaiah’s testimony, and he speaks of “our iniquities” – the sins of his own people, not the sins of the Gentiles, as the rabbis allege.

Even in the center-most part of Israelite religion - in the “Holy of Holies” of the Temple itself - God had hidden another key to His center-most, most-cherished, and most-guarded secret about His plan for the world. The Mosaic Law – represented by the Ten Commandments located within the Ark of the Covenant - which occupies the bulk of the Hebrew Scriptures, was overshadowed by another object, the concealed “atonement cover.”

It was sequestered away in the place regarded as most holy by G-d Himself. The High Priest could only enter once a year and only after elaborate preparations, lest he die. The “atonement cover” was surrounded by the wings of the cherubim so that the priest could not see it. And when the High Priest entered into the “Holy of Holies,” he had to do so with smoke, further obscuring the “cover.”

  • Exodus 37:9 The cherubim had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim faced each other, looking toward the cover.
  • Leviticus 16:12-14 [Only once a year] he [the High Priest] is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. He is to take some of the bull's blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover. (Romans 3:25)

Oddly, these passages do not indicate that the tablets of the law were so holy that they too needed to be obscured from sight. Instead, the Law was regularly brought before Israel and read for their edification. It was, in effect, the public property of Israel.

Rather, it seems that this “atonement cover” was more shielded from sight than the Ten Commandments and the Ark that it housed! It was hidden, enforced by the threat of death, so that even the High Priest would not look upon it. Nothing else in all Israel was so protected from sight, except the Messiah!

What did the “atonement cover” suggest? Many things! There was yet a concealed atonement, something that would transcend the animal sacrifices, which needed to be offered continually, signifying that they never adequately addressed the sin problem. This was symbolized by the fact that no mere Israelite could enter into the Presence of G-d. Nor did the Mosaic Law ever promise eternal life! This absence indicated that it couldn’t, suggesting that there yet had to be an atonement that would reconcile the people with their G-d, allowing them to enter into His Presence.

We are incapable of providing this payment:

  • Psalm 49:7-9 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.

The Rabbis wrongly believe that we can achieve this through performing the commandments of God. Instead, an ultimate payment for our sins is what the New Covenant and the “atonement cover” promised. Not only would we be able to enter into His Presence, but we’d become so intimate with our G-d, it would be like a marriage:

  • Hosea 2:16-20 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.”

Hosea’s prophecy reflects all of the other prophecies portraying our reconciliation with our Redeemer - all the product of His unilateral and undeserved mercy.

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