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Vayikra/Leviticus 9:4 And a bull and a ram for peace offerings ... for today the L-rd will appear to you.
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Moshe and his brother Aharon now exchange roles. Moshe has performed all the inaugural ritual for the sanctifying of the Tabernacle and for installing and anointing Aharon as the Cohen HaGadol. Now it is Aharon's turn to take over that ritual and to offer his first and initiatory sacrifices; he performs his first acts of service toHaShem as the ordained High Priest. From now on, it will be Aharon's responsibility - with the assistance of his sons who have also been anointed as priests under him - to offer the daily morning and evening offerings, the Shabbat and festival offerings and to act as priest in bringing all the offerings of the people of Israel to the altar and making atonement for them. After burnt and sin offerings both for the people and for himself, Aharon is to offer a bull and ram as peace offerings and Moshe promises both Aharon (our text, verse 4) and the people (verse 6) that HaShem will appear to them.
The form of the verb at the end of the verse - , the Nif'al affix 3ms form of the root "to see" and in the Nif'al voice, "to be seen, to appear" (Davidson) - attracts the attention of the commentators.Targum Onkelos, naturally, is upset by the anthropomorphism - that HaShem could possibly be seen by mortal man - so inserts the word ('glory') to read, "the glory of HaShem will be seen". The Rashbam and Ibn Ezra suggest that "He will send fire forth from the sky to turn the offerings into smoke", leading Drazin and Wagner to comment that "the Bible's 'revelation of G-d' was not meant to be taken literally: it is a metaphor for the miraculous fire that will consume the sacrifices at the end of the ceremony." Gersonides offers the explanation, "the 'presence' or 'glory' of the L-rd will appear to you, something that you can sense directly, by means of the miraculous fire that would forth from before the L-rd."
TheShadal uses the syntax of the verb to make his point: to match Adonai, "it should read (masculine, and not which is feminine). However, refers to the fire (feminine ) that came down from heaven. The feminine form may have been chosen to make it clear that it was the fire - and not the L-rd Himself - that was going to be the object of the revelation." Noticing that the verb is in affix form, so would normally be translated in the past tense, the Sforno takes the Hebrew syntax in a different direction and comments, "He already appeared in the work of your hands, as it says 'And the glory of HaShem filled the Mishkan' (Shemot 40:34), therefore it is fitting that you honour Him with this offering (in recognition of) the revelation of His Divine Presence." There has already been a revelation, when the Tabernacle was set up by Moshe, so the Sforno thinks these offerings are a response to that.
Pointing to the verse, "Now the Presence of the L-RD appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain" (Shemot 24:17, NJPS),Abravanel makes an interesting allusion when he says that, "the divine fire that is G-d's representative and His messenger will appear to you." Can we hear the voice of the prophet here, "I am sending My messenger to clear the way before Me, and the L-rd whom you seek shall come to His Temple suddenly. As for the angel of the covenant that you desire, he is already coming" (Malachi 3:1, NJPS)? Who is this messenger and what does he look like? John's vision of Yeshua on the island of Patmos was of, "one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire" (Revelation 1:13-14, ESV). When He comes, "He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him" (v. 7, ESV). This certainly matches Yeshua's own words: "For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father" (Matthew 16:27, ESV).
The Torah records the dramatic manifestation of fire at the end of the ritual sequence for that day - "Moshe and Aharon then went inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of the L-rd appeared to all the people. Fire came forth from before the L-RD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar" (Vayikra 9:23-24, NJPS) - but not for any others. Notice, in passing, that there does seem to be two distinct actions in this account: first, the appearance of HaShem and the subsequent coming forth of fire.Rashi comments that HaShem comes "to rest His Shechinah in the work of your hands. For this reason these offerings come as an obligation for this day", suggesting that this day was special or unique. On the other hand, other commentators are adamant that "these offerings to do not mark an event ... they mark the beginning of a new era characterised by the continuous appearance of the Shechinah" (Mismeret HaKodesh).
If the Scriptures show us an eschatological picture of Yeshua returning in glory that has a strong association with fire, and if commentators on the Torah suggest that they were then - so we, presumably, still are now - in an era when the glory of G-d should be continuously appearing, how should we prepare ourselves to respond to G-d's appearance and how will we recognise it when we see it? Gordon Wenham sees the preparation by Moshe and Aharon as necessary to call G-d's presence back to the tabernacle, to restore the relationship between G-d and the people. "There was a recognition," he adds, "that if G-d was not present in the tabernacle then all worship there was meaningless."1 In some circles, the art of leading worship can appear to be doing the same - calling G-d into the presence of His people - and it is a fine line between ushering or drawing a congregation into the presence of G-d and manipulating the congregation into an emotional experience.
The Early Church clearly needed some help with the question. "What then, brothers?", Rav Sha'ul asks the congregation in Corinth, "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up" (1 Corinthians 14:26, ESV). This implies a degree of preparation; that each member of the congregation should seek the L-rd before the meeting - not at or during - for something to share that will reveal G-d's presence among His people and build them up in their faith. Clearly, it is not a formally organised service, with all the songs and material chosen beforehand by the clergy or a leadership team and carefully timed so that the service won't overrun and everyone can get away on time. Contributions are to be expected, Sha'ul is saying, from the people: songs to sing, readings to share and the gifts of the Spirit in orderly manifestation so that there is no confusion and everyone is built up and encouraged. The fivefold ministries, "apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11), given by Yeshua to His people, in order to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Messiah, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of G-d, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah" (vv. 12-13, ESV), should be exhibited within the congregation as the Spirit enables, equips and empowers.
In 1908, in the Scottish mining town of Kilsyth, there was a 'revival' which brought many hard-bitten miners and their families to faith, radically changing lives throughout the community and further afield as the local folk spread the news and the gospel in true missionary fashion. Harry Tee, the leading elder of the church where the revival had started, wrote the famous hymn that echoes our text, although his immediate focus was on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, described in Acts chapter two:
Let the fire fall, let the fire fall Let the fire from heaven fall; We are waiting and expecting Now in faith dear Lord we call; Let the fire fall, let the fire fall, On Thy promise we depend; From the glory of Thy presence, Let the Pentecostal fire descend.
If we are to see the Ruach poured out among our people, as the prophet Joel promised and the apostle Peter proclaimed - "the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the L-rd our G-d calls to Himself" (Acts 2:30, ESV) - then we must cry out to G-d and seek His presence. To prepared, we must bring the appropriate offerings and sacrifices. Not flesh and blood animal sacrifices; nor financial offerings. Yeshua does not want out stuff; He wants us! We are to sacrifice our idols: those things that we esteem above Him; our habits of sin, the words and actions that repeatedly offend His laws; our vanities, the clothes we wear and the things we say to make ourselves look good; our rituals, routines and practices, which block our minds and prevent us seeing G-d revealed. Then we will see the glory of the L-rd and fire will go forth from His presence to cleanse and purify not only us but our families, our communities and our lands.
1. - Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus NICOT, Eerdmans 1979, page 148.
Further Study: Joel 3:5(2:32); Romans 8:30; James 4:8-10
Application: How can you prepare your heart, your family, your congregation, your city and your land for the appearance of the L-rd? As Scottish town planner and social activist Patrick Geddes is attributed to have said, "Think global, act local!" See the vision for the fullness of the kingdom, and get it started within your own sphere of influence.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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