Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shekinah Glory

by John D Ramsey

Last night Gabby asked me where Betelgeuse appeared in the sky. Lisa has been teaching the girls astronomy this year. I told Gabby that it would still be a few weeks before Betelgeuse would be visible before her bedtime. I showed her that Arcturus, which we saw near zenith in the summer sky, now hung above the western horizon. The moon, I noticed, is waxing; each night it moves closer to the eastern horizon. Tuesday, the full moon, is a special day in history.

Despite its limitations, the lunar calendar better fulfills the purpose of the lights in the sky described in Genesis 1:14, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” Looking at the sun, for instance, gives the casual observer the time of day but little clue regarding the day of the month. The sun’s elevation, of course, is a precise indicator of solar time, but without instrumentation, the solar day is ambiguous compared to the phases of the moon.

The sun announces the hour of the day, the moon effectively tracks the days of the month, the stars in the night sky advertise earth’s seasons. God designed this system from the very beginning. Man has abandoned this system in favor of time tracking devices of his own design. Perhaps our clocks, timeservers, and GPS devices are a modern metaphor for man’s departure from dependence upon God. If so, then man has only obfuscated his dependence upon his Creator because God designed all the laws of nature.

In Exodus, God commanded Israel to observe as their first month the month in which Passover occurs. Today, many Jews celebrate the seventh month as the first. Rosh Hashanah is known as the Jewish New Year, but the Biblical holiday is better described as the Feast of Trumpets. This celebration of sounding the shofar occurred September 30 this year. Christians believe that the Feast of Trumpets foretells the day of Christ’s return,
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Matthew 24:30-31 (NIV)

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (NIV)

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NIV)

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”

Revelation 11:15 (NIV)
Perhaps it is fitting that the day foretelling Christ’s return should be the day on which we celebrate the New Year. Nevertheless, this current lunar month is the seventh month of the Old Testament calendar.

On the tenth day of the seventh month, comes Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It was on this day that the high priest entered into the holy place and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat to atone for the sins of the nation of Israel. Hebrews tells us that the Day of Atonement prototyped Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins.
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Hebrews 9:11-14 (NIV)
On Tuesday night, the fifteenth day of the lunar month, the moon will be full. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Tuesday will mark the “Hunter’s Moon.” According to the Jewish lunar calendar, Tuesday marks Sukkot, known to Christians as the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles. Usually, Sukkot corresponds to the “Harvest Moon.” However, the lunar calendar year (twelve lunar months) is 354 days. Every few lunar years an extra month is inserted to synchronize the lunar calendar with the seasons.

The Feast of Booths was the third and final time each year when the men of Israel were required to appear before the Lord. For the seven days of this feast, the faithful lived in booths or temporary shelters to remind them how God led them through the wilderness of Sinai. During the Exodus, God appeared to Israel as a cloud hovering over the Tabernacle. At night, fire could be seen inside the cloud. When the cloud moved, Israel would break camp and follow. When the Tabernacle was first consecrated,
The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Exodus 40:34, 35 (NIV)
The Feast of Booths, reminding Israel that they once lived in temporary dwellings, also reminds them that God himself dwelt among them in the cloud and pillar of fire.

Nearly 500 years after the Exodus from Egypt, Solomon dedicated a temple to the Lord during the Feast of Booths.
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.

The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it.

When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,

“He is good;
His love endures forever.”

2 Chronicles 7:1-3 (NIV)
Once again, God’s Shekinah Glory was revealed to Israel at the dedication of the temple. Nevertheless, Solomon’s prayer of dedication acknowledged the inferiority of a temple made by human hands, saying, “Will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” 2 Chronicles 6:18 (NIV)

After Israel’s exile in Babylon, the dedication of Ezra’s temple coincided with the Passover. This temple dedication was subdued in comparison to Solomon’s temple dedication. Most Bible scholars agree that the Ark of the Covenant was no longer in Israel’s possession. Solomon sacrificed 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats. At the dedication of Ezra’s temple they sacrificed 100 bulls, 200 rams, and 400 lambs plus twelve male goats as a sin offering. There was no fire from heaven; there was no cloud descending upon the temple, and no Shekinah glory emanating from the holy place.

Over time, Israel adapted customs regarding the Feast of Booths that commemorated the dedication of Solomon’s temple. According to Edersheim, each evening priests would ignite sixteen elevated cauldrons filled with oil and the priests’ worn-out linen garments. The light from the fires would illuminate the city. The Jewish holiday, Chanukah, celebrates the rededication of Ezra’s temple in the time of Judas Maccabeus. According to legend, the lamps in the temple did not extinguish during the eight days although there was insufficient oil to sustain them. Even if true, the lights of Chanukah glimmer compared to the glorious light at the dedication of Solomon’s temple.

When John wrote his Gospel he alluded to the Feast of Booths when he said of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and [tabernacled] among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (NASB)

The seventh month is most probably the time of the incarnation — the birth of Jesus, rather than in December when most Christians celebrate it. At the time of Jesus' incarnation,
there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them . . .

Luke 2:8, 8 (NIV)
Upon Jesus' birth, the Shekinah Glory of God, was displayed to men — this time to celebrate God's indwelling a tabernacle of human flesh.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all refer to the feeding of the five thousand families. John tells us that after feeding the five thousand, Jesus attended the Feast of Booths. Jesus arrived mid-week during the feast and began teaching in the Temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record for us what occurred before Jesus arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem.
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Mark 9:2-8 (NIV)
When we realize that the Transfiguration occurred at the time of the Feast of Booths, then we also realize that Peter’s suggestion, “Let us put up three shelters,” although silly, was at least seasonal. Yet Peter, James, and John witnessed what no one in Israel had seen heretofore. The Tabernacle and the Temple had previously obscured the source of God’s Shekinah. Yet for a moment, the disciples saw the Son of God revealed in glory, and they heard the voice of God from the thick cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” They, of course, fell to the ground, and after Jesus touched them and told them to get up, the scene had changed.

On the last day of the Feast of Booths, probably at the time the cauldrons were being lit, and before the half moon had risen, Jesus cried out to the people, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 (NIV)

In this statement, Jesus brings to memory the Tabernacle in the desert where as the pre-incarnate Son of God, he led Israel in a cloud and a pillar of fire. He brings to memory the Shekinah glowing from the Tabernacle so that not even Moses could enter. With this statement Jesus also brings to memory the dedication of Solomon’s temple where the thick cloud prevented the priests from ministering in the temple and where fire fell from heaven and Shekinah radiated from within the Temple into the view of all men. At that time, only Peter, James, and John could fully understand what Jesus was saying.

Someday, all men will see Jesus in his glory.
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
After Christ’s return, and the final judgment of the unbelieving, God will reveal the New Jerusalem within a new heaven and a new earth. John writes of the New Jerusalem, saying,
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.

The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27 (NIV)
On Tuesday night, as the full moon is rising in the east, I intend to bring the little girls outside under the canopy of oak, birch, and hackberry. We will light the oil lamps and build a fire in the fire bowl. We will look at the sky and name the stars we recognize.

I will tell them that our bodies are merely a temporary dwelling place in a desert wilderness. I will tell them that someday, when Christ returns, we will enter into a Promised Land. I will tell them that I wonder what the sign of the Son of man appearing in the sky will look like such that all the nations of the earth will mourn.

I will tell them of the times in history, especially at the Feast of Booths, when God revealed his Shekinah Glory to men, and I will tell them of the future time when the faithful will live everyday by the Light of the World.

I will tell them that by faith in Jesus Christ we “will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

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