House of Prayer: Social Justice in the Old Testament Sanctuary

House of Prayer: Social Justice in the Old Testament Sanctuary

Updated and revised. A continuation of the thoughts in a previous post, Human Strudel.

Studying the Israelite sanctuary system is like opening a treasure box. There are many glowing things to behold, and each time something different shines more brilliantly than before. Much of the language in the New Testament is infused with elements from the Old Testament sanctuary system, and understanding the mechanisms of the sanctuary unlocks many ‘hidden’ facets of Biblical passages.

 

Doves in the Temple

Recently, one small piece of the sanctuary system has had a deep impress on my mind: the doves. There was one particular event in the life of Jesus where He stood in the temple and with authority, kicked out the people who had turned the temple into a marketplace. The commodities were sheep, ox, and doves – animals that were to be sacrificed in the temple as offerings for sin.

 

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. Matthew 21:12-13. (Also see Mark 11:15-17, John 2:13-16)

 

It is interesting that in these passages, those who sold doves were particularly singled out. The words “My house shall be called the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves” were particularly directed to them. Why?

 

Back in Leviticus, we learn that lambs were not the only animal offerings for burnt, sin, or trespass offerings. In Leviticus 5, for example, one could bring turtledoves for sin and burnt offerings if he could not afford to bring a lamb. “And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the Lord; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering” Lev 5:7. Further, if he could not afford turtledoves, he could bring an ephah of fine flour (v. 11).

 

Thus, the people who were selling doves were not selling to the rich and affluent; they were selling to those who had little money. The buying and selling in the temple gave occasions to greed and fraud where the poor were taken advantage. On top of that, the Pharisees convinced them that they would not be worthy of forgiveness without the sacrifice. No wonder Jesus was not indifferent to this situation, to say the least.

 

Poverty and Jesus

In Luke 2:21-24, we read about the time when Jesus was brought to the temple as a baby. His parents, as they consecrated Him to God, brought two turtledoves as sacrifice, telling us something about their socio-economic status. This was Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of God! God was not joking when He said, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

 

When Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” he was quoting the passage in Isaiah 56, which probed the question, Why did His mind think of this passage?

Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.

For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;

Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;

Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.

The Lord God, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.

 

God’s house, the temple, is supposed to be a refuge for people from all nations and tongues, especially those who are outcast, who don’t belong anywhere else, and who have no other home. It is His prime interest to gather all of these people in His house, where He will give them a name, a family, and security.

 

So, when Jesus saw men standing in between God’s house and those whom He wanted to gather, men who made merchandise out of mercy, salvation, and grace, ‘the zeal of God’s house ate him up’ (John 2:17). It was antithetical to what God wanted to do in His temple, that system that was divinely inspired for the purpose of reconciling sinners to God. That structure was a shadow of Jesus Himself, in whom we all are reconciled with God.

 

The buying and selling were antithetical to the sanctuary; it was antithetical to Jesus’ mission.

 

In kicking the sellers out, Jesus was saying, “This is not what I’m about, not what my Father is about.” Justice was restored, and those who were held afar from God by the sellers drew near to His presence.

 

God is not a respecter of person. In a world where affluence makes social status, this truth is entirely wonderful. It makes absolutely no difference how much money one has; God’s acceptance is full and free all the same. And God is serious when anyone tries to convince people otherwise.

“…if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.

 

 

The View From My Neighbor’s Shoes

Isn’t is a wonder that it doesn’t take 20/20 vision, glasses, or contact lenses to notice the tiny faults in other people? Out of all the faults ever existed in the universe, the hardest ones to see are my own.

boots

There’s this really wise saying that asks a cute question, Why do you worry at the speck in your friend’s eye, while there’s a log in your own eye? It’s a good question, wouldn’t you say? Consider the irony of the person who has the log in his eye offering help to remove the speck in the other person’s eye. (Sounds familiar, anyone?) Naturally, the counsel goes something like this, Why don’t you first remove the log in your eye, then you can see clearer to deal with the speck. (Duh!)

A story was told of a king, a generally good one, who did something terrible. (Yes, normal, good people can do terrible things.) He got hooked on a lady, and he took her to his chamber. Problem was, she was married. To one of his captains no less.

To make matters worse, she got pregnant. So to hide his deeds, the king called the captain home from the battlefield and told him to rest and go home to his wife. But the good man refused, because he felt wrong being home while his compatriots fought in war. So the king arranged that the captain returned to the forefront of the battle, to essentially ensure his death. Terrible, I know.

In came a trusted advisor of the king, the Rebuker. He told the king a tale of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man owned many sheep and cattle, but the poor one, only a little lamb, which he took care tenderly over the years. One day the rich man decided to party, and instead of taking one of his flocks, he went to the poor man, took his lamb, and killed it for his feast.

The king was outraged by this injustice. He said, “That rich man deserved to die!”

The Rebuker’s next words must be really piercing. He said to the king, “You are that man.”

At the end of the story, the king was in horror when he realized what he did, who he was. But the interesting thing was his end was better than the ending he would have given to the rich man in the story; he was ready to kill the rich man.

Isn’t it a wonder that we can be harsher to others’ faults when we are blinded by our own? It really is a good idea to remove the log in our eyes first, before we deal with others’ specks. Perhaps a few of us really need to be good surgeons to help remove those specks. But what likely would happen is, when we remove the log in our eyes, the specks disappear too.

Human Strudel

Human Strudel

It has been said of former President Bill Clinton that one of his marked qualities as a leader is the ability to give full and undivided attention to each conversation partner, and make each person feels like he is 100% interested in what they are saying.[1] It doesn’t matter whether the person is a high-ranking official or an elementary school kid, their words will fall on listening ears. Albert Einstein once said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

I highly admire individuals who are “no respecters of persons,” individuals who are at ease in traversing many social strata, particularly the social divisions defined by economic status. They are boundary-crossers, cruising across each layer of society as if there were no dividers. They can treat human beings as human beings and look at each person in the eye with dignity and respect. These are such admirable qualities that I aspire to genuinely and thoroughly have one day.

Exhibit A of these fascinating people is Jesus and His life as recorded in the Gospel accounts. Born, raised, and lived in poverty, His manners were courteous and warm to everyone. The poor loved Him, the rich welcomed Him in their houses and loved His company. He was generous, yet not too proud to not receive what others bestowed upon Him. He blessed humanity by giving precious, unpurchasable gifts, as well as giving people opportunities to bless Him and give Him gifts.

This is Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of God, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. But “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

I cannot express in words my high level of fascination with this man. He moved from the upper crust of society, through the human strudel,  to the bottom layer as one who was free. There was no human prejudice that constrained His behavior. His mind was far from self consciousness that often plagues us so in our social interactions, fixated on something altogether more unvain and transcendent, the salvation of the world, the rescuing of humanity from the bondage of sin, guilt, and shame.

The problem or tension between “us” and “them” exists in each of us in many different forms. We are prejudiced against each other, the rich against the poor, the poor against the rich. What would it take to break down these manufactured walls in our minds?

Love your neighbor as yourself. What a simple, yet radical concept. The one who loves most is the one most free from human prejudice.

“…if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.